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

Friday, October 28, 2005

King Benjamin's Speech: Forget Solomon Spaulding, Ethan Smith, and Shakespeare

Talk about great literature! Take a look at the powerful and classic ancient Semitic speech of King Benjamin in the early chapters of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. In my opinion, this section alone raises reasonable questions about attempts to "explain" the Book of Mormon as a result of plagiarism from Solomon Spaulding, Ethan Smith, Shakespeare, the King James Bible, the Apocrypha, or Walt Whitman. Perhaps even more than the extremely sophisticated chiasmus of Alma 36, Mosiah 1-6 contains such strong textual evidences of ancient Semitic origins that it strains the imagination to think that Joseph Smith whipped this up, no matter whose shoulder he was looking over in 1829.

I would especially recommend that you read "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6" by Stephen D. Ricks, an excellent chapter in one of my favorite books, King Benjamin's Speech, edited by John Welch and Stephen Ricks (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), pp. 233-275. The Maxwell Institute provides the entire book online, a wonderful freebie. I especially enjoyed: Chapter 3, "Benjamin's Speech: A Masterful Oration" by John W. Welch; Chapter 5, Assembly and Atonement" by Hugh W. Nibley; Chapter 10, "Benjamin's Covenant as a Precursor of the Sacrament Prayers" by John W. Welch; and Chapter 11, "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin's Speech" by John W. Welch. Awesome! But that's just a fraction of all the great information and testimony-building insights from the book, so I still hope you'll buy your own copy.

In part of Welch's chapter on kingship and coronation, he discusses the six elements of the ancient covenant renewal pattern. Pay attention to these points. Long before this book was published, my testimony of the Restoration and especially of the divinity of the Temple got a major boost when I bought and read a book by a Jewish scholar on the ancient temple paradigm. Dr. Jon Levenson of Harvard is the author of this favorite book of mine, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1985). I was amazed to read about the twentieth-century discovery of a common pattern found in many ancient Middle Eastern covenants between unequal parties (e.g., a ruling nation and its subjects). This ancient pattern for making a covenant between God and man or a king and his subjects is known as the "covenant formulary" and includes the following six elements, though many ancient examples of covenants may only have a subset of the six:
  1. The preamble
  2. Historical prologue (description of what the king has done for the subjects)
  3. Stipulations (to secure fidelity of the subjects to the king)
  4. Deposition of the text of the treaty or covenant (special writings and other means to ensure that the covenants aren't forgotten and are recorded and reviewed)
  5. List of witnesses
  6. Statement of curses and blessings (the results of disobedience or obedience)
This ancient pattern is becoming relatively well known now, and has even made its way into some mainstream Christian sermons, such as a 2004 sermon by Reverend Neil Bramble-Chapman (amazingly, he even mentions the ancient Christian doctrine of theosis in his sermon).

While I do not desire to discuss details of the Temple, each element of the ancient covenant formulary is clearly present in the LDS Temple. And as Stephen Ricks shows in his chapter, these elements appear to be present in the covenant making process that King Benjamin directs (though one element is implied rather than explicitly present). This adds an interesting perspective to our appreciation of the Book of Mormon.

Modern recognition of the ancient covenant formulary dates back to the 1950s, when George Mendenhall and Klaus Baltzer began comparing biblical literature with other ancient treaties (see discussion in Levenson, p. 26; see also George Mendenhall, "Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition," Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 17, No. 3, 1954, pp. 50-76, as cited by Stephen Ricks "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6," with references pertaining to Mendenhall and other related sources cited on p. 274). Though these elements can be found scattered in the Bible, their significance and their relationship to each other was not appreciated in Joseph Smith's day. (Actually, there is still vigorous debate on these elements: see Covenant, Treaty, and Prophecy by E. C. Lucas, originally printed in Themelios, Vol. 8, No. 1, Sept. 1982, pp. 19-23. This article discusses the ancient six-part treaty concept proposed by Mendenhall and reviews some recent criticisms of Mendenhall's views.)

While the covenant formulary is an exciting concept for appreciating King Benjamin's speech, there is much more in Levenson's book and other modern writings about ancient practices that puts not only the Book of Mormon but also the LDS Temple squarely into the realm of ancient practice. Some of the elements which deeply impressed me were the relationship between the Temple and the Sabbath day (sacred space and sacred time), the symbolism of the baptismal font (and subterranean waters in general) in the Temple, the relationship between mountains and Temples (also found strongly in the Bible and the Book of Mormon), the significance of covenant making, the link between Zion and the Temple, the things one does to show reverence for sacred ground, the significance of the Creation story, and so on. Levenson probably knows nothing of LDS Temples, yet his writings about the ancient Jewish experience did more for my understanding of LDS Temples than any modern LDS writer had up to that time.

A related summary of information about the ancient Middle Eastern temple concept is available online in John M. Lundquist's scholarly article, "What Is a Temple? A Preliminary Typology," originally printed in H. B. Huffman, F. A. Spina, and A. R. W. Green, eds., The Quest for the Kingdom of God: Studies in Honor of George E. Mendenhall (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1983), which was republished in Temples of the Ancient World, ed. by Donald W. Parry and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994, pp. 83-118). While Lundquist's article is not explicitly about the LDS Temple, those familiar with LDS temples will find intriguing evidence for its ancient roots.

See also "Early Christian and Jewish Rituals Related to Temple Practices" by John A. Tvedtnes at FAIRLDS.org.

Well, getting back to the Book of Mormon, I am impressed with how often we can better understand the text by understanding aspects of ancient Semitic practices and poetry.

18 comments:

Mike Parker said...

Excellent post, Jeff. When I taught Mosiah 2–5 last year in Gospel Doctrine, it was the first time I'd actually seriously analyzed the structure and content of the speech. It's amazingly complex, yet logically structured and consistent (as well as inspiring). An amazing piece of literature, whether one considers it divine or not.

Anonymous said...

I see that quite commonly on your site every evidence you examine always points to the deviness or thruthfulness of the BOM or Mormon religion. Evidence supporting your belief system-100%. Evidence against-NIL
Could it be that you are just seeing what you want to see?

Bookslinger said...

Anon at 3:36pm: Baloney! Jeff's web sites, including this blog, do contain a "warts-and-all" history.

You've completely mischaracterized things.

This web site has had plenty of anti-mormon comments that Jeff has allowed to stand. The main rules seem to be no profanity, and no links to anti-mormon web sites, though the names of those web sites are often mentioned.

If you review the recent comments, BYU Alter Ego (formerly BYU Gestapo) has posted plenty of information about how he believes DNA evidence refutes Mormon claims.

There are also plenty of instances where Jeff's answer to an anti-mormon accusation has been "We don't know for sure", or "I'm sorry. That shouldn't have happened. Is there anything I can do to help you?"

Anyways, why should Mormons carry water for their detractors? There are plenty of anti-Mormon web sites where only the attacks and the negatives are displayed, and pro-Mormon comments are FORBIDDEN (as you probably well know.)

Do you also post comments at those sites telling them they see only what they want to see?

This blog and the accompanying web site, http://www.jefflindsay.com, are some much needed BALANCE to many of the negative attacks and outright lies that get published on the web.

Mormanity said...

News flash: shocking Mormon scandal uncovered! An anonymous poster shows that defenders of the LDS faith like Jeff Lindsay don't spend time attacking it. Ex-mos and antis outraged.

Hey, anon, you should notice that I do discuss many frequent objections to the Church and the Book of Mormon. But I believe there are responses or at least perspectives that need to be considered, things that weight against leaving the Church or abandoning God. Sorry that you're unhappy with that.

But let me turn the tables for a moment. Why is it that you have not discussed the evidence at hand? For so many antis who claim that there is no evidence for the Book of Mormon, etc., when something that might be possible evidence supporting its plausibility is raised - something like Shazer or Nahom or the River Laman in the Arabian Peninsula, or chiasmus or volcanism in the Book of Mormon or paired tricola or many parallels to Mesoamerican civilization - the response is to FLEE the discussion and change the topic. It's not just that many of your ilk have blinders, it's that you've taken rolls of intellectual duct tape to seal your eyes and ears shut so that there can be no intellectual encounter with positive evidence, no matter what.

I may be seeing what I want to see, I'll admit, but at least I'm trying to see. And when antis present something they think I should look at, I at least try - in most cases, I think - to look, consider, and discuss.

So, my advice is to take the duct tape off and consider the topic at hand. Could King Benjamin's speech have ancient Semitic elements that Joseph probably could not have known about? Was it just a lucky guess? Are we forcing things into the text that really aren't there? Is it the result of plagiarizing from yet another lost document of Spaulding or someone else? You don't have to say anything, but it would be helpful if you would comment on the topics I've raised if you are going to comment.

Is there anything else I can do to help you?

Anonymous said...

To BOMII
"This web site has had plenty of anti-mormon comments that Jeff has allowed to stand."
Yes, I have seen that. I didn't say that he does not allow all to post and offer opinions. Kudos to Jeff. Yet, I only see Jeff post favorable comments to those that agree with his conclussions. Seems pretty closed minded to me.
To Jeff
"An anonymous poster shows that defenders of the LDS faith like Jeff Lindsay don't spend time attacking it. Ex-mos and antis outraged."
That is a huge mischaracterization of what I said. I didn't say you should attack it. I don't expect you to. I think you should re-read what I said and you would see that I only question why it is that you seem to only find evidence that supports your belief system? Was that too big of a question for you?
"Hey, anon, you should notice that I do discuss many frequent objections to the Church and the Book of Mormon. But I believe there are responses or at least perspectives that need to be considered, things that weight against leaving the Church or abandoning God. Sorry that you're unhappy with that."
Where do you get that I am unhappy with that? I didn't say anything about it. And from what I have seen, you have never found any evidence that suggests anyone not agreeing with your opinion could be right.
"For so many antis who claim that there is no evidence for the Book of Mormon, etc., when something that might be possible evidence supporting its plausibility is raised - something like Shazer or Nahom or the River Laman in the Arabian Peninsula, or chiasmus or volcanism in the Book of Mormon or paired tricola or many parallels to Mesoamerican civilization - the response is to FLEE the discussion and change the topic. It's not just that many of your ilk have blinders, it's that you've taken rolls of intellectual duct tape to seal your eyes and ears shut so that there can be no intellectual encounter with positive evidence, no matter what."
WOW! I think you shoud have directed that at some antis. Or are you thinking I am anti cause I asked that question? I hope you didn't make that leap. Not sure why you called me ilk. Don't think I deserve that for asking a question. I have not insulted you or called you names or tried to belittle you. What makes you think I have duct tape on? What comment brought that on? I did not state any opinion on the topic you blogged on. Don't think it is fair to say I have duct tape on. I certainly did not say that about you. I don't think it polite to be nasty. Yes, it is your blog, and you set the rules. Guess being nasty today let you get some frustration out. Whatever.
"Is there anything else I can do to help you?"
No, not at all. You are free not to answer any question I ask. But, from the tone of your post, I think you might just being a bit sarcastic here.
You have a good Sunday with your family Jeff. I will with mine.

Mormanity said...

OK, I'm sorry if in my haste I jumped to conclusions about the question being "anti." I apologize for my inappropriate remarks - perhaps I should delete them and keep this apology up. Your note just sounded like the troll comments I get from people who haven't bothered to read my site or my post, and they often post anonymously, so it's easy to make that assumption.

But I still wonder about your remarks. Look, I know God exists. So when discussing issues about science and atheism, do you think I'm going to find and present evidence that God does not exist? For someone who believes or knows that God exists and feels a desire to stand as a witness for Him, any discussion of evidence - no matter how inclusive - is going to point to why it does not refute His existence or why it supports His existence or why it's not relevant to the issue. And if there's not a good answer at the moment, the person might admit that we don't know enough, but will still turn to the fact that God does exist. Is this a problem?

I have a strong testimony that the Book of Mormon is true, and that God exists. The purpose of my writing is not to provide an equal balance of anti-Mormon and pro-Mormon text, but to take on the anti-Mormon or atheistic stuff and show that what I already know to be true can still be plausible in spite of the attacks. Yes, I'm pro-Mormon.

Sorry that I ruffled your feathers - but please note that it's hard to avoid the conclusion that you have not responded to the topic at hand. The "ilk" = "category" that I hastily lumped you into is the group of people who do not respond or notice the presentation of possible evidence ini favor of the Book of Mormon, while making broad, conclusory negative accusations in other areas, as if the evidence presented just never existed. So, from my perspective, your anonymous comments haven't yet clearly distinguished yourself from that group, but I apologize again for making conclusions too hastily since that may not properly describe you. I infer from your last comments you may be LDS but not a believer in the Book of Mormon, rather than an active "anti."

J White said...

Pardon me ... I mostly lurk here and occasionally post ... and this one really has me puzzled ... Anon said in his rebuttal ...

... and you would see that I only question why it is that you seem to only find evidence that supports your belief system?

I dont' quite understand .. why would one spend time seeking to evidence against their own belief system ("Kindgom divided against itself shall fall" ... that's from the Bible, not Book of Mormon)? Seems to me, that's a sure way to drive yourself crazy.

I understand the need to 'test' things and one can be open-minded and examine things when they come up that are contradictory to their belief system, but why seek out evidence that is contrary to what you believe? Seems it would just make your life all the harder? Especially, if like Jeff, you are certain of certain things in your life ...

Anonymous said...

Hey J, You are right. After I read that again, I don't think I made much sense there either. I think Jeff got what I was saying though.
What I meant to say was, How is it that all the evidence supports your belief system? 100% for and 0% against. I asked if maybe he was just seeing things the way he wanted them to be. His response caught me off guard as I didn't expect to be attacked by suggesting that he might have a bias and that bias might cause him to see things the way he wants.

Bookslinger said...

Ah, I get it now. Rebuttal = personal attack.

Would you like some cheese with that whine?

J White said...

His response caught me off guard as I didn't expect to be attacked by suggesting that he might have a bias and that bias might cause him to see things the way he wants.

I agree ... Jeff has a bias ... if by bias, you mean he believes in and knows certain things to be true. It's no surprise that he would seek & present evidence for his belief system. It would also seem that he is willing to hear out those that would contradict that and give them a fair voice. He may also rebutt (or attack as you say) those points due to his belief system/knowledge. What I'm wondering is ... is there something wrong, unexpected or dishonest about that?

Anonymous said...

Oh brave new world!

My rebuttal = reasoned argument.
Your rebuttal = attack.
I disagree with you = freedom of speech.
You disagree with me = you're being divisive.
You don't print my point of view = censorship.

BRoz said...

We are all biased. Honesty is to aknowledge it. I read Jeff's site for the pro-LDS side. He aknowledges what the other side is saying but I don't expect him to pretend to defend it.

Anonymous said...

Well I suppose I should shut up now! I guess I'm just an anonymous idiot!

Them Mormons said...

"Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the widom of thy words." - Proverbs 23:9

The Dutkiewicz Family said...

My favorite part about Anon's response was when IT got offended at being called "ilk."

Ilk is class of things, normally people. Nothing more, nothing less.

I can't stop laughing.

Chris Dutkiewicz

KimLairson said...

I am refreshed reading your comments, Jeff. Kim Lairson

Samuel Peck said...

unless you have a useful insight for actually answering anonymous' question (which we should now assume was intended as an at least near polite inquiry) talking about the article would be much more productive. I am going to study Benjamin's speech again, and would love to read your insights into what more we can gain from it.

Tim said...

Sometimes one little word can have big significance. That is the case with me and King Benjamin's speech. At Mosiah 7:19 King Benjamin uses the word "was" when he spoke about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Bible never uses the word "was" when speaking about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I was just hoping you might comment on that. I enjoy your web site very much. I am not a Mormon, but I am not an anti-Mormon either.