Sunday, February 21, 2016

Here a little and there a little

I used to wonder about why our prophets and apostles haven't written or translated more scripture of the canonized variety. We had a big burst of stuff with Jospeh Smith, but since then it's sort of trailed off. If our dispensation is the "fullness of times", doesn't that mean we get all the goodies?

Then one day I noticed something while reading Omni:

Heading, Omni Chapter 1

Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki, each in turn, keep the records—Mosiah discovers the people of Zarahemla, who came from Jerusalem in the days of Zedekiah—Mosiah is made king over them—The descendants of Mulek at Zarahemla had discovered Coriantumr, the last of the Jaredites—King Benjamin succeeds Mosiah—Men should offer their souls as an offering to Christ. About 323–130 B.C. [emphasis mine]


I've found a lot to love about the book of Omni (the subject of a future post), but for this topic I find the highlighted dates most compelling. And, in 4th Nephi:

Heading, 4 Nephi Chapter 1

The Nephites and the Lamanites are all converted unto the Lord—They have all things in common, work miracles, and prosper in the land—After two centuries, divisions, evils, false churches, and persecutions arise—After three hundred years, both the Nephites and the Lamanites are wicked—Ammaron hides up the sacred records. About A.D. 35–321. [emphasis mine]


These vast expanses of time, in total about 500 years, span the whole spectrum of "righteousness", from warring Nephites who had to be continually reminded to keep the commandments, to the post-advent Nephites and Lamanites who lived together in harmony for well over 200 years. In both instances, the amount of scripture generated (or edited, as in the case of 4 Nephi 1) for posterity amounts to approximately two pages.

I doubt that the people during either period were so wicked as to preclude the reception of stuff that was worth writing down. In the previous instance (Omni), we have some indications about the thoughts of the authors (more on that later), but 4 Nephi 1 has nary a word about why the scriptures are pretty much silent for 200 years.

Writing scripture is hard. I'd like to think I could fake it myself, and perhaps others can, but in the end it takes a fair amount of time and effort to even presume to know what the Lord is thinking. I've read various other attempts and, generally speaking, they lack a few of the hallmarks of people grappling with putting divine things into human language. My list of reasons why they fail includes:

1.) A sense of inaccuracy of language. I talked about "transmission" in my previous post, and this is often where most attempts fail. They either a.) are too sloppy (as if the Lord didn't care about language or attempting to clearly state His point), or b.) are too grounded in human thought, generally restricted by binary logical reasoning or other fingerprints of human thinking.

2.) Too much "purity". Similar to point b above, most attempts I've read are too set on communicating a particular point. The scriptures I feel are "true", on the other hand, have all sorts of human bits to them. This is why I love Omni, but I'll go into that in more detail later.

3.) A constricted sense of "god". Consider all the various aspects of the divine one can find in the scriptures: The divine gives commandments, reprimands people, destroys cities, talks about divine love and a single lost sheep, blesses children and heals the sick, struggles with the imperfections of people, often sticks to certain themes and images, and still has a sense of mystery (not the kind that is "unknown" but of something "higher" than humans or human abilities (mentally, physically, etc)).

And, so, I've instead become grateful for those who have actually had divine experiences and written about them. It doesn't happen very often, and when it does it seems to follow its own internal logic, generally the logic of the situation mixed with that of various larger concepts. I hesitate to use the word "logic" here because of what that implies, as I definitely don't mean it in the scientific sense. For whatever reason, for instance, Mormon (who transcribed 4 Nephi) felt that a page would suffice to describe the most peaceful time in the history of the people of the Book of Mormon. Maybe he was constrained by time and circumstances -- he may have been writing those things while embroiled in various losing wars with the Lamanites. His mood probably wasn't the greatest at the time either, so we may have a truncated record because reflecting on a glorious recent past was too painful for him in his present circumstances. Certainly his writing on the period contains a fair amount of "nots", as in a litany of bad things that the people were not doing:

4 Nephi 1:15-17

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.

17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.


So thanks, Mormon, for writing that. Considering the circumstance, I couldn't have done any better. Hopefully one day I can express my gratitude in person.

1 comment:

  1. My guess is that being able to write scripture is a gift -- and a commandment -- that isn't given to every prophet. And from what I've read, it's not a calling that every scripture-writing prophet is happy to have.