In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Monday, January 3, 2011

Voices From The Dust

This post is mainly focused on the different types of "voices from the dust" that have appeared over the past century and their individual relevence in regards to the Book of Mormon or the LDS community as a whole. I will be going over a handful of these uneathed documents breifly touching on their background story and briefly touch on their correlation to those of us who want to gain a better understanding on the Book of Mormon and LDS doctrine.

Lachish Letters- Found in the ancient ruins of the city of Lachish. Its fall in the days of Jeremiah is dramatically recounted in a number of letters found there in 1935 and 1938. These original letters, actually written at Jeremiah’s time, turned up in the ruins of a guardhouse that stood at the main gate of the city—two letters a foot beneath the street paving in front of the guardhouse, and the other sixteen piled together below a stone bench set against the east wall. The wall had collapsed when a great bonfire was set against it from the outside. Not only do the Lachish letters tell of fleeing prophets at the time of Jeremiah as do the Book of Mormon but they also tell of one other interesting person.

The Lachish Letters tell of a boy named Nedabyahu(Nedabiah 1 Chronicles 3:18) who is the grandson or “NKD” Septuagint for “seed” of King Jehoiakim. Harry Torczyner translater and top scholar for the Lachish Letters figures now with new chronology that he would be the “NKD” of King Zedekiah. Torczyner states that the boy would probabley be 10-13 years old and was delivering messages of warning to the prophet something that would be punishable of death due to treason. This was a common practice for young men (see 2 Samuel) and still is today in Palestine. Torczyner said this episode happened between 590-588 B.C. Nibley states probably 589 B.C. exactly 11 years after Lehi left Jerusalem. We’re told the Mulekites left 11 years after Lehi. This 11 year old boy would have been on the prophets side doing these treasonable acts when he probably learned of his Royal Family being captured by the Babylonians. Stuck in his position unable to return to Jerusalem he wouldn’t have been able to return without being taken to Riblah with his brothers and killed. This young boy is more than likely the very Mulek spoke of in the Book of Mormon. The only son of King Zedekiah who escaped, was possibly mentioned in Jeremiah 38:6 as Malchiah or Malichyahu which either would have been commonly shortened to Malek or depending on his age Mulek or Mulayk meaning “boy king”. Although he would have been the pride of the fleeing Mulekites he would have been too young to be their king upon finding themselves delivered to the promise land.

Elephantine Documents- For the discovery of the Elephantine documents in 1925 showed that colonies of Jews actually did flee to the desert as Lehi did—during Lehi’s lifetime, and for the same reasons. Arriving in their new home far up the Nile, they built a temple similar to Solomon’s temple, exactly as Lehi’s righteous children did upon landing in the New World. Both of these oddities, and especially the temple, were once thought convincing refutations of the Book of Mormon.

Bar Kochba Documents - In the 1960's, several letters written by Bar Kochba were discovered in caves at Wadi Murabba`at and Nahal Hever. They show that Bar Kochba was a rather authoritarian man. All translations were taken from Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kokhba. The rediscovery of the legendary hero of the last Jewish revolt against Imperial Rome. Bar Kochba letters discovered in 1966, which in turn present truly astonishing parallels to some of the military correspondence in the Book of Mormon.

The Dead Sea Scrolls - The much-celebrated Dead Sea Scrolls are a treasure trove of ancient Jewish religious texts discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 different desert caves near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Many scholars regard the scrolls as the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century, having been composed or copied between approximately 250 B.C. and A.D. 68. Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew or Aramaic on parchment, although a few Greek texts have been found as well. They apparently constituted the expansive canon of scripture belonging to the people who resided at the discovery site in antiquity, and who are almost certainly to be identified as members of the ancient sect called the Essenes.1 The actual name of the site is Qumran (after the name of the nearby wadi or dry streambed).

The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal many beliefs and practices similar to those of the early Christian church and of the Latter-day Saints. Among these are a belief in baptism by immersion for the remission of sins (CD 10; baptismal fonts have been found at Qumran) and a belief in the necessity of receiving the Holy Ghost (CD 3). The community was governed by three presidents assisted by a council of twelve (1QS 8). In each local area of the sect there was a bishop who administered financial affairs, ascertained the worthiness of members, and acted as a common judge (CD 9, 13–14). The sect had a sacred meal of bread and wine administered by a priest (1QS 6). They believed in revelation through prophetic leaders and accepted the writings of these leaders as scripture (1QpHab 7). They also had a form of communal living (1QS 1, 6) similar to that of Christians in the New Testament (Acts 4:34ff). Also discovered with the Dead Sea Scrolls was the Copper scroll one more testament that metallurgy was a common practice for etching sacred records. Along with that was the mear mention of "the land of Jerusalem" a phrase that has long been used to criticize the prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon since everyone knows that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and not Jerusalem. But in Alma 7:10's mentioning of "land of Jerusalem"this was intended to mean Jerusalem and surrounding lands or suburbs if you will. This would then include Bethlehem (which is about 5 miles out of Jerusalem). This phrase appearing in the Dead Sea Scrolls proves that it was a used phrase in Jerusalem and surround areas at that time.

All of this leads to the conclusion that in many ways the Essenes may have been closer to the gospel than other Jewish sects. And yet, we must remember that the Essenes did not have the fulness of the gospel. They were not Christians, and no New Testament material has ever been found at Qumran. Despite the similarities to Latter-day Saint beliefs in some respects, the Essenes also had doctrines and practices incompatible with the gospel. For example, they expected not one Messiah but two. They practiced celibacy and believed in a form of astrology. Although Jesus accepted the authority of the Jewish high priest and the sanctity of the Jerusalem temple, the Essenes denied both. And, contrary to certain claims, there is no evidence that the prayers on the bread and wine at Qumran were in any way similar to our own.

Nag Hammadi Text (Library) – a collection of thirteen ancient codices containing over fifty texts, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945. This immensely important discovery includes a large number of primary Gnostic scriptures -- texts once thought to have been entirely destroyed during the early Christian struggle to define "orthodoxy" -- scriptures such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth.

Nevertheless, it is those passages among the Nag Hammadi codices which deal with mysteries and initiations that have generated the most interest among Latter-day Saints. For example, the gospel of Philip describes an initiation in three stages, corresponding to the three chambers of the Jerusalem Temple (69:14ff). In the last stage, which was called the Bridal Chamber, a sacred marriage was performed which was believed to be eternally binding (70:19ff) and which had to be performed in mortality (86:1ff). In the Dialogue of the Savior, Jesus supposedly tells the disciples how to ascend to the Father (120:20ff). And in the Apocalypse of Paul (23:1–25), Paul is represented as vanquishing the hostile ruler of the sixth heaven by showing him a sign and then proceeding on to the tenth heaven. The actual content of the mysteries taught in the Nag Hammadi codices usually centers on the themes of creation and the fall of Adam and Eve (as in the Apocryphon of John).

In the initial excitement over finding some ideas among the Nag Hammadi codices that are similar to those of the Latter-day Saints, some readers have lost sight of a very important fact: though some things are similar, they are never the same. There is not a single passage among the Nag Hammadi codices which could be said to exactly describe Latter-day Saint practices. There is not a single line of text that could be called a translation of Latter-day Saint ordinances. On rare occasions there are similarities, but always there are differences. The reason for this is simple: the Gnostics did not have the Gospel. By the time the Nag Hammadi codices were written, Gnosticism had already been an apostate movement for generations, perhaps even centuries. There has been a tendency in some Latter-day Saint circles to suggest a direct link between the Gnostics and the true primitive Church. This is impossible, for the Nag Hammadi codices show the Gnostics to have been in some respects even further from the gospel than the post-apostolic “orthodox” church. But just as a Geiger counter can still detect traces of radiation in an empty container that once held radioactive elements, so Latter-day Saint readers can detect traces of departed truth in the empty writings of the Gnostics. Thus, the Nag Hammadi codices are of interest to Latter-day Saints because they seem to demonstrate that certain doctrines and ordinances, whose very existence was denied by later “orthodoxy,” were part of early Christianity. They also provide us with the negative example of a people whose lust for mysteries and secret doctrines caused them to lose the simple truths of the gospel.

It is these type of discoveries and "voices from the dust" that will continue to shed light to those who sincerely seek it. On that same note, in no way does this evidence replace the need of faith and sincere prayer in the search for honest truth. As Neal A. Maxwell put it "Science will not be able to prove or disprove holy writ; however, enough plausible evidence will come forth to prevent scoffers from having a field day, but not enough to remove the requirement of faith."

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