From a Convert's Viewpoint

It would be fair to say that my upbringing on the Isle of Wight was in a Church of England environment. The religion at my schools was also predominantly Church of England. I was a fairly faithful churchgoer—especially once I was confirmed at age thirteen—up until the time I left for college. (College in London in the 1960s was not precisely conducive to the pursuit of a religious life.) Although my heritage was not a secret in my family, it was not until my early teens that I became truly aware that my mother’s family was Jewish. Once at college in London, I had more exposure to the Jewish religion through increased contact with my uncle and cousins. This set me on a pursuit that has as a milestone my conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and continues with my interest in ancient Near Eastern studies. The following selection of issues on which the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith give particularly relevant clarification is thus biased, on the one hand, toward those teachings that had a strong impact on me as I strove to learn about the church and, on the other, toward those that I have come across in my studies and work at Brigham Young University. I will begin with two of the latter issues.

Smiting Off Arms
During Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites, a fairly gruesome incident occurred that seemed to me completely out of character with this exemplary missionary. Ammon and his fellow servants were out tending King Lamoni’s flocks when they were set upon by a group of Lamanites and Ammon performed a stunning feat of strength and skill—smiting off the arms of those who were trying to scatter the flocks (see Alma 17). This violent episode puzzled me, but I rationalized that it gave Ammon sufficient credence to gain the willing ears of King Lamoni, who as a result was converted to Christ. Hugh Nibley, however, gave this passage a lot more thought and research.

In The Prophetic Book of Mormon, Nibley likens the seemingly common play between the two groups of Lamanites in Alma 17 to ancient games such as “the bloody fun of the famous basketball games played in the great ball courts of the ceremonial complexes of Mesoamerica,” where “either the captain of the losing team or the whole team lost their heads.”1 From even more ancient sources, Nibley cites the games of chivalry depicted on Egyptian monuments showing “the first ‘pharaohs’ bashing the heads of rival rulers with the ceremonial mace” and the “famous scenes of the battles of Megiddo and Carchemish [displaying] the piles of severed hands and arms brought as trophies to the king.”2

Nibley’s views helped explain for me why King Lamoni executed his servants for their failure to protect the flocks, but I still wondered why Ammon went to far as to cut off the ruffians’ arms.

In 1999 Bruce Yerman published an article that sheds light on this episode, with especial reference to the severed arms.3 Beginning his research with a wonderful, if graphic, mural by Diego Rivera that currently hangs in the National Palace in Mexico City, Yerman shows that as a war trophy, an arm “was considered comparable to . . . fine jewelry.” He cites the conquistador author Bernal Díaz, whose comrades in battle were sacrificed, after which “Aztec warriors held aloft the severed arms of the victims as they taunted and threatened the Spanish and their native allies who were within earshot.”4

Staying with Mesoamerica, Yerman brings our attention to the Popol Vuh, the highland Maya historical and mythological text, in which the hero twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, battle the god Seven Macaw. At one point “Hunahpu shoots Seven Macaw with his blowgun. As the twin seeks to escape, Seven Macaw twists and tears an arm off Hunahpu’s body.” Later, Seven Macaw takes the arm home and hangs it over the fire.5

Book of Mormon scholars John Lundquist and John Welch provide further confirmation of the antiquity and authenticity of this practice. “On the extreme left of band 4 on the decorated Gates of Salmaneser III (858–824 BC), Assyrian troops are shown cutting off the heads, feet, and hands of vanquished enemies. ‘In other reliefs, the artists of the Assyrian kings depict the military scribes recording the number of enemy dead in accordance with the number of severed heads, hands and feet which Assyrian soldiers hold up before them.'”6

The Egyptian, Assyrian, and Mesoamerican evidences for the practice of smiting off arms not only resolved for me this episode in the life of an exemplary missionary but also, since it was highly unlikely that Joseph Smith would have had access to the relevant sources, provided further confirmation of the Book of Mormon as an ancient record.

Asylum
Bible study was not a priority in my formative years. Although I did study the Bible in Sunday School as well as in religion classes at school, I do not remember spending much time in the Old Testament, and I certainly spent no time at all in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (with the exception of the story of Balaam and his donkey). My recollections of what I learned about Joshua back then are limited to visions of the walls “tumblin’ down.” So it was of great interest to me when my later studies revealed the establishment of six cities of refuge that, if nothing else, led to the asylum that Victor Hugo offered his eponymous hero in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

One of the provisions of the law of Moses was blood vengeance, or “an eye for an eye.” It is generally accepted that this practice was to recompense the family of the victim for the loss of a faculty or limb. In practice, that compensation would not be monetary but in kind: the perpetrator would perform whatever tasks his victim could no longer perform. This idealistic law was designed to obviate the need for incarceration. However, inadvertent manslaughter had its own set of laws.

Asylum was prescribed to take the form of escape to a city of refuge. Moses established at least six cities as places of refuge for those who committed inadvertent manslaughter (see Deuteronomy 19:4; compare vv. 1–13; Numbers 35:6–34; Joshua 20).7 The law provided that the refugee would request a trial, either by the elders of the city of refuge or by the elders of his own city, to determine the inadvertent nature of his offense. If his innocence from murder was established, he would be able to stay in the city, free from the blood vengeance of the victim’s family, until the death of the current high priest, after which he was presumably free to leave the city.

The law of Moses made provision for atonement for inadvertent sin. During Yom Kippur, the high priest sacrificed two goats—one designated as the Lord’s goat and the other as the scapegoat, or the Azazel goat (see Leviticus 16:7–10). According to biblical scholar Jacob Milgrom, when the purified high priest laid his hand on the live scapegoat, he transferred to it the awonot, “iniquities”—”the causes of the sanctuary’s impurities, all of Israel’s sins, ritual and moral alike, of priests and laity alike.”8

The conditions of asylum can be summarized as follows:

  1. Some kind of injustice is about to be perpetrated (see Deuteronomy 19:4).
  2. The cause must be declared in the ears of the elders (see Joshua 20:4).
  3. The seeker of asylum must be judged by the congregation (see Numbers 35:12, 24).
  4. The seeker will either be delivered from those from whom refuge is sought (see Numbers 35:25; Joshua 20:5) or be delivered into the hands of the avenger of blood, that he may die.
  5. The seeker will be released from asylum after the death of the high priest (see Numbers 35:25).

The Nephites were aware of the seriousness of premeditated murder, as evidenced by Jacob’s imprecation “Wo unto the murderer who deliberately killeth, for he shall die” (2 Nephi 9:35). So it might follow that they were also aware of the stipulations in the law of Moses regarding inadvertent manslaughter. In his study of blood vengeance in the Old Testament and in the Book of Mormon, James Rasmussen comments: “There is no indication that the punishment is required to be administered by man. Indeed, the context suggests that the death referred to is a spiritual death. . . . ‘Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal.’ [2 Nephi 9:39] This makes it clear that spiritual death is discussed and not criminal law. . . . Jacob’s teaching is notable for making explicit that it is intentional killing which is forbidden. In the Old Testament the requirement of intention is implicit in the contrasting provisions for accidental homicide.”9

A case has been made for Jershon, the land ceded to the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, as a city of refuge.10 While there are certain similarities between Jershon and the biblical cities of refuge, I do not believe that we can go so far as to classify it as a city of refuge; but we can categorize it as an area of asylum.

When Ammon successfully converted Lamoni and his people, it was necessary for them, and the Lamanites converted by the other sons of Mosiah, to make significant changes in their lives. The first step for the converted Lamanites was to call themselves Anti-Nephi-Lehies, a name chosen after Lamoni’s father, the king over all the land, consulted with “Aaron and many of their priests” regarding a name whereby “they might be distinguished from their brethren” (see Alma 23:16–17). To strengthen this separation further, on his deathbed Lamoni’s father conferred the kingdom upon his other son and changed that son’s name to Anti-Nephi-Lehi (see Alma 24:2–3, 5).

To save the Anti-Nephi-Lehies from destruction at the hands of their unconverted brethren, Ammon, with the Lord’s blessing, conducted them to the land of Zarahemla (see Alma 27:11–26). The converted Lamanites’ manner of atoning for the perceived murders was to present themselves for voluntary bondage: “We will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves until we repair unto them the many murders and sins which we have committed against them” (Alma 27:8). Ammon, however, cited the law that Mosiah, his father, implemented after the example of his father, Benjamin: “It is against the law of our brethren . . . that there should be any slaves among them” (Alma 27:9).

We can look at what followed in light of the conditions of asylum given above:

1. Some kind of injustice was about to be perpetrated (see Deuteronomy 19:4). The Lamanites were going to exact vengeance on the Anti-Nephi-Lehies (see Alma 27:3).

2. The cause must be declared in the ears of the elders (see Joshua 20:4). Alma pled their case before the chief judge, who then sent out a proclamation to hear the voice of the people regarding the fate of the converted Lamanites (see Alma 27:20–21).

3. The seeker of asylum must be judged by the congregation (see Numbers 35:12, 24). The decision was to give the Anti-Nephi-Lehies a fertile land, Jershon, “on the east by the sea,” as “an inheritance.” The reasons for this generosity were (a) to enable the Nephites to set armies between the lands of Jershon and Nephi, (b) to answer their “fear to take up arms against their brethren lest they should commit sin,” and (c) to facilitate “their sore repentance . . . on account of their many murders and their awful wickedness.” The only condition was that “they will give us a portion of their substance to assist us that we may maintain our armies” (see Alma 27:22–24).

4. The seeker will be delivered from those from whom refuge is sought (see Numbers 35:25; Joshua 20:5). The Anti-Nephi-Lehies joyfully accepted the offer of asylum in Jershon, but apparently another transition was necessary, for “they were called by the Nephites the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after” (Alma 27:26). It is interesting to note that, according to Hebrew scholars Stephen Ricks and John Tvedtnes, the name Jershon has an “authentic Hebrew origin” in the root ry, “meaning ‘to inherit,’ with the suffix –ôn that denotes place-names.” Each mention of Jershon is accompanied by some reference to inheritance (see Alma 27:22–24; 35:14).11 In addition, from the Book of Abraham we learn that Abraham built an altar, a traditional place of asylum as well as of worship and sacrifice, at Jershon, which was between Haran and Sechem (Shechem) on the way to Canaan (see Abraham 2:16–18). Jershon is identified with ancient Jerash in the footnote to Abraham 2:16. Jerash, of course, has the same root as Jershon.

5. The seeker will be released after the death of the high priest (see Numbers 35:25). As mentioned earlier, an inadvertent manslayer was required to remain in a city of refuge until the death of the current high priest. Although no such stipulation is mentioned in the account of the people of Ammon, it is interesting to note that (1) Ammon was appointed high priest over them (see Alma 30:20), and (2) the only reason they left Jershon was for their safety. After the converted Zoramites joined their ranks, the vengeful Zoramite chief made an alliance with the Lamanites in order to destroy the people of Ammon and the Nephites (see Alma 35:10–11). As a result, Ammon took his people to Melek so that Jershon might become a defense outpost (see Alma 35:13). Some thirty years later, well beyond Ammon’s life expectancy, some of the people of Ammon formed part of the exodus to the land northward (see Helaman 3:12).

Having the opportunity to do this research into the minutiae of the transfer of the converted Lamanites to Jershon has given me greater insight into the biblical asylum tradition and has also strengthened my belief that the people of the Book of Mormon possessed and carried on the traditions brought with them by Lehi and Nephi from Jerusalem. Considering Joseph Smith’s educational background and his very limited knowledge of the Bible at that time, as well as the short time it took him to translate the Book of Mormon, it is very doubtful that he could have extrapolated the details of asylum from the Bible and incorporated them into the story of the people of Ammon.

Plan of Salvation—Eternal Asylum
Hugh Nibley has frequently referred to the terrible questions that Clement formulated and that are universally avoided: “Is there a preexistence? Is there life after death? If we live after, will we remember this life? Why don’t we remember the premortal existence? When was the world created? What existed before that? If the world was created, will it pass away? And then what? Will we feel things we cannot feel now?”12 I remember as a child making myself dizzy lying in bed at night trying to imagine the scope of the universe, its boundaries, and then wondering what was outside those boundaries, since for me an endless universe was inconceivable. Later in life I struggled to understand the philosophies of Teilhard de Chardin, R. D. Laing, and others in an effort to determine if I was more than a mote in that incomprehensible expanse, if someone had a plan for me. The lack of credible answers to these questions can lead to a sense of futility culminating in despair. I was delighted to discover that the Book of Mormon provides logical, comprehensible answers to these questions and thus brings hope to the seeker after purpose and progression.

A Premortal Existence

A concept that had never really occurred to me was that there could be an existence before this one. My upbringing led me to believe that my life had a defined beginning (birth) and would have a defined end (death), with a smoky possibility of some kind of afterlife. I was intrigued with the possibility that I had a whole new breadth of life that stretched back before birth. As I studied the Book of Mormon, I found confirmation of this concept in its pages.

Although the most cogent descriptions of the premortal existence are found in scriptures other than the Book of Mormon that were revealed through or translated by Joseph Smith (see Moses 6:51; Abraham 3:22–23; D&C 93:29; 138:53, 56), it is obvious that a knowledge of the premortal existence was common among the Book of Mormon prophets. Alma, in his preaching to an audience in Ammonihah who exhibited apathy if not outright animosity, gives this informative passage on priests ordained after the order of the Son:

And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such. (Alma 13:3)

From this passage we learn that ordinations to the priesthood in mortality are a result of (1) preparation of the individual in premortality (given that the “world” was “founded” before it was physically created), (2) faith and good works, (3) choices of good over evil, (4) the opportunity to exercise faith, and (5) the provision of redemption. It follows that these stipulations are part of a plan that was conceived before the earth was created, even a plan to direct the creation of the earth and the course of its inhabitants. This gave me hope that I too was part of a plan; I mattered, and my being here on earth was not just a convergence of biological events.

The Plan of Redemption

Having learned that my existence extended into premortality, I realized that I was accountable for my actions. My parents had taught me well the value of obedience, selflessness, and virtue; but without the conviction of a need to account for my actions to a higher authority, in my adult life I was more concerned with keeping out of trouble than living a higher law. I knew nothing of the interrelationship of justice and mercy in regard to my accountability for my actions as a child of God. Thus my becoming aware of the ramifications of disobedience to God’s law brought a trepidation that was immediately alleviated by the teachings of the plan of salvation. In the Book of Mormon Alma describes the conception and function of this plan that comes into effect as a result of Adam’s fall:

There was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which . . . is after the resurrection of the dead. Now, if it had not been for the plan of redemption, which was laid from the foundation of the world, there could have been no resurrection of the dead. (Alma 12:24–25)

Lehi elaborates:

And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given. (2 Nephi 2:26)

So the plan provides not only commandments that we can choose to follow but also, because we will inevitably make wrong choices, a Messiah with power to redeem us from the consequences of our disobedience, if we repent. This concept seems so integral to me now, but when I first was introduced to it, I marveled at its flawless logic. It awakened in me the beginnings of an understanding of the atonement and a continuing quest to be worthy of that atonement.

The Reality of the Other World

While I was living in Germany, I had limited access to LDS literature. The small ward library was helpful, and we did have a roving bookstore that had titles from General Authorities. While I was on vacation in the United States in 1990, the drive from Virginia to Utah with friends afforded me time to read. I had with me two Ensign magazines that contained installments of a multipart article by Hugh Nibley on the atonement.13 This was my first exposure to this great scholar, and it began a relationship with his works that has essentially culminated in my living permanently in Utah and working at Brigham Young University. Shortly after returning to Germany, I subscribed to FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) and began assembling my own library of Nibley’s collected works. A tape set of Nibley’s 1954 radio lectures under the title “Time Vindicates the Prophets” introduced me to the early Christian fathers and gave me further insight into the plan of salvation.

Essential to such a plan is a way to know how we are progressing; in other words, we need contact with the author of the plan. The early church fathers, specifically Anselm, redefined revelation: “It is the rationally endowed mind alone that has the capacity to achieve a concept of the Divine. At the same time the rational mind is the image of God: therefore the more it contemplates its own nature the better it understands God.”14 However, Augustine, in his last conversation with his mother, yearned “that we may hear his word not through any tongue of flesh; . . . but we may hear the very One whom we only love, . . . that we might hear his very self.”15 As the church fathers determined the course of the Christian church through the use of their “rational minds,” and in the absence of revelation, prophets on the American continent were relying on revelation to direct the course of their people.

The Book of Mormon is full of references to mortals interacting with the other world. The opening chapters describe a vision given to both Lehi and Nephi. Angels appeared to the recalcitrant Laman and Lemuel. Visits from the other world do not stop with Christ’s visit to the Nephites or with the death of the last apostle in Israel.

Certainly the Three Nephites are a link between the two worlds, as is John the Beloved. The Book of Mormon gives us insight into the transformation that these four followers of Christ underwent:

And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God. (3 Nephi 28:15)

I have seen them, and they have ministered unto me. And behold they will be among the Gentiles, and the Gentiles shall know them not. . . . And it shall come to pass, when the Lord seeth fit in his wisdom that they shall minister unto all the scattered tribes of Israel, and unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people. (3 Nephi 28:26–27, 29)

And they are as the angels of God, and if they shall pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus they can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good. (3 Nephi 28:30)

There was a change wrought upon their bodies, that they might not suffer pain nor sorrow save it were for the sins of the world. Now this change was not equal to that which shall take place at the last day; but there was a change wrought upon them. . . . They were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them. And in this state they were to remain until the judgment day of Christ. (3 Nephi 28:38–40)

Although the three “beloved disciples” were taken away from the Nephites in about AD 327, Mormon later testifies that he was “visited of the Lord” and these disciples (see Mormon 1:15–16; 3:16; 8:11).

The other world is indeed a reality, and the Book of Mormon shows us that, when it is necessary, the veil between that world and ours becomes very thin.

Judgment

Other than the natural guilt at disobedience to a parental figure, what are the far-reaching consequences of flouting commandments? Seen from a finite, mortal viewpoint, the matter resolves itself into simply getting caught or getting away with it. The former can bring punishment, usually commutable; and the latter, gain. The inference is that the more cunning and skillful one is at taking advantage of a neighbor, the more likely that person’s worldly success. Far from condemning such ill-gotten success, society seems to grudgingly admire it. Indeed, it might be considered a prerequisite for high public office. So what incentive is there to obey? The Book of Mormon is extremely clear in putting disobedience in an eternal context.

First, Lehi, in his great discourse to Jacob on opposition and the power of the atonement, explains the necessity of freedom of choice (see 2 Nephi 2:21–26) and sets forth the consequences of willful disobedience in mortality: “Men are . . . free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27). The latter choice, one apparently preferred by those whom we perceive as “getting away with it,” brings an eternal consequence that perhaps those who deserve it hope to avoid, just as they apparently avoided mortal consequences: “eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom” (2 Nephi 2:29).

King Benjamin expands on the character of those who would willfully “list to obey the evil spirit” (Mosiah 2:32):16 “The same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge. . . . The Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples” (Mosiah 2:33, 37). Carnal satisfaction may be the reward for such behavior, but the absence of any kind of light is in itself a dire punishment.

These statements lead up to what might be called the definition of judgment delivered first by Amulek and then by Alma:

And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else. Therefore the wicked remain as though there had been no redemption made, except it be the loosing of the bands of death; for behold, the day cometh that all shall rise from the dead and stand before God, and be judged according to their works. . . . The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored . . . ; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt. Now this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, . . . and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, . . . to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil. (Alma 11:40–41, 43–44)

Small wonder that Zeezrom, who up until that point in time was firmly in the camp of those who profited from wrongdoing, “began to tremble” when he heard this discourse. Alma gives a second witness to Amulek’s teachings:

If our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned. For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God. . . . [W]e must come forth and stand before him in his glory, and in his power, and in his might, majesty, and dominion, and acknowledge to our everlasting shame that all his judgments are just; that he is just in all his works, and that he is merciful unto the children of men. (Alma 12:13–15)

Alma then goes further in explaining the ultimate consequence of willful disobedience:

Whosoever dieth in his sins, as to a temporal death, shall also die a spiritual death; yea he shall die as to things pertaining unto righteousness. Then is the time when their torments shall be as a lake of fire and brimstone, . . . that they shall be chained down to an everlasting destruction. . . . They shall be as though there had been no redemption made; for they cannot be redeemed according to God’s justice; and they cannot die, seeing there is no more corruption. (Alma 12:16–18)

The Book of Mormon provides clear and precise answers to questions that have troubled thinking people since the beginning of time. Its teachings continually inspired and enlightened me as I sought increased understanding and guidance on the new path I had embarked on.

Eternal Judgment
The foregoing, especially the section on judgment, might at first seem to support the popular view of the vengeful God who thunders down his wrath upon the small, insignificant inhabitants of the earth. But here again, the Book of Mormon corrects that view, affording refreshing clarification that gives hope to all, even the most recalcitrant sinner.

I was never very comfortable with negative reinforcement. From an early age I had a horror of horror, and although I now realize that the works of the adversary are very real and effective, I do not believe that my contemplation of a Dantesque hell where pain and burning are the preferred methods of punishment would have been effective in my case. Such excruciating tortures were too terrible to admit into my thoughts, and my natural compassion would not accept that such would be the fate of anyone, regardless of his or her behavior on earth. Thankfully, judgment is not our call.

However, the Book of Mormon explains why some degree of negative reinforcement is necessary. As Enos was out in the woods undergoing his conversion and pleading with the Lord on behalf of the Lamanites, he made this poignant statement:

And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. (Enos 1:23)

Thus, when dealing with the natural man—apparently the spiritual level of the Lamanites at that time—it is necessary to use visceral language containing explicit punishments. As one’s spiritual progression moves away from darkness and toward light, then, accordingly, the incentives of eternal life and exaltation become more of a pull forward by a loving, compassionate God and there is less need for the threat of the Inferno in order to halt a downward spiral.

The Concept of Opposition
In this modern world where “win-win” is a sought-after solution to problems, I had long thought that the Garden of Eden was a no-win situation for Adam and Eve. I longed for some kind of evidence of a contingency plan for the unlikely event that both Adam and Eve rebuked the tempter and that Satan was lying when he presented the fruit to Eve on the basis that this was the only way she would be able to know good from evil (see Genesis 3:3–6). Satan was, after all, “the father of all lies” whose self-appointed mission was to “deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will” (Moses 4:4).

The same feelings accompanied my reading of Job’s terrible trials, permitted seemingly as a kind of a celestial game with Job’s salvation at stake. Although I believe that Job’s story is a true one, it is nevertheless easier to view it as an allegory for man’s mortal probation. This insight came to me as a result of contemplating Lehi’s discourse to Jacob in 2 Nephi.

Job, like Adam and Eve, had paradise taken from him, and his triumph against the advice of all those around him to “curse God, and die” (Job 2:9) is the triumph over opposition, for “when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Lehi explains that God “shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain” (2 Nephi 2:2). Satan had leave to tempt and to try Job; this is his permitted task as regards God’s children in their mortal state because “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so . . . righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad” (2 Nephi 2:11).

S. Kent Brown, director of the Ancient Studies Center at BYU, explained Lehi’s counsel as it pertains to the experience of Adam and Eve in the garden: “Lehi insisted that two ingredients were essential in our first parents’ situation—a choice, along with freedom to choose. There had to be an ‘opposition; even the forbidden fruit in opposition to the tree of life. . . . Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself’ (2 Nephi 2:15–16). For Lehi, the opposition facing Adam and Eve was necessary so that they could make the choice that could bring about mankind’s mortal existence.”17

An Enlightened Understanding of Eve’s Choice
While studying at BYU, I had a natural predilection for English literature and became interested in what was written around the time the King James Version of the Bible was first published, specifically works by Milton and Shakespeare. My encounter with Milton surprisingly brought me a view of Eve that argued against what I had gleaned before my conversion to the church—namely, that it was all Eve’s fault; that she was the tempted and the temptress, weak and little able to withstand the serpent’s guile; and that out of pity for her, Adam abandoned his ideals and left the Garden of Eden. The pseudepigraphical Life of Adam and Eve has Eve saying to her children of her confrontation with Adam after eating the fruit, “When your father came, I spoke to him unlawful words of transgression such as brought us down from great glory.”18

This unflattering role has been attributed to women through such biblical models as Delilah; even Ruth and Esther supposedly used their feminine wiles to obtain their goals. It needs no feminist conviction to propose that women have not been portrayed fairly in history, starting with the very first woman. Much of literature would have us believe that desire for Eve prompted Adam’s symbolic partaking of the apple. Milton’s seventeenth-century Paradise Lost, however, portrays Eve with a mind—not just a body—able to reason out the consequences of not partaking of the fruit. Her explanation to Adam was compelling, and their decision to enter mortality was one born of logic and reason, not hormones.

For us alone was death invented? or to us denied This intellectual food . . . ? What fear I then? rather what know to fear Under this ignorance of good and evil, Of God or death, of law or penalty? . . . . . . . . . . . Were it I thought death menaced would ensue This my attempt, I would sustain alone The worst, and not persuade thee, rather die Deserted, than oblige thee with a fact Pernicious to thy peace; chiefly assured Remarkably so late of thy so true, So faithful, love unequalled: but I feel Far otherwise the event; not death, but life Augmented. . . . (Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 9, lines 766–68, 773–75, 977–85)

Although Paradise Lost was the one book, along with the Bible and Shakespeare, that emigrants from the United Kingdom purportedly brought with them to America, Joseph’s upbringing hardly telegraphs familiarity with the classics. Therefore this passage from the Book of Mormon is revealing:

If Adam [and Eve] had not transgressed [they] would . . . have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin. . . . Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. (2 Nephi 2:22–23, 25)

Milton’s Eve maintained that the consequence of her decision was life, not death; and the perpetuation of life is contained in Lehi’s words “Adam fell that men might be.”

No discussion of Eve in modern revelation should pass over her own comments in Joseph Smith’s translation of Genesis: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient” (Moses 5:11).

An indication that Joseph Smith’s and Milton’s general view of Eve was not false is aided by a study of the Hebrew word ezer, “help,” as used in the KJV Genesis account: “I will make him an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). Hebrew scholar Donald W. Parry has pointed out that ezer usually applies to the Lord (see, for example, Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:26, 29; Psalm 20:1–2; 33:20; 121:1–2; 124:8). Because of the divine connotation of this term, Parry concludes that “Eve is emulating God himself when she becomes a help. She is working with Adam in a work that Adam cannot complete without her. Certainly the term help does not denote a lesser status or subordinating role, but an equal, or perhaps even superior, role. Eve is an enabling help.”19

In the recently published Rabbinical Assembly commentary on Genesis 2:18, the editors remark that “the Hebrew for ‘a fitting helper’ (eizer k’negdo) can be understood to mean ‘a helpmate equivalent to him.’ It need not imply that the female is to be subordinate or that her role would be only as a facilitator.”20

Further morphological evidence on this point is found in the form of the verb used for seeing in the sense of evaluation. When God created the earth he “saw every thing that he had made” (Genesis 1:31; see also 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; 6:5, 12). This form of the verb to see, Hebrew yara, is the apocopated third-person masculine singular imperfect and is always used for the sense in which God sees. When, as recorded in Genesis 3:6, Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise,” the same form of the Hebrew verb to see (only in its feminine form) is used. Parry, who has made an extensive study of the Garden of Eden pericope, believes that this also shows the importance of Eve to the narrative.21

The change in my view of Eve began with my first years at BYU and continued as I moved into ancient Near Eastern studies and learned to read the Hebrew text of the Bible.

Choosing Baptism
My brothers and I were all christened soon after birth. Pictures of these events figure prominently in the photographic record of our early years, and since we frequently looked at those albums and entreated our parents to rehearse stories associated with our christenings, we relived those snapshots. It appeared to be a very joyous time, but more a celebration of our birth, our parents’ great love for each other and for us, and their close friendships rather than a religious ceremony. Certainly love and relationships rightly belong in such an ordinance, but was the ordinance of eternal significance? My adult feeling was that christening was somewhat of a superstition—an instant warding off of evil—compounded by the belief that the unbaptized cannot be buried in hallowed ground. That I was sprinkled with holy water for the remission of sins before I could even begin to contemplate sinning was a puzzling concept. Were my sins to be forgiven before the event? If so, then adherence to laws and acceptance of a moral standard seemed to be more a question of obedience to my elders and betters than they were a question of obedience to God.

The prophet Mormon had strong words to say along these lines:

Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! . . . For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism. (Moroni 8:10–12, 15)

There is no record of infant baptism in the New Testament, so when did the practice begin and for what reason? As is often the case, we find the roots of what has become common practice in Catholic and Protestant churches in the debates between the early church fathers. It is likely that infant baptism evolved from the rejection of the possibility of proxy baptism for the dead. This rejection caused a dilemma for St. Augustine, who in his younger days, according to Hugh Nibley,

dared promise not only paradise but also the kingdom of the heavens to unbaptized children, since he could find no other escape from being forced to say that God damns innocent spirits to eternal death. . . . But when he realized that he had spoken ill in saying that the spirits of children would be redeemed without the grace of Christ into eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, and that they could be delivered from the original sin without the baptism of Christ by which comes remission of sins—realizing into what a deep and tumultuous shipwreck he had thrown himself . . . he saw that there was no other escape than to repent of what he had said.22

Thus once the doctrine of original sin was established and the efficacy of proxy baptism was rejected, what course of action—in a time of high infant mortality—was there for the salvation of infants other than to baptize them as soon as possible after birth?

However, not all the early church fathers were in agreement. Tertullian, a North African theologian writing in about AD 200, believed that baptism should be delayed “according to the circumstances and disposition . . . of each individual.” He was not convinced that baptism was indispensably necessary for salvation and especially not for little children. Baptizing little children would, according to Tertullian, thrust those performing such rites “into danger.”23 In the third century, Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, in reply to a statement by Fidus that “the aspect of an infant in the first days after its birth is not pure, so that any one of us would still shudder at kissing it,” countered, “Nor ought any of us to shudder at that which God hath condescended to make; . . . in the kiss of an infant” is implicit “the still recent hands of God,” and “an infant, being lately born, has not sinned.”24

Augustine, in politically correct fashion, commented on Cyprian’s apparent rejection of infant baptism: “Cyprian, indeed, said, in order to correct those who thought that an infant should not be baptized before the eighth day, that it was not the body but the soul which behoved to be saved from perdition—in which statement he was not inventing any new doctrine, but preserving the firmly established faith of the Church; and he, along with some of his colleagues in the episcopal office, held that a child may be properly baptized immediately after its birth.”25

Finally, with the last word on the subject for many centuries to come, Augustine, in around AD 400, wrote to the Donatist Petilian, “Do you not hear the words of Scripture saying, ‘No one is clean from sin in Thy sight, not even the infant whose life is but of a single day upon the earth?’26 ‘For whence else is it that one hastens even with infants to seek remission of their sins?'”27

The transition by the early church fathers from rejection to acceptance of infant baptism compared with the clarity of Mormon’s epistle only strengthens my earlier conviction that Mormon was correct, that infants have no need of repentance, and that baptism is a decision to be made consciously by one who has reached an age of accountability.

These are just a few of the questions that I raised during my years growing up in the Church of England, as I became aware of my Jewish heritage, as I joined the Church of Jesus Christ, and as I studied at Brigham Young University. In every case, the Book of Mormon provides clear, logical answers whose verity I have been able to satisfactorily test.

I am grateful for my many teachers, starting with my parents and extending through to my association with BYU and the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts. I am also grateful for the knowledge that the Book of Mormon has given me. As Marilyn Arnold said, “With each reading it almost magically expands to meet my increased ability to comprehend it.”28

Notes

  1. Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1989), 541. More on this ball game can be found in Allen J. Christenson, trans. and ed., Popol Vuh: The Mythic Sections—Tales of the First Beginnings from the Ancient K’iche’-Maya (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2000), esp. 106–15.
  2. Nibley, Prophetic Book of Mormon, 541. John Tvedtnes pointed out to me that “the Medinet Habu reliefs of Ramses III also show piles of amputated arms and phalli”; see Uvo Hlscher, Medinet Habu Studies 1928/29 (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1930), 1:14–15 and pl. 2. Even the Bible mentions the practice in passing, in Jeremiah 48:25 and 1 Samuel 2:31. In the latter, the word for “arm” can also mean “seed,” so we have a wordplay (personal communication, 5 September 2001).
  3. Bruce H. Yerman, “Ammon and the Mesoamerican Custom of Smiting Off Arms,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 46–47.
  4. Ibid., 46, citing Bernal Daz del Castillo, The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517–1521, trans. A. P. Maudslay (London: Broadway House, 1928), 570.
  5. See Yerman, “Ammon,” 47; and Christenson, Popol Vuh, 58–61.
  6. John M. Lundquist and John W. Welch, “Ammon and Cutting Off the Arms of Enemies,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 180–81, citing Yigael Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands (New York: McGraw Hill, 1963), 2:399. See also note 1 above.
  7. These cities were Kedesh, Shechem, and Hebron on the west of the Jordan, and Golan, Ramoth-Gilead, and Bezer on the east of the Jordan.
  8. Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16 (New York: Doubleday, 1991), 1044.
  9. James Rasmussen, “Blood Vengeance in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon” (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1981), 14.
  10. Sarah Dee Nelson, unpublished paper in my possession, 13–15.
  11. Stephen D. Ricks and John A. Tvedtnes, “Book of Mormon Place-Names,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 6/2 (1997): 257–58.
  12. Hugh W. Nibley, Temple and Cosmos (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 523, citing Clementine Recognitions I, 2, in J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Latinae (Paris: Migne, 1844–64; hereinafter PL); see also pp. 336–78 in Nibley, Temple and Cosmos.
  13. Hugh W. Nibley, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, July–October, 1990.
  14. Quoted in Hugh Nibley, The World and the Prophets (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987), 292, citing Martin Grabmann, Geschichte der scholastischen Methoden (Graz: Akademische Druck, 1957), 1:275–78, on Anselm and Augustine.
  15. Quoted in Nibley, World and the Prophets, 91, citing Augustine, Confessions IX, 10, in PL 32:774–75, emphasis added.
  16. For further insight on the phrase list to obey, see the appendix of John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks, eds., King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom” (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 533.
  17. S. Kent Brown, “Nephi’s Use of Lehi’s Record,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1991), 13.
  18. M. D. Johnson, trans., Life of Adam and Eve, 21:3a, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985), 2:281.
  19. Donald W. Parry, “Notes on Eden,” unpublished manuscript. I am grateful to Professor Parry for bringing this to my attention.
  20. David L. Lieber, ed., Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 2001), 16. It is interesting that this commentary also mentions Milton’s Paradise Lost and comments, “A modern reader can easily see Eve as the heroine of the story, bravely crossing the boundary from animal to human and willingly sharing her newfound wisdom with her mate” (p. 20).
  21. Personal communication, 18 February 2000. I am grateful to S. Kent Brown for informing me of this morphological evidence.
  22. Hugh W. Nibley, Mormonism and Early Christianity (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1987), 141, 165 n. 212, citing Augustine, On the Soul and Its Origin 9, in PL 44:480–81.
  23. Tertullian, De Baptismo, 18, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995), 3:678 (hereinafter ANF); see Keith E. Norman, “Infant Baptism,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 2:682–83.
  24. Cyprian, The Epistles of Cyprian, 53 (ANF 5:354).
  25. Augustine, Letters, 166.8.23, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995), 1:530–31 (hereinafter PNF).
  26. Augustine is here citing LXX Job 14:4–5, a complex passage that the KJV renders “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee.” The NIV translates the passage as “Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one! Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.”
  27. Augustine, The Letters of Petilian, the Donatist, chaps. 102–233 (PNF 4:589).
  28. Marilyn Arnold, “Unlocking the Sacred Text,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 8/1 (1999): 50.