Here are some of the things that I gleaned from these books as I’ve been workin on my “The Book of Mormon: Plain and Precious Truths” project:
Chapter 2 is particularly noteworthy for me.
The Nephite men had been sleeping around and started marrying multiple women against God’s wishes. Men are portrayed as using their sexuality in a way that harms women. God very explicitly said that they would not tolerate the Nephite women being harmed, and would just kill the men who used their sexuality as a weapon. This was incredibly powerful to me.
Chapter 2 also talks a fair amount about income inequality and how the rich often thing they are better than the poor and strongly condemned the rich. It said to seek God first and IF you still want riches (and it implies that you likely wont), that you should use those riches to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, liberate the captive, and heal the sick. Verse 22 was particularly interesting to me: “Think of your family and friends as you would think of yourself. You should be friends with everyone and give your riches to everyone so they can be rich like you.” These verses make me question the rugged individualism that Americans have seemingly created an idol out of. The Divine intends for us to care for one another and speaks harshly about egotism and wealth.
Finally, chapter 2 also condemns Nephite racism. This bit starts with the assumption that “the curse” is a darker skin. To understand this, I would like to give a bit of an overview of “the curse”.
The first time the curse is mentioned is in 1st Nephi 1:57-58, and it mentions nothing of race. The curse talks about how the Lamanites wont have power over the Nephites if they rebel against God (with the condition that the Nephites also don’t rebel against God). The curse is again mentioned by Lehi in 2nd Nephi 1:32 with still no mention of race. 2nd Nephi 4:31 even quotes the curse as listed in 1st Nephi 1:57-58. The first time Nephi connects the curse to race is in 2nd Nephi 4:33-41.
Nephi had endured several attempted murders from his brothers. 2nd Nephi 3:29-66 is often called “Nephi’s Psalm”, and it is here that he describes his brothers as his “enemies” and he is angry about how much he hates them. Nephi looked for any reason he could to hate his siblings, including hunting in the wilderness (something Nephi often did on the trek to the Promised Land). Skin color was one of those things that Nephi listed along side other reasons why he hated the Lamanites. Nephi connected the idea of having a darker skin color to the curse that god mentioned in 1st Nephi 1:57-58. I like to say that Nephi weaponized his prophetic calling and broke the 3rd Commandment (Not use the Lord’s name in vain) when he used God to justify his own anger and hatred. After Nephi did this his brother Jacob continued on that racism ideology and it started a tradition of racism.
Ironically, this hatred often met the qualifications of rebelling against God because the Nephites were constantly at war. Eventually this hateful racist tradition would lead to the downfall of the Nephites.
Now, in Jacob 2, Jacob condemns this racism, particularly in verses 60-63. However, the whole time he is chastising the Nephites he does so in a way that is ITSELF problematic, because he has carried on his brother’s ideology.
Other than Chapter 2 the biggest thing is Zenos’s parable of the Olive Trees in Chapter 3, which is essentially a massive expansion of Luke 13:6-9. It has always been a little confusing for me to follow, but I think changing some of the phrasing and adding headings and sub-headings makes it significantly easier to follow and is more meaningful for me. It is a parable that has many different applications!
I had never truly taken the time to sit and ponder on this scripture before. Enos goes hunting for food and suddenly has an overwhelming desire to pray to God, and so he prays all day to the Divine. He prays for his own salvation, and the Divine assures Enos that his sins are forgiven. Enos then prays for his people, the Nephites, and the Divine tells Enos that they will be justly dealt with. Enos then prays for the Lamanites and wants them to come to know God and the truth, and the Divine assures Enos that this will happen one day. Enos then prays that the records which the Nephites have kept will be protected, and the Divine assures Enos that they will be.
This short story has a surprising amount of meaning. The Nephites and the Lamanites are mortal enemies; they HATE each other. However, at a time when Enos is alone as he is speaking with God, one of his first thoughts is to pray for his enemies and recognize them as his family. This is him overcoming his cultural conditioning in order to show incredible love and compassion.
However, as soon as Enos returns to the Nephites his cultural conditioning returns and he is again filled with hate and division. He even hypocritically looks down upon and criticizes the Lamanites for hunting their food – something that he himself was doing at the beginning of the book.
I can’t help but think about how this could be applied to our lives. Does our culture teach us to hate certain people, but when we are alone with God we find love and compassion for them? After we find this Divine love and compassion, do we let it change us so we bring it back to our culture and change it for the better? Or do we let our culture filled us with hatred once more and criticize people for things even we are guilty of?