All posts by bfwebster

“…even in a dream…” (1 Nephi 2:1)

Book of Mormon scholars (starting with Noel Reynolds, I believe) have long pointed out that Nephi used his small plates — written 30 to 40 years after leaving Jerusalem — to make his case to be Lehi’s rightful heir, both temporally and spiritually (see my own observations here). Part of making that case is to portray Lehi himself as a true prophet of God, something Laman and Lemuel repeatedly disputed.

1 Nephi 2:1 starts as follows:

For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yeah, even in a dream….

We know that Nephi had the brass plates, and that

…they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents;  and also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah;  and also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.

And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph, yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob… (1 Nephi 5:11-14)

So, what do the five books of Moses have to say about dreams and those who receive them? Four things, really.

First, we have this pronouncement by God to Moses, rebuking Aaron and Miriam who claimed that God had spoken to them:

And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream. (Numbers 12:6)

Nephi likely very much had this verse in mind, since within the first (original divisions) chapter of his book, he has Lehi being “carried away in a vision” and seeing God (1 Nephi 1:7-15) and then has God speak to him in a dream (cited above).

Second, we see that both Jacob and Joseph — of whom Lehi is a descendant — had prophetic dreams. Jacob, on his way to Haran to find a wife, has a dream of a ramp or stairway ascending to heaven, with angels coming and going. He meets God face to face at an entrance or doorway at the top of the ramp, and God covenants with him to give him land and bless his posterity. (Genesis 28:10-22)

After serving Laban for 20 years, Jacob receives another dream, telling him to take his family and his possessions and go back to his promised land, Canaan. (Genesis 31:3-13) Note that Jacob suffers afflictions for following his dreams — Laban is an unfair taskmaster and father-in-law on several levels and is quite angry when Jacob leaves unannounced — but receives a dream of his own telling him to let Jacob leave in peace. (Genesis 31:24)

Joseph, Jacob’s favorite son and Lehi’s ancestor, also famously has prophetic dreams and interprets the dreams of others. Joseph’s two dreams of his older brothers and even his parents paying obeisance to him (Genesis 37:5-11) lead his brothers to “hate him yet the more”, and they famously sell him into Egypt. While in prison there, he interprets — correctly — the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief butler and baker. (Genesis 40:5-23) This, in turn, leads to Pharoah calling upon him to interpret his own dreams, which Joseph does and ends up becoming Pharaoh’s vizar. (Genesis 41:1-45) It is in that role that his older brothers come to him to beg for grain and — not recognizing him — fulfill Joseph’s original dreams.

Third, we see the Lord giving prophetic or warning dreams to non-prophets, but they always either a caution to leave a prophet alone or require the interpretation of a prophet to understand. Thus we have Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-6) warned to leave Sarah, Abraham’s wife, alone; and Laban (as per above) warned to let Jacob leave with his family and flocks.

Fourth, in the statutes and judgments given to Israel in Deuteronomy is this caution:

If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder,  and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them;  thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)

Nephi, of course, goes to great pains to show that Lehi is not leading his family away to “go after other gods” but to serve the true and living God, and thus is a true prophet.

Besides the dream command Lehi to flee into the wilderness with his family, Nephi cites two more dreams of his father. One is for Nephi and his brothers to go back and get the plates of brass from Laban (1 Nephi 3:2-5); the other is Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8). Thus, with these three dreams, we see Nephi laying out patterns drawn directly from the brass plates:

  • Taking his family  and fleeing into the wilderness toward a promised land (cf. Jacob fleeing Haran unannounced, or the Exodus itself)
  • Receiving an engraved copy of the Torah (cf. Moses receiving the stone tablets with the Law on Sinai)
  • Elevating the youngest son over the older brothers (Joseph’s initial dreams)

Book of Mormon scholars have long noted how strongly Nephi uses Exodus motifs in putting together his historical section (1 Nephi and 2 Nephi 1-5). But I believe he also ties Lehi back to Jacob and Joseph through his dreams, as a second witness to Lehi’s calling as a prophet.

Did Laban have right of ownership to the brass plates?

I just started a recent re-read of the Book of Mormon (separate from the nightly out-loud readings that my wife and I do) and noted (as usual) that Laban was given two chances to “do the right thing” with regards to the brass plates. I was also struck that Laban’s reaction the first two requests is disproportional to the request being made. Let’s look at this for a minute.

And we cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman; and Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house. And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father. And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee. (1 Nephi 3:11-13)

Let’s make a few reasonable assumptions. Laban most likely knew who Lehi was — because they were related, because of Lehi’s wealth, and because of Lehi’s preaching. Laban, therefore, would have at least some idea who Laman was (Lehi’s oldest son and therefore heir). If Laban had a clear and indisputable right to the plates, he simply could have said “No” and sent Laman on his way, or he could have demanded some form of payment. Instead, he threatens to have Laman killed — just for asking about the plates.

The second attempt, based on Nephi’s idea, doesn’t go well, either.

And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things. And after we had gathered these things together, we went up again unto the house of Laban.

And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things. And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property. And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban. And it came to pass that we fled into the wilderness, and the servants of Laban did not overtake us, and we hid ourselves in the cavity of a rock. (1 Nephi 3:24-28)

Again, Laban could have simply said “No” or he could have bargained for a greater payment than the sons of Lehi were offering  (such as Lehi’s “land of inheritance”, which appears to be an estate somewhere outside of Jerusalem itself). Instead, he actively sends his servants to kill the sons of Lehi, while retaining the “gold, silver, and precious things” that the sons had brought.

In both cases, Laban does not act like a man who simply owns something precious (to him) and is unwilling to part with it; instead, he threatens murder the first time and clearly tries to carry it out the second time. (He may have tried to carry it out the first time as well, but that’s less clear from the text.)  This suggests, at least, that Laban may have gained possession of the plates through unsavory means, and possibly that Lehi may have actually had a better claim to ownership (though we have no way of knowing that).

This also underscores that Laban had both a chance to do the right thing for the right reason and a chance to do the right thing for a less honorable reason. His violent reaction instead set up the circumstances by which he lost his own life.

One last note:

And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury. … And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls. (1 Nephi 3:20, 24)

Chances are that the “gold, silver, and precious things” of Lehi’s family that “fell into the hands of Laban” were in that same treasury as the brass plates. There is no indication that Nephi took a single item of that back, or anything else in Laban’s treasury, but only the brass plates. It’s unclear that Laman or Lemuel would have done the same thing; they were still longing after their “possessions” back in Jerusalem many years later (cf. 1 Nephi 17:21) and might well have felt the need to fill their pockets or a sack to get some of their own belonging back. But by not doing that, Nephi completed the transaction that he and his brothers had offered to Laban on the second visit and avoided becoming in fact the “robber” that Laban accused him and his brothers of being.

Gospel Doctrine 2016: Lessons 2 and 4 (Book of Mormon)

For the past few years, I’ve been honored to participate in the Interpreter Foundation Scripture Roundtable podcasts (videocasts, actually) as they cover each year’s Gospel Doctrine lessons. These roundtables are meant to act as aids for Gospel Doctrine teachers, their students, and frankly anyone else studying the scriptures.

We typically record them a few months in advance, so we have already recorded lessons 1-5 for the Book of Mormon course of study. Here are links to the two in which I’ve participated so far:

Lesson 2: All Things According to His Will (1 Nephi 1-5, 7)

Lesson 4: The Things Which I Saw While I Was Carried Away in the Spirit (1 Nephi 12-14).

Sources for the story of Amalakiah (Alma 46-52)

A close reading of the Book of Mormon shows a sophisticated restraint in its narrative approach, namely an absence of descriptions of events, conversations, and actions outside of the observation and knowledge of its claimed authors, contributors, and participants. Consider all the things that are not included in the Book of Mormon narrative and yet have a direct bearing on that narrative:

  • Any statements or actions by Laban outside of the presence of Nephi1 or his brethren.
  • Any descriptions of events at Jerusalem after Lehi and his family depart.
  • Any private conversations or actions between Laman and Lemuel outside of the presence of Nephi1 and/or Lehi.
  • Any description of events, conversations, or actions among the Lamanites during those periods of separation and tension (with a major exception that is the topic of this post).
  • Any description of events, conversations, or actions among “Gadianton’s robbers and murderers”, except for some details at its founding, at which time it had been infiltrated by one of Helaman2‘s servants (Helaman 2).

And so on.

Contrast this with various stories in the Old Testament, where we are given details outside of the scope of any reasonable narrator. A good example is the whole story of Balak and Balaam in the book of Exodus (unless one presumes Balaam was somehow interviewed about these events or wrote down a separate manuscript that came into the hands of the Israelites). There are similar out-of-view events and details in Judges, Samuel/Kings, Esther, and Daniel. One can argue that these are natural attempts to fill in narrative gaps or offer obvious explanations, but that makes the restraint in the Book of Mormon all the more remarkable.

However, as alluded to above, there is one apparent major exception: the detailed story of Amalakiah, which is covered in Alma 46 through 52.

As explained in Alma 46, Amalakiah is a powerful Nephite figure who seeks to be made king by force over the Nephites, replacing the system of judges established by Mosiah2 roughly 20 years earlier. Moroni1, military leader of the Nephites, rallies the Nephites who oppose this change. Moroni1‘s forces significantly outnumber Amalakiah’s forces; Amalakiah and his followers seek to flee to the land of Nephi to join up with the Lamanites; Moroni1 heads them off, but Amalakiah and “a small number of his men” escape to Lamanite territory, while the remainder of his followers are forced to either acknowledge the current government or be put to death (“and there were but few who denied the covenant of freedom”).

At this point, following standard Book of Mormon narration, we would expect to hear no more about Amalakiah except and unless he were to return to battle against the Lamanites. Compare, for example, the story of Zarahemna found in Alma 44, who after his defeat at the hands of Moroni1 swears an oath not to come to battle against the Nephites again, returns to the land of Nephi, and is never heard of after that.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, over the next few chapters, starting in Alma 47, we get a detailed inside look of how Amalakiah cleverly and ruthlessly works his way into being king over all the Lamanites. it really is a remarkable and very credible tale of sophisticated political intrigue; one seeking a naturalistic explanation for the Book of Mormon has to account how a 23-year-old farm boy with little education would think up such an approach, one that would likely earn a nod of appreciation from Greek playwrights and Roman historians, if not Machiavelli himself.

However, that is not the point. The point is that this detailed account is taking place outside of the on-going Nephite narrative context. Not only are the events taking place in the land of Nephi — at a time of hostilities with no major Nephite individuals present –but they are very intimate and secret details of Amalakiah’s intents and actions.

This appears to be a very deliberate insertion by Mormon, rather than necessarily part of the record being kept at this point by Helaman1 (see header to Alma 45). Note the introduction we get in Alma 47:1:

Now we will return in our record to Amalickiah and those who had fled with him into the wilderness….

The editorial “we” and reference to “our record” is used here and a few other places (3 Nephi 8:1, Moroni 9:33) as a indicator of either Mormon or Moroni2  speaking as editor. This suggests a narrative break from the events surrounding Amalakiah’s rebellion described in Alma 46. Furthermore, it appears that Mormon is deliberately setting up a contrast between Amalakiah’s duplicity, intrigue and murder in gaining the Lamanite kingship and Moroni1‘s personal righteousness and desire for freedom, since he follows the story of Amalakiah’s ascent immediately with the account of Moroni1‘s preparation for defense and his (Mormon’s) famous paean to Moroni1 , after whom he (Mormon) would name his own son (cf. Alma 48:16-18).

So, where did Mormon get these closely-held details? I suspect the answer is right there in Mormon’s introduction to this story: “those who fled with him in the wilderness”. These were also Nephites or, at least, of the land of Zarahemla (my personal suspicion, as some Book of Mormon scholars have speculated, is that Amalakiah and the “kingmen” followers were likely of the majority Mulekite population, unhappy at minority Nephite domination of government and religion; in any case, they were almost certainly not Lamanites).

Those who followed Amalakiah would have to be his most trusted confidants, since they are a group of Nephites deep in the heart of Lamanite territory. Furthermore, it makes the most sense that he would draw from this group the “servants” he uses to do his most dangerous and potentially damning work — first, poisoning Lehonti, the Lamanite army leader to whom Amalakiah had “surrendered”, and then slaying the Lamanite king and blaming it on the king’s own servants.

Now fast forward five or six years. Amalakiah, perhaps frustrated by the failures of his Lamanite military leaders (cf. Alma 49) and encouraged by the internal dissensions among the Nephites (cf. Alma 50), comes down in person at the head of the Lamanite armies, conquering a series of cities along the east sea (Alma 51). However, he presses his luck a bit too far, is stopped by Teancum (who is guarding Bountiful), and then is assassinated by Teancum at night, in his own tent, on the night before the first day of the new year (Alma 51:32-37). That account includes this statement: “he [Teancum] did cause the death of the king [Amalakiah] immediately that he did not awake his servants.” (v. 34)

Amalakiah’s servants are there with the Lamanite army. That army (led now by “Jacob, a Zoramite”) flees back to the city of Mulek and takes refuge there. They are subsequently lured out, engaged in battle, and defeated; those who are not killed in battle are taken captive and are put to work at hard labor, fortifying Bountiful and possibly other cities along the eastern seaboard, as well as building their own prison compound.

Among those captives are almost certainly some number of Amalakiah’s servants or close confidants, who would have detailed knowledge of Amalakiah’s actions since fleeing the land of Zarahemla. It is both credible and likely that one or more of those men would be willing to give Teancum or even Moronithe inside details about how Amalakiah had become king over all the Lamanites, likely in exchange for easier living conditions or possibly even a pardon and being sent back into Nephite society, much as many captured Lamanites were later granted to go live with the people of Ammon (cf. Alma 62:15-17). Furthermore, it is credible and likely that Moroni1 would want to know how Amalakiah had become king of the Lamanites, particularly since his brother Ammoron had become king after his death and sought to continue the conflict and hold onto currently occupied Nephite cities (cf. Alma 52:2-4).

So, as it turns out, the exception is not an exception at all, and the Book of Mormon retains its narrative consistency. While the record does not spell out exactly how the Nephites got the inside details of Amalakiah’s rise to power, it does provide the information to deduce how, why, and when they did so. Furthermore, Mormon himself introduces the narrative, suggesting that he may well have found it in a source outside of the Alma2/Helaman1 record itself, interleaving its events with that record to explain how this series of wars — which would stretch on for a full decade and cause tremendous destruction and upheaval — came to pass.

Christ, Gethsemene and agency

In our lesson in Sunday School today, covering Hosea, our teacher had us read from D&C 19:15-19, focusing in particular on verse 18:

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink–

The point the teacher made here was that Christ had been faithful and perfectly obedient throughout His premortal existence and His mortal life. But here, at the most critical moment of His existence, He does not want to go through with what He knows is facing Him.

The Atonement was not inevitable. It hinged on Christ — Jehovah — being willing to go through indescribable suffering voluntarily. Our eternal glory hinged entirely on Christ exercising His agency in the right way at that very moment — and, frankly, through every subsequent moment of the Atonement, even though He could have stopped it at any moment (“Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” — Matthew 26:53).

I suspect that one major factor in the pre-existent rebellion was a lack of faith that Christ would voluntarily go through with the Atonement. As for the rest of us, we are left without excuse for our own exercise of agency. We cannot look Christ — our Judge — in the face on Judgment Day and say, “But the choice I faced was too hard.” The Son of Man has, in fact, descended below all tests of agency we will or can face in this life, and He made the right choice, in spite of the unknowable pain and sufferng He knew would follow. He and His Father do not ask us to go through that ourselves — in fact, They ask us to avoid that suffering by accepting and following Christ.

It’s our choice.

Stewardship, accountability, and community response (repost)

[NOTE: I originally wrote this essay back in 1994 for Vigor, an LDS samizdat put out for several years in the 90s by Orson Scott Card. I first posted it here at AIM  in 2008. Given the current intense discussions and post over Ordain Women and John Devlin, I thought it worth posting again. Comments not in the original 1994 article are in brackets.]

I’ve followed with interest and not a little dismay the increasingly strident discussions in various forums of how to deal with the imperfections of Church leaders. On one side are those who claim for Church leaders an infallibility and wisdom which they do not claim for themselves. On another side are those who feel that a “community response” — full-page newspaper ads, press conferences, public seminars and printed articles (often with scathing criticism) — is right and necessary. [I might add “LDS blogs” and “social media sites” in here as well.]

When you have two (or more) sides of an argument going around and around without resolution, it’s usually due to conflicting unstated premises. The key issue, largely unvoiced, is this discussion: to whom is a person with a given stewardship accountable? Is it the people over whom he or she (“he” hereafter, just to save typing and since we’re mostly focusing on priesthood leaders) has a stewardship? Is it the person or group of people for whom he is a steward? Is it both, and if so, how does he resolve conflicts between the two demands?

My personal belief is that someone with a stewardship is accountable solely to the person or people for whom he is a steward. In some contexts, that may well be the people over whom he has a stewardship, for example, an elected official is accountable to those who elected him. In the context of the Gospel and the Church, that is rarely the case; none spring to mind, but I won’t flatly exclude the possibility. The bishop of my ward is responsible for the welfare of its members, but is not accountable to them (myself included). He is accountable to the one who gave him his stewardship, namely the Savior, and to any of Christ’s representatives who have stewardship over him, such as the stake president. That stewardship moves up the priesthood line authority to the general authorities, who are all directly or indirectly accountable to the First Presidency; the First President’ counselors are accountable to him, and the First President is accountable only to Christ.

Given my stated premise about stewardship, we can now look at the key issue: if I think someone with stewardship over me (or even not over me) is in error, how do I handle it?

If the bishop acts in a manner which I feel significantly conflicts with his stewardship, my first responsibility is to approach him directly and privately discuss it. If that doesn’t resolve things, I have the opportunity — and, in some cases, the responsibility — to inform the stake president. Likewise, if I judge my stake president to be in error, I can deal with him directly, and if that doesn’t resolve things, inform the general authorities of the Church; the exact channel may depend upon the issue. If I judge a general authority to be in error, I can address my concerns directly to him; lacking satisfaction, I can then go to the First Presidency. And if I think they’re messing up, I can take things right to God. (Actually, I can do that in any situation, but since He’s appointed earthly stewards at all other levels, I figure He expects me to use them when appropriate.)

In this context, it’s interesting to note that we have the Lord’s promise that He will never let the President of the Church lead us astray; we have no such promise for any other church leadership position, so obviously the Lord expects us to use these checks as needed

What is critical in this process is that it should be done with the same confidentiality, sensitivity, understanding, patience and forgiveness — in short, the same Christ-like behavior — with which we would desire our own imperfections and errors to be handled. The Savior taught that “if they brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother.” (Matt 18:15) The Savior goes on to say that if that brings no results, we should inform the Church — which I would interpret as meaning the appropriate divinely-appointed stewards, not our circle of friends, the members of our ward, or the readership of Sunstone and Dialogue [not to mention the entire Internet]. We would probably be outraged, and rightly so, if we found that a church member — much less a church leader — was publicly criticizing our performance in our church duties; we’d even be upset over private criticism, if it was shared with those not involved in the situation. Yet all too often, we feel little compunction — and, worse yet, a great deal of self-righteous satisfaction — about doing the same, whether privately, over the net, in print, or even over the pulpit or lectern.

Given the above, the idea of a “community response” to the statements, decisions and actions of church leaders is as appalling and inappropriate as would be a “community response” — complete with private discussion and correspondence, newspaper ads, public lectures and published articles — as to how well any one of us is carrying out his or her stewardships within the Church and within his or her family. It ignores the dignity of the individual, and commandments toward charity, tolerance and forgiveness, and the channels which the Lord set up to deal with these issues. I suspect the Lord will not justify us in such a course, and that — whatever the errors of those we criticize — upon us will remain the greater condemnation.

– Bruce F. Webster [Vigor, Issue 5, August 1994]

Thoughts while watching our ward’s Primary program

I love the barely controlled chaos. Been watching these meetings for what seems like forever (I’m 60), and I never, ever get tired of them.

I can’t think of another meeting in which I alternate so quickly between stifling laughter and holding back tears.

Speaking of which: I watched one older girl up on the stand close her eyes and struggle to hold back tears while singing, obviously moved by the words of the song.

I also love the obliviousness and outright theatrics of the youngest kids, who are usually standing along the front railing of the stand.

I would love to do a video recording of a Primary program and then follow the kids for the next 18 years or so to see how their behavior during the program correlates to their personality and choices later in life.

I am reminded as the children speak of the rich inner life of children.

I’ve lived this ward for 8 years, longer than in any other ward in my 46 years of Church membership. One 11-year-old girl I’ve know since she was 3. When I said hello to her before Sacrament meeting started, she said, “Wassup?”

God bless Primary teachers and leaders everywhere. It is one of the least visible, least noted, and most important callings in the Church.

“Ender’s Game” (the movie): a brief review w/spoilers


I read the original “Ender’s Game” short story when it was published in Analog (August 1977). I was startled, because I knew the author, Orson Scott Card, slightly. He and I attended Brigham Young University at roughly the same time (he was a year ahead of me), I had met him a few times, and I knew him primarily as a playwright; I had even attended one of his plays (“Father, Mother, Mother, Mom”). I had no idea he was “dabbling” in science fiction.

When I saw the novel-length version of “Ender’s Game” in a bookstore (City Lights Booksellers) in San Francisco several years later (1985), I groaned a bit; I had seen other authors take short stories and expand them to novels, and they seldom held up well. The novel “Ender’s Game” was, instead, a counter-example to that trend: stronger, deeper, more emotionally engaging. It went on to with the “Best SF Novel” category in both the Hugo (fan-voted) Awards and the Nebula (writer-voted) Awards.

At some point many years ago, the movie rights were initially purchased, and “Ender’s Game” (the movie) went into what it commonly called “development hell” — never quite finding the right combination of studio, producers and director to get itself made, until just the past few years. I went into the film today with some trepedation; I have seen time and again what Hollywood has done to the science fiction/fantasy genre in general, and adaptations of material from that genre in particular. Beyond that, I was a touch underwhelmed by the trailers for the film — they were mostly whiz-bang and did little to convey the emotional depths and darkness of the novel. But my wife and I, along with our youngest (almost 28) daughter Salem, went to see the IMAX version today.

The first fifteen minutes of the film didn’t ease my concerns that much. The exposition was a touch clunky, and it was hard seeing past Harrison Ford the-action-hero to see himself instead as Col. Graff. But then one of the early scenes at the Battle School took place — one with Ender (Asa Butterfield) questioning both Graff and Sgt. Dap — that ended with Sgt. Dap saying, “I will never salute you [as a commander]”, and Ender replying (while doing pushups), “Yes, you will.” — and from that point on, I totally bought Butterfield as Ender.

The rest of the movie moved very quickly, if anything a bit too quickly. The film clocks in at just under 2 hours, which is probably as long as the studio dared make it — but I think it could have used another 20-30 minutes (and I hope for an extended director’s cut in the video release). The movie was engrossing, moving, and spectacular, particularly on the IMAX screen. It is also remarkably faithful to the novel; the few changes made were done for understandable reasons. I even eventually bought Ford as Graff, though I think that role would have been better played by someone with less accrued heroic aura — say, James Spader (who would have been both more chilling and more world-weary in that role, in my opinion).

My other great relief is that there was no Hollywood stupidity — no romance between Ender and Petra (but a touching, awkward friendship), no sugar-coating outcome of Ender’s final decisions. I will likely go see it at least once or twice more while it’s still in the theaters, something I hardly ever do.

Highly recommended. Your mileage may vary. Spoilers after the jump.

SPOILER (such as you can have for a story that’s been out 35 years)

My single biggest criticism of the film is that it did not — in my opinion — do a proper job with the Command School segment. It could have used just a minute or two more to more clearly establish that Ender thought he was fighting simulations against Mazer Rackham (played excellently by Ben Kingsley), and that they were battles that he kept losing, with him and his key ‘toon leaders burning out. The biggest omission was that in the novel, for the final “simulation”, Ender is specifically told he cannot attack the home world, but has to defeat the enemy fleets while leaving the home world untouched. When he and his subcommanders see the size of the enemy fleets, they are overwhelmed to the point of hopelessness. That’s when Ender decides that he’s going to get himself kicked out and buy relief for his friends by deliberately disobeying that directive to spare the home world; instead, he carefully guides the “Dr. Device” weapon (called the “Little Doctor” in the film) to a close-enough point and destroys the home world. Of course, the adults were hoping all along that he’d do that, but they needed to keep their hands clean of the potential xenocide. So when Ender afterward expects reprimand and dismissal, instead the adults hail him as a conquering hero — and he realizes the enormity of what he’s done.

That original sequence, as written in the novel, ties in very well with the prior attacks that Ender has experienced, with him killing an Earth schoolmate and a fellow Battle School commander, both at times when he felt he had no other option for survival. I think that would have greatly increased the emotional punch of that sequence, as would the subsequent revelation that people back on Earth, after initial praise, turn on Ender and see him as a genocidal commander. That is as much a reason as any why Ender does not return to Earth, but that doesn’t come out in the film.

That’s my main complaint. Again, highly recommended, and I hope this sets up Scott and his family financially for life.  ..bruce w..

[cross-posted from And Still I Persist]

Alma and John revisited — a brief thought

I have posted before about the parallels between Alma1 and John the Baptist, particularly with regards to (re)introducing baptism and establishing a “church of anticipation” prior to the Savior’s arrival into mortality. One of those parallels was that “the appearance of both John and Alma1 signals an abrupt break from the law of Moses/priestly tradition to a church of anticipation.”

What struck me the other day, though, was the difference in how they were received by those in charge of that priestly tradition. In the case of Alma1, we read:

And now it came to pass that when Mosiah had made an end of speaking and reading to the people, he desired that Alma should also speak to the people. (Mosiah 25:14)

And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. (Mosiah 25:19)

Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church. . . .And [Alma] said unto the king: Behold, here are many whom we have brought before thee, who are accused of their brethren; yea, and they have been taken in divers iniquities. And they do not repent of their iniquities; therefore we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes. But king Mosiah said unto Alma:   Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged. (Mosiah 26:8-12)

And now it came to pass that the persecutions which were inflicted on the church by the unbelievers became so great that the church began to murmur, and complain to their leaders concerning the matter; and they did complain to Alma. And Alma laid the case before their king, Mosiah. And Mosiah consulted with his priests. And it came to pass that king Mosiah sent a proclamation throughout the land round about that there should not any unbeliever persecute any of those who belonged to the church of God. (Mosiah 27:1-2)

It is important to recognize the humility and inspiration of Mosiah2 (and his priests) through all this. His grandfather, Mosiah1, led the exodus of the righteous portion of the Nephites out of the land of Nephi and into Zarahemla, where he took over rulership of both his own people and the resident Mulekites. His father, Benjamin, gave his great sermon and prophecy of the coming Messiah — received from an angel! — to the assembled nation, putting the people under covenant to take upon themselves the name of Christ, and at the same time turning both secular and religious leadership over to Mosiah2. And Mosiah2 has been ruling over the combined kingdom ever since.

But here comes Alma1 out of the the land of Nephi, a repentant-but-formerly-wicked priest of wicked King Noah, preaching and baptizing and establishing “the church of God.” What does Mosiah2 do? He basically turns most, if not all, religious leadership over to Alma1. There is no envy, no struggle for control, no dismissal and “I’ll take it from here.” He recognizes with Alma1 — as John did with Jesus — that “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Now, contrast this with reaction of King Herod (Antipas), the Jewish high priest Joseph Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin in general to John the Baptist, and imagine this: what if King Herod and his priests (starting with Caiaphas) had been righteous enough, or at least sufficiently repentant, to do for John what King Mosiah2 and his priests did for Alma1? What would have been the reception of Jesus when He started His ministry there in Palestine?

Food for thought.

Archaeological find in Israel: Jehovah’s wife?

I always treat articles like this — heck, just about any article (or, for that matter, paper) on Bible-related archaeological “findings” — with a spoonful of salt. That said, this is interesting:

Archaeologists Dr. Hamoudi Khalaily and Shua Kisilevitz, said, “The ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that there are hardly any remains of ritual buildings of the period in Judaea at the time of the First Temple. Among other finds, the site has yielded pottery figurines of men, one of them bearded, whose significance is still unknown.”

“The iconography points to a pantheon of deities, as some scholars believe, or to two main deities, something of a duality,” says archaeology writer Julia Fridman, writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“Interestingly, there are vastly more female figurines and representations found on shrines than there are male ones. The evidence points to the worship of at least two deities. . . .

Professor Francesca Stavrakopoulou of the University of Exeter said, “There is increasing evidence that the ancient Israelites worshipped a number of gods alongside their ‘national’ patron deity, Yahweh. The goddess Asherah was among these deities.

“Not only is she mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), but inscriptions dating to the eighth and seventh centuries BCE attest to her worship alongside Yahweh in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Taken together, the biblical and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that Asherah was worshipped by some Israelites as the wife of Yahweh. They were likely a divine couple at the head of the local pantheon.””

Go read the whole thing, then read Daniel Peterson’s classic, “Nephi and His Asherah“.  ..bruce..