Book of Mormon Notes– How deep can you dig?

2008, September 8

Critique of One Section of “The Book of Mormon – Artifact or Artifice?” by Scott Orson Card

Critique of One Section of “The Book of Mormon – Artifact or Artifice?” by Scott Orson Card

by grego

While I differ and disagree with many parts of this article (found at: http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-bookofmormon.html ), it’s a very fascinating and insightful read on a brilliant topic: the Book of Mormon as fiction, by a highly-acclaimed (science) fiction writer. I have read of critics trying to show what should have been in there but isn’t (jaguars, macaws, etc.) and what was around Joseph Smith in the 1820’s and was in it (religious topics, Masons, etc.); this talks about what was around Joseph Smith in the 1820’s and should have been in it, but wasn’t, and other aspects of what a fiction “should” have been like.

Here’s one part, though, that was just too big, too out-there, to leave alone:

-=-=-=

“Speculation on Zarahemla.
Let me offer an aside on the matter of Zarahemla and the Mulekites. Much has been made of the statement by King Zarahemla that his people were descended from the youngest son of King Zedekiah. Extraordinary and completely unconvincing efforts have been made to find such a son, overlooked by the Babylonian captors of Jerusalem; just as much effort has been devoted to explaining how a good Jaredite name like Mulek could show up in the family of an Israelite king. But is this really necessary?

In Meso-American culture, every ruling class had to assert an ancient ancestor who was a god or, at the very least, a king in an admired culture. Whoever ruled in the Valley of Mexico always had to claim to be descended from or heirs of the Toltecs. Rival Mayan cities would play at ancestral one-upmanship. Imagine, now, the vigorous and dangerous Nephites, coming down the valley of the Sidon River from the highlands of Guatemala. King Zarahemla is negotiating with King Mosiah. Mosiah tells him of his ancestry, of course, and the story of how God led Lehi and Nephi out of Jerusalem at the time when Zedekiah was king of Israel.

To Mosiah, what he is doing is bearing his testimony and asserting the divine guidance that he receives as the legitimate king of a chosen people. To Zarahemla, what he is doing is claiming that his lineage gives him the right to rule over the people of Zarahemla and displace him from the kingship. So what does Zarahemla do? Well, Mosiah admits that his ancestors were not kings in Israel. So Zarahemla picks his most noble ancestor, Mulek, and then declares him to be the son of that last king of Israel. Thus if anybody has the right to rule over anybody, it’s Zarahemla who has the right to rule over Mosiah and his people. But Mosiah kindly points out that if Zarahemla and his people are descended from Israelites, they certainly seem to have forgotten the language and writing, and therefore have obviously degenerated from the high culture of Israel. The Nephites, on the other hand, have preserved a writing system that no one else uses, and which Zarahemla can’t read. They have a history accounting for every year since they arrived in America, which Zarahemla of course cannot produce.

In the end, whatever negotiation there was ended up with Zarahemla bowing out of the kingship and his people becoming subject to rule by the Nephites. But the story of Mulek served a very useful purpose even so — it allowed the people to merge, not with the hostility of conquerors over the conquered, though in fact that is what the relationship fundamentally was, but rather with the idea of brotherhood. They were all Israelites. Thus no one had any reason to question the Mulek story, because, while it failed in its original purpose, to allow Zarahemla to prevail over Mosiah, it still served the valuable function of uniting the newly combined nation as a single tribe. It wasn’t completely successful, of course, or there wouldn’t have been a later revolt of Kingmen against Nephite Freemen, but considering that the people of Zarahemla outnumbered the people of Mosiah by quite a bit, the Mulek story may well have contributed to the ultimate victory of the judges in that struggle.

If this speculation is true, it does not imply that the Book of Mormon is somehow false. No one in the Book of Mormon ever claims that the story of Mulek came to anybody by inspiration. The source is never more than Zarahemla’s assertion during his negotiations with Mosiah. That Mormon and other writers believed the story does not prove it true or false, it simply proves that it was part of the Nephite culture. And if my speculation is right, and Mulek was no more a son of Zedekiah than I am, we are spared the confusion of trying to reconcile this account with the utter lack of convincing evidence that Zedekiah had a boy named Mulek who escaped the Babylonians without generating a vast amount of Jewish tradition looking for the return of the lost son of the last king of Judah. We don’t have to account for a migration to America led by the Lord but without the same kind of preparation and commandments given to Lehi and Nephi. We don’t have to account for the fact that we think of America as being the inheritance of Manasseh and Ephraim, while in fact two thirds of the Nephites would have been descended from Judah — which to my mind, at least, would make hash of the literality of the application of the parable of the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah to the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

But this is only speculation, and if I’m wrong, and there really was a Mulek led to America by the Lord, I’m not going to lose my testimony about it! I just think it’s something to think about, a possibility to consider.”

-=-=-=

Yes, that is “only speculation”–in fact, there’s an incredible amount of speculation throughout the entire line of thinking to!!

But I see four big wrenches in this line of thinking:

1. Mormon writes about these Mulekite “others” as if there is something big and different; he never writes about any other “others”. For those who don’t believe there were many others, that’s not a problem; but for those that do, there’s some explaining to do: if the Nephites were always assimilating, from the start to the end, why only this mention?

2. Zarahemla had an interesting reaction: “Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews” (Omni 1:14).

Why would anyone other than a descendant of the Jews be interested in, or care about, much less “rejoice exceedingly”, over that?

3. Zarahemla knows the story:
Omni 1:15 “Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.”
Omni 1:16 “And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth.”

How would Zarahemla know:
from Jerusalem, at the time that Zedekiah was king of Judah, carried away captive into Babylon, journeyed in the wilderness, came across the great waters? He got all that info from Mosiah, and used it for his story?

4. Zarahemla gives his lineage: Omni 1:18 “But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory; and they are written, but not in these plates.”

So… what, they meet, Mulek learns a few Nephite names (not Jewish names), maybe he reads/ hears some Brass Plates stuff, and then he gives a lineage of his fathers, from that time (279-130 BC) all the way back to 600 BC? I don’t think so. Not only that, but everyone there in Zarahemla already has a name–had the names all become corrupted to, or did they have to give fake Jewish/ Phoenician/ who-knows-what names to everyone else?

So, even though it’s a pretty cool thought, it seems the text doesn’t really allow this line of reasoning.

P.S. “which to my mind, at least, would make hash of the literality of the application of the parable of the stick of Joseph and the stick of Judah to the Book of Mormon and the Bible.”
Not so–the Book of Mormon was written by descendants of Joseph–the Nephites–not the Mulekites.

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