In the final chapter of Mosiah, King Mosiah and his people face the fundamental political question—what form of government to choose. After Mosiah demonstrates the potential problems with a monarchy, the people choose a more democratic form of government, under the rule of judges. As the first chief judge, Alma then discovers that even democracy faces difficulties. While many early Mormon poems dealt with political issues, the majority were reactions either to the persecutions in Missouri and Illinois or to the enforcement of anti-bigamy laws in Utah. The poem I found for this lesson is an exception to that norm.
The principal event in Mosiah 25-28, which is also beautifully and familiarly described in Alma 36, is Alma the Younger’s miraculous conversion. To capture this, I looked for a literary work in the public domain that expressed either the agony that Alma felt or the ecstasy he obtained after his acceptance of the Lord.
I think the most significant event in Mosiah 18-24 is the baptism of Alma and his followers in the Waters of Mormon. There we find the great description of the Baptismal covenant, in which those baptized …are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places… This event led me to a poem by Parley P. Pratt about Baptism, a hymn that seeks to encourage non-members to partake of the ordinance.
Perhaps the most striking part of the Book of Mormon covered in lesson 18 is the martyrdom of Abinadi. Like many martyrs who have suffered since his time, Abinadi testified of what he knew to be true only to find his testimony rejected and his life taken for it. He sealed his testimony with his life.
Often LDS lessons based on the scriptures cover such a broad range of topics in the scriptures given that the stated theme of the lesson doesn’t capture what is going on in the scripture passages. While this lesson is certainly one of those times, the poem I found is really about the stated theme of the lesson: prophets, seers and revelators. In early Mormon poetry and writings, this usually referred to one person: the Prophet Joseph Smith. Where today we talk more about prophets generally, for the first 30 years of Mormonism, the prophet mostly referred to Joseph Smith specifically. And it is in the context of Joseph Smith that we learn their ideas about what a Prophet or Seer or Revelator is.
The culmination of King Benjamin’s address to his people was the “mighty change” they experienced which led them to repent and covenant to keep the commandments and to seek to do good continually. While the scripture says that they “had no more disposition to do evil,” given the later history of this people, we might surmise that the disposition didn’t last. Nor did Benjamin expect that his people would remain sinless, but instead they would likely need a disposition to seek and obtain forgiveness. I suspect that one aspect of the “mighty change” described in the Book of Mormon is exactly that, seeking forgiveness for errors and sin.
King Benjamin’s oft-cited dictum that service to our fellow man is service to God is well known among Mormons. And, if surveys like the recent University of Pennsylvania survey are accurate, Mormons do quite well putting the idea in practice. Still, better than others doesn’t mean that we are where we should be or ought to be. And, like all humans, we have our rationales for failure to act. So perhaps a poem that addresses our failures will work well with Book of Mormon lesson #15.
Perhaps the most dramatic incident in gospel doctrine lesson #14 is Enos’ prayer; an example that has no doubt led many LDS Church members to wonder about their persistence and perseverance in prayer. Indeed, Enos’ story of his prayer is generally taken as a lesson in how to pray and what prayer means. It might also be said that Mormonism began with a prayer, and an answer to that prayer that came by way of a vision. That fact, as well as many other examples of prayer, is common in Mormon literature. However, few poems actually discuss the role of prayer or give the kind of lesson that Enos does.
While eclipsed by the Iron Rod imagery in Nephi, the Olive Tree imagery in Jacob is still well-known and referred to frequently. Like so much of Mormon theology, it attempts to give an explanation for the whole swath of human history and show that we are in the last days. Since both images are unique to the Book of Mormon, they are only found in Mormon sources. The earliest use of the Olive Tree imagery in literature is from Parley P. Pratt, who included it in his poem, Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day. This poem was included in The Millennium, the first published book of Mormon poetry, which Pratt published in 1835. Here’s what Pratt wrote: Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day, Part 3 by Parley P. Pratt Go ye and preach in all the world. Baptizing in my name, He that believes and is baptized Salvation shall obtain. Then rising from Mount…
A major element of Jacob’s sermon in Jacob 2 is his condemnation of pride and those caught up in their riches. In that sermon, Jacob not only preaches against pride, but argues for equality, saying “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.”(2:17) and adding “one being is as precious in His sight as the other.” While Jacob likely lived too early in Nephite history for inherited classes to develop, still these views seem to clearly argue against classes and social hierarchy.
In Nephi’s final writings (2 Ne. 31, discussed in Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine lesson 11) he teaches about the “doctrine of Christ,” focusing on Christ’s baptism and redemption of the world from sin and on urging his readers to “endure to the end.” This doctrine is the heart of the gospel, the key element of the plan of salvation and eternal progress. Which makes the following poem fit well with the lesson. I only wish that the poem also somehow mentioned baptism.
Perhaps the most common theme in early Mormon poetry is the restoration. But while the Book of Mormon itself prophesies about the restoration (as it does in the 10th Book of Mormon lesson), it wasn’t until this hymn was published in 1833 that Mormon poetry addressed the subject. Of course, soon after the Restoration became a very common theme in Mormon poetry from many authors. William Wines Phelps, the author of this hymn was also one of the first and most prolific of Mormon poets, although unlike his contemporaries Parley P. Pratt, Eliza R. Snow and John Lyon, Phelps never published a volume of his own poetry. He is also unique because he is likely the author of the only poem, outside of scripture, attributed to Joseph Smith (The Vision, a paraphrase of D&C 76). If I recall correctly, he is still the Mormon author with the most hymns in the current hymnal.
Scripture is often repeated in scripture, and poets have rarely been shy about re-using lines of poetry, often without attribution. Plagiarism is everywhere, and our view of it as a faux pas is really relatively recent—this view is certainly more recent than the mid 19th century, when Mormon newspapers started churning out poetry and other forms of Mormon literature. The 9th Book of Mormon lesson is also about repeated scripture, specifically Nephi’s use of the early chapters of Isaiah which seem to make up the bulk of 2nd Nephi. Perhaps Nephi served as an example for the poetry I’ve chosen for this lesson.
Active Mormons hear poetry about the atonement each Sunday in the sacrament hymn, so finding a poem to go with Jacob’s discourse on the atonement in 2 Nephi 9 isn’t too much of a burden. The hard part is finding something that isn’t already well known and is unique to Mormonism, which I’ve generally tried to do in this series. There are 28 sacrament hymns in the current hymnal, most of which are probably familiar. However, there have been a number of other sacrament hymns that are no longer in our current hymnal. Most of those are not by Mormons. And, while I have not been able to identify the author of this hymn, I have so far only found it in Mormon hymnals, starting with the Manchester Hymnal put together by Brigham Young, John Taylor and Parley P. Pratt in 1840.
Lehi’s final counsel in the Book of Mormon is to his son Joseph makes an interesting literary link between Joseph in Egypt, Joseph the son of Lehi and Joseph Smith, Jr. But, LDS authors have largely ignored this link, especially before 1900, when any mention of Joseph was usually a reference to Joseph Smith, Jr. But I did manage to find an exception in Orson F. Whitney’s epic, Elias. As far as I can tell, other than general righteousness, the only real link between these three is that they happen to have the same name. Their histories aren’t really comparable in any way that I can see. Still, Whitney at least mentions the prophecy of Joseph’s name, and connects it to Joseph in Egypt. While perhaps overly turgid in his prose, Whitney is as or more sophisticated in his imagery than any of his poetic Mormon predecessors that I’ve read. To me the oblique references made to biblical, book of…
One of the fascinating things that happen in Lehi’s fatherly advice to Jacob in 2 Nephi 1 and 2 is that he tries to put together an overall philosophical basis for the gospel. Here the war in Heaven is related to our ability to choose, the fall is related to the atonement, and our choices are related to the very nature of existence, which, Lehi says, requires that there be an “opposition in all things.”
The story of Lehi’s family and their travels to the promised land perhaps reaches its height in the crisis point during the storm while they are on board the ship they built. The internal divisions within the family have lead to yet another dispute, and the Lord puts them through a trial to help them work it out. In fact, this is just the last of three stories in this lesson, all showing a similar pattern — and in each case showing faith and diligence (as the lesson describes it), leads to the Lord’s assistance in resolving the trial.
From a literary point of view the second part of Nephi’s vision, his vision of the future, is very like an epic. It covers a broad sweep of human history and mentions the actions of a series of heroes and heroic groups who have an impact on the fate of humanity. Unfortunately, the broad nature of this epic vision is difficult to cover in a short form, like a blog post or something you might share in a Gospel Doctrine lesson.
Note that I will not be posting notes for lesson #5; I’m taking the week off. (Notes for lesson #6 should be right on schedule, however.) Also note that when I teach this, I plan on covering 1 Nephi 11-15, since I think it makes more sense to treat Nephi’s vision in its entirety and in its context.
While perhaps not the most important symbol in the Vision of the Tree of Life (1 Nephi 8-11), the Iron Rod may be the one that has received the most attention, at least in recent decades[fn1]. But I think I was able to find something that kind of fit with the whole vision instead of just mentioning the Iron Rod. I like this hymn for not just (vaguely perhaps) invoking some of the imagery of the vision, but also for placing an emphasis on the Lord’s role in assisting us.
This isn’t a lesson; it is the notes from which I will prepare a lesson.
In looking for a literary work to go with the second Gospel Doctrine lesson this year, I was struck by some of the parallels between what Nephi experiences in the first few chapters in the Book of Mormon and what the early Mormons went through in traveling to Utah. Many of those we call the pioneers left comfortable homes, like Nephi and his family, and traveled to a “promised land” “into the wilderness.” And perhaps half or more of the pioneers also had to travel over an ocean to reach the promised land.
Again, this isn’t a lesson. It is the notes from which I will prepare a lesson. Sorry it is so long. (The rabbit trail of the week was related to the killing of Laban, but I don’t plan on discussing that with my class.)
I’m pleased that Julie has begun a series of posts that cover this year’s lessons on the Book of Mormon. With this post I will begin a kind of companion series: Mormon poetry and literary texts that can accompany each week’s lessons. Since Mormon literature often gets short shrift (usually from those who haven’t actually read what they dismiss), I think that connecting this literature to a regular part of our worship may help members become more aware of and familiar with our culture.
These are the notes from which I will create my Sunday School lesson. It is not a Sunday School lesson, unless your ward has Sunday School for five hours and a high tolerance for rabbit trails that happened to catch my interest.
Lesson 23: 1 Samuel 18-20, 23-24
Lesson 22: 1 Samuel 9-11, 13, 15-17