Saturday, December 2, 2017

Alma 37:12: One Eternal Round: Thoughts on Egyptian Cosmology in Intellectual History

In Alma 37:12 we read:

[God] doth counsel in wisdom over all his works,

and his paths are straight,

and his course is one eternal round.

Perhaps Alma quotes here from a sacred psalm. At any rate, these words to his son Helaman only reflect words spoken in his discourse at the city of Gideon, a discourse partaking of the force of anaphora and other powers of rhetoric:

For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness [cf. Eg. m3'; m3'.t, movement along a straight line; justice];

I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God;

yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight.

I perceive that it has been made known unto you, by the testimony of his word, that he cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong;

therefore, his course is one eternal round (Alma 7:19-20).

Some yet wonder whether God's laws of chastity and morality may change. Alma, anticipating the matter, immediately adds: "And he doth not dwell in unholy temples; neither can filthiness or anything which is unclean be received into the kingdom of God." Purity thus exemplifies God's unvarying ways.

The Doctrine and Covenants (3:2) also cites the ancient formula:

For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said,

therefore his paths are straight,

and his course is one eternal round.

The words recall a poetic Egyptian theologoumenon from the Solar Liturgy (Solar Litany 152) that "summarizes, perhaps harmonizes, conflicting notions about the movement of the sun":

phr jtn.f
m3' b3.f

May his jtn (globe) revolve (or wind) back-and-forth--
but his b3 (physical spirit body) follow a straight course.

The verb m3', "when written with the cartouche," as here, "paradoxically implies a regular circuit along a straight line." As is well known, the goddess Maat personifies Egyptian notions of right, rightness, truth, justice, and candid honesty.

(V. Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, Brill, Leiden and Boston, 112).

Nor is such a contradictory (or complementary!) model to be found in the texts alone; the walls of New Kingdom tombs reveal the solar course both as fixed line and as a winding, even serpentine movement, something we might well see as reflecting the phr-model. The Egyptians held to both symbolic and realistic visions of cosmic movement, the ideal and the observed. The sun to the astronomical observer is indeed all over the place, at every hour and at every season (see descriptions in Joshua Aaron Roberson, The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Earth, 2012).

"The juxtaposition of phr and m3', as descriptive of the sun's movement (or any travel for that matter), speaks both to the principle of complementary pairs [as found throughout Egyptian literature] and to a fundamental contradiction. Both jtn and b3 describe the sun, yet the words suggest distinct [or alternating] visions of what that body is [or what it may be]; for each takes a distinct [though complementary] verb (or requires a distinct model) of solar movement. The notion of m3', countering the planetary drift inherent in phr, provides the corrective element; one may say, the adjustment of the cosmos. The two modalities, movement along a straight line and turnings, keep things in balance; what the verbal pair reflects is only the true nature of any road" (Sederholm, 113).

"The complementary pair (m3', phr) occurs again in Urk. VI, 11, 22-13, 1:

Wpj-W3w.t hr m3' n.f
phry jb nj phry jm.f

Wepwawet straightens the road
and thus soothes, lit. encircles, the heart of him
who makes his rounds therein (113 n 64).

"The hints of a cosmological reflection in the couplet lend it deep interest and suggest that the Egyptians held two, contradictory, models of celestial mechanics. Mortality is swept along by the same contrary winds. After all, the fundamental rule of life is "Follow Maat" [though] "Life is a phr.t (phr.t pw 'nx)--either finished cycle or back-forth spin. Nevertheless, whereas life's cycle. . . mimes Fortuna, the centerpiece of Egyptian values remains the attainment of Maat [Order, Justice]" (Sederholm, 113).

What does the standard manual on Egyptian Religion, a textbook still used three decades after publication, have to say about the contradictory nature of solar movement?

"Clearly the earth was not thought to revolve around the sun,

but neither was the sun thought to revolve around the earth"

Leonard H. Lesko, "Ancient Egyptian Cosmogonies and Cosmology," in Religion in Ancient Egypt, 117-118.

"Neither was the sun thought to revolve around the earth."

So the Egyptians did not conceive of a geocentric universe, plain and simple--and predictable? Surely Professor Lesko faced immediate dismissal from Yale University for making such an unscientific claim about the cosmology of the ancients, a claim overturning the fixed knowledge of every ten-year-old on the planet! Still, Cornell University published the textbook in 1991, and it has been standard college fare on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.

While "The universe was 'all that the sun encircles,' [yet] if this phrase implies that the sun was thought to have gone around the world on a single circular course, then apparently the phrase reflected a cosmology different from that in the religious texts discussed here."

Again: "Obviously the ancient Egyptians viewed and described the world around them in a variety of ways [a various semiotic]. The personifications and metaphors of the myths and stories were imaginative, poetic, very complex, and often humorous, but they certainly did not represent the sum total of the Egyptians' cosmological or scientific thinking on the subject" (Lesko, 117).

In other words, let's not confuse metaphor, image, and icon about sun and stars with the sum total of cosmological speculation.

Was the Egyptian heaven a flat roof? Or was it rounded or "bent"? Both representations appear in the sources. Did the sun move? Or was it moved by outside agencies? Again, both ideas appear.

In 2008 I published a few speculative paragraphs about the possible rotation of the Akhet, a "place" or "moment" usually associated with the "Horizon":

"The iconography of the Akhet shows the rounded sun. . . half manifest, half hidden, between the twin hills that, properly speaking, stand for the east and west horizons, although pictured as but one horizon. Entry into the Akhet thus answers [with immediacy] to egress on the eastern skyline."

In other words, do the writings describe the sun as circling about a static earth, or do they rather describe a sort of continual flip-flop in the horizon in which Entry and Egress occur at the same point yet mark different moments in time, dusk and dawn. Somehow, as Professor Derchain has suggested, "the perpetual cycling of the sun" (the eternal round) must "rely upon the equation of east and west, thus linking the solar death/descent with rebirth/ascent" (Robeson, 26 n 82). Again, the flow of the iconography that marks the path from descent to ascent can take either a horizontal or a vertical model (Robeson, 43). There was nothing static about the Egyptian presentation of the solar cycle.

Some labels, in purposeful mistaking, bizarrely describe dusk at the east horizon, dawn at the west, a hint at the mysterious reversibility of the system. But this is so typically Egyptian, as if to say with pertness, "today we're saying that the sun rises in the West and sets in the East." Note the Western bafflement at encountering yet another transgression of logic: "Coming out of the Eastern (sic) Mountain, resting in the Western (sic) Mountain, every day." Note that this is "Every Day"--the continual workings of the cosmic gears. What other culture says this sort of thing?! Yet examples of such mismatch are clearly not error nor are they a pert playfulness, rather they are "possibly intentional textual interchange of west and east, as an expression of the perpetual motion of the sun" (Roberson, 153 n 178, referencing Derchain and Piankoff). Still, we note that what moves perpetual are the cardinal points themselves, the directional markers of the earth; the in-volved sun "has nothing to do"--not even "roll around heaven all day."

If the earth rotates eastward on her axis, does not west mountain come round to merge with east mountain? Isn't the place of solar ingress and egress essentially, then, the same for a sun standing still? That's what the egyptologists have long been mulling over, though it remains a delicate point. The ancient record continuously teases the reader, but who can tie the threads together into Text, into semiotic Encyclopaedia, and tell us once-for-all how the Egyptians ordered their universe? There's a bit of cosmic speculation, here, to say the least, on the part of the solar priests who composed the netherworld books for the tombs of the royal high priest of the sun, and even though we are not yet able to build a model of the Egyptian universe out of it all, the matter does deserve something better than the notation (sic!). The sometime fluidity of the cardinal points at the Akhet-horizon deserves its own chapter in the intellectual history of the human family.

Or shall we just rest content with saying that the Egyptians, like all primitives, held the Ptolemaic view of things? Or that they didn't know about the circulation of blood (they did!)? A placid contentment would require less thought, but even so, we're going to have to revive the already archaic signature of sic for use on nearly every translated page. I await the book entitled Ancient Egyptian Cosmological Thought (sic!).

Or might the Egyptians have understood the Akhet as a rotating axis? Certainly the round Duat, or Netherworld, which is somehow involved in the Akhet, takes shape as a temporal-spatial moment of turning. The hieroglyph that writes the logogram for Duat is a star, some say the sun, enclosed in a circle, an encircling that turns in One Eternal Round.

Again: "The inversion and righting of the sun raises questions about the Egyptian model of celestial mechanics. These states [inversion, flip-flop, righting] are merely perceptual, being symbolic of the journey through the Netherworld.

"One explanation for the inversion and [simultaneous?] righting of the sun centers round the rotation of the Akhet [itself]. If it is the Akhet that daily turns 180 degrees, and not the sun, the movement of the sun is merest illusion. Indeed the cryptographic hieroglyphs that paint the setting of the sun with the image of a man plunging headlong with outstretched arms and its rising with a man arms uplifted [Papyrus Salt 825] hint at a celestial mechanics in which the Akhet serves as the axis of revolving sky and Netherworld. The Akhet is a place of turning and the dynamis of [the complementary temporal modalities] nhh-and d.t-time, the axis of the workings of renewal in respect of which all other celestial bodies move.

"Where the Akhet lies is unknown, even unknowable; like our horizon it marks a boundary or hollow between the visible and invisible worlds. Indeed the revolution of the Akhet parallels and even motivates that of the invisible world. Osiris, who personifies, surrounds, and controls the Duat, receives the disk [or globe] at dusk and uplifts the same at dawn in perpetuum mobile. As the Akhet revolves so turns the Duat with its night sky from darkness into daylight. Gears of baffling complexity work the thing; for the movement is really a complete shift back into daylight, West to East and East to West--erasing the dark hours, and still dawning Eastward all the same.

"The Akhet and Duat together make up a temporal-spatial continuum, the Akhet as the place that holds the sun and keeps its flame; the Daut, a mostly temporal feature, a space composed of hours. Osiris [the mummified corpse in the Duat, the dead king], in his name of 'Yesterday' and acted upon by the force and wheel of time, uplifts the ponderous sun at dawn with no perceptible motion of his part. Yet it is his uplifted arms that serve as the sign of rejuvenation. Both Osiris and the sun are righted by the turning of the Akhet in the unresting hours and, as consequence, together stand upright--with arms outstretched--as symbols of towering strength and power. Here is the cosmically sized Re-Osiris standing 'with extended arm at the eastern horizon' [as one resurrected solar power].

The union and resurrection of the cosmic Re-Osiris realizes the greatest mystery of Egyptian religion.

"Egyptian theoria but subserves the theology of solar renewal for which the movements of the heavenly bodies provide the hoped-for signs. If the Akhet does turn, the axis of turning still centers in Re because he provides the motivation [the force or the focus] for that turning. The same holds true of Re's relation to the p.t [or sky] and its shape and roadways, as the iconography shows. At times the Egyptians envision the p.t as a 'bow-shaped' roof or vault (pd.t, bow), the so-called 'bent' sky. The notion of bending, when applied to the static, flat rooftop, implies a potential, even motive, force. The imagery of the bent heavens reflects (cf. Lat. reflectare, to bend backwards, like a bow) both the observable re-turn of the sun to the day sky and the nature of the road it travels. The aquatic solar roadway inclines, winds, and bends, as lead the channeled waters" [the winding phr-cycle again] (paragraphs taken from Sederholm, Papyrus British Museum 10808, 110-111).

These few and premature thoughts only hint at the baffling complexity of the gears that work the cosmic revolutions. And perhaps the texts, no matter our pains, will never yield anything more than hints.

The Book of Mormon, with which we began, is at pains to show us that the Lord's ancient covenant people understood the workings of the cosmos (Helaman 12:15): "for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun!"

As for the book of Abraham, the father of the faithful makes abundantly clear that what he terms the "set time of the earth," or "the reckoning of the time of the earth," has to do with the measurement of its axial rotation in comparison with which the moon "moveth in order more slow." In other words, both the earth and the moon spin, but because the moon spins much slower, "therefore the reckoning of its time is not so many [as the earth] as to its number of days, and of months, and of years." Do we understand what Abraham plainly though poetically sets forth? (And most readers down the decades do understand.) The numbering of day and night, month after month and year after year, comes as consequence of the earth spinning on her axis--thus "surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun!" (See Abraham 3). In Abraham's Egypt, then, to borrow a line from the standard undergraduate textbook on Egyptian religion and cosmology, the sun clearly "was not thought to revolve around the earth."

Should we thence wish to hie to Kolob, we'll need something more than the basic manual, but the deeper we delve into Egyptology, the nearer will be our reach.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Missouri: A Mighty Shout of Joy

ROUGH DRAFT ONLY: PAGES STILL TO BE ADDED Around 1991 I drafted for my own "profit and learning" a number of exploratory essays about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Truman G. Madsen and Hugh Nibley both indulged me in reading what follows, a fragmentary but imaginative thematic and symbolic recapturing of the Missouri persecutions, so I now make what Brother Madsen was wont to call "a few cosmetic changes" and invite the indulgence of any who might choose to reflect on

Missouri: A Mighty Shout of Joy

For the Latter-day Saints in Missouri, the last week of October 1838 was a plunge into the vortex of darkness. Parley P. Pratt records the impatient burnings of the hours just preceding the Battle of Crooked River:

The night was dark, the distant plains far and wide were illuminated by blazing fires, immense columns of smoke were seen rising in awful majesty, as the world was on fire. The thousand meteors, blazing in the distance like the camp-fires of some war host, threw a fitful gleam of light upon the distant sky, which many might have mistaken for the Aurora Borealis. this scene, added to the silence of midnight, the rumbling sound of the tramping steeds over the hard and dried surface of the plain, the clanking of swords in their scabbards, the occasional gleam of bright armor in the flickering firelight, the gloom of surrounding darkness, and the unknown destiny of the expedition, or even of the [abducted] people who sent it forth; all combined to impress the mind with deep and solemn thoughts (Autobiography, 178).

It is a picture of elemental chaos--Missouri unreal: "The banks of Shoal creek on either side teemed with children sporting and playing. . . The weather was very pleasant, the sun shone clear, all was tranquil." On this bright afternoon of the 30th of October descended the harvest sun of Haun's Mill, with its buzzing, angry mob. Children and mothers scattered to the woods, while "the bullets cut down the bushes on all sides of us," remembered Amanda Smith. "One girl was wounded by my side, and fell over a log, and her clothes hung across the log; and they shot at them expecting they were hitting her; and our people afterwards cut out of that log twenty bullets (Amanda Smith, HC III, 323-325). Three "little boys crept under the bellows in the shop" to escape death. Upon discovery, one was killed instantly. Another, shot three times, lived for a month, while the third, eight-year old Adam Smith, wounded severely "feigned himself dead, and lay perfectly still, till he heard his mother call him after dark (III, 187). Joseph Young secreted himself "in a thicket of bushes, where I lay till eight o'clock in the evening, at which time I heard a female voice calling my name" (III, 185). The survivors clung together throughout "the painful night in deep and awful reflections" (III, 185). Thereafter, the dead "were thrown into a dry well and covered with dirt" (III, 324).

The thunderheads hit Far West a day later. Mosiah Hancock, four-and-a-half, witnessed the slaughter of an infant wrested from its mother and the multiple violations of an unconscious sixteen-year-old girl. He himself was beaten to death: "I could look upon my body, and I was far above them and was glad; for behold, I saw a personage draped in perfect white who said to me, 'Mosiah, you have got to go back to the earth, for you have a work to do'" (The Life Story of Mosiah Lyman Hancock). In one place, women and children, separated from the men, huddled in prayer in the face of a threatened attack at dawn, and looked to the heavens.

It is the faith of the mothers of Missouri that transcends the tale of persecution with a show of power:

Brother Joseph Holbrook was literally hacked to pieces [at Crooked River], and he was brought to our home about the first of April. My mother nursed him for about three months. He had to remain in the hay loft all this time until he was able to get out of the state. One evening, old Sam Bogart [the mob-king] and two other men came hunting him. He was hid in the hay loft covered with flax. . . I cannot attempt to describe my feelings as I stood on the floor in front of the fire while those three dark figures stood outside our door. I felt sure my mother would get one of them even if they killed my father. I shudder to think of these dark times (Mosiah Hancock).

*The mothers of Zion shielded "Brother Joseph," whether Joseph Smith or Joseph Holbrook, with their very lives.

The stories eerily repeat themselves: thickets and lofts, fires, the quietly calling voices of women stirring to life men feigning death, the dark figures of men and horses engulfed in the broad Missouri night. And horrible was the passage "within" that night:

When my guard conducted me to the door of this miserable cell it grated on its huge hinges and opened like the pit yawning to receive me; a volume of thick smoke issued forth and seemed to forbid my entrance; but urged in my rear by bayonets and loaded pistols in the hands of savage beings, I endeavored to enter, but war forced to retreat again outside of the door to breathe for a moment the free air. At this instant several pistols were cocked and presented at my head and breast, with terrible threats and oaths of instant death if I did not go in again. I told them to fire as soon as they pleased, for I must breathe a moment or die in the attempt. After standing a few moments, I again entered the prison and threw myself down, my face to the floor, to avoid the smoke. Here I remained for some time, partly in a state of insensibility; my heart sickened within me, and a deathlike feeling came over me, from which I did not wholly recover for several days (Autobiography, 233-234).

In Far West Joseph Smith was betrayed and taken prisoner, with several of his friends, on October 31, and sold to the justice of a mad carnival. Men daubed with red paint masqueraded savagely, and the prisoners on the road to their "mock court" were exhibited like dethroned authorities to the gaping inhabitants of Vanity Fair. The prisoners were placed in a covered wagon bound for trial and execution at Independence. Lucy Smith came to kiss her sons goodbye:

The man who led us through the crowd spoke to Hyrum, who was sitting in front, and, telling him that his mother had come to see him, requested that he should reach his hand to me. He did so, but I was not allowed to see him; the cover was of strong cloth, and nailed down so close that he could hardly get his hand through (HC III, 195).

Hyrum Smith later spoke of men, women, and children bound to trees, whipped, and left to hunger, and, then, "to gnaw the bark from the trees" (III, 404-424). Joseph and his associates, chained together in a dungeon were offered human flesh, while poison was administered to them in tea. "I escaped unhurt," said Alexander McRae, "while all who did [drink] were sorely afflicted, some being blind two or three days" (III, 258). Hyrum, who was poisoned several times, remembered the prisoners lying "two or three days in a torpid, stupid state, not even caring or wishing for life." Of the prison into which another Joseph was placed: "Ramban explains it as an underground dungeon with an overhead opening through which they lowered the prisoners and through which the prisoners had light." The word for "dungeon" was explained by Ramban as having reference to "the faint light that percolated into the dungeon."

Liberty Jail had its opening though which they lowered the prisoners. Old photographs of the jail show it to be a solid box of pain.

Another victim of the hospitality of Egypt was the hero of the Hymn of the Pearl, who was detected as a foreigner and fed "a mixture of cunning and treachery." The prince "sank into deep sleep under the heaviness of their food." "Deep sleep" is a a fair description of the long bondage during the Missouri winter of 1838-1839. Indeed, the descent into Missouri is reminiscent of much else: the widespread patterns of initiatory rites in which cabins, caves, forests, and dungeons are symbolic of death. According to Mircea Eliade, "Such ritual represents a return to the womb of earth, to the embryonic state." It is a return to the Guph--the inchoate atmosphere of the Chamber of Creation in Jewish thought--and to the preexisting night. To enter Missouri is to confront the cataclysm and to be ground inexorably to a fine dust.

Joseph, in the midst of that long Winter, calls upon the Master of the elements, the Lord of the Apocalypse: "O Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven, earth, and seas (see Rev. 14:7). . . who controllest and subjectest the devil, and the dark and benighted dominion of Sheol." Joseph has descended through the elemental storms into Sheol, the silent house of death.

In that stillness "the voice of inspiration steals along and whispers:

and if thou shouldest be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness; and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all; if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?

The whisper of the Spirit increases to a violent pitch with the anaphoric if, then leads to a most surprising conclusion: the gentle rebuke of the Lord. God responds to Joseph in the Stormwind exactly as He answers Job, by showing him a picture of the natural world as an hierarchy of harsh realities. At the bottom lurks Leviathan, or "Old Pharaoh, King Devil of Mobocrats," as Joseph Smith calls this aquatic monster (WPJS 122; Book of Abraham, Facsimile 1, Figure 9). In this atmosphere of upheaval, attended by thunderings, lightnings, tempest, fire, smoke, vapor of darkness, and the opening of the earth, even the very "God of nature suffers" (1 Nephi 19:11-12).

The King of Nature, who has descended below all, challenges His disciples with an incisive question: "Are ye able to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (see Matthew 20:22)? The challenge resonates with the Christian imagery of baptism as tomb and womb: as both ritual extinguishment and the recovery of prenatal innocence (see Hugo Rahner, Greek Myths and Christian Mystery--the whole book). The sullen tomb into which Joseph had fallen was such a sign in imitatio Christi.

Entrance into a baptism of this type invites the revelation of sacred teachings, especially the key to the hearts of the fathers. In his Letter from Liberty Jail, Joseph laments that the "plan of the devil" has robbed him heretofore of the "opportunity to give [the saints] the plan that God has revealed to me." Nevertheless, "trials will only give us the knowledge necessary to understand the minds of the ancients. For my part, I think I never could have felt as I now do, if I had not suffered the wrongs that I have suffered." In order to obtain the knowledge of the fathers, and to understand their minds, there must be first a sum pathos--all must experience the same cup (again Matthew 20:22).

Of John Lathrop, Joseph's first American progenitor, and like Joseph, the pastor of a persecuted band, we read: "On April 29, 1632, the meetings were raided by a band of ruffians representing the Church of England, and he was imprisoned in the Old Clink Prison in Newgate, where he was held until 1634, when according to the record, he somehow escaped from Newgate prison" (E.B. Huntington; Newgate recalls the trial of Jeremiah at the Temple). From Newgate Lathrop fled to Massachusetts. We also recall John Bunyan's twelve years in prison, anguishing over the nurture of his blind daughter, his dreams of drowning, his passage to Paradise (see Jack Lindsay, John Bunyan: Maker of Myths).

Joseph clung to the consolation "that the ancients will not have whereof to boast over us in the day of judgment, as being called to pass through heavier afflictions; they we may hold an even weight in the balance with them." And in a letter to his wife, he writes, "I feel like Joseph in Egypt." (see Elder Neal A. Maxwell). Like ancient Joseph, the Prophet is strengthened by a constant flow of revelation as the dungeon is converted into "a nourishing womb in which he is engendered anew. The symbols of initiatory death and rebirth are complementary" (Mircea Eliade, Birth and Rebirth, 37).

The imagery of his dreams reveals that the experiences of Liberty clustered about Joseph to the last night of his life (HC VI, 393-394). Those dreams were informed with both horror and enlightenment:

I dreamed last night that I was swimming in a river of pure water, clear as crystal, over a shoal of fish of the largest size I ever saw. They were directly under my belly. I was astonished, and felt afraid that they might drown me or do me injury (HC V, 306).

Another nightmare presents his enemies as snakes wrapped in battle, as he rides past unharmed toward the prairie, an open and forbidding landscape:

On arriving at the prairie, I was overtaken and seized by William and Wilson Law and others, saying, 'Ah! ah! we have got you at last! We will secure you and put you in a safe place!' and, without any ceremony dragged me out of my carriage, tied my hands behind me, and threw me into a deep, dry pit. (William Law had been Joseph's Counselor in the First Presidency).

After a horrible scene of his enemies being devoured by "ferocious wild beasts" (a neat reversal of the story of Joseph, who is represented by his brothers as having been slain by a lion), Joseph is visited by his guide or guardian angel. "Joseph, Joseph," he calls, "What are you doing there? I replied, 'My enemies fell upon me, bound me and threw me in.' He then took me by the hand, and drew me out of the pit, set me free, and we went away rejoicing" (HC VI, 461-462).

The dream recalls the visitation of Adam by his angelic guide in an old Mandaean text:

I have come and will instruct thee, Adam, and release thee out of this world. Hearken and hear and be instructed, and rise up victorious to the place of light *Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, 130).

This visitation reminds one forcibly of a vision about David Patten, who was slain at Crooked River, Missouri. In the dream Elder Patten descends as an apostle of light to preach baptism and deliverance from death to the faithful ministers of Christendom and their families, men like Lathrop and Bunyan (Ann Booth, Wilford Woodruff Journals, July 2, 1840).

The idea of the rescuing message or messenger also recalls the prince in the Hymn of the Pearl, who is sent down to Egypt to recover "the one pearl, which resides there near the ravenous dragon," or serpent. Once in Egypt, he forgets his purpose until he receives an encouraging letter from home which inspires him to finish his mission.

Joseph Smith identified the pearl of great price with "the inheritance prepared for the saints" or the "place of Zion" in Missouri.

The pearl is the even shetiyah, the foundation stone of the "place of Zion," which in Jewish though is the first creation "from which the rest of the earth sprang forth." Joseph, too, represents a sure foundation, a pure stone, tested in the rivers of fire.

From jail he writes a letter to the homeless saints, whose makeshift dwellings of the Mississippi reflect a painful reversal of the festival of Succoth. This letter takes up the theme of the chaos of the elements. It speaks of the devastation of "mountain torrents" which strew the streams with filth, and which are a representation of a hell of "ignorance" and "bigotry" pouring "forth its rage like the burning lava of mount Vesuvius."

By way of contrast and of fulfillment is the mighty Missouri, which in its eternally self-purifying roll is as God Himself "moving in His majesty and power," and is an awesome reflection of the the wisdom and glory of "the Maker of Heaven, Earth, Seas, and the Fountains of Water." The Missouri moving with state in "its decreed course" represents the rule and order of God amidst the play of nature. Joseph compares its majestic flow with the "knowledge from heaven" which pours down upon the heads of the Saints from the throne of God and the Lamb. This current of revelation involves knowledge about the heavens to inform the Saints of the "bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars--all the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times." The passage through the deep involves a new creation of heaven and earth, as the initiate, like a pearl sheltered from the violence of cosmic disaster, is recovered from death into light.

The Letter from Liberty Jail with its picture of "burning mountains," winter torrents, avid lightnings, and "fierce tigers" is balanced by a sense of an everlasting and on-going order. To be swept by the maelstrom into "the lowest consideration of the darkest abyss," is vital for the revelation of the root of the matter, upon which the mind may work to "considerations of eternal expanse," as in the case of Job. Nevertheless, a recurring theme in Joseph's letters from Liberty Jail is that the watery expanse must be traversed with steadiness. In this imagery one senses a longing for the buoyancy and the freedom of the sail The last stage of Joseph's flight into freedom, cloaked in disguise, was the ferry over the Mississippi.

"Who can tell what high rank should be given to man? He crosses the sea, he penetrates the heavens with his thought and understands the movement of the stars" (Nemesius; This is the "baptismal voyage," Hugo Rahner, 343). The crossing is equated with the revelation of the hierarchies of the heavenly kingdoms and the eternal possibilities of man.

Joseph Smith is Everyman and has his likeness in every nation and culture, even as he binds them into one heart and family. In India, for instance, the "fathers" celebrated the rajasuya, the enthronement ceremony which involved "the future sovereign's reversion to the embryonic state, his gestation for a year, and his mystical rebirth as Cosmoscrator, identified with Prajapati (the All God) and the Cosmos. When he is anointed he stands on the throne, arms lifted; his incarnating the cosmic axis fixed in the navel of the eartth (that is, the throne, the Center of the World) and touching the heavens. The aspersion is connected with the water that come down from the heavens. . . to fertilize the earth." So, too, the Jews, in their keen study of the trials of the Patriarchs of the race, have sketched out a path to glory. The Jewish exegetes, commenting on the semantic resemblance between "trial" nisayon and "banner" nes, have observed of the Fathers.

Joseph's Letter from Liberty contains "only hints of things which existed in the prophet's mind, [things] which are not written concerning eternal glory (see WPJS, 205. Yet the Letter packs the fullness of Nauvoo within its pages: "We are called to hold the keys of the mysteries of those things that have been kept hid from the foundation of the world until now."

The Zohar reveals Joseph in Egypt as the berith shalom, "the Covenant of Peace" and as "the Righteous Foundation," the yosid. Given this identification, the prophecy of Isaiah 54 has at its heart a direct referecne to the preparations of Joseph in the crucible of Missouri:

For the mountains shall depart, and

The Church of Jesus Christ, in its infancy, passed through two seasons of persecution in Missouri, but all this was only a preparation for the blessings of two temples
So, too, the Missouri persecutions are a dark echo of response to the brilliance of
the seal of its witness. God reveals Himself to imprisoned Joseph in the storm, and as God of Battles. This, we feel, is as essential a revelation and a witness as that of the First Vision. Indeed, the passage through Missouri deepens the contemplations of the nature of God and man, as first manifest in the Revelation of the Father and the Son. The baptism of Missouri is a mighty shout of joy:

Bathing himself, in the mysterious depths he shouts mightily for joy, for water is his nourishment. He remains one and the same, yet he comes forth strengthened out of the depths, a new sun, and shines his light upon men, having been cleansed in the water (Melito of Sardis).

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Castalian Waters and Pierian Spring

Readers just want to learn something. Tired of the mystifying Castalian waters, Mormon readers, like Joseph Smith, just "want to show a little learning as well as other fools"; they know they must "Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Discovery in the Book of Mormon


Immersed in Robert Alter's books, which explore literary themes in the Hebrew Bible, I wrote the following little essay in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. I reproduce the sea-battered draft here, with some cosmetic changes. A second version(s), boasting new sails, and perhaps bettered, will appear in other posts.

Discovery and devastation march through the pages of the Book of Mormon. The graphic descriptions of the annihilation of entire cultures in the book remind the reader that for the Nephites, America, “the land of promise, choice above all other lands,” ever remained a mystery and a terror. To enter America was to be swallowed up in a labyrinth where, wanderers, “our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, in a strange land.” To discover America is to be separated, as it were in dream, from one’s own proper identity, lost, and, horribly enough, eventually forgotten, as in the case of the people of Zarahemla (or Mulekites), “whose language had become corrupted” and culture shivered and forgotten. In this state approaching disintegration, the Mulekites were ”discovered” by an isolated band of Nephites, themselves lost in the breadth and the sweep of the continent, fleeing the destruction of their own homes in the land southward. The secret of America lay to the north; northward coursed the dawn of discovery.

Amaleki, the Nephite record keeper, recounts how Mosiah, fleeing north with his refugee group “discovered a people who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.

As we continue to read, Mosiah further “discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon."

"At the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.

And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.  . .

And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward."

In the Amaleki certain key terms, motifs, and themes appear, which also resurface later in the artfully constructed narratives of Mosiah, Alma, and Mormon. Martin Buber defines a key-word (Leitwort) as:

"A word or word-root that recurs significantly in a text, in a continuum of texts, or in a configuration of texts: by following these repetitions, one is able to decipher or grasp a meaning of the text, or at any rate, the meaning will be revealed more strikingly. The repetition, as we have said, need not be merely of the word itself but also of the word-root in fact, the very difference of words can often intensify the dynamic action of the repetition."

The Book of Mormon narrative is also rich in motif. Robert Alter describes a motif as:

"A concrete image, sensory quality, action, or object" that "recurs through a particular narrative," but "has no meaning in itself without the defining context of the narrative; it may be incipiently symbolic or instead primarily a means of giving formal coherence to a narrtive."

Motifs help to bind disparate, even unrelated, events in the narrative to a common theme. Amaleki emphasizes plates, records, swords, bones--all these, hard, cold, ringing, lifeless objects which survive man's own brief flowering, symbolized by the nine moons which terminate the existence of an entire culture. Plates, stones, towers; all reflect coldly, moonlike, lurid. The sun, itself extinguished, hides his faces from "a lost and a fallen people" caught in the chill void on the dark side of the earth.

The key words of language and discovery, then, inform Amaleki's concise historical narrative, and indeed are strengthened by the use of two important verbs, to interpret and to confound language. Interpretation of ancient records, like that found upon the "large stone," provides additional waves of discovery to shock and to terrify the Nephite explorers, being the "account of one Coriantumr and the slain of his people." "One Coriantumr"--only one, a certain strange fellow named Coriantumr, king no longer, kingdom defunct.

The theme of discovery plays itself out to envelop the picture as follows: The sense of joy and brotherhood shared by Nephites and the people of Zarahemla accompanies a recital of sorrows, for the people discovered by Mosiah is an illiterate people, atheistic, corrupt, and decimated by internecine war. Mosiah recovers this lost people through a program of education, focusing on written language and the study of ancient records.

Now another discovery is made. An ancient record that nobody can read is brought to the king, who learns that it too speaks of a confounding of languages, a journey to America, and to another people caught in the American labyrinth and ground to powder. The very appearance of the stone reveals that much. Yet Mosiah. . .

[temporary gap--draft only--Standing water, proceed with caution. . . 

according to Amaleki's pattern of crediting discovery by a descending rule of ethnocentricity, was discovered by the people of Zarahemla. This discovery of a single man represents the final moment of a people never to be recovered--beyond discovery--by a genius like Mosiah; an ultimate gestation period that bears only bones, ashes, and stones.

"One Coriantumr," to be sure, has fathers and first parents, but no progeny, for as Amaleki explains, "the severity of the Lord fell upon them, according to his judgments which are just." And then, a final statement which reveals the deepest level of discovery, one of wrenching sorrow: "and their bones lay scattered in the land northward."

Coriantumr knows nine silent months with a people fresh to a brave new world--one that had wonderful people in it, but now "their bones lay scattered," and that is all. The Amaleki calls to mind Psalm 53: "The is none that doeth good, no not one." "There were they in great fear." "God hath scattered the bones." "God hath despised them."

In the story of Mosiah discovery spells desolation. Desolation, in fact, is the name given in the Book of Mormon to the land far to the north of Zarahemla, "the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken [a grim phrase], which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing [they got out quick]. Far from being a pristine and a virgin country in 600 B.C., the newcomers found the scene so terrifying that they plunged quickly southward--southward into cultural annihilation. Southward, away from stones, plates, records, and the still warm bones. (The narrative recalls the Viking discovery of a shipwreck, even as they were in the act of "discovering" America.)

Amaleki completes the record of the small plates of Nephi,  (which represents the end of an epoch in Nephite history--a wipeout), by speaking of an expedition sent from Zarahemla to recover, or rediscover, the lost Nephite homeland in Lehi-Nephi in the deep southward:

"Wherefore, they went up into the wilderness. And their leader being a strong and might man, and a stiffnecked man [like "one Coriantumr"?], wherefore he caused a contention among them; and they were all slain, save fifty, in the wilderness [the labyrinth], and they returned again to the land of Zarahemla. And it came to pass that they also took others to a considerable number, and took their journey again[!] into the wilderness. And I, Amaleki, had a brother, who also went with them; and I have not since known concerning them. And I am about to lie down in my grave."

As this mini-episode indicates, the first 400 years of Nephite history terminates on a sad note. Fifty bloodstained men struggling back to Zarahema, brother separated from brother, lost from knowledge, simply dropping out of exitence, as far as the record is concerned, in the terror of the Americas.

Three generations have passed and brother yearns for brother. Both the Nephites at Zarahemla and the Nephites at Lehi-Nephi, separated by an uncharted distance, have sent out small expeditions 'not a map-making people, have sent out small expeditions each intent on finding the other. small-half-hearted. The narrative of the Book of Mosiah (the grandson of the great discoverer of Zarahemla), abridged, edited, and shaped by Mormon centuries later, begins with the expedition sent to Zarahemla under the direction of one Ammon and his three brothers. The four men upon arrival in the land of Nephi are surrounded, taken, bound, and thrust into prison by order of the king, Limhi. After two days, the four brothers stand before Limhi, who commands them to reveal their mysterious identity under penalty of death. Ammon, as spokesman, announces his name, genealogy, origin, and the purpose of the expedition, whereupon Limhi and all his people rejoice, for they dwell on the verge of extinction and are about to slip back into the leveling and eliminating forces of the continent.

This whole episode may be called a type-scene for it clearly recalls another Ammon, son of Mosiah himself, who after venturing forth to the same country with his three brothers some years later, is taken, bound, and granted audience before the Lamanite king. In this latter instance, however, Ammon does not reveal his true identity, a point that bears upon the denouement of the recital. Limhi caused Ammon to read the history of his own people and explains to him the present exigency:

Now, as soon as Ammon had read the record, the king inquired of him to know if he could interpret languages, and Ammon told him that he could not.

And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness [reversal of first doomed journey: repentance], that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.

And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.

And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold. And behold, also they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of [cold, resounding] brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound. And again, they have brought swords, the hints thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no on in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates.

Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?"

For: "I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction."

The venture into the wilderness was a dismal one, and the harbinger of fear. The group does not find Zarahemla, but rather loses itself in both space and in time, for the "space" of many days. Mormon, the narrator, perhaps for reasons of thematic emphasis retells the story in a later section of Mosiah, and in so doing plays again upon the language and irony of finding and losing in the dreadful game of discovery. The grand terror of the story is not indeed in the revelation of a land covered with bones and the skeletal remains of buildings, but in the mistaking of this desolation for the blithely abandoned sister-city Zarahemla, an error attributable to an obvious paranoia, not to mention a besetting loss of cultural memory--no one remember Coriantumr or marvelous translation or the testimony of the stone.

Now king Limhi had send, previous to the coming of Ammon, a small number of men to search for the land of Zarahemla, but they could not find it, and they were lost in the wilderness. Nevertheless, they did find a land which had been people yea, a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been destroyed and they, having supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla, returned to the land of Nephi, having arrived in the borders of the land not many days before the coming of Ammon, And they brought a record with them, even a record of the people whose bones they had found; and it was engraven on plates of ore. And now Limhi was again filled with joy [type=scene: a king brought records in an unknown language] on learning form the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engraving such engravings. yea, and Ammon also did rejoice [the rejoicing Ammon]

The expedition returns to Lehi-Nephi bearing both the 24 plates and the sad tale of the devastation of Zarahemla. (The found 24 plates calls to mind the lost 24 daughters of the Lamanites in the previous chapter; and the 43 searchers for Zarahemla.) Although, not long afterward Ammon arrives to announce that Zarahemla yet survives in the middle of America, surrounded by a world of pain, a dread question remains; Who were the victims of the land northward? What was the cause of their destruction. It is the anxiousness and fear of a small and time-worn race on the border of the wilderness that impels the asking of such a question. God himself provides the answer and it is a dire one. (See Alma 37; be careful what you ask, but also ask the right question).

And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, all their murders, and robbings, and their plunderings, and all their wickedness and abominations, may be made manifest unto this people; yea, and that ye preserve these interpreters.

For behold, the Lord saw that his people began to work in darkness, yea, work secret murders and abominations; therefore the Lord said, if they did not repent they should be destroyed from off the face of the earth.

And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying: I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land.

And now, my son, we see that they did not repent; therefore they have been destroyed, and thus far the word of God has been fulfilled; yea, their secret abominations have been brought out of darkness and made known unto us.

. . . . (Draft Only)

.......but the cessation of history and the wreckage of an entire society on the dark side of the earth: America. Through Mosiah all readers become wonderful seers and discoverers of hidden knowledge Yet as the narrator points out repeatedly whole cultures have been demolished leaving only stones, bones, and plates, hard lifeless testimonies of dashed hopes and bon vivre. These alone are preserved that all people should learn a tale of iniquity, abomination, and total loss.

The glorious discovery of America is ever a record of genocide. And genocide is ever a record of the severity of the judgments in in other words the decisions of the Lord, which are just. To discover America is to be translated instantaneously as it were to the day of judgment, Every stage of Nephite history unravels another chapter in the judgment day of the Lord.

Another example of this discovers itself in the history of Ammonihah, built far from the main center of Zarahemla, by the borders of the land, in order to foster a sense of independence of thought, pride, and self-security. Ammonihah was lost in a single moment of pain, when

"every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed, and also their great city, which they said God could not destroy, because of its greatness. But behold, in one day it was left desolate; and the carcasses were mangled by dogs and wild beasts of the wilderness. Nevertheless, after many days their dead bodies were heaped up upon the face of the earth, and they were covered with a shallow covering, And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation."

Ammonihah represents a mini-Desolation, a reminder in miniature that widespread destruction of the people in the north, is a constant in the American experience.


Moroni takes his Jaredite account from "the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the book of Ether," Coriantumr enters the scene, scion of ancient warrior kings, “having studied himself in all the arts of war,” “for there were many who rose up, who were mighty men, and sought to destroy Coriantumr by their secret plans of wickedness.” The sun trembles at the horizon, and sets in blood.

And so great and lasting had been the war, and so long had been the scene of bloodshed and carnage, that the whole face of the land was covered with the bodies of the dead. And so swift and speedy was the war that there was none left to bury the dead, but they did march forth from the shedding of blood to the shedding of blood, leaving the bodies of both men, women, and children strewed upon the face of the land, to be a prey to the worms of the flesh. And the scent thereof went forth upon the face of the land, even upon all the face of the land; wherefore the people became troubled by day and by night, because of the scent thereof.

Was the war great and lasting or was it swift and speedy? It was as deep and as great as the very foundations of culture; it was swift to cut down even the most tender plants.

Troubled by day and by night, there came, finally, nights wherein men “were drunken with anger, even as a man is drunken with wine.” Then a dawn, by which “all had fallen by the sword,” except Corintumr and the Heraclean Shiz. But

Shiz had fainted with the loss of blood. And it came to pass that when Coriantumr had leaned upon his sword, that he rested a little [the nine moon rest would come later], he smote off the head of Shiz. And it came to pass that after he had smitten off the head of Shiz. . . that Coriantumr fell to the earth, and became as if he had no life.

Silver, gold, iron, copper, and the luminous bones glittered in the dawn, as the heaps of earth fell back in shadow. The whole face of the land was covered with a shroud.

Discovery bespeaks a search for that which is lost or hidden.  The Book of Mormon employs various words and expressions to clarify the message of discovery: to discover, to find, to search, to bring to light, to reveal. The greatest explorers of the Book of Mormon are the men of light, the seers, for the most significant findings in Nephite history are those of ancient records like the twenty-four gold places and the Jaredite stele. The discovery of a physical object or land is but prelude to the great act of decipherment., the interpretation of the discovery of the ancient record. To interpret a record by the power of God is to discover deeply a people, to reveal them and to come to know them heart to heart. It is to rejoice and to drink of dark sorry. Seers, in this world, see what they would not, yet in sight there is joy. The records of lost cultures proved an indispensable man and a guide for the Nephites by which they could negotiate the new world in which they found themselves.

The finding of the record of the Jaredites comes at the most crucial point in Nephite history—they are split—then split again—even lost.
The reoot of the verb discover is cover. A cover is a barrier to knowledge, and a closing of a door, the end of history. Has covered the eyes of the seers.
The narratives speak of many coverings

And who thus have no lasting cover for their sin, and whose bones lay scattered on the open face of the land. That face wears a cruel and lonesome countenance, as if it were the reflection of the moon..


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Joseph Smith and the Book of Abraham Papyrus Roll in His Own Words

The guiding principle underlying all I write about the book of Abraham may be expressed as follows: 

Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and he knew what he was doing. 

While he may not have fully grasped, at the moment, all the implications of the many revelations he received, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell suggested, he surely understood his calling and the nature of prophecy and seership: "Though the grandness of this doctrine is beyond our comprehension, it is not beyond our attention and exploration. We are, in fact, in the position of having been given revelations that were then far beyond the Prophet Joseph Smith, bright as he was. Yet he was their enunciator and their declarer" ("Free to Choose," 16 March 2004). And he was also the appointed keeper of the various sacred records that he both treasured and translated. How did he translate? In the words of associate W.W. Phelps: "He translated sacredly" ("Now we sing with one accord").

It was for Joseph Smith, as it was with King Mosiah: "King Mosiah, had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings," as appeared on records "of ancient date," whether plates of ore, large stones, or papyrus rolls (Mosiah 21:28; Mosiah 8:11). And note how the "gift from God" precedes the instrumentality by which the gift is exercised; the "gift" is given, then "interpreters" provided "whereby he could interpret." For Brother Joseph, the gift to interpret ever remained, even when the instrumentality, or Urim and Thummim, "whereby he could interpret," varied from ancient interpreters to seer stones, then to the experienced seeric vision of spiritually endowed eyes. The gift also remained, whether he was to interpret engravings on plates of ore or hieratic on papyrus. Yet Latter-day Saints sometimes find it easier to exercise faith to see Brother Joseph visited by an angel and translating from plates hid from worldly eyes, rather than translating from papyri originating in "the catacombs of Egypt" and brought to him, as if by accident, by an ordinary man named Michael Chandler.

Yet evidence abounds for the Prophet translating from a papyrus roll. Whether translation from papyri by the gift and power of God and an open flow of revelation combined to produce what we have of the book of Abraham is, naturally, an open question. As Hugh Nibley explains, the Prophet Joseph, in translating Scripture, would both translate and interpret ancient writings, while also allowing further revelation to "take flight" to bright skies of clarity and light (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 4). Like Abraham, Joseph Smith sought not only to be one "who possessed great knowledge" but "to possess a greater knowledge" (Abraham 1:1). We here recall the telling words of Elder Bruce R. McConkie who yearned for yet more knowledge about "the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham": "Would that the Prophet had gone on his translation or revelation, as the case may be" ("The Doctrinal Restoration," in The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Truths, ed. M.S. Nyman, R.L. Millet, 1985, 1-22).

We speak of Lehi's dream of the Tree of Life, but he also calls it a vision. Interpretation, translation, insight, dream, or vision--all belong to seers and revelators. Scripture works to the salvation of the human family, which calls for nothing less than all the divine communication the Prophet is capable of receiving. We need not question, in any degree, the work of a seer because he is the one who has been set apart or consecrated to be the Gazelem, or spiritual interpreter, of this generation. Gazelem derives from Semitic g-z-r = Egyptian Dj-z-r, "set apart," "make sacred or consecrate," with -m as mimation, and occurs as a personal name in both Levantine and Egyptian sources.

Still, clear evidence that the Prophet Joseph interpreted a papyrus roll comes from his own official record.

We would do well to start with the Prophet's final public discourse, his ultimate and far-reaching public testimony, just eleven days before his martyrdom. On Sunday, June 16, 1844, Joseph Smith taught powerful doctrine about the nature of God and of eternal advancement from intelligence to intelligence. He took a portion of his text from Abraham Chapter 3, which he had published two years earlier, and told his hearers that he had learned this powerful doctrine "while translating," which is a marvel. We recall the Lord's invitation to Oliver Cowdery a year before the publication of the Book of Mormon itself: "Ask that you may know the mysteries of God, and that you may translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred" (Doctrine and Covenants 8:11). The verse also succinctly describes Joseph Smith's learning the mysteries of God by translating a papyri, a "sacred record" once "hid up," and now "in [his] house." Brother Joseph must have been asking for more "ancient records" to come forth in his day.

"I learned it by translating the papyrus now in my house." What a definitive statement! And it is very important to note the name of the Prophet's personal secretary who took down the sermon: it was the gifted Englishman Thomas Bullock, the most accurate secretary the Prophet ever had.

As Joseph Smith delivered his final powerful sermon, did he know what he was doing, what he was talking about? Some students now say that Joseph Smith (or Gazelam) only thought he was translating from papyrus, that in his ordinariness and weakness he might not always have been able to distinguish between an act of translation from a document and a revelation prompted because of a document. They say that they must fashion new narratives about the book of Abraham because the old ones have failed. Yet would anyone say that of King Mosiah and the large stone brought to him, itself a sort of historical accident reminiscent of Chandler's papyri? Did Mosiah translate the stone by the "gift and power of God" or was it only a heavy prompt? Amaleki says "he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God," but what did Amaleki know? Or, would Ammon perchance have suggested to King Limhi that Mosiah's grandson, now king himself, could interpret languages, but in his weakness and simplicity might not know exactly what was going on when he translated, even with the engravings in front of him?

Amaleki knew; Mosiah knew; the second King Mosiah knew; Aminadi knew: Joseph knew. These were all seers of God and they knew what they were doing. The question is not one of frailty and weakness in a Prophet or King, but whether each and every one was a moron. Let's not ask questions about Joseph Smith, that we couldn't also in good faith ask of Aminadi, Gazelem, or of either Mosiah. "Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings; yea, and Ammon also did rejoice" (Mosiah 21:28).

What is our response?

Do we rejoice? Or do we, at times, let our reasoning "interrupt [our] rejoicings?"

Oliver, in the revelation received through Joseph, was further invited to "ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken" (8:2). This special promise somehow seems to embrace all the "old records," and the consequent code-cracking, which have emerged in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Asia, and the Americas since 1829--and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon leads them all.

One record alone joins the Book of Mormon in the lead, as earnest of that which is yet to come, "the revelation" of "a translated version of the record [of portions of the last chapter of the Gospel of John] made on parchment by John and hidden up by himself" (Doctrine and Covenants 7). As Hugh Nibley noted in 1975, there seems to be no limit as to the manner in which the "old records" come to light: some are penned on parchment, others engraved on metal or stone, some are perceived and translated by vision, others with the old record preserved and present. "The engravings of old records, which are ancient," certainly has the ring of metal to it, but may also include such things as the records of Enoch and Noah recovered through the inspired translation of the Holy Bible.

Needless to say, the brethren expected in light of this revelation to recover more engraved plates in the fashion of the gold plates of Mormon, or the like, and that's why the papyri, once identified as purporting to be Abraham's writings, had to purchased and kept safe at home. Joseph Smith would not have raised $2400 to purchase papyri unless he had already read on one of the rolls that it purported to be "the writings of Abraham." Just because someone, somewhere, says that the Prophet subsequently only thought that he was translating from a specific roll of papyrus, when he was really receiving the book of Abraham by revelation, without need of papyri, doesn't make it so. Not to fuss--evidence will point the way.

On Sunday, December 20, 1835, Brother Joseph wrote in his journal, in his own hand: "I showed them [guests] the sacred record." Here we find unequivocal evidence that the Prophet himself, not solely his scribes and associates, considered at least some part of the papyri in his possession to be Scripture, or "Sacred Record." So was Joseph Smith nine years in confusion about translating from a concrete sacred record, while "really" receiving inspiration that had nothing to do with what lay before his eyes or what he was exhibiting to visitors?

To say, as do the guides in the Church History Library, that the hieroglyphs have nothing to do with it, because Joseph wrote the book of Abraham by "inspiration" or by "pure inspiration," is a dodge like no other dodge--and it doesn't signify anything "really." If you say that Joseph Smith translated hieroglyphs by inspiration how does that differ from saying that Joseph Smith translated by inspiration or from saying that Joseph Smith wrote by inspiration? Or how does saying that Brother Joseph translated by inspiration differ from saying "He translated sacredly?"

We sing of "an angel" that "Brought the Priesthood back again": "Even Joseph he inspired/Yea, his heart he truly fired/With the light that he desired/For the work of righteousness." Shall our Temple Square guides, then, simply say it was all by "inspiration?" They could so say--and yet be doctrinal--but they would be leaving out so very, very much of the significance of seers and so very much of the realities of the Restoration. Inspired Joseph saw Elijah; inspired, he felt his hands on his head; under inspiration he "sacredly" pondered and expounded Elijah's expansive doctrines; and worked, fired in mind and heart, to build the Holy Temple. Did Joseph Smith build the Temple by "pure inspiration," then? He did. Nevertheless, as Brigham Young would be at pains to remind us, the Seer and the Saints used stone and mortar and brass all the same. And he used papyri and hieroglyphs all the same.

Semantics can only take you so far. We might except the docents at the Lion House, but:

There are some things you just can't leave out of the story.

In the very same year, the Prophet appended a few words about the Egyptian artifacts, again written in his own hand, to a letter sent by W.W. Phelps to his wife Sally Phelps. In what he wrote, the Prophet, with his astonishing knowledge of Scripture ever likening verses, phrases, and prophecies, unto his own circumstances, tied the purchase and ownership of the papyri, or parts thereof, to the ancient prophecies of Moses--the papyri, arriving by seeming accident, nevertheless also came as prophecy fulfilled. The Prophet thus wrote to Sally of "hidden things of old time" and of "treasures hid in the sand" ("treasures": Deuteronomy 33:19). If the "treasures hid in the sand," in the very case of which Brother Joseph was then speaking, were mere prompts to revelation, then how could they take on the substance and character of treasures? 

We move to an even more specific point of evidence.

"A TRANSLATION of some ancient records that have fallen into our hands, from the Catacombs of Egypt, purporting to be the writings of Abraham, while he was in Egypt, called the BOOK OF ABRAHAM, written by his own hand, upon papyrus." There next follows the shortened title, "The Book of Abraham". Times and Seasons, March 1, 1842. The lines introducing the book of Abraham, at the time of its publication in 1842, also convey the same line of evidence.

These records, says Joseph knowingly--and with wonder--"have fallen into our hands." Here is a frank acknowledgment of the accidental, the utter strangeness of the event. The whole circumstance of Chandler's visit to Kirtland and the subsequent purchase of the papyri all unfolded as surprise, a double accident. The word accident, we recall, comes from ad cadere to fall to, into; the records "have fallen (cadere) into our hands" by accident or coincidence, etc. "Fallen into our hands" tells us much about the attitude of Joseph Smith toward the papyri. "Have Fallen into our hands. . . purporting to be": Brother Joseph is speaking to an audience and telling them that the recovery of Abraham's writings apparently did not happen through supernatural means, but by accident and surprise. Yet the Lord had commanded Joseph and Oliver quite specifically to ask for more "old records" to come to light.

Why were the several papyrus rolls valued and purchased? (And why were the mummies purchased under some duress and not valued at all?--that's telling.) Because one of the sheets of papyri "purported" (pro-portare, carry forth, bear forth) that it held a treasure from the sands of Egypt. What treasure and how? Clearly the papyrus itself carried a message. Who says so? Joseph Smith. And why did he say so? Because he claimed to have "a gift from God to interpret such engravings" and other scripts. There can be no doubt as to the implications of the peculiar wording of the introduction to the book of Abraham, that Joseph Smith is saying he examined the papyri and that on one roll he saw words conveying, or purporting to say, Here are the "writings of Abraham while in Egypt." And what were the specific words he first read? Would it not logically be the title, a purporting statement indeed, which in its full and typically Egyptian form reads (as Hugh Nibley noted half-a-century ago): "The Book of Abraham Written by His Own Hand upon Papyrus" (Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Abraham, 7-8)? There is no other way to read the introduction--and to wriggle out of it by writing "Joseph Smith, or perhaps one of his associates, wrote the introduction" misses the point (see the extremely hard-to-follow Gospel Topics Essay, "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham." Joseph Smith tells us the plain truth as he saw it: The papyrus purported to bear the title Book of Abraham. Only Joseph Smith, among the brethren, claimed to have the gift of God to "translate all records that are of ancient date" (Mosiah 8:11).

We go now to Spring 1844. On May 15, two easterners, Josiah Quincy and Charles Francis Adams, visited Joseph Smith and spent the day with him. On the next day, Josiah Quincy wrote to his wife and stated the following:

"He preached for us, prophesied for us, and interpreted hieroglyphics for us."

According to Adams's own diary, the Prophet took papyrus up in his hand and read the English translation directly from it. Whether a portion of the book of Abraham or no, we see the Seer in act of translation by the gift and power of God. He preached by the gift of the Holy Ghost, prophesied by that gift, and even interpreted hieroglyphics by that gift. Here was not the man Joseph Smith, but the Prophet with the prophetic mantle--and the Seer with the papyrus in hand.

Again, we recall the words spoken before thousands on 16 June 1844: "I learned it [the mysteries of God] by translating the papyrus now in my house."

Not all the evidence for Brother Joseph translating directly and knowingly from papyrus comes from his own mouth and record. Some comes from our own ability to "interpret hieroglyphics." Indeed, abundant evidence linking Brother Joseph, the book of Abraham, and the papyri and vignettes, comes directly from Facsimile 2 of the book of Abraham, the Egyptian hypocephalus. Words and phrases on this particular hypocephalus parallel most remarkably themes and episodes in each of the first three chapters of the book of Abraham.

The "noble" and "great" god described on the hypocephalus matches the "noble and great ones" spoken of in Abraham Chapter 3. This "noble" and "great" god is described on the hypocephalus (as noted by Nibley, and as the recently restored hieroglyphs confirm) as "descending" to help and to rescue one who calls upon him for rescue--just as in Abraham 1--and just as God comes down in the beginning to instruct the great and noble spirits in Abraham 3. The great god of the hypocephalus, after all, dwells in "the beginning," or zp tpy, as everyone has noted. Yet more parallels could be drawn between the hieroglyphs found on the hypocephalus and the book of Abraham, but the question is How did Joseph Smith know? Joseph Smith is a Prophet of God and he knew what he was doing.

I would ask the question of Abraham: "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" By seership, says Ammon, man can "work mighty miracles." Is it too great a "mighty miracle," to imagine the book of Abraham in hieratic on an actual sheet or roll of papyrus? We shrink from that while accepting the Book of Mormon on plates of gold.

Yet nearly all the recovered literature of antiquity and certainly all the code-cracking strikes me as wonderful. Consider the story of the cracking of the Maya script, as recounted by Michael Coe. Or consider George Smith.

George Smith was the 19th century student that first identified tablets from Iraq, tablets hidden away in the basement of the British Museum for twenty years, as the ancient Babylonian Flood Narrative: Utnapishtum and all that. He started to translate the text, filled with wonder. But a part of the text was missing, lost in millennia. What did George Smith do? He led a projected six-month expedition to Nineveh to recover the missing section of text--an unlikely outcome that took one week. Was anything too hard for these men?

"Now it must be understood that he was looking for some dirty bits of clay almost indistinguishable from thousands and thousands of other bits scattered across the ruins, which measured eight miles in circumference. Smith might just as well as shuffled through the woods in autumn looking for half-a-dozen specific leaves, yet he picked up the pieces in a week. Considering the amount of rubble, how did he do it? Nobody knows. You couldn't get away with this in a novel or a movie because the odds against such a thing happening are outrageous." "On the 14th of May," Smith writes, "I sat down to examine the store of fragments of cuneiform inscriptions from the day's digging. . .On cleaning one of them, I found to my surprise and gratification that it contained the greater portion of seventeen lines, . .fitting into the only place where there was a serious blank in the story,'" Evan S. Connell, The White Lantern, 158-9.

We further read in the Smithsonian Magazine of the "rather slender hope that he might be able to find a missing piece of the Flood tablet, some three inches on a side, which he felt should still be lurking among the tons of accumulated rubble at the site. Yet he had to know that this would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. The clay fragment would be almost indistinguishable from the debris around it, assuming it hadn't been pulverized in antiquity or tossed out by Rassam's men during their excavations 22 years earlier" (David Damrosch, "Epic Hero, Smithsonian Magazine, May 2007). Yet not only was the missing piece promptly found, but a mere three days into the dig Smith had also found the Epic of Atrahasis! (Vybarr Cregan-Reid, "The Sad Tale of George Smith and Gilgamesh," The Telegraph, 21 September 2013.he Telegraph, 21 September 2013).

But the story gets even chancier: "As it happened, the fragment Smith so rapidly found was not from Gilgamesh at all but was from what scholars now know to be the opening of an even older version of the Flood story, dating from perhaps 1800 b.c. [Abraham's dispensation]," (Smithsonian Magazine).

Here was "a self-taught laborer who had never been to high school, much less college" who was working not with "a window of opportunity, but a mousehole of opportunity" "chancing upon the flood story," and then happening upon an even older record, of ancient date, within a week of starting a dig in Nineveh. Accident, luck, serendipity? Let's move on and actually study these gifts, gifts undreamed of before 1829, before 1830 and Cumorah and the Book of Mormon (Smithsonian Magazine).

And consider the following gift of God to humble George Smith, whereby he, too, could read such engravings: "His accomplishment is all the more impressive given that he built some of his interpretations on guesses about words that no one had ever deciphered, in lines that often were only fragments of their full selves. Smith's writings are full of discoveries that have stood the test of time, often involving intuitive leaps beyond literal surfaces" (Smithsonian Magazine).

We need to accept the role of accident and coincidence and of "falling into our hands," of surprise and irony as "mighty miracles". We accept angels; let's be open to surprises of every sort. Joseph Smith was the first to acknowledge the accidental element, the surprise in all this sudden appearance of papyri. Yet he quickly raised 2400 dollars for the purchase. That's a lot of money for a chimera, for someone who doesn't really know whether he was translating actual text in front of him by the "gift and power of God" or not. The mighty miracle of preservation and copying stands at equal weight with the mighty miracle of ship and wagon on to little Kirtland. Why was it so? Who knows. The Book of Mormon explains it all: the large stone, the twenty-four plates, in each case these object are brought to the kingly seer--though epochs and hundreds, if not thousands of miles, separate seer from record.

Abraham, another possessor of the Urim and Thummim, likewise explains with some wonder how certain ancient records of the fathers about Creation, Astronomy, and Priesthood, "came into my hands" preserved "until the present day." That's a hint for us, and he tells us all about it--how it happens. That should reassure us and build our faith. Abraham, says Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, "hath entered into his exaltation and sitteth upon his throne"--following his resurrection in 33 BC. He can, under the direction of the God of the Living and not the dead, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, oversee the destiny of his record, this sign, this earnest of the resurrection of the dead. We may have to adjust our thinking about what the Lord can do when He says I am able to do mine own work. We might ponder again the question put to Abraham and Sarah: Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and he knew what he was saying and what he was doing.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

With One Accord (1 Nephi 10:13)

Draft Only

Swept along in the poetic crescendo, I but catch at the meaning of Scripture: "Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth" (1 Nephi 10:13).

Might "with one accord," I wonder, signify led with full intent; with an overriding purpose; by the Lord's guiding hand and purpose, "unto the fulfilling of [His] word"?

"Led. . . unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord": the accent falls on the verb of leading and on the Lord as the Agent, the Leader, the One who acts, without hindrance whatsoever, to fulfill His purposes. After all, with Back-to-Jerusalem-or-Bust Laman and Lemuel on the ship and on the sands, there was precious little accord among the little band.

A moment's thought gives us the literal meaning: Lehi addresses the phrase to his family in the hopes that from this moment forward they might be "led with one accord," that is, "with one heart and one mind." Lehi urges them to rise above the passivity of being "acted upon" and instead begin to act with one hope, one dream, as yoke-fellows in the Lord's forward-looking purposes. Yet even should they not come to terms--and they don't--the phrasal punch seems to sweep them along to fulfillment of God's will in history.

A very strange copy of the Book of Mormon buckles the shelves of the Translation Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a copy that cross-references every single phrase which makes the King James Version of the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ truly "one in thine hands." A VERY STRANGE BOOK--think Parley P. Pratt, here. I held the tome once, plunged in amazement: it references Everything. It is the master edition for the conceptually and scripturally uniform translation of the Book of Mormon into every language on earth. The Holy Bible in every tongue, the King James Version leading the way, becomes the sacred instrument, the Directors or Interpreters, "one in thine hand," for reading the Book of Mormon throughout the world, "with one accord."

Keeping that cross-referenced copy well in mind, along with the "small and simple means" of a powerful Scriptural search engine on, I turn to the French translation of 1 Nephi:

13 C’est pourquoi il fallait, dit-il, que nous fussions conduits d’un commun accord à la terre de promission pour accomplir la parole du Seigneur que nous serions dispersés sur toute la surface de la terre.

"D'un commun accord": it's clear that the marked-up master copy, which points unerringly to a phrase appearing a stunning 10 times in the Acts of the Apostles, governs the reading--even while the bracing quality of the sentence as it appears in English falls to the side (at least to these ears). Lehi exhorts his family, and in particular his strong-willed sons--to be possessed "d'un commun accord." Is that the correct and one-and-only reading of "with one accord" in 1 Nephi 10:13? Of course it is, though on certain days of the week I may still grasp at other possibilities.

How well the French accords with the English--its the very same word. Tyndale first conjured up "with one accord" to translate Greek homothumadon (homothumos). Accord is, of course, the Latin ad cord, at heart, to the heart, altered in French, then brought into English.  

The Spanish is even more true to the original Greek and Hebrew antecedents:

13 Por tanto, dijo que era necesario que fuéramos conducidos unánimemente a la tierra de promision, para que se cumpliese la palabra del Señor de que seríamos dispersados sobre toda la faz de la tierra.

English knows unanimous and unanimity, which signifies "everybody's in favor," but the Spanish unanimemente still carries the old sense "with one spirit, energy, mind, one animo." How does Liddel and Scott translate homothumos (homou, thumos): of one mind, unanimous. Here, the thumos, the soul, the life, the breath, speaks to mind, will, purpose (while also suggesting spirit, courage). Lehi's sons are to have the same mind and purpose. United in a common cause, they will be led in Zion-like unity, of one heart and one mind, to the promised land, even to Zion.

These clarifying Book of Mormon translations exist in many a tongue for the words of Lehi all thanks to the ten appearances of with one accord (homothumadon) in the Acts of the Apostles. Mostly, it's the "band of Christians" who meet and pray and word "with one accord," but, often, the phrase describes the attacking populace: mobs attack "with one accord." The Greek phrase (or the English rendering) in Acts conveys the single purpose of many agents, not the Act or Agency of God, though one could also say that He leads us "with one accord," that is, "without variance or distraction." I like that reading, too.

There is another place in the King James Bible where we find "with one accord," and that is Joshua 9:2: "That they gathered themselves together, to fight with Joshua and with Israel, with one accord." The enemies of Israel, like the mob in Acts, attack Joshua and Israel peh echad ("mouth single" = "with one mouth"). The Hebrew wording places emphasis on the phrase: vayyitqabbetsu yachdav lehillahem im-Yehoshua veim-Yisrael--peh echad ("and they gathered in one to battle Joshua and Israel, with one mouth, or as the Orthodox Jewish Bible renders: "with one peh" [accord]). (The various translations may be found on BibleHub.)

Wycliffe's Bible has a curious reading: "with one will, and with the same accord," in which "with one will" and "with the same accord" translate, in fine duplicate, both the phrase and its emphatic placing. It's clear that Tyndale's "with one accord" nicely sums the matter up. He must have had Wycliffe's Old Testament translations very much in mind, even memorized, while translating the New Testament. Whether that's so or not, Tyndale transcends Wycliffe. Had he translated peh echad in Joshua 9:2, we would have seen "with one accord."

Adverbial peh echad, or peh-echad, also occurs in 2 Chronicles 18:12. A royal messenger warns hapless Michaiah that 400 prophets have agreed on a prophecy of "good news" for Ahab: "Lo! the words of all the prophets tell with one mouth good things to the king" (Wycliffe's Bible).

"There is not ish echad" (one man) of the 400 who casts a dissenting vote (Orthodox Jewish Bible). Michaiah, #401--and the narrative anticipation runs high--will be that ish echad. Goodbye forever peh echad, for the one who sticks out like a sore thumb, as Nibley would say of Lehi, becomes the man of thumos, the spirited soul, who can speak for God. Overriding his entire cabinet, Lincoln was wont to say: "the ayes have it." The Lord's overriding purpose moves swiftly "with one accord," "in unanimity," "the unanimity of One with one," God with prophet, to fulfill His Word. Ahab falls.

And now to Lehi: "It must needs be that we are led--peh echad--into the land of promise."

A land of promise is a land of prophecy, of new beginnings. Lehi becomes a new Jacob, his sons, the heads of new branches of Joseph. And as every reader notes, the theme of what will befall Lehi's posterity in the latter-days persists throughout the books of Nephi. Besides being apocalyptic prophets themselves, Lehi and his sons Nephi and Jacob quote such far-seeing prophets as Joseph, Isaiah, Zenos, Zenock, and Neum. As for Laman and Lemuel, they are continually hearing and discussing all these prophecies, all these readings, and peppering Nephi with questions. The Book of Mormon opens as the Bible ends, as a grand Apocalypse, all tailored to Lehi's posterity, and to us: "that which shall befall you in the last days."

It should come as no surprise, then, that Lehi's prophecies and promises find striking correspondences with a midrash (found in two versions), and associated rabbinic commentary, on Genesis 49. In Midrash Tanchuma Chapter 8, Jacob, after hesitating, speaks to his sons about the latter days. (Well, I'm surprised!) 2 Nephi 3 shows how Lehi himself both quoted and expounded Genesis 49 in setting forth the blessings and promises on his son Joseph. We keep in mind that Lehi's copy of Genesis 49, found on the brass plates, was much longer than the version in our Bibles.

According to the commentary on Midrash Tanchuma Vayechi, when Jacob wished to speak to his 12 sons about the latter days, he felt, Nephi-like, constrained not to do so, because he sensed one or more of his sons was in Esau-like or Ishmael-like rebellion (Laman-like and Lemuel-like--and sons of Ismael-like), and thus incapable to holding to the covenant and of receiving the promised latter-day blessings. Jacob mourned in his heart. Yet at the last minute all 12 sons responded to his wishes peh echad, "with one mouth": D'accord. Jacob could then deliver the apocalyptic message with his last blessing. All Bible readers who encounter the first chapters of 2 Nephi immediately think of Genesis 49. Such readers need no compendious volume to tell them What's what.

Did such a story about Jacob's prophetic hesitation in speaking to his sons appear on the Plates of Brass? Jacob foresaw the apostasy of so many of his seed, and his heart, like Lehi's, like Nephi's, almost failed him. The same prophecy of covenantal failure, finally overcome by the covenantal faithful, appears in Moroni's narrative of Jacob and the remnant of the coat of Joseph.

A close study of Lehi's discourses and blessings to his sons so indicates.


Genesis 49 bears the story out most succinctly: He seeks to bless his sons and tell them about the latter-days. They gather (q-b-ts, as the enemies gather in Joshua 9:2), whereupon we twice read that they are prepared to "listen" (shema') to their father, Jacob. The repetition shows assertion and implies a moment of doubt: Yes, we will indeed listen! We will certainly hear about our latter-days! (Hearing such a prophetic forecasting could be a troubling prospect for anyone, much less for 12 potential rivals.) As the midrash says, they finally spoke with peh echad. How telling that this midrash should light on this phrase; how fitting that Lehi should use it as well. It's the mot juste in either case. Such a peculiar detail shines so bright as a constellation of chiasmus or a discovery of a lush Bountiful by blue Arabian shores. It speaks to the specific and the peculiar, as Hugh Nibley would say.

Lehi somehow discerned both all this filial tension and rebellion and all the possibilities of a final coming to unity--though not until the last day. He apparently found the very story of which the midrash witnesses engraved on the plates of brass. Captain Moroni, after all, gives a wonderfully expansive story about Jacob and his sons (Alma 46). These are "the words of Jacob" about the preserved coat of Joseph and what that signified for the latter-day remnant of Joseph's own seed. Recall that the Brass Plates places the accent on Joseph's seed, Lehi's genealogical line, as if another Stick of Joseph, and so forth. 2 Nephi 3 also shows a much longer Genesis 49 than we know. The chapter went on and on--it was a prophecy of the latter days.

Jacob mourned, believing that he could not reveal the events of the latter-days to his 12 sons. Suddenly they spoke peh achad--then he blessed them.

Happy coincidence or not, the occurence of peh echad in the midrash harmonizes beautifully with Lehi's admonition to his own recalcitrant sons to forge ahead "with one accord."

Lehi clearly is a New Jacob, the leader "of the people of Jacob." In Laman and Lemuel he discerns, perhaps, Reuben and Levi; in Nephi and Sam, there is Joseph and Judah; in Jacob and Joseph; there is Joseph and Benjamin, and so forth.

The midrash showing Jacob's sons speaking peh echad--that's what Lehi is all about here: "'amru kulan b'peh echad"--They all spoke with one accord.
Nephites, Lamanites, all with one accord--the Latter-day unity.
I'll be adding my on the midrash here, in a few days.......................
My Source : Musings on Midrash: Vayechi--Shema Yisrael (RPT)
the midrash of Jacob's sons speaking peh echad--that's what Lehi is all about here.  "'amru kulan b'peh echad"

"And I pray for the day when we can follow the example of our ancestors, Ya'akov's twelve sons, by truly saying b'peh echad--Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad."


But was it reasonable for Lehi to suppose that his sons could be of one mind? They were not--and he knew it--but he never gave up hope until the day he died. His final blessing included the first blessing for Laman and Lemuel--the blessing of favor--it came with one condition, but without restriction. If they would only take it. They wanted more than anything else that first blessing; yet they also wholly refused it.

Laman (and Lemuel) was, contrary to a surface view very much inclined to repentance, The account shows anything but a one-dimensional Laman; the man was repenting all the time. even kneeling and throwing himself into the dust. What, then, did Laman (and Lemuel and the sons of Ismael) lack? He lacked knowledge--he read and discussed the Scripture, he pondered his father's visions and dreams--but he lacked both full intent and desire and a comprehensive knowledge--the big picture--the overriding purpose "with one accord"--what Paul would call the mystery, the dealings of that God who made them. He lacked humility. Above all, he lacked endurance. I speak not of enduring to the end, but even of enduring through the next trial or the next.

This leads to the matter of tribal or clan loyalties. To make it through the wasteland, the clan must have a single mind and determination. Nothing must weaken the resolve to come through--the pioneering "we came through"--to survive. To rebel, to murmur, to threaten to return--go backwards--these were threats to the survival of all. The real miracle is that with such dissonance, born of a lack of resolve, the entire clan didn't perish at every contretemps. The essence of desert survival is to survive, endure, the next difficulty--to do so require some vision of the journey as a whole, as a cycle.

Laman epitomizes another type of the ish echad, the one out-of-step with the aims and purposes of the struggling tribe--and his ignorance and his pride led him not to care about the consequences. He should have died a thousand deaths along the arduous road, along with those foolish enough to attend to his words. Yet he even thought that his father was a "foolish man." Foolish imaginations Lehi might have had--if you follow Laman's way of looking at things--but Lehi in the Desert was anything but a fool.

Laman played the fool.

So how could anything have been accomplished, much less "with one accord."
The answer is simple, and it's the necessary answer of survival--Laman had to be forced to comply. Force hardly seems to answer to our view of Agency, yet Force was what was applied, a force that reduced Laman, like Esau, like Pharaoh, to one "acted upon" to the fulfillment of the Lord's overarching purposes. Half the characters in the Bible seem to be so "acted upon." It's not a matter of predestination; these biblical transgressors souls each exercised moral choice, but even so, the divine plan and program could not be thwarted.  They knew not the dealings, or the purposes, and yet were swept up, then even swept away, by them. See Also: