If I could ask them one question about
the Church’s Book of Mormon, Come Follow Me, Lesson 22
For June 1-7, 2020
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Were there sheep in the Americas during Book of Mormon times?”
Things to consider:
- Yes, of course there were. These two species of sheep are native to North America.
- I pose the question because the Book of Mormon references sheep and lambs (young sheep) 103 times by my count. Many of these were used in analogies in the early years of these people in the New World. As such, they would have remembered sheep from the Old World. But many of the references were made hundreds of years after they colonized the New World, and some actually state that sheep were there in the New World.
- Of course bighorn sheep and dall sheep don’t work with the most popular “limited geography” apologetic hypotheses in which the Book of Mormon takes place in South America, Mesoamerica, or the Great Lakes area because those sheep are not native to those areas (see the Wikipedia sites listed above or these additional sites: Bighorn Sheep and Dall Sheep). They’re natural ranges are in the western parts of North America.
- But wait, the problem with sheep in the Book of Mormon runs deeper than that. This coming week’s reading references sheep in relation to shepherds. Alma is preaching repentance to folks in Zarahemla, saying they “have gone astray, as sheep having no shepherd” (Alma 5:37, but read through verse 39 and also Alma 5:59-60 for a fuller context).
- So what, you ask? So, sheep tended by shepherds are domesticated. But sheep were never domesticated in the Americas (Animal Domestication in South America and The Columbian Exchange). Alma’s simile might have been about as effective as saying to the Zarahemlahites that they “have gone astray, as gakusei having no dojo sensei” (see this article for explanations of these words).
- Later in the reading, Alma urged the people of Gideon to “be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins, that ye may have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world” (Alma 7:14, emphasis added).
- During general conference, Elder Holland explained the significance of the term “Lamb of God” teaching that when John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God, “He used the figure of a sacrificial lamb offered in atonement for the sins and sorrows of a fallen world and all the fallen people in it” (this paragraph).
- If this could be any lamb, and if the Gideonites lived in Western North America, then maybe the Gideonites could understand this title for Jesus because maybe they would have sacrificed the lambs of wild bighorn sheep or dall sheep. But, would such a sacrifice even be acceptable with a wild animal? Elder Holland answered this in the same talk. “They were to regularly offer for a sacrifice unto God a pure, unblemished lamb, the first male born of their flock” (this paragraph, emphasis added, see also Moses 5:5, Exodus 12:3-10, and Leviticus 1:10).
(A bighorn lamb)They may be amazing and sometimes adorable, but in the Book of Mormon sheep and lambs often seem like anachronisms to me.
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- Sword seems to be anachronistic (Alma 6:7).
- In defense of the Book of Mormon! The reading says Jesus was born at Jerusalem (Alma 7:10). Some critics claim that this is an error because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but I think it’s a non-issue (see my annotation for Alma 6:7 for an explanation).
If you could ask believers questions about the scriptures for this lesson, what would you ask?
Have fun studying!
If I could ask them one question, Lesson 22