Saturday, March 24, 2012

1 Nephi 18: The Poseidon Adventure

Nephi and his family have now finished building their boat and they set out on the sea, trusting God and his Liahona to guide them to a promised land.  Then apparently all the sinners on board (which appears to be everyone except Lehi, Sariah, Nephi and Sam...and the two little kids) party too hard, get wasted, and run their mouths.  Nephi tells them to settle down so they don't piss God off...and, big surprise, they tie Nephi up.  Then they hit the perfect storm.

Since When is God This Direct?
After four days being tossed around on the waves, the sinners come to their senses and untie Nephi.  Then the sea becomes calm, the Liahona--which had stopped working--returns to its creepy function, and everything is peachy-keen.

There are plenty of times in the Bible when God has taught someone a dramatic lesson.  Abraham had to prove his obedience by being willing to sacrifice Isaac.  Jesus appeared to the anti-Christian Paul, rebukes him for "kicking against the pricks," and strikes him blind.  God set ten full-blown plagues on the Egyptians.  There are many other examples of this.  But these examples all seem to be mostly episodic and on a one-per-customer basis.  Even in the case of the Egyptian plagues, they all went to serve the same purpose--convincing Ramses to free the Israelites.

 But Nephi's idiotic family gets a whole bunch of direct dramatic intervention when God wants to teach them a lesson.  So far they've been chewed out by an angel, zapped by the power of God, and now they're living the Poseidon Adventure with a faith-powered compass that no longer works.

When has God ever been this direct in his discipline of the same people over and over again?  That sounds less like the behavior of the Biblical god and more like the behavior of a god that was utilized as a character in Joseph Smith's novel about as accurately as General Custer was portrayed in Night at the Museum 2:  Battle of the Smithsonian.  At best, it's a caricature of a familiar figure.  

I'm not sure why that was the best comparison that popped into my head, but I think it's a valid one.

Mimicking the Bible
Joseph Smith had several tactics to lend credence to his claim that the Book of Mormon was an ancient record to be regarded as divinely inspired scripture.  A lot of these tactics, however, fall back on making it sound as similar as possible to more widely accepted scripture--the Bible.

Smith used the language of the Bible as best he could.  He matched his stories against the Bible's timeline.  His characters reference the Bible or teach identical doctrines from the Bible.  And he quotes the Bible extensively, the most prominent examples being the Isaiah sections of Second Nephi and the Sermon on the Mount:  Alternate Camera Angle in Third Nephi.

But a little more subtle than all that is the miracle of Nephi and the tempest.  Nephi's brothers had him tied up and their ship became the focal point of a massive storm.  It was only when they decided to free their brother that the seas became calm again.  This has some strong similarities with the Old Testament story of Jonah and some similar thematic elements to the New Testament story of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee.

Perhaps Joseph used a similar miracle in his story because of Christianity's familiarity with the whole storm-becomes-calm-sea thing.  It feels Biblical, so maybe he hoped people would believe that it came from the same source.  Either that, or he just wasn't very creative.  Both are acceptable explanations in my eyes.

They're Not Horses, They're Unicorns
When Nephi and his family reach the promised land (the land of the free and the home of the brave), he describes the "abundance" of their new home.  The seeds they plant grow well, there's plenty of raw materials for them to build with, and there's plenty of wildlife:  cows, oxen, goats, horses--

Wait, horses?

Horses were brought to the Americas by the Europeans.  They didn't exist on the continent prior to that.  This is a well-researched fact.  It's not exactly an earth-shattering discovery, but it bears mentioning.  I know there are plenty of other anachronisms like this in the Book of Mormon, but this is one that's obvious enough for me to catch.  And I don't know a whole lot about what plants and what animals come from where.

I'm pretty sure God knows that Europeans introduced horses to the American continent.  But I have a feeling Joseph Smith was under the impression that they'd always been here.

No comments:

Post a Comment