Saturday, June 30, 2012

2 Nephi 10: Jacob and his Prophesying

Jacob continues his epic, multi-chapter speech.  The Book of Mormon is fond of epic, multi-chapter speeches.

He preaches about the fate of the Jews, the fate of the Gentiles and the role of the American continent in God's master plan.  But a little weirdness does arise in Jacob's sweeping summary of the next few thousand years.

Continuity Is Everything
Joseph Smith sloppily sidesteps an error in verse 3:
Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ should come among the Jews...
But, of course, Jacob should have no knowledge of the Messiah's actual name yet.  So a quick comment is tossed into the middle of that sentence:
Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ—for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name—should come among the Jews...
Wow.  It feels just like a moment from one of those horrible, low-budget, made-for-TV movies when you can tell that someone, during production, said, "Hey, this script doesn't make any sense!" and a brief line of awkward dialogue was hastily thrown in to explain away some bizarre event.

I imagine Joseph may have misspoken as he was dictating this stuff off the top of his head to his dutiful scribe.  Rather than go back and make it sound like he wasn't translating by the perfect power of God, he figured it would be easier to just cover his butt and explain it away.

Prophesying Backwards
Jacob also makes more of Smith's trademarked Already-Fulfilled Prophecies starting around verse 11:
And this land shall be a land of liberty unto the Gentiles, and there shall be no kings upon the land, who shall raise up unto the Gentiles.
Okay, at this point, anybody reading this book when it was first published in 1830 already knows that North America was settled by Gentiles.  The whole representative democracy thing is pretty well established and the Bill of Rights is old news by now.  So this verse contains three astonishing prophecies that have long since come true and really mean nothing to anyone because their purported origins can't be proven.

I will, however, award Jacob a half point for the next verse, in which he states that God will "fortify this land against all other nations." Sure, the US had won its independence and survived going up against the British again in 1812, but this was all before the World Wars and all that messed up crap from the following century...through which the United States emerged pretty safe from enemy invasion.  The only exception is Pearl Harbor, which was a mistake that nobody has made since.  The only real war that befell the "promised land" was the American Civil War.  And this may be semantics, but God didn't say he was going to fortify this nation against itself.

So props to Smith for making a decent educated guess about the future of the United States.

For and Against
Verse 16 is dangerous:
Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.
Here we have another example of a horrible, horrible Us-Versus-Them attitude.  The beginning of the verse was fine—oppose God's people and God will punish you.  But the ending takes it too far—to the point where anyone not supporting God's people are considered to be opposing them.  How is that fair?  That sounds like the spiritual equivalent of shooting civilians in battle.

Scriptures such as this one preach an attitude that, cemented by Mormonism's persecution during its early history and maintained by under-the-radar status during the modern era, has evolved into a very unhealthy mentality of Mormons versus Non-Mormons.  Righteous People versus The Worldly Sinners.  The Enlightened versus The Rabble.  The Blessed versus The Ignorant.

But at the same time church members are expected to be missionaries and spread the gospel to the people whom they simultaneously feel pitted against.  Maybe that contradictory message is what makes most missionary work see such little success.  How do you share the gospel with someone you consider to be actively opposing you?  How do you gain the trust of someone you can't help but feel you're supposed to be better than?

Jacob Manipulates the Masses
Near the chapter's closing, Jacob imparts a few last bits of advice.  Among them is this devious little comment:
Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life.
This is an old trick.  Jacob takes the entire gospel and boils it down to a simple choice between two starkly contrasting options.  One option is clearly good and the other option scares the crap out of you.  If you've believed anything he's said in the last few chapters, suddenly you're so focused on the possibility of everlasting death that instead of assessing whether or not what he claims is true, you're trying to figure out how you can avoid the undesirable outcome.

Similarly, Smith gets his readers to worry about their salvation, almost allowing them to skip the part where they decide whether or not they believe him.  The sharp contrast and the dramatically jarring claim that their fates are a simple, binary choice hook them.

And before they know it, they're freezing to death in a handcart company somewhere in the wilderness of Wyoming.


  1. I realize this post is almost a year old, but wanted to add something to your point on 2 Nephi 10:3 - Christ was not actually the name of Jesus, but Christ is the anglicized version of Kristos, which is the Greek word for Messiah. If an angel really had told Jacob about "Christ," he would have used the word Messiah and it would have simply been the same word Nephi had used throughout all of 1 and 2 Nephi!

    1. I wonder how carefully (or not carefully) Joseph blundered through his epic pseudo-scriptural novel. Sometimes you can tell that he's going out of his way to correct something or explain something. I wonder if, when he was finished with it, he was worried about how long it would be until people started noticing problems with it that he hadn't even considered.