“REPENT AND RETURN UNTO THE LORD”
Samuel2‘s Prophecy: Helaman13:1-16:9
Samuel2, a Lamanite, Prophesies of the Destruction of the Nephites:
….Nephite society had been characterized by rapid shifts between righteousness and wickedness. These swings were so sudden that they seem to reflect volatility rather than developed historical cycles (they also give the impression that the population was small and institutional continuity weak). [Mormon] tells of the Lamanite prophet Samuel who climbed up on the wall of Zarahemla and prophesied to the Nephites.
Over the next three chapters, Samuel offers additional information about the catastrophe scheduled for the late fourth century AD, along with the warning about false prophets and disappearing riches, intimations of destruction awaiting Zarahemla, and detailed predictions of the signs that would accompany both Jesus’ birth and his death. These prophecies are something of a chronological jumble, with predictions of events in the next few years mixed with calamities still decades or even centuries away. It is hard to imagine that the Nephites of Zarahemla were overwhelmed by tidings of devastation for their distant posterity, though for those listening closely enough to remember later, these long-term prophecies may have provided hope for recovery when disasters struck at the time of Christ’s death – while it may have seemed like the end of their civilization, believers would have been assured that their posterity would survive for several more centuries.
Again and again in Samuel’s sermon, or at least in Mormon’s rendition of it, the critical issue is prophecy, not just as a guide to the future but as a rationale for belief, a justification for punishment (of those who reject it), and an occasion for rejoicing; See Helaman 13:6-7, 24, 32-33; 14:9, 11-12; 14:28.
Unfortunately, Samuel was not particularly persuasive. The crowds try to stone Samuel and drive him away. A few believe, but the majority stubbornly hold out even when the signs and wonders begin.
Samuel had predicted that the signs of Christ’s birth would appear in five years. In the sixth year, when it seemed that the time had passed, skeptics set a date to put to death those still foolish enough to believe in the failed prophecy. And then, in a story whose brevity belies its drama, Nephi3 prays for help and is answered by the voice of the Lord saying, “On this night shall the sign be given….” (3 Nephi 1:13). When everything transpires exactly as foretold by Samuel, including a night without darkness, people fall to the ground in amazement (Helaman 14:3-7; 3 Nephi 1:15-16). Unbelievers are abashed and the majority of Nephites are converted and baptized. Clearly, prophecy is reliable and believers will be vindicated, even if some of the details are problematic.
One might think that such a marvelous prediction of a unique event would bring an end to doubt (as Samuel had suggested it might), and so it does, but only for a short while. (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, pg 185-189)
Mormon regularly inserts primary sources into his narratives. The transition to embedded documents is usually marked by a clear introduction and a shift from third-person to first-person voice. The origins of speeches are sometimes difficult to ascertain since the Book of Mormon includes a considerable amount of direct discourse, and even historians as careful as Thucydides have been known to write dialogue and orations for their characters (based on available evidence and appropriate to the setting, of course). There are major speeches in Mormon’s writings, which may have been either reported verbatim or significantly edited or even reconstructed by Mormon, including Samuel the Lamanite.
Turning the narrative over to another voice is a dramatic editorial move, and such cases deserve careful scrutiny. Why doesn’t Mormon simply paraphrase a speech or a letter and then describe the reactions of the original recipients? And why these particular documents rather than others in his possession (e/g/. we know that Alma2 preached at four cities during the Nephite Reformation, but we have sermons from only three). Here all three of Mormon’s roles come into play. The inclusion of primary sources certainly adds historical value and authenticity to an account of the past. From the perspective of aesthetics, direct discourse enhances the drama of the narrative – even villains such as Korihor and Ammaron get to present their ideas in their own words – and Mormon seems to have admired the literary qualities of speeches he preserves. As a moralist, Mormon may have wanted his readers to experience crucial moments of testimony and exhortation for themselves as they read the actual words of Benjamin, Alma2, Amulek, and Samuel in real time.
In addition to the embedded-source sermons, other significant speeches – which may have been reworked by Mormon and usually include interruptions from listeners – include orations. (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg 105-106, 300 note 7)
13:1 With the Lamanites being more righteous than the Nephites, this begs the question, what are the essential qualities (at this point in Nephite history) that makes a Lamanite different from a Nephite? Is it skin color, righteousness, tradition, boarders of land? Helaman 5:51, 5 & 6:7-9 seems to indicate that the there was some ambiguity regarding what was considered Nephite vs. Lamananite lands.
13:2, 3 “…and he was about to return to his own land…he should return again….”
Mormon’s literary ambitions can also be seen in the organization of his narratives. While theological implications are never far away, the exact meaning to be gained from comparing similar stories is often left to readers, while Mormon’s skill (and delight) in constructing narratives is clearly evident….the sheer abundance of specific narrative repetition in Mormon’s abridgment suggests not only deliberate selection and shaping but also that, in the working of God’s will, certain kinds of events are likely to recur. Hence there are three prophets who are commanded by God to return to preach in cities where they had been previously rejected (Mosiah 12; Alma 8; Helaman 13), and so forth. (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, pg. 110-111).
13:3, 4 “…whatsoever things should come into his heart…whatsoever things the Lord put into his heart….my heart…” I wonder what is trying to be taught here by using essentially the same idiom two verses in a row (and three times in just two verses). Why not say “whatsoever things the Lord put into his mind”? Is there a necessary difference in meaning between the two idioms?
Mormon does not spend nearly as much time on his own life as he does on earlier prophets…Several prophets (including Samuel) had provided a fairly precise count-down of the final destruction, predicting that it would occur four hundred years after Jesus’ visit to the New World, in the fourth generation, yet Mormon never Mentions this prophecy in his autobiography (which is quite at odds with his usual approach to reporting prophecies and their fulfillments). He seems to be in a state of denial, perhaps hoping that the prophecy would turn out to be conditional or reversible. Moroni [also] knows that these predictions came true, but he never explicitly makes the point. Similarly, he never references the startling exact prophecies of Samuel that the Nephites would be destroyed four hundred years after the coming of Jesus. (Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide, pg. 94, 224)
13:7 “…an angel of the Lord hath declared it unto me….” Was the message that was placed in Samuel’s heart given to him by this angel?
13:8 “…I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.” This reminds me of what is recorded in Exodus 7:3, 13; 9:7; 10:20 about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. If God causes such things to happen, is He then to blame for the bad things that occur?
13:11 “…but if ye will repent…” Many prophecies are contingent upon the behavior of the group of people.
13:11 Grant Hardy notes: “Unfortunately the Nephites do not repent. The books of 4 Nephi and Mormon chronicle the destruction that Samuel2 foresaw” (Grant Hardy, The Book of Mormon, A Reader’s Edition, pg. 473, footnote 11a).
13:14 Zarahemla is destroyed in 3 Nephi 8:8 also 3 Nephi 9:3.
Samuel2 Quotes the Lord on Hidden Treasures: Helaman 13:17-23
13:17 “…because of the people’s sake…” This is a weird idiom.
13:18-20 All this business about buried treasure, some see as being influenced by Joseph Smith’s early days treasure seeking and of scrying.
13:22 Yet another warning to the rich. Total warning against the rich in the Book of Mormon? 15. (see 2 Nephi9:30; 2 Nephi 28:15; Jacob 2:13; Mosiah 4:23; Mosiah 29:12; Alma 1:16; Alma 4:6, 8; Alma 5:53; Alma 7:6; Alma 17:14; Alma 39:14; Alma 45:24; Helaman 4:12; Helaman 7:21, 26; 3 Nephi 6:10, 12, 15 ) Total warnings against the wise/learned? 2, maybe 4 (see 2 Nephi 9:28, 42; 2 Nephi 28:15 maybe Jacob 7:10 and Alma 10:15 ). So why then is there sometimes an “anti-intellectual” culture within Mormonism? Why was the pronouncement once made that one of the three great threats to the LDS church are “intellectuals” (click here for talk)? Why are the rich privileged in our church? Why did Mit Romney get special dispensation to marry his wife civilly first and then fly to the Salt Lake City Temple to be sealed to his wife the next day, when the rest of us are required to have both ceremonies occur at the same time or else we must wait one year between the civil ceremony and the sealing ceremony (click here to read story on the two different ceremonies of the Romneys)? Was it perhaps because of the wealth and status of his father? Things seem a bit upside down to me.
If our popular [Mormon] culture demonizes the intellect, that’s not what Joseph [Smith] taught. Joseph taught that we are intellects fully as much as we are spirits. Or sometimes he seemed to talk that our essence is spirit-intellects. That’s what we ontologically are. And to bifurcate those, to sunder the mind and the spirit is to be apostate from major thrusts of Joseph’s theology (Phillip Barlow, professor and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University; Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73; 1:15).
Samuel2 Criticizes the Nephites’ Acceptance of False Prophets: Helaman 13:24-29
13:27, 28 This is an interesting point that Samuel makes. I have heard critics say, “The LDS church has prophets that don’t prophecy, revelators that don’t reveal.” Yet, when something is said that is hard to take (ie intellectuals are a threat to the LDS church), I would not be surprised if the same critics would then say, “Oh, they are just out of touch.” Ooh the paradox! Ooh the tension! I love it!
Regret Will Come Too Late: Helaman 13:30-39
13:31 “…that they become slippery…”
…According to their neighbor and early Mormon convert Orrin Porter Rockwell, Lucy Mack Smith aided her husband and son Joseph in such a treasure-quest. “Not only was there religious excitement, but the phantom treasures of Captain Kidd were sought for far and near.”…Rockwell explained that “his mother and Mrs. Smith used to spend their Saturday evenings together telling their dreams…He often heard his mother and Mrs. Smith comparing notes, and telling how such an one’s dream, and such another’s pointed to the same lucky spot: how the spades often struck the iron sides of the treasure chest, and how it was charmed away, now six inches this side, now four feet deeper, and again completely out of reach.”
The incident in Manchester/Palmyra was not the only occasion that Joseph Jr. and his followers encountered a moving treasure. Martin Harris said: “A candid old Presbyterian told me, that on the Susquehanna flats he dug down to an iron chest…[but] it moved away two or three rods into the earth, and they could not get it.” This referred to Josiah Stowell, who was a deacon in the Presbyterian church of Bainbridge and whose house was “two miles below the village, on the Susquehanna.” Aside from Josiah’s statement to Harris about this moving treasure, one of Stowell’s workmen also referred to the same incident during young Smith’s treasure-quest along the Susquehanna River: “One of the men placed his hand upon the box, but it gradually sunk from his reach.”
In fact, the Book of Mormon described a complaint common to treasure-seekers: “Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because the curse of the land.” These people “began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land” (Helaman 13:35; Mormon 1:18). This reflected the treasure-digging language of early America, as the book May Martin shows. The 1835 novel described Vermont treasure-diggers who dreamed of “the prospects of another trial for the slippery treasure.” Book of Mormon phrasing was consistent with one scholar’s observation about American folklore of “slipping treasures” that “sink into the earth when something is wrong.”
However, Blake Ostler regarded that usage as irrelevant to the main issues in folk magic and LDS scripture. “The Book of Mormon is thus concerned with [divine] covenants, not money digging.” His next observation is certainly accurate: “The Book of Mormon says nothing about the enchantment of spirits, divining rods, magic circles, guardian spirits, sacrifices to appease spirits, or other rituals necessary to obtain hidden treasures – all a necessary part of the magic world view associated with money digging.” Still, the fact remains that translator Joseph Smith used the term and imagery of “slippery” treasures. Those were part of the folk magic culture in which he participated as a young man.
Nevertheless, Ostler’s argument gives opportunity for me to emphasize that this chapter does not make the reductionist argument that Mormon scriptures are occult texts. I regard the Book of Mormon’s references to slippery treasures as an echo of the translator’s social world, not as a key to understanding a very complex historical and religious narrative. I find echoes of folk magic and the occult in all the “Standard Works,” even though these LDS scriptures overwhelmingly emphasize religious history and theology. (D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, pg. 62, 196, 197)
13:38 “…contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.” To me that sounds like Samuel is making the argument that God’s righteousness is a necessary attribute.
Samuel2 Gives Signs of Jesus’ Birth: Helaman 14:1-13
These prophecies are fulfilled in 3 Nephi 1:15-21
14:1 “..Samuel, the Lamanite, did prophecy a great many more things which cannot be written…” Grant Hardy calls this kind of editorial interruption an “omission”.
14:12 “…Creator of all things from the beginning…” This is a quote from Mosiah 3:8
14:12 “…to the intent that ye might believe on his name.” When was this belief supposed to happen? At the time of the signs? Or, before? See discussion below for Helaman 16:13.
Samuel2 Gives Signs of Jesus’ Death: Helaman 14:14-31
These signs are fulfilled in 3 Nephi 3-23
14:14 In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Jesus’ death is seen as necessary because it allowed him and showed him to be completly human (as well as divine).
14:20 Here the sun does not give light, and in verse 3 the evening lights give off an inordinate amount of light. I’m sure there is some kind of symbolism here, I am just not seeing it.
14:22 “…which ye know at this time are solid…” Huh? Why is this even in there?
14:25 This record of the fulfillment of this part of Samuel2‘s prophecy was added, at the Lord’s command to 3 Nephi 23:6-13.
14:28 “…to the intent that they might believe…” Here we get some clarification of verse 12. The signs at the death (and by inference, of his birth) were to provide sure evidence, at the time of their fulfillment, such that “there should be no cause for unbelief.”
14:29 “…and that whosoever will not believe…” This is assuming that even after the signs, there were people who still did not believe. Is there any indication in 3 Nephi that there were people that continued not believing even after the signs of his death? See discussion below for Helaman 16:13.
Samuel2 Contrasts the Nephites and the Lamanites: Helaman 15: 1-17
15:3 “…he chastened them because he loveth them…” Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes, it just seems to hurt.
15:4 “…traditions of their [Lamanite] fathers…”
Several Book of Mormon authors refer to the “traditions of the Lamanites”, and belief in the correct traditions of the Nephites seems to have been the most important criteria in deciding who was or was not a Nephite (apparently this acceptance of tradition was of more significance that actual lineage: see Alma 3:11 ), but only Zeniff goes to the trouble of specifying exactly what the “traditions of the Lamanites” were ( see Mosiah 10:12) (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 301, note 16)
15:7 “…change of heart…”
In the absence of explicit citations, we might wonder if verbal parallels indicate deliberate quotations and allusions, or whether they might best be explained as due to the common language and phrasing of Joseph Smith, either as translator or author. Yet there are many instances where the correspondence between phrases is unique, or nearly so. To take an example, “change of heart,” with all its variations appears nine times in the Book of Mormon, seven of which are in Mosiah 5 (King Benjamin’s speech) and Alma 5 (Alma’s speech to Zarahemla); See Mosiah 5:2, 7; Alma 5:7, 12, 13, 14, 26; 19:33; Helaman 15:7. (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 133,134, 301 – note 22)
15:8 “…wherewith they have been made free…” I love how Samuel says this. True freedom can only come when two different choices are presented and when the person has the freedom to pick either one. Helaman 14:30-31 says “…For behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves. For behold, God hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil….” Perfectly awesome. Love it!
15:9 see Helaman 5:51, with a precedent in Alma 24:5-27. Samuel’s’ mentioning of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis makes me wonder if he was one of them.
15:11 “…also by the prophet Zenos…” See 1 Nephi 19:16; Jacob 5.
15:11 “…the restoration of our brethren, the Lamanites….” This theme is common in the Book of Mormon. It is unclear which prophecies Samuel2 may have had in mind (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 479, footnote 11c ).
15:12, 17 Which is worse, to be “driven to and fro upon the face of the earth, and be hunted, and …smitten and scattered abroad, having to place for refuge” or “to be utterly destroyed”? The former sounds worse to me.
Samuel2 Converts a Few and Escapes Unharmed: Helaman 16:1-9
16:1 Why did they seek after Nephi and not Samuel? Was it because Samuel was inaccessible because some of the Nephites were trying to kill him?
16:1 We haven’t heard anything about Nephi since Helaman 11:9.
16:5 “…to the intent that they might believe…” Mormon uses similar terms to describe the prophecies of Nephi2‘s contemporary, Samuel2 (Helaman 14:12, 28).
16:9 The 86th year of the reign of the judges which is negative 6 years from the birth of Jesus. (see Helaman 13:1). In Helaman 14:2, Samuel2 said that Jesus’ birth would come after five more years. This apparent discrepancy casuses problems in 3 Nephi 1:4-9 – the sign should have come in the 91st year, not the 92nd year ( Hardy, A Reader’s Edition, pg.480, footnote 9a ).
[ End of Samuel2‘s Prophecy: Helaman 13:1-16:9]
The People Reject Signs and Wonders: Helaman 16:10-25
16:13 “…great signs given unto the people, and wonders; and the words of the prophets began to be fulfilled.” This reference is uncertain. In Helaman 14:12, 28, 29 it does mention signs that would be given “for the intent that they might believe that these signs and these wonders should come to pass upon all the face of this land, to the intent that there should be no cause for unbelief among the children of men. And this to the intent that whosoever will believe might be saved, and that whosoever will not believe, a righteous judgment might come upon them.” Comparing these four verses, it leads me to believe that the signs given in the 90th year of the reign of the judges are the signs of which Samuel prophesied in Helaman 14:12, 28, 29. And, that those signs are different than the ones occurring directly before the birth of the Messiah. Seeing those signs in the 90th year, led to a belief that the other signs would also come to pass, thus leading to belief.
Just before the book of Third Nephi begins, Samuel the Lamanite offers very specific prophecies about signs in the Americas of Jesus’ birth and death (with the former being predicted to occur in only five year’s time), yet he never mentions Christ’s visit. In fact, some of his listeners complain that they are being asked to believe in a figure who will live “in a land which is far from distant,” and they wonder, “Why will he not show himself unto us as well as unto them who shall be at Jerusalem?” Helaman 13:7 suggests a possible reason – Samuel says that he had originally intended to declare “glad tidings” concerning Christ that had been revealed to him by an angel, but when he was rejected by the Nephites he had to change his message (Helaman 16:18, 20). “But behold, we know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers.” and it might seem as if this “wicked tradition” included the notion of a postresurrection appearance of Jesus in the New World. Nevertheless, the rejected tradition here is akin to those labeled “foolish traditions of your fathers” elsewhere (Alma 8:11; 21:8′ 20:14, 16, 23, 27, 31; 31:16-17), and refers to Christ’s life in general, along with a suspicion that religious authorities manipulate the people with predictions that will be impossible to verify. Again Helaman 16:20: “…we know that this is a wicked tradition, which has been handed down unto us by our fathers, to cause us that we should believe in some great and marvelous thing which should come to pass, but not among us, but in a land which is far distant, a land which we know not; therefore they can keep us in ignorance, for we cannot witness with our own eyes that they are true. (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 182, 310 notes 7 & 8)
16:23 “…yield ourselves unto them, all the days of our lives.” This is a fundamental misunderstanding that is even seen in the modern-day church. The words we obey are the words of God.
Usually, a clear transition of record-keepers merits independent status as a separate book. We can see a deliberately demarcated transition in Alma 44:24, but Helaman2‘s actual contributions were probably minimal or fragmentary, like those of the record-keepers in the book of Omni. The book of Helaman, as another counterexample, was considered from first to last as jointly authored by Helaman3 and his sons; see the headnote to the book as well as Helaman 16:25, with a transition implied, rather than specified in Helaman 3:37 (Hardy, A Reader’s Guide, pg. 305 note 45).