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Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Great and Marvelous Change of 3 Nephi 11:1

I am delighted and enlightened with a profound but subtle new insight into the Book of Mormon text which actually clears up a number of issues, some of which have been raised here by various commenters on this blog. Please read "The Great and Marvelous Change: An Alternate Interpretation" by Clifford P. Jones, one of several outstanding and scholarly offerings in the latest issues of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.

For years there has been some confusion over the space of time between the natural destruction (apparently volcanic and other activity) in 3 Nephi 8 around the time of the crucifixion of Christ and the marvelous visitation of Christ to the Nephites and Lamanites in the New World recorded in 3 Nephi 11. The opening verses of that chapter report that the people were gathered together to discuss the "great and marvelous change" which had taken place--that sounds like they were talking about all the physical changes and destruction. That makes sense of they were gathering very shortly after the disasters had occurred. But comparing 3 Nephi 8:4 (the calamities began in the 1st month of the 34th year) and 3 Nephi 10:18, it seems pretty clear that it was at the end of the 34th year when Christ appeared. Clifford Jones digs into the issue with the skill of a lawyer (he is one) in what is almost a legal brief (actually a detailed scholarly analysis) for the case that the "great and marvelous change" was the Change brought about by the Atonement of Christ. The event was an organized event, led by priesthood leaders, held at the Temple, to focus on the Ultimate Change that Jesus Christ had brought about. He explores a number of subtle issues that support this reading, which, after considering Brother Jones' case, strikes me as clearly the most intelligent and natural reading of the text. Some of the arguments draw upon and illustrate the consistent use of terminology in the Book of Mormon. There is much to be learned from the detailed, carefully written article.

The Book of Mormon peoples may have been gathered together to seek further knowledge about the meaning of the Atonement. It was a religious, sacred event at the temple in Bountiful, with the top spiritual leaders present who would soon be called as the disciples of Christ. In this sacred setting, with the people and leaders pondering the scriptures and the Atonement and seeking further knowledge, the great revelation of Christ's personal visit was given. This was roughly a year after the destruction had occurred. Things had calmed down and the people in the land, humbled and seeking more, were blessed by the promised ministry of the Lord.

There is much to this story. I hope you'll read and digest what Brother Jones has written.

The Book of Mormon is an amazing text. It is "smarter" and more internally consistent than we recognized. It is vastly smarter than Joseph Smith or any of his peers, and smarter than any of us. There is much to be gleaned by digging into it in the way that Brother Jones has illustrated with this one issue.

9 comments:

Pops said...

Thanks, Jeff, this is really interesting.

As I read the paper, I wondered about "the change". While "the Atonement" is indeed a great and marvelous thing, how is it something that people can "show" to one another? Does "show" in this context really mean "teach"?

I then thought of a passage I recently read, 1 Nephi 14:14, where Nephi sees a vision of our day:

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.

Perhaps that is something that might be shown to one another. And perhaps, the course of the Lord being "one eternal round", such a change, such a gathering, and such a Theophany might occur in our day.

Anonymous said...

It has occurred to my husband and me that, since this event may have taken place up to nearly a year after the destruction, the "change" might have been the repair of the temple, and the "gathering" for something like a rededication.

That, of course, would not preclude (in fact, would certainly include) discussion of the Atonement. Can you just imagine how people, who had looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, must have felt? "It finally happened! It actually happened!"

Virginia

Cody said...

I've thought of the change as being a description of the physical destruction they witnessed. They are meeting at the first of the year and so-called "year rites" were a significant part of the Law of Moses. It makes sense that the people would be gathering at the temple for the first year rite following the destruction and that many of them would be seeing the destruction for the first time, as they likely would have traveled some distance to get to the temple.

NathanS said...

Nice post, Jeff. I find your remarks right on and I read about half of the paper. Of the several points of his that I read, some varied from the others in persuasiveness but mostly his reasoning seems pretty likely.

And I appreciate your review of how interestingly smart the Book of Mormon is in terms of its liturary construction. I have studied writing a bit. I have read the Holy Bible probably 7 or 8 times from cover to cover as well as the other LDS scripture and given much thought to the doctrinal statements in all the books.

I find the degree of inner agreement of the Holy Bible and of the Book of Mormon to be similarly high - too high for either book to have more than one Author - yet not high enough for either book to have a single, highly skilled, writer.

Furthermore, the cross over agreement between the books is as the internal agreement in each. From the observation of a reader, The Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon are largely comparable to each other in such a way that nothing else is comperable to either of them.

Of course the other LDS scriptures are comparable in some respects. And in other respects, they are by no means inferior but different.

I appreciate your continued support for the Book of Mormon. By supporting that which testifies of Christ, you bear witness of Him whose life and death means life for all. Thank you.

Sam Bishop said...

Hmm... I agree with the conclusion, but with very few of the supporting arguments. In other words, I believe that their meeting was for religious reasons and not immediately after the destruction took place. But "the great and marvelous change" was physical--great in magnitude and a cause to marvel.

It seems to me that the problem is that the text in verses 1 and 2 of 3 Nephi 11 is divided, making people think that the two halves refer to separate ideas. I wish the two would been combined, with the period after "place" made a comma. Read this way, Brother Jones' interpretation of "the great and marvelous change" doesn't make sense. If the phrase means that the people had gathered to discuss the atonement, then it does not make any sense at all to follow that by stating that "they were also conversing about this Jesus Christ"--as if the two are in any way separate!

On the other hand, putting the two halves in one verse would have made it easier to see that their gathering was for a religious purpose.

The "too much time had passed for them to be marveling about the destruction" argument doesn't make sense either. (Even though I agree that time had passed.) By that line of reasoning, there shouldn't be a single visitor to the Grand Canyon. It is certainly old news by now! And that's just the result of running water, really.

Papa D said...

Interesting paper, post and comments. I'll just be redundant this time and say, "Amen" - at least to the general themes of a spiritual gathering and extended time between the destruction and the gathering.

Openminded said...

Cool article. I recently had a discussion with Papa D in which he put Moroni's promise in a different light using other verses from the BoM. Reminds me of when I was an evvie and believed that scripture was useful for interpreting scripture.

Then apparently, the verses that were attributed to Jesus were, according to scholars, almost fraudulently ascribed to Jesus.

Always been wary of using other bits of scripture to interpret other scripture. Unless the context of each verse fit each other.

Anyways, the immediate reading of the passage in question, alongside the following verses, leads me to agree with Sam on what the "great and marvelous" change was. I left with the impression that they were marveling over the sign (which was the destruction). Although prophesied as "terrible" instead of "marvelous," the destruction had passed, so the terror is gone. Also, in 3 Nephi 8:12, the sign was described as "great," just as it was referenced here.

But didn't they know the sign meant Jesus had atoned for their sins? Later in the chapter, Jesus tells him that their sins are forgiven (under condition of belief and baptism), but hadn't it been prophesied that the sign (destruction) would mean Jesus is coming?

I should probably back out of this, it's been a while since I've read 3 Nephi (save chapter 10--just read it). But it seems like the passage has to go through some unnatural twists in order to make it seem like Jesus' Atonement was what they were marveling about.

Papa D said...

Open-minded (and everyone else who said it), I also have a hard time seeing proof that they were discussing the Atonement directly. I kind of like the idea of a temple re-building event - but that also is hard to read in the words themselves.

Hence, my agreement with the general themes of a gathering at the temple after significant time had passed without any agreement or disagreement about the overall teachings going on at the time. I just don't think there's enough evidence to go that far.

Still and interesting article, post and comments, however.

NathanS said...

Interestingly, comments have addressed changes in topography and spirituality but what about the socio-economics?

Weren't there no more enemies? Wasn't the wealth of livestock and crop decimated? We might suppose that after the destruction most of what was left related to relationships, faith, and rebuilding their means of survival.

Cody's point about the requirement for "year rites" interests me. If the people were to fullfil a new year rite, might not some of the most faithful and most distant gone to the temple area to camp out in preparation for the following day, thus the visitation in a very literal ending of the 34th year?

TWe might imagine that the nature of their conversation included commraderie and the sharing of observations about the stark contrasts between this meeting and the one they may have attended or missed the year before.

I suppose the topic of change included more than what took place within themselves as a result of the spiritually supernal events that took place in Jerusalem, refered to at the atonement. Perhaps it included everything that has been commented on.

Certainly the topic of Jesus would arise. His voice could have been the most astonishing thing many of them had ever experienced in their lives. And for those who saw each other only once a year, this gathering would have been the first opportunity they would have had to share that amazing experience with one another.

There is a mighty change that takes place in the experience of those who are "born again." And for many, the events at the beginning of the year may have contributed to a rebirth but such rebirth has been received by many, at many different times, before and after the Lord's crucifiction. No record of which I am aware suggests that people gathered to show each other about that very personal experience, although that is a very real purpose of Fast and Testimony meetings each month after partaking of the Lord's Sacrament.

A Fast and Testimony meeting?

Either way, as Jeff points out, doesn't a broader way of reading the account make the Book of Mormon seem smarter? The distance in time actually make more sense now instead of not.