Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Mormon 5: Two Minutes to Midnight

With the Nephite apocalypse looming ever closer on the horizon, we're witnessing the creation myth, so to speak, for the physical Book of Mormon as Mormon himself begins to gather up the records of his ancestors and ensures that his son Moroni will continue his legacy.

Repent!  Repent?
Even though he threw a little temper tantrum earlier, Mormon decides to reinstate himself as Supreme Commander of the Nephite Allied Forces.  But what's interesting is not that he changed his mind—it's how he describes changing his mind (verse 1):
And it came to pass that I did go forth among the Nephites, and did repent of the oath which I had made that I would no more assist them; and they gave me command again of their armies, for they looked upon me as though I could deliver them from their afflictions.
He repented of his oath.  This implies that quitting the army and abandoning his soldiers was a sinful act.  Which is a strange thing to say, because if you look back at Mormon 3:16...
And it came to pass that I utterly refused to go up against mine enemies; and I did even as the Lord had commanded me; and I did stand as an idle witness to manifest unto the world the things which I saw and heard, according to the manifestations of the Spirit which had testified of things to come. sure sounds like God told him to quit.  Or at the very least, God approved of his decision to quit.  How could that be sinful?  How could something divinely sanctioned require repentance?

I'll Take Racism for Three Hundred, Alex
Mormon explains that he's weaving this brief tale of doom as part of a larger record that will come forward in the future and convince the Jews and the Gentiles of Christ's gospel.  But in the midst of that, he kind of, uh, becomes prematurely prejudiced against the future of the society that's about to annihilate his own (verse 15):
And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.
Dark?  Filthy?  Loathsome?  Damn, dude.  You have nothing to say about the Gentiles who will one day attempt genocide against these people?  You're just gonna focus on the Lamanites' skin color and call them names?  It bothers you more that they'll be idolotrous than that they'll be nearly wiped out by self-important avaricious bigots?  Are you sure you're not wicked like everybody else?  Because that's pretty harsh.  Especially when you're including that kind of unfair judgment in a book of scripture that will one day be regarded by millions as the literal word of God.

The Book of Mormon God is still racist.  I don't see any way around that conclusion.

Sixed Mignals
As he foretells the inevitable downfall of the Lamanites (and, apparently, their eventual return to glory and righteousness), Mormon recycles a common Biblical metaphor (verse 17):
They were once a delightsome people, and they had Christ for their shepherd; yea, they were led even by God the Father.
Christ being envisioned as a shepherd is hardly groundbreaking imagery, of course.  However, it is a little strange that such an analogy would occur to a man who lived in a place where domesticated, herded sheep almost certainly did not exist.  But mostly, this verse jumps out at me for its amateurish muddying of a classic comparison.

Christ was their shepherd and they were led by God the Father?  But isn't leading the sheep exactly what a shepherd does?  Were there two shepherds?  Have you ever heard of sheep who obediently follow their shepherd's dad?  What's the deal here?

My theory is that this is one of those vestigial remnants of earlier Mormon doctrine.  See, this verse is no big deal from a Trinitarian's perspective—the part following the semicolon is merely restating the original concept for emphasis.  But from a non-Trinitarian point of view, the writer seems to have abandoned his own metaphor mid-sentence.

Of course, as Abinadi's rambling indicates, early Mormon theology was a lot closer to Trinitarianism than it is today.  But even though the Book of Mormon has undergone numerous little tweaks and edits over the years, it looks like not every verse influenced by the religion's initial concept of the godhead has been scrubbed.

It's a big book, though.  When you're going through it and making sure it's all properly correlated with current church materials, I'm sure it's tough to be sure you got everything.

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