The following comments were recorded at the 1993 Sunstone Symposium. Bill Russell spoke on the recurring theme as Sunstone called “The Pillars of my Faith”. He is a past president of the Mormon History Association. I don’t know who introduced him, but this is what the person said when he introduced Bill Russell.
Introduction, “William D. Russell is a professor of American History and Government at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa. He received his B.A. in Religion from Graceland College. He has his J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law, and he says he has about 70 hours of graduate study in history in St. Paul in the University of Iowa. He has published a book, Treasures in Earthen Vessels, an Introduction to the New Testament and he tells me that he was given the True Believer Comeback of the Year Award by the John Whitmer Historical Association in 1985 for affirming the Book of Mormon as legitimate scripture shortly after advocating that the RLDS Church quit publishing the Doctrine and Covenants. He is also a runner and has run 25 marathons including the LA and the Boston Marathon.”
The whole speech is interesting, and I will probably post the whole transcript in the future. But Bill spoke about a very interesting topic concerning the story of Nephi and Laban. Before we get to I thought I would give a few of Bill’s opening remarks.
I’ve been a regular attender of the Mormon History Association since 1971 and in those early meetings I met Dick Paul and Leonard Arrington, Mel Smith and a number of others here tonight. In 1984, some of my Mormon History friends suggested I ought to come to Sunstone, and so I wandered out here in 1984 and I think I met Catherine for the first time that year, and I can’t stay away ever since. Often I’m the only RLDS person here, so I just wanted to assure you that being the case you might think that I am some sort of official spokesman for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I assure you, you can be confident that I don’t speak for any of the general officers of the Church, be they high or low, standing, sitting, or prone. [audience chuckles]
So, I want to make it clear that Bill is not a spokesman for the RLDS Church (now known as the Community of Christ.) Â He had a very provocative perspective on the story of Nephi, and I wanted to see what you thought of his beliefs about the story.
So travelling down this path, I began to see that Joseph Smith was in real trouble, at least for me, not that he was worried. [audience chuckles] Joseph committed Mormonism to positions at odds with biblical and historical scholarship. Joseph regarded the scriptures as true, insofar as correctly translated. I discovered the problem usually wasn’t with the translation, or the transmission process, the problem usually was right there in the originals, and I also came to view the Book of Mormon as fiction, but felt it deserved it’s place in the canon of scriptures (that’s why I got that True Believers award), because it’s the founding document of Mormonism, and because it also has inspired many people to do good. But my recent experience writing a book on the 1989 mass murder in Kirtland, Ohio by an RLDS splinter prophet has made me aware that the Book of Mormon has also inspired men to do evil.
Jeff Lundgren studied the scriptures diligently, and considered the Book of Mormon the most important of the standard works, the fullness. He learned the love of guns from his father, and he was fascinated by the violence of the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament. He quoted over and over again the various passages from the Book of Mormon which warned, ‘Repent or be destroyed.’ He gathered devout Latter-day Saints who wanted to build Zion and see the return of Christ. He wanted to have faith like the Brother of Jared, faith so strong they would be able to see and feel Christ. If they could produce a community of saints who had repented of their sins, Christ would return and Zion would be established.
But the five members of the Avery family were hopelessly unrepentant, so they had to be destroyed. Jeff loved the story of Nephi beheading Laban, and stealing Laban’s treasures. That story contains two of the most horrible passages in the standard works, indeed, two of the most dreadful lines ever written: ‘Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.’ ‘It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.’
The first sentence is a great justification for holy war. The second sentence would serve quite well as a justification for the inquisition. Neither passage can be condemned strongly enough. Incredibly we quote these sentences with approval, in my church anyway, and I suspect in yours. By doing so, we place terrible ideas in the minds of our members. We abdicate our responsibility to provide moral leadership in our churches if we fail to condemn ideas like that. I don’t care where they are found. Don’t ask me to flush my brain down the toilet, or ignore my moral values just because I’m reading the scriptures. And I’m confident of this: the jury that I observed in Painesville, Ohio would have sentenced Nephi to death for murder and robbery just as surely as they sentenced Jeff Lundgren to the electric chair. I see no real difference in the two cases. I’ve come to the very strong opinion that the Church has an affirmative duty to warn its members of the existence of extremely dangerous ideas in the pages of the standard works such as murder in the name of God, sexism, racism, and so forth. Perhaps Deseret Books and Herald House should place warning labels on the standard works. [audience chuckles] Some passages contained herein can be harmful to your health. Maybe we should register Bibles rather than guns.
What do you think of Russell’s take on the story of Nephi and Laban? Is it really better for one man to perish than for a nation to dwindle in unbelief?
Russell’s take on Nephi is faulty on several levels, not the least of which is that it is always perilous to judge an ancient culture by our sophisticated, “advanced” norms. According to experts in Mosaic and Hebrew law, Nephi was “covered” in his execution of Laban. Laban, had, after all, stolen their property. Such robbery merited the death penalty in ancient times.
Another fault in his logic is the idea that the Book of Mormon “caused” or “inspired” Lundgren to commit a heinous act of murder. Objects don’t force people to make choices. People themselves make the choice.
And let’s get real about one thing: statistically speaking, how many people in HISTORY have used Nephi’s account of slaying Laban as justification for murder? Perhaps the percentage is, say, 0.000000001%? The entire case is such as outlier, it’s absolutely absurd to use it as a hammer on scripture.
The Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita……no scripture in the world “inspires” people to commit evil. People commit evil because they themselves are evil. I find Russell’s “take” to be flimsy and absurd.
Presentism. A deadly heresy for a professional historian.
As Michael noted, Nephi was acting in the context of his own time and laws. Lundgren was not.
Michael, who are these “experts in Mosaic and Hebrew law” that you refer to? I’d like some more information there. Are you saying that Nephi would have been acquitted in the death of Laban if he had been caught?
Certainly, scriptures can be “wrested” for all sorts of evil purposes. The Laffertys did that, and the Pope misused the Bible in the name of the Crusades.
I must say that I found Russell’s perspective shocking, but I think it’s interesting. I believe that Brigham Young said that if all scriptures were destroyed, then if we had prophets, we would be fine. It’s interesting that Nephi thought the scriptures were worth killing for.
Let’s put warning labels on the Standard Works
by William D. Russell
(Sunstone July 2004)
I’ve always hated that story. If he truly was as drunk as the story makes it out to be, a bit of twine should’ve kept him incapacitated enough for Nephi to get the job done, no slaying required.
But then, at this point I see the BoM as fiction, too, not the “most correct book”. But whatever.
“It’s interesting that Nephi thought the scriptures were worth killing for.”
An aspect of the Laban killing that is missing from the discussion is the part that clearly indicates that Nephi seriously hesitated to kill Laban. He pulled back from killing him several times until, according to the text, he actually received a revelation from God that directed him to do so. He argued with the Spirit that he didn’t want to do it, and indeed, had never taken life before.
God and revelation trump society norms in certain circumstances. Then they sometimes get written up in scriptures. I am well aware of the argument that you can’t use God to defend heinous acts. Yet, when examined in his time and place, what Nephi did to Laban was not truly “heinous”…according to the ancient near eastern milieu of 600 BC.
Now, we enlightened souls in the 21st century can poo-poo or dismiss this story as a perfect example of 600 BC brutality, or we can feign outrage and moral shock, or we can acknowledge that there are interesting layers of meaning in those verses that do not showcase Nephi to be a blood-thirsty murderer or a psychopath.
Heretic, it would take me a while to find those sources. I read a couple of articles a long time ago detailing the legal issues involved. What I distinctly remember is that Nephi came out with shining colors. He wouldn’t have needed Johnny Cochrane.
I remember reading Hugh Nibley who said that his Near Eastern students were shocked that Nephi hesitated. The point he was making is that culture and God, and not universal morality, determines right and wrong.
For what it’s worth, here’s 3 ways in which Nephi was justified in slaying Laban: http://faith.skylerjcollins.com/2011/06/nephis-3-way-justification-for-slaying.html
Caiaphas the high priest also advised that it was more expedient for one man to die than for the entire people to perish. Interesting rationale depending on the situation– I share Brother Russell’s qualms and misgivings.
Wow, an unexpected burst of activity. This is nice!!!
Glenn, I hear the “presentism” argument a lot, and it doesn’t hold a lot of sway for me. If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then shouldn’t we make the same moral judgments yesterday, today, and forever? Moses said “Thou shalt not kill.” He didn’t say “killing is ok if you’re killing for brass plates.” I’d say Lundgren was acting in his own time and place–I’m not sure what you mean there. I agree with Braeden–Nephi could have tied him up, knocked him out or something rather than beheading him. Certainly there were some other options. I haven’t read Grant Hardy’s commentary on the BoM yet, but I’ve heard he said that Laman and Lemuel were angry at Nephi because now that Laban was dead, none of them could return. I have a hard time believing that Nephi would have been acquitted in a court in Jerusalem as a justified killing. Michael, if you can find those sources, I’d be quite interested to read them.
Skyler, thanks for the link to your blog. There were some interesting points there, that I’d like to continue to discuss. I see this as a legalistic justification, that merits further discussion, though I would say that your 3 justifications are really 1 with details.
(1) The Law of Moses justifies killing a robber. I like the fact that we’re getting into the details of the story. I will add the link to this article gets into a more legalistic framework. Val Larsen’s article called Killing Laban: The Birth of Sovereignty in the Nephite Constitutional Order also discusses Jack Welch’s article Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban. I think there’s some interesting things said, though I haven’t been able to read both articles yet. Val Larson did say “Welch (a lawyer) marshals enough facts and enough law to acquit Nephi of murder on a series of technicalities. The attorney makes the case that, under the law of Moses, his client would be entitled to flee to a city of refuge or to go into exile since he is guilty not of murder but of justifiable homicide.”
So, yes, there may be a series of technicalities that may have let Nephi off the hook, (But I think that point is VERY Debatable) my guess is that citizens of Jerusalem would have been upset that Nephi killed Laban for the scriptures that were supposed to remain in the city (just like many are outraged that OJ Simpson “got off”). There probably would have been some outrage if Nephi had won on legal technicalities.
But let’s look at the story again. Laban accused Laman of robbery for asking for the plates without compensation, then Nephi tries to buy (or perhaps bribe) the plates. Laban then tries to steal Nephi’s property without compensation.
Ok, so Nephi is justified in killing Laban according to Mosaic Law, though this is starting to sound like a drug deal gone bad now, as both Laban and Nephi are accusing each other of robbery now. Both seem to be a bit greedy, seeking things from the other person without giving up anything. When we argue this point about justifiable homicide, I think we’re missing the point that Russell is trying to make.
The line that ‘It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief’ is a great justification for holy war. I’m sure that Nephi is trying to make his motives look pure, but really, in the age when writing was very difficult, was it really a good idea for Nephi to kill over the scriptures? I mean nobody would kill over scriptures now, but we have the luxury of a printing press now, as well as all the people tortured and killed for printing the Bible for the masses. Even if Nephi was justified by the Law of Moses, would he be justified today with the Law of Christ?
The 2nd link isn’t working. Here is Welch’s article: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/pdf/jbms/792565429-1-1.pdf
Heretic, I would respectfully submit that the question is completely moot. The crux of the issue is that we cannot with seriousness use our 21st mores to cast judgment on why Nephi acted to kill Laban.
Also, I keep getting the sense that you’re leaving God out of the story. Nephi, according to the text, didn’t act with impunity. He said he did it because it was an explicit revelatory command from God.
Now, it’s cozy and nice for us 21st century moderns to sit back and use our current jurisprudence to analyze whether Nephi was right or deadly wrong. But it completely ignores the fact that Nephi wasn’t the one saying “It is better than one man perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief”. That was God’s statement, according to Nephi’s solemn testimony. (1 Nephi 1: 3; 2 Nephi 33: 10). And you ignore the preceding sentence: “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes” (1 Nephi 4:13). Nephi said that he “heard those words”.
If the way you want to frame this story leaves out God, then you are taking an agnostic and secular approach to the scripture. If that’s what you want to do, then fine. But it ignores Nephi’s detailed and explicit testimony that *he* didn’t want to kill Laban; God wanted him dead by his own voice and command. Now, if we look at religion as only a secular human construct, then fine; Nephi made it all up then. *IF* Nephi made it all up, then sure, he was guilty of murder. We can now feel free to ignore Nephi’s teachings of Christ. (Subtext: the Church isn’t true, eat, drink and be merry, etc.).
What bothers me the most about this mode of analysis is the presupposition that by discrediting Nephi’s account of killing Laban, by essentially discrediting Nephi as an inspired prophet, you are not only discrediting the Book of Mormon, but you are subtextually suggesting that the millions of LDS who adhere to the Book of Mormon as scripture are doing so fraudulently. And that is something that I cannot accept because of my testimony regarding the Book of Mormon.
I would love to hear more clarification as to the real intent of the post.
The crux of the issue is that we cannot with seriousness use our 21st mores to cast judgment on why Nephi acted to kill Laban.
I really find this statement odd. Then why use ANY scripture if doesn’t apply to our 21st century mores? Seriously, Why??? Aren’t we supposed to “liken the scriptures unto us?”
Michael, the purpose of ALL of my posts is stated on my “About” page. Feel free to click it.
So yes, I like to ask controversial questions here. Sometimes I agree with a particular topic within the church, sometimes I do not. If my asking a question causes you or me to look more deeply at the scriptures, then I view that as a good thing. This isn’t the first time I’ve posted an unorthodox point of view, and it certainly won’t be the last. I post orthodox points of view as well. I hope the blog is stimulating whether you agree with me or not. If not, then there are lots of other blogs to find the stimulation you seek.
*IF* Nephi made it all up, then sure, he was guilty of murder. We can now feel free to ignore Nephiâ€™s teachings of Christ.
I really hate black-white thinking. Michael, I doubt you’re sinless. Because of that, should I automatically ignore all of YOUR teachings of Christ? Of course not. Prophets are sinners, as are you and I. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, I seek after such things. But if there are things that should be condemned, I will condemn them.
I think it is healthy to challenge, and be challenged. If you’re looking for correlated church material, this is not the place. If you’re looking to challenge your beliefs and hopefully get closer to God, then this place is for you. Joseph Smith, Galileo, and Jesus are my favorite heretics. I can love Nephi, yet still question whether killing Laban was really God’s will or not. I can love many things about Joseph Smith, but question whether polygamy was really a revelation of God. I don’t need all or nothing thinking to accept that Joseph or Nephi was a prophet.
If you want to get a better sense of me, check out some of my posts that question traditional interpretations of scripture, like my posts on Abraham, Joshua’s Holy War, or the Exodus. I’ll even talk about an atheist that finds value in the Book of Mormon. I hope you can learn something; this isn’t the stuff you’ll hear in Sunday School.
Heretic, I didn’t come here looking for “correlated church material”; I’m a big boy, and I’ve been around the block a few times (spiritually speaking). These topics don’t scare or threaten me in any way.
I think you might agree with me, though, that a *complete* rejection of black-white thinking, is, in and of itself, a stark black-white position to take in and of itself. It’s like the old saw about bias: lack of a bias is itself a bias. 😉
All of these arguments miss Bill’s point. The idea of quantifying the proportion of murders in the world that used the Nephi story as justification the way Michael does seems absurd on its face. The gruesome murders in Kirtland can’t be dismissed with a phoney statistical argument. Even if there was only one horrific tragedy, it would still be a horrific tragedy.
The point is not whether Joseph Smith’s philosophy always leads to murder. The real question is whether or not this is a justifiable philosophy. Essentially, the philosophy expressed here in its most stark incarnation — but shown in numerous examples elsewhere in Joseph’s writings and deeds — is the ends justify the means. By their works you will know them, bad trees don’t bring forth good fruit, so if the fruit is good, the tree must be good. In other words, if you can bring a soul to Christ, you have accomplished a good end. In Joseph’s philosophy, it doesn’t matter, therefore, if you have to tell white lies (or even real lies) to accomplish this end, because the end is good and that trumps the means.
Ultimately, this is an irresponsible and unethical philosophy. The story of Nephi here, as created by the prophet Joseph Smith, on its surface teaches a bad lesson.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Book of Mormon isn’t scripture. Bill is reminding us here that it is important for us to challenge scripture. If we blindly follow scripture, we are worshiping scripture, which is idolatry. Scripture should challenge us, so that we exercise our intelligence and discern truths and philosophies that are ethical and that we should put into practice in our lives.
I also want to say that all time spent justifying Nephi on the basis of cultural relativism is doubly wasted. Saying Nephi lived in a different culture and justifying his behavior on that basis is essentially arguing that anything he said or did has no relevance to us, since values are relative to culture and he lived in a different culture. But, of course, since the character was created in 19th Century America, the actual cultural values are not so far removed from our own; I think we can still see the world of 1829 and its values as not wholly alien.
MH, You said, “Glenn, I hear the ‘presentism’ argument a lot, and it doesn’t hold a lot of sway for me. If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then shouldn’t we make the same moral judgments yesterday, today, and forever? Moses said ‘Thou shalt not kill.'”
However, way you slice it, you are still looking at things from an agnostic, 21st century viewpoint. If you accept the “thou shalt not kill” that Moses reported God as saying, then look at what this same god did to Korah, Dathan, Abiram, their families, and 250 others who rejected the words Moses told them about the priesthood ban for all the tribes of Israel except those of the lineage of Levi.
If you accept that the Book of Mormon is scripture, then you will note, as others have already, that it was the Lord that constrained Nephi, and it was only after considerable persuasion that he was finally able to accomplish the deed. That is what you have to decide about this little scene. If John Hamer is correct, then it is all fiction, which is Bill Russel’s point of view also, then it never happened but is a horrible projection of Joseph Smith’s twisted mind.
However, if the Book of Mormon is scripture, and God did constrain Nephi to kill Laban, then Nephi was more than justified, he was commanded by God.
To Michael, you said “I really hate black-white thinking.” But isn’t that what you are doing and saying? “thous shalt not kill” is black and white. Yet, it has been shown in the Bible that the Mosaic law meted out death for several types of offenses that are routinely enacted today. Take for instance the man caught gathering sticks on the Sabbath in Numbers chapter fifteen. He was stoned to death at the command of the Lord.
Do you really think that we need to extend your black and white, “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever” to this and stone anyone who breaks the Sabbath?
We are living in a different time and set of circumstances. When the Saints suffered depredations in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, He did not call up the church to wage a Holy War against their oppressors. He could have successfully done so, if you accept the Book of Mormon accounts of the Lord strengthening the Nephites against numerically superior Lamanite forces, or when he strengthened the Children of Israel against Amelek in Exodus chapter seventeen.
The Saints were counseled to use the laws and ordinances and rights in this new land and in this new and different situation to seek redress,
A similar situation arose over the issue of polygamy. After Federal laws had been passed against it, there was a time of civil disobedience because that law was felt to be unconstitutional. We know what the result of that was. Failure all the way to the Supreme Court.
But instead of marshaling His troops against the U.S. and strengthening them against the might of the U.S., even though He could have, God simply suspended the practice on earth.
He did that for a reason. In my opinion, God did not want an LDS state, separate and independent from the United States. He sent the Saints westward to a land currently owned by Mexico. Coincidentally, in 1846, a war with Mexico broke out, with the results being that the United States gained the territories that are now the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
That is why I am saying that Lundgren was not acting in the context of his own time. He was rejecting the pronouncement of a modern day prophet who had said “we believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” and instead taking upon himself the calling of a prophet and propounding his twisted viewpoint much as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and others of their ilk have done.
It is not the scripture that are the culprit. It is the twisted minds of men. Men can and do find many excuses for their deeds of infamy without resort to scriptural justification.
Michael, glad you aren’t threatened by the stuff here. From your statement I would love to hear more clarification as to the real intent of the post, it sounded like you were a bit threatened.
John–so glad to see you!!! I was starting to feel a bit ganged up on, so it’s nice to have some backup!
Glenn, I think John answered a lot of your arguments. Regarding Abiram et al, I will say that I question a lot of assumptions in the Bible. I suggest you go back and read those links concerning Abraham, and Joshua’s Holy War specifically. I don’t think God commanded Joshua to kill every man, woman, child, and cow in Jericho, but I believe that Joshua thought that was God’s will.
I believe that God generally doesn’t want us to kill in his name. I believe the Crusades and Joshua’s Holy War made God sad. Unlike John Hamer and Bill Russell, I don’t believe that the Book of Mormon is fiction. But I’m not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is a spectrum of belief, and if Michael and Glenn are black, and Bill and John are white, then I am definitely in the gray zone. I think that John’s statement is great: it is important for us to challenge scripture. If we blindly follow scripture, we are worshiping scripture, which is idolatry. Scripture should challenge us, so that we exercise our intelligence and discern truths and philosophies that are ethical and that we should put into practice in our lives.
I sat here and typed up a response to all of you. I just erased it. I feel that it is sort of fruitless to debate these issues. You either accept the Book of Mormon, take it seriously at face value, or consider it a fraud, a pious fraud, imperfect scripture, what have you, where ever you happen to be on the faith continuum.
MH, you have a good website. I just don’t see the value of having two diametrically opposing sides discussing issues where, in all honestly, there is no middle path to be found on some of these fundamental issues. I know I’m not budging on my views one iota, and I doubt that John will either.
I do appreciate, though, the level of discourse here. Nobody freaked out, called me names, or accused me of being a republican. Thank you.
Michael, I don’t like to look at scriptures at face value–often there are underlying or hidden meanings that really add to insight when discovered. I hope you stick around. I don’t want an echo chamber here, and it’s good to talk with people that don’t necessarily agree with everything I write.
No worries, you have a great website, and I’ll definitely poke my head in from time to time and see what kind of stuff you got whirling in the pot.
MH, I am not an advocate of following scripture blindly. I am not even an advocate of following any of the prophets blindly. But I also am not an advocate of rejecting scripture because it offends my current sensibilities.
I don’t think that John answered any of my arguments because he is arguing from the viewpoint that the Book of Mormon was a creation of Joseph Smith’s mind rather than an inspired translation, unless I am reading this statement incorrectly.
John Hamer: “But, of course, since the character was created in 19th Century America…..”
I understand you concerns about certain scriptures. I have some I find even more problematic than the Laban deal. For years, I had a big problem with the story of Lot being willing to send his daughters out to a crowd so that those in the crowd might get to “know them” in the biblical sense, rather than the angelic visitors that were in his home. Lot was considered to be a righteous man by Peter (II Peter 2:7-8). It just struck me as odd that a righteous man could send his defenseless daughters out to be raped, no matter whom he was trying to protect.
I was very happy to find the clarification made by Joseph Smith in his his inspired “translation” where that Lot was pleading with the crowd not to take his daughters or the men who were visitors in his home. I have felt better about Lot since.
Then there is the story of Jephthah in chapter 11 of the Book of Judges who vowed to the Lord that he would offer up as a burnt offering the first thing that came out of his house to greet him if the Lord would help him prevail in a battle with the Ammonites. Jephthah prevailed, and who should be the first thing to come out to greet him but his only child, a daughter. But instead of reneging on his vow and throwinf himself on the mercy of the Lord, Jephthah, according to the Bible, actually offered his daughter up as a burnt offering. I cannot reconcile this with a righteous man. But Paul in Hebrews 11:32, commended him for his faith. I am hoping that this is one of the incorrect translations that have come down to us, but it has not been identified as such.
There are several other scriptures that bother me greatly. But unless I receive further light, I will have to accept them as they are. One such is the edict that Samuel the prophet gave to Saul to destroy the Amelekites, “slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (I Samuel 15:3) Samuel specified that this was the word of the Lord.
Then, in verse 33, “And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.” Agag, being the Amalekite king that Saul has “saved alive.”
I have found no scriptural refutation of those scripture as of yet, nor has any modern prophet, offered any clarifications as were made in the case of Lot. So what do you do? Reject all scriptures? Reject just those that you disagree with? I can’t reject all scriptures. I can’t reject a scripture just because I disagree with it. But I can feel uneasy about some things. And I do.
The problem is not one of following the scriptures blindly. It is one of men and women following other men or women blindly. If Lundgren had been following all of the scriptures that had been received by Joseph Smith and the leaders of the RLDS (now Community of Christ), there would be no story. But he set himself up as a prophet (and I doubt that he did so blindly) with some followers who did follow blindly.
Charles Manson did not need any scriptures.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre is another example of people following, not the scriptures, but local leaders blindly.
Truth is, Nephi murdering Laban is a horrible, horrible story. So is pretty much the entire Book of Joshua and chunks of other OT atrocities. I mean, what did the Egyptian farmers, merchants, and servants do that would cause God to kill their first born sons, for “heaven’s sake”? At least in this instance He does his own killing instead of having a young, future prophet chop off someone’s head.
It always strikes me how unimaginative diety seems to be. Like Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, I can think of at least 50 ways God could have instructed Nephi to get the plates other than homicide. Really, are the Mission Impossible guys actually that much smarter than the creator of the universe?
The Nephi story is just one of many that, if they weren’t in the scriptures, we wouldn’t want our children reading them.
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I feel that we are missing the larger picture of what was happening at this time in Jerusalem. The Babylonians had a few years previous to the Nephi’s account taken all the elite to Babylon.Its why Daniel was in Babylon. when their puppet king decided to go against Jeremiahs advice and ask Egypt for help. which did not come when Babylonians came in force.
2 kings chapter 23
25 There had never been a king like him before, who served the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength, obeying all the Law of Moses; nor has there been a king like him since. 26 But the Lord’s fierce anger had been aroused against Judah by what King Manasseh had done, and even now it did not die down. 27 The Lord said, “I will do to Judah what I have done to Israel: I will banish the people of Judah from my sight, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and the Temple, the place I said was where I should be worshiped.” 28 Everything else that King Josiah did is recorded in [The History of the Kings of Judah.] 29 While Josiah was king, King Neco of Egypt led an army to the Euphrates River to help the emperor of Assyria. King Josiah tried to stop the Egyptian army at Megiddo and was killed in battle. 30 His officials placed his body in a chariot and took it back to Jerusalem, where he was buried in the royal tombs.
The people of Judah chose Josiah’s son Joahaz and anointed him king.
31 Joahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled in Jerusalem for three months. â€¦ 32 Following the example of his ancestors, he sinned against the Lord. 33 His reign ended when King Neco of Egypt took him prisoner in Riblah, in the land of Hamath, and made Judah pay 7,500 pounds of silver and 75 pounds of gold as tribute. 34 King Neco made Josiah’s son Eliakim king of Judah as successor to Josiah, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. Joahaz was taken to Egypt by King Neco, and there he died. 35 King Jehoiakim collected a tax from the people in proportion to their wealth, in order to raise the amount needed to pay the tribute demanded by the king of Egypt. 36 Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled in Jerusalem for eleven years. 37 Following the example of his ancestors, Jehoiakim sinned against the Lord.
2 Kings chapter 24 (TEV)
1 While Jehoiakim was king, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia invaded Judah, and for three years Jehoiakim was forced to submit to his rule; then he rebelled. 2 The Lord sent armed bands of Babylonians, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites against Jehoiakim to destroy Judah, as the Lord had said through his servants the prophets that he would do. 3 This happened at the Lord’s command. 6 Jehoiakim died, and his son Jehoiachin succeeded him as king. 7 The king of Egypt and his army never marched out of Egypt again, because the king of Babylonia now controlled all the territory that had belonged to Egypt, from the Euphrates River to the northern border of Egypt.
8 Jehoiachin was eighteen years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled in Jerusalem for three months. 9 Following the example of his father, Jehoiachin sinned against the Lord. 10 It was during his reign that the Babylonian army, commanded by King Nebuchadnezzar’s officers, marched against Jerusalem and besieged it. 11 During the siege Nebuchadnezzar himself came to Jerusalem, 12 and King Jehoiachin, along with his mother, his sons, his officers, and the palace officials, surrendered to the Babylonians. In the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign he took Jehoiachin prisoner 13 and carried off to Babylon all the treasures in the Temple and the palace. As the Lord had foretold, Nebuchadnezzar broke up all the gold utensils which King Solomon had made for use in the Temple. 14 Nebuchadnezzar carried away as prisoners the people of Jerusalem, all the royal princes, and all the leading men, ten thousand in all. He also deported all the skilled workers, including the blacksmiths, leaving only the poorest of the people behind in Judah. 15 Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin to Babylon as a prisoner, together with Jehoiachin’s mother, his wives, his officials, and the leading men of Judah. 16 Nebuchadnezzar deported all the important men to Babylonia, seven thousand in all, and one thousand skilled workers, including the blacksmiths, all of them able-bodied men fit for military duty. 17 Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiachin’s uncle Mattaniah king of Judah and changed his name to Zedekiah.
18 Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled in Jerusalem for eleven years. 19 King Zedekiah sinned against the Lord, just as King Jehoiakim had done. 20 The Lord became so angry with the people of Jerusalem and Judah that he banished them from his sight.
While it doesn’t mention it in the Book of Mormon the city had already been plundered by the time Lehi left. The writing was on the wall so to speak that the city was going to be sacked again.
I view Laban as a strong man who rose to power in the wake of the initial capture of the elite by the Babylonians. The Book Of Mormon describes him as a commander of 50. This was the smallest unit of the Jewish military structure as outlined by Moses. There was no enforcement of law at this time in Jerusalem. The Jews didn’t like that the Babylonians had appointed their king.
I have heard the argument before about Laban being tied up instead of killed. There is a distinct possibility that once he sobered up he would have had his “posse” of 50 hunt down and kill Nephi and Co. The military group would have been better resourced than Nephi and his brothers.
By looking at the wider picture I feel that we should be able to see that Nephi was functioning in an anarchist situation. This situation justified the decision that he made to kill Laban.
As others have said we shouldn’t judge ancient cultures by modern morals. Also when in a lawless situation survival is the order of the day.
Astral_LDS, we are not allowed to look at the bigger picture. We are not allowed to look at the situation as it was, but only in the black and white light of unapologetic presentism.
glenn, that wasn’t necessary.
MH, I apologize. That was actually meant in jest. I thought about that after I posted it, i.e. that it would be taken more seriously than I intended. I should have put the virtual afterwards so that it would be easier for people to see that my tongue was in my cheek.
There was supposed to be a grin after the virtual.
Glen I took it as joke. No worries.
Not a big deal Glenn.
I posted this at Wheat and Tares yesterday. One of the commenters there can’t communicate without turning all conversations political, but I think it is interesting to look at a similar rationale in WW2. When the A-bomb was dropped on Japan, the U.S. did it to end the war and prevent future U.S. deaths. I think it is a morally questionable position. I’d hate to second-guess Truman, but he killed men, women, and children in ending the war. Is that what God wanted? Hmmm, it’s an interesting question.
If you know somebody is going to drop the bomb on you, are you morally justified in dropping the bomb on them to prevent your own death, even if it kills everything in a city? It’s a terrible choice.
We seem to have progressed from that. Now we use smart bombs to bomb only military targets (but sometimes civilians get injured too.) Of course Truman didn’t have the luxury of a smart bomb, so I guess there is something to the “presentism” argument, but I still think it is good to explore these questions.
MH, You have some good points about decisions made by man.
I just do not know what the outcome would have been had Hiroshima and Nagasaki not been bombed. Japan was in a desperate situation, but was showing no signs of giving up. That was the impetus for the Kamikaze bombers. That never say die attitude. To this day I do not know if we were right or wrong in dropping those bombs.
I do agree that questions need to be asked concerning those types of things.
The questions we may ask of those scriptural accounts are a bit different. We have to ask if they came from God or were they the products of uninspired men.
Astral_LDS, There is a distinct possibility that once he sobered up he would have had his “posse” of 50 hunt down and kill Nephi and Co. The military group would have been better resourced than Nephi and his brothers.
This comes down to the same question that Truman faced with the Bomb. Do we kill before we’re killed? It’s a tough decision.
I can’t claim credit for this, but one of the commenters at W&T noted that in the Book of Mormon, the people of Limhi were slaves. Rather than kill the Lamanites, the people got them drunk (like Laban), and then escaped in the wilderness, never to be found. If God was helping them get the Lamanites drunk, why couldn’t a similar scenario have played out with Laban?
You could argue that Nephi did Laban a favor by killing him, when he did. Because he was dead he didn’t have to suffer through the rebellion and then siege of Jerusalem. in which he probably would have ended up dead anyway.
I think that’s a terrible argument, and I’ve never heard anybody make it. If I had to choose between Thomas Monson or Osama bin Ladin killing me, I’d choose neither.
The answer is in the text.
“BEHOLD THE LORD SLAYETH THE WICKED TO BRING FORTH HIS RIGHTEOUS PURPOSES.”
When human beings decide they are god enough to judge for themselves who is worthy of death, and who deserves to live, they are declaring themselves to be God.
Notice in 1st Nephi, that Nephi shrank from the killing of Laban. People need to notice that point also.
A person like Jeff Lundgren willingly taking it upon himself to decided who dies, not shrinking at the thought of death, is a man who’s is very messed up indeed.
Which calls to account the authenticity and truthfulness/thoughtfulness of this report. William D. Russell clearly had an agenda! Had Mr. Russel known the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenant scriptures, they both would have known the truth! Below Mr. Russel stated:
“Jeff Lundgren studied the scriptures diligently”—
This statement I doubt, because if Jeff Lundgren had studied his scriptures diligently, he clearly would know D&C Section 42:6-7d RLDS/ D&C Section 42 LDS commandment which declares:
6 And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and HE THAT KILLS SHALL NOT HAVE FORGIVENESS IN THIS WORLD, NOR IN THE WORLD TO COME.
7a And again, I say, Thou shalt not kill; but he that killeth shall die.
7b Thou shalt not steal; and he that stealeth and will not repent, shall be cast out.
7c Thou shalt not lie; he that lieth and will not repent, shall be cast out.
Utah Mormons should note Polygamy in not allowed:
7d Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else; and he that looketh upon a woman to lust after her, shall deny the faith, and shall not have the Spirit; and if he repents not, he shall be cast out.
Nor Did Mr. Russel balance his report, that the Book of Mormon condemns he who murders:
Alma 1:27 And they durst not steal, for fear of the law; for such were punished; neither durst they rob, nor murder: FOR HE THAT MURDERED was PUNISHED UNTO DEATH.
Alma 16:11 BUT IF HE MURDERED, he was PUNISHED unto DEATH; and if he robbed, he was also punished; and if he stole, he was also punished; and if he committed adultery, he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness, they were punished; for there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes.
Because of my knowledge of Restoration scripture, I highly doubt Mr. Russel’s story as to it’s accuracy. He may have good intent, he may be ignorant himself, but his statements the Jeff Lundgren studied scripture diligently is a misstatement and bad reporting.
Jeff Lundgren as most men do, make scripture say what they want it to say, so they can justify their own sins as being godly. Blaming others, not themselves as being the problem.
There is a very real difference between God using a human being to eliminate a man who has murdered before and a human just decided to kill some people because he or she cannot control them. Like Laban tried to murder Nephi and his brothers, because Laban could not control them. You see, Laban in God’s eyes was already condemned to death, Laban was an evil man. An evil powerful king, who could not be brought to justice by the people, had they wanted to.
The point is no Restoration scripture says it’s OK to murder. Not even the Book of Mormon.
Numbers 35:18 Or if he smite him with a hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
Numbers 35:21 Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die; he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer; the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.
[…] Jeff from the death penalty. But, of course, he was executed back in 2006. There’s a link to Bill’s Sunstone talk. I think it’s from 1993, where he talks about the story of Jeff Lundgren killing this family […]