Category Archives: REPO

Jaredite update

Before I post more on the Jaredites, I want to finish my review of LDS scholarship on them. This largely means Nibley and Sorenson, since few other scholars have tackled them at length.

Re-reading The World of the Jaredites and There Were Jaredites, both of which were published over 50 years ago, I’m struck as usual about how far ahead of the curve Nibley was, particulalry in emphasizing how complex the Book of Mormon narrative is, how the Book of Mormon does not describe the ancestors of all native Americans, how different the culture and history in Ether is from the Lehite narrative, and how Ether contains element after element found in the ancient world. And Nibley even then is clearly trying to pry us away from classic, conservative Christian interpretation of such things as the great tower, warning us not to confuse cause and effect (e.g., languages may have diverged due to forced migrations, not the other way around) or over-interpret phrases such as “the whole earth” (kol ha-aretz, which can also mean “the whole land”).

Likewise, anyone inclined to mock the Jaredite ships needs to spend some time with the chapter “The Babylonian Background” in There Were Jaredites and explain just why there are so many correlations between the description of the Jaredite ships in Ether and the description of boats from various Babylonian flood stories (including, yes, shining stones and crescent-shaped, tightly-sealed boats that have waves covering them).

And, of course, by emphasizing the Asiatic origins and likely route (across Asia to the Pacific and thence to the Americas), Nibley preempted arguments citing Asiatic blood types (and later Asiatic DNA haplogroups) among native Americans.

Anyway, I hope to have a few more posts on the Jaredites later this week. Back to my reading.  ..bruce..

The REPO Atlas: the Jaredites (part 1)

[Here is an introduction to the REPO postings. Also I’ve made a few updates below.]

It’s hard to mine any detailed information about the Jaredites out of the book of Ether itself. What we have is Joseph Smith’s translation of Moroni’s highly selective and condensed abridgment of his (or Mosiah[2]’s) translation of Ether’s very condensed (“twenty-four gold plates“) and late summary of somewhere from 2000 to over 3000 years of Jaredite history. Outside of the brother of Jared’s theophany of the premortal Messiah, and the occasional speculation on just how those barges were built, most of our quotes from the book of Ether tend to come from Moroni’s commentary rather than anything the Jaredites did or said.

Ether becomes a bit more interesting, however, when we ask ourselves just how the Jaredite civilization(s) splintered, interacted (usually by fighting), and re-merged, and what kind of religious behavior and institutions existed. It’s particularly interesting to note how different the Jaredite narrative reads from the Lehite narrative in both political and religious aspects.

Continue reading The REPO Atlas: the Jaredites (part 1)

The Book of Mormon REPO postings: an introduction

“The first rule of historical criticism in dealing with the Book of Mormon or any other ancient text is, never oversimplify. For all its simple and straightforward narrative style, this history is packed as few others are with a staggering wealth of detail that completely escapes the casual reader. The whole Book of Mormon is a condensation, and a masterly one; it will take years simply to unravel the thousands of cunning inferences and implications that are wound around its most matter-of-fact statements. Only laziness and vanity lead the student to the early conviction that he has the final answers on what the Book of Mormon contains.”

– Hugh Nibley, 1952 (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 5: Lehi in the Desert / The World of the Jaredites / There Were Jaredites [Deseret Book/FARMS, 1988] p. 237.)

Some months back, I had a lengthy back-and-forth discussion in the comments to a posting I made over at Mormon Mentality. The starting point was Dan (of The Good Democrat) taking issue with a comment I made about the Book of Mormon’s applicability to current world situations. Dan’s contention (see comment #8) was that the Book of Mormon dealt strictly with a bipolar situation (Nephites v. Lamanite), which had little bearing on today’s multi-polar world. I strongly disagreed with Dan’s bipolar characterization of the religious-political situation described in the Book of Mormon and expressed my opinion that a careful reading showed a very complex, multipolar situation instead.  The argument went back and forth for several postings, with neither of us convincing the other.

However, it did trigger my desire to do a series of postings discussing the religious-political (REPO) “atlas” (if you will) of the Book of Mormon. I’m not breaking any new ground with this; real Book of Mormon scholars (starting, as always, with Nibley) have been doing this for years.

But I think it’s worth taking the time to see what the Book of Mormon has to say about the very complex religious and political elements of the peoples it discusses. As Nibley and others have noted, the Book of Mormon record is far from simple or simplistic. We tend to read it that way because Nephi and Mormon — who account for the vast majority of the Book of Mormon text — both followed the theme of the ultimately doomed Nephites vs. the ultimately redeemed Lamanites.  (See this article by Steven L. Olsen for an interesting discussion on whether Mormon consciously patterned his abridgment of Nephite records after Nephi’s small-plates writing.) But in spite of that, the Book of Mormon text itself reveals and suggests a far more complex religious, political, and social milieu. The goal of these postings will be to point out some of that.

Some of my observations may be original, but I tend to doubt it. 🙂 I own and have read over three dozen volumes dealing with the Book of Mormon; I also have read just about every issue of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies. Most of my insights are likely ones that I have gained elsewhere. Where I can and am willing to dig back in, I will offer specific cites (such as the Olsen article above), but my intent at this point is not a scholarly work; it is merely to suggest complexities that may be easily overlooked in a normal reading of the Book of Mormon.

I’m going to start with the Jaredites for three reasons. First, they predate the Lehite arrival and set up a context for it. It’s pretty clear that there were Jaredite/Lehite interactions well before Coriantumr staggered into Zarahemla, given some 400 years of geographical coexistence and the occasional Jaradite name showing up in Lehite circumstances. Second, the Jaredites represent something unique in the scriptural canon: God’s dealings over a few thousand years with a post-deluvian, pre-Abrahamic (and pre-Melchizedek) people.  Third, we (as members and even as LDS scholars) really tend to ignore the Jaredites, so it’s good for them to get a little more attention.

Now to go write that Jaredite posting.  ..bruce..