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The Nephites And The Law Of Moses


Joseph Antley

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How do you think the Nephites obeyed the Law? They had the torah, which apparently including both the Deuteronomy(1) and the Priestly sources.

But the Nephites didn't have any Levites or Aaronites (indeed, neither the tribe of Levi or Aaron are ever mentioned in the BoM, as far as I know). We also have Mannasites like Alma and his posterity officiating as priests.

How do you think they reconciled the strict requirements of sacrifice and burnt offerings in the Law, especially in the Priestly source, with their lack of Levites? Were they forced to ignore or alter parts of the torah?

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Here's my ignorance of the full requirements of the Law of Moses...

1) Weren't sacrifices allowed away from the temple until the whole reformation thing preceding the time of Lehi?

2) Is it possible that Zoram was a Levite? A doubly good reason to bring him along.

3) Lehi built an altar and offered sacrifice when they reached the Red Sea. So, something had to be going on that we're not aware of with regard to officiating in priestly duties.

4) They were allowed to build a temple in the New World, I would assume they were also allowed to perform the ordinances that went along with it.

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Here's my ignorance of the full requirements of the Law of Moses...

1) Weren't sacrifices allowed away from the temple until the whole reformation thing preceding the time of Lehi?

Yes, but by the time of Lehi, the Jerusalem temple was still the only place to offer sacrifice (when within range). The torah that they took with them designated the Jerusalem temple as the sole place where sacrifices could be offered to Aaronite priests.

2) Is it possible that Zoram was a Levite? A doubly good reason to bring him along.

It's possible, but we still have non-Levites officiating as priests, such as Alma and his children.

3) Lehi built an altar and offered sacrifice when they reached the Red Sea. So, something had to be going on that we're not aware of with regard to officiating in priestly duties.

The Law allowed Israelites to perform their own sacrifices when they were more than two days away from the temple (at least I believe it was two days, but either way, Lehi was out of temple-range).

4) They were allowed to build a temple in the New World, I would assume they were also allowed to perform the ordinances that went along with it.

Yes, Mormon informs us that when Benjamin convened the people for his famous discourse, they all traveled to Zarahemla and while there they "offer[ed] sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses." I beleive this is the only specific mention of people giving offerings or sacrifices according to the Mosaic law, aside from the instance with Lehi. This shouldn't bother us, though, since the history was written by Mormon, over three centuries after the Law had been done away with. Obviously Mormon wasn't interested in it much.

But there were other temples in the Nephite kingdom as well. Mormon mentions them constructing temples in the plural. The specific temples we know that existed were the one that Nephi built in the land of Nephi, which would later have been deserted when the Nephites migrated northward to Zarahemla, and there were at least two contemporary temples existing in Zarahemla, the Nephite capitol, and in Bountiful, where Christ appeared.

So the temple centrism proscribed on the brass plates apparently didn't have much impact on them. Which, once again, begs the question: did the Nephites ignore or alter parts of the torah?

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Did you answer your own question?

Q:

Did the Nephites ignore or alter parts of the torah?

A:

The Law allowed Israelites to perform their own sacrifices when they were more than two days away from the temple (at least I believe it was two days, but either way, [the Nephites were] out of temple-range).

Or am I missing something?

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Did you answer your own question?

Q:

A:

Or am I missing something?

Well, yes. Once the Nephi's party reached the New World, Nephi immediately had a temple built patterned after the Jerusalem temple.

The Nephites had a temple. In fact, they had several. And the priests who officiated in those temples apparently weren't Levites, much less Aaronites.

So my question was, did the Nephites just ignore the torah's specific and rigid instructions that only Levites could officiate as priests, and that there should be only one central temple, or did they alter it?

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So my question was, did the Nephites just ignore the torah's specific and rigid instructions that only Levites could officiate as priests, and that there should be only one central temple, or did they alter it?

Underneath this question is the assumption of THE torah. It has become clear that there were rivalaries among different priestly factions anciently, that such such rivalries left their mark on the writings and traditions they transmitted, and that conflicts between such groups peaked in Lehi's lifetime. The claim that there should only be one central temple itself was an innovative claim. Israel had had other temples before, archeology has recently found some of them, and other groups of Israelites built temples elsewhere.

Consider Jeremiah 8:8, wherein Jeremiah claims that some people have made their own false Torah. Richard Elliott Friedmanâ??s translation is: â??How do you say, â??We are wise, and Yahwehâ??s torah is with usâ??? In fact, here it was made for a lie, the lying pen of scribes.â? See Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? p 209.

Consider Barker's essay, "Text and Context", which shows that even the Masoretic Text behind the Old Testament was selected, edited, and adopted in response to the rise of Christianity.

Barker points out that "Texts that give any indication of when the rift occurred in the priesthood all point to the same period [that is, Josiah and the Deuteronomist Reforms just before and during the Exile. Lehi's life time]. The Qumran texts are unanimous in identifying this as the time when Israel went astray. 1 Enoch (1 Enoch 89.73; 93.9), the Community Rule (1QS V), and the Damascus Document (CD III) all record different aspects of the disaster: an apostate generation with polluted bread on their altar, people under the dominion of Belial whose deeds were a defilement in the age of wrath. They had gone astray in the secret things, presumably the teachings of the priesthood." (The Great High Priest, 152.

Other issues to consider are Barker has shown that the priesthood of the First Temple was the Melchizedek Priesthood. (See The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom of God, on "The High Priesthood.")

Psalm 110 is the most frequently used text in the New Testament , which may account for the unreadable state of the Hebrew. The biblical texts became something of a battle ground as the early church claimed fulfilment of prophecy. Melchizedek was an important figure because he was not Jewish and therefore proof that an uncircumcised priesthood had been honoured by Abraham . The Melchizedek texts suffered as a result.

John Sorenson pointed out that the Book of Mormon shows signs of being an "E" source, which was associated with he Northern Kingdom. Ben McGuire occasionally posts on his ongoing research showing that the Book of Mormon use of Deuteronomy consistently points to a "proto-Deuteronomy", and earlier core of behind the present Hebrew. Noel Reynolds shows that the Book of Mormon seems to point back to a creation account like that in the Book of Moses on the Pearl of Great Price, that is, not the current version of Genesis.

So the Book of Mormon seems to go against notions of a strictly Levitical Priesthood and Jerusalem temple. In my view, Lehi and his family did not alter the traditions about the priesthood and temple, but they witnessed the efforts of those who were in the process of doing so. They preserved the older, First Temple practices regarding Temple, scripture, and Priesthood. For more details, for example, my essay in Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem. Online at the FARMS website.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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Additionally, some offerings could be performed apart from the Levitical priesthood.

Brant Gardner:

Lehi was a prophet called of God, and directed by that God to leave his home. Lehi clearly understood the reason for his flight to be the threats on his life. Notwithstanding that he had left his land of inheritance, his home, and his worldly goods, he nevertheless erected an altar to give thanks to the Lord for his deliverance. Notice that there are no known actual attempts on his life, and that the sole real evidence that Lehi has that he has been led to salvation is the word of the Lord. Nevertheless, it is sufficient for him, and he gives thanks for salvation from an event of which he really only knows by revelation.

Lehi builds an altar of stones, which was a typical Arab/Hebrew wilderness altar. Building an altar of stones is, on the one hand, due to exigency as there were likely few other building materials available. However, the altar of stones is probably more significant than that. Why was the sacrificial site not a pit ringed by stones? Why was it not simply a brush pyre?

Early Israelite worship understood "high places" to be of particular religious significance. Moses receives his epiphany on the Mount. The elevation of stones probably served two purposes, the first of which was to create a miniature "high place" which through its symbolic elevation provided a sacred location. The second was that the use of stones connected the altar to the natural order, and built a symbolic miniature sacred mountain upon which the offer of sacrifice would be effective.

The next point of interest concerning Lehi's altar is that he built it in the first place. Lehi traced his genealogy through Joseph, not Levi, and therefore was not a Levite, and therefore not one of the line of priests who should be offering sacrifices. In addition to the obvious ability of the Lord to provide whatever priesthood is necessary for his prophets, it is also probably that Lehi was engaged in sacrifices which did not require Levites. Indeed, from what can be discerned of noted sacrifices in the Book of Mormon, they were not those which would have required a Levite. Clark Goble discusses the possible nature of the Law of Moses in the New World:

"It may be that they formed a rather unique version of the Law of Moses - one without the sacrifices of the Levites. We have the sacrifice in Mosiah 2:3 fulfilling Ex 13:11-13; Ex 22:29-30; and Dt 15:19-23. But this is a sacrifice that doesn't require Levites, as I understand it. (It is also a very Christological symbol, fitting in with their anticipation of the savior) All the other references to sacrifice in the Book of Mormon refer to the sacrifice of the savior, with the exception of thank- offerings.

1 Ne. 5:9 And it came to pass that they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel.

These thank-offerings also didn't require a Levite. (Note the parallelism ephasizing that the offerings are thank-offerings) See for example Judges 6:20-27; Judges 13:19-20; 1 Samuel 14:34-35 or 1 Samuel 9 where a prophet, like Lehi, is present." (Clark Goble, "Lehi's Authority" 2 June 1996, Scripture-L).

See also the comparison of the Lehites and Rechebites.

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