There are 16 thoughts on “The Deuteronomist Reforms and Lehi’s Family Dynamics: A Social Context for the Rebellions of Laman and Lemuel”.

  1. Here are a few other considerations that have occurred to me while working on another article. Deuteronomy 21:17 endorsed primogeniture, i.e., Laman’s right to leadership in the family, another motive for Laman to be a Deuteronomist. As noted above, Josiah had established Jerusalem as the only authorized location for ritual sacrifices. If Laman and Lemuel were pious Deuteronomists, they would have resisted being separated from Jerusalem, the only place where essential ordinances were authorized. Their resistance to Nephi most prominently flared up in moments when they were losing their opportunity to return to Jerusalem. Thus, Laman and Lemuel first became angry with Nephi immediately following the failed attempt to buy the brass plates from Laban. If Laman and Lemuel were Deuteronomists, that was a pivotal and deeply disappointing moment for them. In that moment, they lost their wealth and became outlaws who would probably thereafter have no hope of returning to Jerusalem and certainly, lacking wealth, no hope of returning as Jerusalem elites. Presumably, it was the loss they suffered in that moment of all connection to the sacred city and its—from their point of view—righteous elites and authorized rituals that motivated them to begin beating Nephi. Following the intervention of the angel (whom Deuteronomy advised Laman and Lemuel to ignore if he taught anything contrary to what Moses had handed down), Nephi cited Moses in trying to persuade Laman and Lemuel that they should continue their mission (1 Nephi 4:1-3). This appeal to Moses can be added to the one mentioned in the article that Lehi used as evidence that Laman and Lemuel, like other Deuternomists, thought of themselves as faithful followers of Moses. As the article mentioned, Laman and Lemuel next rebel when Lehi offers the sacrifice Deuteronomy forbade him to offer. The rebellion following that one again occurred during a departure from Jerusalem, the last departure, with Ishmael and his family, again, a time of deep distress for Laman and Lemuel if they were faithful Deuteronomists who revered Jerusalem. One might add that being part of a wealthy family, Laman and Lemuel might have hoped to join those dressed in fine clothing in the Jerusalem palace and temple, the two greatest and most spacious buildings in Jerusalem. While Lehi rejected the people in those buildings, Laman and Lemuel, who thought the Jerusalem elites were righteous disciples of Moses and Josiah, may well have aspired to join them. Their unwillingness to come to the sacred tree in Lehi’s dream, a tree framed as a symbol of the mother of the Son of God, is precisely what we would expect from followers of Josiah who had cut down all the Asherah groves. And their unwillingness to help build Nephi’s ship, that would produce a final, irrevocable, departure from the land of Israel where Jerusalem was located is consonant with the earlier rebellions that occurred as separation from Jerusalem was visited on them. Likewise consonant is the fact that it was Lamanites, the Deuteronomist Amulonites, and the King-man Amalekites (whose name contained the Hebrew word king, M-L-K and who had MuLeKite roots), who built a city named Jerusalem, apparently still resenting or regretting their separation from what Deuteronomy had taught them was the uniquely, exclusively holy city (Alma 21:1-2).

  2. Great article. It hadn’t occurred to me that Laman and Lemuel might be Deuteronomists. Your argument is persuasive. But you are too kind, I think, to Josiah. A strong case can be made—and I think I have made just made it in Square Two—that Josiah’s reforms were an apostasy. The Book of Mormon opens with a point by point rejection and refutation of Josiah’s theological revolution with its hostility to prophets, prophesy, and adding to the word, its rejection of divine corporeality, its rigid monotheism
    If the text is read closely, it is very apparent that Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob (and Zenos and Zenoch) all believed in the older faith that Josiah expunged and replaced. The Bible tells us that Josiah killed the prophets and priests of that older religion. Zenos and Zenoch were probably victims of his or Hezekiah’s purge. These two prophets certainly promulgated views that would have gotten them killed by those zealous royal monotheists.
    Lehi’s ministry begins with what Josiah rejected: a corporeal God on his throne and another God with God who descends followed by twelve others. Having seen this, Lehi soulfully praises the “Lord God Almighty” (in Hebrew, Yahweh El Shaddai). He thus mentions the divine Son, Father, and Mother and alludes to the patriarchal blessing of Joseph that is about to be fulfilled and that also celebrates Son, Father, and Mother.
    In Lehi’s subsequent dream, which seems to be set in his native Jerusalem, the great and spacious building is the temple, which is about to fall. (Lehi probably used the word Hekal, which means either great building or temple.) The chasm is probably the Kidron valley on the east side of the temple mount, which was watered by dangerous filthy flash floods and by a fountain of pure water, the Gihon spring. That places the iron rod and the Tree of Life on the Mount of Olives, where the Garden of Gethsemane will later be located. So those who grasp the iron rod and make their way to the Tree of Life partake of the delicious fruit, the atonement, in Gethsemane.
    As was true in the older religion Josiah rejected, Nephi learns that a Tree signifies the Mother of the Lord. The divine tree is everywhere in Lehi’s teaching, as it had been in the old religion. Unsurprisingly, the Mother tree is also repeatedly mentioned in the allegory of Zenos and there seems to signify the Goddess of the old religion.
    I can’t fully make the case here, but check out the article in Square Two. Hidden in Plain View: Mother in Heaven in Scripture.

  3. I wonder if this article makes too much of Lehi’s heritage from the northern kingdom. When did his ancestors leave that kingdom? We don’t know but we do know that during the reign of King Asa many from the north joined the southern kingdom (2 Chronicles 15:9). They left their previous kingdom precisely because they were rejecting the idolatry and wanted to live the religion Asa supported. That was over 300 years before Lehi left Jerusalem.
    Even if they left the northern kingdom when it was destroyed, that would indicate rejection of that kingdom’s apostasy.

  4. “It is important to realize that Lehi may not have been in complete agreement with Josiah’s reforms. Lehi’s heritage goes back to the northern Israelite Kingdom, to which these reforms showed a certain degree of hostility.”
    I just don’t see it, in light of current LDS manuals, past manuals, Sidney Sperry, FARMS articles and more. Far too much supposition here to say it “is important to realize.” Just sayin’.

    • Further: My jaded view of the subject resulted from reading of some of William G. Dever’s writings on the subject, both for the lay and professional audience. Dever, an atheist, repeats the theories of many before him that the true religion of Israel is manifest in the icons and idols found in the digs of ordinary households, rather than in the writings of the patriarchs and prophets. Dever’s particular brand (again, many precede him) is that the true religion of Israel is of the feminine goddess.
      Thus, the conclusion becomes, that Josiah’s reforms were contrary to “true religion” and that what we have left in the Hebrew Bible is an unrealistic,untrue and skewed view of a highly monothestic worship of Yahweh. Some of that can now be seen in LDS writings, and especially those who follow Barker.
      But that depends upon an a priori assumption that the essential monotheism of the Hebrew Bible can be called into question. If one were instead to assume that the patriarchs and major and minor prophets had things mostly right, then one would assume that their condemnation of competing Gods and Goddesses is “true religion” and that the icons and idols found in the hearth are not. I don’t think that an archaeologist 300 years from now, doing excavation in Cedar City, could rightly conclude that based upon the number households with Maxwell House Coffee tins, the Mormons had no real prescription against coffee.

      • The counterpart to that is 1) what, exactly, IS the proper protocol for dealing with divine beings not part of the Godhead? I have no idea, honestly. The Lord says that all of that will be explained in the millennium, but as of right now, it’s a closely guarded secret. Consider Enoch; who is certainly divine; even during his time on earth he experienced a brief moment of what it must like to be divine. If he showed up now, what do we do? Bow, reverence, what?
        During the Old Testament, it appears that the Divine Council; whomever that may consist of besides the Lord; took some active part on the Earth (indeed, they may still be active in some form). How do you deal with them? Honor, respect, certainly. If some start worshipping them… what does that mean? We are told that at the end of days Michael or Adam will be honored and blessed and all of us will reverence him. Does that mean we are attributing salvic power to him? Not at all.
        I suspect the Deuteronimic reforms started out well, but got in the wrong hands and went off the deep end. Kind of like the Protestant reformation when it decided that works were unequivocally bad. Sure, the Catholics desperately needed reform, but the correction went way overboard. The truth? Who knows.
        As far as the divine Goddess, we know that the LDS church does have a Mother in Heaven doctrine. And we have been carefully limited to right there–the bare existence of such a being. What Her duties, roles, powers, etc are we have been forbidden to know. If the ancient Israelites had more knowledge of Her than we do; and I suspect they did; then who are we to say what they got wrong and right? Was it wrong to worship Her then? I cannot say, and neither can you. If they were authorized to worship Her, then certainly it would have been ok, just as we worship the Holy Ghost in a minor fashion. Would it be wrong to worship Her now? Clearly yes, as that goes beyond any doctrine we have of Her. We can only do what we know and have been authorized to do.
        The evidence is that prior to the reforms of Josiah, Israel worshipped a female deity at some point along with the God of the Bible. Was that authorized or not, no idea. Was it at one point authorized and then it degenerated into pagan worship, thus needed to be eliminated just as the higher Priesthood was withheld? In my view, that is the likeliest thing. And maybe we will get revelation restoring the truth at some point, but my guess is that is a pearl we won’t see until after the Second Coming.

  5. Just last night in my own Book of Mormon study I read the following verse in 2 Nephi 4:
    “And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.”
    With this article fresh in my mind I wondered that part of Nephi’s testimony was that true temple worship involves living revelation? If we interpret Nephi’s visits to “exceedingly high mountains” as symbolic of being in the House of the Lord, “on holy ground” if you will, and actively feeling the Spirit, in other words, feeling a living Spirit of revelation, that true temple worship involved living revelation which is something, as pointed out in this article, the Deuteronomist reformers rejected. If so, that would be something Laman and Lemuel would reject and needed to accept in order to be involved with true worship of God.

  6. Terrific article! One question and one pushback:
    1) How, if at all, do you see Ishmael and his sons playing into this ideological divide?
    2) Laman and Lemuel’s revelries in 1 Nephi 18:9 don’t seem to be the actions of devout men at all, Deuteronomistic or otherwise. Does this moment in particular contradict your proposed context?

    • I seen this crisiticism/pushback on point 2 from a few people. While I think there is well-founded pushback towards Neal’s reliance on Barker/Christensen’s work(supposition on supposition), I don’t understand necessarily the criticism that Laman and Lemuel were not righteous, therefore, they could not be “deutoronomists” and have differing religious views as Lehi. I think we know people who have religious beliefs and will argue for those, but they don’t necessarily live righteously or by those principles they addition, they could espouse those views just to be in opposition to Nephi and Lehi. How many of us, have espoused an argument just to argue and disagree with someone we don’t like.
      Finally, thank you to Neal for writing this article and those who have commented on it.

      • I think a big issue is that Laman and Lemuel espouse that the people of Jerusalem were ‘righteous’, something which from Jeremiah and the DH does not appear to be the case by deuteronomistic standards (even outwardly, and Deuteronomy certainly doesn’t emphasise outward conformity at the cost of inward commitment – there’s a reason Christ quoted it for the 1st Great Commandment).
        I think you do make a good point that Laman & Lemuel’s views need not be in complete accord with their own lives, though I believe many of their stated objections do not seem based on pious motives. Of course, to some degree their views & actions are moving targets: they had moments of incipient fratricide mixed with moments of genuine repentance, up until the final breach.

      • When the html version was first up (I couldn’t comment on what the PDF version had) it most definitely had הזח (he-zayin-ḥet) – indeed I copy-pasted it at the time for a point on my own blog (about the general point, I might add – the misspelling seemed like a genuine oversight, because it was always transliterated correctly). It appears its been subsequently corrected, so no big problem.
        which I noticed when I copy-pasted that portion at the time. .

  7. I think there are severe problems with this thesis, although I think the biggest are in the uncritical use of the Barker/Christensen paradigm. That paradigm seems to be excessively speculative, mischaracterizes Josiah’s reforms (not least by conflating its supporters with the authorities under Josiah’s successors), and carries significant implications that go beyond the historical. As much as I appreciate Neal Rappleye is trying to distinguish between the ‘Deuteronomists’ and the scriptural works associated with them, I think the paradigm cannot help but affect how one views Deuteronomy and the DH considering the role biblical scholarship gives the hypothetical ‘Deuteronomists’ in the composition of these works and that their supposed views are reconstructed in essence solely from these books. I elaborate more on this elsewhere.

  8. Great article, Neal — and, yes, that makes the historical context for 1 Nephi an even better fit. It’s also the best explanation of Laman & Lemuel’s threatened patricide I’ve run across.
    As Deuteronomists, Laman & Lemuel would have not taken well either to Lehi’s long discourse on Joseph (2 Nephi 3) or to the thought of their Josephite (and non-Davidic) brother Nephi becoming some kind of king. Likewise, Nephi’s construction of a temple would have seemed the rankest heresy — the same way the (post-exilic) Deuteronomist Jews viewed the Samaritans building a temple on Mt. Gerizim a few centuries later. Indeed, one could imagine that the early wars between Nephi and his older brothers may have been over that very issue.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged. Individual authors are given the option to disallow commenting or end commenting after a certain period at their discretion.

Close this window

Top of Page

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This