The title of this post is not in reference to the LDS doctrine of deification (that men can become gods), but rather an interesting trend in the Book of Mormon.
A couple weeks ago, my wife, McKall, was sharing some thoughts with me on Helaman 9, where Nephi has given (as a sign to the apostate Nephites) a revelation of the King's murder by his brother. As the events of this chapter play out, some of the people start to recognize Nephi as a prophet, while others come to believe that he is a god (See Helaman 9:40-41).
As my wife mentioned this (that some people started to think Nephi was a god), a realization began to hit me. This is a common theme in the Book of Mormon. After Ammon defends the Lamanite King’s flocks and servents, and fulfills all his other responsibilities, Lamoni becomes convinced that Ammon is the “Great Spirit” – even after Ammon tells him that he is just a man (See Alma 18:4, 11, 18). King Benjamin had to explain to his people that he was just a mortal man (See Mosiah 2:10-11). It seems that is was common among the Book of Mormon peoples to view men who accomplished great things as more than just men, but as deity.
This idea is extremely out of place in our modern society, and even more out of place in the world of Joseph Smith. It was outrageous to claim that a mortal man was a god in the religious culture of nineteenth-century America, and even today, the idea is only used as an exaggeration (i.e. one might say that Michael Jordan was a god at basketball, or speak of great Classic Rock artist such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones as “gods of rock ‘n roll”, but no one would seriously believe that any of these were actually more than extremely gifted mortal men). If Joseph Smith was making up the Book of Mormon, where in the world would he get this idea?
As out of place as this concept is in modern society, it seems to be right at home in the ancient cultures that the Book of Mormon purports to represent and be influenced by, namely Egyptian and Mesoamerican – neither of which is a culture that Joseph Smith could have known much (if anything) about. Thus, I suggest that this idea provides a subtle hint of authenticity to the Book of Mormon.
Note: This posting is not meant to be a comprehensive study with a firm conclusion, but rather an observation and hypothesis in the which more research needs to be done in order to confirm or dismiss the ideas presented here. Hence, there are no sources or citations (aside from the scriptures referenced). If anyone knows of any research that could be useful on this topic (or if anyone knows if this topic has already been researched), then any information you could provide me, or any sources and/or insights you could share would be greatly appreciated.