(Taken from a post recently published at The Nauvoo Times.)
Recently in “The Strength of Moses,” I explored an interesting theory from Noel Reynolds about the relationship between the Book of Moses and the brass plates of Nephi. See “The Brass Plates Version of Genesis,” a chapter in By Study and Also by Faith, edited by John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990). Reynolds argues that relationships between the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses make more sense if at least some of the material in the Book of Moses were known to Nephi, as if something similar to the Book of Moses were on the brass plates.
Reynolds argues that relationship between the two texts is not just one of using a lot of the same terms and concepts in both, the way that would be natural if they had a common author. Rather, the relationship appears to be one-way: the Book of Mormon appears to rely upon content in the Book of Moses and not the other way around. Some incidents and passages are strongly enriched when we add knowledge from the Book of Moses, while there is no sign of the Book of Moses depending on information in the Book of Mormon. This is noteworthy because the Book of Moses was written well after the Book of Mormon. Book of Mormon translation was primarily done from April to June of 1829, while the Book of Moses was given by revelation between June and December of 1830.
I’ll discuss a few of the examples Reynolds finds, introduce a couple of new ones, and point to a possible Hebraic wordplay in Nephi’s writings that I don’t think has been noted before. (I am uncertain, so I welcome feedback on this. If you know of relevant discussions on the verse in question, let me know.)
The Devil’s in the Details?
Reynolds introduces roughly 20 phrases or oncepts in the Book of Moses that might be sources for Book of Mormon material, though several of them can also be found in the Bible. Reynolds fairly observes the cases of possible biblical dependence, which only partially weakens the argument for a fraction of the cases considered.
My favorite example involves the description of Satan in the Book of Moses. Reynolds explains how one sentence in the Book of Moses appears to have been used in a variety of ways throughout the Book of Mormon:
One sentence from Moses seems to have spawned a whole family of formulaic references in the Book of Mormon: “And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:4). This language is echoed precisely by both Lehi and Moroni, who, when mentioning the devil, add the stock qualification: “who is the father of all lies” (cf. 2 Nephi 2:18; Ether 8:25), while Jacob says the same thing in similar terms (2 Nephi 9:9). Incidentally, the descriptive term devil, which is used frequently to refer to Satan in both Moses and the Book of Mormon, does not occur at all in the Old Testament. New Testament occurrences do not reflect this context.
The Book of Mormon sometimes separates and sometimes combines the elements of this description of the devil from Moses and portrays Satan as one deliberately engaged in “deceiving the hearts of the people” and in “blinding their eyes” that he might “lead them away” (3 Nephi 2:2). Particularly striking is the repeated statement that the devil will lead those who do not hearken to the Lord’s voice “captive at his will” (Moses 4:4). In Alma we find that those who harden their hearts will receive “the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction” (Alma 12:11). Much later, Alma invokes the same phrasing to warn his son Corianton of the plight of the wicked who, “because of their own iniquity,” are “led captive by the will of the devil” (Alma 40:13). In the passage discussed above, Lehi taught his son Jacob that men “are free to choose liberty and eternal life, . . . or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that men might be miserable” (2 Nephi 2:27).
A remarkable passage in the first part of the Book of Mormon pulls all these book of Moses themes about Satan together—to describe someone else. The implication is unmistakable when Laman characterizes his brother Nephi as one who lies and who deceives our eyes, thinking to lead us away for the purpose of making himself “a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure” (1 Nephi 16:38). Laman insinuates that Nephi, who chastises his wayward brothers, is himself like the devil. And resistance against him is not only righteous, but required. This account has the added complexity that it is a speech of Laman, who is quoted here in a record written by the very brother he attacks. If we accept the possibility that this text is dependent on a passage in the ancient book of Moses, we then recognize a major new dimension of meaning, not only in Laman’s speech, but in Nephi’s decision to preserve the speech, thus showing his descendants, and any other readers familiar with the Moses text, the full nature of the confrontation between the brothers, as well as the injustice of the attacks he suffered. The full irony is revealed when we reflect on the facts reported in Nephi’s record and realize that Laman’s false accusation against Nephi is an accurate self-description.
That last paragraph is especially interesting to me, for we learn that Laman’s complaint about Nephi becomes more meaningful when we realize that he may be referring to a well known scriptural depiction of Satan that is not found in the Old Testament, but might have been on the brass plates. In this instance, the relationship between the Book of Mormon and the Book of Moses is one way.
The speech from Laman illustrates some of the reasons Reynolds gives for the one-way nature of the relationship between the two books
[I]t is clearly Moses that provides the unity and coherence to a host of scattered Book of Mormon references. It is the story of creation and subsequent events that supplies meaning to Book of Mormon language connecting (1) the transgression, fall, and death; (2) explaining the origins of human agency; (3) describing the character and modus operandi of Satan; (4) explaining the origins and character of secret combinations and the works of darkness—to mention only a few of the most obvious examples. The Book of Mormon is the derivative document. It shows a number of different authors borrowing from a common source as suited their particular needs—Lehi, Nephi, Benjamin, and Alma all used it frequently, drawing on its context to give added meaning to their own writings.
Perhaps most significantly, we have at hand a control document against which to check this hypothesis. A few years after receiving Moses, Joseph Smith translated an Abrahamic text. In spite of the fact that this new document contained versions of some of the same chapters of Genesis that are paralleled in the book of Moses, and in spite of the fact that the Book of Mormon has a large number of direct references to the Abraham, the person, detailed textual comparison demonstrates that this second document does not feature any of the phrases and concepts that have been reported above linking Moses to the Book of Mormon textual tradition. Nor does the distinctive, non-Old Testament phraseology of the book of Abraham show up in the Book of Mormon. The logic that would lead skeptics to conclude that these common concepts and expressions provide evidence that Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon and the book of Moses runs aground on Abraham, as the skeptical hypothesis would seem to require a similar pattern there. But such a pattern is not even faintly detectable.
It is also impressive that most of the influence from the book of Moses in the Book of Mormon shows up early in the small plates and the writings of the first generation of Book of Mormon prophets—significantly, those who had custody and long-term, firsthand access to the brass plates. Many of the later passages that use book of Moses terminology and concepts tend to repeat earlier Nephite adaptations of the original materials.
One passage in the Book of Mormon that is not mentioned by Reynolds possibly uses three of the parallels he identifies. One is the description of Satan above. Another is the term “eternal life” in Moses 1:39. While this is found frequently in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, it is not used in the Old Testament. The third is the combination of “temporal” and “spiritual” in the Book of Moses, describing God’s creation. This passage comes from 1 Nephi 14:7:
For the time cometh, saith the Lamb of God, that I will work a great and a marvelous work among the children of men; a work which shall be everlasting, either on the one hand or on the other — either to the convincing of them unto peace and life eternal, or unto the deliverance of them to the hardness of their hearts and the blindness of their minds unto their being brought down into captivity, and also into destruction, both temporally and spiritually, according to the captivity of the devil, of which I have spoken.
Recall the key elements of Moses 4:4: “And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice” (Moses 4:4).
The devil and related concepts of deception, blindness, and being delivered (led) into captivity are included here, as is “life eternal” (not mentioned by Reynolds since the words are reversed–he mentions that this phrase is first used in 2 Nephi, when now we can consider it present in 1 Nephi also) and “temporally and spiritually,” all with connections to the Book of Moses.
Along with the theme of the devil, one concept in the Book of Moses not mentioned by Reynolds that I also see in the Book of Mormon is the symbol of the chain. In Moses 7:26 and 7:56, Enoch sees Satan with a great chain, and we see that people are held captive in “chains of darkness” until the judgment day.
Chains and the captivity of Satan are themes in the Book of Mormon, but I was disappointed to not find “darkness” and “chains” used together in the text. But then I noticed 2 Nephi 1, Lehi’s speech to his sons, where 2 Nephi 1:23 may be relevant:
 And now that my soul might have joy in you, and that my heart might leave this world with gladness because of you, that I might not be brought down with grief and sorrow to the grave, arise from the dust, my sons, and be men, and be determined in one mind and in one heart, united in all things, that ye may not come down into captivity;
 That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body.
 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
 Rebel no more against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life; yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you.
In verse 23, the Book of Moses link between chains and darkness is provided, though not verbatim. In the entry for obscurity in the 1828 dictionary of Noah Webster, the first definition listed for obscurity is “Darkness; want of light.” Ah, another link in the chain, so to speak.
In that verse, chains are contrasted with the armor of righteousness. Obscurity and dust are linked, and possibly contrasted with Nephi, “whose views have been glorious”–vision and glory (light) are in contrast with obscurity (darkness) and dust. The Hebrew word for dust, (H6083 in Strong’s Concordance) is `aphar, which comes from H6080, the primitive root ʻâphar, “meaning either to be gray or perhaps rather to pulverize”. The gray aspect of this word would seem to go well with obscurity.
Obscurity and dust are both mentioned in Isaiah 29, a part of Isaiah that Nephi quotes heavily, so it is reasonable to assume that similar Hebrew words were used in Nephi’s statement.
Dust, therefore, is likely from Strong’s H6080, tied to H6083, which can invoke the concept of grayness.
The KJV word “obscurity” in Isaiah 28 is Strong’s H652:
ʼôphel, o’fel (from H651, ʼâphêl); meaning “dusk:—darkness, obscurity, privily,: while ʼâphêl is “from an unused root meaning to set as the sun; dusky:—very dark.”
So “obscurity” could be ôphel/ʼâphêl, while “dust” is probably from ʻâphar. To me, those sound similar and looks like a potential wordplay that I don’t think has been noted. Is this legitimate? I’m not sure–Hebrew scholars, your feedback is welcome. But to me, it adds to the parallelism and poetry of Lehi’s words, in a passage that appears to draw from Isaiah 52 and, perhaps, a touch of the Book of Moses or related content on the brass plates.
David Bokovoy discusses Lehi’s beautiful speech to his sons and its relationship to Isaiah 52, where Israel is urged to rise from the dust. He notes that a previous scholar explored relationship between dust and obscurity, finding that Old Testament references to both may be referring to a theme of exaltation or enthronement. Very interesting possibilities. I’d also suggest that Lehi’s speech, including its continuation in 2 Nephi 2, gains further meaning and power when we consider Job 19 as an inspiration, especially the part about his rejection by his family, followed by the proclamation about the Redeemer who in the latter days will stand upon the earth. That phrase can also be interpreted as “rise from the dust.” More on that next time!
Reynolds thesis about the relationship between two books of LDS scripture and the its implications for the brass plates, if his argument proves to have merit, could really shake up a lot of assumptions about the origins of the Book of Moses and the origins of the Bible. It would be important information to consider to radically revise some aspects of the Documentary Hypothesis, for example.
What Reynolds is doing with the Book of Moses and passages in the Book of Mormon is similar to what scholars have done for many decades to pick upon sources and influences for biblical texts. This is something I’m beginning to explore, and will share more later.