Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Plates, Prophecy, and Perils of the Jews (1 Nephi 19)

Listen now! Nephi takes a moment to record his intent with the plates as commanded by the Lord. See the previous post, "More detail about the plates", on this subject.
6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
Nephi wants to make it clear that there is a difference between the messenger and the message. The message is perfect, the messenger is not. Notice that Nephi isn't making excuses, but is simply pointing out that all men have flaws. In verse 7, he differentiates between what some flawed men do with scripture vs. others. Those who are righteous recognize that the scriptures are of great worth while others set them aside, thinking they know more than God, or than those whom they assume are pretending to speak for Him.

God reveals to Nephi the date and time of the birth of Jesus Christ. This is remarkable in that the Bible, at least the parts that were extant, recovered, and compiled in the 4th century A.D., does not record any such detail. To the people in Jerusalem, the events that had been prophesied would be a clear enough sign to those witnessing them that Christ would soon be born or had already been born. The people of the Americas, being a world away from those in Jerusalem, needed a reference point by which to track the advent of the Savior. Therefore, it is likely the Lord saw fit to give them this information for this, among other reasons. They also saw signs in the heavens, as noted in verses 10-14.

The commotions accompanying the death of the Savior are also recorded so that Nephi's people would know what would be in store for them when that day arrived. That Nephi records specifically what would happen to the Jews at that time, according to prophecies recorded by prophets not published in our present-day Bible. They include Zenock, Neum, and Zenos.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have something to say about pre-Messianic prophets who taught about the coming of the Lord:
Some scholars believe that the greatest single revelation of the scrolls is the existence of a great prophetic tradition that has been completely forgotten. Its greatest representative is the mysterious "Teacher of Righteousness" or "Righteous Teacher," a major prophet whose very existence was unknown until 1950. How could a figure of such immense importance both to christians and Jews have been completely forgotten? It was because his name was blotted out by Rabbinical or "official" Jews, who persecuted him severely and drove him into the desert because he preached the coming of the Messiah.

He was of priestly descent, being of the line of Zadok, another mysterious prophet, whom some believed lived at the time of Moses and who is the type of the true priest who looked forward to the Messiah. Allegro believes that the Teacher of Righteousness himself may have been called Zadok. The important thing is the discovery not of controversial individuals but of an undeniable tradition of a line of persecuted Messianic prophets. This is in perfect agreement with the Zenock and Zenos tradition in the Book of Mormon. Since one of the commonest phenomena in the apocryphal literature, including the scrolls, is the frequent duplication and corruption of proper names, it might not be too much to suggest that Zadok might even be a corruption of Zenock, since of course in Hebrew the vowels are not written, and the Hebrew "d" resembles the "n" closely enough (in the archaic script) to have been confused by an early copyist—a very common type of mistake. Be that as it may, the peculiar type of prophet represented by Zenock and Zenos is now fully established by the scrolls.

"The Dead Sea Scrolls: Some Questions and Answers", from Old Testament and Related Studies by Hugh W. Nibley, pp. 245–51

Zenos is one of four Israelite prophets of Old Testament times cited in the book of Mormon whose writings appeared on the plates of brass but who are not mentioned in the Old Testament (see also Zenock; Neum; and Ezias). Zenos is quoted or mentioned by Nephi1 (1 Ne. 19:10–17), Jacob (Jacob 5:1–77; 6:1), Alma2 (Alma 33:3–11, 13, 15), Amulek (Alma 34:7), Nephi2 (Hel. 8:19–20), and Mormon (3 Ne. 10:14–17).

Although specific dates and details of Zenos' life and ministry are not known, the Book of Mormon provides considerable information about him from his teachings and related facts. Evidently he lived sometime between 1600 and 600 B.C. because he was apparently a descendant of Joseph of Egypt and his writings were on the plates of brass taken from Jerusalem to the Americas by Nephi1 about 600 B.C. He may also have been a progenitor of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi (cf. 3 Ne. 10:16). Zenos spent time "in the wilderness" (Alma 33:4), but also preached "in the midst" of the "congregations" of God (Alma 33:9). Some of his enemies became reconciled to him through the power of God, but others were visited "with speedy destruction" (Alma 33:4, 10). Finally, he was slain because of his bold testimony of the coming of the "Son of God" (Hel. 8:13–19).

A major theme in the teachings of Zenos was the destiny of the house of Israel. His allegory or parable comparing the house of Israel to a tame olive tree and the Gentiles to a wild olive tree constitutes the longest single chapter in the Book of Mormon, Jacob chapter 5 (see Book of Mormon: Book of Jacob). The allegory refers to major events in the scattering and gathering of the house of Israel (see Allegory of Zenos).

The second-longest quotation from Zenos in the Book of Mormon is his hymn of thanksgiving and praise recorded in Alma 33:3–11, which emphasizes prayer, worship, and the mercies of God. A careful comparison of the style and contents of this hymn with Hymn H (or 8) and Hymn J (or 10) of the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls, noting certain striking similarities, suggests that the three may have been written by the same person. Further, the life situations of the author (or authors) are very similar (CWHN 7:276–83). Some LDS scholars anticipate that other evidences of Zenos' writings may appear as additional ancient manuscripts come to light.

"Zenos" from To All the World: The Book of Mormon Articles from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, by Daniel H. Ludlow, pp. 321–23

In this chapter, Nephi is essentially writing a letter to his posterity in the Americas, pleading with them that when they see these signs at the end of the 600 years, that they take heed and repent and believe in Christ. In verse 23, he states, "And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning."

That is the purpose of the scriptures, after all. We are to liken them to our own lives so that we can learn the lessons that others have learned and also anticipate what to learn from the trials and tribulations we can see on the horizon.

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