Midterm answers, final part

August 15, 2012 | 2 comments
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Here is the last of 3 sections of answers to the Book of Mormon exams I gave at BYU several years ago. (Original post, answers part 1, answers part 2)

27) Joseph Smith, responding to the question “What are the fundamental principles of your religion,” replied, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the apostles and prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that he died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (TPJS, 272) In the Book of Mormon, we find two compact yet fairly complete historical summaries of Jesus’ life and mission. Where are they located (2 points each), and what are their major points? (3)

Alma 7:10-12 and Mosiah 3:5-11

28) What is a prophet? (2) What is a seer? (2) Does “prophet” = President of the Church? Why or why not? (3)

Prophecy is a gift of the Spirit, available to men, women, and children, inside and outside the LDS Church. We should therefore understand that “prophet” is not a priesthood office, and is not the same as “President of the Church” though we do sustain the President of the Church as a prophet. When we see “prophet” in the scriptures, we should not read in modern Church hierarchies, priesthood offices, or such. A “seer” was quite literally someone who saw visions, a chozeh or one-who-sees. The word is the present participle of Heb. CH-Z-H, which often means to see beyond the natural, see in visions, and  “refers generally to the reception of revelation” says the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. At times seers were considered distinct from prophets; at other times the terms overlapped and had to be clarified. See 1 Samuel 9:9 and the similar BoM passage in Mosiah.

29) We’ve talked in class of inerrancy [and I suspect my understanding and popular LDS views do not fully represent how it plays out among those who hold to some form of inerrancy]. Here are several brief quotes from letters to the editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. “The Bible is the Word of God, infallible and inerrant. That means, it cannot be wrong!” “The Bible claims to be God’s word. The Book of Joshua is written as an historical account….if the account of Ai [being destroyed in Joshua 7-8] is not just as the Bible says it was, then the writer of the Book of Joshua was misleading, deceptive and void of any inspiration from God.” “Archaeology cannot claim inerrancy and infallibility for itself. Therefore, when there is any doubt, or difficulty, it is with archaeology, not with the Bible. Many years ago, I was told that if there was something I didn’t understand in the Bible, or something I didn’t agree with, the problem was with me, not with the Bible. I thought that was good advice at the time, and I still believe it is. God says it, that settles it, I believe it!”

Do the scriptures or their authors claim inerrancy? (cite references for or against, if you can. 3 points)

Students had lots of options here but the basic answer was, no, there is no such claim to inerrancy. Inspiration and inerrancy are not the same thing.

30) Mosiah 21:28 originally read “Benjamin” for “Mosiah.” However, King Benjamin should be well dead by this time. Orson Scott Card argues that the people of Zarahemla did not come from the Near East, but that Zarahemla, following Mesoamerican tradition, created his fictional Jerusalem ancestors so that he, Zarahemla, could be king. [Link to that paper and the use to which I put it in class here.]

(a) Assuming for the sake of this question that Card is correct, how do those two things affect the historicity of the Book of Mormon?

(b) If some accounts in the Book of Mormon turn out to be “not just as the [Book of Mormon] says it was, then” was “the writer of the [Book of Mormon…] misleading, deceptive and void of any inspiration from God”?

(c) How much can be historically inaccurate before we start running into problems? Discuss these three questions, in light of the quotations above and LDS teachings on historicity and inerrancy. (9)

Ancient documents all have two problems First, historiographical issues. Their ideas and expectations of history-writing are not ours, and they tended to use sources differently than we do. We can see this most clearly when we have multiple versions of the same events, as with the four gospels, Chronicles (post-Exile) vs. Samuel/Kings (pre-Exile), or this episode in the Book of Mormon (see Grant Hardy’s comparison of Alma 16 and Alma 25 here). Moreover, they had, more than us today, the problem of source-checking. Mormon is writing some 600 years after each of these things, and largely dependent upon the sources and traditions (written and oral?) that have come to him. Either his source made a mistake or he did. Elder Widtsoe cogently observed that “When inspired writers deal with historical incidents they relate that which they have seen or that which may have been told them, unless indeed the past is opened to them by revelation.” Elder John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, (1960): 127. It seems that the latter case is rare and then subject to various other difficulties.

As an ancient document, we should expect the Book of Mormon to have these problems, but they do not undermine its claim to antiquity per se. In writing a mission account years later, I may conflate two people I taught on my mission, or get the date or city wrong, but it’s unreasonable to conclude that I didn’t serve a mission at all. Now add 600 years to that, and you see the kind of issues we have with scripture, most of which is written years after the fact.

31) How do notions of inerrancy affect our LDS perceptions of “doctrine” and “prophets”? (3) Put specifically, Abinadi’s speech in Mosiah 15:1-5 is difficult (but not impossible) to square with our understanding of the Godhead. Is it possible that Abinadi simply had a lesser understanding than we do today? If so, why, and if not, why not? (3) (This is a question about assumptions.) According to Robert Millet and President Reuben J. Clark, is everything any General Authority or scriptural figure ever says automatically Church Doctrine? Why not? (3) How do we know if someone has been inspired in their comments, according to President Clark? (2) Slightly broader, what epistemological systems (from Elder Lund’s article) do we use when evaluating if something is either true or doctrinal or both? (4)

Lots of possibilities here. I’d assigned students various readings, and this was an opportunity to show they had read and thought about them.  Mainly, I was trying to challenge simplistic and rigid assumptions that many seem to hold; many people do not spiritually survive when those assumptions crumble after broader exposure to history.

32) How does Mormon’s perspective affect his editing of the Book of Mormon? (3) How does our perspective affect our reading of it and our other scriptures? (3)

This was a reference to the assigned reading of Grant Hardy’s  Mormon as Editor article, in which Mormon’s military background probably influences his inclusion of the war chapters. For part 2, again, lots of options here for students to write on. Cultural assumptions (e.g. coinage in the heading to Alma 7), doctrinal assumptions (e.g. Alma uses a different definition of soul than D&C gives), etc.

Extra credit [Generally not worth very many points, and drawn from readings or class discussion, but a level of detail or importance beyond what I reasonably expected students to remember.]

What does the Greek word translated as “gospel” in the New Testament mean? (1 pt)

Eu= Good, angelion= news, announcement. Euangelion gives us such familar words as Evangelist, l’evangile, el evangelio, etc.

What church in particular is NOT the Church of the Devil? (1 pt)

The Roman Catholic Church. See here and here. A shorter version of Robinson’s article appeared in the Ensign, which included the statement “Some Latter-day Saints have erred in believing that some specific denomination, to the exclusion of all others, has since the beginning of time been the great and abominable church. This is dangerous, for many will then want to know which it is, and an antagonistic relationship with that denomination will inevitably follow…. some have suggested that the Roman Catholic church might be the great and abominable church of Nephi 13. This is also untenable, primarily because Roman Catholicism as we know it did not yet exist when the crimes described by Nephi were being committed. In fact, the term Roman Catholic only makes sense after a.d. 1054 when it is used to distinguish the Western, Latin-speaking Orthodox church that followed the bishop of Rome from the Eastern, Greek-speaking Orthodox church that followed the bishop of Constantinople.”

What was the topic of Elder Holland’s MA thesis at BYU?

Accepted in 1966, on textual changes in the Book of Mormon, titled  An Analysis of Selected Changes in Major Editions of the Book of Mormon – 1830-1920

Laman and Lemuel had historical precedent for believing that Jerusalem could not be destroyed. Explain what it was, and cite references, if possible.

Interpretive Jewish tradition of the Davidic covenant held that Jerusalem could not be destroyed. It had been miraculously saved before, which reinforced that tradition. It had God’s temple which He would not allow to be destroyed,was highly defensible due to its surroundings and walls, etc. False prophets also proclaimed it could not fall. Jeremiah, on the other hand, has a whole sermon delivered at the temple gate trying to undermine these reasons (Jer. 7, worth reading). Israelites appear to have used “temple of the Lord!” as proof of Jerusalem’s inviolability, which Jeremiah calls “lying words.” He reminds them of God’s temple at Shiloh which he certainly allowed to be destroyed. See this article.

In the assigned reading on Gospel scholarship, John Welch [“Towards Becoming a Gospel Scholar” ] listed several resources and journals that a “gospel scholar” should use regularly. Name 4 (excluding the Ensign.)

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, CES manuals, Anchor Bible Dictionary, FARMS publications, BYU Studies, Journal of Mormon History, others.

What is the Hebrew equivalent of “Jesus the Christ” and what do they mean in Hebrew?

Joshua the Messiah. Joshua = “Jehovah is salvation/victory/triumph”, messiah = anointed-one.

Name the Babylonian king who sacked Jerusalem after Lehi and his family left.

Nebuchadnezzar (or variant Nebuchadrezzar).

What was one major difference between the Assyrian conquest of Israel and Babylonian conquest of Judah? (Hint: The difference results in a new group of people.)

In contrast to the Babylonians, the Assyrians shuffled up their conquered peoples and then repatriated them in mixed groups. The influx of a mixed group of non-Israelites into N. Israel who then intermarried with the remaining lower-class Israelites become known as Samaritans.

What was Elder James E. Talmage by profession?

A geology PhD, who also studied and taught other science such as chemistry.

The Book of Mormon uses the terms Lamanite/Nephite in various ways OTHER than strict genealogical descent or lineage. What are some of them? Cite references where possible (2 points each).

Jacob 1:14 suggests that Lamanite becomes a religio/political term very quickly. Alma 43:4 provides an example, in which the “Zoramites became Lamanites.” John Sorenson identified multiple usages

How does Abinadi’s preaching eventually cause the conflict in the “War Chapters” of Alma?

Without Abinadi, there’s no Alma. And without Alma Sr. and Jr., there’s no religiously-motivated war. The causation of the wars is obscured by the insertion of 7 doctrinal chapters in 36-42. (From an old draft paper, didn’t expect this level of detail from students)

In the end of the 17th year of the reign of the judges, Alma2 had taken his two younger sons Shiblon and Corianton, Amulek the convert, Zeezrom the Ammonihite lawyer, as well as King Mosiah’s sons Ammon, Aaron, and Omni on a mission to reclaim the apostate Zoramites in the city of Antionum (Alma 31:6). After some success among the poorer part of the Zoramites, the missionaries leave for Jershon. The Zoramites cast out the numerous converts, who go to live in Jershon (Alma 35:1-6). The Zoramites, angry that the converts are being taken care of in Jershon, incite the Lamanites to go to war against the Nephites, particularly the Zoramite converts (Alma 35:8-11). All this happens in the end of the 17th year of the reign of the judges (Alma 35:12). At this point in the text, Mormon inserts Alma2’s instructions to his sons (Alma 36-42). The insertion of these seven chapters of fatherly counsel effectively disrupts the chronological flow of the story, separating the cause and effect of the war chapters. When Mormon picks up the narrative history again in Alma 43, it is the beginning of the 18th year of the reign of the judges, and the Zoramite/Lamanite coalition formed in the end of the 17th year (Alma 35:10-12), is attacking.

What does Jershon probably mean in Hebrew, and why is that significant? (3)

“Inheritance” The Nephites give the refugees “inheritance” as the land of their inheritance (y-r-sh).

Have you done any good in the world today? Explain. (3)

This was a gimme… unless students had NOT done any good in the world, in which case, religion fail.

2 Responses to Midterm answers, final part

  1. JT on August 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Excellent – I have really enjoyed these.

    For #27, would 1 Nephi 11:13-34 qualify as well?

  2. Robert C. on August 16, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Very nice, Ben — thanks!