Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Sneak Peek at the Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon

Curious about what's in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon? Me too. But I'm fairly confident I now know a little bit more about one of the bits that was reserved until the last days.

In Ether, we read of Jared--the son of King Omer--and his unnamed daughter, who collectively plot to steal the kingdom. Jared's daughter, who "was exceedingly fair" and knew it, reminded her father of "an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory" and proposed that "my father send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say: I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king" (Ether 8:9-10). It's your standard tale of corruption, seduction, and patricide--way more exciting than anything you'll get in those cheap murder mystery novels. At any rate, Akish agrees to meet Jared's dowry price and calls on his family and friends for help, and "Akish did administer unto them the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain, who was a murderer from the beginning" (8:15).

Moroni--who is abridging Ether's story--gives an overview of these wicked deeds but doesn't discuss the rationale behind them or the actual oaths made by the plotters. This is, in part, because earlier prophets who read the account commanded that this information be withheld. When Alma gave the plates of Ether to his son Helaman, he commanded him "that ye retain all their oaths, and their covenants, and their agreements in their secret abominations; yea, and all their signs and their wonders ye shall keep from this people, that they know them not, lest peradventure they should fall into darkness also and be destroyed" (Alma 37:27). Helaman kept a lid on it, but the details of Jared's wickedness were imitated nonetheless by Gadianton and his band: "Now behold, those secret oaths and covenants did not come forth unto Gadianton from the records which were delivered unto Helaman; but behold, they were put into the heart of Gadianton by that same being who did entire our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit--yea, that same being who did plot with Cain, that if he would murder his brother Abel it should not be known unto the world" (Helaman 6:26-27). There are two important points in this passage from Mormon: 1) Knowledge of the secret combinations sealed up in the Book of Mormon is still available to those who wish to purse wickedness. 2) The secret combinations are closely linked to Cain, because of his iconic status as the first murderer.

Now--with that in mind, I want to introduce you to some of what I learned while reading the newly translated Gospel of Judas. For those of you who missed the media frenzy that marked its introduction a few years back, the gospel is part of the Nag Hammadi libary (3rd and 4th century texts presenting an alternative view of Christianity that were condemned as heresies at the Council of Nicea) and claims that Judas Iscariot was the only true disciple of Christ. The reasoning of the gospel goes something like this: 1) All matter is evil and prevents our spirits from acquiring true wisdom; wisdom, or sophia, is the god/dess that the Gnostic authors of the gospel worship. 2) Jesus Christ came to show us the way to true wisdom, to achieve union with sophia. 3) As part of that process, he had to be "freed" of his mortal body. 4) Because Judas was the only disciple who understood Christ's true message and purpose, he delivered Christ for crucifixion in order to help him return to sophia. I should note that not all of the Nag Hammadi library is not quite so radical and that there are valuable insights to be gained from several of the other books, especially the Gospel of Thomas (perhaps more on that later).

But to return to the business at hand. The Gospel of Judas is particularly interesting with respect to the secret combinations of the Book of Mormon because it was a text apparently preserved and revered by a group known as the Cainites. Bart Ehrman explains that

"The group was named after Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve. Cain is notorious in the annals of biblical history for being the first fratricide. He was jealous of his younger brother Abel, who was especially beloved of God, and so Cain murdered him. Why would the Cainites choose him, of all people, as a hero of their faith? It is because they believed that the God of the Old Testament was not the true God to be worshiped, but was the ignorant creator of this world who needed to be escaped [remember--this creation, with all of its materiality, is what the Gospel of Judas claims Jesus wanted to escape]. And so, all the figures in Jewish and Christian history who stood against God--Cain, the men of Sodom and Gomorrah, and eventually Judas Iscariot--were the ones who had seen the truth and understood the secrets necessary for salvation.
According to Irenaeus, the Cainites took their opposition to the Old Testament god to an ethical extreme. Anything that God commanded, they opposed, and anything that God opposed, they supported. If God says to keep the Sabbath, not to eat pork, and not to commit adultery--then the way to show your freedom from God was to ignore the Sabbath, eat pork, and commit adultery!" (GoJ 89-90).

I believe that the Cainites give us some insight into the corrupt theology behind the actions of Akish and the Gadiantons. Cain is condemned because "he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God" and "loved Satan more than God"; the Cainites reject the counsel of Yahweh and loved sophia more than God (Moses 5:25, 28). Sophia is just a substitute for Satan--a higher power who reveals that this world and its God are a corruption of a better way, and the Book of Mormon version of the Cainites surely worshipped Satan or sophia, or some other substitute, deceiving themselves into the belief that there was a higher power than God. The Gnostic version of Cain's great secret is particularly deceptive because 1) our flesh really is fallen and a primary reason "our natures have become evil continually," so if you don't understand the plan, it makes some sense to think that the creator of our flesh has the wrong plan/motivation and 2) it provides a positive motivation for doing bad things--ie, Judas could have told himself that he was turning Christ over to be crucified for his own good. There's a wonderful quote from C.S. Lewis that describes this sort of tortured logic and Satan's plan perfectly:

"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience" (from "God in the Dock").

Anyhow--just some interesting material from outside the Book of Mormon that helped me understand a little bit better what was going through the minds of Jared, Akish, Gadianton, et al. And a shout out for the Nag Hammadi which, like the Apocrypha, contains "many things ... that are true" and "whoso readeth it, let him undestand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; and whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom" (D&C 91).

3 comments:

Jo Jo said...

I'm so glad you have the spirit of discovery and understanding and a desire to learn and explain. We benefit so much from your thinking. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

To the mormon monk,

just browsing the internet today and saw you blog entitled "
A Sneak Peek at the Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon": Curious about what's in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon?

you don't really have to be curious about what's in it when you can read it yourself. download a free copy of it (obviously free) at thesealedportion.com

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with your identification of "sophia" with "satan". Just because "sophia" in some Cainite book is a satanic entity doesn't mean that "sophia" in itself is satanic - Jesus appears in that book as well, yet one wouldn't argue Jesus was bad just because some book tries to paint him that way.

"sophia" is just Greek for "wisdom", and in Christian terms the wisdom of god. It is female; but Greek is a language like French or German which gives (arbitrary) gender to inanimate objects and abstract nouns. Also, it is a poetic personification (like Lady Liberty or Justice).

Some feminists have tried to make sophia out to be a goddess of some sort, but that doesn't agree with the traditional way sophia has been understood -- not a separate entity from God, but the personification of a virtue which God possess most excellently even as we can possess it at most in a much more limited degree, and with God who possesses it in its fullness being the source from which we may draw more of it.