Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sherem the Foreigner?

The story of Sherem in Jacob 7 is one of several internal evidences pointing to other cultures and peoples with whom Nephi's family interacted in the New World (something I discuss on my page about the Book of Mormon and DNA). After at most a few decades in the New World, Jacob is sought out by a man named Sherem who attacks Jacob's faith. When they meet, Sherem says: "Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ." Well, if Nephi's little boatload of people were the only ones in the New World or at least in the region when they landed, then at the time of Sherem, the Nephite community might have had about 30 or 40 people. Maybe 50 if they were extremely fertile. But there is no way that an adult male would have gone years without knowing Jacob, and have had to seek him out to debate religion - unless that male was an outsider or part of a much larger community of people including those of non-Nephite heritage. As I believe John Sorenson has suggested, the story of Sherem suggests that the Nephite people might have become part of and even leaders over a network of villages or some larger group of people.

When we read Jacob 7 as a family the other night, a couple more details seemed to suggest that Sherem was an outsider. Verse 1 says "there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem," suggesting that he was not originally part of the Nephite group, but came among them, as if he were an outsider. Further, verse 4 says "And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil." To me, this suggests that he had special education to be able to converse fluently in the language of the people, as if it were not his native language. Other references in the Book of Mormon to people learning the language of the fathers or the language of the scriptures imply that it is not the common spoken or written language of the people (e.g., Mosiah 1), just as Jacob 7 seems to indicate that Sherem had learned a foreign language very well to be able to teach and flatter the Nephite people.

In context, I think a reasonable interpretation of Jacob 7 is that a foreigner named Sherem came among some part of the larger community that included genetic and cultural Nephites, and mastered their common spoken language. He is not identified as a Lamanite (though he would be by one of several Book of Mormon definitions of this term, which sometimes simply meant "not a Nephite") and does not appear to have been part of whatever groups Laman and Lemuel's followers were with. He is simply an outsider, perhaps with a sophisticated accent, who comes among the community of Nephites. That community included the original immigrants from Lehi's boat who remained loyal to Nephi, plus (implicitly) "all those who would go with [Nephi]" (2 Nephi 5:6) when Nephi's followers escaped to the north when Laman and Lemuel and their followers became a more serious threat, and possibly many more people picked up thereafter. These others could have been survivors from the destroyed Jaredite civilization (we do see Jaredite names like Korihor cropping up among the Nephites), likely of Asian origin (Hugh Nibley, for example, was indicating Central Asian origins for the Jaredites decades before DNA testing became an issue), or could have been others from still earlier Asian migrations.

The Book of Mormon seems to be essentially a family record for the descendants of Nephi, but there are actually quite a few hints indicating that they were not in an empty continent. This is something to keep in mind when we try to interpret DNA studies, or when we try to figure out who and where Nephite and Lamanites were.

24 comments:

Samuel the DNAite said...

Jeff

Suggest you leave yourself some room to backtrack when the church eventually calls the BofM "inspired," and has fully watered down any suggestion of historicity "a story of some peoples..."

It could be a bit awkward.

Matt Witten said...

Sweet, I read this a few weeks back and drew similar conclusions! thanks for fleshing it out even more though!

Mike Parker said...

Instead of engaging Jeff's logical and cogent argument, please note that "Samuel the DNAite" instead has chosen to conjure up an anti-Mormon fantasy of the Church coming to its knees before him and his unbelieving friends.

Sad, but typical.

Kurt said...

Jeff,

Doesnt Sherem's saying to Jacob "Brother Jacob..." suggest they are somehow related, as a Lamanite would be to a Nephite?

If Sherem is a true outsider (i.e., not a descendant of Lehi at all), then how could he communicate with a Nephite at all, as they wouldnt have any common language? He plainly isnt a Mulekite, as their discovery sometime later is considered a novelty. So if this guy is something other, then there is no way he could be speaking a Semitic-derived language that would allow him to communicate with Jacob at all.

I have always considered Sherem to be a Lamanite subversive.

Bookslinger said...

"If Sherem is a true outsider (i.e., not a descendant of Lehi at all), then how could he communicate with a Nephite at all, ..."

Because it says that Sherem _learned_ their language, Jacob 7:4. It leaves open the question whether he was "learned" as an outsider or as an insider. But it can be read either way.

He called him brother because Sherem did posture as a religious person, beliving in the Law of Moses (verses 7 and 10.)

By calling the Nephites brothers, he was identifying with his audience "Hey, I'm one of you." Again, the interpretation is open to whether that term is used in the broadest sense or a kinship sense.

When I was in Ecuador, even the Catholics called us missionaries "brothers." It was a term of affection and respect. I felt very honored when the Catholic families from whom we rented apartments called us hermano. Sometimes even preachers from other churches would respectfully greet or address us as hermano.

Bookslinger said...

There is a pattern of the Lord not telling groups of his people about other groups of his people.

He didn't tell the Jews about the Lehites, other than the "other sheep" reference.

He hasn't told anyone we know of about the lost 10 tribes, but there are scriptural references to their records, and that the records will be brought forth some day.

It's mentioned in the Book of Mormon that there are other groups of Israel that the Lord led to the isles of the sea, and that their records would be revealed some day too. We don't know about them yet.

In the Pearl of Great Price (or D&C, anyway, somewhere in the triple) it says that only angels who pertain (IE., were born, or are to be born) to this planet minister to this planet. That implies that there are no cross-planet visitations or ministrations. We aren't told about other planets or their peoples except that they exist.

So in the scriptures, the pattern is that one group may or may not be told of other groups, and even if they are told of their existance, usually the details are withheld.

Pet Theory time: It could very well be that Nephi was commanded to leave off the details of the other pre-Lehite groups in his narrative on the small plates. And Mormon could also have been commanded to withhold mention of non-Lehite groups in his abridgement.

There's nothing that _proves_ that, but I believe that's plausible based on the scriptural pattern of the Lord not fully informing every one of his "branches" of the details of other branches.

Charles said...

I never really thought of Sherem as an outsider. I always considered him someone raised up in the Nephite community.

"There came a man among the poeple..." I agree this looks like he could have come from outside, but also suggests he may have been raised up among them. It is similar in the wording used to describe a person growing up in their community. I always thought of him as an educated charismatic person who differed in his ideas from Jacob and finally decided to seek him out after a long contemplation.

This is somewhat supported that he addresses Jacob as Brother Jacob, suggesting a kinship with him.

Given that some of the BoM is written with hindsight if Sherem was from another tribe (say the people of Zarahemla) wouldn't he have been identified as such, or possibly a footnote much like had he been a Lamanite he would have more likely been notated as such.

I agree there were likely other people in the land and later reading Omni we see that others were brought here by the "hand of God". I find that stronger support than Sharem, but it is an interesting chapter that does suggest he may have been a local.

Kevin Christensen said...

In an essay in FARMS Review 16:2, "The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament", I make a case that Sherem was a Mulekite trader, and that his specific objections to Jacob and his teachings derive from his trading interests, and from his Deuteronomist theology. Brant Gardner had made the case in "The Social History of the Early Nephites" on the FAIR board that all of the social evils that Jacob preaches against in the early chapters pre-suppose trade and therefore "others." It seems to me with Jacob being a first generation immegrant, if Sherem was a Lamanite, this would have been noted. The specific things that Sherem teaches can be dated to the Deuteronomist reforms circa Jerusalem 600 BCE. And Jacob's encounter with Sherem now seems to me the most like source for his information on those in Jerusalem "whose blindness came from looking beyond the mark." 1st Enoch, Exekiel, and Jeremiah all talk about the blindess of the time, which came as the Deuteronomists expressly rejected the very themes that Jacob emphasizes in his fourth chapter.

Kevin Christensen
Pittsburgh, PA

Kurt said...

Books of Mormon in Indy,

Youre misreading Jacob 7:4 with respect to Sherem's being "learned". He hadnt learned their language in the sense that he didnt know it and then did some learning and then knew it. Thats not what the context is saying at all. It is saying he was learned, in the sense that he was educated, erudite, scholarly. Hence the rest of the verse.

Bookslinger said...

"It is saying he was learned, in the sense that he was educated, erudite, scholarly. Hence the rest of the verse."

Yes, I am familiar with the dual meaning of learned, as in "lernd" (one syllable) versus learned, as in "lern-ed" (two syllables).

I agree that the English reading of the verse in context is two-syllables, "lern-ed".

However, that still does not expressly say his education was that of a native Nephite who grew up among them or that of an outsider who came to the Nephites and then was educated in the language. Either way, he had to have been educated in the language.

Also "there came a man among the people of Nephi" implies that he arrived as a man, not being born among them. If Sherem had been born among the Nephites, I think the phrase would have been "there rose up a man."

Is "there came a man" to be contrasted with "there rose up a man"? I don't know.

I think Jacob was purposefully vague, perhaps under direction from the Lord.

The Lord was specific about keeping two kinds of records: 1) the details on the large plates, and 2) the summary on Nephi's small plates, then a summary made by Mormon of subsequent large plates. As the writers of the small plates and summary plates were prophets, I assume they wrote pretty much what the Lord wanted them to write, no more, no less.

It will be fascinating to have access to the large plates, or at least translations therefrom, at some future time.

I'm also interested in the "Chronicles of the Kings" of Israel and Judah. Plus those records handed down from Adam through Abraham which apparently Moses summarized into Genesis. And the records of the 10 lost tribes, and the branches of Israel that were led to the isles of the sea.

I'm sure there are lots of cool stories to be told, with heroes and tales of adventure grander than anything conjured up in the imagination of human novelists. Mountains being moved, prophets being flown by the Spirit up to mountain tops, people living for hundreds of years, a whole city of people being perfected over a period of 300 years, revelations, visions, angelic visitations.

And concerning those things which are unlawful to utter, will there be a day when it is lawful to utter them? If so, I look forward to it.

As I read the scriptures, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, the Spirit has witnessed to me of their truthfulness. And even though I only understand a small fraction of the, I've been given to believe that there is much more waiting, in terms of information, awe and wonder, and glory.

Anonymous said...

Kevin's post is the most intelligent one here. I would have made the same point if he hadn't beat me to it, because I've been reading some of his articles lately. For example, the one on Meridian today about Margaret Barker. Or the article in the book "Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem." I think the whole subject of the Deuteronomist reform, etc, is one of the most interesting in current Book of Mormon research.

Daylan Darby said...

A few verses (chapters?) earlier Jacob just ripped the me for performing whoredoms with multiple wives and concubines. This has always bothered me because I couldn't understand who Jacob was talking to - his sons and nephews? And if they were isolated how could there possibly be enough women to supply multiple wives and concubines.

Jacob 1:13 Says that the only Nephites were those (or their descendants) that traveled on the boat with Nephi (who were not Lamanites) - which really screws up the chasity lecture

Jacob 1:14 Says that all those friendly to Nephi were Nephites - which leaves open the possibility of others (already present here), which seems required to have a large enough audience for the chasity lecture to make sense.

If there were others present perhaps Sherem was one of those???

anothernonymous said...

I feel it is being very disingenous to the writers of the Book of Mormon, Jacob specifically, to imply that there were pre-existing populations that the early Nephites and Lamanites were mingling with, all just to satisfy a current "dilemma" regarding proof of the Book of Mormon's historicity. I think it is a shame that the "there came among the Nephites" reference regarding Sherem is allowing overzealous apologists to wrest the scriptures to be interpreted in a manner different than what is plain to the reader (remember, Nephi and Jacob were known for their plainness e.g. Jacob 2:11).

I concur with Kurt's comment above regarding what "learned" means so I won't make further comments there.

I was disappointed that Jeff Lindsay overlooked verse 26 in chapter 7 in Jacob where Jacob makes the explicit comment that the Nephites were a "lonesome" and solemn people, excluding to any reasonable reader the possibility that the Nephites had any relationships with any other populations at this point rather than the Lamanites.

Daylan Darby, responding to your thoughts above, in my reading of Jacob chapter 2 a few days ago I received the impression that it’s possible one of the reasons Jacob's people dealt with the issue of multiple wives (and/or concubines) was a result of the pride of those who wore the costly apparel (i.e. class division). Looking at the examples of the “House of David” (i.e. their Jerusalem heritage), it would make sense that the way the men would want to exhibit their prosperity would be by the accumulation of "precious things" (gold/silver) and the ability to support multiple families (a reading of Kings and Chronicles in the Old Testament lends support to the idea that David and Solomon were not the last Davidic kings to have multiple wives). Verse 13 of ch. 2 condemns those who wear costly apparel as a status symbol (the word apparel probably alluding to jewelry made of the gold and silver mentioned in verse 12). As an extension, class divisions may also have been developed by the rich (pertaining to things of this world) in taking upon themselves multiple wives and/or concubines. Sociologically, in a close-knit society like the Nephites it would probably be a bad idea to have inequality in the ratio of marriages among the men (not that this was the reason Jacob was condemning the practice).

Just my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I feel it is being very disingenous to the writers of the Book of Mormon, Jacob specifically, to imply that there were pre-existing populations that the early Nephites and Lamanites were mingling with, all just to satisfy a current "dilemma" regarding proof of the Book of Mormon's historicity. I think it is a shame that the "there came among the Nephites" reference regarding Sherem is allowing overzealous apologists to wrest the scriptures to be interpreted in a manner different than what is plain to the reader (remember, Nephi and Jacob were known for their plainness e.g. Jacob 2:11).

I concur with Kurt's comment above regarding what "learned" means so I won't make further comments there.

I was disappointed that Jeff Lindsay overlooked verse 26 in chapter 7 in Jacob where Jacob makes the explicit comment that the Nephites were a "lonesome" and solemn people, excluding to any reasonable reader the possibility that the Nephites had any relationships with any other populations at this point rather than the Lamanites.

Daylan Darby, responding to your thoughts above, in my reading of Jacob chapter 2 a few days ago I received the impression that it’s possible one of the reasons Jacob's people dealt with the issue of multiple wives (and/or concubines) was a result of the pride of those who wore the costly apparel (i.e. class division). Looking at the examples of the “House of David” (i.e. their Jerusalem heritage), it would make sense that the way the men would want to exhibit their prosperity would be by the accumulation of "precious things" (gold/silver) and the ability to support multiple families (a reading of Kings and Chronicles in the Old Testament lends support to the idea that David and Solomon were not the last Davidic kings to have multiple wives). Verse 13 of ch. 2 condemns those who wear costly apparel as a status symbol (the word apparel probably alluding to jewelry made of the gold and silver mentioned in verse 12). As an extension, class divisions may also have been developed by the rich (pertaining to things of this world) in taking upon themselves multiple wives and/or concubines. Sociologically, in a close-knit society like the Nephites it would probably be a bad idea to have inequality in the ratio of marriages among the men (not that this was the reason Jacob was condemning the practice).

Just my thoughts.

Kurt said...

Kevin Christensen,

How can you reconcile your view that Sherem was a Mulekite with the later presentation that discoving Mulekites was a novelty (cf. Omni 1:14)? If Sherem was a Mulekite trader, then the Nephites already knew about Mulekites and were trading with them, which isnt the case.

Anonymous said...

As far as Sherem as a Mulekite trader versus the "discovery" of the people of Zarahemla a few hundred years later, I really don't see a problem for a number of reasons.

Traders keep trade secrets. That makes trade more profitable. I agree with Sorenson and Gardner that there were all sorts of hamlets and villages in the areas where both Lehi and Mulek's people landed. Both parties would have ample opportunity and inclination to negotiate an "elite" status in communities they joined. While Sherem may not have given directions back to his home, I think the themes of Jacob 4 show a reaction to the Deuteronomist reforms (specifically, the Jews whose blindness came from looking beyond the mark), and that the encounter with Sherem is a good candidate for catalyzing his comments.

Then we have the Nephite decline in the generations between Enos and King Benjamin. A lot can get lost in a few hundred years marked by social disruption, migrations, wars, and political fissions and fusions.

As as far as Jacob talking about being a "lonesome" people excluding any others, that particular argument happens to exclude all sorts of indications for others. I've felt isolated and lonesome in all kinds of social contexts, whether being in a strange city, country, culture, or simply among people who did not care for my personality. Depending on the "others" involved, their presence can increase ones sense of loneliness. If I imagine Jacob as a real person, and as having seen his family divided, having been grafted onto another culture, having buried his parents and brothers, working as a Temple Priest among a stiff necked people, "lonesome" is not at all hard for me to imagine.

"Plainness" is always relative to context, just as the fruitfulness of a seed is relative to the soil in which it is planted and the care taken of it. Besides Sorensen, I think Brant Gardner, Matt Roper, and even yours truly have observed many good indications of others around.

Kevin Christensen
Pittsburgh, PA

Bookslinger said...

Anonymous said:
"I feel it is being very disingenous to the writers of the Book of Mormon, Jacob specifically, to imply that there were pre-existing populations .... wrest the scriptures to be interpreted in a manner different than what is plain to the reader ... "

The Lord has shown a pattern of not always telling one group of people about the specifics or even the existence of others, or only using vague references such as "other sheep I have" or "on the isles of the sea."

Therefore, I see no problem with the possibility that even more populations existed; and that Nephi, Jacob and subsequent prophets were instructed not to make specific mention of them.

After his resurrection, the Lord visited those in Jerusalem for 40 days. One thing I didn't catch until my last reading of the Book of Mormon was that his appearance to the Nephites didn't occur until almost a year after his resurrection. Who did he visit in the meantime? Other peoples on this planet? Other planets?

The Book of Mormon repeated states that only a small summary is given, and greater details were written on the large plates.

This also fits the pattern of the Old and New Testaments. Chronicles and Kings often refer to other books which have the details. The last verse of the Gospel of John says that only a small portion of what the Savior did and said was written, and hints at more books.

Are there records of what the Savior taught during his 40 days visit in Jerusalem, other than the brief mention in Acts? Was he with them 24 hours a day, or did he depart at night? If he departed at night, could he have visited his other sheep on the other side of the Earth where it was daytime?

Nephi reminded the Gentiles that the Lord can always say more. And if he can say more, then that means he hasn't told us everything so far.

The Book of Mormon says very much, and yet it leaves even more unsaid.

Joseph Smith said that there were two third's of the plates that remained sealed. What is in those two third's? Where does that information fit into the timeline of the Nephites and and Lamanites? Were those 2/3rds written by the hand of Mormon, or were they pre-existing plates stuck in there as were the small plates of Nephi? Will the Lord reveal those, and if so when? Is it true that one of the conditions for the revealing of the 2/3rds is that we first have to live up to what was in the first third?

Oh, the possibilities.

Kurt said...

Kevin Christiensen,

I personally have a hard time accepting theories that require more speculation over ones that require less speculation. The one you are forwarding requires a lot more speculation than simply assuming Sherem is a Lamanite. The whole "Deuteronomist" slant leaves me flat.

anothernonymous said...

Indy,

You're saying a lot but you're not really sticking to the subject at hand. I agree with many of your points but they aren't particularly relevant to the account of Sherem.

You're right, the Lord has kept many things hidden from us, but I'll wait for him to reveal as needed instead of hanging on the limbs of unnecessary speculation.

Bookslinger said...

Anotheranonymous said: Indy, You're saying a lot but you're not really sticking to the subject at hand. I agree with many of your points but they aren't particularly relevant to the account of Sherem.

Sure they are. Maybe I've failed to point out the analogy that I'm working from. I'm discussing the _possibilities_ of Sherem being an outsider without trying to _prove_ that he was. I've quoted from the BoM and from the Bible showing patterns and precepts which lend credence to the _possibility_ that Sherem was an outsider.

That's very analogous to what Brother Lindsay does in the BOM Evidences section of his web site, exercising apologetics in response to those who claim the Book of Mormon _can't_ be true. Jeff points to internal and external evidences and presents them in a way that illustrates that the BoM _can_ be true, not that it _is_ true. (All of Jeff's assertions that the BoM _is_ true are within the realm of spiritual confirmation and testimony, which I agree with.)

Mormanity said...

Brant Gardner's discussion on Sherem as a foreigner is well done and interesting. Just found it tonight: see Jacob 7 in Gardner's Multidimensional Commentary.

Anonymous said...

Prophecy indicates that the people of Nephi are representing Joseph, hence the Bom being the 'stick of Joseph'. Yet the Lehite family doesn't quite seem to be big enough to represent anyone very well. Where does this play in (that is, did others follow Lehi?)

I dunno, any thoughts? The Mulekites were Jews right?

Mormanity said...

Regarding the term "lonesome" used by Jacob to describe his people, I have some experience in this area. For a couple of years, my family was part of a local Hmong speaking branch. The Hmong people came to America as refugees from Communist persecution in Laos for their role in helping the U.S. in the Vietnam War. Though the Hmong here are a tiny minority surrounding by Americans, they are very focused on their culture, their people, their ways, and their history. Many adults are intensely lonely and solemn people, pining for the old land and the old ways, trying to maintain their culture as their children are being swept up in strange new ways. Many of the adults pine for Laos. Video tapes of Laos play endlessly in their homes as they yearn for their lost homeland. They are strangers and wanderers here. The sentiment I pick up from many of the adults echoes the words of Jacob: "our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation. . . ."

Though born in the wilderness, Jacob keenly felt the pain of being cast out from Jerusalem and being a wanderer in a strange land. One can be lonesome like that even when surrounded by others.

Anonymous said...

Try going to achoiceland.com and see if it will shed some insight on the subject
KR