Monday, January 18, 2016

Helaman 16: Something Something Something Prophecies

Much like Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite gets way too much time to talk before he's required to stop.  He flees back to his homeland and leaves the Nephite society divided in confusion and contention.

An Unnecessary Partnership
It's interesting to me that Samuel stands up on the wall and cries repentance unto the people, but everybody who believes what he says is baptized by Nephi.  There's no mention of the believers trying to persuade the unbelievers to stop shooting arrows at Samuel.  There's no mention of any of the believers saying, "That sounds great!  Tell me more!"  But there is an extensive description of how the people who were touched by Samuel's sermon went scurrying over to Nephi for baptisms.

I don't really understand why God needed Samuel.  For one thing, it seems that his preaching faced additional resistance simply because he was an unwelcome foreigner.  Nephi at least had helped out in the investigation of a very prominent assassination, so you'd think he'd have a pretty decent reputation around town in spite of all that religious nonsense he was into.  Plus he wasn't a Lamanite, which probably means his opinions wouldn't be dismissed quite so quickly.  But for some reason, God insisted on Samuel preaching in Zarahemla even though there was already a perfectly good prophet in place there already.

Strangely, Samuel acted as the street performer while Nephi acted as the guy passing around the tip jar.  Samuel corralled the believers and Nephi operated the slaughterhouse.  Or baptismal font.  Whatever.

Show, Don't Tell
The Book of Mormon's frustrating tendency to summarize at the worst possible moments rears its ugly head again in this chapter (verses 13 and 14):
But it came to pass in the ninetieth year of the reign of the judges, there were great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled. 
And angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.
This is simply a different version of "and many other wonderful truths did [insert prophet's name here] speak unto the people which cannot be written."

If these signs were so great and wondrous and if these tidings were so glad and joyous and if these scriptures were so miraculously fulfilled, why the hell wouldn't all that be chronicled in at least slightly more detail?  We can quote Isaiah ad nauseam, but we can't explain exactly what celestial signs were given and which particular prophecies were fulfilled?  That doesn't make any sense.

Instead of telling its readers how and why their testimonies should be strengthened, this chapter is basically patting them on the head and assuring them that lots of unspecified faith-promoting stuff happened.

Funny You Should Ask...
The Nephite society largely rejects Samuel the Lamanite's prophecies, reveling in wickedness and opting to "depend...on their own wisdom."  This seems to be the crux of the Nephites' logic (verse 18): is not reasonable that such a being as a Christ shall come; if so, and he be the Son of God, the Father of heaven and of earth, as it has been spoken, why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?
Those Nephites sure are clueless with all their rational arguments and perceptive questions, aren't they?  But at least they serve a purpose to Joseph Smith, who can use their reasoning to support the legitimacy of his book.  Why wouldn't Jesus appear in places other than Jerusalem?

In a few pages, we're going to see Jesus Christ appear at some undisclosed location in ancient America, thus allowing Smith to pose an important question and subsequently answer it to his satisfaction in his own manuscript.  A loving God would send his son to more than one nation to accomplish the work of the gospel, wouldn't he?  According to the Book of Mormon, he did.  Therefore, the Book of Mormon must be scripture.

Unfortunately, though, the skeptical Nephites should have extrapolated their inquiry a little further.  If Jesus lived in Jerusalem, why wouldn't he appear in America?  And if he appeared in America, why wouldn't he also have visited the ancient Chinese or the Australian Aborigines or any number of other cultures that were isolated from the two societies lucky enough to have interacted with the Savior of Mankind?

If he didn't, then the objection raised by the Nephites in this chapter is invalidated.  If he did, then perhaps this can be added to the list of things that we will eventually uncover historical evidence for, like chariots and steel and epic Jaredite warfare.

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