Monday, October 20, 2014


Part 3 of my textual analysis of the Book of Mormon.

1 Nephi Chapter 5: "Any Given Sunday"

The saga of Nephi and his family continues as the four brothers return from Jerusalem to their father Lehi's tent in the wilderness with the brass plates and Laban's servant (and their "willing" hostage), Zoram. Just before their triumphant return, however, their mother, Sariah, complains to Lehi in much the same way Laman and Lemuel did:

"[Sariah] also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness."

As Laman and Lemuel were chastised by an angel and saw that their father was inspired of god (albeit through dreams, which Lehi asserts to his wife without any justification or means of verification), Sariah predictably also has a change of heart upon seeing her boys come home (in the wilderness). She asserts:

"Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them."

And hindsight is 20/20. 

This reminds me of instances I have heard believers relate about god doing some miraculous thing for them. Whenever something goes their way it is attributed to god's goodness. If the opposite occurs, well, it must be a test from god (or Satan, depending on who you ask). They will even use the phrase used here "I know of a surety" as if their certitude proves veracity, rarely even attempting to offer a sound reason for how they "know" whatever they are claiming. Such bold affirmations and unjustified claims to knowledge can be heard over the pulpits of practically every Mormon church every single Sunday. 

To me these people are reading things which they wish to be true into their situation. They cling to the idea of a god orchestrating everything for their benefit, so they allow their bias to read between the lines of what is readily apparent. And thus they can justify their claim that their god exists and is intimately involved in their lives. This is no different than people reading a horoscope in a newspaper and thinking "wow, that is exactly applicable to me!" Their desire to believe a comforting thing overrides their reasoning faculties. 

Not much else happens in this chapter, mostly just Lehi and Nephi reaffirming to each other that it was a good thing that they got the brass plates (by killing the plates' owner, Laban, and kidnapping his servant Zoram under threats of doing the same to him).

Chapter 6: "(Don't) Hold Your Breath"

This chapter is rather short and a bit out of place. Barely even worth commenting on, really. Nephi pauses the story to make a stated goal for writing down all of this malarkey: 

"For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved." 

Unfortunately for us unsaved wretches, Nephi does not attempt to do any persuading here. Presumably this comes later. But if the arguments presented in the first few chapters for believing in visions and voices in one's head being divine are any indication of Nephi's intended method of conversion (and it is), then don't expect any sound, reasonable argumentation, reliable methods of verification, or for that matter, any evidence that Nephi's god exists anywhere outside of his father's dreams or his own head. 

Chapter 7: "Because Arbitrary"

The preceding chapters indicate that the impending destruction of Jerusalem is imminent. This, along with saving Lehi's life, are offered as reasons for the family's bolt in the night. Lehi sends his four sons back to the increasingly wicked city to attain a record of the Law of Moses so that Lehi's progeny will not "dwindle in unbelief." Keep in mind that all of this coming and going is being orchestrated by god through Lehi. Why is it, then, that in this chapter god finally gets around to sending Lehi's sons to Jerusalem to find wives? One would think that god, of all people, would have had the foresight to take care of this loose end earlier. Why so unorganized?

At any rate, surely a Mormon apologist somewhere is willing to offer an ad hoc explanation of Lehi's sons or the future wives were not yet old enough (keep in mind that at this time it is common for teenagers to be betrothed, or even married), or some other equally silly and simplistic excuse which could not possibly stand in the way of an all-mighty god. 

Apparently, the four brothers go to a man named Ishmael to convince him that he, like Lehi, should take his family to the wilderness and the two families' children can inter-marry and have lots of inter-marrying offspring (i.e. cousins). Of course, the boys do not start with this most-forward proposal. They have to ease Ishmael in to their favor by speaking the words of the Lord. And then something magical happens:

"And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father."

I wonder why "the Lord" was unable to "soften the hearts" of anyone else in Jerusalem when Lehi was first street-preaching? Why did it take "the Lord" so long (a couple of years or so) to even attempt to soften Ishmael's heart? This rather dicey situation, which will lead to the deaths of thousands of Jews and the enslavement of thousands more, does seem to be completely within the arbitrary whims of god. 

En route to the "tent of their father", Laman and Lemuel and some of Ishmael's children rebel against Nephi and try to go back to Jerusalem. During the struggle, resulting in Nephi being bound and nearly killed, Nephi chastises the mutineers and warns them that if they go back they will also be killed during the Babylonian take-over. Nephi singles out Laman and Lemuel and reminds them that they have seen an angel, so why do they doubt their father's prophecies? Again, we see an attempt to belittle those who want god to prove himself in an obvious or evident way. And again, this is a cheap trick to avoid answering questions or to be held accountable for making extraordinary claims. 

Nephi makes a seemingly bold claim that his brothers "shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem" if they stay faithful. Too bad he doesn't say how this will be made known to them, considering they will be on the other side of the world when it happens. In fact, to my recollection at no point in this story do Laman and Lemuel, or for that matter Nephi, ever definitively confirm Jerusalem's destruction. It seems to be completely brushed under the rug, leaving Nephi (or Joseph Smith) without accountability for this prophecy. Retro-fitting prophecy is hardly impressive or original.

While Nephi is bound and tied, he offers a prayer to god to deliver him, and SHAZZAM! his bands are loosed. This is yet another completely fatuous aspect of the story which would require some form of verification to be believed. But alas, no such verification is possible except through faith that the book is true. How convenient, eh?

As expected, the boys, along with Ishmael's family make it to Lehi's unidentified camp and all is well.

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