Monday, July 20, 2009

Lehi the Heretic -- 1 Ne 1: 19-20

"And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.
And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away." (from 1 Ne 1: 19-20)

When Lehi told the people about their own sins, they "mocked" him. Mocking, to me, suggests they aren't taking it too hard: these are callous and self-assured sinners who don't feel a need to respond directly to charges of misconduct.

Then Lehi tells them about a vision he had and a book he read in that vision which gave him a specific brand of Messianic hope--and that's when they get angry and try to kill him.

So, let me get this straight: a man comes claiming to be a prophet and tells you that you are about to be destroyed in consequence of purported sins, and you think he's deluded but amusing. Then he tells you that a Messiah will come and redeem the world--and you want him dead? How does that make any sense?

I remember an investigator complaining once about the overt anticipation of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon: Biblical prophecies of Christ's coming, he explained, were invariably verschluesselt (encoded, hidden, locked, in need of a key) whereas the Book of Mormon ones seemed too direct, too overt. My explanations at the time were that the translation process may have removed some of the culture-bound crypticness of Book of Mormon prophecy in favor of overt and accessible modern language, or that the total geographic separation from the land where Christ would be born made God more willing to be overt in his revelations to Nephite prophets.

My more recent theory, though, is that Lehi, and Nephi after him, were simply heretics whose version of Messianic hopes placed them outside the acceptable constraints of mainstram Judaism. They were more overtly Christian in their thinking and "bold" in their preaching, and that's a big part of why they had to leave, lest they suffer the same fate as Zenos (see Hel. 8: 19).

Nephite religion, then, should be viewed less as a direct extension of Judaism than as a breakaway new religious movement differentiated above all by the divergent Messianic teachings of its founders. At approximately the same time that Buddha was departing from classical Hindu thought by his teachings on the nature of spiritual discipline and his divergent doctrine of the soul, Lehi and especially Nephi were stepping out of conventional Judaism with their ideas of how the Messiah should be defined and what redemption would constitute.


  1. That's an interesting proposition; one that sits right with me. I'm wondering, though, if this is the case, why the Nephites still had such a bitter taste in their mouth concerning prophecies of Christ when Korihor and Zeezrom came on the scene hundreds of years later? Weren't they used to this heretical preaching?

    Prophecies about a Savior still seem to be the central point of contention throughout the 100 years leading up to Christ's coming.

  2. The issue remains contentious, but the Nephites are clearly used to this preaching by the time of Korihor--his position against it is the heretical one. By closer to the coming of Christ, those who don't believe have gained a political upper hand, but they seem to treat beliefs in the coming of Christ as foolish and outdated rather than heretical.

    Arguments against the coming of Christ are also probably the most covered heresy in our text simply because it's the one that the writers and compilers of the text found most alarming. There may have been all kinds of divergent teachings among the Nephites, but we read the most about the ones that the writers and compiler thought were most worth refuting.

  3. There may have even been many different forms of Christian churches at the time that Christ appeared to the Nephites. Almost the first thing he tells them is the correct mode of baptism. This would make sense if you have a large group of mostly righteous (as judged by God) people, who still have a variety of beliefs about some basic principles. Then, almost with the next breath, Christ explains that among his followers, contention should be done away with--which seems to show that they had some contention among people who professed to follow Christ.

    I can imagine a similar teaching happening when he comes again, and there is a great collection of Christian and non-Christian people from many different groups who are righteous (as judged by God) enough to remain on the earth during the millenium. In order to put down contention right from the start, he may teach some pretty basic stuff that we all tend to disagree on.

    This is a tangent to what you were really talking about, but it grows out of the idea that the Nephites were already used to teachings about Christ; in fact, they probably had a variety of them, the way that we do today.

  4. Also, this may influence how we think of the cryptic-ness of the Old Testament prophecies of Christ. Perhaps these prophecies are cryptic precisely because any prophecy more open was considered heretical and wiped off the record.



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