Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mosiah's King Noah and the Prayer of Shalmaneser I

As noted in former posts about the grain sheum and the metal ziff, and about the ornamentation of royal palaces and the Ancient Near Eastern thematic constellation of building, planting vines, and marriage, the Assyrian evidence speaks directly to Mosiah's King Noah and his splendors. 

In yet another example, "the prayer of Shalmaneser I during the dedication of the Ehursagkurkurra" Temple forcibly recalls what Mosiah says of King Noah, of "his wives and concubines," of his priesthood, and "all their wives and concubines," of his golden throne and dais, and his palaces, temples, and towers: 
"When the Lord Assur enters into that house and his lofty dais sets up happily--My dazzling work, that house, may he see and rejoice. May he accept my supplications. May he hear my prayer. May a destiny for the well-being of my priesthood, and of my priestly progeny, and abundance during my reign from his honored mouth until far off days, greatly be declared" (A. K. Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions I, 536, cited in Jeremy Daniel Smoak, "Building Houses and Planting Vineyards" [UCLA dissertation, 2007], 53 n 119). 

Mosiah 11:8 "And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.
11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people."

For the still young Noah, who cherished "riotous living," the planting of a new priestly lineage ("new ones"), a new cultural elite, including high priests seated snootily "above all the other" priests, and thus constituting a complete break from the dour past of his stern and overzealous father, the long-lived Zeniff, who was forever "causing" his people "to spin, and toil, and work, and work," was essential to the unfolding of his more happy reign.

4 "And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.
Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity."

The ancien regime was "put down," while non-elites were turned into mere props--yet weight-bearing--to be moved about; for Noah's smooth social engineering was as impressive as were any of his towers. These few ironic verses, with their carefully chosen words, and wordplay, give a sense of both the gravitational density and the airy loftiness that prevailed in the changed "affairs of the kingdom" and which found its fullest expression in the rhetorically resounding halls of Noah's "elegant and spacious buildings." 

In this episode from the Book of Mormon, the "great and spacious" building of Lehi's visionary dream, elite-thronged, is no mere echo-chamber, a bland and barren cityscape and a formless hollow, as we so often assume it to be. No. Inspired Mosiah, contributing thoughtfully to Scripture's additive record, calls the phenomenon the "elegant and spacious" building, chamber after charmed chamber. And he admonishes us that they are "many" and "of all manner." 

And whether it be in leaning out windows, "in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers" (as in Lehi's dream), or in resting cozily upon podiums or consoles in the attitude of "lying and vain words," the chilling effect upon "the joy of the saints" is the same. The Holy Ghost carries Mosiah's added admonition to our hearts: the mockers mocked, the haters hated, and the bloggers, seated all around us, and among us, and perhaps even over us--in their various degrees--multiplied "vain words" keyed so very promptly and so very, very often with the ever-wagging and oh-so-omniscient "finger of scorn"--"but we heeded them not."

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