Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Ether 9: Good Kings, Bad Kings, Sane Kings, or Mad Kings

The lengthy string of kings and crises in the Jaredite record continues.  


The Creative Juices are Not Flowing
Verse 3 provides a familiar scenario to even the most casual scriptorian.  King Omer is warned by God in his dream that he and his family need to pack up and leave for their own safety.  This is something we've seen before with Lehi way back in the beginning of the book and also—more famously—with Jesus's stepdad.

I guess I'm a little disappointed that God couldn't be more creative.  He did produce a universe out of nothing, after all, so creativity should be one of the ultimate divine characteristics.  Obviously, God is more than welcome to continue using methods that have worked for him in the past.  And obviously, the fact that plot devices have been reused doesn't prove anything about the origins of the Book of Mormon.  But I do think that recycling bits of stories from earlier scripture is exactly the kind of thing we should expect to see if some guy is making this up and trying to get people to think it's from the same source as the Bible.

And speaking of a lack of creativity, the king Jared is killed in this chapter in a tired fashion.  Why is it that so many ancient American monarchs get murdered while literally seated on a throne?


The Curelom Conundrum 
Why.

I fully realize that this point is easily among the least original issues I've brought up.  But it still demands an answer so I'm gonna bring it up anyway.  Elephants—that's problematic.  Maybe we can pretend that New World elephants are really mammoths or something.  Any way you look at it, it's a stretch.  But cureloms and cumoms?

The only reason I can think of for an animal in the Book of Mormon to have a nonsensical name in what is supposed to be an English translation is that these animals became extinct before European settlers arrived on this part of the globe, so there never was an English name for them.  But considering that these things were supposed to be particularly useful, probably domesticated, and quite populous, shouldn't there be a pretty blatant archaeological record of them?  Shouldn't American school children be learning about the beasts with three legs and prehensile snouts (or whatever the hell a curelom is) when they study the Native Americans and adobe huts and coup sticks and tumuluses and buffalo?

Maybe Joseph forgot for a moment that he was supposed to be writing a scriptural historical epic and he let a bit of fantasy sneak in.  If he hadn't caught himself and course corrected, maybe we would have seen Coriantumr of the Sky Elves go to battle against the Wizard Clan of Shiz at the end of Ether.


You Old Dog
Coriantum is anointed king in his father's stead.  Emer, his father, is so wonderful that he sees "the Son of Righteousness," which sounds really important but is only mentioned in passing.  Coriantum is described as following in Emer's footsteps, which should mean that he is also righteous. But when his wife dies, this king marries "a young maid" in his twilight years (a little wish fulfillment sneaking into Joseph's writing?).  To be fair, I guess that, depending on the nature of the relationship and the level of the young maid's maturity, this may not be technically wrong, but it's still kind of creepy.  I'd have been a lot more comfortable seeing Coriantum marry a girl a quarter of his age if he were depicted as wicked.  At least then it wouldn't be so easy to interpret this kind of nuptial union as totally normal and totally fine.

Oh, and Coriantum also lived to be one hundred forty-two years old.  I can't decide if that's more difficult to believe than the barges that brought his ancestors to America.


Creating a Problem, Selling the Solution
After society casts out the prophets, bad things happen—drought, famine, a bizarre prevalence of hyperintelligent venemous snakes.  Verse 35 sounds like a happy ending if you don't think about it too much:
And it came to pass that when they had humbled themselves sufficiently before the Lord he did send rain upon the face of the earth; and the people began to revive again, and there began to be fruit in the north countries, and in all the countries round about. And the Lord did show forth his power unto them in preserving them from famine.
Listen, if all God has to do is "send" rain to end the crisis, then he caused it. He allowed the drought to happen by permitting it to continue. The difference between one sunny day and a full-fledged famine is how long God waits to sprinkle some precipitation.

Verse 33 explicitly states that God is the one who sent the serpents that terrorized the people and sent their livestock stampeding off.  This whole thing is God's fault.  He did this.  He didn't "preserve" them from anything—he almost chose to destroy them. He used his unmatched power to coerce the people into behavior he approved of (I wonder how that affects their free agency) and only then did he decide to stop being a sadistic, power-tripping asshole.

This is unrighteous dominion.  This is manipulation.  This is not something a benevolent god would do.  This is not something that someone worthy of our worship would do.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ether 8: Our God is an Awful God

The endless stream of Jaredite names and kings continues, but at least in this chapter we start to get a little more detail.


The Sexism Continues
Yes, we've all heard that there are only three female Book of Mormon characters with names.  But the problem isn't just about the way the narrative is skewed to heavily favor the involvement of men—it's also about the way women are depicted when they're important enough to be part of the story.  

So here's the situation:  the king Omer is overthrown by his son, Jared, who imprisons him and uses him as a puppet ruler.  Omer's other children don't like this, so they go to war against Jared, defeat him in battle, and only spare his life when he agrees to return the kingdom to Omer.  This is when the "exceedingly fair" daughter of Jared hatches a plan to get him back on the throne.  Knowing full well how hot she is, she dances for Akish, who's one of Omer's buddies, and gets him so riled up that he wants to marry her.  Jared's price to approve the wedding?  Bring me Omer's head.

No, really.  Literally.  This is what Jared says in verse 12:  "I will give her unto you, if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king."  This results in Akish setting up a secret combination (and we all know how bad those things are) so that he and his friends can conspire to murder the king.

So it's safe to say that Jared's daughter is a central figure in the events that unfold in this chapter.  Nevertheless, despite being the originator of a pretty plot-important intrigue, she isn't named.  The men around her all proudly bear monikers preserved into the modern era, but she does not.


And this also continues a slight pattern in the Book of Mormon.  This woman's strength appears to lie primarily in her sex appeal and her ability to manipulate men with it, and it's not the first time this has happened in a book that's almost entirely barren of the female presence.  Remember the harlot Isabel who led away Corianton?  Remember the way the priests of Noah went nuts when they saw those Lamanite daughters dancing?  It's the sex appeal.

But for Abish and arguably Sariah, we'd learn from the Book of Mormon that women are uniformly weak, uninteresting, and only powerful or remarkable in rare intervals due solely to the fact that men like the way they look.


An Un-Level Playing Field
Moroni's narration brings up an odd point when he starts to speak directly to present-day Gentiles (verse 23):
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Oh, that's nice.  The Book of Mormon will be revealed to us so that we can read this stuff, avoid suffering, and escape eternal destruction.

But where was this sentiment a few chapters ago when God was choosing to withhold the gospel from the Earth?  How is it wisdom to let humanity blunder around in the dark for a millennium or two and then brag about how great it is to suddenly offer to illuminate the way for them?  I mean, if God is specifically showing these scriptures to us in order to help us avoid the sword of justice, doesn't it logically follow that he doesn't actually care if all those other people who lived during the great apostasy avoid the sword of justice?  


Thou Shalt Not Kill
I'm not going through this chapter in order, because this last verse I'm going to address is way too juicy to stick in the middle.  I had to save the best for last (verse 19):
For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.
The Lord worketh not in secret combinations?  So...when Joseph became a Freemason and then quickly designed Mormon temple ceremonies to closely mirror that organization, including all the ritual secrecy...that wasn't from the Lord?  Even though the highest levels of leadership of his church have no public transcripts, no available financial statements, and hardly any accountability as they amass wealth, buy up properties, and run businesses to—dare I say it—get gain, that's not how the Lord works?

But honestly, that's not even my biggest problem with this verse.  It's that this verse also emphatically states that God has forbidden the shedding of blood in all things.  God damn, Joseph, did you even read the book you wrote?  Because that's one hell of a continuity error.  Let's go back to the beginning, to Nephi 4:10-13:
And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him. 
And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property. 
And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands; 
Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

It's pretty safe to say that this took place after the "beginning of man," which means that Ether, a prophet of God, also happens to be a filthy liar.  God specifically told Nephi to shed blood.  He engineered the situation to deliver Laban into Nephi's hands so that he could kill him.  He didn't strike Laban dead like Uzzah or get him conveniently trampled like Korihor.  He arranged for one of his servants to chop his head off.

God is clearly not the same yesterday, today, and forever.  But he certainly is fond of insisting that he is.

And besides, if God is so vehemently opposed to bloodshed, why are his scriptures so littered with violence?  Look at all the faithful Mormons who have shed blood—Nephi, Ammon, Captain Moroni, and the Stripling Warriors on to Joseph Smith (defending himself at Carthage Jail) and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  Didn't somebody once famously say something about knowing them by their fruits?  The fruits of this god seem to include a history of violence.

Thankfully, I wouldn't say that there's anything particularly violent about the current LDS church.  But I don't think it's accurate to say that Mormonism worships a god who has forbidden bloodshed since the beginning of man.  But that's exactly what this chapter of the Book of Mormon teaches.