Monday, November 1, 2010

1 Nephi 8-9

Lehi has a dream/vision where he is in a dark wasteland.  He is briefly escorted by a heavenly guide who takes him to a field with a tree.  The tree has delicious pure-white fruit that can impart happiness.  Lehi looks around the landscape and sees his family by a river, and gets them to come up to him.  Laman and Lemuel, predictably, refuse.  Many other people are trying to get to the tree, but a nasty dark mist impedes them, as well as the aforementioned river.  However, the narrow path leading to the tree has a nice railing by it that you can hold onto.  Some people make it, only to take off in embarrassment when mean and snobby people in a huge building accross the way make fun of them.
Lehi finishes telling the dream and has a talk with Laman and Lemuel, worried about them. 
Nephi interjects another little chapter of explanation about how he's making two sets of plates, surprise!

So, the dream was kind of a nice story.  Some weird descriptions, like how he says the building stood "as it were in the air."  So, floating?  Or just really tall?  But I'll remember that this is a dream, and sometimes in dreams things aren't all that clear.

I feel a little bad for Laman and Lemuel.  They have been acting up a lot lately, but it seems like if you treat them like delinquents, that's what they'll be. 

The entire dream is nice, but ultimately... unimpressive.  Not that I need it to be slaying vampires (my personal favorite dream ever) or anything like that.  It's just... okay: tree, fruit, nice.  Path with railing, not a bad idea, but not astonishing to anyone who's been to the grand canyon.  Dark fog, deep river, the whole thing is sort of depressing and really boring.  The most interesting part by far is the building full of snobs!  I wanted to hear more about their story, but they didn't get that much attention.  What is this building?  What is their problem?  How'd they get there when everyone else is drowning in the river trying to get there?

As for Nephi's little interjection: I'm starting to think it's odd how he is compiling this record.  He obviously takes it pretty seriously, but keeps adding these "oh, and by the way, I'm gonna do this with my plates" explanations right smack in the middle of the narrative.  And he sure has a way with words: "the plates ... have I given the name of Nephi; wherefore, they are called the plates of Nephi, after mine own name; and these plates are also called the plates of Nephi."
Did I mention that they're called Nephi?  That's my name!  Nephi!  Oh, and my other plates?  Guess what, they're called Nephi, too!
This kid needs some serious advice on coming up with catchier titles.  It's like me writing a book and giving it the title Book, and then writing a sequel and also naming that one Book.

Monday, October 25, 2010

1 Ne 6-7

Nephi inserts a brief interlude explaining that he will not record everything, particularly the things that his father writes down.  He implores his descendants only to write things of worth in his plates, that is, things that will persuade people to come to God.  Lehi sends his sons back to Jerusalem, this time to find themselves some wives.  They go to Ishmael and talk him into coming with them.  On the way back, some of Ishmael's sons and daughters and Laman and Lemuel decide they want to go back to Jerusalem.  Nephi vigorously chastises them and tells them that they can go and die if they want, just remember that he warned them.  They get mad and tie him up, and he prays to God and snaps the cords.  One of the women pleads with the rebels to calm down and not hurt Nephi, and they calm down, feel terrible, apologize, and move on.

So, first of all, we now know why Nephi skims so quickly over Lehi's prophecies and whatnot; Lehi is apparently writing, too.  That makes sense.
I'm not surprised that Lehi didn't tell his sons to go get some girls when they were picking up the plates.  They probably had to get away pretty quick after they snuck in and chopped a well-known citizen's head off.  I can just imagine them showing up at Ishmael's house: "Hey guys, want to come to the promised land with us?  We.. uh.. kinda have to go.  Right now."
I thought that the fight in the desert was interesting; why didn't the dissenters just up and leave without starting a fight?  Although it occurs to me that they might not have enough water (and water containers) and food to split among two parties safely, especially if they had already made it more than halfway.  Nephi calling them out is powerful, but has a few unnecessary-seeming jabs in it.  He basically says "you guys are really bad older brothers and I, your little brother, am smarter than you because you are so dumb!"  So much for diplomacy.  I'd be a little ticked off if I were them, too, although maybe I'd think twice about tying my brother up and leaving him for the buzzards.  A little harsh.  For all we know, Nephi is probably middle-school age, and we all know how good those kids' people skills tend to be.
My one last thought was, if Nephi just did his little Incredible Hulk move and snapped the ropes like dental floss, weren't his brothers a little nervous about attacking him again?  And yet it takes one of the women pleading for him to stop their anger-drunk violence. Then again, maybe that's just typical guy behavior.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

1 Nephi 1-5

So we have a guy names Nephi, and his family.  They live in Jerusalem a few years prior to the final Babylonian conquest of Judah.  His father Lehi has a lot of dreams and prophesies to the people, who try to assassinate him.  He is warned in another dream and skips town.  His sons are unhappy about this disruption of their lives, except Nephi and Sam.  Lehi then sends his sons back to Jerusalem to get some records from a powerful man names Laban.  Laban tries to kill them a couple of times and steals all of their stuff, so Nephi goes into town and, at the spirit's behest, chops an unconscious Laban's head off, all after an angel encourages them.  He then uses Laban's attire to bamboozle Laban's servant Zoram to get him the plates containing the records.  For some reason he brings the servant out with him, who realizes the deception, so they restrain him and tell him he can live if he leaves with them.  They go back safe, much to their mother's relief.

This is not much different than what I would expect in many ways.  Old Testament times, prophets, lots of violence and arguments.  I wasn't at all phased by Nephi slicing off the drunk Laban's head; similar acts are repeatedly praised in the Old Testament.
Nephi's telling of the story was novel, however.  First of all, it's in the first person, which seems to be a rarity in the Old Testament (although it is not unheard of).  Another thing that stuck out to me was the weird things he chose to write about.  I about laughed out loud when Nephi talks about Lehi praising god and essentially adds an "etc." after a couple of examples.  In other places, Nephi talks about Lehi prophesying "many things" and powerfully exhorting Nephi's older brothers, but never provides any detail as to the contents of these discourses.  However, Nephi gives us great detail of his conversation with Zoram as they walk around the city and a fairly full description of the fight his parents had after he and his brothers set off.
I can only feel sorry for Zoram.  Poor guy is just doing his job and is duped into carrying the stolen goods (even though Nephi tells him that he is bringing him out to his brothers... what was that about?) out to Nephi's partners.  He tries to make a run for it when he realizes what he's walked into, but Nephi (a big kid) tackles him and tells him he can go with them or die.  Bummer of a day.

So, an action-packed beginning consistent with the gruesome Old Testament, but without all the lengthy and detailed boring prophecy included, Nephi glossed over that bit.  Pretty cool book so far.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Introduction and Testimonies

Title Page
The title page inspired little reaction in me, besides the fact that it boldly states that Joseph Smith, Jr. translated the Book of Mormon.

This was certainly interesting.  Not surprising, because many religious groups claim all sorts of things concerning the ancient past, and there is a great number of stories about Jesus Christ outside the Bible.  Some of this explanation was not very helpful, because the language seems pretty specific to Mormon doctrine.  At the end, the book makes clear its intention to convert you, which is fine.  At least it's honest.

Testimonies of the Witnesses
The testimony of the three witnesses did not particularly move me, it had a lot of stuff about being spoken to by God and whatnot, which is a pretty typical kind of claim.  Poetic, but nothing striking.
Oddly enough, the testimony of the eight witnesses was far more intruiging to me.  Here we have eight men who swear that they have seen and handled the plates.  Sure, they are pretty obscure names, and most of them seem to belong to just a couple of families.  But still, it gave me pause to imagine these people hefting and handling the golden plates.  Maybe there really were plates.

Testimony of Joseph Smith
The first thing I have to say about this is it's a great story.  Compelling.  Smith's frank descriptions are easy to read, for sure, and his interactions with the angel have a sort of awe written into them.  It did seem a little suspect that Smith had multiple episode of seeing this angel after just having been unconscious, particularly when he collapsed outdoors and the angel came back.  Sounds a little like episodes of some kind involving hallucinations.  The account of him digging up the plates is fine, interesting to read.  I paused for a moment and mused on the likelihood of a rough stone box remaining empty when buried in nothing but soil for hundreds of years... wouldn't erosion expose it, or silt fill it?  But, okay, benefit of the doubt.

Brief Explanation
Mildly interesting.  It didn't strike me as particularly different from a description of any apocryphal work; lots of unfamiliar names and places with brief histories built in for context.  And okay, there were two major sets of plates that made it into the golden plates.  At least all this introductory material makes me itchy to find out what kind of things are written on these alleged plates.

Purpose of this Blog

I have had many questions lately, some of them about the Book of Mormon.  I have been reading this book since I was first able to read, and my perceptions are modified by a great deal of artwork, Book-of-Mormon inspired cartoons, and the explanations received over and over in Sunday School.  This time, I'm going to try to be impartial and think about it as if I were reading for the first time.  I can't be unbiased, I'm not naive enough to think that I can.  However, I will do my best and give the book the benefit of the doubt.
I intend to read somewhat cohesive blocks of the book and then write my reactions, so some posts will encompass many chapters, where some may cover a few pages only.