And a great sleep did come over the land; yea, verily, there was much dozing and nodding of heads in all of the sabbath schools.
Yes, folks, it’s that time again: the dreaded Book of Mormon war chapters are upon us. It’s time for our quadrennial effort to determine why on earth someone would go to so much effort to write the details of long-ago battles in a book that was written for our day.
Here’s my answer to that quandary:
No one can read the Book of Mormon without wondering why the war chapters are there. And the inevitable answer must include something along these lines: there must be more here than meets the eye. In other words, the war chapters force readers to assume that the scriptures must be read at a level other than literal and historical. The reader is primed to look for symbolism. And, of course, the symbolism in these chapters is fairly obvious as the eternal struggle between good and evil (link is only for the light-minded) is mapped on to the military struggle between two warring powers. Readers walk away from the text fairly content that they (1) recognized the need for a symbolic reading and (2) were able to massage some meaning from the symbols.
We can hope that readers will carry this scripture reading lesson with them to other texts, where they will feel both justified and empowered to read for something beyond the historical or literal level. We can hope that they might view Eve’s creation from a rib as more than an anatomy lesson, Noah’s ark as more than a disaster story, and Jesus changing water into wine as more than a mere historical event.
Which is not to say that the war chapters aren’t tedious, but rather to suggest that their very tedium is necessary to convey to the reader that they can’t cruise along as if reading a history book.
There’s more there.