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Small Plates of Nephi as Sacral History


David T

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I want to first request that this thread be reserved for actual discussion of the topic at hand. In this thread, I want to approach a discussion of the book of Mormon text from the following assumptions:

1. That the Book of Mormon has as its base source text an authentic ancient record

2. That the multiple-authorship propositions from scholarship concerning Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, etc. are essentially true.

I know there are many that disagree with one or both of those propositions. That's fine. I respectfully ask that you keep such opinions and assertions away from this thread. I would like to have a good discussion on some of the implications of the current proposition. Namely, what are the legitimate interpretive options if these are the case?

In response to a far more broad suggestion, I'd like to discuss the issues concerning, as Brad Kramer from By Common Consent put it, "the possibility that 1 Nephi could have been, for example, crafted by circa 150 BCE Nephite scribes who consolidated and standardized existing origin traditions by constructing a first-person account in the voice of the eponymous legendary founding king that both accounts for the existing cultural and political state of affairs (vis a vis Nephite/non-Nephite relations, the social position of the elite, literate, priestly Jacobite caste, the Nephite priestly-monarchical line, competing priestly-monarchical claims, the material control and political meaning of sacred relics, including records, etc) as well as grounding Nephite society historically in Israelite roots (cf. Aeneas and Troy). The mere fact of first person narrative voice is hardly conclusive historically."

Turning 1 Nephi, and by association the majority (if not totality) of the small plates, from personal autobiographical records to a pseudepigraphical sacral history brings some interesting, and attractive, ideas to the table. For one, it allows for a much later start date for when their foundational scriptural records (the 'plates of brass') need to have been compiled. It gives more time for post-exilic thoughts and ideas (and texts) that appear to be among the nephite records to be legitimately present. It would also, additionally quite attractively, remove the apparent necessity of eyewitnesses who 'saw' the original 'Lamanites' have a literal change of skin. It's easily viewed as a polemic retrojection and just-so origin story (like the incestuous origns of the moabites and ammonites in the Lot story) for the (perhaps indigenous?) dynastic challengers of the Nephites.

It could even place a later prophetic figure such as Alma as the composer of the texts.

For those who believe the base source is from antiquity, and also that scholarship is basically correct concerning the dating of the biblical texts such as Isaiah, what are your thoughts concerning this proposition? Has there been any serious studies or papers written/published attempting to follow this line of reasoning?

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It could even place a later prophetic figure such as Alma as the composer of the texts.

That assertion seems a mere step away from believing the entire Nephite record is inspired fiction.

I can't/won't join you on that journey (partial or otherwise) - but I acknowledge your right to believe it, and wouldn't mind sharing a pew w/you all the same.

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That assertion seems a mere step away from believing the entire Nephite record is inspired fiction.

I can't/won't join you on that journey (partial or otherwise) - but I acknowledge your right to believe it, and wouldn't mind sharing a pew w/you all the same.

I won't speak for others, but I personally believe that the records from Benjamin down to Moroni are fairly accurate accounts of an ancient history. It is generally understood by many in biblical studies that the Genesis - 1 Kings narrative is far more of a Sacral History than literal history, an that from 2 Kings onward is when we begin to see more reliable (if not extremely biased) historical records and texts. In other words, while the events and individuals in the 'early years' (Genesis to 1 Kings) may have had a historical basis, "the events surrounding their lives have been highly exaggerated", and were written in the form they were (perhaps by a priestly scribe) to give an agenda-driven purpose to their History, and to theologically explain the turn of events in current affairs.

This proposition is to approach the Book of Mormon using a similar approach to that taken by serious scholars to the biblical texts and records, taking into account ancient practices and history-writing methods. I also account for 19th century language and concepts overlaying the base text through Joseph Smith's redactions of the text into english.

In fact, according to the above proposition, aspects of dreams, revelations, and visions attributed to Nephi and Lehi may have been had in actuality by the redacting prophet (or indeed sacred traditions that were passed down and originally attributed to the Founder), and retrojected further back into the sacred history to give a wider eschatological context to their current history. (Much of which I feel was done in modernity by Joseph with the Book of Moses portions of the JST)

I'm not locked into this interpretation, and remain open to other understandings, but this approach is very attractive, because not only does it account for some of the most difficult anachronisms, but also has historical scriptural precedent.

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Are you suggesting that Nephi may have been a fictional character or just that traditions that were attached to him were relaid as if he was saying it (much like what happened IIRC with Joseph Smith in the writing of the History of the Church where some stuff is presented as if he wrote it, but he didn't).

Are you also suggesting that this allows for a later departure date from the Middle East than was assumed by the compilers? If so, at what point did they line up with current history and what would be the actual timeline and are any of the recordkeepers' names of the small plates attached to the right time periods?

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Are you suggesting that Nephi may have been a fictional character or just that traditions that were attached to him were relaid as if he was saying it (much like what happened IIRC with Joseph Smith in the writing of the History of the Church where some stuff is presented as if he wrote it, but he didn't).

Probably the expansion of a historical figure, the first King of the Nephite Dynasty, retrojected backwards a bit into history, but not intentionally so. And not only were traditions attached to him placed in his mouth, but additional cultural explanations for the state of affairs (and sermons from the Prophet/Priest/Scribe himself) were retrojected as 'origin stories' into his history.

Are you also suggesting that this allows for a later departure date from the Middle East than was assumed by the compilers? If so, at what point did they line up with current history and what would be the actual timeline and are any of the recordkeepers' names of the small plates attached to the right time periods?

Yes. To perhaps a time after the exile.The events of the Book of Mosiah are assumed to begin in 130

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I won't speak for others, but I personally believe that the records from Benjamin down to Moroni are fairly accounts of an ancient history. It is generally understood by many in biblical studies that the Genesis - 1 Kings narrative is far more of a Sacral History than literal history, an that from 2 Kings onward is when we begin to see more reliable (if not extremely biased) historical records and texts. In other words, while the events and individuals in the 'early years' (Genesis to 1 Kings) may have had a historical basis, "the events surrounding their lives have been highly exaggerated", and were written in the form they were (perhaps by a priestly scribe) to give an agenda-driven purpose to their History, and to theologically explain the turn of events in current affairs.

Understood. Similar things are said about European history.

(That the further back one goes, the less reliable the characters/narratives supposedly are.)

In fact, according to the above proposition, aspects of dreams, revelations, and visions attributed to Nephi and Lehi may have been had in actuality by the redacting prophet, and retrojected further back into the sacred history to give a wider eschatological context to their current history. (Much of which I feel was done in modernity by Joseph with the Book of Moses portions of the JST).

OK. That is interesting.

I opt to believe that prophets through the ages have simply had very similar experiences, dreams, revelations, and visions - even when separated by centuries or millennia. (Daniel and John, for example.)

I'm not locked into this interpretation, and remain open to other understandings, but this approach is very attractive, because not only does it account for some of the most difficult anachronisms, but also has historical scriptural precedent.

Perhaps a separate thread would be more appropriate - but what do you view as the most difficult anachronisms?

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I opt to believe that prophets through the ages have simply had very similar experiences, dreams, revelations, and visions - even when separated by centuries or millennia. (Daniel and John, for example.)

This doesn't negate that. I believe, in fact, that most of the apocalyptic visions are versions of the same vision (which are filled with Israelite temple imagery), and interpreted by the prophets who received them in the light of their current historical context and theological understanding. Thus while the details of John the Beloved's redaction of the vision is directly interpratively tied to events in the 1st Century, Daniel's and Ezekiel's records of such visions emphasize elements that surround their own religious-political situation and understanding. The Book of Mormon even tells us that the same vision was had by John and Nephite prophets, but is interpreted with different emphases, and with different meanings to the symbols seen.

The Book of Mormon as it stands hints of Alma having an apolocalyptic vision, and I wouldn't be surprised to find he wrote the details of it in another context, writing pseudonymously. Especially if there was a tradition that the founding prophet had a similar vision!

I actually think this is what happened with what we know as 1 Enoch. It's certainly not an authentic ante-diluvian Enoch text, but appears to be (in its parts) written by a prophetic religious community leader retrojecting his current situation and polemic (and prophesies) against the wicked and apostate priests of his day onto the images of 'historical' traditional temple mythology, and sacred history, and prophesying of a golden age following a period of apostasy where the scriptures were corrupted (the period he was currently living in - his own post-exilic day).

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I thought this former post of mine is also appropriate in this context:

I've been going through Margaret Barker's commentary of Isaiah in Eerdman's Commentary on the Bible, and reading up on Isaiah 48-49 just happened to coincide with my reading of the citations of those chapters in 1 Nephi 20-21. It actually gave me a brand new and exciting perspective on why they may have been cited.

Barker writes from the premise that the author is post-exilic Deutero-Isaiah, in some cases re-working older material, but in these particular chapters, she makes the insight that they are declaring a New Mythology. Her thought is that he is declaring that the Former Things relates to the older Israelite Mythology, which has now been fulfilled in the events of History due to wickedness, and that the New History was about to begin (see Isaiah 48:3-7).

It follows on the heals of the (un-cited in the Book of Mormon) Isaiah 43, which has the following commentary by Barker:

The next section (43:22-28) also moves forward from the old ways. Implicit is the people's accusation that the LORD had failed them and allowed them to suffer the disaster of defeat and exile. The response to the accusation is cast in terms drawn from the old Atonement ritual. The text is difficult, and 1QIsa(a) has several different readings of v.23. The gist, however, is the contrast between v.23b and v.24b "The LORD has not made Israel [singular] serve him with offerings or wearied him with incense." (v23b), "but Israel has made the LORD his servant with his sins and wearied him with his iniquities." This is servant terminology; the LORD was the Servant who bore the sins and was wearied with iniquity, and those who should have borne them, the mediators, the princes of the sanctuary, failed through their own sin (v.27). They were profaned and driven out, and Israel, as a result, was destroyed. the LORD himself therefore takes the role of the sin bearer (v.25) and performs the Great Atonement (cf. Ezekiel 34 where the evil shepherds are judged and the LORD himself becomes the shepherd of his people.)

In the times of the former things, the high priest, the prince of the sanctuary, had borne the sin of the people. He wore the sacred name on his forehead, and this enabled him to bear (i.e. forgive, the same Hebrew word) the sin of Israel (Exod 28:36-38). But, says the prophet, the "mediators" (NRSV "interpreters," but this meaning is not appropriate here) themselves rebelled, as did the angels who fell from heaven, and they were profaned. Ezekiel 28 gives a parallel account of the demise of the ancient high priesthood, now in the form of an oracle against Tyre, but originally, as can be seen from the vestments of the heavenly figure, describing the high priest in Jerusalem (v.13; cf. LXX Exod 28:17-20). The prince or king (vv. 2, 11) was a heavenly figure who walked in the mountain garden of God (v.13), but his wisdom made him proud, and so he was cast out, and became mortal (cf. Isa 14:12-20). All the words used to describe the punishment of the prince-king are translations of the word hll, which Isa 43:28 renders "profaned." Ezekiel's prince was "defiled" (Ezek 28:7), "met a violent death" (Ezek 28: 8, "was wounded" (Ezek 28:9), "cast out as profane" (Ezek 28:16), and "profaned" (Ezek 28:18). He became mortal.

Deutero-Isaiah describes the mediator as the first ancestor, Adam, showing how the two Eden stories from the OT relate to each other. The more familiar version in Genesis 2-3 grew out of an older temple myth about the royal high priest in the heavenly mountain garden, represented in Jerusalem by the temple. Adam, who had walked in the garden of the LORD, was remembered as the sanctuary priest; as he left Eden he offered the special blend of incense which could only be used in the sanctuary (Jub 3:27; cf. Exod 30:34). Here is yet another example of the democratization of the old cult; Adam, formerly the Man figure (the Son of Man) in the heavenly sanctuary who rebelled against God, has become Everyman.

Deutero-Isaiah's "new things" were a cult without such a mediator figure; the LORD himself, who gave his glory to no other (Isa 42: 8, would no longer be represented in the temple by the High Priest. He himself would perform the great atonement and blot out his people's transgressions (43:25)

Okay, now compare this with the context of the Deutero-Isaiah passages in 2 Nephi. It is immediately after an account of exile in the Wilderness, and arriving in the Promised Land, and the record of a command to begin a brand new set of Modern scriptures (the small plates in question) to document this New Era. It is at the very end of the First Book of Nephi. The beginning of The Second Book of Nephi begins (in chapter 2) with a New Interpretation of the Adam story attributed to Lehi the Patriarch/Prophet, making Adam become even more firmly rooted and interpreted as the 'Every Man'. Compare also the development in Atonement theology in the remainder of the small plates that make strong professions that God himself will perform the Atonement.

The fit in theme and content kind of blew me away unexpectedly as I was reading this. Even more so today as I contemplated a later period for the initial departure of the 'Nephites' from the Old World.

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In response to a far more broad suggestion, I'd like to discuss the issues concerning, as Brad Kramer from By Common Consent put it, "the possibility that 1 Nephi could have been, for example, crafted by circa 150 BCE Nephite scribes who consolidated and standardized existing origin traditions by constructing a first-person account in the voice of the eponymous legendary founding king that both accounts for the existing cultural and political state of affairs (vis a vis Nephite/non-Nephite relations, the social position of the elite, literate, priestly Jacobite caste, the Nephite priestly-monarchical line, competing priestly-monarchical claims, the material control and political meaning of sacred relics, including records, etc) as well as grounding Nephite society historically in Israelite roots (cf. Aeneas and Troy). The mere fact of first person narrative voice is hardly conclusive historically."

Turning 1 Nephi, and by association the majority (if not totality) of the small plates, from personal autobiographical records to a pseudepigraphical sacral history brings some interesting, and attractive, ideas to the table. For one, it allows for a much later start date for when their foundational scriptural records (the 'plates of brass') need to have been compiled. It gives more time for post-exilic thoughts and ideas (and texts) that appear to be among the nephite records to be legitimately present. It would also, additionally quite attractively, remove the apparent necessity of eyewitnesses who 'saw' the original 'Lamanites' have a literal change of skin. It's easily viewed as a polemic retrojection and just-so origin story (like the incestuous origns of the moabites and ammonites in the Lot story) for the (perhaps indigenous?) dynastic challengers of the Nephites.

I find these ideas very interesting. My first thoughts are these:

1. I'm not going to question the historicity of the BoM (don't want to spoil your thread) but I think we can safely agree that proving the historicity of the BoM is difficult enough as it is. How are you going to find evidence for "150 BCE Nephite scribes who consolidated and standardized existing origin traditions"? It would seem that, in addition to proving that there were Nephites in the first place, you'd have to make a case for "standardized existing origin traditions". If they were standardized and existing in around 150 BCE, there should be other, similar accounts, shouldn't there?

2. Rather than conjuring up 150 BCE Nephites, wouldn't similar arguments of retrojection apply to 1830 BCE Americans? And wouldn't they be more likely that the arguments for the 150 BCE Nephite scribes?

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I find these ideas very interesting. My first thoughts are these:

1. I'm not going to question the historicity of the BoM (don't want to spoil your thread) but I think we can safely agree that proving the historicity of the BoM is difficult enough as it is. How are you going to find evidence for "150 BCE Nephite scribes who consolidated and standardized existing origin traditions"? It would seem that, in addition to proving that there were Nephites in the first place, you'd have to make a case for "standardized existing origin traditions". If they were standardized and existing in around 150 BCE, there should be other, similar accounts, shouldn't there?

The approach is one of textual analyses. I'm not trying to ''prove the historicity of the book of Mormon', but based on the premise that it has at its core a true record, I'm looking at other ways of viewing the text in its ancient context, taking into consideration and based on usage of similar traditions and methods as to what we know of from biblical scholarship.

2. Rather than conjuring up 150 BCE Nephites, wouldn't similar arguments of retrojection apply to 1830 BCE Americans? And wouldn't they be more likely that the arguments for the 150 BCE Nephite scribes?

I'm approaching this from the perspective that Joseph Smith was truthful in his affirmations of having in his possession a literal physical record on metallic plates, and that he was visited by a literal resurrected personage, who was the son of the key compiler of the abridged portion of the record itself. This in itself requires the text to have as its base a record of antiquity.

I do believe that the English version of the Book of Mormon does contain 19th-Century specific redactions as part of the transmission of the book to us. However, there are core elements that appear distinct and separate from those, and are interwoven in the text in such a way that a 19th century retrojection just doesn't wouldn't make sense in the very complex interwoven narrative context. The specific citations of Deutero-Isaiah, as well as other allusions to Deuteronomic ideas and source texts, fit into this category for me.

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The approach is one of textual analyses. I'm not trying to ''prove the historicity of the book of Mormon', but based on the premise that it has at its core a true record, I'm looking at other ways of viewing the text in its ancient context, taking into consideration and based on usage of similar traditions and methods as to what we know of from biblical scholarship.

Even those who believe the BoM is an ancient record have varying theories as to what this context is (hemispheric, Mesoamerican and Heartland models, each with their sub-models). Which

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I want to first request that this thread be reserved for actual discussion of the topic at hand. In this thread, I want to approach a discussion of the book of Mormon text from the following assumptions:

1. That the Book of Mormon has as its base source text an authentic ancient record

2. That the multiple-authorship propositions from scholarship concerning Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, etc. are essentially true.

I know there are many that disagree with one or both of those propositions. That's fine. I respectfully ask that you keep such opinions and assertions away from this thread. I would like to have a good discussion on some of the implications of the current proposition. Namely, what are the legitimate interpretive options if these are the case?

I believe Bokovoy has made some suggestions for how to deal with this issue. I'll have to see if I can dig them up.

In response to a far more broad suggestion, I'd like to discuss the issues concerning, as Brad Kramer from By Common Consent put it, "the possibility that 1 Nephi could have been, for example, crafted by circa 150 BCE Nephite scribes who consolidated and standardized existing origin traditions by constructing a first-person account in the voice of the eponymous legendary founding king...

At the very least, this is creative. Whether or not it pans out this is the kind of creativity that pushes us forward. Do you have a link to the BCC discussion?

For one, it allows for a much later start date for when their foundational scriptural records (the 'plates of brass') need to have been compiled. It gives more time for post-exilic thoughts and ideas (and texts) that appear to be among the nephite records to be legitimately present.

I'm not sure how our hypothesis achieves this. If the Lehites left Jerusalem just prior to the exile, it is difficult to understand how post-exilic thoughts and ideas would develop among them in the New World. I'm not suggesting that such ideas are not present among the Lehites, but since no Lehite experienced the exile, or the theological developments of it, it seems strange that such ideas would develop among them at all. I don't understand how pushing back the date for the authorship of the small plates reconciles this.

It would also, additionally quite attractively, remove the apparent necessity of eyewitnesses who 'saw' the original 'Lamanites' have a literal change of skin. It's easily viewed as a polemic retrojection and just-so origin story (like the incestuous origns of the moabites and ammonites in the Lot story) for the (perhaps indigenous?) dynastic challengers of the Nephites.

This is an attractive advantage. However, pushing back the authorship for the small plates a few hundreds of years seems a bit drastic if this is the only advantage. Brant Gardner's suggestions here seem simpler and more plausible.

An interesting hypothesis like this will only gain ground if it solves a number of problems that a traditional view can't satisfactorily explain. I, at least, would need further evidence that this hypothesis does that. But it is a fun idea and worth discussing.

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I believe Bokovoy has made some suggestions for how to deal with this issue. I'll have to see if I can dig them up.

Please do! I remmeber that Bokovoy had made some very good thoughts on the matter, and couldn't recall how to find them. I'd actually love his participation and thoughts here.

At the very least, this is creative. Whether or not it pans out this is the kind of creativity that pushes us forward. Do you have a link to the BCC discussion?

Kramer's statement is actually a comment (# 26) from a post at times and seasons by Jonathan Green, which, in its presented form, the ideas in the post itself seem far too broad for my tastes - it suggested that even the Christophony of 3 Nephi was a later sacralized and retrojected account - today, he made a post suggesting a post-columbian setting for the Book of Mormon. I fundamentally disagree with both of those propositions.

I'm not sure how our hypothesis achieves this. If the Lehites left Jerusalem just prior to the exile, it is difficult to understand how post-exilic thoughts and ideas would develop among them in the New World. I'm not suggesting that such ideas are not present among the Lehites, but since no Lehite experienced the exile, or the theological developments of it, it seems strange that such ideas would develop among them at all. I don't understand how pushing back the date for the authorship of the small plates reconciles this.

It appears that you may misunderstand the fundamentals of what I have said. The thought is that the historical Lehites would have left the Old World likely at least decades after the exile. The date for the authorship of the small plates isn't pushed back, it's pushed substantially forward.

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It appears that you may misunderstand the fundamentals of what I have said. The thought is that the historical Lehites would have left the Old World likely at least decades after the exile. The date for the authorship of the small plates isn't pushed back, it's pushed substantially forward.

OK. I did misunderstand, but only a little. When I said "back" what I meant was forward in time....my fault. It was a terrible choice of wording.

But I did misunderstand the proposition that Nephi and co left Jerusalem after the exile. I had thought you meant that the historical account in 1 and 2 Nephi was basically correct, but that it was authored or at least heavily redacted by later Nephite scribes.

Placing the Lehite exodus decades after the exile is intriguing. I can pass the idea along to some greater minds than my own in the Mormon internet world who I am acquainted with and see what they think.

Sargon

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Are there any references to Nephi or other individuals referenced in the sections based on the small plates appearing to Joseph Smith? I vaguely recall that there is at least a suggestion that Nephi visited him.

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Yes.

John Taylor said Nephi visited Joseph.

Ah, but which Nephi? Could it have been Nephi the Disciple from 3 Nephi? :P

Who, actually, the more I think of it, may even be a great candidate for a later post-Resurrection of Christ revision of the Small Plates... doing for the writings of Nephi Prime what Joseph did for the Bible - expanding and expounding.

I actually think it's very possible there's a few levels of redactors, in at least the books of 1 and 2 Nephi. You may even call them Nephi, Deutero-Nephi, and Trito-Nephi ;) (and then, of course, Joseph Smith).

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I think that the Isaiah question is really rather less interesting in this context. Despite the fact that the Book of Mormon quotes second Isaiah verbatim, the commentary (what little there is) on the Isaiah material is going to be more relevant, and the use of the "liken it unto ourselves" creates some issues there. I think if our objective is merely to accommodate a dating for Isaiah, the discussion is never going to produce much of interest.

I think it is more relevant to look at the Small Plates vis-

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