Archive for the ‘Book of Mormon’ Category

Alma 1:10-25

March 19, 2010

For my Reading Scripture class, we’re using Royal Skousen’s recent edition of the earliest Book of Mormon text.  I love it, in part just because it’s a beautiful book, but also because I feel as if it helps me read more carefully, to notice things I never saw before.

The story of Nehor’s trial is one that I’m used to hearing.  And yet, when I read it out loud on Wednesday, it seemed completely unfamiliar.  There is a part of the story in the text that I don’t think I had ever opened my ears to hear before.  The way the trial is presented is not, as I had thought, unambiguously positive.  As I read, I get the feeling that the narrator (Alma, Mormon?) might view the handling of Nehor’s trial as a mistake.

The text that catches my voice says that after Nehor is condemned
“they carried him up on the top of the hill Manti,
and there he was caused
or rather did acknowledge between the heavens and the earth
that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God…” (Alma 1:15).

Maybe it’s the sense-lines in this printing, but I don’t think I’d ever noticed the ambiguity before over whether Nehor’s confession of the error of his ways was forced or voluntary.  It seems almost to be a slip of the tongue: “he was caused or rather did acknowledge…”  But this is a serious issue, because it’s the difference between an effective judicial procedure and a kangaroo court.  And I think the text includes both possibilities for a reason.

What follows from the trial also surprises me.  We learn that Nehor’s execution “did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land” (1:16).  This is an aberration, since the two situations which follow this same pattern—that of Sherem (Jacob 7) and that of Korihor (Alma 30)—end in the text with all the people becoming convinced of their errors.  So now we have two unsettling facts: the text leaves some question as to whether Nehor’s confession was forced and then says that for the only time in Nephite history, the public refutation of an Anti-Christ didn’t end the spread of his doctrines.

What if these two issues are connected and the first explains the second?  This is Alma’s first recorded ruling as chief judge.  We know that there will later be significant questions about the legitimacy of the judges.  And we know that there are already tensions—expressed in Nehor’s preaching—about the role of the new Church (of which Alma is high priest) in society.  So perhaps we can imagine that there was considerable attention surrounding this case, in which an opponent of Alma’s Church was brought to trial before him, on charges of murder.

And this is where the uncertainty about Nehor’s confession and the continuing spread of priestcraft come together for me.  Nephites who are perhaps skeptical of this new Church which has been established, and this new system of judges, are watching closely to see whether Alma will use his governmental authority to support his religious denomination.  And then Alma makes Nehor’s trial not a matter of murder, but of heresy.  And during Nehor’s execution, which ends with his “ignominious death” (Alma 1:15) there is a problematic confession, not of murder, but of heresy, which likely was portrayed by the Church as voluntary and by Alma’s opponents as forced.

What’s the end result?  The rift between the Church and non-believers become wider, as some non-believers begin to suspect that the power of the government is being used to bolster Church authority.  Controversial preachers outside of the Church grow in popularity, perhaps by preaching against what they call misuse of the judgment seat.  And soon believers and non-believers are not only arguing, they’re brawling in the streets (Alma 1:25).  Alma’s ruling against Nehor is not a success, it’s a terrible mistake (even if it’s a factually accurate ruling) because it undermines the legitimacy of the fledgling system of judges and harms the reputation of the Church in the eyes of non-members.  Perhaps it even led to increasing popularity for the preaching of one Amlici, who says that the judges have failed, and he should be king.

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Mormon Doctrine?

February 25, 2010

Sometimes people say that Mormonism has no doctrine.  And sometimes I’ve heard that everything the General Authorities say is doctrine.  Both of those statements are wrong.  Mormon doctrine exists, and it’s really, really simple.

Jesus said it in the Book of Mormon, and he says it to us:

“And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.  And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.  And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become  as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.  And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God” (3 Nephi 11:32-38).

No more,  and no less.   (Or as Hillel might say: The rest is commentary,  go and learn.)