Want to KnoWhy? Book of Mormon Central, Month 2

On Monday Book of Mormon Central finished its second month of KnoWhy publications—and instantly started on month 3 the very next day. In February, 21 KnoWhys were published, covering a number of topics worthy of interest to Latter-day students of the Book of Mormon. As previously mentioned, each KnoWhy is about some particular detail in the Book of Mormon and at least one reason why that detail is, or should be, interesting, relevant, or applicable. It’s about knowing why Lehi blessed his sons, or Jacob spoke at the temple, or Nephi selected the Isaiah passages he did. Etc., etc. You can read about the reasoning behind this name at Why KnoWhy, if you would like. Here are all 21 KnoWhys published in February.

23. How Might Isaiah 48–49 Be “Likened” To Lehi’s Family? Nephi says he “likened” Isaiah to his family, then quotes Isaiah 48–49. Several details from Isaiah 48–49 can be easily applied, or “likened,” to the family’s experience wondering in the wilderness. By paying close attention to these connections, we gain insight into how one great prophet reads, interprets, and likens another great prophet. We can also see that Nephi found solace in the words of Isaiah.
24. Who Is The Servant Of Isaiah 49/1 Nephi 21? If we apply Isaiah 49 to the Latter-days, as prophets both ancient and modern have, who might be the servant from Isaiah 49:1–6? The typical Christian and Latter-day Saint reading is that he is the Savior. Without necessarily dismissing that interpretation, Andrew Skinner has suggested that in a Latter-day context, Joseph Smith fits as the servant. Skinner shows that there are 12 attributes of the servant, and documents that Joseph Smith fits all 12. The rest of Isaiah 49 can then be applied to restoration and gathering of Israel in the last days, making ancient scripture relevant to our times.
25. Whom Did Nephi Quote In 1 Nephi 22? Nephi extensively quoted (both with and without attribution) the prophets Isaiah and Zenos in 1 Nephi 19–22. Why would he feel compelled to do such? After all, some may think it's lazy or undisciplined to quote another author so extensively. However, ancient scribes who composed literary works often resorted to what's called “intertextuality,” which is when one text is shaped, fashioned, or even interpreted through the appropriation of other texts. This includes allusion, quotation, summary, or imitation of another text in composing or interpreting a new text. If Nephi had scribal training, as some scholars have argued, then it would make sense that he would employ this technique in his own writing.​
26. Did Lehi Quote Shakespeare? Early critics of the Book of Mormon accused Joseph Smith of plagiarizing Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in 2 Nephi 1:14 – “Awake! and arise from the dust, and hear the words of a trembling parent, whose limbs ye must soon lay down in the cold and silent grave, from whence no traveler can return; a few more days and I go the way of all the earth.” Recently however, scholar Robert Smith has identified ancient parallels between this scripture and passages in the Bible and other texts. Smith argues that Lehi’s imagery of death being the “land of no return” is actually at home in the ancient world, and need not be a plagiarism of Shakespeare.
27. Was The Requirement Of A “Broken Heart” Known Before The Time Of Christ? Most Latter-day Saints are familiar with the idea of a sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit as a new standard that Jesus established after his crucifixion. If that was the case, then how did Lehi know about it and expect his people to live by it even though they still lived the Law of Moses and offered animal sacrifices? Scholars have pointed out that two passages from the Old Testament Psalms direct believers to make an offering of a broken heart and contrite spirit. Lehi and his family could have been aware of this doctrine through ancient scriptural texts such as these.
28. What Are The Origins Of Lehi’s Understanding Of The Fall? Lehi’s powerful doctrine of the Fall is not necessarily original or unique. He himself indicates that he got it from these he had read. Careful study of Old Testament passages and early Jewish writings reveals that many of the ideas expressed by Lehi were known and understood anciently, but Lehi has vastly expounded upon them. This doctrine appears to be closely linked to the temple, and is one of the plain and precious truths lost but then restored by the Book of Mormon.
29. Should 2 Nephi 1:1–4:12 Be Called The “Testament Of Lehi”? Lehi’s final blessing and counsel to his posterity follows a similar model found in later Jewish traditions about the patriarchs. This model was based on Jacob’s blessing of his sons in Genesis 49. As the first Book of Mormon patriarch, Lehi becomes the model that is followed by later Book of Mormon prophets. All these patriarchs serve as an example and model to follow for fathers and patriarchs today.
30. Is “Nephi’s Psalm” Really A Psalm? 2 Nephi 4:16–35 records a beautiful expression of Nephi’s personal hopes, joys, sorrows, and trials. Many have referred to these verses as “Nephi’s Psalm” because of the clear similarity to many of the psalms in the Old Testament. Studies have determined that Nephi’s Psalm has the same characteristics as a type of biblical psalm called the “individual lament.” It can be compared, more specifically, to Psalms 25–31—there is a lot of similar language shared between them. It is interesting to note that Psalms 25–31 focus heavily on covenant-making language and also temple imagery. The fact that Nephi borrows from these Psalms to shape his own feelings demonstrates how well he knew the Scriptures and could apply them to his own situation.
31. Did Ancient Israelites Build Temples Outside Of Jerusalem? Why would Nephi build a temple outside of Jerusalem, and wouldn’t this be a violation of Israelite religious practice? Readers of the Book of Mormon have asked themselves these and similar questions. Archaeological evidence uncovered after Joseph Smith’s time indicates that ancient Israelites built temples outside of Jerusalem on a number of occasions, and therefore Nephi was not doing anything out of the norm when he built a temple in the New World.
32. Did Jacob Refer To Ancient Israelite Autumn Festivals? Jacob’s sermon recorded in 2 Nephi 6–10 contains many elements that link it with ancient Israelite autumn festivals such as the Feast of Tabernacles. These elements include the creation, holy garments, the name of God, sacrifice, fasting, God’s judgment, and the remembrance of God’s covenant. Likewise, Jacob's sermon includes details that seem to indicate it is a part of a covenant renewal ceremony, an ancient phenomenon that sometimes overlapped with Israelite autumn festivals. All together, these elements link the Book of Mormon with the Old Testament and the world of ancient Israel.
33. When Does The Book Of Mormon First Talk About The Plan Of Salvation? The Plan of Salvation is never explicitly mentioned in the Bible, nor it is laid out in detail. The Book of Mormon, on the other hand, mentions and describes this plan several times. Jacob was the first to call it “the merciful plan of the great Creator” (2 Nephi 9:6), but Lehi was the first to describe the plan in 2 Nephi 2. Comparing Lehi’s and Jacob’s teachings makes it clear that while Jacob was influenced by Lehi, they both had their own personal understanding of the plan. Studying their teachings together, along with those of others in the Book of Mormon who taught about the Plan of Salvation, gives a clearer picture of God’s great plan of redemption and happiness.
34. Why Does Jacob Choose A “Monster” As A Symbol For Death And Hell? In 2 Nephi 9, the prophet Jacob referred to death and hell as “this awful monster” (2 Nephi 9:10).  The significance of this monster imagery that Jacob uses is that it is similar to imagery found in the Bible and in other ancient Near Eastern writings that speak of God defeating great monsters, such as Leviathan, the serpent (Isaiah 27:1), Rahab, the sea monster (Psalm 89:10), and calming the treacherous waves of the sea (Psalm 89:9; Psalm 18:4-6). Together, these all symbolized the powers of chaos, or those forces that endanger the lives of mortal beings, and are personifications or symbols of death and hell. This understanding of Jacob’s use of the imagery of the chaos monster adds credence to the doctrine and historicity of the Book of Mormon. Modern readers can well appreciate this powerful depiction of how Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, helps us conquer and overcome our greatest challenges and every obstacle to our eternal salvation.
35. Why Does Jacob Declare So Many “Woes”? Jacob declares ten woes against various behaviors, which appear to be related to the Ten Commandments. Both sets are part of an ancient covenant formula wherein the stipulations and consequences of breaking the covenant are identified. We learn from this that while God is merciful and we can always repent, God does not just let anything go: there are commandments and we are expected to keep them.
36. Why Does An Angel Reveal The Name Of Christ To Jacob? There are over 100 different names used in reference to Christ in the Book of Mormon. Different prophets prefer different names, depending on their own personal background. Jacob, for example, uses names related to his role as high priest among the Nephites. The high priest was to wear the name of God on his forehead, and an angel tells Jacob the name shall be “Christ,” which means “anointed one.” Studying the names for the Savior used by different Book of Mormon prophets allows us to better get to know both the Savior and his prophets, relate to them on a more personal level.
37. Who Are The Witnesses Of Christ In 2 Nephi? Readers of the Book of Mormon are undoubtedly familiar with the Three Witnesses: Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer. However, within the pages of the Book of Mormon itself are the combined testimony of three ancient witnesses: Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah. The testimony of these three prophets interlink in order to establish the veracity and power of each other's witness of Christ.
38. What Vision Guides Nephi’s Choice Of Isaiah Chapters? The books of 1 and 2 Nephi include eighteen chapters of the Book of Isaiah. Nephi included these passages in order to help readers understand important revelations from the Lord regarding his dealings with his children. Why did Nephi choose the specific chapters of Isaiah that he did? Using his vision recorded in 1 Nephi 11–14 as a framework, Nephi chose prophecies from Isaiah that served as a second witness to the vision of the future that the Lord had given him. BYU professor John W. Welch outlined four stages of this “Nephite prophetic view,” including: 1) Christ’s coming; 2) his rejection and the scattering of the Jews; 3) the day of the Gentiles; and 4) the restoration of Israel and the ultimate victory of good over evil. This insight helps readers interpret the words of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon and also provides a paradigm for understanding the prophetic outlook of the Book of Mormon prophets.
39. Can Textual Studies Help Readers Understand The Isaiah Chapters In 2 Nephi? Textual criticism is the careful analysis of a text’s manuscripts to uncover its textual history, including what sorts of changes were made and why. A look at the Book of Mormon Isaiah passages through the lenses of textual criticism reveals a number of features that may have otherwise been missed by readers. Royal Skousen has done nearly exhaustive textual critical work on the Book of Mormon and has discovered at least eight things about the Isaiah passages that help us better understand the text.
40. How Did Nephi Read Isaiah As A Witness Of Christ’s Coming? Nephi used the “the Nephite prophetic view” as a framework for his use of Isaiah. This framework was laid out in his prophetic vision found in 1 Nephi 11–14. The first stage is the coming of Christ. Comparing Nephi’s vision of Christ’s coming in 1 Nephi 11 with prophecies found in Isaiah 2–14 (quoted in 2 Nephi 12–24) suggests that Nephi may have recognized his own prophecies in Isaiah’s words. Having the clarity of Nephi’s vision of the Savior helps us more easily recognize the Messianic allusions in Isaiah’s writings.
41. Has The Prophecy Of The Lord’s House Established In The Mountains Been Fulfilled? One of the passages that Nephi quotes to his people is Isaiah 2:2–3, which talks about the Lord’s house being established in the mountain tops. Nephi and his people probably likened this to themselves and the temple they built in the land of Nephi, which was at a higher elevation than the surrounding area. Today, however, modern prophets and apostles have taught that the prophecy was fulfilled in many different ways by the Salt Lake Temple. Isaiah’s prophecies often have multiple meanings, and can be likened to many different situations.
42. Why Do Early Nephite Prophets Speak About The Scattering Of The Jews? Reading the Isaiah chapters that Nephi recorded through the lens of “the Nephite Prophetic View” can illuminate what Nephi understood of Isaiah’s prophecies and how he likened them to his own prophetic vision. The second stage of this prophetic worldview involves the Jews rejecting Christ the Lord and his teachings and their subsequent scattering throughout the world. This process encompasses those who were scattered both before and after the coming of Jesus Christ. The Lord communicated through the prophets the reality of the scattering of the House of Israel. At the same time, God promised that he would not forget his people and those who would have him as their God, no matter where they found themselves.
43. Why Did Lehi “Suppose” The Existence Of Satan? The Book of Mormon has a stark portrayal of Satan as an enemy to God and all righteousness. Curiously, the Old Testament seems to lack such a concrete description of Satan, with only vague references that result in conflicting interpretations. How is it that Lehi and subsequent Book of Mormon prophets came to a knowledge of Satan? It seems likely that the Book of Mormon draws from a larger ancient Near Eastern mythological culture of rebellious angels and fallen deities in its own depiction of Lucifer. This would perhaps explain why Lehi “supposed” the existence of Satan and taught about him so clearly and powerfully in the Book of Mormon.

The March publication cycle has already begun and interesting insights have already been shared. There’s a lot of exciting material one its way this month! So if you haven’t already been following Book of Mormon Central, start now!