A Tale of Two Books

935 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2003

A Tale of Two Books

The Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt under Moses’ inspired leadership is perhaps one of the more spectacular events recorded in the Old Testament. In the process, the list of plagues visited upon Egypt is impressive: water turned to blood, vermin, pestilence, destructive hail, fire from heaven, thick darkness and the death of the firstborn. There were also some miraculous manifestations: the pillar of fire and smoke, the parting of the Red Sea, bitter water made sweet, manna from heaven, the sound of trumpets and thunder, as well as lightning and earthquakes at Mt. Sinai.

Remarkably, there is another book of scripture that reports the same plagues and miracles.  When we turn to John’s Revelation in the New Testament, the principle scriptural source of prophesied plagues and miracles seen to occur in the last days, we see the same sort of things going on. In fact, a side-by-side comparison of the two books reveals remarkable similarities that intrigue the student of the scriptures.

We read in Exodus: “… and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.  And the fish that was in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.”

A comparable passage from Revelation reads: “And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.  And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of water; and they became blood.”

Again, in Exodus: “… and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along the ground.”

Also in Revelation: “… and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth.”

Exodus: “And the hail smote throughout all the land of Egypt all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field.”

Revelation: “And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent; …”

Exodus: “And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt.”

Revelation: “… and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men … and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores.”

Exodus: “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings … and the whole mount quaked greatly.”

Revelation: “… and there were voices, thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.”

Exodus: “… and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.”

Revelation: “And the seven angels which hold the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.  The first angel sounded …”

These stunning similarities are all the more amazing when we consider that Exodus is a record of past events while Revelation chronicles things that are yet to come. Apparently, the same things were going on in Moses’ time as will happen in ours. In fact, when all revelation touching upon the prophesied events of the last days is taken into consideration, these similarities become unambiguous commonalities.

Upon pondering this remarkable coincidence, it becomes apparent that the events of the last days, prior to the Savior’s advent, will see a return of the plagues and miracles of the Exodus – a rerun, if you will, in our day – something that most Saints have never considered.

Once established, these commonalities shed further light upon latter-day revelations, allowing us to better understand the context of past and prophesied events and appreciate their interrelated nature. That is, these signs do not happen in isolation; they occur in concert. Hence, when one or two of these plagues or miracles occur, most if not all of the others can be expected as well, even though they may not be specifically mentioned.

For example, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, “For after your testimony cometh the testimony of earthquakes, that shall cause groanings in the midst of her, and men shall fall upon the ground and shall not be able to stand.

“And also cometh the testimony of the voice of thunderings, and the voice of lightnings, and the voice of tempests, and the voice of the waves of the sea heaving themselves beyond their bounds.”  (Doctrine & Covenants 88:89, 90.)

These signs are plainly some of the same as those mentioned in Exodus and Revelation. Hence, we can surmise that other signs from those two books will also be included.

“For not many days hence and the earth shall tremble and reel to and fro as a drunken man; and the sun shall hide his face, and shall refuse to give light; and the moon shall be bathed in blood; and the stars shall become exceedingly angry, and shall cast themselves down as a fig that falleth from off a fig-tree. …

“And he shall sound his trump both long and loud, and all nations shall her it.”  (Doctrine & Covenants 88:87, 94.)

This more ample statement of latter-day events significantly elaborates our understanding of such events, whether they occur in ancient or future times. Yet, it reinforces the connected nature of these signs, plagues and miracles.

Given this new perspective of Exodus and Revelation, our study of prophecy and the scriptures should be more meaningful than ever before.




Children of the Light?

3,099 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2003

Children of the Light?

Latter-day Saints’ opinion on the subject of potential planetary near impacts, past and present, differs little from that of the gen­eral public. Sadly, most Mormons seem as indifferent to this concept as their secular and sectarian contemporaries.  Yet, it probably should not be so.

Joseph Smith clearly held a catastrophist view of his­tory and prophecy that included disasters originating in the heavens, which would have had devastating effects here on Earth. Speaking of the Second Coming, he said, “It is not the design of the Almighty to come upon the Earth and crush it and grind it to powder . . . .” (History of the Church, 5:337.) These words are not those of a gradualist or uniformitarian. They bespeak a catastrophist point of view. It is well estab­lished by this author that Joseph Smith’s teachings on past and future events are patently catastrophist. (See The Prophecy Trilogy, Vol. 3, Ch. 1.) Given that fact, why are so many Latter-day Saints loath to accept this interpretation of history and prophecy? For the answer to that question, we will have to examine history.

 Abandoning our roots

 The restoration of the gospel began at the same time as a revolution in geology and biology. Popular opinion in Joseph Smith’s day held that the Creation and Noah’s Flood had largely shaped the world. Today they would be called creationists. Geologists like Hutton and Lyell disputed that view, noting that a rational interpretation of the geologic re­cord argued for a very old planet altered only by slow proc­esses over eons of time. They were gradualists.

In Joseph Smith’s day, the gradualists were a minority, but by the latter half of the 19th century, the scientific and academic communities had spurned creationism and catastrophism to embrace gradualism completely. The gen­eral public was somewhat slower to shift opinion. Still, by the turn of the century, gradualism dominated the thought of the general public since it was, by that time, the only way the subject was taught in almost all academic settings.

 Mormons in flux

This ideological shift presented a problem to Mormons who were in the process of trying to integrate with the larger American culture. Historically, the church and the govern­ment had been at odds, as any student of early church history knows. The Saints’ exodus to the Great Salt Lake Valley originally put them outside the confines of the United States. However, they eventually found themselves once again within its boarders due to the westward expansion of the nation. This left the Saints with a difficult decision: move yet again, just as they had left Jackson County and then Nauvoo, leaving behind another city and temple erected from raw land, or ac­commodate the laws and cultural standards of the United States so they could keep their new desert home. The deci­sion to remain and conform prevailed, and the Saints under­took the daunting task-as history records that painful adver­sarial process-of qualifying for statehood and citizenship.

To diminish tension and facilitate the process, Mormons sought to emphasize cultural similarities with the rest of America and suppress dissimilarities in hopes of reducing the antagonism of earlier days. This, they trusted, would help avoid further confrontations-like the Johnston’s Army inci­dent, for example-and ease tensions so that the church could finally put down permanent roots and better carry out its re­vealed mandate to preach the gospel.

Like the larger American population, the Mormons eventually embraced gradualism and for much the same rea­sons. Even though the position of the Prophet and early church members had been catastrophist, Mormons eventually found the idea of gradualism irresistible.

As a result, a new generation of Mormons did not entirely share their forefathers’ worldview because of the pressures from the greater society around them to conform to the common precepts taught by almost all educational institutions, including gradualism.

This ideological reversal on the Saints’ part produced the desired effect. It opened doors to Mormons in American society that had for­merly been closed, allowing them to pursue careers in poli­tics, science and education; some eventually even attained tenure in prestigious institutions. There was now one less difference between Mormons and their American contemporaries.

 A split personality

Yet, all this progress came at a price. The Saints’ ideo­logical shift to gradualism created an intellectual dichotomy in the 20th century. Their scriptures – especially those new revelations that came with the restoration-tell of a cata­strophic Earth history. They also proclaim, emphatically and dramatically, a catastrophic future. Yet, the cultural beliefs Mormons had adopted to “fit in” with the rest of the Americans precluded such notions, categorically denying any such possibility.

This produced an intellectual dichotomy in the Saints’ worldview, creating a spiritual and academic scotoma that has only grown larger in the many years since.

 This resulted in church members shifting ideo­logical gears on a consistent basis. In a religious setting, they read and mouthed an ideology with catastrophist underpin­nings; in a secular setting, such as the public and private educational system, they espoused the opposite ideol­ogy of gradualism. This has endured, strangely, to the pre­sent. It has become institutionalized, resulting in a sort of in­tellectual and religious schizophrenia.

In addition, there may have been one other, even more profound, loss: Mormons no longer understood their scriptures as they were meant to be un­derstood. While Joseph Smith’s interpretation of prophecy and history may not seem essential to our salvation, it performs a vital function in our interpretation of revealed knowledge. Revelation regarding past or future events comes from a per­spective that acknowledges the role of planetary catastrophes in Earth’s past, present and future. The language of the prophets is steeped in it. So, if our paradigm does not include this perspective, we have no frame of reference with which to completely understand the revelation.

This is what the Apostle Peter meant when he wrote, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:20,21.) If the parties involved in any exchange do not share a common understanding-if one is a gradualist and the other a catastrophist-there will be a fundamental misunderstanding in the exchange of information. They do not share a common view, background or experience. Therefore, they do not interpret the data, information or truths, in the same way. Hence, there can be no “private interpretation” of the scriptures or proph­ecy. Both parties must have the same frame of reference. The fallible “will of man,” or opinion of man, will only lead to misunderstanding.

To correctly understand the scriptures, prophecy or revelation itself, one must have the same frame of reference as the text itself, which is catastrophist. Thus, it may be that this paradigm shift in the last century left Mormons incapable of properly interpreting what had been given them by revelation regarding historic and prophetic events.

 A systematic method of interpretation

 The systematic method for interpreting historic and prophetic events, given us by Joseph Smith, is based on sym­bolism. (See The Prophecy Trilogy, Vol. 1, Ch. 3, for a list of such metaphors and their origins.) This puts the prophet squarely in the center of ancient prophetic tradition. In both the revelations he communicated to us and in the sermons he gave, Joseph used these symbols correctly and consistently. For example, his­tory speaks of water turning to blood, of stars falling from the heavens, of migrating seas and oceans. Knowing what has oc­curred in the past to give birth to such descriptive metaphori­cal phrases, one can determine what is meant by the same metaphor in another context-prophecy, for example. That knowledge allows a consistent system of interpretation, rather than the extravagant guesswork and speculation en­gaged in by most scriptural exegetes. It also acknowledges a celestial origin for most religious iconography, ritual and metaphor.

 The two faces of symbolism

Such symbolism has two aspects or facets: one literal, the other metaphorical. The literal aspect in the water-turned-to-blood example refers to a time in the past when Earth’s waters were polluted by ferriferous dust. Its use in prophecy refers to a repeat of this phenomenon. Its meta­phorical aspect is simply a rhetorical, poetic representation of a physical event or phenomenon. The water does not turn into anything, much less blood. Such is the nature of all metaphor.

This aspect is also a reflection of the ancient mind that turned to dramatic imagery in order to describe the inexplicable. This does not imply that the ancients were somehow less intelligent, that they could not discern the real­ity in what they saw. Indeed, some-Plato, for example, or Mormon-clearly grasped the true nature of catastrophic events and so described them. (See Helaman 12: 8-17.) However, the extraordinary nature of the events ensured that most of the time they would be characterized in symbolic terms, as opposed to analytical terms. The color­ful nature of metaphor is always more dramatic and appeal­ing than cold, dispassionate analysis. In any case, the imagery of past catastrophes captured the imagination of the masses, leading to its widespread adoption and use.

The past is the key

It is vital that one have a firm grasp of the events and conditions in antiquity that produced gospel symbolism. The Lord alluded to that fact when he revealed that “. . . truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24.) The intimate relationship between past, present and future events implied here must be recognized in order to correctly understand the truth when it is presented. This tripartite concept (past = pre­sent = future) is often repeated in the scriptures, especially in prophecy.

Undoubtedly, one of the functions of the School of the Prophets, if not the primary function, was educating the brethren in the many prophetic metaphors and symbols employed anciently, their variations, elaborations, their proper application and interpretation. By teaching the systematic interpretation of scriptural metaphors, religious rituals and iconography, the prophet ensured that the priest­hood brethren understood their proper use and interpretation. They could interpret this symbolism wherever they came across it and not be misled by doctrinal distortions.

Equipped with this knowledge, any Latter-day Saint can also see that temple and religious iconography is the physical counterpart to rhetorical metaphor. That is to say, the metaphor reflects the meaning of the icon and the icon reflects the meaning of the metaphor. Those things depicted in religious art, archi­tecture, rite and ritual, can also be found in religious rhetoric.

Knowledge: a key to discernment

Indeed, this is one of the keys used to discern a false prophet in a day and age when the meaning of these symbols and metaphors is largely unknown. Because a false prophet is not schooled in the knowledge of these things, he or she lacks the ability to properly use and interpret such symbolism and metaphor. Thus, the pretender’s “revelations” and teachings lack these elements. They fail to properly employ the time-honored literary devices known to all true prophets because they are ignorant of the iconography of antiquity. Hence, they interpret prophecy no differently than any run-of-the-mill evangelical exegete.

For much the same reason, the apostate who has turned against the true religion can be a threat. Once intimately schooled in this knowledge of symbolism, the perpetrator has the power to do tremendous damage because he or she can de­ceive even the “elect,” or those who know these symbols and their proper use.

This, too, is an excellent test for a true prophet: He will employ this symbolism properly and in a manner consistent with ancient tradition. While only the whisperings of the Spirit can completely confirm a prophet’s claim to revelation, this is additional, intellectual confirmation, if you will. A true prophet will easily and correctly employ traditional, scriptural symbolism in his teachings, and that symbolism will certainly be present in all revelation he passes along to the Saints. In this respect, as in every other, Joseph Smith passed the test successfully.

Left to their own devices

Once the Saints had abandoned Joseph Smith’s symbol­ism-based interpretation of scripture and prophecy, a vacuum appeared in their theology. They no longer had a yardstick or touchstone for interpreting most gospel symbolism. Since “nature abhors a vacuum,” a ready replacement was soon found in the eschatological thinking of sectarian Christianity. Mormonism, therefore, has largely adopted the prophetic interpretation of Evangelism, epitomized today by the writings of Hal Lindsay in his book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, or the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong, a popular millennialist and radio evangelist of the 1950s, in his radio program, “The World Tomorrow.” One can see evidence of this when comparing the views of the aforementioned evangelists with those of re­cent Mormon writers Cleon Skousen and Dwane Crowther. As one aphorism has it, “There ain’t a dimes bit of difference between ’em.”

Hence, we find Mormons generally interpreting pro­phetic utterances, ancient and modern, in remarkably similar ways to their evangelical, Christian cousins: metaphor is made literal and symbol is made modern. This leads to gross distortions in the interpretation of prophecy. For example, consider the unfounded interpretation of the year 2000 as the date for the second coming or the obses­sion with the number 666. It also leads to the creation of fictitious characters such as the Antichrist and fictitious events such as the Rapture. It seems apparent to this author that we may have allowed harmful sectarian notions to find their way into our catechism, just as Elder McConkie repeatedly warned before his death.

Time to reevaluate

Given all the recent discoveries coming out of the sci­ences regarding impacts and the prophetic warnings that re­peatedly forewarn us of spectacular celestial events before the Second Coming, would it not be prudent for Latter-day Saints to reexamine our views? Would it not be wise for us to acknowledge, as modern science already has, that such things may happen?  Should we not want to return to our roots in catastrophism, given us by Joseph Smith? If it was once our desire to conform to a trend that led us to abandon our catastrophist base, then why not conform to the newest trend of science, neocatastrophism, in order to return to our former beliefs?

Signs, ancient and modern, in the heavens

When we consider the magnitude and import of seeing the Shoemaker/Levi comet impact giant Jupiter in our own time, one wonders if this astronomical visual aid might not have been God’s way of making a point. Was it done merely to amaze or amuse us? Was it done to keep the astronomers, scientists and scholars busy? Or was it, indeed, a sign-meant to awaken us from our apathetic complacency about the times we live in and the planet we live on? Should not Latter-day Saints be the first to recognize this?

The Nephites were given a sign of the Savior’s birth. “. . . for behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness; . . . . 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. . . .

“And it came to pass also that a new star did appear, ac­cording to the word.” (3 Nephi 1:15, 19,21.)

Thus, we see that God used the heavens, a celestial can­vas, upon which to paint the sign of his Son’s advent.

Recent history has given us a rather remarkable sign of our own.

“On July 16, 1994, the first fragment of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 entered Jupiter’s stratosphere traveling at the speed of 60 kilometers per second-that’s about 134,000 miles per hour.  Seconds later it exploded.  A plume of shock-heated cometary material mixed with hot gases from Jupiter’s atmosphere soared more than two thousand miles above the tops of Jupiter’s clouds.  As material from the plume fell back into the stratosphere of Jupiter, it left a large, crescent-shaped dark spot partly surround­ing a smaller intense dark cloud that formed along the entry path of the comet.

“Two days later, Fragment G hit Jupiter with such force that its plume was, in some wavelengths of observation, fifty times brighter than the entire planet.  By the end of impact week, Jupiter was bruised with the markings of 21 impacts, dark scars larger than Earth.  Not in the 400-year history of the telescope has any planet displayed such dramatic new features.  Nine months after the impact ended, Jupiter’s southern hemisphere was graced with a belt of dark material, still easily visible through small telescopes.

“We are only now beginning to grasp the magnitude of what has happened.” (Cosmic Collisions, pp. 6, 7, from the fore­word by David H. Levy and Carolyn & Eugene Shoemaker.)

Was the impact of a comet with Jupiter in our time any less of a sign than that given to the Nephites? The intent of that sign was to verify that, as Samuel the Lamanite had prophesied, the Son of God had been born. Could it be that the Shoemaker/Levi event was a demonstration to a disbeliev­ing world – Mormons in particular – that such things can hap­pen – indeed, will happen – to us?

Certainly, it was a verification of assertions by this author, the scriptures, the prophets and a multitude of modern catastrophists that such things do happen; that we live in an uncertain solar system that has seen numerous cosmic disas­ters in historic times; that old assumptions about a steady-state Earth wherein “. . . all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation . . .” (2 Peter 3:5.) are flawed; that we have been “willingly ignorant” in this enlightened, modern age, of the truths that the ancients sought to preserve in text, ritual and stone; that “. . . the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the Earth, which are now . . . are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment . . . .” (Ibid. 3:5, 6.)

As Latter-day Saints who have been given the restored gospel, we have a greater obligation to recognize and receive these things than does the rest of the world. Are we not designated as the “children of the light?”



Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

1596 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2007

 Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

Part 4 of 4

The thesis presented in this 4-part series has stood the test of time. It affirms that Nephite history is predictive, to one degree or another, of events yet to come in our time. Events and conditions that were once speculation on this author’s part nearly two decades ago in 1989, when Parallel Histories: The Nephites and the Americans was first published, have now become historic fact: The two histories mirror one another to a remarkable degree.

Lest the reader be inclined to minimize or dismiss the specific prognostic power of the parallel histories thesis, thinking that all these similarities are more hindsight than foresight and more rhetoric than fact, let’s consider the original exposition of this thesis in the context of world affairs at the time it was first published. 

Contrary to all expectations at that time, near the close of the Cold War when the national mindset was still America vs. Russia, U.S. vs. U.S.S.R., West vs. East, this author predicted, based on the parallel histories thesis, that hostilities between America and Russia would cease, that the old ‘us vs. them” state of affairs, which had endured for decades, would vanish.

Miraculously, it did, demonstrating the predictive power of the thesis, which is not due to any special ability of this author but rather to the foresight of ancient prophets.

Consider how predictive were this author’s words, written in 1988, regarding today’s reality.

“The modern equivalent of the Gadianton band should now be present if our time is, in fact, parallel to the period of Nephite history in question.  The question is, ‘Who are they?'” (Parallel Histories: The Nephites and The Americans, pp. 83-84.)

The predictive capacity of the parallel histories thesis made the answer to that question relatively easy.

“While the Gadianton robbers originated from within Nephite and Lamanite society, it may be that because of the wider scope of modern political interplay, today’s Gadianton robbers originate on the periphery of the East/West interchange.  The Gadianton robbers injected a third element into the duality that had existed in Nephite/Lamanite history up to that point.  So it is that they must also be a third party to East/West relations today.” (Ibid., p. 85.)

This assessment could not have been more accurate. Modern terrorism was born in the so-called Third World Nations.

“The Gadianton robbers were a secret combination, to be sure; but they were much more than that. Their first appearance in Nephite political problems was as a small conspiracy to take over the government. Assassination was one of their hallmarks. They were hard to attack because they hid in the wilderness or among the populace of cities where they mixed with the crowd. They surprised their victims by striking, seemingly, from nowhere-out of a crowd or out of the wilderness. After destroying an individual or a city, they disappeared again into the wilderness or into the crowd. They also kidnapped at will, taking hostages when it met their needs.” (Ibid.)

This characterization of the Gadianton robbers clearly anticipated their rebirth as terrorists in modern times. The next paragraph foreshadowed their appearance on the world stage in our day.

“As they grew in numbers, they became more overt in their action, waging war on Lamanite and Nephite cities.  Their strength was their ability to move within the existing political structures to further their ends, and at the same time they were an autonomous group capable of taking what they wanted by military force, if necessary.  Their stock in trade was fear.” (Ibid.)

“Where do we find such a group today?  What conspiratorial group forms today’s third column and finds asylum in sympathetic Third World countries?  What group routinely resorts to assassination, kidnapping and the holding of hostages?  Obviously these are the international terrorist groups, which match the description of the Gadianton band in every particular.  Their principal weapon is fear, and they have added a new wrinkle to their modus operandi: hijacking and bombing.” (Ibid., pp. 85, 86.)

Once again, the perspective proffered by the parallel histories thesis nearly three decades ago allowed an extremely accurate forecast of the origins and tactics of today’s terrorists.

However, the most chilling part of this Book of Mormon insight sounds like today’s headlines.

“Struggle as they might, the Nephites and the Lamanites were unable to defeat the Gadianton robbers for many years. That leaves the modern world with the disagreeable prospect of a prolonged struggle with international terrorism.

“The prospects that this bodes for our time are truly remarkable. Will terrorism grip the world to the extent that no one will be safe? Will terrorist action assume the dimensions of full-scale warfare? Will the West and the East be forced by the growth of worldwide terrorism to cooperate to such an extent that they will stand as one people against this new menace? That appears to be the implication of the parallel history thesis.” (Ibid., 86, 87.)

As this new conflict in our time drags out months and years from now, as it surely will, we would do well to keep the Nephite struggle with the Gadianton robbers clearly in mind by not letting ourselves become disheartened by the protracted nature of this struggle, nor should we allow dissention and contention to weaken our resolve.

This is the promise of the parallel histories: The Nephites successfully prosecuted this conflict in their day; it will surely be so in our time as well. Latter-day Saints should take heart, counsel and solace from the Nephite record, the Book of Mormon. 

 Our last consideration in this series has the most profound implications for our future – at the same time, both foreboding and inspiring. The last few chapters of Helaman and the entire book of 3 Nephi are those most likely to find equivalence in our time. Among many others, they depict:

  • The seemingly intractable Gadianton wars finally came to an end, but not until the Nephites/Lamanites mustered the will and the unity to adequately address the problem in a final, winner-take-all battle.
  • Samuel, a Lamanite, warned the Nephites and prophesied the signs of the Savior’s First Coming. While a few joined the church as a result of Samuel’s preaching, the greater part of the people disbelieved his message.
  • Even though the signs of the Savior’s birth occurred as predicted by Samuel, the greater part of the Nephites remained unrepentant and persecuted the faithful.
  • A political movement to replace the rule of judges (a republic) by that of a king (a monarchy) unraveled their nation, leaving the Nephites without a central government for the first time in their long history. Their nation degenerated into a collection of feudal clans or city-states, which agreed “that one tribe should not trespass against another.”
  • All that intrigue came to an abrupt halt when a great natural disaster struck, as Samuel had prophesied in painstaking detail, destroying cities and people en mass while entirely changing “the whole face of the land.”
  • The Savior came after the destruction and darkness subsided. He administered to the survivors of the catastrophe and taught them the gospel.
  • His coming ushered in a remarkable 200-year period of peace in the land and harmony among the people.

LDS prophetic tradition manifestly declares that our day and age will see a similar series of events: a cataclysmic destruction will befall us that will change the world so radically that we will see “a new heaven and a new earth;” the Savior will appear to the survivors in his Second Coming; and the Millennium, a new period of peace, safety and harmony, will be ushered in. One cannot help but notice this series of three events, yet to come, are virtually identical to the last three noted in Nephite history. Can that be mere coincidence?

Those predicted events and current events covered in previous installments in this series are all the more remarkable in that they serve to strengthen our thesis, leading us wonder how many other events in Nephite history may yet see fulfillment in our time.

Going down the bullet list above, many questions emerge.

Will our war on terror be a protracted struggle? Will the outcome be the same in our day as it was for the hapless Nephites?

Will we see a prophet come forth from a nation other than our own to call us to repentance and prophesy the proximity of the Second Coming? Will the faithful righteous in our day yet be persecuted by the greater populace, as were their Nephite counterparts – even though the signs of the Second Coming are apparent to all?

Can it be that political machinations in our day will produce a struggle to alter or replace our constitutional form of government? Will that struggle dissolve our union?

While only time can truly answer those questions, the equivalence between the two histories pointed out in this series strongly suggests that Latter-day Saints have an obligation to study the Book of Mormon more carefully than they have done heretofore for answers to the dilemmas we face as our future unfolds.

In the give and take of national and international debate, if the rhetoric of politicians and pundits seems confusing, if it seems unclear what or who to believe regarding today’s terrorism and how to deal with it effectively, the Nephite story gives us an accurate and enlightening, prophets’ perspective of where our loyalties and efforts should lie and what we may expect in the ensuing months and years.

In that regard, the Book of Mormon is truly a roadmap or guide for our times in more specific ways than many heretofore envisioned.  We would be well advised to pay heed to its message to us.

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

1,532 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2007

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

Part 3 of 4

The true predictive power of the Nephite record becomes apparent as we focus on the period of time recorded near the end of Helaman and move forward into 3 Nephi. As we do so, we find that their history reads like our recent newspaper headlines.

The many stunning similarities between Nephite and American history now include the advent of institutionalized terrorism. Their war with the Gadianton robbers plunged the Nephites into a new kind of battle for freedom, just as has happened in our recent history.

Gone were the old struggles between two historic enemies-the Nephites and the Lamanites in Helaman’s time, the East and the West in our time. The Gadianton robbers, like today’s terrorist counterparts, were an entirely new element – a third column, if you will – that fought an entirely new kind of war against both sides.

The modern terrorists are easily recognizable in the reflection of the robbers.

“And they [the Gadianton robbers] did commit murder and plunder; and then they would retreat back into the mountains, and into the wilderness and secret places, hiding themselves that they could not be discovered, receiving daily an addition to their numbers, inasmuch as there were dissenters that went forth unto them.” (Helaman 11:25.)

As with the terrorists in our time, the Gadianton robbers had no formal government with which the Nephites or Lamanites could negotiate, nor were they located in a country with recognizable borders. Instead, they sought refuge in “the mountains,” “wilderness” areas and “secret places,” just as do today’s terrorists.

In their time, as in ours, things went from bad to worse in short order.

“And thus in time, yea, even in the space of not many years, they became an exceedingly great band of robbers …

“Now behold, these robbers did make great havoc, yea, even great destruction among the people of Nephi, and also among the people of the Lamanites.” (Helaman 11:26, 27.)

The destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001 certainly qualifies as “great destruction” by terrorists in our time. Also evident in this verse is the fact that, as in Book of Mormon times, our recent history consists of nations that once divided themselves into two camps – East and West – both on the receiving end of terrorist tactics, which include threats, destruction and warfare.

So, we took the initiative, just as our Nephite cousins did.

“And it came to pass that it was expedient that there should be a stop put to this work of destruction; therefore they [the Nephites] sent an army of strong men into the wilderness and upon the mountains to search out this band of robbers, and to destroy them.” (Helaman 11:28.)

Americans, united in their resolve to defeat terrorism in the wake of 9/11, sent armies into “the wilderness” and “upon the mountains” of Afghanistan and Iraq in order to put a “stop” to the terrorists’ “work of destruction.”

But just as happened in Nephite times, our war against terror has not gone all that well. These and the following verses could be torn from our recent headlines!

“But behold, it came to pass that in that same year they were driven back even into their own lands …

“[In the next year] they did go forth again against this band of robbers, and did destroy many; and they were also visited with much destruction.” (Helaman 11:30.)

As often as we launch initiatives against the terrorists, they strike back with numerous attacks as in Spain, England and Russia, for example.

“And they were again obliged to return out of the wilderness and out of the mountains unto their own lands, because of the exceeding greatness of the numbers of those robbers who infested the mountains and the wilderness.” (Helaman 11:31.)

The equivalence in these verses brings us right up to our present, where our struggle against the terrorists has bogged down, necessitating a “surge” of more troops.

“… And the robbers did still increase and wax strong insomuch that they did defy the whole armies of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites; and they did cause great fear to come upon the people upon all the face of the land.” (Helaman 11:32.)

That terrorist-instigated death, destruction and kidnapping in our time has had the same effect is beyond dispute.

“Yea, for they did visit many parts of the land, and did do great destruction unto them; yea, did kill many, and did carry away others captive into the wilderness ….” (Helaman 11:33.)

The Nephite record gives the name of the Gadianton robbers’ leader as Giddianhi.  Terrorism also has a name in our time: Osama bin Laden.  The Nephites called their nemesis the Gadianton robbers. In our complex world they are known by several names: the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hezsbollah and Hamas, to name only a few.

The bad news for us, because we could suffer the same fate, is that no Nephite army could prevail against the robbers.

“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 Nephites were threatened with utter destruction because of this war, which had become exceedingly sore.” (3 Nephi 1:27.)

We, in our time, are faced with an equally intractable foe and a prolonged struggle to free ourselves of such intimidation and violence, to defeat an enemy who has sworn our “utter destruction.”

It is unlikely that events in our time will play out exactly like those of Nephite times.  Still, the similarities are striking and well worth keeping in mind because they give us a cognitive lens that we can use to bring into focus the events of our time.

Eventually the toll taken by Gadianton terrorism became so great that two historical enemies, the Nephites and the Lamanites, combined efforts to eradicate their common foe.

“… 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.”  (3 Nephi 2:11)

The implication of the parallel histories thesis is that much the same thing will happen in our time.

The struggle in Nephite times drug on for years and was a painful, prolonged affair that seemed impervious to solution. To make things worse, the Nephites and their leaders apparently argued among themselves about how to defeat this powerful enemy.

“And in the fifteenth year they [the robbers] 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. (3 Nephi 2:18, italics added.)

The problem may be equally difficult in our time.

Battle after battle, the Nephites could not prevail over the robbers until their leader, governor Lachoneus, hit upon a remarkable if not extreme solution.

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

“And he caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great.  And he caused that armies … should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night.” (3 Nephi 3:13,14.)

Then, Lachoneus appointed a “chief captain” of the armies, named Gidgiddoni, who implemented the final steps in the stratagem to draw the Gadianton robbers out of hiding, making them vulnerable.

“… 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 ….” (3 Nephi 3:21.)

We may yet be forced to adopt draconian measures, as the Nephites did, to defeat this enemy. Recall that every attempt to bring the robbers to justice met with failure until the Nephites hit upon a seemingly harsh and radical strategy as enunciated by Lachoneus and Gidgiddoni. After two pitched battles, one of which was the greatest known to that point in Nephite history, the Gadianton robbers were finally annihilated.

The Nephites’ success over terrorism is heartening, but their prolonged struggle portends the same for us. It suggests that we will overcome terrorism in our time, too, but not without tremendous sacrifice.

Make no mistake. This eventuality, too, will play out in our time much like it did in Nephite times. We are not carbon copies, but we are unmistakable reflections.

This comparison also makes an open-and-shut case for the theory that the Book of Mormon is as much prophecy as history. We and our Nephite cousins are nearly indistinguishable. Therefore, the history of one becomes the prophecy of the other.

No wonder Mormon felt compelled to write his marvelous book. In his place, any of us who love the gospel and the work would want to do the same.

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

1,279 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2007

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

Part 2 of 4

Mormon, as the author of the Book of Mormon, was in a truly unique position. He had an intimate knowledge of two cultures that were widely separated in time yet shared the same general geographic location: the Americans and the Nephites. He was a historian and a prophet – a historian because he had custody of the plates that recorded all Nephite history, a prophet because he had been shown the future when people he called “Gentiles” would inhabit the western hemisphere.

This uncommon status allowed him to clearly see the many, striking similarities between Nephite and American histories.

Put yourself in Mormon’s place.

  • You have a detailed knowledge of both nations, both the Nephites and the Americans (Gentiles). You have read and re-read all the history of your people – about 1,000 years of history – thus giving you an intimate knowledge of their doings.
  • You have also read that portion of the plates that is “sealed,” which contains the visionary accounts of the future time of the Gentiles and the latter days.
  • In addition, you have been treated to your own, personal vision of the Gentiles – rather like having a spiritual time machine – which has undoubtedly made an indelible impression on you.

Thus, even though the Gentile nations will not blossom in the New World for over 1,000 years you know their ‘history’ (futurity) as perfectly as you know Nephite history.

Given God’s charge to you, Mormon, to write a history of your people that will come forth to the Gentiles in the latter days, you have a unique, momentous calling. It will give you the power to speak to generations yet unborn, a golden opportunity to communicate with perhaps millions of souls across the centuries.

What would you do? How would you let the Gentiles know of events and characters to come? Would you not want to warn them to tell them of each event or circumstance and how to react to it or avoid it altogether?

But, wait a minute! The Spirit reminds you of this fundamental rule of prophecy: You may not make the facts too plain; that would detract from the free agency of future generations. Remember that Nephi was prohibited from plainly listing coming events. “And behold, I Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard.” (1 Nephi 14:28.) Therefore you realize that you may write only a history of your people.

Still, there may be a way that you, Mormon, can warn the Gentiles without violating the Spirit’s directive. You know that there are remarkable likenesses – parallels, if you will – between the two cultures, Nephite and Gentile. Indeed, you realize that by judiciously tailoring your record of Nephite history, the parallels to Gentile history become obvious. Thus, this history you write will also be prophetic!

So, it appears that Mormon deliberately prepared the book that carries his name to depict similarities between events and conditions in Nephite history and our own. Thus, with some careful study and prayer, it should become quite clear to any student of the Book of Mormon that it is also a rough outline of our day and time.

Let’s turn our attention to Nephite history to compare it with the corresponding era in recent world history. We focus on the episodes depicted in the fourth chapter of Helaman, which cover the 8-year period from 38 B.C to 30 B.C. Therein we see foreshadowed the conditions and events our world experienced in the mid-19th century, roughly corresponding to our 51-year period from 1938 to 1989 we call the Second World War and the Cold War.

Comparing their 8-year period to our 51-year period serves to show that our timelines are typically more expansive. It’s like looking through a magnifying glass: We see their history as a microcosm of our own.

That expansiveness is evident on many levels. In this example, not only does their timeline span a shorter period than does ours, their setting is much less complex than our own. Also, their events were based in a restricted geographical area, where ours cover the entire globe.

Beginning when Nephi, the son of Helaman, took his father’s judgment seat, we learn of a great war.

“And in the fifty and seventh year they [the Lamanites] did come down against the Nephites to battle, and they did commence the work of death: yea, insomuch that in the fifty and eighth year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla; yea, and also all the lands, even unto the land which was near the land Bountiful.

“And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their won strength, they [the Nephites] were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.” (Helaman 4:5, 13.)

This conflict was unique in that the Lamanites came against the Nephites unexpectedly and with such sudden, overwhelming force that they managed to take the Nephite heartland, including the ancient capital, Zarahemla, as they drove the fleeing Nephites northward. Only the natural defenses provided by the narrow neck of land separating the North and South territories finally allowed the Nephites to consolidate their forces enough to halt the advance of the Lamanite armies. It was also that narrow neck of land that became their base of operation for the Nephites as their armies struggled to retake their land from the Lamanites.

Our version of the parallel began about 68 years ago when the Axis powers made a sudden, astonishing push across Europe. Called the Blitzkrieg by Germans, it took the world by surprise, engulfing country after country until the Nazis had captured most of Central Europe. Their seemingly unstoppable assault was halted on the western warfront only by the geographical barrier of Europe’s westernmost coastline.

Their next objective was England. But that tiny island, isolated from the mainland by the channel, became a geographical and tactical hurdle that the Third Reich could not surmount. Thus, the tiny island nation, Great Britain, became the base of operations for the Allies as they battled to retake Europe.

The resemblances are uncanny:

  • In both histories, the ‘good guys’ lost the heartland of a continent to a surprise, lightening-swift offensive by the ‘bad guys’.
  • The bad guys’ offensive in each case was stalled at a unique and fortuitous geographical feature.
  • That feature then became the base of operations for the good guys, from which they launched a counter-offensive to retake their lost lands.
  • Both histories record a prolonged struggle to regain lost territory.
  • In that effort, the bad guys proved to be too strong for the good guys, who settled for only half of their original homelands, leaving the rest in the hands of their enemies.
  • In both histories, a highly fortified line – North and South in Nephite history, West and East in our Cold War – was drawn across the former heartland at the stalemate point between two standing armies.

These similarities make it obvious that we have behaved very much like the Nephites. We fought a similar war with remarkably similar outcomes. The geopolitical structure of our mid-to-late 19th century world matched theirs.

Indeed, it can be said that our recent history very closely parallels that of the Nephites, firmly supporting the overarching parallels that span the entire history of both cultures. This allows us to assume that the two histories are strikingly similar in very specific instances, begging the question: What else can we learn about our time by reading Helaman’s account?

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

1,286 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2007

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

Part 1 of 4

Nephi used a handy teaching device to instruct his people. He found it useful to compare events and conditions in his time to those found in his scriptures, “the books of Moses” and the “writings of Isaiah.”  He wrote, “…for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.”  (1 Nephi 19:23.) He later amplified on that concept by adding, “Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.”  (2 Nephi 11:8.)

This is a vital key for our study.  In a similar manner, we as well can “liken” events in Nephite history to those in our time “for our profit and learning.” When we do so, some rather remarkable similarities stand out, parallels that allow us to better see our reflection in the mirror of Nephite history and even permit us a glimpse of what may awaits in our future.

Most Latter-day Saints understand that the Book of Mormon was written so we could learn from the shortcomings of the Nephites and the Lamanites. What most fail to consider is that the two histories-Nephite and American-are strikingly similar.

Mormon may have intended that this ‘likening’ of the two histories be far more comprehensive and penetrating than a superficial comparison. He may have intended that we see the remarkable similarity between events and conditions in our time and those in Nephite times.

This becomes especially meaningful when we consider that both Moroni and Mormon clearly saw our day in vision.  Speaking to the Gentiles, Mormon wrote, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. … for I know that ye shall have my words.” (Mormon 8: 35; 9:30.)

Having seen our day, he was in the unique position to compile Nephite history so as to emphasize the similarities between them and us. With a repetitive, detailed review of Nephite problems, those prophets sought to teach us about our own difficulties. In that manner, it seems, they diligently portrayed our destiny in vivid and graphic narrative, using their history like a paintbrush on the canvas of our day and time.

Our thesis: Americans are the modern counterparts of the ancient Nephites. Seen thusly, Nephite history is a prophetic harbinger for our time-a Paul Revere, if you will, to our modern world, riding out into our age of moral darkness to warn of what is about to overtake us.

President Ezra Taft Benson wrote of these similarities, “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Saviors’ visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.” (A Witness And A Warning, p.37.)

So, let’s examine the record to see what this enhanced perspective brings.

Tracing the threads of both histories back in time, we find that both Nephite history and American history began in the Middle East with the house of Israel.

Led by revelation, Lehi’s party left Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom and traveled southward and eastward, halfway around the world to settle in the Promised Land.

Fleeing incursions by the Assyrians, and later by the Babylonians, many residents of the Northern Kingdom also emigrated in the same epoch as Lehi’s party. Only, these Israelites migrated northward and westward. What’s more, Assyrians relocated captives to the northernmost borders of their empire.

From there, it is evident that they migrated into Europe around the Black and the Caspian seas. President Joseph Fielding Smith, in Answers to Gospel Questions, wrote, “From these (Israelite) exiles many without question found their way into the area which formed the nations of northern Europe.”

But that is only the beginning of our comparison. Many good examples of these remarkable parallels are found when we compare the origins of both cultures to learn who are today’s equivalents of the Nephites and the Lamanites.

  • Founders of both Nephite and American cultures, respectively, wandered in the “wilderness” during their different sagas, covering great distances.
  • Both crossed oceans to get to the New World: The Nephites did so early in their history; the Americans did it late in their history.
  • Both emigrated to distant lands, where they settled. For the Nephites, it was the “land of original inheritance” in the New World. For the forerunners of the Americans, it was greater Europe.
  • The Western Hemisphere ultimately became home to both cultures.
  • In the Book of Mormon saga, the Nephites were forced to separate themselves from their brethren, the Lamanites in the South, due to religious persecution and intolerance. They moved North, away from the “lands of original inheritance,” to found their new nation. In American history, our forebears departed Europe, the land in which their forefathers first settled, or their “first inheritance” after leaving the Middle East, to flee religious persecution and intolerance. There, in the West, they founded a new nation, leaving their ‘brethren’ behind in the East.
  • Both nations were the ‘good’ half of a ‘good guy-bad guys’ duality. For the Nephites, their nemeses were the Lamanite groups, their relatives. For the Americans, their nemeses were European groups, their relatives.
  • Like the Nephites, Americans in the West were constantly defending themselves against the ‘bad guys” in Europe, in the East-most especially during the recent period known as the Cold War.
  • The orientation of the struggle between the Nephites and their Lamanite cousins was north and south. The orientation in our day, especially during the Cold War, has been a struggle between the East and the West.

Thus, by comparing American history with Nephite history, we see how very similar the two are – even to the point that both chronicles concern descendents of the House of Israel.

Lest anyone doubt that the prophets of the restoration taught that we are Israelites and that this comparison of American ancestry to Nephite ancestry is therefore invalid, consider that Moses appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple to commit “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.” (Doctrine and Covenants, 110:11.)

This revelation raised the question: Who and where are the Israelites? One simply must first identify them in order to gather them. The answer came with the first callings to foreign missions in this dispensation: They went to England and Europe. And, here’s the reason why:

  • The Prophet Joseph Smith once said, “There are thousands of good people in England and those old countries (lands of original inheritance) who are waiting for the fullness of the gospel, and it will not be long before they will flock to Zion, for Ephraim (Israel) dwells largely in those parts” (Joseph Grant Stevenson, The Life of Edward Stevenson, master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1955, p. 25).
  • In a 1937 General Conference, Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “The Blood of Ephraim, the blood of Israel, runs strong in European countries ….”
  • In his book, Progress of Man, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “… the blood of Israel is profusely scattered throughout the island of Great Britain.”
  • Elder Orson F. Whitney, in Gospel Themes, wrote, “… it is also a fact that from Scandinavia and the nations of Northern Europe has come much of the blood of Israel-the blood of Ephraim now within the pale of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

These discoveries set the stage for even greater revelations regarding striking similarities between the Nephites and the Americans, which we will explore in three future installments in this series.

what4anarchy’s in charge

Just a head’s up that I’m going on a “vacation” of sorts. In my absence, what4anarchy will be moderating the blog. This site is set up to put certain comments in the moderation queue, which requires moderator approval before they are posted, so what4anarchy has accepted the charge to visit each day and approve or disapprove of comments found in the moderation queue and also to remove any spam that shows up. His moderation “shift” begins next Monday. I’ll stay on this weekend. When I return, I’ll resume administration of the blog.

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