Book Club – Nibley’s An Approach to the BoM, chapter 3

Here are my notes for chapter 3.  Thanks to those who are commenting.  I encourage those who are following along to read the short chapters. Ask questions, as that is how we all learn.  Make comments, please. Whether it is an intellectual thought or a spiritual sharing, they are all valuable in this book club.  And as Nibley** once said, “there are no stupid questions, only stupid people'”

** Ralph Nibley, high school drop out


Nibley – an Approach to the Book of Mormon, ch 3

Nibley clearly shows by multiple quotes from the BoM that there is a global view of religion, and not so much the tribal concepts one would expect in a fraudulent book on the native Indians of America. These quotes, one will note, are mostly found in the writings of Nephi and Jacob.  This makes eminent sense, given that Nephi would know about the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the Jews.  Later BoM prophets would encounter tribalism in the Americas, much of it likely to be spurred on by outside forces (Jaredites, other native Americans, etc).  Still, trade was very common in the Americas, with the Mayans trading items from South America all the way into the southern United States!

In the Middle East, 600 BC was right at the pinnacle of trade, affluence and exploration for that area.  Babylon and Egypt had huge trade empires. Jerusalem sat on a major spice trade route, known as the King’s Highway.  Yet, the Babylonian and Egyptian empires would soon collapse, with Jerusalem smack in the middle of the crash.  Soon, one would see the advance of Alexander the Great into Africa and through southern Asia to India.  Later, the Romans would push these boundaries even further, westward to England.  Yet, for the moment, the small city-state of Jerusalem would totter, be carried off, and later return, a shell of its former glory.

“Everyone was making money in the new economic paradises of the XXVI Dynasty and the revitalized Babylon. After a generation of war the Assyrian troublemakers had disappeared, like Nazi Germany, literally overnight, and the nations revelled in an unparalleled post-war boom backed by a phenomenal upsurge of population.8 Wise men and prophets were worried,9 but who would believe that within a few short years all the glory and dominion of the East as the Old World knew it would suddenly vanish forever? There was nothing on the political or economic horizon to indicate that the peace and prosperity achieved by the shrewd and experienced leaders of Egypt and Babylon could not be permanent, or that the undreamed-of riches that were being amassed on all sides actually represented the burst and glitter of a rocket that would in an instant vanish into utter darkness. The key to the future was not in population or business statistics, but where Lehi saw it, in the moral picture: “for their works were works of darkness, and their doings were doings of abominations” (2 Nephi 25:2).”

Is Nibley suggesting that Lehi’s era was similar to our world today?  Is the economic albatross of modern economies about to burst like a rocket and vanish?  Are we living in 600 BC?

Nibley quotes several ancient tomes to show that the people were on the move. Interestingly (for me, anyway), he quotes the Aeneid, which is the first book I read on my Christmas Kindle:

“Rally your spirits and get rid of this disgraceful fear.
Some day you will be glad to remember these things:
Through all these vicissitudes and dangers
We are making our way to Latium, where Destiny hath
Promised us rest and security; there it is decreed that the
Rule of Troy (the mother city) shall be revived.
Hang on, and look forward to better times!”

That Aeneas and his group sought a new home after having Troy destroyed is very suggestive of the issues of overcrowding and expansions of nations in that period.  While Helen of Troy was a reason for the Greeks to sack Troy, it really was not the chief reason in the minds of those attacking. Instead, they saw the wealth of Troy waiting for them to take.  Not only gold and silver, but lands already plowed, olive trees trimmed, and lands awaiting many soldiers that wanted to make their own mark in life.  And so, as the Greeks pushed out the Trojans, Aeneas took his soldiers to find a new place, pushing out the inhabitants thereof.

“He (Tyrtaeus) is urging them, as Aeneas did the Romans, to fight for their homeland as a promised land, granted by God to the wandering Herakles and all his descendants in the days of migration. “

Something I think we LDS often forget is that others also believed in promised lands, given by their god(s).  Whether Greeks, Romans, Persians, Egyptians, or Canaanites, all had temples for their Gods and fought to defend the lands given them by their God. I think of the interesting story of Akhnaten, Pharaoh of Egypt.  He replaced the multitude of Egyptian and foreign gods with the worship of only one god, Aten.  Even Amun-Re was put away for a generation, as Akhnaten created a new heavenly city for his monolatrous worship.  After his death, the priests of Amun-Re reestablished the old order, obliterating from most of history the existence and history of Akhnaten.  There was a fight for a promised land, given by the god of Pharaoh.

To write a fraudulent book, Joseph Smith would definitely been daring to try such an era in which to send out the Lehites.  He could have chosen an obscure time period.  Being that he ties Lehi to Joseph, one would think that it would make more sense to place him ca 721 BC, when the Assyrians were preparing to invade northern Israel where the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were.  To have descendants of Joseph escaping from Judah’s Jerusalem over a century later leaves open the door of scholarly critics later on.  For Joseph to have “guessed” that 600 BC Jerusalem was a more intriguing and interesting moment in time and space to launch such a “fraud”, will be just one small pebble of evidence on an ever growing pile of evidence.

Nibley is going to use this great activity of exploration, travel and trade as a starting point to build a plausible theory of just who Lehi was, taking hints from the Book of Mormon’s text and comparing it to events, people and places in the Middle East.

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About rameumptom

Gerald (Rameumptom) Smith is a student of the gospel. Joining the Church of Jesus Christ when he was 16, he served a mission in Santa Cruz Bolivia (1978=1980). He is married to Ramona, has 3 stepchildren and 7 grandchildren. Retired Air Force (Aim High!). He has been on the Internet since 1986 when only colleges and military were online. Gerald has defended the gospel since the 1980s, and was on the first Latter-Day Saint email lists, including the late Bill Hamblin's Morm-Ant. Gerald has worked with FairMormon, More Good Foundation, LDS.Net and other pro-LDS online groups. He has blogged on the scriptures for over a decade at his site: Joel's Monastery ( He has the following degrees: AAS Computer Management, BS Resource Mgmt, MA Teaching/History. Gerald was the leader for the Tuskegee Alabama group, prior to it becoming a branch. He opened the door for missionary work to African Americans in Montgomery Alabama in the 1980s. He's served in two bishoprics, stake clerk, high council, HP group leader and several other callings over the years. While on his mission, he served as a counselor in a branch Relief Society presidency.

2 thoughts on “Book Club – Nibley’s An Approach to the BoM, chapter 3

  1. I’m just going to make my comment this time, letting it bounce up against the original post as it will….

    Nibley says: “The most strongly emphasized as well as the most arresting aspect of history in the Book of Mormon is the all-pervading universality of its point of view.”

    That’s quite a claim! And it’s one I’m inclined to agree with—to a certain extent. The list of texts he produces is impressive, though (as Ramuemptom notes) it’s small-plates-centric. But isn’t it important that it’s small-plates-centric? Nephi ultimately had a kind of tortured relationship to universalism, didn’t he? He clearly outlines a kind of doctrine of universalism—even of political universalism—but he then compromises it through the way he (often) handles his brothers in his text. I suspect this was a product of the situation in which he was writing. Nephi’s compromises on this score, minor though I want to call them, seem to have given way to a strongly nationalistic era during the remainder of Nephite history.

    It seems to me that it follows, at least in part, that the Book of Mormon is not a pervasively universalistic book, but a book that begins with a strong message of universalism while going on to demonstrate how quickly that message is ignored, even obliterated. In other words, the Book of Mormon repeats the story of the Hebrew Bible, which starts from Abrahamic universalism, only to be caught up in the same nationalistic nonsense to which Abraham was meant to be the solution….

    Nibley says: “Lehi now finds himself not at the beginning of ancient times, but almost at the end of them.”

    I wonder what this difference amounts to, what it implies. The collapse of sacral kingship during the axial age is of real significance, but what does it mean for the Book of Mormon? I suppose, though, that I’ll be working through this with the next few chapters of Nibley’s book.

    The last pages of the chapter are dedicated to a discussion, of course, of exploration and colonization. It isn’t entirely inappropriate to speak of the Lehites as a colony, but it isn’t entirely appropriate either. They retained a certain ideological connection with the “metropolis,” but no real connection. How do we think about the complete transplant represented by the Lehite journey? Is it better to think of Lehi as “just another of the many colonizers/explorers,” or is it better to think of Lehi as doing something radically new? There’s too much that’s new about the Lehite project, especially once it really gets rolling, to think that this is just more or what was going on everywhere, no?

  2. I’m caught up with the group now as I read two chapters yesterday. 🙂 This put new light on why Laman and Lemuel were always murmuring about how great their life was back in Jerusalem.

    I have always loved how the Book of Mormon does teach that Jesus and his teachings are for everyone to accept and that his hands are open. It shows that God is over all his works and mindful of all his children. While being a covenant people is of the utmost importance, if you are not living the covenant, you have no claim to the blessings unless you repent.

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