If I could ask them one question about
the Church’s Book of Mormon, Come Follow Me, Lesson 39
For Sep 28 - Oct 11, 2020
3 Nephi 17-19
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Does Jesus refer to what would be anachronisms?”
Things to consider:
- An anachronism is an error in chronology— a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place (Merriam-Webster).
- As Jesus came from the Old World, any reference to things he had experienced there would not be an anachronism for him. For that matter, as the Son of God, after his resurrection, maybe any reference to reality (past, present, or future) would not be an anachronism for him, but if he spoke about giving unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, the people in the Americas would have no idea what he was talking about. I think most of us (all of us?) could agree that we would expect a master teacher, a God, like Jesus to refrain from using such allusions that would be anachronistic to his audience. Let’s see how that expectation holds up against some things the Book of Mormon tells us Jesus said to folks in the Americas circa 34 CE.
- Even before he descended among them, the Book of Mormon says the Nephites heard Jesus’ voice, and that he expressed that he had desired to gather them “as a hen gathereth her chickens” (3 Nephi 10:4-6). The problem is, there were no chickens in the Americas at the time. There is some controversy about whether there were pre-Columbian chickens, but even the hypothesis proposing pre-Columbian chickens puts their earliest date in the Americas only a century or so before Europeans discovered the Americas (National Geographic article). That’s 900 years after the final scene of the Book of Mormon and 1,300 years after Christ’s reported American tour. What must the Nephites have thought? Why wouldn’t Jesus refer to turkeys or a similar bird that folks in the Americas at the time would know?
- In his Americas rendition of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house (3 Nephi 12:15, emphasis added). However, the only reference to a pre-Columbian, American candle I can find is this:
“archeological findings from the first century CE support the idea that native Americans burned oily fish (candlefish) wedged into a forked stick”
(Indian Journal of Chemical Technology, p. 319).
And, apparently these fish are only found in the sea of Pacific Northwest, so
it seems “candle” would have been a meaningless term for Book of Mormon people.
- Jesus apparently also taught the Nephites, “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (3 Nephi 12:41). This is a biblical allusion to Roman law, so it’s anachronous and would have had little meaning to the Nephites if not have caused outright confusion. “The word here translated as compel, angareuo, is a Persian loan word that is a technical term for the Roman practice of requisitioning local goods or labour. Schweizer notes that it specifically refers to the power of the Romans to demand that a local serve as a guide or porter” (Wikipedia: Matthew 5:41).
- Jesus spoke of sheep of one shepherd (3 Ne 15:17-24, 3 Ne 16:1-3, and 3 Ne 18:31. That last reference does not specifically mention “of one shepherd,” but it’s in context of the other references that do, and Jesus says these sheep are numbered, which would be odd for wild sheep. Since there were no domestic sheep in the Americas at this time, this analogy would have been meaningless to these people in this context (see my If I Could Ask … Lesson 22 about Book of Mormon sheep).
- In this week’s reading, Jesus was wrapping up his sermons so that he could go to his Father. Before leaving, he wanted to heal those with physical ailment or challenges. He is reported to have said, “Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them (3 Nephi 17:7, emphasis added). However, according to the Western Journal of Medicine, leprosy was introduced to the Americas by Europeans after Columbus’s discovery of the Americas (“Health conditions before Columbus”). Perhaps there were skin conditions in the Americas at the time that were similar enough to leprosy that this would be a good translation, but as a non-expert, I’m not aware of any. Maybe an expert could help us with this one.
- Apparently Jesus taught the Nephites “Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat (3 Nephi 18:18, emphasis added). Wheat did not exist in the Americas at this time. Jesus could have used the general term “grain” or a Nephite specific term like “neas” or “sheum,” but, instead, the great teacher throws out a word Nephites would not understand and modern readers would question.
- Later, Jesus was teaching the Nephites about a future time when their descendants would interact with gentiles. He said “Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent; for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariots” (3 Nephi 21:14, emphasis added). There were no horses in the Americas at the time (see my If I Could Ask … Lesson 5 about Book of Mormon horses), and the words “chariots” would imply wheels for transportation which these Americans knew nothing of at the time.
Other observations about this lesson’s reading:
- The prophet Nephi is baptized even though he would have almost certainly been baptized previously (3 Nephi 19:11).
- Jesus told the Nephite disciples the Nephites had greater faith than any faith he had seen among the Jews. Well, of course, because He killed all the wicked and showed the remaining signs, wonders, and evidence that were beyond extraordinary (3 Ne 19:35-36).
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 39