1 Nephi 22:7: “a mighty nation” = the Spanish Empire?

SpanishEmpire

Listening to the Book of Mormon on my iPhone while driving the other day, the following passage came up:

And it meaneth that the time cometh that after all the house of Israel have been scattered and confounded, that the Lord God will raise up a mighty nation among the Gentiles, yea, even upon the face of this land; and by them shall our seed be scattered. (1 Nephi 22:7)

Now, here in the States, we Mormons hear “a mighty nation among the Gentiles” and start chanting “USA! USA!” But I don’t think Nephi is referring to the US at all. I think in this particular passage he is referring instead to the Spanish Empire. Here’s why:

  • The US really didn’t become a “mighty nation” until the late 19th or early 20th Century. Spain, on the other hand, established a global empire pretty much coinciding with the discovery (by Spain) of North and South America at the end of the 15th Century, and it remained a mighty nation well into the 19th Century.
  • Spain conquered and claimed half of North America, all of Central America, and most of South America, in the process killing, enslaving, and scattering many of the native American inhabitants. The US, at the time of publication of the Book of Mormon, occupied less than half of its current extent and really hadn’t done much “scattering” of native Americans compared to what Spain had done for the previous 240 years.
  • For that matter, much of the “scattering” of native Americans that happened in the eastern half of the United States happened under British rule (see “British Territory” on the map above), before the US was founded.
  • And, somewhat redundantly, the US never occupied Mesoamerica, which is where Book of Mormon events most likely occurred.

I’m certain this isn’t a novel thought, and I suspect that Latter-day Saints in Latin America have always assumed that 1 Nephi 22:7 referred to Spain; it would be obvious to them. Some might point to the phrase “raise up…upon the face of this land” as meaning the mighty nation has to originate in the Americas, but I don’t know that this carries a lot of weight. What made the Spanish Empire mighty was not the resources within the borders of Spain over in Europe, it was the tremendous wealth and resources that Spain extracted from the Americas. After all, if you saw the map below (Spanish Empire in 1800) without knowing any historical geography, would you assume that the Empire in red sprang from the small red area near the middle of the map, as opposed to the massive red areas near the left side of the map? Food for thought.

 

Shades of Zarahemla

Over the past several years, I have been struck by something each time I read King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 2-6 to the combined Mulekites[1] and Nephites. Benjamin begins his speech with a long list of negatives, that is, things that he has not done during his reign as king. These include (Mosiah 2:10-16):

  • causing the people to fear him
  • presenting himself as “more than a mortal man”
  • seeking gold, silver, or “any manner of riches” from the people
  • confining them in dungeons
  • allowing them to make slaves of one another
  • allowing them to murder, plunder, steal, and commit adultery
  • levying taxes upon them
  • boasting of his own accomplishments
  • accusing the people of their own alleged failings.

Let’s look at the context of these comments. Benjamin’s father, Mosiah1, led the Nephites who would follow him out of the land of Nephi and ultimately into the land of Zarahemla, which was already occupied by the Mulekites and ruled over by a man named Zarahemla. There were only about half as many Nephites as there were Mulekites, and the two groups did not share a common language, yet Mosiah1 was made ruler over the combined people, and we hear no more about Zarahemla (though one of his descendants, Ammon, leads the group that goes to the land of Lehi-Nephi to see what happened to Zeniff’s party).

I have come to wonder if Benjamin, in preparing to extend his family’s dynasty by proclaiming his son Mosiah2 as the third successive Nephite king over the combined factions (in which the Nephites were still a minority), was drawing a contrast between how he (and presumably his father) had ruled vs. how the Mulekite kings (or, at least, Zarahemla) had ruled. After all, if neither Benjamin nor Mosiah1 had done any of these things — the rule of these two kings covering a period of what appears to be at least a few decades — why would Benjamin have felt compelled to start off his address with these reminders? So I think that Benjamin was reminding the combined people, and the Mulekites in particular, how much better things were under the Nephite kings than their previous ruler(s).

One could reasonably argue that Benjamin was instead drawing a contrast between himself and whomever was ruling over the Nephites in the land of (Lehi-)Nephi up until the time when Mosiah1 led a faction of the Nephites away from there over to Zarahemla, and that could well be true. But that comparison would have no real meaning for the Mulekites, who made up roughly 2/3rds of the population, while the Nephite portion of the population were all individuals (or descendants thereof) who had chosen to follow Mosiah1 away from those rulers.

Instead, I believe that the contrast — if that was in fact what Benjamin was doing — was with the prior Mulekite regime. In other words, I think the list above was a not-so-subtle reminder from Benjamin of how things had been for the Mulekites prior to Mosiah1‘s arrival and how they might be again if Mosiah2‘s coronation is not accepted.

If this does reflect how things were under Mulekite rule, it helps explain why the Mulekites, or a sufficiently large segment thereof, were willing to have Mosiah1 — accompanied by a smaller group of foreign people speaking a foreign tongue and practicing a foreign religion — show up and rule over them, without any apparent military conquest.

It also explains, or at least provides context for, the subsequent problems and wars over the next 160 years. Most of those problems/wars are caused by “Nephite dissenters” (many of whom I suspect are Mulekites) who work and fight constantly to (re)establish an authoritarian and self-indulgent kingship, in contrast to the Christ-like reign of the Mosiah1 lineage, followed by the reign of the judges. In other words, Benjamin may well have been warning the people, Mulekites and Nephites combined, against the temptation of such a regime. And it will be his successor, Mosiah2, who will abolish the Nephite kingship entirely, in part I believe in reaction to Alma and Limhi leading their respective groups into Zarahemla and telling the tale of King Noah — but likely also due to the “king men” faction present in the Mulekite/Nephite population.

———————
[1] The term “Mulekites,” of course, never appears in the Book of Mormon text itself, but it is useful shorthand for “the people living in Zarahemla (and relevant outlying regions) at the time Mosiah and his Nephite followers happened upon them .”

Radical life extension and the LDS Church

Interesting article in the Atlantic on the prospects of extending human life and the religious implications thereof, based on a Pew Research Center poll. The Pew Center asked sought comments from several major religions; for the LDS Church, they ended up talking with Steven Peck at BYU:

“The church believes that the human body is sacred, which is why it even discourages body piercing and tattoos,” says Steven Peck, a bioethicist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “So, as long as the body remained the same, as long as you were only giving people more of what they already have without big alterations, I think it would be fine.” On the other hand, “if there was a sense that [life-extension therapy] was desecrating the body, that would be a problem,” Peck says.

Peck, obviously, is not a General Authority or (to my knowledge) an official Church spokesperson. Also, his answer as given — and he may well have had more to say — doesn’t really address advancing technology in artificial prosthetics and organ transplants. I doubt Church leaders or most Church members have problems with organ transplants, artificial limbs, artificial hearts, and so on. But what happens when we can transplant, say, the human head of a quadriplegic  on top of a mobile prothetic torso (with heart/lung machine, etc?). Does that count as ‘desecration’ or merely another logical step in transplant/prosthetic technology? Suppose the side effect of such an action is a significantly greater human lifespan and/or greater functionality for the person involved — would elderly people who were not quadriplegics then be justified in such a procedure, assuming they could afford it?

Interesting questions. Lincoln Cannon, where are you? 🙂  ..bruce..

 

A few reactions to the new temple film

My sweet wife Sandra and I attended the Denver temple this past week, where the new temple film has replaced the two older ones. A few careful thoughts:

  • Speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoyed the previous temple films, this one is significantly better in all respects: cinemetography, music, direction, art design, and acting.
  • I don’t recall — in 42 years of going to the temple — ever weeping during the temple presentation (at least, in response to the presentation itself). This week, I teared up several times during the presentation. I also saw certain aspects in a signficantly new light.
  • Contrary to a few grumbles elsewhere, this is not an “all white” film. Fully half of the eight actors (including Adam and especially Eve) look as though they come from Latin America, not Northern Europe (I speak as someone who served a mission in Central America and who has extended family members from Mexico and South America).
  • Eve rocks. Or, as my sweet wife Sandra put it, “Eve is the star of the film.” It calls to mind Hugh NIbley’s comment (which I’ll have to look up and quote) about Eve easily holding her own while sharing a stage with seven very powerful males.

I look forward to going back repeatedly. ..bruce..

One of my favorite quotes ever

As a teenaged convert in the late 1960s, I found that the book “Eternal Man” by Truman Madsen had a tremendous impact on me, as did Madsen himself (he came to San Diego a few times with BYU Education Week, and also came down for one of our stake youth conferences). I gave away my copy of “Eternal Man” a few years ago to a new member, but found a paperback version at Deseret Book this past week and picked up two copies.

I opened it up today and ran across this quote in the book just before the preface. This observation impacted me greatly when I read it some 45 years ago — because it spoke to my own conversion, testimony, and baptism at age 14 — and still moves me greatly:

 

Sometimes during solitude I hear truth spoken with clarity and freshness; uncolored and untranslated, it speaks from within myself in a language original but inarticulate, heard only with the soul, and I realize I brought it with me, was never taught it, nor can I effectively teach it to another. — Pres. Hugh B. Brown

Utah Mormons (a revised repost)

 

A few years back, Peggy Fletcher Stack — religion editor at the Salt Lake Tribune — asked me for some of my thoughts about the various stereotypes of Utah Mormons (vs. Mormons outside of Utah). I wrote them up and sent them to her; she never used them, so some months later I turned them into a post at Mormon Mentality.

Now Sandra and I find ourselves seriously looking at moving back to Utah, something we had never really considered (for various reasons) since leaving 25 years ago. But the house we’ve rented for the past eight years here in Colorado is getting put on the market, and Sandra and I — both now 60 years old — feel it’s time to get a bit closer to kids, grandkids, and other family members. Being in Utah puts us close to several children and grandchildren, as well as most of Sandra’s surviving family members; it also puts us a day closer to kids, grandkids, and family member (on my side) in Nevada and California. So, I thought this was a good time to repost my original thoughts, with a few minor edits.

[start of revised repost]

First, my own background. I joined the Church in 1967 at age 14 in San Diego, only member of my family to join. After graduating from high school, I attended and graduated from  BYU (1971-78, less two years for a mission [Central America]). Upon graduation in 1978, I lived in San Diego (CA) and Houston (TX). I moved back to Utah in 1985, and left again in early 1988. Otherwise, I have lived in California (both San Diego and the Bay Area), Texas (Houston and Dallas), the Washington DC area (Virginia, Maryland, and in the District itself), and Colorado (outside of Denver). Not counting the BYU wards and Central American branches I attended, I have been a member of 16 wards/branches. I’ve been active since joining and have held a variety of callings, including two stints as a counselor in a bishopric. On the other hand, I’ve had a beard most of my adult life (including during both bishopric stints); make of that what you will.

Still, though we haven’t lived in Utah for 25 years, we go back there constantly, particularly since moving to Colorado eight years ago — we’re now just an 8-hour drive away. Sandra has been going there at least 4 times a year, mostly to see her mom (until her mom passed away last fall); I go along about half the time. And, as noted, we have kids and grandkids living there, so we interact with them regularly on the phone and via the ‘net.

As I see it, there are at least three key factors that make the experience of being LDS in Utah different than that of being LDS outside of Utah.

The first is inheritance. I daresay that a plurality — and likely a majority — of Mormons in Utah are Nth-generation Mormons, N >= 2. They were either born into the Church or, less commonly, descend from individuals who left the Church but have on their own joined the Church themselves. They tend to have large family networks. My wife is related to measurable portions of Utah and Idaho; her mom (Sorenson) and dad (Anderson) each came from a family of 12 kids, from rural Utah (Koosharem) and Idaho (Samaria), respectively. Utah Mormons also tend to have large and highly-connected social networks (the old fashioned kind), some of which date back decades or even more than a century.

With that inheritance and inter-connectivity comes a lot of folk and family practices and doctrine. Some of it is a survival (often in distorted or incomplete form) of what were once mainstream (or at least popular) LDS beliefs and practices in the 19th and 20th centuries. Along the same lines, there’s a lot of social behavior that within Utah is associated with being Mormon but really does not stem from the Church and the Gospel; it’s not as pervasive as it was 40 years ago, but it’s still there.

Outside of Utah and especially outside of the United States, the majority of (adult) Mormons are 1st or 2nd generation. They bring into the Church their culture, prior beliefs, family ties, and social networks that existed prior to their conversion. They tend to see LDS doctrine without a lot of the accumulated and outdated cruft (aside from threadjacked discussions or the occasional exclamation in Gospel Doctrine and RS/PH).

The second is concentration. Various words come to mind — “hothouse”, “echo chamber” — but my favorite observation is from a close friend, Bob Trammel, who — adapting a line from “Hello, Dolly” — once said, “Mormons are like manure. Sprinkle them around, and they make things blossom. Heap them up in one place, and they stink.” A Mormon here in Colorado with offbeat ideas will find they don’t spread much — the LDS density isn’t just high enough. Someone in Utah with those same offbeat ideas can easily find kindred spirits within blocks of his (or her) home; heck if he writes them up, he can probably get quite a few high priests groups within the valley to pass them along. I will acknowledge that e-mail and the internet allow some of this to go on outside of Utah’s bounds, but the dense social network is still the best medium for these things (e.g., “Today’s youth were generals in the war in heaven.“) to get passed along . Likewise, there’s a reason why most LDS splinter groups and breakaway churches start in Utah — again, the density elsewhere often just isn’t high enough to sustain such a group.

The concentration inside of Utah also make the “outliers” on either end of the Mormon spectrum (however you care to define that) much more visible. Outside of Utah, it is much easier to be quietly and invisibly unorthodox (in any direction), because you’re surrounded by people who aren’t Mormon and your ward is spread out over many square miles. Inside of Utah, your ward fits into a space of several square blocks, and pretty much all your neighbors (Mormon or not) are aware of just where you fit in (as they suppose).

The density of Mormons within Utah also tends to make wards — which are defined geographically and tend to each cover a very small area within most urban and suburban areas in Utah — very homogeneous in terms of ethnic, financial, and professional background. That, in turn, can lead to a mindset that says, consciously or not, “how the Church is in my ward is how it is or should be everywhere else.”

The third is integration of church and society, which is a consequence of point #2. I’m not talking about political issues of church and state per se (though those are certainly brought up a lot). I’m talking about the tendency to judge someone in her/his secular role based on what we believe about their commitment to and activity in the Church, as well as the tendency to ask for favors (vote for me, invest with me, sign up for my MLM organization, take a quick look at my teeth/car/dog for free, give me a discount on X) based on shared Church membership and/or prominent (local) Church responsibilities. This certainly goes on outside of Utah (cf. the Mormon affinity fraud cases in California and here in Colorado, and the White Horse idiot up in Idaho), but it is so pervasive in Utah as to make it hard to avoid.

Many, many years ago I made it a personal rule not to use someone from my ward (or even my stake) in providing professional services to me (law, medicine, automotive, etc.) — not because I think Mormons are dishonest or sloppy (I don’t), but because if I’m unhappy with them or stop using them, I don’t want that to have awkward consequences within my ward. (Case in point: my dentist here in Colorado happens to be in the bishopric of one of the other wards — which is actually in another stake — that shares our building; I see him almost every Sunday and apologize for not being back in for my regular checkup yet.)

At the same time, status tends to accrue based on callings and associations with Church general leadership. Utah remains the only place where I have heard men (though, fortunately, only a few) talk in all seriousness about their “Church career”, as they try to figure out how to go from bishop to stake president to mission president/area seventy to general authority.  Likewise, for some LDS, it is the peak of status to have a son or daughters (or grandson or granddaughter) marry into the family of a general authority.

Finally, the pervasiveness of the Church in Utah actually creates a problem for the youth growing up there. About a year after Sandra and I married — with nine (9!) kids between the two of us — we decided to leave Utah and move out of state, even though our respective former spouses (and most of Sandra’s family) lived there. Why? Because the natural inclination of youth is to rebel, and in Utah, the main institution to rebel against is the Church, and we began to see signs of that already. Instead, we moved them out to northern California (Santa Cruz), where they were a tiny minority and where even the stake president wore his hair a bit over his ears. 🙂

Let me finish by saying that — aside from the ‘inheritance’ issue I mentioned above — I don’t really buy into the stereotype of the “Utah Mormon”, at least not as applying to the majority of Mormons in Utah. (I am, however, willing to grant that Southern Utah may be an exception, particularly listening to annegb.) I think that the distribution of LDS behaviors and beliefs — however you want to map that — is roughly the same inside and outside of Utah. The difference in Utah, as per the concentration issue, is that there are a lot more people in Utah that outside it who do fit the classic “Utah Mormon” stereotype, and they are often some of the most visible and vocal.

[end of revised repost]

So, if we do end up moving back to Utah, it will be interesting to see if my observations still hold; one way or another, I’ll do a follow-up post at some point in the future.  ..bruce..

Changes in missionary age: a brief observation

Like most wards here in North America, we’re seeing more of our young men and women leaving on missions; I help my wife lay out the weekly sacrament bulletin, and the list of missionaries serving keeps growing longer.

Beyond that, though, I’ve noticed an increased seriousness and maturity among our priest-age young men, especially those in their senior year of high school. We’ve been in this ward for eight years now, so I’ve watched most of these young men grow up, and I can see those changes as the weight of their mission calls — impeding or actual — settles on them.

It will be very interesting to see the long term impact of this change. I think it will be significant and very positive. ..bruce..

Royal Skousen lectures on the Book of Mormon [UPDATED]

UPDATE [2/13]: I received word from Dr. Skousen tonight that attendance at the lectures may be quite high due to large numbers of BYU students attending. He strongly recommends that you arrive no later than 6:30 pm. Frankly, I’d recommend 6 pm and bring a good book (or an iPad).

ORIGINAL POST:

Yes, yes, I know, I haven’t posted much here in ages. I burned out a bit on blogging last year, but I may be starting up again.

In the meantime, Royal Skousen — and if you don’t know who he is, you should — is giving a series of lectures on the Book of Mormon, based on his work of over two decades in creating a critical text for the Book of Mormon. The lectures are on the topic “25 Years of Research: What We Have Learned about the Book of Mormon Text”, and here’s the schedule (covering three successive Tuesday evenings):

  • February 26: The Original and Printer’s Manuscripts
  • March 5: The Printed Editions
  • March 12: The Nature of the Original Text

All three lectures are being held at the Gordon B. Hinckley Center on the campus of Brigham Young University; they are free and open to the public. I actually hope to make the first lecture myself, since business will have me in Utah that week. As someone who has read most of what Skousen has published to date on the Book of Mormon critical text project, I highly recommend these lectures.  ..bruce..

 

The Book of Mormon and elections: a brief observation

First, let’s start by acknowledging that the ‘reign of the judges’ described in the Book of Mormon bears almost no resemblance to a constitutional democracy or republic. There is no separation of powers, the office of chief judge (or governor, as it is sometimes called) is most often passed from father to son, the office of chief judge does not require periodic re-election and changes only when the chief judge dies or resigns, and so on. The “voice of the people” only appears to come into play in certain circumstances:

  • choosing lower or lesser judges (cf. Mosiah 29:39; note that this process is only mentioned once, at the initial selection of lesser judges);
  • when there are multiple replacement candidates for the dead/retiring chief judge (cf. Helaman 1:1-5)
  • the occasional national referendum, such as whether to change the form of government back to a monarchy (cf. Alma 2:7), or deciding whether and where to allow the people of Ammon (Anti-Nephi-Lehis) to settle in Nephite territory (cf. Alma 27:21-22).
  • ratification of the chief captain over the Nephite armies (see Alma 46:34) and granting him broad powers (cf. Alma 51:15-16).

Nothing terribly new here; this has all been discussed many times by better scholars. But here’s my point: how often in all this — or, for that matter, through the entire Book of Mormon history — does God intervene to ensure that a particular leader is chosen?

Answer: never.

To be a touch more accurate, there are a few instances when God chooses a leader — Lehi, Nephi, Mosiah1 — but those are in critical (and rare) circumstances where people must choose to follow that leader physically out of the current civilization and into wilderness. There are no cases where God Himself takes a hand in changing who ends up being the leader in a ‘voice of the people’ setting, or even in a monarchy; remember that Mosiah2 dissolved the monarchy precisely because of the risk of ending up with a ‘wicked king’, as happened with Zeniff’s son and successor, Noah (cf. Mosiah 29:16-25).

One of the dominant themes of the Book of Mormon is agency and its consequences, and that is applied to government as well, whether it be monarchy or judgeship. We are accountable for the government (and leaders) we choose and the results thereof; we cannot attribute the outcome to the Lord, only to ourselves.

Something to remember, whatever the results of tomorrow’s election here in the United States.  ..bruce..

 

 

 

Mormons, Vietnam, Romney and the Draft, revisited

Five years ago, the Boston Globe ran an article suggesting collusion between the LDS Church and the US Selective Services regarding deferments for missionaries in general, and Mitt Romney in particular. The simple truth was, yes, young men could get a ministerial deferment (one of many different deferments available) for the duration of their mission, but the deferment vanished as soon as the mission ended — and the mission was fixed in duration. I should know: my own draft number was 4, and the only reason I didn’t end up enlisting in the US Navy was that the draft was suspended before I returned home from my mission.

More significant, though, is that during an era in which anti-war protests were common on many college campuses, they were almost non-existent at Brigham Young University. What’s more, BYU had large, active Army and Air Force ROTC programs all through the war, even though many other colleges and universities were criticizing, curtailing, or even shutting down their own ROTC programs.

Well, the issue has come up again, triggered in part by Ann Romney’s appearance on The View, where Whoopi Goldberg inexplicably thought that Mormons weren’t allowed to fight. (Seriously? Did someone feed her this question, or did she come up with it on her own?) But that brought up the fact that Mitt Romney didn’t serve in the military and has resurrected the same themes of collusion and draft dodging. I made the statement in my post five years ago that Latter-day Saints if anything were probably over-represented in the US military during the Vietnam War; now I have evidence of that.

Let’s look at the figures. During the period of the Vietnam War — say, 1965-1974 — the total US population was around 200 million. During that same period of time, LDS Church membership grew from roughly 2.4 million to 3.4 million. That membership is men, women, and children of all ages, both inside and outside of the United States. I have not yet been able to find the actual United States LDS membership for that period, but I will assume that it was on the order of 75% of the total LDS membership, or about 2 to 2.5 million — just a bit over 1% of the US population.

Furthermore, probably only about 50% (if that much) of that membership within the United States represented actively practicing and attending members. So the ratio of active LDS members living in the US to the US population at large during that period was probably on the order of 0.5%, perhaps less.

So, how many self-identified Mormons were killed in Vietnam? 589 out of 58,193, or just over 1% of all US military deaths. In other words, Mormons were at least proportionately represented by population among US military deaths in Vietnam and were likely over-represented. 

How many Mormons served in uniform for the US military in Vietnam? Assuming they died at the same rate as everyone else, it would be about 27,000 (1% of 2.7 million).

So, yes, Mormons did fight — and die –in Vietnam in numbers at least proportional to their percentage of the US population and likely higher.

As for Mitt Romney, my understanding was that he had a ministerial deferment for his mission and one or more student deferments (which didn’t end until 1971) while attending college. Millions of other students had legitimate student deferments, too, usually in multiples (since you had to reaffirm each year that you were still enrolled in college) — that wasn’t draft dodging, that was the norm, and it actually increased college enrollment during the period in question. ..bruce..