There are 16 thoughts on “Josiah to Zoram to Sherem to Jarom and the Big Little Book of Omni”.

  1. I really, really appreciate Val Larsen’s interpretation of Josiah reforms as pertaining to Book of Mormon chronology.

    When first introduced to the concept of Josiah reforms influencing Laman and Lemuel, I felt a strong and compelling intuition that this theory bore additional perusal. (Please see Neal Rappleye’s Interpreter article: https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/the-deuteronomist-reforms-and-lehis-family-dynamics-a-social-context-for-the-rebellions-of-laman-and-lemuel/)

    Now, Brother Larsen expands upon the earlier theory by expounding additional resources found explicitly in the text of the Book of Mormon to bolster his thesis. I find it remarkable that so much of the Book of Mormon scriptural account can be “fleshed out” when understood via the consideration of Laman and Lemuel as Deuteronimist adherents. Their stubborn and recalcitrant ways remind me most of modern-day Jihadists who refuse to acknowledge any method or interpretation different from their ironclad views, even when faced with undeniable contradictions. Laman and Lemuel become more than cardboard malfeasants, but literal warriors who are determined to maintain their particular belief system regardless of the spiritual manifestations given them.

    This new vision of a collision of Mantic and Sophic beliefs between Laman and Lemuel stubbornly opposing Lehi, Nephi and Jacob (as described within this article) answers clearly and cleanly to my soul. It “tastes” good and “feels” correct to me. Laman and Lemuel’s actions become more than just those of idiotic and moronic malfeasants, but instead they become warriors of their own jihadistic interpretation of what their actions must entail as proscribed by their current hero and King, Josiah, and the reforms as proscribed in the book known as Deuteronomy.

    Finally, it seems obvious to me that the trees so prominent in our latter-day contexts (including multiple venues from the Book of Mormon to the Pearl of Great Price to temple theology) find a potential alliance with a potential Mantic philosophy previously held by ancient Israel. I remember reading Deuteronomy as a youth and feeling horrified that the people were actually worshipping a goddess as a tree as described within Deuteronomy. How grateful I was that Josiah would destroy their craft. Now, as I reconsider the context, (and especially as I place it within the context Val Larsen places it within: that of Heavenly family, Father, Son and Heavenly Mother.) I feel a different attitude beckoning to me. As I consider the parallels of our religious understanding of the Heavenly Family and the potential of what these early, ancient Israelites believed, I find my previous paradigm shaken. As a youth, I focused too heavily on the divine female and the sacrilege of “divine female as nature” worship by a misguided people. Unfortunately, I didn’t then have the potential of reconsidering their worship as Margaret Barker describes as being one of an earlier Israelite tradition. This lack of previous context did not allow me to consider the ramification of a higher thought: that of a divine Family consisting of Father, Son and a divine entity which I can now easily recognize as the Heavenly Mother according to my own interpretation of the “divine female.”

    Regardless of whether Josiah’s reforms and Deuteronomy played a part in Laman and Lemuel’s protesting activities, the merging of this idea helps flesh out why they were so adamantly opposed to so much of what Lehi and Nephi wanted to accomplish. In retrospect, Laman and Lemuel were the conservatives fighting against progressive attitudes and insidiously “new” interpretations. They were the ones attempting to hold onto the status quo. They were fighting against rebellion. They were the ones who felt that they were being obedient to and caretakers of “correct” tradition. There may be a lesson involved in this paradigm, even for us today.

    • Thanks for your comment. As I note in my response to Kevin Christensen below, we all owe a debt to him, Margaret Barker, and Dan Peterson for disclosing new avenues of interpretation and new depths in the text. For me, the most rewarding discovery was to find Mother in Heaven hidden in plain view in the scripture we have. To qualify ourselves to receive additional revelation about this Divine Being whom so many long to know better, we may need to more fully process and appreciate what the scriptures already tell us about her.

  2. Great article and insight! I love when scholars such as yourself try to see the cultural conflicts behind the characters and stories in the BOM. It really adds a new dimension to the text.

    That said, I disagree with your interpretation of Sherem’s fate (a minor issue, not material to the article). I think Sherem is a textbook case of the unpardonable sin i.e. the sin against the Holy Ghost. That’s one big reason why his story is included in the BOM in my opinion. For example, even after his confession Jacob still declares him to be a wicked man (verse 23) indicating that repentance had not taken place, merely the formal acknowledgement of wrong before judgment is executed (see 2 Nephi 9:46, Alma 1:15, Alma 12:15 and Alma 30:54-55). In addition, Sherem himself states that he lied to the Holy Ghost by declaring that Christ could not be found in the scriptures when he knew it to be otherwise (see verses 14 & 19). And lastly, he sought to shed innocent blood/the Lord’s anointed by intentionally bringing a formal capital charge against Jacob (as you yourself pointed out).

    These actions of Sherem are what constitutes the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost according to my understanding. To wit: he denied what he knew to be true, and defied the Lord’s power (the Holy Ghost) to the point of bloodshed (see D&C 76:31 & D&C 132:27). And the Lord’s judgment of him as well as Jacob’s even after his “confession” strongly supports this line of reasoning.

  3. Having read this article, it has shifted my paradigm substantially; I have never heard of the Deuteronomists and the historical controversy associated with them. (This is my first time reading material from this website.) Who exactly were these people? Were they at all connected with Jezebel or her daughter Athaliah: both culpable for the vast influence of Baal worship in the Northern and Southern Kingdoms? Or were they simply an overreaction to their influence? Also, is the person whom Josiah consulted with, that brought about the reforms, aside from the book found in the temple, connected with these Deuteronomists or Jezebel’s machinations: namely, the prophetess Huldah? (2 Kings 22:14) Is there anymore information known about her besides from the Bible and Josephus?

    The “Straussian reading” you offered about the political backdrop surrounding Jacob and Sherem was insightful, and I very much appreciate the fruits produced from it. It seems the use of scriptures to legitimize power on behalf of monarchists raises its head within many political writings: Hobbes’ “Leviathan” comes to mind. He advocated for the control and interpretation of scriptures to be the prerogative of the king, with his vast body of scholars and scribes to carryout this agenda. Those whom he supposed as pretenders, making a covenant with God about freedom, were threats to the sovereign and his state. Hobbesian writings suggests these rogues obviously needed to be dealt with.

    • Hi Judah,
      I discuss the Deuteronomist reforms and what the Deuteronomists were reforming in much more detail in another Interpreter article entitled First Visions and Last Sermons: Affirming Divine Sociality, Rejecting the Greater Apostasy. That article (and the work it cites from many different LDS and non LDS scholars) lays the predicate for this article. It might be a good place to start your reading on this topic. Here is the link:

      https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/first-visions-and-last-sermons-affirming-divine-sociality-rejecting-the-greater-apostasy/

      On the related topic of Mother in Heaven (the First Visions and Last Sermons article explains why it is related), I say much more in an article entitled Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture. Here is the link for that article:

      http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleLarsenHeavenlyMother.html

      In the comments section of the First Visions and Last Sermons article, David Richards offers a thoughtful critique of my argument that is worth considering to have a fuller understanding of the issues in play.

      I appreciate your allusion to Strauss, an impressive scholar. It is a privilege to be linked with him. But insofar as I understand one of his key arguments, my analysis is the mirror image opposite of his. He found atheism behind the façade of faith. He thought authors who had the atheistic truth were hiding that truth for political reasons. In the Book of Mormon, authors who have the Christian truth obscure the arguments and views of theological and political opponents like Sherem, Korihor, and the Davidic Kingmen. But given that the Nephies, Jacob, Mosiah, Benjamin, the Almas, the Helamans, and above all, Mormon, were politicians as well as prophets, we should not be surprised to find that political dynamics are very much in play as an important subtext and add new depths of meaning to a book aptly subtitled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”

      • Thank you for the reply, Val. Pertaining to Strauss, I understood that your analysis of the text was in the opposite direction of what Strauss normally concludes about writers of political philosophy. I think this is one of the weaknesses of Strauss’ approach for understanding political thinkers, for it appears, more often than not, that he assumes that those who are dissatisfied with societal values of their respective eras must be moral deviants. All I was admiring about your analysis is the close reading of the text you presented, nothing more. I did not mean to insinuate anything else.

        Concerning the links you’ve provided, I will review these articles and the scholarship of Margaret Barker to gain my bearings on what the scholarly conversation is surrounding the Deuteronomist controversy in Biblical scholarship.

  4. I found this article to contain a huge amount of explanatory power over issues that have troubled me in the book of Mormon for a long time. First and foremost, I have long been of the opinion that the apparent simplicity of the Book of Mormon is more a product of cultural blindness then it is of an actual lack of skill on the part of the book of Mormon authors. Brother Larsen’s excellent article illustrates the extent to which a willingness to consider narrative complexity in conjunction with historical context can lead to a much greater understanding of the record then if we consider it in the absence of such clues.
    The idea that the book of Mormon contains much sociopolitical information hidden “between the lines” as it were was first introduced to me by Hugh Nibley, and I have found that way of thinking about the book to be very profitable when looking to understand the motivations behind the many stories of conflict that are told. I had never before considered the Book of Mormon as containing a continuation of the Deuteronomist/Mantic conflict so evident in the Bible, but as so many different biblical themes are continued and amplified in the Book of Mormon, brother Larsen’s hypothesis makes a lot of sense, doubly so because of its explanatory power in relationship to the actions of Laman and Lemuel!
    I also strongly agree with his assessment of the value of the book of Omni in shedding an enormous amount of light on themes which are repeated throughout the record in which are meant to be the central message of the book.
    I will be sharing this article with as many of my friends and family as I possibly can in order to provide them with a new and very powerful perspective on the Book of Mormon!

  5. Val,

    Your article is very interesting and adds perspective and dimension to the first 450 years of Nephite history. The only thing I question is your reasoning about Zoram continuing in the “Deuteronomist theological tradition.” As you point out he probably was of that mindset while in Jerusalem, but Lehi indicates otherwise in his last counsel and blessings. You quoted the first part of this blessing to Zoram, but discounted it when you wrote:

    “The text indicates that Nephi and Zoram were close friends. Lehi says of Zoram, “I know that thou art a true friend unto my son, Nephi, forever” (2 Nephi 1:30). But friends can differ in their theology. And given his oath that Zoram would be free like himself, Nephi surely respected Zoram’s right to believe and even teach as he pleased.

    However, in the following verse Lehi pronounces a blessing on Zoram, “because he had been faithful.” (2 Nephi 1:31) I think we can assume that if Lehi considered Zoram to be faithful, he must have remained faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    • Theodore,

      Thanks for pointing out the possible problem with my reading. You offer a strong argument for Zoram believing in the gospel as Lehi and Nephi taught it. So let me start by stipulating that you may well be right. Here is my layered counter counterargument.

      Starting in verse 24—“Rebel no more against your brother”—Lehi’s first emphasis seems to be on Laman and Lemuel reconciling with Nephi. He goes on to say “he hath suffered much sorrow because of you. And I exceedingly fear and tremble lest he shall suffer again; for behold ye have accused him that he sought power and authority over you…. And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness….” Then just before he speaks to Zoram, Lehi again focuses on reconciliation with Nephi: “And now my son, Laman, and also Lemuel … behold if ye will hearken unto the voice of Nephi ye shall not perish. And if ye will hearken unto him I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing. But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing and it shall rest upon him.”

      That is the immediate context in which Lehi then says to Zoram, “I know that thou art a true friend unto my son, Nephi, forever. Wherefore, because thou hast been faithful thy seed shall be blessed with his seed, that they dwell in prosperity long upon the face of this land; and nothing, save it shall be iniquity among them, shall harm or disturb their prosperity upon the face of this land forever.”

      Given the contextual emphasis on reconciliation with Nephi, the word “faithful” may here mean faithful to Nephi, which could but need not entail belief in Nephi’s theology. That faithfulness, Lehi says, means Zoram’s descendants will be grouped with the Nephites and enjoy whatever material prosperity Nephites enjoy. While the word prosperity may have secondary spiritual connotations, its first meaning is temporal. Because Zoram stayed with Nephi, the Zoramites temporal fate is tied to that of the Nephites. Lehi then says, “if ye shall keep the commandments of the Lord, the Lord hath consecrated this land for the security of thy seed with the seed of my son.” Security, like prosperity, has strong temporal connotations. Being politically allied with the Nephites, the Zoramites’ temporal security is tied to Nephite security.

      As for Zoram keeping the commandments, as I note in the text, the Deuteronomist formula, stated by Laman and Lemuel, is to “keep the statutes and judgements of the Lord, and all his commandments according to the Law of Moses.” Lehi uses that Deuteronomist phrasing in verse 16 at the beginning of his plaintive appeal to Laman and Lemuel. He may also use the word commandments in that technical, Deuteronomist sense as he addresses Zoram here.

      But let me further concede that when Lehi is talking to Laman and Lemuel, he certainly wants them to reconcile themselves not just to Nephi as a person but also to the gospel as Nephi teaches it. And Zoram may have been both a friend and follower of Nephi. However, even if that is true, Zoram would remain a knowledgeable Deuteronomist scribe who could have explained how Deuteronomists read the scriptures. His son or grandson, Sherem, could have learned about the Deuteronomist readings of the Brass Plates from Zoram and could have embraced that interpretation even if Zoram no longer held it. So the argument that Zoram was the source of the Deuteronomism need not entail Zoram himself actually being a follower of Josiah. He could have explicated Deuteronomist theology without believing it. Indeed, that is the very kind of thing scribes (scholars) often do. It is something I have done in this article.

      • As for Zoram’s descendants, there is plenty of evidence that many of them rejected the gospel of Christ and continuing revelation. However, there is one individual named Zoram that stands out as having great faith in living prophets and revelation:

        “…he that had been appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites, (and his name was Zoram, and he had two sons, Lehi and Aha)—now Zoram and his two sons, knowing that Alma was high priest over the church, and having heard that he had the spirit of prophecy, therefore they went unto him and desired of him to know whither the Lord would that they should go into the wilderness in search of their brethren, who had been taken captive by the Lamanites.” (Alma 16:5)

  6. Well done. This is rich in startling and profound insight [such as “Having read from the book, Lehi exclaims, “Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty!” (1 Nephi 1:14). Lord God Almighty is the King James translation of the Hebrew phrase Yahweh El Shaddai, so in saying this Lehi may offer praise to Yahweh the Son, El the Father, and Shaddai, the Mother God, Shaddai, like Asherah possibly being a name for Mother in Heaven.], enlightening and mind expanding in all the best ways. Thank you for your ongoing explorations. Readers would be rewarded by seeking out your other works.

    I admire the effective use of both close literary reading in the tradition of Robert Alter, noting type and anti-types and patterns, and culural contextualization. This is not only a brilliant essay, but a striking example of how to go about writing brilliant essays.

    I also enjoyed the details showing the Deuteronomist thinking in the self justifications of Laman and Lemuel. I too find them far more interesting than flat villains or stereotypes in careful reading and contextualization. For instance, my own reading of Laman and Lemuel changed in light of many years of working with recovering addicts, and Patrick Carnes, drawing on both experience and Joseph Campbell, observing that heroes face their fears, whereas villains nurture their grievances. (For example, Carnes, The Recovery Zone, 113).

    Twenty years now after I wrote in Paradigms Regained, that I knew and hoped that more could be done with her fundamental paradigm, it is nice to see it happening here.

    • Thank you Kevin. And thank you for the work you did to bring Margaret Barker and her insights to us. Margaret, you, and Dan Peterson laid the foundations on which I built this article. Had that foundational work not been done, this paper could not have been written. You all opened a portal that led to new depths of understanding for me and many others. I have loved the Book of Mormon since I first read it for 9th grade seminary and felt its spiritual power. But as with the Lord, so with the Book of Mormon, we can love it with our mind as well as our heart, and your work opened my mind to additional depths of meaning in the Book of Mormon.

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