Wednesday, June 8, 2016

3 Nephi 13: The Sermon on the Rubble, Part II

Jesus's strangely familiar sermon to the devastated Native Americans is now in full swing.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Publicity
The first four verses of this chapter explain that alms should be given privately, without fanfare, and without the desire to be praised by others.

Do you think the apostles have read either version of this chapter? Because with the brightly colored shirts they hand out to their disaster relief volunteers to mark them as Mormons and the prominent church logos on their donated wheelchairs and their boasting from the pulpit of the church's humanitarian efforts, according to Jesus, they're a bunch of hypocrites.

Say Adieu to Mammon
When Jesus gets to the part about how no man can serve two masters, he makes a curious linguistic misstep (more accurately, it was Joseph Smith's misstep).  He tells his audience that they "cannot serve God and Mammon" (verse 24).

A quick Google search tells us that "mammon" comes from an Aramaic word, but that this exact spelling and usage is from late Middle English, which wouldn't emerge for hundreds of years after the destruction of the Nephites.  I'm not personally aware of any evidence that Native Americans in the first century AD had any knowledge of Aramaic.  So you'd think Jesus would have chosen a word in a Native American tongue (hey, maybe a word in Reformed Egyptian) to explain himself.

And if the Book of Mormon was written for our day as we've been repeatedly told in Sunday School classes, why wouldn't Joseph have translated whatever Jesus said into words more palatable to the modern reader's understanding? Why not say "wealth" or "avarice" or "greed" or something?

Honestly, my theory is that Joseph Smith wasn't really clear on what "Mammon" meant.  If he'd clarified the meaning and turned out to be wrong, that might raise some uncomfortable questions.  So he stuck with the King James version phrasing and continued adhering to the original script with only a few minor cosmetic changes.

An Elite Club
In Matthew 6, Jesus tells his entire audience not to fear because God will provide for them—this is the oft-quoted "consider the lilies of the field" section that Guy Montag couldn't get out of his head.

But the corresponding portion of 3 Nephi 13 includes extra language indicating that Jesus said these words specifically to the apostles he'd just called.  The implication, at least the way I'm reading it, is that God will ensure that his chosen leaders will have adequate food, shelter, and raiment.  Everybody else is on their own, at least in the Nephite world.

Why would the Book of Mormon make this change, narrowing a beautiful promise from the Son of God to encompass not everyone but only a select few?  Could this implication that apostles needs and worries are of greater importance than the common man's be one of the origins of the modern church's hero-worship of its leaders?


  1. Isn't it interesting that over hundreds of years hundreds of thousands of people died in this story leading to this culminating moment, and basically all that happens is Jesus recites the sermon on the mount and calls church leadership. It's adds nothing to what we got from the Bible. Some will say it's a second witness, but I say it's just a simple job of copying.

    I like your observation about church leadership. All they worry about these days, it seems, is making sure members obey, stay, and pay (unless they're gay).

    1. You know it's really bad fan fiction when the dramatic climax of your story is lifted almost word for word from the source material.

      Did you coin that obey/stay/pay/gay thing? Because that's a terrific turn of phrase!

    2. Yes I did. I'm glad you like it. I was pretty pleased when I came up with it. It would make a great slogan for signs outside General Conference, wouldn't it?

    3. Haha, it sure would! Or a 1984-style street poster!