Populations in the Book of Mormon

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Foreward: This topic has been addressed by others (e.g., [1-3]). I only looked up and started skimming through the other essays or articles on this topic after writing most of this post. I’m not trying to offer anything new. This is merely my own non-specific commentary (meaning I’m not replying to anyone specifically) on Book of Mormon populations.

In the Book of Mormon we read of three groups of people: Nephites, Mulekites, and Jaredites. The Jaredites left what is now called the Middle East somewhere around 2000 BC (there’s uncertainty around that timing — they realistically could have left as late as 1000 BC but 2000 BC is likely closer to the truth). They travelled an unknown direction to what we now call the Americas. Where they landed and lived is unknown but the best speculation is in the Mesoamerican area. Wherever they were in the Americas, they would have lived with others who peopled the Americas. 

Side note: The first people who lived in the Americas started arriving about 20 thousand years ago (this date is controversial). There was recent evidence suggesting people might have arrived here 130,000 thousand years ago but it’s been heavily criticized (e.g., [4,5]). Dating the arrival of ancient people into other locations is challenging. There is considerable uncertainty when “modern humans” were first living outside Africa. A 2018 paper in Science provided evidence modern humans were living outside Africa about 180,000 years ago, which is much earlier than previously believed [6]. This uncertainty about dates doesn’t mean what we know is widely wrong, it just means there is a lot we do not know about early human history. There’s a lot we don’t know about modern human history, for that matter.

Eventually the Jaredite people collapsed as a civilization due to political in-fighting, wars, and natural events. It’s possible they were also at least partially culturally integrated into surrounding civilizations, thus ending as a people. There is some speculation by members of The Church of Latter-day Saints that the Jaredites were or were at least affiliated with what we call the Olmec people, in part because the dates of the civilization match the timeline of the Jaredites (starting circa 1600 BC [again, there are many unknowns about when ancient civilizations started] and collapsing around 400 BC) as well as the scope of the Jaredites (they were “a great nation”, Ether 1:43). Who they were or where they lived is less important than the spiritual lessons offered by their brief history we have (that was interpreted with editorial commentary by men who lived at least 1000 years later).

Remnants of the Jaredite civilization were found by the other main group of individuals recorded in the Book of Mormon — the Mulekites. The Mulekites left Jerusalem around the time of its seige in 589 BC and its destruction around 587/586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II. At least portions of the Mulekites merged with the Nephites and Lamanites years after they reached the Americas.

All of this leads to the purpose of this post. Lehi lived circa 645 – 575 BC (we don’t know how old he was when he left Jerusalem and don’t know how old he was when he died). While we don’t know how large his group was when they reached the Americas, we can estimate it was likely in the range of 25-50 people (Lehi’s family plus Ishmael’s family). For our purposes we’ll assume 30 people. From that group we read this account: “And now, behold, two hundred years had passed away, and the people of Nephi had waxed strong in the land…. And they were scattered upon much of the face of the land, and the Lamanites also. And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites;… And it came to pass that they came many times against us, the Nephites, to battle…. And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land, and became exceedingly rich.” (Jarom 1:5-8). What little record we have about the early years of the Nephite people come from a record focused almost exclusively on prophesyings and revelations. (Words of Mormon 1:6) This makes estimating population sizes challenging.

Populations generally grow exponentially. This can account for rapid growth over generations. Limiting factors include food supply, land supply, water supply, disease, conflict, technological limitations, and natural disasters. As such, the carrying capacity of an area is generally larger than the current population in an area. This is because societal effects limit potential growth. The general upper limit of potential human population exponential growth is about 0.1 (that’s a gross 10% rate of change per year; [7]) That’s clearly not realistic with human populations but is an estimated upper limit. The reality of net population growth is discussed more below. Here’s an example of exponential growth before we get into data about growth rates.

An exponential growth formula looks like this: y = a(1 + r)x. With 30 people reaching the Americas, 200 years later with a 10% rate of change, there would be 5,697,158,294 Nephites and Lamanites. That’s obviously not feasible. In modern industrial times the population of the earth has had growth rates as high as 2-3% [8]. Rates that high during Nephite times with an ideal set of circumstances would be conceivable but unlikely. Our world currently has just over a 1% growth rate. This is largely because families are smaller than they were 60 years ago.

3% growth would be about 11,000 descendents of Lehi in 200 years, 2% growth would yield about 1600, and 1% would be about 220. In Jarom we read about the Nephites being “scattered upon much of the face of the land”. That doesn’t mean there were a lot of Nephites, it just means they had spread out. We don’t know how large an area is “much of the face of the land.” Assuming it means large geographic areas is reading more into the record than what it says. The Nephites continued to multiply (that’s exponential growth). There were, however, “exceedingly more [Lamanites] than…Nephites”. Let’s go over ancient population growth rates before cycling back to the Book of Mormon people.

Estimates put growth rates in ancient prehistoric Australia at 0.04% [9,10]. That rate would result in about 33 Nephites and Lamanites 200 years later. That’s not a likely number given the record in the Book of Mormon. In fact, while that is true as an average over thousands of years, growth accelerated starting about 5000 years ago, likely tied to climate changes [9]. In ancient prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, the growth rate has been estimated to be as high as 0.4% for short periods of time [11]. Again, the 0.04% rate is true over thousands of years. There will be considerable variation within shorter time epochs [11] and within localized regions and peoples. Applying large-scale population growth rates to an individual family (that becomes a small society) is invalid. I will, however, continue down this path as we work nearer the truth.

If we look at ancient Greece, we see rates around 0.25 to 0.45% during the centuries before Christ [12]. Similar rates around 0.4% are reported for ancient Palestine [13]. Using a 0.4% growth rate, we have 67 Nephites and Lamanites after 200 years. Even by the end of the Book of Mormon 1000 years later, there would only be about 1,600 Nephites and Lamanites. Again, that’s net population growth including loss to war, famine, political turmoil, and catastrophic events. That’s also applying population-level statistics to individual families and groups of people. It’s like assuming an individual’s (or family’s intelligence) based on the average. That person might have average intelligence but she might have superior or limited intelligence. Group level statistics do not tell us about individuals. This can be true for societies. In essence, the peak population can be drastically higher than predicted. All this being said, we see something supporting population level growth rates in the Book of Mormon — higher peak population but then after a societal collapse, essentially no Nephites. We could run the statistical model for the Nephites or the Jaredites and maybe get a result matching the 0.4% expected growth rate. However, some people dismiss the Book of Mormon as having unrealistic populations, in part because it doesn’t seem to match what they believe population growth rates should be. Therefore, they believe it’s not true. However, whatever we think about it, the Book of Mormon is true. Its veracity is independent from our beliefs about it; meaning, whether or not we have a witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon, it is true regardless. It is our responsibility to receive a witness of its truth. This is something I’ve received from God. Given this, there are three explanations for Book of Mormon population growth: 1) the descendants of Lehi had higher population growth rates than the expected 0.4%, 2) there were other unnamed people (but hinted at) the Lamanites and Nephites merged with, or 3) a combination of those points.

I already mentioned applying population-level growth rates to individuals, families, and even cultures can be misleading or invalid. Here’s why. Lehi and Sariah had at least 8 children who lived to adulthood (Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, Joseph, plus “sisters”). Add in potential others from Ishmael’s family who were not the daughters marrying Lehi’s sons, and we have the 30 people I used as an estimate. We know a number of Book of Mormon people over the years had multiple children (e.g., Mosiah). This is in part because they were descendents of Israel. They placed great value on children. Because of this, it’s highly likely this small group of people had a higher fertility rate than broader societies at the time. We see this within modern times. In the U.S. the average number of children per family with children is about 1.9 [14]. However, Utah, a state with a high percent of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was an outlier at 2.2 in the 2000 Census. If we look at Latter-day Saints, we see an average of 3.4 children per family [15]. That number is lower than it used to be. There were higher infant mortality rates in the past but it’s possible for families and societies to have high fertility rates for extended periods (“extended” being up to hundreds of years). What would the population of the U.S. be if its fertility and growth rates were as high as than among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Higher than it is now.

We don’t know how large the Nephite population was 200 years after Lehi left Jerusalem or really at any point in the Book of Mormon. We have some counts of groups (armies) but don’t know if those are exact numbers, estimates, or exaggerations. Nephite and Lamanite population likely wasn’t large after 200 years (e.g., 11,000 with a high 3% growth rate), at least according to a limited definition as direct descendents of Lehi and relative to populations today. Additionally, we know the terms Nephites and Lamanites were cultural, religious, and political terms (see 2 Nephi 5:9; Doctrine & Covenants 10:48) and thus often did not constitute genealogy (some discussion in [16]). Essentially anyone who wasn’t a Nephite was a Lamanite. People could become Nephites or Lamanites. Sometimes there was distinction (e.g., Anti-Nephi-Lehies) but it wasn’t always that clear. There are hints there were others (e.g., many more Lamanites than Nephites) but we also need to understand the purpose of the Book of Mormon.

It is a history of a people (with commentary about some other groups) but it’s primarily a sacred record that testifies of Jesus Christ. This is an unsatisfactory answer to many people but it’s the reality of the situation. This does not mean there is no utility of the Book of Mormon outside spiritual matters but we can’t get hung up on what we think should be in the Book of Mormon. We also shouldn’t get hung up on perceived discrepancies between what we know or think we know through current scientific methods and what we think we know about the Book of Mormon.

Again, the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to invite people to Christ. Discussions about population, such as this one, are not ultimately important (but can be interesting). What’s ultimately important are the covenants we make with our Heavenly Father, our faithfulness to those covenants, and the manifestations of the grace of Jesus Christ in our lives.

So how do we explain Book of Mormon populations? This is a challenge because we never know populations in the Book of Mormon. However, what is most likely is high growth rate plus mixing with existing groups in the Americas.

References

  1. Nephi’s Descendants? Historical Demography and the Book of Mormon
  2. Question: Are the large population counts described in the Book of Mormon during the final battle at the Hill Cumorah accurate?
  3. How Could So Many People Have Died at the Battle of Cumorah?
  4. Critics attack study that rewrote human arrival in Americas
  5. A New Study Says Humans Were in America 130,000 Years Ago
  6. Hershkovitz, I., Weber, G. W., Quam, R., Duval, M., Grün, R., Kinsley, L., … & Arsuaga, J. L. (2018). The earliest modern humans outside Africa. Science, 359(6374), 456-459.
  7. Stutz, A. J. (2014). Modeling the pre-industrial roots of modern super-exponential population growth. PloS one, 9(8).
  8. World Population Growth
  9. Johnson, C. N., & Brook, B. W. (2011). Reconstructing the dynamics of ancient human populations from radiocarbon dates: 10000 years of population growth in Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 278(1725), 3748-3754
  10. Zahid, H. J., Robinson, E., & Kelly, R. L. (2016). Agriculture, population growth, and statistical analysis of the radiocarbon record. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(4), 931-935.
  11. Bettinger, R. L. (2016). Prehistoric hunter–gatherer population growth rates rival those of agriculturalists. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(4), 812-814.
  12. Scheidel, W. (2003). The Greek Demographic Expansion: Models and Comparisons. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 123, 120-140. Retrieved March 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/3246263
  13. Pastor, Jack (2013). Land and Economy in Ancient Palestine. Routledge. p. 7
  14. Table ST-F1-2000. Average Number of Children Per Family and Per Family With Children, by State: 2000 Census
  15. Mormons more likely to marry, have more children than other U.S. religious groups
  16. Book of Mormon Peoples

Your Path Into the Light of Christ

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There is a lovely road that runs northeast from Mesa, Arizona into the mountains. These mountains are tree-covered and jagged, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs hundreds of miles into them, to a small mountain city called Payson; and from there you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Arizona. About you there are trees and rocks and you may hear the forlorn crying of the red-tailed hawk. Beneath your feet is the Mogollon Rim, a 200 mile wide cliff rising sharply from the desert valleys. It is upon this cliff you can look down from forests of pine onto the red and gray rocks that are softened by rich greens and browns. It is lovely beyond any telling of it. If you look off the rim before the dawn, you can look down at the darkened valleys. The sun first lights the mountain tops. The valleys are filled with darkness but the dawn’s light will come, just as it has for millions of years. The sun then reaches part of the valley, leaving part in darkness. The light will come there too, just as it has for millions of years. Eventually the light of the sun chases away all the darkness of night.1Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1

After rising out of the valley, you can contemplate the vastness of creation upon this wind-swept plateau. You can marvel at the beauty of the earth — mighty mountains, towering trees, and whispering wind. You can marvel at rising from dark desert valleys into the sunlit mountains. This elevation gain comes from traveling a twisting trail up away from dark valleys towards sunlit mountaintops. Without knowing the destination it is easy to doubt the journey. Why does this road turn here instead of going straight there? Wouldn’t it be faster and shorter to head straight up? What might seem fastest is not always safest. Engineers designed the road to provide safety while traveling. We too, can travel twisting roads in life. Prophets talk of strait and narrow roads. If we pay attention, most of the time the reference is to a strait — S – T – R – A – I – T — rather than straight — S – T – R – A – I – G – H – T — road. The first strait means narrow. The second straight means without turns. Our safest road through life to return to the Savior, who is the light of the world, might twist and turn; some of the turns might even appear to move us away from our destination.

This year [2020] we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s enlightening vision of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Pres. Nelson asked us to prepare for the upcoming General Conference by immersing ourselves in the light of the restored gospel of Christ. Pres. Nelson wrote: “The time to act is now. This is a hinge point in the history of the Church, and your part is vital.”2 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/my-2020-invitation-to-you-share-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-saviors-gospel?lang=eng We are in the midst of a hinge point — an adjusting turn — in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is neither a course-correction nor an unplanned deviation. This turn is part of an exalting, covenant path. This hinge point will provide safety as it elevates us from darkened valleys into God’s everlasting light. The Lord doesn’t want us to wait in dark valleys until His light eventually reaches us, He wants us to rise into His light. We are to act and not wait to be acted upon. We are to seek additional light and knowledge and not just wait for it.

It is no coincidence that we study the illuminating Book of Mormon as a church this year [2020]. Alma the Younger was one of the great Book of Mormon prophets. He was a rebellious son of the prophet Alma, who previously served a wicked king but was converted to the Lord. Alma the Younger also was converted under miraculous circumstances through faith in Jesus Christ. All conversion, all repentance and forgiveness, is a miracle even if the circumstances seem less noteworthy than Alma’s. Alma repented and became a great church and political leader. He later gave up the accolades of the world to serve full-time as missionary and prophet. One mission brought him to people who had established an apostate church. The members of this church denied the coming of Christ. They set themselves up as lights to the world rather than basking in the light of Christ. They coveted riches and cast out the poor.

It was among these poor and cast-off that Alma and his missionary companions found people who were willing to listen. “They began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel…therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.”3Alma 32:2-3

These humble people gathered to hear the words of a prophet. They said to Alma, “[the priests] have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?”4Alma 32:5 When Alma heard this, he turned to them to teach them in their humility. Alma said, “I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye. Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?—for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God. Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only? And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?”5Alma 32:8-11

There is a lesson here as we continue to learn what worship means as part of a home-centered church. Worshiping God is not just once a week, two hours on Sundays; it can occur in our homes throughout the week. We can worship God when we live as disciples of Christ, ministering as He did. We worship Heavenly Father when we pray and when we study the words of ancient and modern prophets. As we always remember the Savior, we can always have His Spirit to be with us.6Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77 With our lives and homes built on a Christ-centered foundation, we then come to church to be strengthened together as we partake of the sacrament, participate in lessons, and serve one another. We then minister to others as the Savior would — caring for them, helping them feel the Spirit and the love of Christ, and inviting them to receive ordinances.

As we minister to others, we nourish their faith and our faith. As faith is nourished, it will grow into a tree of everlasting life, as Alma taught.7See Alma 32:28-43 This tree, as Lehi saw, is found at the end of a strait and narrow road.81 Nephi 8:20-21 It is at the tree we partake of God’s loving grace and worship Him. It is at and by that radiant tree that we are filled with an eternal light. Lehi saw in his vision one tree of life. Alma taught that each person needs to plant and nourish a seed of faith that will grow into a tree of life: “If ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”9Alma 32:40-41 Lehi saw an iron rod representing the word of God. Alma compared the word to a seed of faith. As we hold to that rod, as we plant and nourish that seed, we gain access to a tree of life and can partake of the fruit. We each need to plant and nourish our own tree of life. We plant and nourish the seed but God gives us the tree and fruit. He blesses us with His Spirit and His love.

We can nourish this seed of faith as we regularly pray in our fields, in the wildernesses of our lives, in our homes, our church buildings, our closets, and our hearts. As we do so, we will be filled with the Holy Ghost. Having the Spirit of God in our hearts and homes is necessary for us to arise from the dark valleys of life and bask in the Savior’s light. Pres. Eyring encouraged us to “never delay an impression to pray.”10 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/02/the-first-vision-a-pattern-for-personal-revelation?lang=eng Prayer invites revelation. In prayer we can seek and receive a changed heart. A one-time change of heart is not enough. In prayer, as we plead daily for forgiveness of our sins, we will receive enduring change. King David was a man after the Lord’s heart but he made mistakes, sinned, and fell from the light of grace.11 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39 Salvation is not a single event; following the covenant path requires enduring faith, repentance, service, sacrifice, and prayer.

Another way to nourish the seed of faith and follow the strait and narrow road is regularly reading the scriptures. In 1 Nephi 1 we read of one of Lehi’s visions; he saw Jesus Christ and the twelve original apostles: “And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”12 1 Nephi 1:11-12 The first of these heavenly visitors gave Lehi a book to read. This book was filled with prophecy and revelation — it was scripture. When Lehi read the revelation-filled scriptures, something important happened — “he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” When Lehi read the scriptures he not only felt the Spirit but also was filled with the Spirit. That’s the difference between being thirsty and having a few drops of water fall on you and being thirsty and drinking your fill of refreshing water. Feeling water doesn’t satisfy thirst like drinking and being filled does. That is one reason why it is important to read the scriptures regularly – so we can be filled with the Spirit each time we read. The scriptures are filled with prophecy and revelation. As we feast upon them, we will be filled with the Spirit of God, receiving personal prophecy and revelation.

I’ve met people who refused to read the Book of Mormon. I can understand the hesitancy. People are busy and reading a long religious book isn’t a high priority for many people. There are many reasons why people refuse but I wonder if some were worried what would happen if they read it. If they read and felt or were filled with the Spirit, that would require change. When people read the scriptures, they invite the Spirit to fill their hearts. When people see the scriptures, hear the words of prophets, and understand, they will be converted and healed. This healing is simple. Because it is simple, many people, like the ancient children of Israel, refuse to look and be healed. We should read and invite our families to read the scriptures. As we read the scriptures individually and as families, we will see, hear, and understand the words and be filled with the Spirit. We should invite those to whom we minister to read the scriptures. As we love, serve, and share scripture with others, they will be filled with and lightened by the Spirit. They will be healed. The Spirit will fill their hearts and start the softening process of conversion.

It is with the great love of Christ that I urge you to use this hinge point in our church to experience greater individual and family conversion. If you are not filled with the Spirit of God, make the necessary changes. Start by reading scripture and praying. As we read and study the teachings of ancient and modern prophets, we will invite the Spirit into our lives and homes. As we pray, we will receive revelation. As we minister to others, we and they will nourish our seeds of faith. The Spirit will provide the guidance needed to help us stay on the strait and exalting road, even if it twists and turns. As we actively strive to follow the living prophet, we will rise into the light. We will see the light of the Son chase away the darkness of night in our lives. Jesus Christ lives and loves us! He is the light of the world.

Notes and References   [ + ]

1. Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1
2. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/my-2020-invitation-to-you-share-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-saviors-gospel?lang=eng
3. Alma 32:2-3
4. Alma 32:5
5. Alma 32:8-11
6. Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77
7. See Alma 32:28-43
8. 1 Nephi 8:20-21
9. Alma 32:40-41
10. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/02/the-first-vision-a-pattern-for-personal-revelation?lang=eng
11. 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39
12. 1 Nephi 1:11-12

The Tree of Life: The Love of God

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Nephi’s experience with the tree of life is interesting. He desired to see the things his father saw in vision. He pondered in his heart and was “caught away by the Spirit of the Lord…into an exceedingly high mountain, which [he] never had before seen, and upon which [he] never had before set…foot.” (1 Nephi 11:1)

Nephi was faithful, he desired, and he acted (pondered and prayed). Then he was taken to an elevated place. Mountains typically represent temples in the scriptures. In that place of holiness he conversed with the Spirit of the Lord.

Nephi wanted to see all that his father saw but the Spirit showed him the tree of life first (after asking a question about Nephi’s belief; asking about Nephi’s testimony) (1 Nephi 11:2-4,8). The Spirit told Nephi the schedule for his vision: after Nephi was to see the tree, he would also “behold a man descending out of heaven”. Nephi was charged with witnessing this man and then bearing record that he “is the Son of God” (1 Nephi 11:7).

Nephi was faithful, desirous, active (pondering), and in a temple. As a result he saw the tree of life and wanted to know the interpretation of its symbolism.

In response and without answering Nephi’s question, the Spirit showed Nephi another vision. In this vision he saw Mary and then Mary and the infant Christ (1 Nephi 11:13-20). After Nephi saw the Christ Child and Mary, the Spirit asked him if he knew the meaning of the tree. Nephi had received his own answer: “It is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” (1 Nephi 11:22) The Spirit confirmed that response, adding additional insight: “Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:23) Nephi, conversing with the Spirit of the Lord, was able to answer his own question about the meaning of the tree. The Spirit led him to the answer and provided additional information when needed but Nephi was able to receive his own answer.

It was only after seeing the tree and Jesus Christ that Nephi saw the rest of the symbols from Lehi’s vision. Before spending any time with those additional symbols, we need to understand what the love of God is. The love of God is manifest in Jesus Christ’s birth but there is more to it. It includes charity. What is charity? Charity is the chief virtue. It is the “pure love of Christ, [that] endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7:47) Charity is without end, it endures forever. Charity is not helping others, it is not treating others well; charity is the pure love that comes from God. Charity is a gift from God. It is a pure fruit from an everlasting tree of beauty and purity with preciousness above all else. Charity is the love of God for all His children but this cannot be what the tree of life symbolizes because not everyone partakes of the fruit of the tree.

So what is the symbolism of the love of God expressed by the tree of life? Elder Nelson taught: “The Book of Mormon…describes how one is born of God and how one gains the power to love as He does. It identifies three core principles that bring the power of God’s love into our lives.” (Source) These three core principles are: 1) exercising faith in Christ and entering into a covenant with Him to keep His commandments; 2) the power to become more like Him comes through receiving the ordinances of the gospel; and 3) needing to “follow His example: ‘What manner of men ought ye to be?’ [Jesus] asks rhetorically. His answer: ‘Verily I say unto you, even as I am’ (3 Nephi 27:27). Truly, He wants us to become more like Him.” (Source)

Elder Neil L. Andersen taught: “What does this tree with its most precious fruit symbolize? It represents ‘the love of God’ and proclaims our Heavenly Father’s marvelous plan of redemption. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ This precious fruit symbolizes the wondrous blessings of the Savior’s incomparable Atonement. Not only will we live again following our mortality, but through our faith in Jesus Christ, our repentance, and our keeping the commandments, we can be forgiven of our sins and one day stand clean and pure before our Father and His Son. Partaking of the fruit of the tree also symbolizes that we embrace the ordinances and covenants of the restored gospel—being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and entering the house of the Lord to be endowed with power from on high. Through the grace of Jesus Christ and by honoring our covenants, we receive the immeasurable promise of living with our righteous family throughout eternity.” (Source; emphasis added)

The tree of life represents the Savior and His Atonement. We unlock the power of the Atonement by making and keeping sacred covenants, receiving ordinances, and striving to be like the Savior. We do not partake of the fullness of God’s love without making certain qualifying steps.

Jesus taught this lesson:

“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15:9-14)

The Savior taught His disciples. He expressed His love for them and encouraged them to continue in His love. He then clarified the condition required to continue in His love: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love.” Those who do this will have a fullness of joy. The Spirit taught this to Nephi during his vision when he said the tree — the love of God — is “most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:23) The Savior then expressed His great love for His friends. Friends of the Savior are those who “do whatsoever [He] command[s]”. For these faithful friends, the Savior expressed great love by laying down His life.

Abiding in the love of God is thus conditional on obedience. God loves all His children but we have to do certain things to abide in His love. While conditional, this is not exclusionary. To understand this, let’s turn to Alma 13. There we read Alma’s teachings about the priesthood and high priests. While this chapter is focused on high priests and the Melchizedek priesthood, it applies to women and men and offers insight into how we abide in God’s love.

“And this is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such. And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.” (Alma 13:3-4; emphasis added)

Blessings from heaven, covenants, priesthood authority and responsibilities/callings (which are offered to women and men), ordinances, and fruits of the Spirit are offered to all. Those who exercise faith and choose good obtain the privileges. They are those who abide in the love of God and partake of the fruit of the tree of life.

Lord, How Is It Done?

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The Book of Mormon is a collection of writings and commentary by an ancient American prophet named Mormon, who lived around the year 400 AD. It tells histories and teachings of a few different groups of people who were independently guided from the Middle East to the Americas. The main group lived near Jerusalem during the time of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached against the sins of God’s covenant people. He taught it was not enough to be covenant people, salvation only comes through following the commandments of the Lord. Who we are is not as important as what we do and who we become.

The people in Jerusalem rejected Jeremiah’s teachings and continued to sin. Sinning against greater light brings greater condemnation. The Israelites in the time of Jeremiah rejected the Lord in the same way most people rejected the Lord and the teachings of Noah before the flood. Instead of receiving safety from an ark of covenant, the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day were swept away by a flood from the east. A flood came to Jerusalem and the house of Israel in the form of the Babylonians. Babylon was a major kingdom within ancient Mesopotamia. It was in what is currently Iraq. Many Israelites were taken captives of the Babylonians and carried away from their homes. Many never returned home to their promised land.

One family who lived near Jerusalem just a decade or so before the destruction of Jerusalem was the family of Lehi. Lehi had a remarkable vision where he saw God and was called as a prophet.

Lehi’s son Nephi wrote of the experience: “[Lehi] saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament. And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1:8-12)

Lehi saw God. He saw Jesus Christ and His first twelve apostles. Then Lehi read words out of the book of God. The Spirit of God filled Lehi when he read. As we read the words of God we too are filled with the Spirit.

Lehi also saw Jerusalem would be destroyed in not many years. After the vision, Lehi preached to the people, warning them of impending danger. He was faithful to his calling. Lehi prophesied of the future coming of the Messiah and of the necessity of repentance. Lehi did what prophets since the time of Adam have done – he testified of Jesus Christ. Many of these prophecies of the Messiah are lost or obscured in the Bible but the Book of Mormon teaches them with great clarity. Lehi pleaded with those around him to repent and be saved. Those in Jerusalem did not believe him; they laughed at him and some tried to kill him.

Nephi wrote of this: “And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world. And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” (1 Nephi 1:19-20).

Lehi testified of the coming of the Messiah – the Anointed One who would redeem Israel and the world. This Messiah would shortly deliver Lehi and his family from destruction through His tender mercies. Jesus Christ watches over us, offering His tender mercies to each of us. He delivers us from destruction as we exercise faith in Him and sometimes even when we don’t.

To save Lehi’s life and for other grand purposes, the Lord sent another vision to Lehi. In that vision the Lord told Lehi to leave his home and depart into the wilderness. Lehi and his family promptly left their home, land, gold, silver, and other precious possessions. The Lord asked them to sacrifice all they had — they did. The Lord offered to save them but in return they had to give up everything. In a faithful and difficult act of consecration, Lehi and his family left the comforts of home as refugees, fleeing for their lives. Thousands of years later, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would flee Illinois as refugees. They were led out into the wilderness, the high deserts of Utah. The Mormon pioneers, like Lehi, followed the Lord in faith.

At first Lehi and his family did not travel far (that was again mirrored by the initial Mormon pioneers, who wintered not too far from Illinois in what is now a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska — a place we call Winter Quarters). The reason Lehi did not travel far soon became apparent. The Lord asked his family to return to Jerusalem and obtain a copy of the scriptures. These scriptures also contained Lehi’s family history. Laban was the keeper of this copy of the scriptures. Lehi’s sons went to obtain the plates from Laban. They were eventually successful because the youngest son – Nephi – boldly declared his faith and trust in God: “I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (1 Nephi 3:7).

Getting the scriptures from Laban was not easy. Lehi’s sons had their gold and silver stolen by Laban when they tried to buy the scriptures from him. Laban sent servants to kill the boys but they escaped. It was then Nephi demonstrated his remarkable faith in God when he went back to try again. Would you have been persistent like Nephi and go back into the lion’s den, as it were? The third time was a success for Nephi because of his faith in God and faithfulness in doing the hard things asked of him.

The boys returned successful to their parents in the wilderness. They sacrificed much to obtain a copy of the scriptures and their family history. How much effort do we put in obtaining and reading the scriptures? Do we give our all like Nephi or do we casually read a verse or two when we remember? Do we similarly work hard to obtain our family history? We have a gospel responsibility to seek out our deceased ancestors and perform sacred ordinances for them in sacred places. How many of us are fulfilling this responsibility?

The Lord knew Lehi and his descendants needed both the scriptures and their family history. Those items and teachings provided a way to bind them together culturally, religiously, linguistically, and spiritually. The scriptures obtained from Laban would serve them in the way scriptures serve us today; they strengthen, provide counsel, provide insight into God’s plan for His children, and they teach us how to be better people. The scriptures teach of Jesus Christ.

After one more trip into Jerusalem to convince a family to join them in escape from impending destruction — this family conveniently had a number of unmarried daughters — Lehi and his tribe traveled south and then east across the Arabian peninsula, a trip that took them years. This band of refugees then set up camp in a beautiful oasis near the Indian Ocean. This was not their promised land. That would come after more hard work and faith.

The Lord commanded Nephi to build a ship, something he had never done before. Again he was faithful and fulfilled the commandments of God, building a remarkable ship not patterned after other ships of the day. THe Lord gave Nephi revelation about how to build it. We similarly can receive revelation concerning our jobs, our callings, and our responsibilities. The Lord can show us new ways to do new things, particularly when our efforts align with His eternal purpose. God’s purpose — God’s work — is to bring to pass the eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39). He provides the means necessary to accomplish His plan.

During this time on the beach while starting to build the ship Nephi taught his brothers of the power of God. He reminded them of Moses, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham. He chastised his brothers Laman and Lemuel for being slow to repent: “Ye are swift to do iniquity but slow to remember the Lord your God…. he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words.” (1 Nephi 17:45). Nephi also testified of his great faith in God: “If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them.” (1 Nephi 17:50). What great faith! Is our faith as strong as Nephi’s? If the Lord commanded us to do all things, could we do them? If our faith isn’t that strong, that gives us something to work towards. We can be perfect, eventually.

Lehi and his family prepared and then got on the ship to sail the thousands of miles to the promised land. Through faith in God they made it to the Americas where they built new homes. Nephi and those of his family who would go left his older brothers Laman and Lemuel. Once again Nephi fled as a refugee, this time to escape his oldest brothers who had murderous intent.

This was the start of the Nephite people. Nephi acted as ruler and prophet. He and his people built a temple. Nephi’s younger brother Jacob became a powerful teacher. Together they taught their people the Law of Moses and the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ. They taught of the necessity of baptism and repentance. They taught their people they must “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. And now…this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 31:20-21).

Nephi clearly taught salvation only comes through Jesus Christ. This is something prophets in our day also boldly declare. As we press forward in faith, diligently studying the scriptures and the words of living prophets, and endure in keeping the commandments to the end of our lives, we can be saved through the grace of Christ. I also add my witness that it is only through the Savior Jesus Christ we can be saved.

Nephi eventually became old and transferred the duty of keeper of the records and scriptures to his brother Jacob. Then Nephi died. Jacob became old and turned the record keeping to his son Enos. Then Jacob died.

Enos shared a powerful experience with prayer and repentance he had as he pondered the teachings of his father.

Enos wrote: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins. And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.” (Enos 1:2,4).

After his much praying and supplications Enos heard a voice say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” (Enos 1:5).

Enos was a man of faith. He testified he knew God could not lie so his guilt was swept away. Then Enos asked one of the most important questions in the scriptures: “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:7).

How were Enos’s sins forgiven? They were forgiven by his faith in Jesus Christ. They were forgiven through the Atonement of Christ.

When we repent, how are our sins forgiven? In same way they were for Enos — through faith in Jesus Christ and through His atonement. When we repent, do we trust God and believe our sins are forgiven? When we repent do we forgive ourselves? How does forgiveness happen this? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

A prophet who lived hundreds of years after Nephi, Jacob, and Enos testified of the power of Jesus Christ. Benjamin taught his people of the many miracles Jesus Christ would perform. For each one we might ask as did Enos: “Lord, how is it done?” Benjamin said:

“The time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. And he shall cast out devils, or the evil spirits which dwell in the hearts of the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:5-6).

Next King Benjamin taught how Jesus would accomplish the many miracles.

“And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary. And lo, he cometh unto his own, that salvation might come unto the children of men even through faith on his name; and even after all this they shall consider him a man, and say that he hath a devil, and shall scourge him, and shall crucify him. And he shall rise the third day from the dead; and behold, he standeth to judge the world; and behold, all these things are done that a righteous judgment might come upon the children of men.” (Mosiah 3:7-10).

How did Jesus cast out devils? How did He heal the sick, bless the weary, and raise the dead? How did He rise from the dead? He did all those things through His faith and through His divine power. He did them because He is the Son of God. He is divine. Although we are not holy as Christ is holy, we too can perform miracles through faith in Christ and through the Spirit of God.

Benjamin also taught another miracle that comes through Christ: “Even if it were possible that little children could sin they could not be saved; but I say unto you they are blessed; for behold, as in Adam, or by nature, they fall, even so the blood of Christ atoneth for their sins.” (Mosiah 3:16).

This verse contains important doctrines. We learn little children cannot sin but they too need salvation. We learn little children are saved through the atonement of Christ. Another important doctrine is tied to the salvation of little children. Jesus Christ’s Atonement overcomes the effects of Adam’s fall. It was because of this clarification in the Book of Mormon that Joseph Smith wrote: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” (AofF 1:2). How is it done? Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ; through the great mercy of God.

It is because of Christ’s wonderful Atonement we can overcome sin and death. It offers hope to the hurt and solace to the sorrowful.

Seven years ago my sister’s family experienced a shocking loss when their daughter Allison, my 11 year old niece, was hit and killed by a car as she rode her bike. At the time I wrote: “Yesterday as the lights [went] out here on the East Coast, in the West, a different light dimmed and then disappeared. In a moment worlds changed and hearts broke. Bicycle and automobile danced a tragic ballet, extinguishing the light of one so small. As this light faded from earth, leaving a hole in the hearts and darkness in the lives of loved ones, a brighter light grew and radiated with an unfiltered luminosity in an eternal world. The sorrows and tears of earthly separations were balanced by the tears of joy from reunions with other pure lights. [Her] death…brought a dearth of joy to all who mourn [her] passing but [Allison’s] life brought love and joy to those around [her].”

My sister, brother in law, and their family at the time had to start putting the pieces of their shattered lives back together. They started by spending time in prayer and in the temple.

The loss of a child under such circumstances is devastating. It is a hellish darkness of separation – poignant and painful; a pain one might expect would never end. But with the inexorable march of time comes a deadening of the pain. The storm passes, the numbness fades, but still gray skies remain. There is room for laughter and joy but at times the grief can be overwhelming. So would go life, the only solace in the numbness of time, without knowledge of God’s plan for His children. However, there is more solace available; it comes through faith in Christ’s Atonement and the knowledge and power of eternal families. These are like radiant rays of the sun bursting through the dark clouds and burning away the dreary mists of life.

Jesus is like a song in the night. He is a pillar of fire. He restores breaches in our hearts and families. He stabilizes the rudderless and calms the stormy seas. The Lord blesses us with His tender mercies – friends, family, and other loved ones who provide meals and support. There are the mercies of the promptings and love provided by the Comforter – the Holy Ghost. Most importantly, we are blessed to know that because of the sealing power of the Priesthood, Allison can be forever part of her family. All who lose family members to death have a promise of eternal reunion when families are sealed together in the temple. That knowledge is almost unbelievably comforting. At a time when we think we might be completely devastated, we feel some measure of peace even though peace seems so out of place.

Again, we ask with Enos, “Lord, how is it done?” How are these hurts and pains and great sorrows healed? How do we have hope after such loss? It is only in and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I testify of His eternal love. Through Him we can overcome sin and will overcome death. Through Jesus Christ we can return to our Eternal Father in Heaven as we consistently and persistently do what is right.

Cultivated Forests

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Charles C. Mann wrote an article called 1491 for The Atlantic in 2002. He followed that article with a book, titled 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. A summary of the book is as follows: “Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand. Challenging and surprising, this a transformative new look at a rich and fascinating world we only thought we knew.”

The book is a terrific read that I highly recommend. If you want a taste of it, first read the linked article in The Atlantic.

Now what does this have to do with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Not much directly. First, evidence continues to build of a highly populated North and South America with many sophisticated societies. The peoples actively managed the environment – regularly burning large areas of land, planting trees, and improving the soil. The view of Native American peoples living in small groups ‘harmonious’ with nature around them is outdated.

“In a widely cited article from 1989, William Balée, the Tulane anthropologist, cautiously estimated that about 12 percent of the nonflooded Amazon forest was of anthropogenic origin—directly or indirectly created by human beings. In some circles this is now seen as a conservative position. ‘I basically think it’s all human-created,’ Clement told me in Brazil. He argues that Indians changed the assortment and density of species throughout the region. So does Clark Erickson, the University of Pennsylvania archaeologist, who told me in Bolivia that the lowland tropical forests of South America are among the finest works of art on the planet. ‘Some of my colleagues would say that’s pretty radical,’ he said, smiling mischievously. According to Peter Stahl, an anthropologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, ‘lots’ of botanists believe that ‘what the eco-imagery would like to picture as a pristine, untouched Urwelt [primeval world] in fact has been managed by people for millennia.’ The phrase ‘built environment,’ Erickson says, ‘applies to most, if not all, Neotropical landscapes.'” (Mann, 1491, The Atlantic).

How does this fit with the Book of Mormon?

5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.

7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east [possibly within a small region of modern day southern Mexico/northern Guatemala].

9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.

11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. (Helaman 3:5-11)

So we have American inhabitants destroying large swaths of forest, cultivating new forests, building cities, and so forth. Now back to the article by Charles Mann:

Indians often worked on such a grand scale that the scope of their ambition can be hard to grasp. They created small plots, as Europeans did (about 1.5 million acres of terraces still exist in the Peruvian Andes), but they also reshaped entire landscapes to suit their purposes. A principal tool was fire, used to keep down underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game. Rather than domesticating animals for meat, Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison. (Mann, 1491; emphasis added).

None of this proves the ancient historicity of the Book of Mormon, nor should belief in the Book of Mormon be tied to science. The truth of the Book of Mormon is independent from outside scientific evidence; truth is established by God and manifest by the Holy Ghost. That being said, articles and books like these written by Charles Mann are interesting.

Five Chapters Per Day

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Just over a month ago I thought that I needed to start reading more of the Book of Mormon each day. Reading quickly (or in my case, listening and reading) isn’t studying the scriptures but I believe there is a benefit to such immersion. Going through quickly can lead to insights about major themes and characters that are not as obvious when going through as a slower pace.

As a full-time missionary I read the Book of Mormon 11.5 times (because of transfers timings I served for 23 months). I also read the other books of scripture and a number of gospel-related books and articles. Depending on what mission a missionary is in (i.e., learning a new language or what a particular expected schedule is), there is a minimum of one hour to study and read. I typically averaged 2-3 hours per day. This is shared only as an example of how much time full-time missionaries have to read and study the scriptures. Currently, I don’t have as much time available to read and study but I knew I could spend more time than I was spending.

So over a month ago I decided to get through five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day. Why five? It was arbitrary. It worked out, however, to be a good number of chapters to listen to during my commutes to work each weekday. I can get through five chapters listening at 1.5 speed within the span on my commute (sometimes including time while walking from the parking lot to my office). When there are shorter chapters (such as the first chapters of Moroni) I listen to or read more but I always try to get through at least five chapters (there were a couple days when I read fewer than five chapters but I made sure I caught up to the 15 chapters by the end of the third day).

How long does it take to read or listen to five chapters in the scriptures per day? Since I typically listen to the chapters at 1.5 speed, I usually get through five chapters in 20-35 minutes. At a slower pace five chapters would take 30-53 minutes of time per day (these are rough estimates based on my  recent experience with the Book of Mormon).

The Book of Mormon has 239 chapters. At five chapters per day, it take 48 days to finish the book (47.8 days to be precise). At this rate, one can go through the Book of Mormon seven times completely and be 63% through it for the 8th time.

What if someone wanted to read through all the LDS Standard Works? Based on the current English versions of the texts that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use, there are 929 chapters in the Old Testament, 260 chapters in the New Testament, 239 chapters in the Book of Mormon, 140 ‘chapters’ in the Doctrine and Covenants (including the two official declarations), and 19 chapters in the Pearl of Great Price. This is a total of 1587 chapters. At 5 chapters per day, one will finish the entire standard works in 318 (317.4) days.

Additionally, there have been an average of 36.75 talks given per General Conference over the past four General Conferences. We’ll round that up to 74 Conference talks per year (this includes the General Women’s Session and the General Priesthood Session). Reading or listening to two General Conference talks per day would allow someone to finish the standard works and all conference talks in just under one year.

The problem with reading and listening at this rate is that it does not count as in-depth study so other time could be spent reading topically or more slowly. I’ll certainly modify my reading pattern over time but five chapters of the Book of Mormon per day has been a wonderful experience.

Nurturing the Seed of Faith and Testimony

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To testify is to declare a belief about, of, or in something. Testifying is the declaration of a fact or a truth – stating something that you know is true. The word testimony is a noun, which means that testimonies can be acted upon; someone possesses a testimony and can share it. The word testimony comes from the Latin word meaning witness. It is also related to the Latin words for three and stand, implying that a witness stands as another – particularly a third – witness.We are taught in the Old Testament, New Testament, and Doctrine & Covenants that the Lord’s pattern is for multiple witnesses to establish truth. Incidentally, testament is the same word as testimony; a testament is also a covenant. So we have an Old Covenant, a New Covenant, and a latter-day Doctrine and Covenants with, of course, the Book of Mormon standing as a special testament of Jesus Christ (and a special covenant between God and the remnants of the people of Lehi). All books of scripture serve to co-establish the truths contained within each other book; this includes God’s word, which shall be established by multiple witnesses (two or three; see Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; D&C 6:28). We have multiple witnesses at church. Bro. [Smith] and I are visiting by assignment from the stake presidency to teach truths; the Holy Ghost also bears witness of the truths we share and the testimonies we bear. We are establishing truth through three witnesses. Even members of the Godhead, though united in testimony, purpose, and glory, serve as multiple witnesses. When Jesus Christ was baptized, His Father bore witness to John the Baptist saying, “This is my beloved Son.” The Holy Ghost also descended like a dove as a sign to John of the divinity of Jesus Christ. God’s pattern for testifying of His truths is well-established.

When Alma and Amulek preached in the land of Ammonihah, the people were amazed that two missionaries bore testimony: “And now, when Amulek had spoken these words the people began to be astonished, seeing there was more than one witness who testified of the things whereof they were accused, and also of the things which were to come, according to the spirit of prophecy which was in them” (Alma 10:12). This is one reason our missionaries go out two by two – there are multiple people to bear witness, to share their testimony of the truths of the gospel.

We gain knowledge about testimonies and how we gain one by listening to the Lord’s apostles. In the October 2001 General Conference Elder Richard G. Scott gave this powerful teaching about testimony: “A strong testimony is the sustaining power of a successful life. It is centered in an understanding of the divine attributes of God our Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. It is secured by a willing reliance upon Them. A powerful testimony is grounded in the personal assurance that the Holy Ghost can guide and inspire our daily acts for good. A testimony is fortified by spiritual impressions that confirm the validity of a teaching, of a righteous act, or of a warning of pending danger. Often such guidance is accompanied by powerful emotions that make it difficult to speak and bring tears to the eyes. But a testimony is not emotion. It is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions” (Ensign, Nov. 2001, Scott; emphasis added).

Let me repeat: “[A testimony] is the very essence of character woven from threads born of countless correct decisions.” A testimony is based on the goodness of our lives, of our characters, and our actions. Our testimonies are strengthened as we live in accordance to the principles and ordinances of the gospel. That is the only way to gain a testimony! Live the gospel principles that you want to gain a testimony of. If you want to have a testimony of tithing, pay it! If you want to have a testimony of Jesus Christ, follow Him! If you want to have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, read it and pray about it! We are taught in Alma 32 to “experiment upon the word.” As we test what God has told us, we can know of its truth.

“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27; emphasis added).

With these words, the prophet Alma taught the poor and outcast how they could develop faith. These humble people were struggling with their faith so Alma taught them how to increase it. My words are particularly directed at those who do not have a testimony or those who feel like they have a weak testimony. I pray that all may benefit.

The word experiment is only found in the scriptures five times. One of those is in the New Testament (see 2 Cor. 9:13). The other four uses of the word experiment are all found when Alma and Amulek taught the Zoramites. Alma developed an analogy of faith as a seed, encouraging those who listened to plant the seed of faith in their hearts then nurture it and watching it grow.

My wife Kristi and I recently taught this principle to our children. We talked about the seed of faith and how by nurturing it, it will grow. Then we planted actual seeds and, as we cared for them, watched them sprout and grow tall. We are still nurturing the plants as we wait for them to bear fruit. We build faith and testimonies the same way – it takes work and time. Alma taught the humble Zoramites to experiment upon the word of God, almost like performing a science experiment. I am a brain scientist by profession and so I spend much of my time doing science.

A foundation of modern science is to seek to discover facts that we hope lead to truth. Scientists study facts, which may or may not be true, by studying what can be observed or indirectly measured. I’m interested in understanding what will happen to the brain as someone gets older or what happens to a person’s brain after a major surgery. My goal as a scientist is to discover things through observation or experimentation that I hope are true and that will help people. While it is not possible to look at a person’s brain directly, I can give tests that measure how well it works. I can also use a machine to take pictures or movies of it.

In some ways, Alma’s faith experiment is similar to a science experiment. For one, Alma tells the people to look for evidence of the growth of faith – sometimes this evidence is not what we expect or is not immediately clear, “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me. Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge. But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow” (Alma 32:28-30).

Alma told people to not cast the seed of faith out and not resist the Spirit of the Lord; if they accepted the seed, they would feel and understand the seed. They would be enlightened and filled. The seed, with nourishment, would grow into a tree producing fruit of light and purity, fruit which never spoils and is without end. In a scientific experiment, the scientist usually makes a prediction and then tries to show that it is wrong. That’s how many doctors diagnose illnesses – they believe the symptoms might be one thing but they have to rule out other causes. A faith experiment is not quite like this.

In a faith experiment we plant a seed, nourish it, and care for it; we don’t try to kill the seed of faith and then, if it survives, call it a good seed – that’s science. We don’t try to explain away feelings and faith as wishful thinking. We do all we can to try to show that the seed is good – because it is. There are many witnesses of the truth of God. The key is to believe and come to a knowledge for ourselves. We do not need to prove that God exists or that the gospel is true – He does and it is; the gospel is not on trial, we are! We should not fight faith, we nurture it. Neither should we sow the seed of doubt in our own minds or those of others.

Elder Holland said, “In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited…. When…moments [of trial and doubt] come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. It was of [the] very incident, [the] miracle [of healing the mind of a boy], that Jesus said, ‘If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’ The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.” (April 2013 General Conference)

Or, as Pres. Uchtdorf said, “Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.” (October 2013 General Conference).

To those of you who are struggling in your testimonies – embrace what you have and help it grow by living the doctrines in the scriptures and taught by God’s living prophets.

I want to talk more about faith. The word faith is often used as a synonym for trust or belief. We’ll say “You just have to have faith.” That use is the main definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines faith as “Belief, trust, or confidence.” That understanding of faith, as helpful as it is, falls short of the real power of faith. The apostle Paul wrote of faith: “Now faith is the substance [or assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [or proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

There are things that we cannot see but that do exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed by us now – the scriptures and prophets teach us this. There are things that are real that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21)

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” It’s not a gift we give to God – the gift we give God is integrity to the faith we have received. We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him. We believe, hope, and trust our Eternal Father. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. That means faith is given to us as proof that our beliefs in God are good and true. Belief and good works lead to faith. Referring back to Alma’s analogy of the seed – we have desires to believe and then we plant the seed of faith. We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed must be planted and then not cast out by unbelief. To help the seed to grow we have to believe and trust and follow the Lord’s commands. As we do this, we are blessed with further evidence – with more faith – as we see the seed grow, sprout, and produce good fruit.

It is important to recognize that faith is the evidence or proof of God’s love that we desire; it is a great and wonderful power. Many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith. But faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe, trust, hope, and experiment upon the word but overlook our growing faith as evidence of God’s love because we’re so busy looking for something bigger – an angel or a clear sign from heaven? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the answer to our prayers and the reward of our righteousness. Faith is a glorious gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.

I want to share an experience when my testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith was strengthened and my faith grew. I’ll quote from my missionary journal: “Tonight we taught Sarah [name changed] the 1st discussion at the stake center. She bought us pizza! What an amazing discussion! Elders VanBebber, Malie, and I taught it. Sarah is amazing. Today Elder Malie and I reviewed the 1st [discussion] for companionship study and how we can apply it to Sarah. While doing that I decided to use the Joseph Smith pamphlet and read the Joseph Smith history in the discussion, something we do not always do. [Sarah] used to go to [the LDS] church [with friends] when she was 8 or so. She even wanted to be baptized but [when she] told [her mom, Sarah was not allowed to] go to that family’s house any more. What a change [Sarah’s mom] has gone through [we taught and baptized her mom previous to this experience]! I got to teach the Joseph Smith principle. While I paused after the First Vision story, the Spirit hit me hard and I started to cry. That is the first time that has happened to me – getting emotional like that in a discussion. As I testified of Joseph Smith I thought, ‘Now I can really…say that I know Joseph Smith is a prophet.’ I have always [believed] but now [my knowledge is sure]! This feeling I received, I shall never forget nor deny.”

I have not forgotten that feeling more than a decade later. That was one of the singularly important moments in my life. I have always believed Joseph Smith was a prophet. That’s not something I have ever doubted. My testimony of his calling as a prophet was based on years of going to church, reading the scriptures, praying, and learning about him. I saw and partook of the fruits the Lord restored through him to the earth. However, before that time I had not had a powerful experience like the one I had that evening as a missionary. That does not mean I did not have a testimony before – I did – but it was strengthened by that experience. How did I gain this witness? What I did not write at the time was how I had been reading my scriptures and praying with a sincere earnestness that I would receive a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the gospel. The Spirit I received while teaching Sarah did not come out of the blue, although that can happen; testimonies are most often gained through mighty prayer and righteous living. Sometimes – or most times – we must wrestle in prayer as we seek a witness of the truths of the gospel. A strong testimony can take years of effort or it might come quickly but for those who seek it, it will come. Even if it takes a long time, God blesses us richly along the path to testimony.

For any who want to receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel, Elder Scott, one of the Lord’s apostles, offers His counsel: “Try reading the Book of Mormon because you want to, not because you have to. Discover for yourself that it is true. As you read each page ask, ‘Could any man have written this book or did it come as Joseph Smith testified?’ Apply the teachings you learn. They will fortify you against the evil of Satan. Follow Moroni’s counsel. Sincerely ask God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, with real intent, if the teachings of the Book of Mormon are true (see Moro. 10:3–5). Ask with a desire to receive a confirmation personally, nothing doubting. There has to be an explanation of that book you can hold in your hand. I know that you can receive a spiritual confirmation that it is true. You will then know that Jesus Christ lives, that Joseph Smith was and is a prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church. You will confirm that the Savior guides His Church through a living prophet. These truths will become a foundation for your productive life.” (Elder Scott, Ensign, November 2003).

Most importantly, a testimony helps you draw near to Jesus Christ and partake more fully of His grace.

One final example of how to gain or strengthen a testimony is in the Book of Mormon. We read in Alma 17 of an encounter between Alma the younger and his friends, the sons of King Mosiah. They had not seen each other for years. “Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.” (Alma 17:2-3). The sons of Mosiah demonstrated the foundation for developing great faith and a strong testimony – search the scriptures diligently to learn the word of God and spend much time in prayer and fasting. By doing those things, our testimonies will grow. But as Brigham Young said, “More testimonies are gained on the feet than on the knees.” It’s important to live what we read and pray.

I add my testimony to that of the prophets that all can receive a witness of the truthfulness of the gospel. We can all know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is God’s word. We can know that Jesus is Divine, the Only Begotten Son of God, our Savior and Redeemer. We can know that God has a plan for each of us and that plan is to return to live with Him again and to someday see Him as He really is. I have not had an angel appear to me like the sons of Mosiah and Alma the younger but I have had something better; I have had the Holy Ghost – a member of the Godhead – witness unto me the truth of the Scriptures and the truth of the restored gospel. This is a miraculous witness that is no less miraculous than the visible ministering of angels.

Must-read: Joseph the Seer

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published an article (will appear in the October 2015 Ensign) on Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the role of seers and seer stones: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng

I believe that this article is a must-read for members of the church or for those interested in Mormon history. I’m grateful for the continued work the church does into releasing copies of primary historical sources, doing so according to high historical standards for preservation and research. While none of the information in the above article is new, having current scholarship presented in a straightforward and concise manner is helpful.

Also of note in the article is a photograph of one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones (not the ones included with the gold plates), which the church has in its possession. It’s a rock and has no power beyond the power and inspiration given to the seer using it.

Watching the Dogs of King Lamoni

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A couple years ago the ever insightful Jeff Lindsay wondered whether or not Ammon offered to watch over the flocks of King Lamoni’s turkeys. Many church members read the story and assume sheep or goats but there really isn’t evidence of domesticated sheep and goats in the Americas during Book of Mormon times (about 600 BC to 400 AD not counting the Jaredites). Granted, the Book of Mormon is about relatively small groups of individuals in a limited geographic location, so it is possible that groups of Book of Mormon peoples used animals that were domesticated or semi-domesticated but that were not widely used elsewhere.

[Side note: The first people arrived in Mesoamerica at least as early as 8000 B.C. (Warinner, Garcia, & Tuross, (2013)) with domestication of plants and animals occurring shortly after. Thus, the Book of Mormon people came into a land with a settled, albeit sparse, population. There were maybe 10 million people in all of the Americas at that time so population density wasn’t high. The Book of Mormon civilizations would have had some interactions with other peoples but such interactions would have been limited until the Nephite and Mulekite populations grew substantially. Therefore, domestication of crops and animals could have occurred somewhat independently from other groups.]

Now to Ammon and the flocks of the king: “And after he had been in the service of the king three days, as he was with the Lamanitish servants going forth with their flocks to the place of water, which was called the water of Sebus, and all the Lamanites drive their flocks hither, that they may have water—Therefore, as Ammon and the servants of the king were driving forth their flocks to this place of water, behold, a certain number of the Lamanites, who had been with their flocks to water, stood and scattered the flocks of Ammon and the servants of the king, and they scattered them insomuch that they fled many ways.” (Alma 17:26-27).

We read “flock” and assume sheep or something similar but that’s most likely a faulty assumption. If you accept Jeff Lindsay’s hypothesis about turkeys the word “flock” works as reference for a group of turkeys. However, are there other possibilities? Before I address that, we need to briefly cover language in the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon was written in “reformed Egyptian” (meaning that Mormon and Moroni wrote it in some derivative of an Egyptian language that had likely changed considerably over the 1000 year history of the Book of Mormon) but possibly using phrasing and grammar derived from Hebrew/Aramaic. Mormon’s source material for the Book of Mormon was possibly written in multiple languages; thus, when Mormon compiled and edited all the records (scriptures and histories) into one volume he was possibly doing some translating as well. Then Joseph Smith translated it (“translated” meaning direct revelation from God of the translation of the written words rather than translation like we typically think of) to simple 19th century English using early 17th century formal English (King James era) stylings and phrasing. What this means is that there are instances of imprecise words and awkward grammar. It also means that words used in English (and subsequent translations into other languages) are sometimes approximations for what was really meant.

To quote at length from Jeff Lindsay’s writings on this topic:

We must not be rash in assuming that all translated names of plants and animals or other physical objects describe the same things we think of today in 20th century America. Names in many languages are ambiguous and difficult to translate with certainty. For example, the Hebrew word for horse, “sus,” has a root meaning of “to leap” and can refer to other animals as well – including the swallow. Hebrew “teo” typically means “wild ox” but has also been applied to a type of gazelle. The general Hebrew word for ox is “aluph,” which has a root meaning of “tame” or “gentle” that could be applied to describe a human friend as well (J. L. Sorenson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, p. 345) – could it also describe a tapir? One Hebrew word for sheep, “zemer,” has been translated as “mountain sheep” and “rock-goat” in different Bible versions, while Sorenson notes that one Jewish scholar says it means antelope.

The difficulties of assigning and translating animal names are illustrated by the example of the Spaniards in dealing with American animals. Bishop Landa called a Yucatan deer a “kind of little wild goat” (Sorenson, Ensign, Oct. 1984, p. 19). Likewise, bisons were called “cows,” turkeys were called “peacocks,” antelope were described in terms of sheep, and the tapir was described in one source as “a species of buffalo of the size and somewhat looking like an ass” (Sorenson, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1994, p. 346; also see the extensive documentation in Chapter 7 of An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon). The Spaniards called the prickly pear a “fig” and used “plum” (ciruelo) to name a native non-plum species, while some Spaniards used “wheat” (trigo) to name American maize (ibid., p. 338-339). The Nephites and Jaredites might have made similar name assignments to species they encountered in the New World. We should not expect the religious record they kept to be a manual on natural science, and we should not insist that their terminology reflect our modern views – especially if the Europeans could do no better. If Nephites called a tapir an ox, we should not abandon the Book of Mormon when Joseph Smith follows their convention in his translation. And if they called it by a completely new name, how should it be translated?

Please recall that the translation process behind the Book of Mormon was not pure magic in which the thoughts of the original writer were expressed in sublime, flawless English with no effort on the part of the translator. Had that been the case, we could have bypassed all the hassle with preparing, preserving, and translating the engraved golden plates. But God requires humans to do all within their power for His work, and only then makes up the difference when necessary, typically applying miraculous aid rather conservatively. Indeed, considerable effort was required of Joseph Smith and the translation was a genuine translation of what had been written rather than what someone had thought. Joseph had been given a divine tool and gift to allow him to translate, but the human factor was not eliminated. If Mormon wrote a word for “swine” to describe something that we might call a peccary or tapir today, then I believe the translation would give us the word “swine”, especially if Joseph had no word in his vocabulary for peccary or tapir. The results were expressed in the language and vernacular of the translator, based on whatever the original author had written – blemishes and all. Now if it were essential for our salvation that we read about peccaries rather than swine, I suppose that God would have instructed Joseph in the matter and corrected the translation appropriately. But we are dealing with a translation, not direct English quotes from God.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic, please visit the aforementioned essay about plants and animals in the Book of Mormon by Jeff Lindsay.

Now back to the flocks of Lamoni. It is likely that early people who migrated from Asia to the Americas brought dogs with them (van Asch et al., 2013). While I admit turkeys or some other animal are possibilities, given the evidence of dogs raised for meat consumption in Mesoamerica (assuming that’s roughly the area in which the Book of Mormon took place) in the period spanning from at least 1000 BC to at least 250 AD (Clutton-Brock, & Hammond (1994); White et al. (2001); van Asch et al. (2013)) it is also a possibility that dogs were the “flocks” that Ammon protected. We can’t get hung up on “flocks” being used to describe the group of animals (rather than “packs”) given what I wrote previously about translation and word choices. “Pack” is never used in the scriptures. “Flock” or “flocks” are used many times. The Book of Mormon wasn’t really the place (assuming Mormon would have used different words for different groups of animals) to differentiate between flocks, gaggles, packs, prides, murders, herds, and so forth.

In Enos we read: “And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.” (Enos 1:21). “Flocks” in this instance referred broadly to different groups of animals raised primarily for food or food-related activities. “Cattle” (refer to Jeff Lindsay’s essay) is a broad term just like flock. “Goats” is more specific but still could refer to a number of animals and is probably not what we think of as a goat. “Wild goats” clearly are something other than “goats” but were also kept for some purpose; they also are probably not what we think of when we read “wild goats“. “Horses” has been thoroughly addressed by Jeff Lindsay.

What about other possibilities? It is a possibility but a remote one that Lehi and his family brought sheep and goats with them when they crossed the ocean and then continued to raise them for a period of time. If they did this it’s certainly possible that the flocks did not survive for the entire span of the Book of Mormon. Any animals brought over could have had difficulty adjusting to the climate. They also could have had too much genetic homogeneity and then died out or been wiped out by disease. This is a lot of suppositions but there’s just so much that we don’t know. Just because there is no evidence of domesticated goats (again, is a Book of Mormon goat really a goat?) in Mesoamerica doesn’t mean that animals that were at one point domesticated or at least tamed enough to use for periods of time were domesticated widely. Llamas and alpacas were domesticated in the Andes but didn’t make it to Mesoamerica. A group like the Nephites could have had domesticated animals that other groups didn’t use or end up using for extended periods of time. Remember, this is a group of individuals who migrated directly from the middle east to the Americas (well, via a long journey across the Arabian peninsula). They would have brought skills with them that those in the Americas might not have had. This includes domestication of certain animals. They might have tried to domesticate local animals with success or marginal success (e.g., Egyptian pharaohs trying to domesticate cheetahs; they weren’t domesticated but many were tamed) but then had those advances die out over time due to disease, loss of competence, or difficulty in maintaining the domestication over time. There are instances when groups of people reverted to not using certain domesticated plants or animals (refer to Diamond, J. M. (1998)). It’s thus certainly possible that these flocks were groups of tamed animals. This means Lamoni’s flocks could have been a range of animals. It also means that the flocks weren’t necessarily just one type of animal. Maybe dogs and turkeys, although that’s a bit like the old river crossing puzzle.

I like the idea of Ammon watching over flocks of dogs (dogs tend to be social creatures and would “flock”) in part because it is known that Mesoamericans successfully raised dogs for consumption (although it’s not specified that these flocks were for consumption). Dogs and turkeys are both possibilities for the flocks of Lamoni.

In closing, we know dogs were referenced in the Book of Mormon and not just completely in the abstract (e.g., 3 Ne. 7:8). One scripture might just represent a bit of poetic justice: “And behold, instead of gathering you, except ye will repent, behold, he shall scatter you forth that ye shall become meat for dogs and wild beasts” (Helaman 7:19). The wicked who might have consumed dogs for meat would in turn be consumed as meat by dogs.

References

Clutton-Brock, J., & Hammond, N. (1994). Hot dogs: comestible canids in Preclassic Maya culture at Cuello, Belize. Journal of Archaeological Science21(6), 819-826.

Diamond, J. M. (1998). Guns, germs and steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. Random House.

van Asch, B., Zhang, A. B., Oskarsson, M. C., Klütsch, C. F., Amorim, A., & Savolainen, P. (2013). Pre-Columbian origins of Native American dog breeds, with only limited replacement by European dogs, confirmed by mtDNA analysis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences280(1766), 20131142.

Warinner, C., Garcia, N. R., & Tuross, N. (2013). Maize, beans and the floral isotopic diversity of highland Oaxaca, Mexico. Journal of Archaeological Science40(2), 868-873.

White, C. D., Pohl, M. E., Schwarcz, H. P., & Longstaffe, F. J. (2001). Isotopic evidence for Maya patterns of deer and dog use at Preclassic Colha. Journal of Archaeological Science28(1), 89-107.

Image of a Carolina dog by Calabash13 and used under a Creative Commons 3.0 license. The Carolina dog has genetic ancestry from Asia and might have been similar to dogs raised in Mesoamerica thousands of years ago.

The Book of Mormon Provides Clarity

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There is minor disagreement among scholars as to the identity of the “beloved” disciple of Christ. Read this Wikipedia entry for a summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciple_whom_Jesus_loved. It is postulated that the beloved disciple is John, Lazarus, Mary Magdelene, or someone else. While there is weak to no evidence for the beloved disciple to be anyone other than John, discussion still continues (even though it should never have started).

In the Book of Mormon we have a record of Jesus speaking to three of His Nephite disciples who desired to remain and preach the gospel until Christ’s return: “And he [Jesus] said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.” (3 Ne. 28:6).

Instant clarity. End of discussion.

I use this as an example of the role of the Book of Mormon. It clarifies much of what appears controversial or unclear in the Bible. The Book of Mormon serves as another witness of Jesus Christ and of the Bible. It establishes the truth of the Bible so that we may more fully believe it and believe Christ.