Saturday, September 24, 2011

"One in Mine Hand": The Constellative Purpose of the Book of Mormon and the Books of Abraham, Joseph, and Others Yet to Be

While the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ makes up the scriptural "cornerstone of our religion" (Joseph Smith), and thus becomes the instrument by which Israel in the latter-days will come to the knowledge of the True Shepherd and be gathered, it takes nothing from its glory and splendor to acknowledge yet other books, other records of matching though matchless supernal value.

To the contrary, the Book of Mormon specifically says that part of its role is "to establish the truth of the first" collection of books, meaning the Holy Bible, the primary scriptural record of God's dealings with humanity. Why is the Holy Bible our primary scripture? Because it records all things "from the creation of Adam," and especially the birth, ministry, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see Moroni 10:3).

To acknowledge the primacy of the Holy Bible does not diminish the latter-day role of the Book of Mormon in providing crucial teachings about the saving ordinances of baptism, sacrament, and the priesthood as delivered by Christ to his "other sheep," face-to-face. Here we find "directions given to the Nephites from the mouth of the Savior of the precise manner in which men should build His Church": "And they must come [unto Christ] by the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb" to both his Nephite and his Jewish ministers (Joseph Smith History-1 [Oliver Cowdery except]; 1 Nephi 13:41). The Stick of Judah and the Stick of Joseph are not, then, rivals but "shall be one in mine hand," as the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Ezekiel 37:19).

As all readers discover, no record is as self-aware as the Book of Mormon, replete as it is with prophecies about itself, clear statements of its purpose and mission, and a sense of self wonder. And yet she does not grab all the limelight; she never says "I have no need of thee."

The light that shines from Cumorah's lonely hill, however self-aware, is a shared light. The Book of Mormon heralds "other books," "other records" just as concrete as the golden plates and just as purposeful. In fact the Book of Mormon even includes itself, at one point, under the heading of these "other books," "these last records" (1 Nephi 13:40)--it makes no distinction among them at all. Just so, Enoch's prophecy about truth sent forth "out of the earth," while clearly a reference to Mormon's plates, leaves the door open to all true records yet to be revealed--even as it tells us how they will be revealed (Pearl of Great Price: Moses 7:62). The Lord is so eager to give us more, He even shares the underlying principles for translating "all records that are of ancient date": Sections Six through Nine of the Doctrine and Covenants constitute a primer in sacred translation (see also Mosiah 8:13; Doctrine and Covenants 88:11; and Elder Boyd K. Packer, 'The Voice of Angels,' in "The Candle of the Lord," Ensign, Jan. 1983).

The angel tells Nephi of the threefold purpose of "these last records": 1) to establish the Biblical truth; 2) to make known "plain and precious things" that went missing from the Bible; 3) "to make known to all. . . that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and 4) that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved"--"And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb" (1 Nephi 13:40-1). Here is the test by which all fresh claimants to scripture are to be measured. As we look over the standard works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we ask: Do any of "these books" fall short? Is any one new record less "established by the mouth of the Lamb" than the other? We invite the reader to ponder. . . The Book of Mormon's 531 pages recall Jupiter's mass and invite the house of Israel to a daily feast of restorative truth; still, as they "swim into ken" as a like "new planet," the 61 pages of The Pearl of Great Price provide no less a refreshment. Indeed the covenants of eternal exaltation fall under the name of Abraham. And Abraham's covenants lead us to Christ, even "according to the words [established] by the mouth of the Lamb."

One prophetic book builds on, reflects another. Prophecies about the coming forth of the Book of Abraham and its subsequent correct translation from a roll of Egyptian papyrus are therefore also to be found by the attentive. To Oliver Cowdery, who lost the opportunity of Book of Mormon translation, came the word of prophecy that he would assist in translating "other records" (again the phrase!) no less important in the eyes of God--his very Word--and it must also be pointed out that a Record is a concrete object, a tangible book "in mine hands" (Doctrine and Covenants 9:2). No less than do the words of Christ in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon also points to the essential Book of Abraham, a record which it vigorously defends. After all--and also to paraphrase Hugh Nibley--to fight against any of God's words is to fight against all, and it is ultimately to fight against his Church and his Israel. After learning that "my people, which are of the house of Israel, shall be gathered home," we read "and my word also shall be gathered in one." Then follows: "And I will show unto them that fight against my word and against my people, who are of the house of Israel, that I am God, and that I covenanted with Abraham that I would remember his seed forever" (2 Nephi 29:14).

We can no more differentiate the terms of the Abrahamic covenant, as recorded in Abraham, Genesis, or 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Nephi, than we could separate Mormon from Moroni. We can no more separate the explanations of the three facsimiles of the Book of Abraham from the witness and martyrdom of Abinadi, from the observations about the sun and the planets in Alma and Helaman, or from the vista of King Benjamin teaching from his tower, than we could cut asunder the paired witness of 1st and 2nd Nephi.

And, in accord with the recovery of bright plates from Cumorah's tumulus, the recovery of the papyrus rolls, bitumen dipped, from the wrapping of burial and the sealed stillness of an ancient tomb becomes a witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The God of Abraham is, indeed, a God "of the living" (Luke 20:38). And is the living Abraham not able to call to life his ancient book? "And by it he being dead yet speaketh" (Hebrews 11:4). The dynamic presence of a living Joseph, rightful heir of the covenant, draws the papyri, as by magnetic force, from Joseph to Joseph--and, then, from papyrus to paper. Just so, a fragrant remnant of the coat of Joseph "was preserved and had not decayed," but remained in the hands of Jacob as token of the recovered life of Joseph and of his everlasting posterity--including his American posterity (Alma 46:24-26). As with Abraham and Isaac, so with Jacob and Joseph: "Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure. . .[and] By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph" (Hebrews 11:19, 22). As Jacob of old held to his heart the precious remnant and partook of its undying, covenantal fragrance, so Joseph anew, as son and heir, unrolled the returning gift of "a little balm, and a little honey, spices, and myrrh" (Genesis 43:11). Joseph of Egypt never stood on the land of blessing, yet the papyrus of Joseph, sealed up in earnest of the resurrection, and sealed and delivered to American Joseph, also becomes a documentary surety of "the precious things of the lasting hills," as promised by God to Joseph's seed long, long ago (Deuteronomy 33:14). "Abraham!" "Joseph!": "Though thou wast dead, yet am I not able to give it thee?" (JST Genesis 15: 10). Precious Mary, with "a pound of spikenard, very costly," "anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." "Then said Jesus": "Against the day of my burying hath she kept this, for she hath preserved this ointment until now, that she might anoint me in token of my burial" (John 12:3 and 7, and Joseph Smith Translation). The Garden of Resurrection shimmers "with the odour of the ointment" of Mary.

But a preserved record of Creation, Garden, and the story of Abraham written on Egyptian papyrus and in Egyptian characters--is it a bridge too far? (And there can be bridges too far for faith--thankfully no Latter-day Saint must add a straining faith in scholarly commentary to the simple but attainable faith in the literal word of Scripture!) Says the Lord: "I may preserve the words," if I so choose; "I am able to do mine own work"; "For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith" (2 Nephi 27). One way in which God's word about his eternal sameness comes to fulfillment can be by showing us Today that papyrus record of Yesterday. It is a sign and a wonder, but without such Red Sea demonstrations, for which saving faith is required on the part of all beneficiaries, God hardly could show himself as God. And God is God--and thank God for "one in whom he could confide," even Joseph Smith, who had the faith of Enoch and the faith of Abraham, and who could accordingly reveal their very words to a receptive few in an unbelieving generation.

Again, by the simple means of Nephi's noting that his father found the Five Books of Moses on the Plates of Brass, God sees fit to testify to us that Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and, yes, blessed Deuteronomy were all written by the hand of Moses. Nephi's record stands proud against the great magic act by which all things uniquely Jewish vanish from the historical record; the hiss, however, remains. "For they do wrest the scriptures and do not understand them": God foresaw the cut-and-paste-and-more-cut nature of biblical scholarship with its fostering, foundational anti-Semitism, its perceived Canaanite cultural matrix for ancient Israelite faith and practice, its replacement of prophetic foretellings with fictive views of Deuteronomistic Historians and Deutero-Isaiahs, its wisdom goddesses and leafy asherahs, and such like windlass philosophies of men. And God foresaw, given the all-pervasive powers of scholarship to persuade even the very elect, that it would be essential for us to have Nephi's simple, unwitting witness about Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and the rest, including the historical verity of the Exodus, in order for faith to be nurtured, even as a child is to be nurtured, in the Word of the Lord (see Doctrine and Covenants 10:63; 2 Peter 3:16; Alma 13:20).

The restoration to and through Joseph Smith of the papyrus record of Abraham was as fully a part of his divine mission as Prophet-Restorer as anything else. "The Lord God will proceed to do a marvelous work among the Gentiles. . . And it shall also be of [saving] worth unto the Gentiles; and not only unto the Gentiles but unto all the house of Israel, unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (2 Nephi 22:8-9). The core doctrinal and covenantal message of the Roll Revealed is as essential to our salvation as anything else recorded on plates or parchment. Indeed: "There are many things engraven. . .which do throw greater views upon my gospel" than anything heretofore imagined, and we are therefore to "receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred" (Doctrine and Covenants 10:45; 8:11).

As for the manner of translation, it does not become us to inquire too deeply. "A seer is greater than a prophet" even, possessor of a "high gift." And how does the Lord define a "high gift"? "A gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God." Again, a "high gift" yields nothing less than "mighty miracles," not the mundane (see Mosiah 8). And can anyone imagine that the seer who translated the Book of Mormon had no "high gift" in his encounter with the papyri? Or that he was somehow now subject to error? Brother Joseph's scribes--those in the "know"--loved to detail the workings of translation, yet none of them knew, none of them even came close to knowing. Nor should we overly concern ourselves with the manner of such high translation, given the seeric right to unspeakable instruments forever withheld from our own sight: "for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate" (Mosiah 8: 13). "Wherewith that he can look," while the briefest of descriptions, remains the only one authoritatively vouchsafed to us. As for Abraham, when he looked through the Urim and Thummim: "I saw the stars, that they were very great" (Abraham 3:2; Ether 3:24).

In his 38 years the Prophet-Seer had no time for peripheral matters. He may have farmed, gardened, or kept store; he may have shot at a mark or played baseball, but--make no mistake--his translations were of-a-piece and none can be altered or removed without a corresponding removal of salvific knowledge necessary to the making and keeping of priesthood covenants of Abrahamic exaltation. In Abraham's autobiography also lies further needed affirmation of the Divine Creative and Atoning power of Jesus Christ: "And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me" (Abraham 3:27). Again, it was somehow necessary for us, in order to confirm the doctrine of a premortal home in God--and to chart our course back home--to see through Abraham's eyes God "moving in his majesty and power" amidst the starry kingdoms (Doctrine and Covenants 88; Abraham 3; Abraham Facsimile 2). And to check our arrogant pose at eternity's door: "I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all" (Abraham 3:19). Indeed, without the knowledge set forth in the Abraham translations, there is no way to conceive of the ultimate ordinance of salvation, that of Abrahamic covenantal marriage, the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage, including the promise of eternal lives in worlds without number. Neither could there be a 132nd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the revelation on celestial marriage, without a corresponding ancient affirmation by Abraham, written "by his own hand, upon papyrus." Otherwise, there can be no fully attested grounds, no recorded evidence, for faith in these now assured though unseen new and everlasting endowments and covenants of Christ.

"Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness. Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah, she that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him" (Isaiah 51:1 and 2 Nephi 8:1). Can anyone professing belief in the Bible read these words of Isaiah and yet wonder whether the Lord is able to bring forth (hewing and digging) an ancient papyrus roll of Abraham? And given the direct command to "search diligently" the words of Isaiah, shall less be said of the words of the parent-prophet to whom Isaiah himself would have us look (see 3 Nephi 23:1)? Indeed we look to Abraham and Sarah as the faithful exemplars of Endowed and Exalted Man in the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage.

Our own Book of Abraham cuts off suddenly, with the promise of more to come. Yet even that cut is providential; for, remarkably, our portion ends with an explanation of how Adam and Eve entered that very Covenant of Marriage, a covenant which makes a perfect literary frame with the opening verses about seeking the priesthood and blessings of Adam, "or first father" (Abraham 5:14-21; Abraham 1:1-4). We also need to frame our lives around the blessings of Adam and Eve. As for Joseph, it is essential only to know that his latter-day namesake, standing on promised soil, held something redolent of a living Joseph in his hands; the actual words of that ancient record are not necessary to our salvation as yet, and so were never translated or published. Still, Joseph of America did reveal many essential covenants and prophecies of Egyptian Joseph, as 2 Nephi, Alma, and the Joseph Smith Translation variously register. Yes we do possess a saving remnant of the ancient Book of Joseph.

Finally, the Book of Mormon, despite all her self-awareness, does not hesitate to speak of another sealed record found on the very same plates, which, while in no wise diminishing her gathering role, will transcend in witness of Christ her own bright glory. The Book of Mormon itself will be swallowed up in another, brighter Testament of Christ (2 Nephi 27:7ff).

There are yet more books of scripture to be revealed, for "righteousness and truth [sent forth from the earth] will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood" (Moses 7:62). When a flood comes, it comes fast. Who shall stand when these appear? Who, we ask, "with great anxiety even unto pain," will be prepared to receive these "other books"? It stands to reason that those who accept, study, and love all scriptures available today, including the words of the current Prophet, and who also accept the mirroring, constellative miracles of their coming forth, will be best prepared to receive more. Others, unfamiliar with the scriptures of the Restoration now available, will be drawn to the Book of Mormon for the first time, only after receiving with gladness pearls of great price as yet unknown; the witness of the Book of Mormon will then confirm the testimony of Christ with convincing power. Thus there will be a complete cycle in which the Book of Mormon, while remaining the brightest glory of the Restoration firmament, will be seen as constellative rather than single star.

Eventually all God's words shall be gathered in one. In the broadest sense of the imagery used by Ezekiel, the Stick of Judah (the Bible) will also comprehend the soon-to-be revealed Gospel of John the Baptist and the promised Enoch, along with the full account of the Mount of Transfiguration, the parchment of John, "my beloved," the fullness of the New Translation of the Bible, and the records of Abraham and of Joseph--to name a few. Just so, the Stick of Ephraim, "and the tribes of Israel his fellows" (the Book of Mormon), will ultimately comprehend the records of all other tribes associated with Ephraim, including the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. Yet however we choose to class the Scriptures, they all, finally, in at-one-ment, "shall be one in mine hand."



Notes


The authoritative statements to read on the coming forth of new scriptures include: Elder Dallin H. Oaks, "All Men Everywhere," General Conference, April 2006 (on lds.org) and Elder Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light, page 18. Many of us recall hearing Elder Maxwell foretell the coming of so many scriptures that we would need a "little red wagon," as it were, to carry these "other books" to the meetinghouse.


Elder M. Russell Ballard, "The Miracle of the Holy Bible," General Conference, April 2007, sets forth the primacy of the Bible in the Latter-day canon.


Abraham 5:14-21: I'm sure many readers have been blessed by the manner in which the sudden ending of the Book of Abraham with the creation of Eve lends a powerful emphasis to the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage. The ending turns the heart back to the promises made to the fathers in Abraham 1:1-4.




Copyright 2010 by Val Hinckley Sederholm

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Luram: "The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day"

The Second Epistle of Mormon to his son Moroni, which comprises the second to last chapter in the entire Book of Mormon, has things to "grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death." "But," continues Mormon, "may Christ lift thee up" (Moroni 9: 25).

The great military installation, the Tower of Sherrizah, has fallen to the enemy, and Nephite "men, women, and children" face execution, torture, deprivation--"no water, save a little"--and, finally, even abandonment in the Wasteland: leaving "them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die." "Betwixt Sherrizah and me" lies a road of death; "but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death. . .and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever." Rest, for "I dwell no longer upon this horrible scene" ("Come out in judgment, O God!"), for even "betwixt Sherrizah and me" stands Christ "filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice" (Moroni 9: 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, 20, 25; Mosiah 15: 9).

We turn with a shudder from the Tower of Sherrizah, to the Nephites a tower of terror, and look to "the Father, whose throne is high in the heavens, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who sitteth on the right hand of his power" (verse 26).

The Nephites driven from "every high tower" and "every fenced wall"--even every strong-walled Sharriruta--now desert a shattered world, a broken tower, their fall now complete, but "God is Exalted," for "the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" (see Isaiah 2: 11, 15, 17). Sharriruta may well be the Aramaic equivalent of our Sherrizah, and signifies soundness, integrity, Festigkeit. But "the Lord alone shall be exalted": ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott. A Mighty Fortress is our God.

"We did not conquer" is the final word; yet "all things shall become subject unto him," even Christ--and that is the final word (Moroni 9:2, 26).

The very names of the Nephite fallen somehow attest, ironically attest, to the very same matter.

"And Archeantus has fallen by the sword, and also Luram and Emron; yea, and we have lost a great number of our choice men" (verse 2)--"we have lost." The name element Arche- clearly comes from the Greek (Hugh Nibley has explained the presence of Greek names in the Book of Mormon), and bespeaks the lost rulership, the lost command. Arche- also signifies the beginning, even Creation, but we are now at the end: "the end of all flesh is come."

Luram catches the eye too. The name signifies, attests "God is Exalted" and is to be found in its complete form in both Ugaritic, Amorite, and even Ammonite (Ugaritic: 'Ilrm, Ilu-rama; Ammonite: 'l-rm; Amorite: E-lu-ra-ma; Elu (God) Rama (On High; Exalted).

Even choice Luram has fallen; for "the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day."


Notes
James Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period, 205.

For a latter-day instance of Moroni 9, I refer the reader to the strikingly similar accounts from Sirte, Libya in 2011 (articles on cnn.com). June 13, 2013: Fox News reports 6,500 children among the 93,000 killed in the Syrian Civil War.

Copyright 2011 by Val H. Sederholm