BMGD #36: 3 Nephi 1-7

September 10, 2012 | 2 comments
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And Helaman was the son of Helaman, who was the son of Alma, who was the son of Alma, being a descendant of Nephi who was the son of Lehi, who came out of Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, the king of Judah.

The immediate historical context makes sense; the link to Lehi and Nephi makes sense.  But the dating of when Lehi left Jerusalem is perhaps a little harder to explain.  Why might it have been included?  Does the first verse help us answer this question?  (Remember that we don’t really know what kind of separation–if any–there would have been between the header and the text proper in the minds of an ancient writer or editor.)

Fun fact:  the original title of this book was “The Book of Nephi.”  The “third” was added by Orson Pratt in the 1879 edition to avoid confusion.

CHAPTER 1

1 NOW it came to pass that the *ninety and first year had passed away and it was six hundred years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem; and it was in the year that Lachoneus was the chief judge and the governor over the land.

We’ve been keeping close track of the passing of years in this text, but normally in terms of how many years it had been since the reign of the judges began.  What effect does it have on the reader here to link that passage of time back in to the story of Lehi leaving Jerusalem?  (My thought is that their history is about to tie back in to the Jerusalem narrative with the visit of Jesus Christ, so this is a very subtle bit of foreshadowing that everything is about to tie back together again.)  I wonder if the point of the dating here is to remind us that the Nephites did not have judges for a lot longer than they have had judges.

Brant Gardner points out that this is a weird place to start a new book.  (There’s no change in dynasty, ruler, writer, etc.) He points to 3 Nephi 5:8-10 to suggest that this Third Nephi isn’t the “main” record but rather a “shorter” account that Nephi wrote, and that’s why we have a new book here.

Are “chief judge” and “governor” the same thing or what?

 2 And Nephi, the son of Helaman, had departed out of the land of Zarahemla, giving charge unto his son Nephi, who was his eldest son, concerning the plates of brass, and all the records which had been kept, and all those things which had been kept sacred from the departure of Lehi out of Jerusalem.

I presume that the final line refers to the sword of Laban, Liahona, what else?  (That does require doing a little violence to the text, though, because they didn’t have the Liahona when they left Jrsm.)  What is interesting about this is that those items have been used to legitimate governmental authority, but here they are going to Nephi, who is not the chief judge.  What should we learn from that?  Is this a “government in exile” situation?  If it is, is he making an effort to rule?  (If so, why aren’t we told about this?)  If not, why not?

The process of conveying the records/sacred relics to the next generation is mentioned frequently in the BoM.  We have nothing like that in the Bible.  (The only vaguely similar thing I can think of is the author of Revelation announcing what path his letter should take, but that is quite different.) What accounts for the difference?

What work is “who was his eldest son” doing here?  (Note that we are not usually given birth order info in the BoM.

Note how this verse also ties this current moment in Nephite history back to Jerusalem, this time through physical “things” as opposed to time (v1).  Again, I think we are seeing some foreshadowing . . .

I want to think more about physical objects with sacred significance here . . .

 3 Then he departed out of the land, and whither he went, no man knoweth; and his son Nephi did keep the records in his stead, yea, the record of this people.

What is the reader supposed to get out of this verse?  Does Nephi wander off into the sunset like a good old cowboy?  Was he taken up to heaven?  Something mundane?  Why do we get a hint here of his end, but nothing concrete?

What work is the phrase “the record of this people” doing in this verse?

Is “in his stead” just boilerplate, or does it mean that it was really dad’s job to do it, but for some reason, junior is doing it?  And, if that is the case, is it related to the disappearance?

Alma the  Younger leaves the narrative under similar circumstances.  Should we be drawing parallels between the two?

 4 And it came to pass that in the commencement of the ninety and second year, behold, the prophecies of the prophets began to be fulfilled more fully; for there began to be greater signs and greater miracles wrought among the people.

I feel a tension between “began to be fulfilled” (=the start of something) and “more fully” (=the continuation and expansion of something).  What’s the best way to understand this phrase?  Does the next phrase help us out?

Note the terms “prophecies,” “signs,” and “miracles” in this verse.  What is the relationship among these three terms?  (This seems like a boring old semantic dispute at first, but can be really interesting.  What is the relationship between a prophecy and a miracle? A sign and a miracle?  Are these the same thing?)

 5 But there were some who began to say that the time was past for the words to be fulfilled, which were spoken by Samuel, the Lamanite.

Didn’t Sam give a timeframe?  So why would there have been any dispute over the matter?  (I’m thinking that perhaps there was enough ambiguity in the time frame that it could have seemed as if it had passed.  That’s interesting in itself for a variety of reasons.)  What if the timeframe he gave was a little off, or could have been interpreted that way?

Note that Samuel is called “the Lamanite” again.  Why do you think this descriptor was included?  Does it enhance, undermine, or both the idea of “Lamanite” as an ethnic designation?  Why don’t we ever call people “Alma the Nephite” or whatever?

 6 And they began to rejoice over their brethren, saying: Behold the time is past, and the words of Samuel are not fulfilled; therefore, your joy and your faith concerning this thing hath been vain.

Note “rejoice” in this verse.  Is that the reaction that you would have expected?  Why or why not?  What does it teach us about the idea of rejoicing?  (Are we ever tempted to rejoice in someone else’s misfortune?)

Note “their brethren.”  How literally do you take that?  Were they treating them as brothers?

Note that *they* don’t call him Samuel the Lamanite in this verse . . .

Note “rejoice” and “joy” in this verse:  same word in slightly different form with radically different meanings.

Perhaps we shouldn’t over-parse the words of non-believers, but what is the message about joy and faith in this verse?

 7 And it came to pass that they did make a great uproar throughout the land; and the people who believed began to be very sorrowful, lest by any means those things which had been spoken might not come to pass.

How does the sorrow in this verse relate to the 2x mention of joy in the previous verse?

Does the end of this verse indicate a failure of belief?  Creeping doubt?  What’s going on here?  What might we learn from it?

It seems that the sorrow here is a result of their growing doubt.  Is that the best way to interpret what is happening in this verse?

This is the only BoM use of the word “uproar.”

I think that if we combine the rejoicing in v6 with the sorrow in this verse, it is reasonable to conclude that a decent number of people, both believing and non-believing, thought that the time frame had expired and Samuel was a false/failed prophet.  (Perhaps his words were ambiguous–like when someone says “next Saturday” or “bi-weekly” or “six days from now;” I can think of at least two meanings for each of those phrases.  Or, perhaps Samuel was just a little off on his time frame.  And note that that doesn’t make Samuel “wrong” or bad; perhaps he was inspired to say what he did to test their faith!)

I don’t get how the “lest” works:  it almost reads as if the people thought that the uproar would cause the signs not to come to pass, but that doesn’t sound quite right.  (What are the “any means” they are worried about?)

Neal A. Maxwell:

Former periods of stress can guide us. When the earlier coming of Jesus was imminent, signs abounded. Still, for some, there were “doubtings.” (3 Ne. 8:4.) But the faithful prevailed and were vindicated. There were determined detractors then, mocking the faith of believers, briefly creating “a great uproar,” even rejoicing over the seeming prospect that the faith of Christ’s followers would be in vain. (See 3 Ne. 1:5–7.) It was not. Members kept the faith, and the faith kept them! Apr 1984 GC

 8 But behold, they did watch steadfastly for that day and that night and that day which should be as one day as if there were no night, that they might know that their faith had not been vain.

How do you square the growing doubt in the previous verse with the steadfast watching in this verse?  Is there a lesson in this about how we might respond to our own doubts?  (If so, the short answer is “with sorrow and with steadfast watching,” although I am not entirely sure how that might translate into real life.)

There’s something about this verse that is striking me as a little off–perhaps the idea that they are looking for a concrete, physical sign to validate their faith.  Is that the best way to read this verse?  Is that really their attitude?  Is that an appropriate attitude to take?

Knowing how the story ends, how do you read the suspense that is being built in these verses?

Do you see anything in this passage that helps you understand how you might best prepare for the Second Coming?  Is that a legitimate interpretive task for these texts to assume?

Notice the words “know” and “faith.”  They follow “watch.”  What can you learn here about the relationship between knowledge and faith?

 9 Now it came to pass that there was a day set apart by the unbelievers, that all those who believed in those traditions should be put to death except the sign should come to pass, which had been given by Samuel the prophet.

Notice “Samuel the prophet” and not “Samuel the Lamanite” here.  Is that significant?

Normally, the setting apart of a day is something the Lord does as a holy day.  Is this the perfect inversion of that here?

The idea of dividing the people up into believers and non-believers is interesting, because the previous verses have introduced us to a situation where it seems that many people are somewhere in between those two camps.

A list of times when believers have been threatened with death, from the FEAST wiki:  Other examples include Dan 3:20 (Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego), Dan 6:7 (Daniel and the decree against praying), Acts 7:59 (Stephen), Acts 12:2 (James the brother of John), Acts 14:19 (Paul), Alma 14:8 (wives and children in Ammoniahah),Alma 25:7-8 (children of Amulon kill believing Lamanites), 4 Ne 1:31ff (disciples 200 years after Christ appears), and D&C 101:1 (cf. HC 1: 458—464, early Saints in Missouri).

Thinking this through:  if the time passed and the signs hadn’t happened, then the believers who would be put to death are people who are believing in something that I think a reasonable (even a basically faithful reasonable) person would say is a little irrational.  We wouldn’t, of course, approve the death sentence for false belief, but it would also be hard to generate a lot of sympathy for people who believed in signs that had clearly been shown to be false.  (Look, Sam said five years, night and day as one.  It either happened or it didn’t.)

What would be the motive in putting these people to death?  (That’s a new one for BoM anti-christs; usually, they just want people to give them power and money.)

If the time passed and the signs hadn’t happened, wouldn’t that show that Samuel was a false prophet?

I’m wondering if there is an ethnic/cultural element to all this.  That is, if this extreme reaction (=putting believers to death) is someone related to the fact that Samuel was a Lamanite.

Neal A. Maxwell describes this (Oct 1982 GC) as church members being “held hostage” until prophecies are fulfilled.  I thought that was an interesting way to put it.  Is there a similar dynamic today?

You know, Moroni and others warned us that if evil forces took over their government, their religious freedom would end up in the trash.  And that is exactly what happened.  Here it is.

 10 Now it came to pass that when Nephi, the son of Nephi, saw this wickedness of his people, his heart was exceedingly sorrowful.

There’s that sorrow again.  Is there any link between his sorrow over the wickedness and other people’s sorrow over the signs not yet having come to pass?

Once again, I wonder why the BoM spends so much time on people’s emotional responses to events.  (We do sometimes hear that Jesus had compassion or was angry, so this isn’t totally unprecedented, but it is pretty rare.) Also, note that it is sorrow and not anger or whatever other emotion we might have expected.

Are you surprised by the reaction of sorrow?  After all, if he had faith in Sam’s prophecies, wouldn’t he have assumed that everything was going to turn out all right in the end?  (Maybe he assumes that these people won’t be put to death because the sign will come, but he is still sad that people believe the sign won’t come and are this willing to punish unbelievers.)

 11 And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.

This seems very similar to the prayer that his dad offered on his tower.  What can we learn from comparing them?  (Note that this is specifically “upon the earth” and not an elevated space.)

Why does the text note that he bowed on the earth?

There is a tiny disconnect between his sorrow for the wicked in the previous verse and his prayer for the faithful in this verse.  It would have been more logical to have him pray that the wicked people’s hearts would be softened, if his prime motivation was sorrow over their wickedness, no?  What’s going on here?

The phrase “about to be destroyed” strikes me as a little odd–as if Nephi himself and/or the writer and/or the editor thought that maybe the sign wouldn’t come to pass and they would be killed.  Doesn’t everyone need to chill out and have faith that the sign will happen?

I’m curious about the word “tradition.”  We usually see it in a negative context for the false Lamanite traditions.  Here, it is used in a positive way for true prophecies.  Is that significant?  If so, does it have any relationship to the fact that it was an actual Lamanite who delivered these true prophecies?

And why is it called the tradition “of their fathers”?  Isn’t it something they learned anew from Sam?  Why is “fathers” plural?

Brant Gardner points out that Nephi would have personally been under this sentence of death, but note that Nephi does not focus on himself but on other people (both the wicked and the believers).

 12 And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:

Is “all that day” echoes of Enos?  Something else?

Why would the Lord have not answered him right away?  (I realize that the Standard Sunday School answer is something like “to test his faith,” but I kind of hate that.  It makes God look that a 1930s era psychologist, running human experiments without benefit of an ethics board.)

Note how “behold” functions as a shout-out to the reader:  “Look!”

N. Eldon Tanner:

We are told that Nephi “cried mightily unto the Lord” (3 Ne. 1:12), whereupon the Lord came unto him and answered him that the time was at hand for all that had been spoken by his holy prophets to be fulfilled. All the signs came to pass, the new star appeared in the sky, and the unbelievers “fell to the earth and became as if they were dead.” (3 Ne. 1:16.) Here is one of the first lessons we learn. The words of God’s prophets are always fulfilled. Apr 1975 GC

13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.

Is being of good cheer the same as rejoicing?  (If so, note the alterations between rejoicing and sorrowing throughout this section of the text.)

Does the lifting of the head relate to the bowing to the earth?

How does the “behold” in this verse relate to the one before it?  Note that it parallels the reader with Nephi.

So, if baby Jesus will be born tomorrow, then is that the same person who is “the voice of the Lord” in this passage? The “I” seems to imply that.  If so, what are the implications of this?  If not, what is the best way to read this passage?

How does this manifestation relate to the ones the shepherds were receiving on the other side of the world?  Can we learn anything useful by comparing them?

Note how Jesus describes the purpose of his mortal life in this verse.  Is that the purpose statement that you would have expected him to give?

Given that Nephi should have known all of this info from Samuel, why does he get a special revelation here?  What might that teach us about the Lord?

What does this verse teach you about the source of prophecies?

What work is “the mouth of” doing in this verse?  (Or:  What does that phrase contribute that “spoken by my holy prophets” would not have conveyed?)

14 Behold, I come unto my own, to fulfil all things which I have made known unto the children of men from the foundation of the world, and to do the will, both of the Father and of the Son—of the Father because of me, and of the Son because of my flesh. And behold, the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.

What does “my own” teach you?  (Isn’t everyone his “own”?)  (And how does “my own” sound to a Nephite to whom he is not coming?  In another context, we might read it as a bit of an insult.)

Why “children of men”?

What was “the foundation of the world” and why mention that here, when it is prophecies given very recently to Samuel that are the main issue?

How does the statement about fulfilling in this verse compare with the one in v13?

You could probably spend the rest of your life trying to tease out all of the implications of “the will . . . of my flesh.”  To start:  Does this verse posit that the will of the Father and the will of the Son are or are not the same?  Why is the controlling metaphor here the father-son relationship?  (And where’s mom?)  What does the contrast between “me” and “my flesh” teach you about flesh, bodies, souls, spirits, etc.?  (And are those lessons the same for Jesus as they are for us?  That is, is his relationship between “me” and “flesh” the same as yours is?)  In what way is the Father aligned with “me” and the Son aligned with “flesh”?   Does this verse imply the same understanding of the Godhead as that held in modern LDS thought?  What was the will of the Father?  What was the will of the Son?  (And how do both of those relate to the the other purpose Jesus gives in these verses for his mortality:  fulfilling everything that has been written?)

It has always seemed fascinating to me that Jesus could be a god and then be a mortal.

Here’s the most awesome thing about the voice of the Lord here:  Sure, Nephi is bummed, but if he had just waited a matter of hours, everything would have been OK.  Nonetheless, the voice of the Lord comes to him with this heads up.  It reminds me of Jesus weeping with Lazarus’ kin instead of saying, “Hey, just hold on a sec!  Everything will be fine in ten minutes!”  I think we see in both of these stories a stunning amount of compassion from the Lord–he’s there with us in our grief and sorrow even when he knows it is really not such a big deal.  But we don’t know that, and so we are given comfort.

How would you describe the Lord based on v13-14?

15 And it came to pass that the words which came unto Nephi were fulfilled, according as they had been spoken; for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.

There’s something about the abrupt transition from v14 to v15 that gives me pause:  if this were your first read-through, you’d assume that v15 would continue the voice of the Lord.  But, without warning, it does not: it goes right in to the fulfillment of the signs.  What effect does that have on the reader?

Note how “meta” this verse is:  we are told that the words that came to Nephi were fulfilled.  Those words said that the words that had come to the prophets would be fulfilled.  Ding!

“Astonished” is kind of surprising, given that they all knew what Sam had said.

Note that “no darkness” is a great symbolic representation of what it means for Christ to come in to the world.  It’s like Symbolism for Dummies.

16 And there were many, who had not believed the words of the prophets, who fell to the earth and became as if they were dead, for they knew that the great plan of destruction which they had laid for those who believed in the words of the prophets had been frustrated; for the sign which had been given was already at hand.

I’m not super thrilled with the comma placement in this verse.

Is there falling in any relationship to Nephi’s recent bowing?  (Maybe the point is that, either by choice or by astonishment, every knee will bow?)

Once again, the dead fall seems to be a cultural thing for them . . .  It also reminds us of the whole Abish/Ammon scene.

I’m thinking that we might want to take a symbolic read on “as if they were dead” here.  Sure, it might be their literal (culturally appropriate) response to the situation, but it is also a great metaphor for what happens to the faithless when Christ comes.

I find the “for they knew” phrase really interesting–it seems to suggest that the foremost thought in their minds was that their plan was ruined (“And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids!”), not that Sam was really a prophet and Christ was really coming in to the world.  Hello, people, there are bigger things going on here than the ruination of your plan!

I’m wondering if the idea of a plan of destruction foiled could be read more-than-literally as the “response” of satanic forces to the birth of Christ.

Interesting contrast between “plan of destruction” and “plan of salvation.”

Are we supposed to find irony in the idea that they wanted a “plan of destruction” but now they are “as if dead”?

17 And they began to know that the Son of God must shortly appear; yea, in fine, all the people upon the face of the whole earth from the west to the east, both in the land north and in the land south, were so exceedingly astonished that they fell to the earth.

How do you “begin to know” something?

Why “Son of God” here?

in fine = finally

Note that “whole earth” is modified so that it doesn’t mean anything like “whole earth.”  (Noah’s flood, folks.)

Above, we were told that the people who fell to the earth were those who didn’t believe.  This verse makes it sound as if everyone fell.  Is that the best way to read this?  Why would the believers have been astonished?

Is this verse hyperbolic?  (I suspect it is.  Which raises the question:  Why describe this even hyperbolically?)

18 For they knew that the prophets had testified of these things for many years, and that the sign which had been given was already at hand; and they began to fear because of their iniquity and their unbelief.

Thinking about the word “knew” here:  I find it interesting (and maybe a smidge troubling) that their knowledge is coming not from a witness from the Spirit but from a physical sign.  If there is one lesson the BoM has impressed upon us, it is that signs don’t necessarily lead to real faith.

Does the “for many years” refer just to Samuel, or to others?

Is “which had been given was already at hand” redundant, or am I missing something?

Note again that their first reaction was grumpiness that their plot had been foiled; only later do they think through the implications of their own iniquity and fear.

Thinking about v16-18, I think this is saying that everyone (even the believers) were in a state of fear.  Is that the best way to read this?  If so, should they have been in fear?

What does this verse teach about the relationship of iniquity and unbelief?

19 And it came to pass that there was no darkness in all that night, but it was as light as though it was mid-day. And it came to pass that the sun did rise in the morning again, according to its proper order; and they knew that it was the day that the Lord should be born, because of the sign which had been given.

Something interesting going on here:  they can perceive the rise of the sun, despite the fact that it was already as bright as mid-day.  Presumably, this is because they can see the disk of the sun.  Seeing this disk (in an already bright sky) gives them the knowledge that the Lord will be born that day.  I think there is something symbolic going on here, but I’m not quite sure what it is.  Something more than the easy similarity between Son and sun, but a link nonetheless.  Something about light coming against a backdrop of light and not a backdrop of darkness . . .

20 And it had come to pass, yea, all things, every whit, according to the words of the prophets.

I think this has to be read hyperbolically, because obviously there were other prophecies that were not yet fulfilled.  I think this verse is just pointing to the complete fulfillment of that particular prophecy.

Why is prophets plural when this is about the fulfillment of what Sam said?  (Is the point that others had also prophesied?  And, if do, is there a ethnic/political element in the fact that one of the witnesses was a Lamanite?)

21 And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, according to the word.

Is this star in the middle of the day?  Or the next night?  Why is there no clarification here?

Is there a symbolic way to understand the star?  (Not instead of a literal way, but in addition to it?)

So, how does this account compare with the birth stories of Jesus in Matthew and Luke?  (Note that Mark and John do not have stories recounting Jesus’ birth.)

(Did Samuel mention the star?)

22 And it came to pass that from this time forth there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen; but notwithstanding these lyings and deceivings the more part of the people did believe, and were converted unto the Lord.

D’oh!  I think our natural assumption is that once these absolutely spectacular manifestations had happened, people would have had a 100% home teaching rate, just for starters.  The fact that the first narrated reaction (OK, I guess falling to the ground was technically the first) to these signs of the birth of the messiah is a spin-and-smear campaign is so completely disheartening.  We expect that a slam-dunk sign is going to make everything all better for everyone.  It just never works that way.  We should just be thrilled that “the more part” of the people believed.

What effect does the phrase “by Satan” have on the reader?

Are “signs” and “wonders” two different things or two different ways of saying the same thing?

What do you learn about Satan from this verse that is relevant to your life?

23 And it came to pass that Nephi went forth among the people, and also many others, baptizing unto repentance, in the which there was a great remission of sins. And thus the people began again to have peace in the land.

What does “baptizing unto repentance” mean?  Isn’t baptism supposed to happen *after* repentance?

Does this verse say that the great remission of sins happens because of the baptism or because of the repentance?

What do you make of the fact that the consequence of baptism is peace?  Do you think this refers to political peace, or personal peace, or what?  Note that apparently they were able to have this peace despite what Satan was doing in the previous verse.

24 And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures.

Interesting–What does this verse teach you about apostasy?  Doctrinal disputes?  Scripture interpretation?  What do you think led these people to the conclusion that they had reached?  How might we avoid the same mistakes today?

Is the word “prove” in this verse significant?

See Mosiah 13:27 for how people could have mis-read the words of Abinadi to think this false belief.

25 But it came to pass that they soon became converted, and were convinced of the error which they were in, for it was made known unto them that the law was not yet fulfilled, and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled; therefore in this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults.

Does “the word came unto them” mean that they received revelations?

What role does confession play here?  What should we learn from that?

I think we generally restrict the word “converted” for people joining the church, but note that the word is used here for people who are already faithful but changing their mind on one issue.

“Jot” and “tittle” are little teeny marks used when writing Hebrew, so I would presume that their presence here is idiomatic.  (Especially since “tittle” comes from a much later phase of Hebrew writing that they would not have been using.)

There problem wasn’t really a problem of doctrine, but one of timing.  (Or maybe it was a problem with doctrine:  maybe they thought the advent of Christ is what made the remission of their sins possible, which means that they didn’t really understand the atonement.)

26 And thus the ninety and second year did pass away, bringing glad tidings unto the people because of the signs which did come to pass, according to the words of the prophecy of all the holy prophets.

Something about the phrase “glad tiding” is standing out to me here.

27 And it came to pass that the ninety and third year did also pass away in peace, save it were for the Gadianton robbers, who dwelt upon the mountains, who did infest the land; for so strong were their holds and their secret places that the people could not overpower them; therefore they did commit many murders, and did do much slaughter among the people.

The last interruption to our peace was a (well-meaning, I think) doctrinal dispute.  This time, it is the G. robbers.  How do these relate?

Are we supposed to learn something from “who dwelt upon the mountains”?

What does the word “infest” imply to you?

So do you think the signs and wonders had any effect on the G. robbers?  Were they temporarily converted, or what?

28 And it came to pass that in the ninety and fourth year they began to increase in a great degree, because there were many dissenters of the Nephites who did flee unto them, which did cause much sorrow unto those Nephites who did remain in the land.

Again, note that people are dissenting from the Nephites very shortly after these spectacular signs had been given.  I think there is a lesson here about the fragility of testimony.

Note the “sorrow” reaction.  Not anger, not apathy.

29 And there was also a cause of much sorrow among the Lamanites; for behold, they had many children who did grow up and began to wax strong in years, that they became for themselves, and were led away by some who were Zoramites, by their lyings and their flattering words, to join those Gadianton robbers.

We haven’t heard from the Zoramites in a long time!

Given that what was happening to the Lamanites was identical to what was happening to the Nephites, why do you think particular mention was made of the Lamanites?

What does “became for themselves” mean?  (It feels like there is a word missing, or something lost in translation, or something.)  Or maybe they reached the age of adulthood (however they would have defined that) and so were making their own decisions?

30 And thus were the Lamanites afflicted also, and began to decrease as to their faith and righteousness, because of the wickedness of the rising generation.

This verse makes it sound as if the old people’s testimony was harmed by the young people’s apostasy.  Is that the best way to read this verse?

CHAPTER 2

1 And it came to pass that thus passed away the *ninety and fifth year also, and the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen—

How on earth do you “forget” a night without a night?  (Once again, I don’t think “remember” and “forget” in the BoM mean what we think they mean–I think they have to do with prioritization.  In other words, if you don’t make something a priority in your life, it is as if you have forgotten it.)

Is “heard” significant here?  (Remember that the signs were mostly visual signs.)

Does this verse imply that there were new signs?  Or that they were less astonished about the ones that had happened?

Does this verse suggest that a hard heart is the result of ignoring signs?  Don’t we usually think of hard-heartedness as the cause of ignoring signs?  What is the real relationship here?

Usually, we read “they began to harden their hearts” but here we have “they began to be hard in their hearts.”  Is that a significant difference?

Note that the verse refers to what they “heard” but then the description of them mentions hearts and eyes (=blindness).  Is the disconnect significant?  (I wonder if the point is made that they were using the wrong senses.)

Note that the middle of the verse talks about what they had heard but the end talks about what they had heard and seen.  Is this a significant difference?

James E. Faust:

Some of us may need something startling like a burning bush experience to awaken our senses. In such an experience the essential nature of something—a person, a situation, an object—is suddenly perceived. We understand this to be inspiration. To be able to perceive by inspiration the common and ordinary things of life in their true meaning is a special gift. Many people fail to perceive inspiration because God’s “great power … looks small unto the understanding of men” or because they are “less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven.” Apr 04 GC

Neal A. Maxwell:

Thus, what I have said is not said in alarm at all, but, rather, so that we might be noticing and preparing. Prophecies are given, in part, that we “might know and remember” that these things “had been made known … beforehand, to the intent that [we] might believe” (Hel. 16:5). Today’s inattentive people will be like an earlier, desensitized people who “began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished, … and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen” (3 Ne. 2:1; see also 1 Pet. 3:17). If faithful, brothers and sisters, we lose nothing, even if, happily, like the ancient Ninevites, today’s mortals were to repent. Apr 1988 GC

2 Imagining up some vain thing in their hearts, that it was wrought by men and by the power of the devil, to lead away and deceive the hearts of the people; and thus did Satan get possession of the hearts of the people again, insomuch that he did blind their eyes and lead them away to believe that the doctrine of Christ was a foolish and a vain thing.

What does this verse teach about imagination?  (Is imagination ever a good thing in the scriptures?)

Seriously:  how could people have made night look like day back then?

What does the “men” and “power of the devil” combo suggest to you?

What does the image of a heart (mind) being led away suggest to you?

What were their hearts being led away from?

What does it mean for Satan to possess your heart?

Why is blindness a good metaphor for what Satan does here?

Is there a relationship between the heart being led away and the person being led away by Satan?  If so, is the relationship what you would have expected?

Why “the doctrine of Christ”?  (What exactly is that, anyway?)  What relation does it have to the signs?

Note that they are not denying that the sign happened (in other words, I read this to say that everyone agreed that it looked as if night were day).  Instead, they are disputing the significance of the sign–they are rationalizing away the meaning of the sign that they had been taught (in advance of the sign happening).  I think the warning for us here is that people can take precisely the same data points (as they did with Nephi’s foretelling of the murder of the chief judge) and use it to draw precisely the opposite conclusions (Nephi is a prophet; Nephi planned a murder).  I think this helps us understand why real faith can’t come from signs:  there is always the opportunity to spin the sign as having a completely different significance.

3 And it came to pass that the people began to wax strong in wickedness and abominations; and they did not believe that there should be any more signs or wonders given; and Satan did go about, leading away the hearts of the people, tempting them and causing them that they should do great wickedness in the land.

What does the idea of being strong in wickedness suggest to you?

Are “wickedness” and “abominations” two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Note that they are not open to the idea of new signs.  I think there’s something significant here about being humble, teachable, etc.  Also being open to new revelation, flexible, willing to accept novelty, etc.

What work is “in the land” doing in this verse?

I hope we don’t miss the (stunning, really) message that a display as spectacular as a night that was not a night is not the kind of thing that makes people be faithful in the long-run.  It appears to have caused a change for some people, but only temporarily.  It reminds me of the seed that grows in the rocky soil of the parable:  you get great growth at first, but nothing in the long run.  This is worth remembering when we see on-fire new members or when we have spiritual experiences of our own that we think will keep us forever cemented to the gospel (and therefore give us a little leeway to slack off).  Or when we think that if we could just have an intense spiritual experience (like that one we heard about in testimony meeting), then we’d be able to fully commit to living the gospel.  Sorry, folks.  Doesn’t work that way.

Robert D. Hales:

As Paul prophesied, we live in “perilous times.” “Satan [has been going] about, leading away the hearts of the people,” and his influence is increasing. But no matter how evil the world becomes, our families can be at peace. If we do what’s right, we will be guided and protected. Apr 2004 GC

4 And thus did pass away the ninety and sixth year; and also the ninety and seventh year; and also the ninety and eighth year; and also the ninety and ninth year;

Why was room on the plates devoted to this?  (My hunch:  something about the timekeeping and accounting for every year is important, even if nothing worth writing about happened.)

5 And also an hundred years had passed away since the days of Mosiah, who was king over the people of the Nephites.

Why mention this now?  Isn’t that obvious?  (I suspect that “Mosiah” and “king” are supposed to have some impact on the reader, although I am not sure entirely what that should be . . .)

6 And *six hundred and nine years had passed away since Lehi left Jerusalem.

Note the tying-in again to Lehi’s separation from Jrsm.

7 And nine years had passed away from the time when the sign was given, which was spoken of by the prophets, that Christ should come into the world.

Again, why “prophets” when we usually associate it with just one?

8 Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ; therefore, nine years had passed away.

Why “sign was given, or from . . .”?  Meaning, shouldn’t we know that the sign and the coming of Christ are the same time?  So why phrase it this way?  Does the “or” indicate a mistake?  (Maybe the point is that they are commemorating the birth of Christ and not the sign.)

So we can understand why people would track their time from the birth of Christ.  But why were they using the reign of the judges as a date instead of Lehi’s departure from Jrsm or some other system?

Does the fact that the Nephites track time this way indicate that the majority of them are faithful, or perhaps was this time system only used within the church?  (It is weird to think of a culture that largely rejects the prophets dating their time this way.  Of course, we could speculate that they vested some other meaning in the signs (that is, a meaning having nothing to do with the birth of Christ) and used the signs as the basis for their system of time for that other meaning.

Brant Gardner suggests that the point of this passage is to reconcile several different dating systems (reign of judges, leaving Jrsm, birth of Christ) that may have been in use by different people and/or at different times.  If that is the case (and I think it is likely), then it may just be pure bookkeeping here, but I wonder if there isn’t some significance in the placement.  (In other words, why didn’t the reconciling happen nine or seven or two years ago in the record, or a few years into the future?  Is there something about the year that makes this the best point to reconcile the records?  If so, does it have anything to do with the disappearance of Nephi in the next verse?)

9 And Nephi, who was the father of Nephi, who had the charge of the records, did not return to the land of Zarahemla, and could nowhere be found in all the land.

Why mention this again?  (We learned about this in 1:2.) Why mention it now?  (It makes him sound like a missing person.  How should we interpret this?)  I suspect that there is something going on here, but I’m not sure what.

Brant Gardner suggests that Mormon is taking Nephi’s disappearance as symbolic of the idea of righteousness disappearing from the land.

10 And it came to pass that the people did still remain in wickedness, notwithstanding the much preaching and prophesying which was sent among them; and thus passed away the tenth year also; and the eleventh year also passed away in iniquity.

It is easy to gloss over a verse like this one, but note that there were preachers and missionaries and they were not successful in the sense of generating lots of new converts.  This verse should bring comfort to those missionaries today who are not putting up big numbers.

11 And it came to pass in the *thirteenth year there began to be wars and contentions throughout all the land; for the Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them.

Note that the traditional Nephite v. Lamanite situation has shifted to Nephite + Lamanite v. G. robbers.  Is this simply historical fact, or might it have some symbolic or allegorical significance?

Given that the G. robbers’ rule results in much destruction, why do you think they had support?  Did they sell the destruction as a necessary evil?  Did people not expect them to be destructive?  Did they crush dissent?  Or what?

12 Therefore, all the Lamanites who had become converted unto the Lord did unite with their brethren, the Nephites, and were compelled, for the safety of their lives and their women and their children, to take up arms against those Gadianton robbers, yea, and also to maintain their rights, and the privileges of their church and of their worship, and their freedom and their liberty.

Why mention the women and children here?

Does this verse imply that unconverted Lamanites did not join in?

Notice “compelled” and think about the ANLs . . .

Are rights/privileges of church/freedom/liberty four things or one thing?  What do these words mean?

13 And it came to pass that before this thirteenth year had passed away the Nephites were threatened with utter destruction because of this war, which had become exceedingly sore.

What effect does the word “utter” have on the reader?

What is the moral lesson here?

Note that this note of destruction is sandwiched in between two references to the idea that the Lamanites joined forces with the Nephites.  Is this significant?

14 And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;

It seems like sometimes when Lamanites convert, they become Nephites.  Other times, they stay as Lamanites.  Is there a reason for one path or the other?  What is the difference between the two?  What does it mean to become a Nephite or a Lamanite?

15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;

We have seen lots of people switching from Lamanites to Nephite or from Nephites to Lamanites with no mention of their “skin.”  So why do we have that reference here?  What does “skin” mean here?  (Is it “coat of skins?”  It would be sorta funny if all of this angst over BoM racism was a misunderstanding re clothing color.)  What does “white” mean?  Does it have anything to do with what we call race?  Is this a literal change, or symbolic, or what?  Does it just mean that their countenance was bright, as we might say?  Is there a relationship between the ending of the curse and the whitening of the skin?  (This may not be the case just because they are mentioned in the same breath.)

Here’s 2 Nephi 5:21:  “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”   In this context, the point of the black skin (whatever that means) is so the Nephites won’t be tempted to hook up with the Lamanites.  The change of skin in our verse here would then indicate that it was OK for Nephites to marry these converted Lamanites.  (V16 seems to support this meaning–now that the barrier to marriage was gone, the people appeared to be attractive.) This is a fairly inclusive (if not radical) message because it means that the Lamanites are not to be judged as unworthy partners just because of their history or ethnicity or whatever.  (But I am not really persuaded by this reading.)

For all of the interpretive jujitsu we might be tempted to do to make this verse seem less offensive than it initially sounds, we are left with the fact that, on a surface reading, this verse appears to be horribly racist and clearly offensive to 20th and 21st century sensibilities.  Why would something like this be in the BoM?  (In other words, regardless of what this originally meant, it looks bad now.  Why would Joseph Smith have translated this verse into something that sounds so offensive?)

16 And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites. And thus ended the thirteenth year.

What does fair mean?  Does it just mean attractive?

How does v16 impact how you interpret v15?  (My thought is that it would be goofy to think they became more attractive.  I think what we are reading is an effort to describe people’s countenance changing as they accept the truth of the gospel.  Tragically, that is expressed in language that gets caught up in US racial history, even though it has nothing to do with it, perhaps except for the unfortunate habit of associating good with white and bad with dark.)

17 And it came to pass in the commencement of the fourteenth year, the war between the robbers and the people of Nephi did continue and did become exceedingly sore; nevertheless, the people of Nephi did gain some advantage of the robbers, insomuch that they did drive them back out of their lands into the mountains and into their secret places.

Why just “the robbers” and not the “G robbers” here?  Is it significant that v18 mentions “G”?

18 And thus ended the fourteenth year. And in the *fifteenth year they did come forth against the people of Nephi; and because of the wickedness of the people of Nephi, and their many contentions and dissensions, the Gadianton robbers did gain many advantages over them.

Skousen reads “again against” here.

Note how military success (of the G. robbers) is tied to the contention of the Nephites, not their military situation.  (I wonder how many things I attribute to purely physical causes that actually have a spiritual component.)

19 And thus ended the fifteenth year, and thus were the people in a state of many afflictions; and the sword of destruction did hang over them, insomuch that they were about to be smitten down by it, and this because of their iniquity.

Why is a sword a good metaphor here?

CHAPTER 3

1 And now it came to pass that in the *sixteenth year from the coming of Christ, Lachoneus, the governor of the land, received an epistle from the leader and the governor of this band of robbers; and these were the words which were written, saying:

Pretty interesting that we are about to turn the mic over to the enemy . . .

We don’t get very many letters in the BoM; as you read this one, think about why it would have been included instead of summarized.

2 Lachoneus, most noble and chief governor of the land, behold, I write this epistle unto you, and do give unto you exceedingly great praise because of your firmness, and also the firmness of your people, in maintaining that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty; yea, ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god, in the defence of your liberty, and your property, and your country, or that which ye do call so.

The giving of praise makes me think of efforts to flatter.  We should probably always be suspicious of praise . . .

Rule number one:  any time someone says “that which you suppose” or “that which ye do call so,” they are telling you that you are full of BS.

Oh, the irony in “as if ye were supported by . . .”

3 And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word—Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them.

4 And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction.

Interesting that the G. robbers have adopted exactly the same narrative as the Lamanites did–namely, that the Nephites had robbed them in some sense and so their wars were justified.  There is probably a lesson for us here in that everyone always thinks that their own military adventures are justified by their enemy’s past actions, but this doesn’t make them right.

Remember that in 2:13, the narrator used the phrase “utter destruction” to describe the situation that the Nephites were facing.  This may have just been foreshadowing this very letter, but it also might have been meant to prep the reader to take the threats in this letter very, very seriously as a plausible scenario.

5 Therefore I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand, feeling for your welfare, because of your firmness in that which ye believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle.

Is there some significant to the fact that he sealed this himself?

I think one thing that we should take from this letter is that expressions of concern for your welfare are not always genuine.

Note again the flattery.

This verse strikes me as the kind of thing that should be at the end of a letter, but instead it is in the middle.  What’s going on here?

6 Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.

Again, note that the reader has been prepared for the reference to the sword since the narrator mentioned it at the end of the last chapter.  This makes the threats in the letter all the more plausible.

7 Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.

Who announces their secret works?

What do you make of this invitation to join them?

I’m wondering if there is any relationship between the invitation to join up here and the fact that the Nephites and Lamanites have recently joined up.  (It would be particularly ironic if portions of the Lamanites and/or Nephites were claiming that they had to “yield themselves to the Nephites/Lamanites.  That makes this proposal look like a somewhat reasonable idea.)

Is there any way to square “yield yourselves up” with “not our slaves, but our brethren,” or is the point that he is contradicting himself here?

I think you could read this letter as an offer to give up cities in exchange for a share of the spoils of robbers.  That’s interesting . . .

8 And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct.

Note how similar this offer is to the one Moroni had made:  join us and we won’t attack you.

One thing I think we should take from this letter is that he is presenting a forced choice:  join or die.  (I think Satan frequently misleads us to believe that we only have certain choices, when really there are others.)

9 And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us.

Not so secret anymore!  (Seriously, why does he say this?)

Note how he is “bearing his testimony” of the idea that their works are good.  (In other words, everyone thinks their works are good.  That doesn’t make them right.)

Was this really of ancient date, or did he falsely believe that?

I think this verse contains a critique of the idea that if it has stood the test of time, it must be a good idea.

10 And I write this epistle unto you, Lachoneus, and I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs. I am Giddianhi.

So why do you think this letter was included in the record?  Historical context?  Are we supposed to read it as a peek into the mind of evil, looking for how the same kinds of arguments are made today?  Or what?

Note that “without the shedding of blood” lays groundwork to blame Lachoneus for being violent if he doesn’t give in to their demands.  After all, G. is the one who wanted to avoid shedding blood!  (Something about false peace here.)

Note again that G. is using exactly the same kind of rhetoric about the preservation of rights and control of government that good guys like Moroni used.  I think the point is that everyone makes these claims; making them doesn’t make you right.

11 And now it came to pass when Lachoneus received this epistle he was exceedingly astonished, because of the boldness of Giddianhi demanding the possession of the land of the Nephites, and also of threatening the people and avenging the wrongs of those that had received no wrong, save it were they had wronged themselves by dissenting away unto those wicked and abominable robbers.

Once again, note how we are given the emotional reaction of a character to an event.  Are you astonished that he is astonished?  In other words, wouldn’t you have expected him to have been more familiar with the thinking of his enemy?

12 Now behold, this Lachoneus, the governor, was a just man, and could not be frightened by the demands and the threatenings of a robber; therefore he did not hearken to the epistle of Giddianhi, the governor of the robbers, but he did cause that his people should cry unto the Lord for strength against the time that the robbers should come down against them.

Is the point of this verse that a just person is less likely to become frightened?

What can you learn from this verse about how to respond to frightening situations?

Notice that he didn’t “hearken” but he did “cry.”  He didn’t listen; he spoke (or, technically, caused others to speak).

Interesting that they didn’t ask the Lord to stop the G. robbers from coming against them but rather prayed for strength for when it happened. (Same as Nephi when they were under the death threat if the sign didn’t happen–he cried to the Lord that they would be strengthened, not that their enemies would be stopped.  In fact, I wonder if we could make a more thorough comparison between Nephi’s response there and Lachoneus’ response here.)

What work is “the governor of the robbers” doing in this verse?

13 Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and their children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place.

Ha ha . . . “save it were there land.”  One wonders why he felt the need to say that . . .

Should you read this verse allegorically?

As usual, I am not pleased to see women classed with the household possessions.

14 And he caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great. And he caused that armies, both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites, or of all them who were numbered among the Nephites, should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night.

This is kind of interesting because a few chapters back, the people (wickedly) thought their great defenses would save them.  Why are things different here?

Again, should you be reading allegorically?

I’ve kind of had the impression of the G. robbers as being people who infiltrated society, but this verse pictures them as outsiders, as an invading army.  What’s going on here?

Note that their reliance on the Lord does not mean that they didn’t build really strong walls.

Why mention Nephites and Lamanites here?  Do you read the “or of all . . .” as a correction, a clarification, or what?

15 Yea, he said unto them: As the Lord liveth, except ye repent of all your iniquities, and cry unto the Lord, ye will in nowise be delivered out of the hands of those Gadianton robbers.

Is “as the Lord liveth” covenant language?

Note the intertwining of secular and religious ideas here:  their physical deliverance is dependent not on the walls they just built, but on whether they repent.  (Which leads to the question:  Why did they bother building the walls?  Is there a lesson here about faith and works?)

16 And so great and marvelous were the words and prophecies of Lachoneus that they did cause fear to come upon all the people; and they did exert themselves in their might to do according to the words of Lachoneus.

Are you surprised to see Lachoneus and not Nephi doing the prophesying here?

Was fear the right reaction to have?  (Was the fear because of what L. had said or because of the threatened attack?)

Interesting to think about “exertion” and “might” being used for repentance (as opposed to, say, building fortifications).

17 And it came to pass that Lachoneus did appoint chief captains over all the armies of the Nephites, to command them at the time that the robbers should come down out of the wilderness against them.

Why was this verse included in the record?

18 Now the chiefest among all the chief captains and the great commander of all the armies of the Nephites was appointed, and his name was Gidgiddoni.

I love “chiefest.”  The writer sounds like a three-year-old.

19 Now it was the custom among all the Nephites to appoint for their chief captains, (save it were in their times of wickedness) some one that had the spirit of revelation and also prophecy; therefore, this Gidgiddoni was a great prophet among them, as also was the chief judge.

Interesting that we didn’t get this business about inspired military leaders back with Moroni . . .

What do you make of the use of the word “custom” in this verse?  (Does it mean it wasn’t a requirement?  Or what?)

Does this verse imply a difference between the spirit of revelation and the spirit of prophecy?

20 Now the people said unto Gidgiddoni: Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands.

What relation does the praying have to the going to the G. robbers?  (In other words, is it a prayer for permission?  A prayer for success?)

Aren’t righteous leaders supposed to listen to the voice of the people?

This seems like a very reasonable request, no?  Why wait, burning through your provisions and unable to farm your land, for the enemy to attack you at a time most convenient for him?

21 But Gidgiddoni saith unto them: The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands.

Does this verse do more or less (or just the same) of re-iterating the BoM prohibition against offensive war?  Is that a universal prohibition?

Given the very strong promise he makes at the end of this verse, would it be fair to read this verse as a recipe for guaranteed military success?  If so, what do you learn?

Remember that v19 intruded into the narrative to let us know that their leaders were inspired.  I take that as an indicator that we are supposed to put an even greater weight onto G.’s words in this verse.

I wonder if in v20-21 there is a commentary on the limits of the Lord’s power. Not that the Lord’s power is limited in and of itself, but rather that the Lord will only let people use the Lord’s power in situations that are approved.  In fact, this might have been the very point that confused these people:  if the Lord’s power is unlimited, shouldn’t we be able to use it in unlimited situations?

22 And it came to pass in the *seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together, to defend themselves against their enemies.

Would it have been realistically possible for all of these people with all of this stuff to live in a central fortification?

Is this verse a reiteration of what has already happened?  Or does it narrate the fulfillment?  Or what?  (I am trying to make sense of the redundancy.)

Something interesting about the fact that, two verses ago, they wanted to march against their enemies, but instead, they are marching inward to a place of refuge.

23 And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation.

We aren’t really surprised that Z. is the gathering place, right?

24 And there were a great many thousand people who were called Nephites, who did gather themselves together in this land. Now Lachoneus did cause that they should gather themselves together in the land southward, because of the great curse which was upon the land northward.

Why was the north land cursed?  (Did I forget something?)

Why would that land have stayed cursed if all of these righteous people were on it?  What does this teach us about curses?

The last time we had mention of a curse was of the one that was removed from Lamanites who converted.  Is there any relationship to what is happening here?

25 And they did fortify themselves against their enemies; and they did dwell in one land, and in one body, and they did fear the words which had been spoken by Lachoneus, insomuch that they did repent of all their sins; and they did put up their prayers unto the Lord their God, that he would deliver them in the time that their enemies should come down against them to battle.

Is fear leading to repentance really a good thing?  Shouldn’t they have a different motive?  (Especially since they are not fearing the Lord but rather the words of L.)

“Put up their prayers” is an unusual phrase; why might it have been used here?

Note that the people now seem to be completely on board with the idea of waiting to be attacked (“in the time that their enemies should come . . .”).

26 And they were exceedingly sorrowful because of their enemies. And Gidgiddoni did cause that they should make weapons of war of every kind, and they should be strong with armor, and with shields, and with bucklers, after the manner of his instruction.

Note the fear in the last verse and the sorrow in this one.  Were these the best reactions to have?

Is there any relation between the two ideas in this verse:  sorrow and weapon-making?

What work is “after the manner of his destruction” doing here?

CHAPTER 4

1 And it came to pass that in the latter *end of the eighteenth year those armies of robbers had prepared for battle, and began to come down and to sally forth from the hills, and out of the mountains, and the wilderness, and their strongholds, and their secret places, and began to take possession of the lands, both which were in the land south and which were in the land north, and began to take possession of all the lands which had been deserted by the Nephites, and the cities which had been left desolate.

So does this mean that it was a bad idea for them to leave this land unguarded and unoccupied?

Remember that in the last chapter, the Nephites had decided not to gather in the cursed land, which they sometimes called desolate.  Instead, they turned their own lands into lands which, this verse tells us, are desolate.  Is there any connection here?

This is probably a pretty good strategy:  by gathering and leaving a large desolate area, the G. robbers would have to have a lengthy supply line.  And, given that they are robbers and not farmers, supply lines aren’t their strong suits anyway.

Normally, having your enemy take possession of your lands would be a terrible loss (after all, that’s what G. asked for in the letter!), but here, it is part of their plan.

2 But behold, there were no wild beasts nor game in those lands which had been deserted by the Nephites, and there was no game for the robbers save it were in the wilderness.

Does this mean that the Nephites took the wild beasts with them or what?  (This is kind of weird.)

The second part of this verse seems to be in tension with the first:  was there wild animals or not?  Is the point the difference between “in those lands” and “in the wilderness”?  If so, how could they have removed the wild animals from their land?

3 And the robbers could not exist save it were in the wilderness, for the want of food; for the Nephites had left their lands desolate, and had gathered their flocks and their herds and all their substance, and they were in one body.

Is there something ironic here, given that the wilderness was their normal base of operations?

Weren’t there crops in the ground?  Things that could be foraged?

I think it would be fair to have thought, while reading the previous chapter, that the point of gathering up all of their loot was so it could sustain them during a siege.  But here we find out that the first impact is that it made things harder on their enemies.  (Are you reading allegorically here?)

4 Therefore, there was no chance for the robbers to plunder and to obtain food, save it were to come up in open battle against the Nephites; and the Nephites being in one body, and having so great a number, and having reserved for themselves provisions, and horses and cattle, and flocks of every kind, that they might subsist for the space of seven years, in the which time they did hope to destroy the robbers from off the face of the land; and thus the eighteenth year did pass away.

Is the seven years significant?  (In the OT, seven is often used as a symbol for completeness.  It is also the amount of time that Joseph prophesied that the famine would last.  There are also parallels with the idea of storing food.)

Why is so much attention given to the backstory of the enemy’s food supply?  Are we supposed to be reading allegorically?

5 And it came to pass that in the *nineteenth year Giddianhi found that it was expedient that he should go up to battle against the Nephites, for there was no way that they could subsist save it were to plunder and rob and murder.

There is something weird about this, as if the Nephites forced them into war despite the fact that the Nephites specifically ruled out an offensive war.

So here’s your irony:  I think the initial desire for the Nephites to go out against their enemies was because they wanted to battle them on their own terms and not at a time that would benefit their enemies.  But note what happens here:  the Nephite strategy of removing all of their possible provisions forces G.’s hand and so he has to go to war at a time not necessarily of his own choosing.  The Nephites were able to have their cake and eat it too (mmm . . . cake) in the sense that they avoided an offensive war and also dictated battle terms to their enemy.  As resistant as I often am to an allegorical reading, it seems to me that the point is made here that if you follow the commandments, you may initially fear that you will be boxed into a corner but what actually happens is far more advantageous to you.

6 And they durst not spread themselves upon the face of the land insomuch that they could raise grain, lest the Nephites should come upon them and slay them; therefore Giddianhi gave commandment unto his armies that in this year they should go up to battle against the Nephites.

7 And it came to pass that they did come up to battle; and it was in the sixth month; and behold, great and terrible was the day that they did come up to battle; and they were girded about after the manner of robbers; and they had a lamb-skin about their loins, and they were dyed in blood, and their heads were shorn, and they had head-plates upon them; and great and terrible was the appearance of the armies of Giddianhi, because of their armor, and because of their being dyed in blood.

What do you make of this?  Why do you think this description was included?

Here’s a link to all of the uses of “great and terrible” in the scriptures.

Is there any link between the blood here and the OT sacrificial rituals?  (Blood would be applied to certain parts of the bodies of priests and lepers being cleansed to convey the elevation of status.  Blood was a ritual cleanser and forbidden for them to eat.)  Is there some other symbolic interpretation of all of this, or were they just creeped out by the fact that they were covered in blood?  (What kind of blood?  Where did they get it?  Was it animal blood, after all of this business about how there were no animals available for them to eat?  Or what?)

Article here on the symbolic meaning of the lamb-skin clothing.

8 And it came to pass that the armies of the Nephites, when they saw the appearance of the army of Giddianhi, had all fallen to the earth, and did lift their cries to the Lord their God, that he would spare them and deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.

Usually people fall to the earth after an overwhelming spiritual manifestation.  Why does it happen here?

Note that we are not told what their emotional state is here.  (This will become important in the next verse.)

9 And it came to pass that when the armies of Giddianhi saw this they began to shout with a loud voice, because of their joy, for they had supposed that the Nephites had fallen with fear because of the terror of their armies.

Something interesting about the ambiguity of their action . . .

10 But in this thing they were disappointed, for the Nephites did not fear them; but they did fear their God and did supplicate him for protection; therefore, when the armies of Giddianhi did rush upon them they were prepared to meet them; yea, in the strength of the Lord they did receive them.

At this point, the description of the army’s battle gear looks like a bit of mis-direction.  I think the message is:  the Nephites should have been terrified when they saw these guys, but they just turned to God instead.

11 And the battle commenced in this the sixth month; and great and terrible was the battle thereof, yea, great and terrible was the slaughter thereof, insomuch that there never was known so great a slaughter among all the people of Lehi since he left Jerusalem.

Hyperbole or literal?

12 And notwithstanding the threatenings and the oaths which Giddianhi had made, behold, the Nephites did beat them, insomuch that they did fall back from before them.

13 And it came to pass that Gidgiddoni commanded that his armies should pursue them as far as the borders of the wilderness, and that they should not spare any that should fall into their hands by the way; and thus they did pursue them and did slay them, to the borders of the wilderness, even until they had fulfilled the commandment of Gidgiddoni.

Don’t the Nephites normally spare people who are willing to give up arms and enter a non-aggression pact?  Why is it different in this case?

Why do they stop their pursuit at the borders of the wilderness?  Is this related to the “no offensive war” rule?

14 And it came to pass that Giddianhi, who had stood and fought with boldness, was pursued as he fled; and being weary because of his much fighting he was overtaken and slain. And thus was the end of Giddianhi the robber.

15 And it came to pass that the armies of the Nephites did return again to their place of security. And it came to pass that this nineteenth year did pass away, and the robbers did not come again to battle; neither did they come again in the twentieth year.

16 And in the *twenty and first year they did not come up to battle, but they came up on all sides to lay siege round about the people of Nephi; for they did suppose that if they should cut off the people of Nephi from their lands, and should hem them in on every side, and if they should cut them off from all their outward privileges, that they could cause them to yield themselves up according to their wishes.

What is “laying siege” if not a battle?  Does the rest of the verse describe it?

So presumably they are unaware that the Nephites have a seven years’ supply?  Or do they think they can outlast them?  (See v18 for more on this.)

I think what is happening here is that the robbers are trying to give the Nephites a taste of their own medicine.  One thing we see repeatedly in the BoM is that the enemy adopts whatever tactics were last used against them.

Aren’t the Nephites already cut off from their lands and hemmed in?  (Maybe that is the point.  They thought this strategy would harm the Nephites, but the Nephites were already prepared to do precisely that same thing.)  (I think v18 supports this reading.)

17 Now they had appointed unto themselves another leader, whose name was Zemnarihah; therefore it was Zemnarihah that did cause that this siege should take place.

18 But behold, this was an advantage to the Nephites; for it was impossible for the robbers to lay siege sufficiently long to have any effect upon the Nephites, because of their much provision which they had laid up in store,

Should you be reading allegorically?  If so, what might you conclude?

19 And because of the scantiness of provisions among the robbers; for behold, they had nothing save it were meat for their subsistence, which meat they did obtain in the wilderness;

Can’t the robbers get provisions from their base of operations?  (Or is the entire point that they live entirely by plunder and therefore can’t survive if they can’t plunder?  If so, this puts the idea of the Nephites putting all of their loot in one place under guard in to a different light–it wasn’t just about protecting the stuff for the Nephites but about cutting off the G. robbers.)

20 And it came to pass that the wild game became scarce in the wilderness insomuch that the robbers were about to perish with hunger.

21 And the Nephites were continually marching out by day and by night, and falling upon their armies, and cutting them off by thousands and by tens of thousands.

22 And thus it became the desire of the people of Zemnarihah to withdraw from their design, because of the great destruction which came upon them by night and by day.

23 And it came to pass that Zemnarihah did give command unto his people that they should withdraw themselves from the siege, and march into the furthermost parts of the land northward.

24 And now, Gidgiddoni being aware of their design, and knowing of their weakness because of the want of food, and the great slaughter which had been made among them, therefore he did send out his armies in the night-time, and did cut off the way of their retreat, and did place his armies in the way of their retreat.

So an offensive war is off the table, but stopping a retreat is OK.  Hm.

If we wanted to read allegorically, what would “being aware of their designs” and “knowing of their weaknesses” teach us?  (Does Satan have weaknesses?)

25 And this did they do in the night-time, and got on their march beyond the robbers, so that on the morrow, when the robbers began their march, they were met by the armies of the Nephites both in their front and in their rear.

26 And the robbers who were on the south were also cut off in their places of retreat. And all these things were done by command of Gidgiddoni.

27 And there were many thousands who did yield themselves up prisoners unto the Nephites, and the remainder of them were slain.

28 And their leader, Zemnarihah, was taken and hanged upon a tree, yea, even upon the top thereof until he was dead. And when they had hanged him until he was dead they did fell the tree to the earth, and did cry with a loud voice, saying:

Is the hanging significant in some way–as opposed to some other method of killing?

What does “even upon the top” mean?  Why mention it?  (And how do you hang someone from a top?  Don’t you need a branch?)

Articles on this death here and here.

29 May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth.

This seems like another “enacted symbol” like the scalping and the title of liberty.

30 And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection.

Sorry, but I am little creeped out by religiosity in the presence of an enemy corpse.

31 And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies.

You thought I was creeped out in v30?  The victory celebration here is even worse!

32 Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God.

33 And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction.

I wish I could picture this scene without the dead body in it.

The tears are an interesting touch . . .

Once again, I find it interesting that they credit God with deliverance when they have an entirely plausible secular explanation for their success (namely, the “put all our stuff in a central, defended location and starve them out” strategy).

CHAPTER 5

1 And now behold, there was not a living soul among all the people of the Nephites who did doubt in the least the words of all the holy prophets who had spoken; for they knew that it must needs be that they must be fulfilled.

I can’t imagine this verse being anything but hyperbole.  I mean, really.  That said, the writer here is clearly trying to describe an extraordinary state of affairs.  What led to this incredible level of faith?  (The immediate context is the ritualized death of an enemy leader, but that doesn’t seem quite likely to provoke this kind of faith.)

2 And they knew that it must be expedient that Christ had come, because of the many signs which had been given, according to the words of the prophets; and because of the things which had come to pass already they knew that it must needs be that all things should come to pass according to that which had been spoken.

Notice how they are leveraging their experience with past signs fulfilled to assume that future signs would also be fulfilled.

Now, just a few chapters ago, some of these people disregarded these signs.  What changed?

3 Therefore they did forsake all their sins, and their abominations, and their whoredoms, and did serve God with all diligence day and night.

Are sins, abominations, and whoredoms the same thing or three different things?

Note that people who had experience with whoredoms are able to display the faith and devotion mentioned in v1.  There is a strong testimony of the power of repentance in these verses.

Note “forsake” and “serve” in this verse.  What do you make of that combination of verbs?

Does “day and night” have any relation to the sign that they believe in?  (In other words, are we to see a link between the sign and their actions?)

4 And now it came to pass that when they had taken all the robbers prisoners, insomuch that none did escape who were not slain, they did cast their prisoners into prison, and did cause the word of God to be preached unto them; and as many as would repent of their sins and enter into a covenant that they would murder no more were set at liberty.

This was the kind of thing Moroni would do:  give enemy soldiers the opportunity to go free if they promised not to fight any more.

I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see the people extending the same deal they got from the Lord in v1-3 (in other words:  repent and be free, spiritually speaking) to their own prisoners here (repent and be free, literally speaking).

5 But as many as there were who did not enter into a covenant, and who did still continue to have those secret murders in their hearts, yea, as many as were found breathing out threatenings against their brethren were condemned and punished according to the law.

Note the incredible faith in covenants that both sides had.  It is difficult to imagine the same thing today–we’d never trust anyone just because they gave their word in a similar situation.  (Try doing this at Gitmo Bay:  “Do you double promise pinky swear not to be a terrorist anymore?  OK, you can go!”)

“Breathing out threatenings” is pretty poetic language in the middle of this account; why do you think it was used here?

6 And thus they did put an end to all those wicked, and secret, and abominable combinations, in the which there was so much wickedness, and so many murders committed.

So could you read v1-5 as an allegorical template for getting rid of secret combinations?  If so, what would you learn?  (My thought:  it looks like the keys are preaching and repentance and covenants.  Where it gets interesting is thinking about the military force that was used immediately before this chapter . . .)

The cynic asks:  So the idea is that you can get rid of evil by killing all of the evil people?  What happened to agency?

7 And thus had the twenty and second year passed away, and the twenty and third year also, and the twenty and fourth, and the twenty and fifth; and thus had *twenty and five years passed away.

Once again, we get a verse that feels totally unnecessary but makes me think that the recording of the passage of each year held some sort of significance to our authors.

8 And there had many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done among so many people in the space of twenty and five years;

Does “in the eyes of some” mean that they weren’t really great and marvelous, or what?

So what effect does a verse like this have on the reader?  My thought is that it is a reminder that the parts that were included *were* supremely important to the writer, and so we should not be skimming over anything.  This is particularly interesting when a verse like this one is flush up against v7, which feels so unimportant but, I suspect, actually is significant.

9 But behold there are records which do contain all the proceedings of this people; and a shorter but true account was given by Nephi.

How does the writer know that these things are true?

10 Therefore I have made my record of these things according to the record of Nephi, which was engraven on the plates which were called the plates of Nephi.

The “I” is most interesting here, especially because we aren’t 100% sure who the “I” is for another two verses . . .

11 And behold, I do make the record on plates which I have made with mine own hands.

Why would this information have been important to include in the record?

12 And behold, I am called Mormon, being called after the land of Mormon, the land in which Alma did establish the church among the people, yea, the first church which was established among them after their transgression.

The rarity of editorial insertions that identify the editor makes this material very unusual and therefore important.  Why does it happen here?  Is there something so significant about ending the work of the G. robbers and the incredible faith in v1 that causes Mormon to pop up in the text like this?

Why do we get the story of Mormon’s name here?  Why is he named after a place instead of a person?  (That’s a little weird–in the BoM, the places are usually named after people and not the other way around.)

This “first church” business is interesting–it turns our attention back to how weird it was that they had this innovation (remember that there is no “church” or emphasis on baptism in Nephi or King Ben’s time).  Why did it happen then?

What is the transgression mentioned in this verse?  And the reference to it makes me think of the Fall–was that allusion deliberate?  If so, what might we learn from it?

13 Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.

Is “called of him” different from “called by him”?

14 And it hath become expedient that I, according to the will of God, that the prayers of those who have gone hence, who were the holy ones, should be fulfilled according to their faith, should make a record of these things which have been done—

What does “the prayers of those who have gone hence” mean?  Does it mean the prayers they offered while they were alive, or do deceased people pray?

What does it mean to be a holy one?

What is the relationship in this verse between the will of God and the prayers of the holy ones?  What might we learn from that relationship?

Are all prayers fulfilled according to the faithfulness of those people who make them?

Why would it have been so important to these holy ones that people in the future kept a record?

15 Yea, a small record of that which hath taken place from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem, even down until the present time.

Note that “the present time” is way ahead of the time of the beginning of the chapter.  What effect does this have on the reader?

In the next verse, we will learn that “small” means an abridgment.

16 Therefore I do make my record from the accounts which have been given by those who were before me, until the commencement of my day;

This verse feels repetitious after v14-15; do we learn anything new from it?

“My day” is neither the present day for the reader nor the time of the narrative.  Normally when reading scripture, we are negotiating two times (our time and the narrative); the fact that later writers and editors are in another time is usually forgotten.  Here, it is front and center.

17 And then I do make a record of the things which I have seen with mine own eyes.

Of course, this part of the record is not things which he saw.  So why refer to things he saw at this point?

Does this verse privilege eye-witness testimony?  (Should it?  If it does, isn’t that kind of weird, since Mormon is editing a bunch of stuff from 100s of years before his time?)

Note that v16 says that some of the record comes from other records but this verse tells us that some of the record is eye-witness testimony.  Why does Mormon want us to know the two sources of his info here?

18 And I know the record which I make to be a just and a true record; nevertheless there are many things which, according to our language, we are not able to write.

Are “just” and “true” two different things or two different ways of saying the same thing?

How does he know his record is just and true?

What does it mean for a record to be “just”?  (I can easily imagine a person being just–I’m having a harder time imagining a record being just.)

Does this verse imply that their language prohibits them from writing certain things, or is it saying something else?  If the former, then how might this have worked:  were there certain ideas that their language couldn’t express, or what?

19 And now I make an end of my saying, which is of myself, and proceed to give my account of the things which have been before me.

Why write this?  Isn’t it obvious when an editor does this?  (And:  note how many other times we have assumed that we have had editorial insertions from Mormon but we haven’t been sure of it.  So, why signpost now?)

So note that he says that he is wrapping up, but doesn’t (see the next verse).  Why did Mormon go high council Sunday on us here?  (Note that this verse is not technically true.)

20 I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi. I have reason to bless my God and my Savior Jesus Christ, that he brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, (and no one knew it save it were himself and those whom he brought out of that land) and that he hath given me and my people so much knowledge unto the salvation of our souls.

What does it mean to be a “pure” descendant?  Does it mean no Lamanite blood?  Does it mean no blood from “native” people?  Is it meant to be interpreted more spiritually or symbolically?  Why would it have been important to Mormon to mention this?

The idea of blessing God is sort of unusual.  (I think we usually assume the bless-er has a higher status than the bless-ee.)  Why does Mormon use this language?

Does Mormon treat “my God” and “my Savior” as one person or two?  (Does the “he” in the next phrase help you answer this question?)

In the phrase “that he brought,” to whom does “he” refer to, God or Jesus?

Why mention that no one knew that they had left Jrsm?  (And wouldn’t some people have known they had left, even if they had no idea where they went?)  How would Mormon (or any other source of info he had) have known whether or not anyone else knew that they had left?

Asides in scripture are pretty unusual.  Why do we get one here, especially one that seems so very unimportant compared with the huge ideas Mormon is presenting?

Does this verse imply that only knowledge is needed for salvation?  (What happened to actions and beliefs?)

21 Surely he hath blessed the house of Jacob, and hath been merciful unto the seed of Joseph.

I presume this is OT Jacob and not BoM Jacob, since it is OT Joseph?

Is there a relationship between the blessing in this verse and the blessing  in v20?

Why the switch from Mormon’s personal history to OT figures here?

22 And insomuch as the children of Lehi have kept his commandments he hath blessed them and prospered them according to his word.

Are blessing and prospering two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

What’s the logical link from v21 to v22?

23 Yea, and surely shall he again bring a remnant of the seed of Joseph to the knowledge of the Lord their God.

Why “surely”?

24 And as surely as the Lord liveth, will he gather in from the four quarters of the earth all the remnant of the seed of Jacob, who are scattered abroad upon all the face of the earth.

“Four quarters” is either poetic or inaccurate.  What do you make of it?

What relevance does the gathering/scattering theme have in our day?

25 And as he hath covenanted with all the house of Jacob, even so shall the covenant wherewith he hath covenanted with the house of Jacob be fulfilled in his own due time, unto the restoring all the house of Jacob unto the knowledge of the covenant that he hath covenanted with them.

26 And then shall they know their Redeemer, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God; and then shall they be gathered in from the four quarters of the earth unto their own lands, from whence they have been dispersed; yea, as the Lord liveth so shall it be. Amen.

General thought on ch5:  This chapter begins with incredible (virtually unbelievable) faith, then moves to the redemption of the G. robbers, then Mormon explodes into the text with his personal story and reminder of big covenant promises.  How does all of this material fit together?  Why did Mormon pop in to say hello at this moment?

CHAPTER 6

1 And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the *twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them.

When they moved the first time, we got “women and children.”  Now we get “family.”  Is that a significant change?

Brant Gardner:

The sequencing of events at this point in time is interesting. After the defeat of the Gadianton army in the twenty-second year, Mormon notes the passage of the twenty-second to twenty-fifth years where there is nothing important to his narrative  (3 Nephi 5:7). Now in the twenty-sixth year the people return to their homes. This gives us four years during which the Nephites continued to concentrate in a defensive position rather than returning to their previous holdings. While Mormon does not say anything about the Gadiantons at this point, we may surmise that although there had been this great defeat of the Gadianton army, that they had not ceased to exist, and that they were still in a position to be a possible threat. Without any threat at all, it is doubtful that the Nephites would have endured the concentrated conditions of their desperate defensive position. When the circumstances indicated that there was no longer a viable threat, then they would have returned. It is interesting that it should have taken four years, and as is typical, Mormon tells us nothing of this most interesting historical question. Citation

2 And it came to pass that they had not eaten up all their provisions; therefore they did take with them all that they had not devoured, of all their grain of every kind, and their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and they did return to their own lands and their possessions, both on the north and on the south, both on the land northward and on the land southward.

The word “devoured” strikes me as a little unnecessarily intense; why do you think it was used?

3 And they granted unto those robbers who had entered into a covenant to keep the peace of the land, who were desirous to remain Lamanites, lands, according to their numbers, that they might have, with their labors, wherewith to subsist upon; and thus they did establish peace in all the land.

Fascinating:  these people want to remain their Lamanite identity (what would that have meant?), but the Nephites are still willing to give them land.  Why didn’t they want to become Nephites?  Why are the Nephites so accommodating to them?

I like the idea that establishing peace results from the merciful and fair treatment of one’s enemies.

Why is this happening now and not four years ago at the end of the fighting?

4 And they began again to prosper and to wax great; and the twenty and sixth and seventh years passed away, and there was great order in the land; and they had formed their laws according to equity and justice.

What does “equity” mean?  Is it the same as justice?

5 And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually, except they should fall into transgression.

Note that this is still true today! 

6 And now it was Gidgiddoni, and the judge, Lachoneus, and those who had been appointed leaders, who had established this great peace in the land.

Wouldn’t we have assumed this?  So why is it stated?

7 And it came to pass that there were many cities built anew, and there were many old cities repaired.

8 And there were many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place.

9 And thus passed away the twenty and eighth year, and the people had continual peace.

Read v10 and then come back here and tell me what “continual” means in this verse.

10 But it came to pass in the *twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;

I feel like the BoM pretty much hits the reader on the head with the idea that wealth leads to pride which leads to persecution unless one is incredibly careful to avoid it.  I think one of the worst mistakes modern readers make is to read this and think it applies to Bill Gates or Oprah and not to realize that, in a historical perspective or a world perspective, every middle-class American is filthy stinking rich.  When the scriptures talk about wealth, they are talking about us.

11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.

Is this verse blaming the problem on merchants and lawyers?  (If not, what is the “for” at the beginning of the verse supposed to be doing?)

What does “officers” mean here?

12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

How does v11 relate to v12?  Is there a logical progression?

Ouch.  It is easy for me to like this verse because I think one of the biggest moral failings of American society is that we don’t provide every child with an opportunity for a decent education.  Too lazy to Google right now, but I saw a depressing chart recently that showed that a poor-performing wealthy kid in the US is more likely to go to college than a high-performing poor kid.  That is a stain on the fabric of the nation.

I wonder what this would have meant in their context; I don’t think Zarahemla had an Ivy League university.

In what ways might we be tempted today to distinguish people according to their learning?  Their riches?  Are these distinctions ever appropriate?  (Or do we need Maoist barefoot doctors?)

Is it ever OK to link wealth to chances for learning or vice versa?

13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.

Do prideful people return railings while humble people don’t?  Or are two separate things being described here?

Webster 1828 “railing”  :  “1. Clamoring with insulting language; uttering reproachful words.  2. Expressing reproach; insulting; as a railing accusation.”

Brant Gardner:

When two people assume that they are of equal status, they may railagainst another, but they other will rail in return. This cannot happen in situations of social differentiation into higher and lower. If a person of higher status should rail against one of lower status, the person of lower status is required by social convention to accept the “insulting language” without returning it. In Western history, this might be most easily seen with the relationship of nobility to the commoners. The nobility could accuse the commoner, but the commoner had little that could be said against nobility.  Citation

14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the *thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.

Does this verse help us understand what the BoM means by “inequality”?  Does it point to v13 or v12 or both?  Does v15 help us answer the question?

Can inequality destroy the church?  Can the church exist where there is inequality?

What exactly does “broken up” mean?  Factions?  Apostasy?  Something else?  (How does knowing that a few truly converted Lamanites were able to escape the breaking up impact your impression of what the breaking up was?)

Brant Gardner:

In two short years the completely faithful Nephites that Mormon depicts after the repulsion of the Gadianton threat have gone from peace and prosperity to the breakup of the church. This rapid slide suggests that the picture of complete faithfulness that Mormon drew was a literary device more than an accurate historical comparison. For the society to alter so completely so quickly they had to be building upon themes that were already present and either accepted or acceptable to the majority of the people.  Citation

Interesting that the church survives among the Lamanites but not the Nephites.

This verse makes it sound as if the inability of the lower classes to respond to “railings” led to the real problem.  In other words, a society can’t continue if some members are not in a position to seek justice.

15 Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.

Can you ever righteously seek for power?  What about riches?

It seems to be a pattern in the BoM that we are shown a downfall and shown “secular” or “pragmatic” reasons for it and then later on in the narrative find out that Satan was behind everything.  Which raises these questions:  why save Satan’s role for last?  Wouldn’t it create a more accurate impression on the audience to begin the narrative with Satan’s involvement?  What’s the point of slogging through all of the pragmatic causes (riches/learning, etc.) when we are going to find out that it was really Satan’s doing later on?

Why did Satan have great power?  Does the level of Satan’s power change?

What does the phrase “stirring up” suggest to you?

What is the relationship between “stirring up” and “puffing up”?

Brant Gardner:

In the Book of Mormon, the sin of pride is always related to the inequality of social ranking. Pride comes when one man considers himself as better than another. When we see this trait in the Book of Mormon, it is always accompanied by a description of a division between rich and poor. It would be tempting, therefore, to assume that riches were the cause of the pride, but that is not the case. There were times in the Nephite society when Mormon describes them as “rich” but they do not have pride. The problem is not the riches, but the use of those riches to create social divisions. Citation

16 And thus Satan did lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity; therefore they had enjoyed peace but a few years.

17 And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year—the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should—and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness.

18 Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.

Is it possible to sin ignorantly?  (My thought is that if you genuinely are ignorant of the law, then it isn’t a sin.)

Is all sin willful rebellion again God?

Isn’t this always the case in the BoM?  (That is, the people who are wicked are sinning willfully?)  If so, then why mention it here?

19 And now it was in the days of Lachoneus, the son of Lachoneus, for Lachoneus did fill the seat of his father and did govern the people that year.

20 And there began to be men inspired from heaven and sent forth, standing among the people in all the land, preaching and testifying boldly of the sins and iniquities of the people, and testifying unto them concerning the redemption which the Lord would make for his people, or in other words, the resurrection of Christ; and they did testify boldly of his death and sufferings.

Interesting that they are testifying of things that will happen in just a few years . . .

The “men inspired from heaven” language is a little unusual–why do you think it was used here as opposed to the usual language of calling, power, and authority from heaven?

Is “standing” significant?

Is “preaching” and “testifying” two ways of saying the same thing or two different things?

Is it significant that first we have “preaching and testifying” but in the next phrase we have just “testifying”?

What work does “or in other words” do?  That is, does it mean that “redemption” and “resurrection” are the same thing?  Or what?

21 Now there were many of the people who were exceedingly angry because of those who testified of these things; and those who were angry were chiefly the chief judges, and they who had been high priests and lawyers; yea, all those who were lawyers were angry with those who testified of these things.

Again, I find the anger response interesting because I think today we just see apathy.  I also find the focus on people’s emotional states interesting.

Why was the anger concentrated among the higher-status people?  What lessons might we learn from this?

I suspect that the weird repetition in “chiefly the chief judges” is just an accident of language, but it might also be a nice little ironic twist re status.

Why do the lawyers get particular mention (“yea, all those . . .”) in this verse?

22 Now there was no lawyer nor judge nor high priest that could have power to condemn any one to death save their condemnation was signed by the governor of the land.

Is the implication that a lawyer, judge, or priest could condemn someone to death if they got approval?  (That seems the most natural way to read that verse, except that is a pretty weird set-up.)  (Compare v24.)

23 Now there were many of those who testified of the things pertaining to Christ who testified boldly, who were taken and put to death secretly by the judges, that the knowledge of their death came not unto the governor of the land until after their death.

Note that this is the 3x repetition of “boldly.”

Why do you think these valiant martyrs were not named?

We always talk about Abinadi and the ANLs as martyrs, but these guys are, too.

24 Now behold, this was contrary to the laws of the land, that any man should be put to death except they had power from the governor of the land—

25 Therefore a complaint came up unto the land of Zarahemla, to the governor of the land, against these judges who had condemned the prophets of the Lord unto death, not according to the law.

26 Now it came to pass that they were taken and brought up before the judge, to be judged of the crime which they had done, according to the law which had been given by the people.

Interesting irony that they get the day in court that they denied to the prophets.

27 Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law.

28 And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness.

Do you think people enter into similar covenants today?

29 Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.

Why do you think “Gadianton” is not used in this section?  Is there any relationship between that missing name and the fact that the names of the martyrs aren’t given either?

30 And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto kings.

Note that the G. robbers have, at points, had control of the judgment seat.  Why do you think they want a king instead of just control of the judges?

Is there a message relevant to us today here?  Are all strong central governments problematic?

CHAPTER 7

1 Now behold, I will show unto you that they did not establish a king over the land; but in this same year, yea, the thirtieth year, they did destroy upon the judgment-seat, yea, did murder the chief judge of the land.

There was originally no chapter division here.  This is a most unfortunate place for one, because it obscured the fact that the robbers wanted a king but did not get one.

Why do we get a preview of the idea that they will not  be successful?

What are we supposed to make of the idea that they were successful in murder?

What does “destroy upon the judgement-seat” mean?  Just that they killed the judge, or something else?  (Does v2 explain this?)

2 And the people were divided one against another; and they did separate one from another into tribes, every man according to his family and his kindred and friends; and thus they did destroy the government of the land.

The last time we saw this kind of arrangement was at King Ben’s speech.  Is this the inversion?

Obviously, this is a bad state of affairs, but note that the family is mentioned.  Shouldn’t organization by families be a good thing?

The goal was a king but we end up with tribes.  What should we learn from this?  (My thought:  it is much easier to destroy than it is to create.)

There have been multiple times in the BoM where the chief judge was killed, but they always got a new one.  Why do they devolve into tribes this time?

3 And every tribe did appoint a chief or a leader over them; and thus they became tribes and leaders of tribes.

So are tribes better or worse than judges?  Better or worse than kings?

4 Now behold, there was no man among them save he had much family and many kindreds and friends; therefore their tribes became exceedingly great.

Why are we told this?  Is this good news or bad news?

5 Now all this was done, and there were no wars as yet among them; and all this iniquity had come upon the people because they did yield themselves unto the power of Satan.

Is the “no wars” an indication that developments haven’t been so bad after all?

Brant Gardner:

The force that destroyed the Nephites was not war. Mormon explicitly notes that there were no wars at this time. Nevertheless, the government has been destroyed. The cause of the destruction was the secret combinations and their connection to the power of Satan. Citation

6 And the regulations of the government were destroyed, because of the secret combination of the friends and kindreds of those who murdered the prophets.

How precisely did the secret combinations destroy the regulations of the government?

7 And they did cause a great contention in the land, insomuch that the more righteous part of the people had nearly all become wicked; yea, there were but few righteous men among them.

Is this verse saying that contention can make righteous people wicked?  Is that true?

8 And thus six years had not passed away since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire.

The eruption of (disgustingly) poetic language is unusual–why does it happen here?

This verse seems to quote Proverbs 26:11:  “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly” or, more likely, 2 Peter 2:22:  “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”  (I wonder why the “that has washed” part was omitted.) Note the verse immediately before 2 Peter 2:22:  “For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”  Is that the subtext of this section of the BoM?

9 Now this secret combination, which had brought so great iniquity upon the people, did gather themselves together, and did place at their head a man whom they did call Jacob;

Is there any relationship (obviously, it would need to be an inverse one) between this Jacob and the one Mormon just popped in to remind us about?

“Whom they did call . . .” makes me think that that wasn’t his real name, but maybe a throne name or something.

10 And they did call him their king; therefore he became a king over this wicked band; and he was one of the chiefest who had given his voice against the prophets who testified of Jesus.

So does this mean that they met their goal (from the last verse of the last chapter) of having a king after all?

11 And it came to pass that they were not so strong in number as the tribes of the people, who were united together save it were their leaders did establish their laws, every one according to his tribe; nevertheless they were enemies; notwithstanding they were not a righteous people, yet they were united in the hatred of those who had entered into a covenant to destroy the government.

I’m unclear how the grammar works in “save it were their leaders.”  Is the point that they were united except for in their laws, or what?

Someone on the FEAST wiki makes an interesting point:  the only thing uniting them was their hatred.  Sometimes hatred can be a decent (?) thing per Genesis 3:15.

12 Therefore, Jacob seeing that their enemies were more numerous than they, he being the king of the band, therefore he commanded his people that they should take their flight into the northernmost part of the land, and there build up unto themselves a kingdom, until they were joined by dissenters, (for he flattered them that there would be many dissenters) and they become sufficiently strong to contend with the tribes of the people; and they did so.

What work is “he being the king of the band” doing, given that we already know this?

Is it really flattery to think that there will be more dissenters, given their track record?

13 And so speedy was their march that it could not be impeded until they had gone forth out of the reach of the people. And thus ended the thirtieth year; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi.

Is the implication that they would have been stopped if they were slower?  Because seriously, people, just let them go.  

14 And it came to pass in the *thirty and first year that they were divided into tribes, every man according to his family, kindred and friends; nevertheless they had come to an agreement that they would not go to war one with another; but they were not united as to their laws, and their manner of government, for they were established according to the minds of those who were their chiefs and their leaders. But they did establish very strict laws that one tribe should not trespass against another, insomuch that in some degree they had peace in the land; nevertheless, their hearts were turned from the Lord their God, and they did stone the prophets and did cast them out from among them.

Weren’t they already divided into tribes?

I think we are facing a situation where there are basically no good guys (or, at least, institutions).

15 And it came to pass that Nephi—having been visited by angels and also the voice of the Lord, therefore having seen angels, and being eye-witness, and having had power given unto him that he might know concerning the ministry of Christ, and also being eye-witness to their quick return from righteousness unto their wickedness and abominations;

Does “eye-witness” refer to having seen angels, or to something else?

Why would you need “power” to know about the ministry of Christ?

Remember that these events are happening at the very same time as Christ’s ministry; do you think Nephi got a hovercraft ride to Jerusalem?

Interesting that “eye-witness” is used to describe his observance of his own people; we’d probably think that that would be a given.

16 Therefore, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds—went forth among them in that same year, and began to testify, boldly, repentance and remission of sins through faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

Notice “grieved.”  Is that the reaction that you would have expected?

He’s pretty brave to do this, given that everyone is stoning prophets these days.  I suspect that the words “testify” and “boldly” are meant to specifically make that link between Nephi and the preachers who were killed.

17 And he did minister many things unto them; and all of them cannot be written, and a part of them would not suffice, therefore they are not written in this book. And Nephi did minister with power and with great authority.

This is interesting–usually we are left hanging as to why not everything can be written but this verse hints at a certain all-or-nothing aspect of his teachings (or, technically, ministering–is that the same thing?).  Is that true?  Can you imagine in what ways it would have not sufficed to share only part of Nephi’s ministry?  (Isn’t it true that we only ever just get part of anyone’s ministry in the record?  So why would this have been any different?)

What does “minister” mean?

Are power and authority two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

18 And it came to pass that they were angry with him, even because he had greater power than they, for it were not possible that they could disbelieve his words, for so great was his faith on the Lord Jesus Christ that angels did minister unto him daily.

This is a bit of a light-bulb moment for me:  I have been wondering why people in the BoM usually get angry at prophets, when the modern reaction is usually more like apathy.  But this verse explains it:  they are jealous of the power that the prophets have. (I bet all of you had already figured that out.  I’m a little slow.) So . . . why don’t we see that reaction today?

If it isn’t possible for them to disbelieve his words, what happens to their agency?

How is it possible that they can’t disbelieve him, but are still angry at him?

What does it mean to have angels minister to you?

Is there any relationship between the angel’s ministering and the ministering that Nephi has been doing?

If your faith were greater, would angels minister to you every day?

Note that the daily ministering is presented as the cause of their inability to disbelieve him.  In what ways might this have happened?

Dallin H. Oaks:

“The word ‘angel’ is used in the scriptures for any heavenly being bearing God’s message” (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, sel. Jerreld L. Newquist [1987], 54). The scriptures recite numerous instances where an angel appeared personally. Angelic appearances to Zacharias and Mary (see Luke 1) and to King Benjamin and Nephi, the grandson of Helaman (see Mosiah 3:23 Ne. 7:17–18) are only a few examples. When I was young, I thought such personal appearances were the only meaning of the ministering of angels. As a young holder of the Aaronic Priesthood, I did not think I would see an angel, and I wondered what such appearances had to do with the Aaronic Priesthood. But the ministering of angels can also be unseen. Angelic messages can be delivered by a voice or merely by thoughts or feelings communicated to the mind. President John Taylor described “the action of the angels, or messengers of God, upon our minds, so that the heart can conceive … revelations from the eternal world” (Gospel Kingdom, sel. G. Homer Durham [1987], 31). Oct 1998 GC

19 And in the name of Jesus did he cast out devils and unclean spirits; and even his brother did he raise from the dead, after he had been stoned and suffered death by the people.

Note how similar these things are to the things that Jesus was doing half a world away.

Does this verse imply that devils and unclean spirits are two separate things?

Interesting:  all stories of raising people from the dead of any length have female characters, except for this one.  Probably because it is so short–not really a story but just a one-liner.

Interesting that his brother is apparently also a preacher, but we haven’t heard anything about him until now.

Is the fact that he is stoned and not killed some other way significant?

20 And the people saw it, and did witness of it, and were angry with him because of his power; and he did also do many more miracles, in the sight of the people, in the name of Jesus.

Note that v19 and v20 tells us that he is doing these miracles “in the name of Jesus.”  That’s an innovation.  I assume that it is linked to the knowledge that he has of Jesus’ ministry.

Do you ever get angry at people because of their power?

21 And it came to pass that the thirty and first year did pass away, and there were but few who were converted unto the Lord; but as many as were converted did truly signify unto the people that they had been visited by the power and Spirit of God, which was in Jesus Christ, in whom they believed.

It is pretty amazing that all of this stuff is going down with Nephi and his brother but very few people are getting converted . . .

“Signify” is one of my favorite words!  It usually means “to convey through a symbol.”  If that is the meaning here, what precisely do you think these people did?  (Perhaps the reference to “signs” in the next verse answers this question?)

Why is “Spirit of God” modified by “which was in Jesus Christ” in this sentence?

22 And as many as had devils cast out from them, and were healed of their sicknesses and their infirmities, did truly manifest unto the people that they had been wrought upon by the Spirit of God, and had been healed; and they did show forth signs also and did do some miracles among the people.

Notice the chain established:  someone is the beneficiary of a miracle and then goes on to perform miracles themselves.

23 Thus passed away the *thirty and second year also. And Nephi did cry unto the people in the commencement of the thirty and third year; and he did preach unto them repentance and remission of sins.

24 Now I would have you to remember also, that there were none who were brought unto repentance who were not baptized with water.

Notice the “I”–this is pretty rare.

Why the mention of the water?  That is rare for BoM baptism references.

Why the important side note re baptism?

25 Therefore, there were ordained of Nephi, men unto this ministry, that all such as should come unto them should be baptized with water, and this as a witness and a testimony before God, and unto the people, that they had repented and received a remission of their sins.

Are “witness” and “testimony” the same thing?

Note the attention drawn to the idea of witnessing before people–not just God–that one has repented.

Brant Gardner:

The government of the overall people may have vanished, but the order of the church has not. There is still a church into which the people may be baptized, and an ecclesiastical organization to serve them. Citation

I wonder how all of the action in this verse relates to previous info re the church being broken up.  (It almost seems as if the church does better under the tribal system than they did under the corrupt judges.)

26 And there were many in the commencement of this year that were baptized unto repentance; and thus the more part of the year did pass away.

General thoughts:

(1) So all of these things are happening as Jesus is living in the Old World.  (But, of course, these people have no details about Jesus’ youth and ministry.)  Do you read any of this material differently when you realize that it is happening at the same time that Jesus is alive but inaccessible to them?

(2) This article compares the time right before Christ’s visit in these chapters to now (with the idea that we, too, are living in a time right before Christ’s visit.)  (I disagree with his reading of the incident in Revelation, however.)

(3) Here’s a comment from Jim F. that I really liked:

The robbers made their covenant so that they could do wicked things without being injured by their brothers when they did. If I ask myself what injuries one robber could prevent by hiding the wickedness of another, I think of things like exposure and punishment, among perhaps other things. It is tempting to ignore or cover over the sins of our associates, including other members of the Church, when we ought not to do so. I’ve seen members of the Church do it often; I’ve probably done it myself. But when we do, when we use our association as a reason for hiding the sins of another person, sins that by their nature ought to be made known to the proper authorities, we act like Gadianton robbers.

2 Responses to BMGD #36: 3 Nephi 1-7

  1. Jacob F on September 16, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Thank you!

  2. KFITZ on September 16, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Thank you! I look at these all the time, even though I don’t comment.