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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Clifford Jones, The Great & Marvelous Change: Great Example of Digging Deeply into the Book of Mormon Text


Clifford Jones' new book, The Great & Marvelous Change (coming soon now available at Amazon), is a 230-page work that builds upon his original publication, “The Great and Marvelous Change: An Alternate Interpretation” in the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture (vol. 19, no.  2, 2010, pp. 50-63). One might wonder if an entire book is needed to strengthen the argument already made so persuasively in his ground-breaking article, but the book adds many new dimensions of insight that go beyond merely strengthening his main thesis by also showing how to explore the Book of Mormon and mine treasures from the text. Though his work is focused on what may seem like a minor question, it has far-reaching implications and brings together many aspects of the Book of Mormon text to help us understand some key issues relating to the climax of the Book of Mormon, the visit of the Lord to Book of Mormon peoples on this continent after His Resurrection. It’s a worthy topic and Jones’ work is a worthy example of approaching the text seriously and with both a scholarly and faithful eye.

The book begins with examples of mistaken identify, both in decoding text and in criminal law, reminding us of how easy it is to come to wrong conclusions in solving puzzles. The key verse is then introduced and examined in depth. 3 Nephi 11:1-2:

And now it came to pass that there were a great multitude gathered together, of the people of Nephi, round about the temple which was in the land Bountiful; and they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place. And they were also conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death. (3 Nephi 11:1-2, emphasis added)
Some have assumed that the great and marvelous change refers to the destruction that changed the face of the land. Multiple lines of reasoning, though, challenge that assumption and point instead to a change that was and is much more important and far more marvelous: the Atonement of Jesus Christ. After hearing the voice of Christ speak to them during the three days of darkness following his Crucifixion, the Nephites and Lamanites now had evidence that the Atonement had been completed. They no longer needed to wonder if all the prophecies of the Messiah were real. He had come to earth and completed His mission. The Atonement was done. Animal sacrifice was no longer needed. Everything had changed. Dramatically, marvelously. Cliff Jones astutely argues that this must have been the great and marvelous change that the Nephites were discussing when they gathered at the Temple months later for what appears to have been a major religious event.

Jones illustrates a sound approach to analyzing scriptural text as he explores context and language in detail. Here is an example that leads to many pages of thoughtful analysis and exploration (pp. 35-36):

Four words with similar meanings may be the most significant context clues for identifying this important change. Together, they tend to confirm the reverent nature of the gathering at the temple and the spiritual nature of the change that was being considered there.

The first of these four words is the word marvelous, which, of course, Mormon uses to describe the great change. The second of these words is the word marveling, which is one of the two words Mormon uses to describe the impassioned nature of the multitude at the temple. Like the word marvelous, the word marveling is derived from the verb to marvel. The third and fourth related words are wondering and astonishment. The word wondering is the other word Mormon uses to describe the multitude’s fervor. Mormon uses the fourth related word, astonishment, just one chapter earlier to describe similarly fervent feelings that were present on a previous occasion (see 3 Nephi 10:2). These final two words, wondering and astonishment, are so closely related to the first two, marveling and marvelous, that the dictionary definition of the verb to marvel is, “to be filled with wonder or astonishment.”

This combination of four words with similar meanings plays a significant role in two interesting connections between the term the great and marvelous change and the Lord’s earlier message about the Atonement. The first connection suggests that Mormon intended to link the “astonishment” of the people who heard the Lord’s “sayings” about his redeeming sacrifice and the “marveling” of the multitude at the temple about the “great and marvelous change.” The second connection suggests that the words marveling and wondering may have been chosen specifically to describe reverent contemplation of the Lord’s sacred sayings.
He goes on to explore how words like “astonished” and “marvel” are used in various passages of the Book of Mormon.

Later he explores that case of mistaken identity when the Book of Mormon peoples thought they were seeing an angel as Christ appeared to them, and then fall to the ground in reverence when they recognize who it is. He explores some of the language used in these passages and fishes out further insights that help us understand what was going on and why some things are described with certain words. I was greateful, for example, for his analysis of the word “remember” in 3 Nephi 11:12: “the whole multitude fell to the earth; for they remembered that it had been prophesied among them that Christ would show himself unto them after his ascension into heaven” (3 Nephi 11:12). Based on consistent usage in the Book of Mormon, this may refer not to a sudden remembering of something forgotten, but of lifelong remembering of teachings and covenants. 

His analysis of Mormon’s use of language versus other writers in the Book of Mormon is also salient (see pp. 68-71):

As we just noted, the term great and marvelous is used three times in the Book of Mormon specifically to describe the destruction of the wicked. Perhaps, however, it is meaningful that two of these passages were authored by Moroni (Mormon 8:7 and Ether 11:20) and one by Nephi (1 Nephi 14:7). None of them was written by Mormon, who authored the term the great and marvelous change. Mormon uses the term great and marvelous fourteen times in the Book of Mormon, consistently referring to positive, uplifting events, such as the merciful or blessed works of God, the work of salvation, and the words of God and his prophets (see Alma 9:6, 26:15; Helaman 16:16, 20; 3 Nephi 3:16; 5:8; 17:16-17; 19:34; 26:14; 28:31-32; and
4 Nephi 1:5).36
More specifically, Mormon never refers to the destruction at the time of Christ’s death as marvelous, wonderful or astonishing. Nor does Nephi, in his prophecies (see 1 Nephi 12:4–5 and 2 Nephi 26:3–8), Zenos in his prophecy (see 1 Nephi 19:11–12), Samuel the Lamanite in his prophecy (Helaman 14:20–27), or the Savior in his account of the destruction (see 3 Nephi 9:3– 12). Rather, that particular destruction is consistently referred to across several accounts as “great and terrible,” a term Mormon and all other Book of Mormon authors reserve exclusively for storms, battles, and other destructive events. (See 1 Nephi 12:5, 18:13; 2 Nephi 26:3; 3 Nephi 4:7, 4:11, 8:6, 8:11, 8:12, 8:19, and 8:24-25; Ether 6:6 and Ether 15:17.)
Mormon uses the term great and terrible six times to describe the various aspects of the destruction at the time of Christ’s death (see 3 Nephi 8). He never uses the terms great and marvelous and great and terrible interchangeably. His exclusive use of the term great and terrible to refer to the destruction and of the term great and marvelous to refer to positive, uplifting events would suggest that he used the term the great and marvelous change to refer to a wonderful change rather than a destructive one. Had Mormon intended to refer back to the destruction, he could have once again used the term great and terrible, the term he had consistently used earlier to refer to the various aspects of the change to the whole face of the land.
A critical aspect pertaining to the gathering at Bountiful is the timing of the event. If this is occurring just a few days after the great destruction, then it would be natural for the people to still be discussing the tragedy and the suffering they were facing. But if this event were a year later, as a careful reading of the text may indicate, the destruction and physical changes might be less immediate and the bigger picture of the changes wrought by the Atonement might more logically be the focus of their marveling. To examine the issue of time, Jones delves at length into this critical passage and related clues:

And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will show unto you that the people . . . did have great favors shown unto them, and great blessings poured out upon their heads, insomuch that soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them— Showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them. (3 Nephi 10:18–19, emphasis added.)
His analysis is definitely worth reading. In brief, though, the destruction of 3 Nephi 9 occurs in the beginning of the 34th year and the visit of Christ in the end or latter portion of the 34th year. The gathering of the Nephites at the temple at least several months after the destruction is likely to have involved deep religious reflection and the change the Nephites are focused on is more likely to be the Atonement, not the wrecked buildings and roads.

Jones makes an excellent point related to timing by also considering implications of the Lord’s charge to Nephi to add the information about the rising of some saints that Nephi had neglected to add to the scriptural record. Jones argues that Nephi would have required weeks or perhaps even months to obtain information about the scope of destruction that had occurred across the face of the land to record it as he does. By the time he was able to accurately record those events, it could be plausible that he would overlook his failure to record the reports of some saints rising from the dead, and months later when the Lord came, enough time would have passed for him to truly have forgotten that he had not recorded that information. The account of Nephi’s forgetfulness doesn’t make as much sense if the appearance of the Lord were just a few days after the destruction.

Jones also takes up the geographic scope of the destruction, which Samuel prophesied “should come to pass upon all the face of this land” (Helaman 14:28, emphasis added). He examines many arguments and concludes that this destruction was across both the land northward and the land southward. The argument could have been made much more succinctly, but it certainly is thoroughly considered.
Jones then considers the nature of the gathering of the Nephites at the temple in Bountiful, and brings out numerous clues pointing to a planned event, not a random gathering. The presence of all 12 whom the Lord would call as disciples, the presence of many children and of the sick and the infirm at this event, the role of ritual gatherings at the temple under Nephite religion,  and other factors point to a planned gathering, where the Nephites weren’t just chatting, they were “conversing” about the marvelous change. Jones shows that the Book of Mormon usage of “conversing” is consistent with deeply spiritual and significant reflection, not idle chat.

Jones also draws some practical lessons from his exploration of these topics. For example, those who gathered there, just 2,500 of the Nephites, according to Jones, were exercising faith and diligently obeying in a difficult time. They were greatly blessed for their faith and diligence in coming to the temple as directed to participate in a major religious gathering. Many others apparently weren’t so diligent. There are lessons for us in that experience.

Jones also observes that Nephi’s mistake has been written into scripture, reminding us that we should not lose faith in our day if there are mistakes among our mortal leaders that later require correction, even later intervention through revelation from the Lord to repair. We also learn, of course, that there is much more waiting to be revealed, and that we must patiently wait upon the Lord for further knowledge in the future.

The reader should realize that some passages of the book seem lengthier than needed. Jones often pursues tangential issues and illustrates some points with a multitude of examples after the reader should already be convinced and ready to move on. Clear chapter headings may help the reader to simply jump to the next section in those cases where further discussion may seem unnecessary. However, the tangential issues often bring out further insights into the Book of Mormon and the Atonement, and should not be skimmed too quickly. But I could readily imagine that tighter editorial constraints might have made this book shorter yet just as valuable.

Jones’ work is a significant contribution to our study of the Book of Mormon, in spite of being focused on what some may see as a very minor issue. But understanding the most important event in the Book of Mormon, and one of the most important events in all of recorded history, the visit of the Resurrected Lord to a people in the Americas, is worth digging into details. As we dig and explore, we come away not only with a much better appreciation of the reality of that event, but also of the grittiness and hardiness of the Book of Mormon text itself, where there are many rewards for those who take it seriously and dig into the text.

One of the most important lessons from this book is just how deep and worthy of study the Book of Mormon is. It is not the shallow, ridiculous text lampooned by critics who have rarely touched the book, much less studied it. It is a rich and detailed text that bears fruit from intricate study of its internal treasures. Digging into the book helps illustrate that it is an ancient text, written by multiple ancient writers with different styles, translated in our day through the power of God. It is an imperfect book, having been through human hands, but a divinely inspired one that will bless our lives as we seek to learn its lessons for our day. 

Author: Clifford P. Jones
Title: The Great & Marvelous Change
Publisher: Herald Books
Date of Publication: December 16, 2012
Softcover, 9” x 6”
Pages: 230
ISBN: 978-0-9887512-0-0

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

good stuff. Thanks.

Ania Rodriguez said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.