Sunday, January 24, 2016

3 Nephi 1: Helaman Reloaded

Now that we've moved on to a new book, it's time to retire some characters.  Nephi the Third ironically disappears at the beginning of the Third Book of Nephi, and his son...Nephi...takes up his mantle.  Also, some guy we've never heard of named Lachoneus is now chief judge.

Way to Miss the Point, Guys
Just when the nonbelievers in the land are reaching the point at which their gloating about unfulfilled prophecies is about to turn violent, the sun sets without leaving the world in darkness.  This fulfills one of Samuel the Lamanite's prophecies but the very first reaction of the skeptics is a bit odd (verse 16):
And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.
So the nonbelievers had given a deadline for Samuel the Lamanite's prophecies, and the plan was to execute all the believers once that day had passed with no heavenly signs.  But when something so mindbogglingly impossible happens—such as a night with no darkness—what is the first thought in the bad guys' heads?

"Dammit!  Now we don't have an excuse to kill all those religious nut jobs!"
I can assure you, as a skeptic, that if Thomas S. Monson clearly prophesied something that I knew to be utterly impossible and it actually happened, my first reaction would not be "Now I don't have a good reason to keep writing a blog that deconstructs Mormonism!"  It would be "Have I actually been wrong about this?"

So what I'm saying here is that, true to the patterns of behavior already established in the previous 174 chapters, these people make absolutely no sense.

Haven't We Been Here Before Before?
While we're on the subject of people who face a shocking revelation of a religious nature falling down "as if they were dead," please allow me to lazily quote myself:
Alma the Younger slipped into a coma when an angel appeared to chew him out for persecuting the church. King Lamoni similarly lost consciousness when he got the full force of Ammon's point blank range testifying. And when Lamoni finally woke up, he talked about his catatonic visions of Christ before zonking out again and taking his entire royal household to dreamland with him. 
Oh, yeah, and I also forgot about the time the same thing happened to Lamoni's father a mere three chapters later
Now, upon arriving at the judgment seat, the five guys from the crowd in Nephi's garden who have been selected to test out his prophecy pass out from shock. But not the regular holy-crap-a-government-official-is-dead-and-his-blood-is-everywhere kind of shock. According to verse four, it's the holy-crap-that-crazy-preacher-dude-totally-called-it-maybe-he's-right-about-stuff kind of shock.
And now we'll add wicked Nephites who witnessed an impossible cosmic event to the list.  This has got to be a strong contender for the most overused trope in the Book of Mormon.

Logic-Defying Miracle
And while we're on the subject of being on the subject, how exactly does this miracle work?  Look at verse 19:
And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order;
It rose the next morning?  So the sun, which was created by God for the very purpose of providing light, sets one evening and it doesn't get dark?  Where did the light come from?  Why do we need a sun in the first place if God can just make it bright outside without a star burning at the center of the solar system?

I realize that the whole point of miracles is that they defy what we think is possible, but I was taught that God works within the laws of his own universe to do his thing.  With all the scientific knowledge we now possess that the ancient Nephites had no access to, I'd be interested to know if there is any kind of bizarre astronomical scenario that can even approximate the effect described in this chapter.

This isn't a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court thing.  This is like the exact opposite of a solar eclipse—bright at midnight instead of dark at midday.  How does that kind of thing even happen?

The Mosaic Flaw
After the overwhelming majority of the population decides to get baptized, the Nephites enjoy a brief period of peace (verse 24):
And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures.
It's a little jarring to hear that apparently, despite the Nephites' constant waffling over whether they will be righteous and belong to the correct religion, the Law of Moses seems to have some kind of big societal influence.  Enough of an influence that some people are running around saying that they don't need to practice it anymore.

Who knew they were even practicing it in the first place?

The last time the Law of Moses was even mentioned in the Book of Mormon was in Mosiah chapter 2, when King Benjamin's subjects perform burnt offerings while they psych themselves up for his renowned address.  This was well over a century ago.  And the last time any kind of burnt offering was mentioned before Mosiah 2 was in 1 Nephi chapter 7, before Lehi's family had even built their freaking boat.

The Law of Moses is a pretty extensive code of conduct.  It seems to me that if it really was practiced among the righteous Nephites as this chapter implies, there should be a lot more evidence of it in the text.  I mean, there's scattered references to it in Jarom, Jacob, and 2 Nephi.  The Book of Alma mentions it several times, but only in general terms—the people followed it, whatever it was, the Lord commanded it, whatever it entailed, and the law was fulfilled, whatever that meant.

It sounds to me like whoever wrote this stuff didn't actually know much about the Law of Moses and was terrified of going into detail and demonstrating his ignorance.  It doesn't sound to me like the civilization we've been reading about for the last six hundred years is all that wrapped up in its observance of the Mosaic Law.

Gadianton Gets the Band Back Together
The Gadianton Robbers make a sudden return to the narrative, after a conspicuous decade-long absence.  While some of us may have been hoping that they'd simply moved to Mandyville, it seems merely that they've conveniently escaped mentioning for a while.

But the way the Gadianton Robbers' power is described in their last appearance at the end of Helaman 11 makes their hiatus seem illogical.  If they were really an evil empire of thugs hiding out in the mountains, kidnapping, plundering, and murdering with impunity, why would that kind of stuff not show up in the several verses summarizing the passage of time?  This chapter hits on some basic news items from the 91st through 94th years of the Reign of the Judges, The 93rd year is described as being overshadowed by the violence of this powerful gang, but no mention of their "slaughter" has been made during the previous seven years.

Did Gadianton's cronies just up and decide to stop terrorizing people for seven years?  Did their bloodshed not merit headlines for a while?  Or did the writer simply forget about them?

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