B’nai Shalom, Children of Peace, Org.

Since I am the owner of this blogsite, I want to tell you about my organization, B’nai Shalom. We are a Utah non-profit corporation now in Seattle, our first chapter.  We seek membership from all over Washington.

B’nai Shalom was started in 1967 by Jewish converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who desired to occasionally enjoy the music, dance, culture, food and genealogy specific to Judaism.

B’nai Shalom is a valuable resource for Jewish converts who seek to bridge the differences between religions and cultures through semi-annual gatherings of membership to participate in events particular to Jewish and Mormon ideals.

If you are interested, please click on http://www.mormonsandjews.org.

Read the website and sign up!

B’nai Shalom gatherings feature ethnic Jewish/Yiddish food and dance as well as speakers which have included LDS Church personalities, scholars and authorities on subjects of interest to both Jewish and Mormon members.

There are generally three phases of the evening, as follows:

  1. Noshing! A pot luck dinner of Ashkenazic and Sephardic dishes. Great food, great visiting with new and old friends.
  2. An interesting keynote speech/fireside, on a subject relevant to Jewish-Mormon culture or religion. Informative and inspiring speakers are sought after.
  3. Dessert and entertainment, which often includes instruction on Hebrew dances.

Seattle chapter gathering is on the 4th Thursdays of April and October at the Mercer Island LDS building: 4001 Island Crest Way, in Mercer Island. 

The Salt Lake group gathering is  on the Thursdays just before General Conference at the same time at the Salt Lake Stake Center. No dues, bring a potluck for two or more. Come and enjoy. http://www.mormonsandjews.org for more info.

Marlena Tanya Muchnick-Baker



Getting It Right—Isaiah’s Checks and Balances

by Avraham Gileadi Ph.D.

Because Isaiah has permeated his entire prophecy with check and balances, one rarely needs to second guess his meaning. Seldom does Isaiah mention an event or idea just once, never to return to it. Rather, he frequently reiterates things in different contexts to ensure that readers get his message. Isaiah’s repeating events in different combinations with other events, for example, creates an entire web of interconnected events, which, together, define what he means by the end-time or end of the world. Such synchronized phenomena define the Book of Isaiah itself as a literary work of extraordinary complexity that is at once simple when its literary keys are revealed.

Linking ideas establish definitions of terms and entire scenarios. In one place, Isaiah may predict a new exodus of God’s people out of Babylon (Isaiah 48:20–21). In another, he identifies “Babylon” as the world and its wicked inhabitants whom God destroys in his Day of Judgment (Isaiah 13:1, 9, 11, 19). Elsewhere, he predicts that God’s people will return from throughout the earth at the time of a worldwide destruction (Isaiah 27:12–13). Further, God’s people’s exodus is from the four directions of the earth to Zion (Isaiah 43:5–6). Finally, he depicts remnants of all nations streaming to Zion in the “end-time,” giving us a time frame (Isaiah 2:2–3). And so forth.

12. 20. 2012

Read his weekly posts in: http://www.isaiahreport.com


Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates and the Israelite Feast of Trumpets

Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 2, Issue – 2, Pages: 110-20
Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1993The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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Joseph Smith’s Receipt of the Plates and the Israelite Feast of Trumpets
Lenet Hadley Read

Abstract: Joseph Smith received the golden plates on the Israelite Day of Remembrance (or Rosh ha-Shanah). Biblical references and interpretation by Jewish sages through the centuries set this day as the day God would remember his covenants with Israel to bring them back from exile. Also called the Feast of Trumpets, on this day ritual trumpet blasts signify the issuance of revelation and a call for Israel to gather for God’s word of redemption. Set at the time of Israel’s final agricultural harvest, the day also symbolizes the Lord’s final harvest of souls. Furthermore, it initiates the completion of the Lord’s time periods, the Days of Awe, and signifies the last time to prepare for final judgment and the Messianic Age. The coming forth of the Book of Mormon is literally fulfilling such prophecies of the day.

In addition to the Sabbath, six biblical holy days hold prominent importance in Israel as times of worship with prophetic implication. They began at God’s command (Leviticus 23). The first three observances—Passover, the barley sheaf offering, the Feast of Weeks—coincide with Israel’s first yearly harvest and hold prophetic witness of Christ’s mortal ministry,1 which his death, resurrection, and initial harvest of souls fulfilled, on the very days those festivals were observed.2 The final three holy times—Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles—fall at Israel’s final harvest and also hold prophetic meaning for the Lord’s work among his people.3 These last three worship times, taken together, are called Israel’s High Holy Days, or Days of Awe.

Joseph Smith’s history dates the reception of the golden plates: “On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven” (Joseph Smith–History 1:59). Interestingly, 22 September 1827 was the day Jews throughout the world celebrated the Feast of Trumpets,4 which initiates the Days of Awe. Because of the prophetic pattern in Israel’s holy days, the question arises, how much significance is there to the correlation between these two events?

While scholars do not completely agree on everything concerning the Feast of Trumpets, various methods can be used to ascertain its purpose and significance, i.e., its origins as a biblical commandment; its timing; its names; its history; its ritual, including prayers offered and scriptures read; its role according to tradition; its relationship to other holy days; and its significance as seen by rabbis and scholars.

An examination of the Feast of Trumpets from these perspectives reveals four major meanings, which work together as a unity. The Feast of Trumpets signifies the time of Israel’s final harvest; the Day of Remembrance of God’s covenants with Israel; the announcement of revelation or truth; and preparation for God’s holiest times, including the Messianic Age. These four purposes bear strong corollaries

The Feast of Trumpets Signifies Israel’s Final Harvest
The Lord commanded Israel, “In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets” (Leviticus 23:24). By setting the festival in the seventh month of the Judaic calendar, (usually falling in our September), the day, like other Israelite holy days God commanded, was timed to coincide with an agricultural harvest (Exodus 34:22), in this case the harvest of fruits and grapes, the final harvest of the year.5 In fact, this festival was also anciently called the Feast of Ingathering [of the harvest].6 The Feast of Tabernacles, which follows a short time later, celebrates the completion of all of Israel’s harvests.

The correlation of Israel’s holy days with harvest periods has been shown to be important typologically. According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie, the harvest which the High Holy Days celebrate is symbolic of Christ’s final harvest of souls. In speaking of the symbolism of the final festival as a completed harvest, he states, “The fact that [The Feast of Tabernacles] celebrated the completion of the full harvest symbolizes the gospel reality that it is the mission of the house of Israel to gather all nations to Jehovah, a process that is now going forward, but will not be completed until that millennial day when “the Lord shall be king over all the earth’ and shall reign personally thereon.”7 In other words, the Feast of Tabernacles is a “type” of Christ’s Messianic reign after the completed harvest of souls (see also Zechariah 14:16).

Certainly, the Lord’s word to Latter-day Saints is replete with “harvest” imagery. “For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not” (D&C 4:4).

The Book of Mormon has been a major instrument in initiating and perpetuating the Lord’s final harvest. Therefore, it appears highly meaningful that the golden plates were received on the Feast of Ingathering, a holy day which coincided with Israel’s final harvest and symbolized Israel’s final harvest of souls.8

The Feast of Trumpets Signifies God’s Remembrance of His Covenants with Israel
One of the original names given to the day is Yom ha-Zikkaron (“Day of Remembrance”).9 This name originates from the Lord’s commandment to blow trumpets for remembrance on that day. The term zikhron means “memorial” or “remembrance,” and, according to one authority, “The significance of zikhron is inherent in its definition, a sound which will arouse God’s remembrance (or judgment) of his people.”10

Tradition and biblical history show a connection between this holy day and God’s remembrance of his covenants with Israel. First, like other holy days, it is a memorial of Israel’s deliverance by God from their exile in Egypt,11 which is understood by many to be a pattern for Israel’s future exiles and exoduses (Jeremiah 16:14–15).12 In addition, according to Jewish tradition the Israelites returned to freedom from slavery on this date, prior to the completed Exodus.13

Furthermore, the Lord remembered Israel on this day after their return from exile in Babylon—when they were granted spiritual renewal. On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra read again from the book of the law, and the people rejoiced greatly because he “gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:1–12). Through the exile, they had lost God’s truths, which were now restored in clarity. Hearing the Lord’s truths again brought them repentance and joy.

On the very day, then, when they were observing the Day of Remembrance, they were actively engaged in hearing again the true law after its loss while in exile. The full importance of this situation can only be grasped when we realize that the return from Babylonian exile is a “type” of the latter-day return from spiritual Babylon.14 As the return from Babylon would have its latter-day counterpart, the Day of Remembrance would have its latter-day counterpart.

Many scholars agree that the major theme of the day is “Remembrance,” God’s remembrance of his covenants with Israel, and the need of Israel’s remembrance of their God.15 The prayers of the day contain many pleadings and high expectations toward these ends. Such pleadings include, “Remember us unto life” and “May our remembrance . . . come before Thee.”16 Specific hope is uttered that God will even remember them “for deliverance and well-being on this Day of Remembrance.”17

The prayers “invoke the merit of the patriarchs and the covenant made with them.”18 And the blessings expected from God in return are phrased, “I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 26:45).19

In addition to the prayers, many readings of the service concentrate on the Lord’s promises to remember his covenants—with implications for Israel’s restoration and return from exile.20 Some of these readings date from very early times. One scholar states, “Beyond any shadow of doubt the leading motif in the choice of the readings for Rosh ha-Shanah during the two centuries or so before Christ was Remembrance.”21 Among readings still used today are scriptures prophesying the restoration of Ephraim. One, Jeremiah 31:1–20, calls Ephraim “a darling son unto me” and states that “I do earnestly remember him.” One sage cites the words, zakhor ezkerenu (“I shall remember him”) as especially meaningful for the Day of Remembrance.22 Also read are scriptures dealing with the ending of Sarah’s and Hannah’s barrenness (Genesis 21; 1 Samuel 1–2:10). According to tradition, Rachel, Hannah and Sarah were remembered on this day, their fruitfulness restored.23 The implication of such “remembrances” is the final fulfillment of covenanted blessings previously promised but seemingly forgotten. After barren Rachel was remembered, she was blessed with Joseph from whom came Ephraim and Manasseh. Through Hannah’s ended barrenness came the return to a righteous priesthood.

Throughout the centuries, various Jewish scholars, in explaining the purpose of the trumpet sound on the Feast of Trumpets, have seen it as signal of Israel’s redemption from world-wide exile.24 That concept comes from scriptural references in the prophets and the psalms, such as Isaiah 27:13. “And it shall come to pass in that day [the time of regathering], that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt.”25

Zechariah 9:14 and the surrounding prophecies are used to confirm the relationship.26 Zechariah’s statement, “And the Lord God shall blow the trumpet,” accompanies pronouncements that Ephraim would help raise up God’s covenanted people (Zechariah 9:13), and that those of Israel’s blood would again become his flock (Zechariah 9:16.).

The name most often used today for the feast is Rosh ha-Shanah, which means the New Year. But this was not the original name, and the day’s significance is really as a “new beginning.” It is understood to be the day when the Lord moves from his seat of judgment and sits instead upon the seat of mercy.27 Layer upon layer, this holy day symbolizes that new beginning Israel would experience as God has mercy upon them in exile, remembers his covenants with their fathers, and restores them as his people. This new beginning for Israel was to be initiated with the sounding of the trumpet. A commentator on Rosh ha-Shanah’s liturgy explains, “Expectantly, we await the sounding of the Shofar of Liberation, when Zion will be free to receive its exiled children from all parts of the earth.”28

The Trumpet Signifies the Proclaiming of Truth
The blowing of the trumpet (a shofar or ram’s horn is used in modern practice) is the major ritual of the Feast of Trumpets. These instruments are seen as a symbol of revelation as well as redemption.29 The trumpet sound is associated with revelation because the first mention of it was at Mount Sinai. It is understood, therefore, to be a memorial of Sinai. “The celebration of Passover was to be an annual reminder of the exodus. The ritual blast of the shofar would similarly recall by association the revelation on Mount Sinai.”30

However, the sound of the shofar is seen not only as a memorial of Sinai’s revelation, but as having importance for the future as well. Because the trumpet preceded God’s revealing of his law at Sinai (Exodus 19:16), some interpreters declare that the trumpet on Rosh ha-Shanah signifies a further gift of revelation, in particular, the granting of the true law,31 resulting in redemption. “The smaller horn was sounded at Sinai, but the great shofar will initiate redemption.”32 We can see why “Trumpets,” a prayer regarding revelation, is recited on Rosh ha-Shanah.33

The scriptures, both ancient and modern, speak of the trumpet as preceding proclamations of truth which lead to redemption (Isaiah 58:1; Alma 29:1; D&C 33:2). The imagery of proclaiming the gospel like a trumpet remains a part of our heritage. “And at all times, and in all places, he shall open his mouth and declare my gospel as with the voice of a trump” (D&C 24:12).

Furthermore, one of the most common symbols of the restored gospel is that of the angel Moroni portrayed in the act of blowing the trumpet. We know this image symbolizes proclaiming the gospel to the world, particularly to the house of Israel. Indeed, much of the fullness of the Lord’s truth began with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

In the scriptures, the sound of the trumpet is also used as a call for God’s people to assemble or gather (Numbers 10:2–3), as a warning (Numbers 10:9; Joel 2:1), as a signal of something important to come (Revelation 8–9). The sound of the trumpet on the one festival day set aside by God for the blowing of the trumpet seems to carry all of these meanings, and therefore does signify something important in the destiny of Israel. The truth which came out of the golden plates is still causing a gathering, is still offering its warnings, and is still acting as harbinger of great things to come.

The Festival Signifies Preparation for the Messianic Age
It would be a great mistake to see the Feast of Trumpets as a festival without relationship to any other. Part of its significance is in its juxtaposition to the Lord’s other holy days, particularly as preparation for those days considered most holy of all days.

The Feast of Trumpets (Rosh ha-Shanah), Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) are together called the High Holy Days, and the Days of Awe. To begin with, these days fall in the seventh month of the Judaic calendar, which gives them special status—as seventh periods of days, weeks, months, years, are generally considered particularly holy and significant, and as times of completion.

The trumpet sound of Rosh ha-Shanah includes the need for repentance in preparation for the days ahead.34 One scholar enunciates its message as, “Awake from your slumbers, you who have fallen asleep in life, and reflect on your deeds. Remember your Creator.”35 The way the ram’s horn is blown portrays that theme. First comes a long lengthy note promising hope. Sets of short notes follow to symbolize weeping for one’s transgressions and the desire to forsake them. A last long note promises God’s forgiveness to the truly repentant.36

The day’s prayers of repentance are said to prepare one for the coming Messianic Age.37 It is believed the Lord makes a prejudgment on Rosh Hashanah as to “who shall live and who shall die; . . . who shall be cast down and who elevated.”38 However, those judgments can be changed through repentance, prayer, and charity since the final judgments are not “sealed” until the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur.

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur therefore signify the only time left to repent, and are thus called the Ten Days of Penitence. The intervening time period is a crucial period for returning to God and to righteousness, with the trumpet sound representing God’s final warning before the rapidly approaching judgment.39

The Day of Atonement is considered the day when the unrepentant are doomed, but the repentant are forgiven and reconciled with God. Worshippers on Yom Kippur believe they spiritually enter the Holy of Holies, symbolic of entering God’s presence, and that this sacred time permits them their “highest and deepest communion with God.”40

The relationship between these holy days may bear witness of what will occur in the last days. While Christ performed the acts of atonement through his suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, the work is not yet complete. Christ’s return will actually complete the reconciliation between him and mankind, serving as the great time of At-one-ment, when repentant individuals can physically enter his presence.41

Because Israel’s last three holy days signify something momentous to come, the period between Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur are called The Days of Awe, with the Day of Atonement considered most “awesome” and most holy of all days. The Feast of Tabernacles follows. We have already learned it signifies the completed harvest and the Messiah’s reign.

The Reception of the Golden Plates Fulfilled the
Prophecies Associated with the Feast of Trumpets

Was the coming forth of the Book of Mormon on Rosh ha-Shanah coincidental? Truth is often manifest through fulfillment.

The golden plates were delivered to Joseph Smith early in the morning of 22 September 1827. The Feast of Trumpets, with prayers pleading for God’s remembrance of his still exiled people, had begun at sundown the previous evening. The services continued that morning, with the sound of trumpets. All that those trumpets symbolized was now to be fulfilled. That day, God remembered his people. That day, new revelation was granted, which would bring a return to the true law. That day Israel’s final harvest began. From then on, Israel would be called to repentance in preparation for the time of judgment ahead.

The Book of Mormon continues to reawaken exiled Israel, bringing them back to true worship and renewed covenants. It is the means of helping Israel prepare for the coming Day of At-one-ment, when the Christ will reappear and reconcile all repentant unto himself. The days are approaching when the harvest will be completed and Christ will come and dwell with his people, therefore keeping the ultimate Feast of the Tabernacles. It was Moroni who delivered the golden plates on 22 September 1827—the Feast of Trumpets. Now his image trumpets from temple spires the final warning to awaken, gather, repent, and prepare.

The Lord has used many ways to prophesy of what would come to pass in the future. We have long been familiar with prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, who spoke of the restoration of Israel and the gospel in the latter-days. However, the Lord has also told us that his ways are often difficult to find out. When we do discover them, we shall feel awe (D&C 76:114–19).

In addition to other prophecies, the Lord also foretold his future works through the holy days he established in Israel. Through the first of these holy days he witnessed of his crucifixion (Passover), his resurrection (offering of the first sheaf of barley), and of the beginning of his first harvest (fulfilled on Pentecost). His early disciples were aware of these connections and used them to bear testimony of Christ as the Messiah (1 Corinthians 5:7; 15:20).

Through the last three holy days, the Lord has witnessed of his latter-day remembrance of Israel’s covenants (Feast of Trumpets), his reunification with the repentant who return to his presence (Day of At-one-ment), and of his millennial reign when the harvest is complete (Feast of Tabernacles). These works are a witness for our day. Every witness strengthens our testimony, providing new energy to obey and endure.

Knowing that this is indeed the final harvest with an ever shortening time to labor should create greater motivation to thrust in our sickle with all our might. While working in that harvest, we are called to make known every wonderful work the Lord has performed among the people (D&C 65:4).



1. Bruce R. McConkie, Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 428–32.

2. John P. Pratt, “The Restoration of Priesthood Keys on Easter 1836,” Ensign 15 (June 1985): 59–68 and 15 (July 1985): 55–64; Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 48–50, 84–85; Lenet Hadley Read, “Symbols of the Harvest,” Ensign 5 (January 1975): 32–36; McConkie, Promised Messiah, 428–32.

3. McConkie, Promised Messiah, 432–37; Read, “Symbols of the Harvest,” 35–36.

4. Eduard Mahler, Handbuch der jüdischen Chronologie (Leipzig: Fock, 1916), 588. Verification can also be obtained from Jewish community libraries. The date can be recalculated from Jewish calendars.

5. Norman H. Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival: Its Origins and Development (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1947), 24; Abraham P. Bloch, The Biblical and Historical Background of the Jewish Holy Days (New York: KTAV, 1978), 18–19; Abraham P. Bloch, The Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies (New York: KTAV, 1980), 182; Hayyim Schauss, The Jewish Festivals from Their Beginning to Our Own Day, tr. Samuel Jaffe (Cincinnati: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1938), 113, 116.

6. Apparently, because they both celebrated the same harvest, the Feast of Trumpets and the Feast of Tabernacles were referred to as a feast of Ingathering. Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival, 17, 23–28; Bloch, Jewish Holy Days, 18–19; Bloch, Jewish Customs and Ceremonies, 181–83; Schauss, The Jewish Festivals from Their Beginning to Our Own Day, 113.

7. McConkie, The Promised Messiah, 433.

8. Bloch, The Jewish Holy Days, 21, states the persistent belief, “The ingathering of the Jewish people and its ultimate return to God will be announced by a prolonged blast of the shofar.”

9. Louis Jacobs, “Rosh Ha-shanah and Yom Kippur,” in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, 12 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1987), 12:474; Max Arzt, Justice and Mercy: Commentary on the Liturgy of the New Year and the Day of Atonement (San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963), 36, 146.

10. Bloch, Jewish Customs and Ceremonies, 142.

11. Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, eds., Rosh Hashanah: Its Significance, Laws, and Prayers (Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah, 1983), 60, 99.

12. Nehama Liebowitz, Studies in Shemot (Exodus) (Jerusalem: The World Zionist Organization, 1981), 8.

13. Scherman and Zlotowitz, Rosh Hashanah, 99.

14. Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 289–93.

15. Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 129; Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival, 162, 172.

16. Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 32; Other examples of this theme are shown on 108, 112–13.

17. Ibid., 32.

18. Ibid., 164.

19. Ibid., 185.

20. Ibid., 121–48.

21. Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival, 172.

22. Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 146–48.

23. Ibid., 129; Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival, 168. One source of this tradition is The Talmud (b.RH 11a), which says, “On New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited [or their barrenness ended].”

24. Scherman and Zlotowitz, Rosh Hashanah, 58, 61–62, 112–13, 117–18; Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 55, 94, 154; Bloch, Jewish Holy Days, 21; Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival, 162; Leo Trepp, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance (New York: Behrman House and Summit Books, 1980), 95.

25. Scherman and Zlotowitz, Rosh Hashanah, 58, 112–13; Bloch, Jewish Holy Days, 21; Philip Goodman, ed., The Rosh Hashanah Anthology (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1970), 23.

26. Bloch, Jewish Holy Days, 21; Goodman, The Rosh Hashanah Anthology, 22.

27. Arzt, Justice and Mercy, 149.

28. Ibid., 55; see also 94.

29 Trepp, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, 95.

30. Bloch, Jewish Customs and Ceremonies, 144.

31. Goodman, The Rosh Hashanah Anthology, 42.

32. Trepp, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, 95.

33. Goodman, The Rosh Hashanah Anthology, 42.

34. Snaith, The Jewish New Year Festival, 165.

35. Maimonides, Code of Law, Repentance 3:4.

36. Jacobs, “Rosh Ha-shanah and Yom Kippur,” in Eliade, The Encyclopedia of Religion, 12:474.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid.

39. Scherman and Zlotowitz, Rosh Hashanah, 111.

40. Trepp, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, 92.

41. I am not necessarily saying that Christ’s return will actually occur on the Day of Atonement. While the pattern of Christ’s fulfillment of events on his holy days might indicate the wisdom to be prepared on that day, it is more wise to be prepared on every day. The point being made is that the relationship of these three holy days bears another witness of what will occur in the last days. The final harvest of Israel has begun. When Christ returns, the repentant and obedient will be fully reconciled with him, physically entering into his presence after being cut off due to sin. Afterwards, Christ will reign during the Millennium when the spiritual harvest is complete.

Clothed with Salvation: The Garden, the Veil, Tabitha, and Christ

Daniel Belnap
Studies in the Bible and Antiquity: Volume – 4, Pages: 43-69
Provo, Utah:
Maxwell Institute, 2012
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sandwiched between the account of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 and Peter’s vision of the Gentiles in Acts 10 is the story of the raising of Tabitha. While staying in the town of Lydda, Peter, the presiding disciple of Christ, is approached by two individuals from the neighboring city of Joppa with the request that he come and attend to the then-deceased Tabitha. When he gets there, he is met by widows weeping and wailing over Tabitha’s departure. We know practically nothing of Tabitha except that she is a believer and a woman “full of good works and almsdeeds” (Acts 9:36). These works are revealed as the mourners present themselves before Peter, showing him the clothes and garments made by Tabitha for them.

This account may not, at first glance (or even at a second glance), appear to be related to the fall of Adam and Eve, the veil of the tabernacle described in Exodus, or the atonement of Christ; yet all three of these are linked to the narrative of Tabitha by the symbolic nature of clothing and its attendant rite, investiture. Throughout the scriptures, the acts of investiture and divestiture are used to describe the individual and social transformations made possible in the plan of salvation. This paper will examine the four scriptural subjects mentioned above–namely, the Garden of Eden narrative, the nature and role of the veil, the brief account of Tabitha, and the very nature of Christ and the atonement through the lens of clothing and investiture–and in so doing attempt to demonstrate that these two elements are among the most powerful and effective symbols in the scriptures to answer the fundamental questions concerning what our nature is now, what we really are, and how God understands us.

Clothing in the Garden of Eden

Experience with investiture began in the Garden of Eden, where through successive states of undress and dress Adam and Eve began their mortal progression.1 We are first introduced to the symbol of clothing, or lack thereof, as we are told that Adam and Eve “were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Moses 3:25). Though nakedness is often associated with nudity, there is a significant difference between the two states of undress. Whereas nudity simply defines a lack of clothing on any given individual, nakedness is determined by society and differs from culture to culture. Thus, while we may consider a native Amazonian tribe naked because of their lack of apparel, those tribes may consider themselves clothed and not naked at all by their standards. Instead, perhaps lacking a certain type of jewelry or tattoo would constitute their social understanding of nakedness.2 That nakedness is learned can best be exemplified by little children, who exhibit a complete lack of shame while nude. It is only as they are taught their culture’s values that their nudity becomes nakedness.3

In most societies, nakedness describes the social experience of shame or humiliation brought about by stepping beyond the proper social boundaries. Though we might want to view this negative consequence as a “bad” concept, the truth is that without a clear delineation between what is proper and what is not, one cannot have a functioning society. Therefore, nakedness as a cultural construct that brings about a negative consequence within that society actually allows for proper relationships to be established, further prospering the society. Thus nakedness and its attendant negative consequences are ultimately positive social constructs.

In light of this, it is not surprising to find nakedness as a legal punishment for social disharmony. In some Mesopotamian legal texts, the stripping of an individual of his or her raiment was considered punishment for offenses that went against the social order. In Middle Assyrian law codes, prostitutes who were caught wearing a veil in public were required to give up their clothing to those who turned them in. Moreover, if someone witnessed a prostitute walking while wearing a veil and did not report it, that individual would lose his or her own clothing if turned in by yet another.4 The phrase to strip the garment and to drive out naked is found in other Mesopotamian legal texts referring to the punishment given to those women who, of their own volition, disrupted the family.5 Similarly, in Ugarit, Emar, and El-Qiṭar, the loss of clothing is meant to represent a change in the social status of the individual. According to one Ugaritic text, the heir to the throne is told that he must either stay with his father or follow after his mother, who had divorced the king. If he chose the latter, the heir was to place his mantle on the throne and leave.6

Unfortunately, because clothing is used to define one’s status, forcing others to become naked and thus have no place in society has been used throughout history to control others. In the ancient Near East, the shame and humiliation of nakedness was associated with the loss of social status and was often depicted in images of captivity. Assyrian palace reliefs depict the captured inhabitants of conquered cities as naked, bound figures; Egyptian palaces do the same.7 In these cases, the captured soldiers and citizens were not originally naked but would have been divested of their clothing by the successful invaders, thereby demonstrating the captives’ complete subjugation by the conquerors.8 Voluntary nakedness reflected the same thing, demonstrating one’s subjugation to the authority of a more powerful individual. The Assyrian king Assurbanipal records in one of his annals, “They [the king of Elam and family] fled from Indabigash and came to me in Nineveh, crawling naked on their bellies.”9

The Old Testament reveals much of the same social stigma associated with nakedness. In Genesis 9, Noah’s drunkenness is emphasized by his naked state. In this case, filial duties are demonstrated as Noah’s two older sons walk backward in order not to view their father’s humiliating state while covering him in a garment. The youngest son, Ham, on the other hand, views his father’s nakedness but does nothing and is cursed. In Genesis 37, when Joseph’s brothers strip him of his robe, he is transformed from his honorable state to one of shame and slavery.10 In Isaiah 20, captivity and subjugation are associated with nakedness. Isaiah is commanded to take off his shoes, loosen his loincloth, and walk naked and barefoot for three years, symbolizing the eventual captivity of Egypt by Assyria: “Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years . . . so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt” (Isaiah 20:3–4). Similarly, Micah declares that he will “wail and howl” and “go stripped and naked” on account of the desolation that would result from the destruction of Samaria and Jerusalem (Micah 1:8).11

All this takes us back to the garden; there we are confronted with a unique situation as Adam and Eve were naked yet not experiencing shame. In fact, this is the only place in the scriptures where nakedness does not bring about negative social consequences; this situation therefore demonstrates that the early social network is flawed or incomplete. That social structures exist in the Garden of Eden is evidenced by the marriage of Adam and Eve and the proto-Zion society that Adam and Eve share with God.12 Yet, as Lehi makes clear in 2 Nephi 2:22–23, until the decision to partake of the fruit, Adam and Eve remain in a state in which progression is suspended:

And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end. And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

This state can be described as a liminal one, or one that lies between two other states of existence. The term liminality is taken from the Latin limen, meaning “doorway, threshold,” and is used in ritual studies to describe the temporary time and space made by ritual that allows an individual to move from one social state to another.13 Rites of passage, for instance, often incorporate liminality to facilitate the transformation of child to adult, single to married, boy to man, and so forth. What is important to recognize is that while liminal states have a useful function in social movement, they are meant to be temporary. With this perspective, we can see that prior to partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve in the garden live a liminal, or “in-between,” existence, as if they were cocooned caterpillars awaiting the final transformation. This liminality is exemplified in their naked but not ashamed state; as long as they stay in this state the plan of salvation is halted, just as Lehi described.14

Adam and Eve remain in this liminal state until Eve partakes of the fruit. According to Moses 4, Eve only partakes of the fruit when she “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it became pleasant to the eyes” (Moses 4:12). Neither one of these statements describes an actual change in the fruit, suggesting that the fruit was always good to eat. What changed was Eve’s perspective in regard to the fruit, yet this change in perspective also leads to Adam and Eve’s discerning their naked state. They now experience the shame that one should experience with nakedness. Though this leads them to separate themselves from God (as noted in their hiding from him), it also moves them out of their liminal state to the state of mortality necessary for their progression. This movement is characterized by their donning of clothing, the visible, tangible evidence that Adam and Eve now define their relationship with God and each other differently than they did before. With the wisdom that comes from the fruit, they are now aware of their social separateness from God, or, to put it another way, they now define themselves as beings different from God.

Like the concept of nakedness, the function of clothing is primarily a social one used by individuals to define or establish themselves within a given community,15 a function recognized explicitly today in the church pamphlet For the Strength of Youth.16 Because clothing is used by individuals to provide information about their own self-concept, and therefore their place within a given social structure, the actual clothing act, investiture, is as significant to the creation of the identity as the clothing itself since it demonstrates that we have the ability to make these definitions.17 Thus Adam and Eve’s clothing of fig leaves is not only a representation of their understanding concerning nakedness but also a means to describe their new standing within the existing society, specifically their unworthiness to socialize with God.18 The clothing itself allows them to physically demonstrate this separation since the leaves would act as camouflage when they hid in the trees. Prior to partaking of the fruit, Adam and Eve understood themselves to be part of the same social stratum as God; now they dress themselves and in so doing demonstrate they are no longer worthy to associate with God.19 Yet this social separation that Adam and Eve now understand to exist is not necessarily negative. Again, while nakedness is associated with negative responses, the social result of nakedness is, overall, a positive one, allowing members of a society to interact in the correct manner.20

Another well-known ancient Near Eastern epic teaches the same principle using the same symbols of clothing and investiture. In the Gilgamesh epic, Enkidu, a being who had lived in the wilderness, becomes civilized by first recognizing his nakedness and then by clothing himself as he approaches the city; thus the awareness of his nakedness and his consequent act of clothing represent his transformation from a wild, animal-like state of nonawareness into a state in which he is socially aware of himself and others. Gilgamesh himself, following his adventures to the ends of the earth, notes his return to society by dressing himself in the best garments he has.21

Though different in setting than the Gilgamesh epic, investiture also marks the transformation of Aaron and his sons from normal society to the specialized status of priests.22 While wearing the priestly garb placed upon them by Moses, Aaron and his sons are transformed from ordinary men to priests of God.23 Further priestly transformation via investiture occurs as the high priest is instructed to wear only pure white linen garments into the holy of holies instead of the more colorful costume found elsewhere.24 Thus he becomes part of the divine world, wearing the same color with which divine beings are associated.25 Aaron’s transformation and new identity is vividly demonstrated in Leviticus 10 when Aaron is not allowed to mourn the death of his sons in the traditional manner, a ritualized nakedness: “Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; . . . but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail” (Leviticus 10:6). Instead he is to remain in the priestly clothing; having lost his old identity through the investiture process described above, he is no longer the same person and is in fact to be treated as an individual in a completely different state of being.26 Thus Adam and Eve’s shame of their nakedness demonstrates their maturation into intelligible beings worthy of exaltation–a net gain, not a loss.

Adam and Eve’s movement from nakedness to a clothed state is paralleled by the serpent’s going from a clothed to a naked state. The serpent is described as the most “subtle” of all the animals. In Hebrew this descriptive word is spelled exactly the same as the word translated as “naked,” though they have slightly different pronunciations. Others have noted this wordplay, and the pun suggests that while the serpent may be the most subtle it may actually be the most naked as well. Just as Adam and Eve’s nakedness can represent their ignorance, the serpent’s nakedness is represented in his lack of knowledge, for we are told that the serpent “knew not the mind of God” (Moses 4:6) and is thus naked before him. Later, when the serpent is cursed for his role in the fall, we are told that he is to experience the social effects of nakedness: “Upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life” (Moses 4:20).27 In this then, Satan’s complete estrangement from the divine society is symbolized by his nakedness.

The final divine acts in the Garden of Eden are the divestiture of Adam and Eve’s aprons of leaves and their investiture in the clothing made by God. This second investiture, we are told, is performed by God and therefore represents God’s definition of Adam and Eve, while also demonstrating his power to provide them with this definition. The text does not explicitly tell us what that definition is, but because it replaces the fig-leaf clothing, we can assume that the definition contrasts with the social meaning of that first set of clothing, which represented the separation and shame that Adam and Eve believed then defined their relationship with God. In other words, the second investiture would have demonstrated that Adam and Eve were not in fact estranged from God but were still worthy of a social relationship with God. This new set of clothing would have stood as a constant reminder of his presence with them and of his power to bless them.28 This, in turn, gives us a greater appreciation for the atonement, which allows us to always have God with us even if we are away from his physical presence. Thus the investiture can be seen as an act that is symbolic and prophetic of the coming atonement. That we learn elsewhere that the investiture, while instigated by God the Father, is actually performed by Christ, only strengthens this association.29

The Veil as Clothing

According to the book of Exodus, separating the space designated as the holy of holies from the larger antechamber known as the holy place was to be a curtain, or veil:

And thou shalt make a vail of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen of cunning work: with cherubims shall it be made. . . . And thou shalt hang up the vail . . . that thou mayest bring in thither within the vail the ark of the testimony: and the vail shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy. (Exodus 26:31, 33)

We are not told within the biblical text what the veil would have meant symbolically to the ancient Israelite, but in both the function and the design pattern mentioned above, one can discern some of the symbolic import of the veil. The primary image on the veil is the cherubim. Cherubim imagery shows up throughout both the tabernacle and the later temple built by Solomon. According to Exodus, the ark was to have two golden cherubim placed on top of the box. The curtain walls that demarcated the entire sacred precincts also incorporated cherubim imagery. Later, cherubim were carved into the wooden walls of the temple as well. Outside of sacred architecture, cherubim are found in the Garden of Eden narrative and in Ezekiel’s visions. In these texts, the cherubim are divine guardians who protect the sacred spaces (in the garden, the tree of life) from improper trespassing as well as beings of transportation who carry God from place to place. In all cases, cherubim act as intermediaries that one must approach first before entering into the presence of God and as such are associated with liminality.

Just as liminality played a role in the Garden of Eden, liminality is central to the activities associated with the temple. The cherubim that one interacts with are liminal creatures positioned in the gate between the mortal sphere and the divine one. As guardians they function both to keep out individuals from the presence of God and also to invite them in. In terms of their location within sacred space, they occupy the space between the tree of life, or the divine realm, and the rest of mortality. In both respects, the cherubim perform the same function as the veil in the temple. Like the cherubim, the veil acts both as a limitation to unlawful entry into the holy of holies and as the passage into the same.

Understood this way then, the veil’s primary function is to facilitate movement from one state or spatiality to another, either away from or toward the higher state of being. Yet the veil also had another function similar to the function of clothing. In Numbers 4:5 we are told: “And when the camp setteth forward, Aaron shall come, and his sons, and they shall take down the covering vail, and cover the ark of testimony with it.” That the veil was meant to be more than mere covering is recognized by the fact that the veil was then itself covered by two other pieces of cloth: the badger skin that covered the tabernacle and finally a cloth of blue. As such, the function is similar to that of clothing in that the veil is used here more to define the space that lies beneath it as sacred and less to protect it from the elements; the veil represented the demarcation between the ark, the symbolic presence of God, and the outer layer of badger skins that covered the entire tabernacle and was open to the elements (which in our sequence may have been represented by the cloth of blue).

The association of the veil with clothing is also found in the color scheme of the veil. According to the text, the veil is to be made up of red, blue, and purple cloth. The same color scheme is found throughout the tabernacle precincts and is particularly noticeable as the color scheme for much of the priest’s clothing:

And they shall take gold, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen. And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work. . . . And the curious girdle of the ephod . . . shall be of the same, according to the work thereof; even of gold, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen. . . . And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue , and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen. . . . Upon the hem of it [the priest’s robe] thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof. (Exodus 28:5–6, 8, 15, 33)

Thus at least four pieces of the overall seven-piece costume incorporate the same color scheme as the veil.30

Unfortunately, we are not told what the specific colors represent, though later intertestamental literature assigned them cosmic meaning.31 The scriptures state that the primary function of the clothing was “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2), which may have meant more than simple adornment. The text does explain that some of the pieces had other functional values. The ephod, for instance, held the Urim and Thummim and served as a reminder of the veil of the temple, also made of the same material and colors as the clothing. The hem of the robe, made up of bells and pomegranates incorporating the same color scheme, was used to provide protection: “And beneath upon the hem of [the robe] thou shalt make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about. . . . And his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out, that he die not” (Exodus 28:33, 35).32

Yet while emphasis is placed on the protective nature of the robe, it should not be lost that its ultimate function is not to keep the priest out but to facilitate his interaction with God. In other words, the primary function of the hem of the robe was to protect the priest via the bells and keep him safe while in the presence of God, particularly while going in and out. Thus the entire set of clothing served to create liminal space, just as the veil did spatially within the tabernacle proper. Similarly, the ephod that held the Urim and Thummim functions as an intermediary between two different states, allowing them (in this case the mortal and the divine, represented by the Urim and Thummim) to interact and be in contact. In all of these cases, the items that shared the same color scheme are associated with liminality and the temporary time and space in which interaction between two inimical states can happen.33 That the priest himself functions like the veil between God and the rest of the host of Israel goes without saying, and the veil, like clothing, defines the spaces it covers or separates.34 With this in mind, it is not surprising to see that Christ, our intermediary, is symbolically associated both with the temple veil and as clothing.

Christ and Clothing

Though the association of Christ with clothing has already been noted in the Garden of Eden narrative, Isaiah 61 explicitly reveals the Messiah as one who will invest others with clothing.35 In verse 2 we are told that the anointed one will “comfort all that mourn” by engaging in a series of exchanges, most of them acts either of direct investitures or associated with the covering of an object: “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”36 The transformation enacted through this investiture results in a new designation: “that they might be called trees of righteousness.” Later, in Isaiah 61:10, the individual rejoices, “for [God] hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.”37 The significance of this passage and the saving power of Christ was not lost to the early Christians, for Luke 4 records that Christ began his public ministry by standing up, reading from Isaiah 61, and sitting down, proclaiming that “this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).

Investiture was also utilized by Christ in his later teachings and ministry. One of the more significant events is related in Luke 8:26–35 as Christ interacts with an unnamed man in Galilee who is possessed “and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs” (v. 27). The naked state expresses the young man’s lack of identity; his abode among the tombs demonstrates his lack of belonging, both of which are reemphasized by verse 30, where, when asked his name, he cannot provide it but instead gives another. According to the account, after asking his name, Christ then casts out the devils, at which point the witnesses run back into town to tell of the event. When they return they find “the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed (enduō), and in his right mind” (v. 35). In this case, it would appear that Christ literally clothed the young man, restoring his ability to interact within society.38

Later, in the parable of the prodigal son recorded in chapter 15, Christ’s transforming power through repentance is emphasized when the young man returns from his lost, deathlike state (Luke 15:24). Though the young man admits he has lost his place within the family, the father has him clothed (enduō) in the best robe, among other things, thus symbolically restoring him to his proper place within the family, including the right to be an heir. Finally, Christ tells his disciples that they were to remain in Jerusalem following Christ’s resurrection until “ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, emphasis added).

Christ’s transforming power through investiture is also attested outside of the Four Gospels. In Revelation 7:14 the martyrs killed during the fifth seal are given white robes made “white in the blood of the Lamb.”39 Similarly, the Book of Mormon mentions the cleansing of clothing through Christ’s atoning blood. For example, in 3 Nephi 27:19 Christ himself exhorts us: “No unclean thing can enter into [the Father’s] kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood.”40 In both of these references, the proper state of the clothing is made possible through the atoning process of Christ.

Immortality, one of the transcendent consequences of Christ’s act, is described as something to be put on in no fewer than five references.41 Eternal life is also described in terms of clothing and investiture. Doctrine and Covenants 29:13 records that the righteous dead would come forth “to receive a crown of righteousness, and to be clothed upon, even as [Christ is], to be with [him], that [they] may be one.” Here we are told that to be with our Father requires both the same clothing that Christ himself is dressed in and the investiture through which the clothing is put on. Thus two gospel concepts–oneness with God (i.e., Zion) and eternal life–are encapsulated in the symbolism of clothing and the significance of investiture. Similarly, in the Book of Mormon, Jacob describes judgment in which the righteous “shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14). Like the verse that precedes it, exaltation is exemplified not only in the clothing worn but also in the investiture. Moreover, Jacob associates the investiture with the acquisition of knowledge as well. In other words, being clothed in the robe of righteousness, the righteous now possess a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment. The clothing acts as communication, providing one the means of knowing “enjoyment.”

Yet Christ is depicted in the scriptures as more than one who clothes us, literally or otherwise. He is also represented as clothing. A woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years decided to touch the hem of Christ’s robe in the hope of being healed: “And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind [Jesus], and touched the hem of his garment: for she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole” (Matthew 9:20–21). That her surmise is correct is demonstrated in Mark: “And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed in that plague” (Mark 5:29). Though the physical healing is certainly representative of Christ’s ministry, this event also demonstrates his work as one who restores individuals to a place within society. A malady such as the one the woman experienced would have meant she was unclean and therefore could have transmitted the unclean state to others, from whom she was likely isolated. Christ therefore not only healed her physically but restored the opportunity to interact socially. Achieving this transformation through the medium of his clothing implies that clothing could stand in place of the individual; thus Christ’s clothing can stand in the place of Christ himself.

Later in the writings of Paul we find that those who have been baptized “put on” Christ. Similarly, Romans 13:14 exhorts the saints to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ.42 Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10, though they do not mention Christ explicitly, speak of the need for the newly converted to “put on” the new man made possible through Christ, and in Colossians 3:12–14, the spiritual attributes made possible through baptism are also to be “put on.”43 Yet perhaps one of the most intriguing confluences of images is that found in Hebrews 10:19–20, where we are exhorted to have “boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh.” As the verse suggests, at least some in early Christianity associated Christ and his mission with the temple veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies. Certainly there is affinity in function between the veil and Christ in that both must be approached if one is to enter into the presence of God.44 Thus Christ represents the veil that all must pass through to enter the holy of holies, and the veil represents Christ as the keeper of the way to exaltation.45

The poignant irony of associating Christ with clothing is that throughout the atonement that made it possible for us to be clothed in immortality and eternal life, he himself was experiencing the utter humiliation of nakedness. At least three times over the course of the atonement, Christ was stripped of his clothing. The first occurrence was prior to his scourging, as recorded in Mark 15:15, where he was stripped to be beaten with the whip. The second occurrence was when the Roman soldiers stripped Christ of his own robe and placed purple clothing on him, mocking him as king. Finally, the last stripping occurred at the cross as his clothing was taken from him and gambled away among the guards.46 Both the stripping and the resulting nakedness were meant to enhance the total humiliation experienced by those being crucified.47 Thus Christ was completely naked as he performed the exalting sacrifice for all individuals while at the same time fulfilling the supernal promise given to Adam and Eve at their investiture–that Christ would make it possible for all to be clothed, transformed into beings who know they are worthy of salvation and exaltation. This leaves only one loose thread–what does this have to do with Tabitha?

Tabitha, Discipleship, and Investiture

As we noted earlier, we know nothing of this woman’s background, family life, even livelihood, except that she was a disciple of Christ and made clothing (robes and garments) for the widows of the Christian community in Joppa. Yet these are not insignificant details, for Tabitha is the only woman in the New Testament designated as a disciple. It appears that clothing widows is how she carried out her discipleship.48 Understood in this way, like Christ’s acts of investiture, Tabitha’s acts of making and giving clothing to the widows represents her care and love for them; the clothing became tangible symbols of her recognition of the Joppan widows, letting them know that they were not forgotten or abandoned.

In this manner, then, Tabitha becomes an example of the ultimate disciple, one who not only learns but performs in the same manner as the teacher. Not surprisingly, other references describe discipleship in terms of clothing others. Perhaps one of the most powerful is found in Doctrine and Covenants 133:32, where we, having been clothed and crowned, are now responsible for crowning yet others, becoming like God with the power to invest others with the same transformation that we have experienced.49

Thus investiture becomes a sublime symbol of spiritual transformation. Like Adam and Eve, we have a need to be clothed in vestments that represent God’s definition of who we really are, the vestments acting as a bridge, like the temple veil, between the divine and mortal states, and this knowledge in turn provides us the power to become true disciples, like Tabitha, of the one who both clothes and defines us, even Jesus Christ. All of this brings us into a state whereby we can then turn around and bring others into that same exalted sociality, which, of course, is the very plan of salvation.50

Daniel Belnap is assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.

1.    Gary A. Anderson, “The Garments of Skin in Apocryphal Narrative and Biblical Commentary,” in Studies in Ancient Midrash, ed. James L. Kugel (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Center for Jewish Studies, 2001), 109: “The propensity to understand ourselves in relation to others and God by virtue of our habits of dress is a deeply rooted aspect of our human condition. Hence any shift in these habits is a potential indicator of a larger ontological shift in human nature.”

2.    Terence S. Turner, “The Social Skin,” in Not Work Alone: A Cross-cultural View of Activities Superfluous to Survival, ed. Jeremy Cherfas and Roger Lewin (London: Temple Smith, 1980), 114–15: “The Kayapo are a native tribe of the southern borders of the Amazon forest. . . . The Kayapo possess a quite elaborate code of what could be called ‘dress,’ a fact which might escape notice by a casual Western observer, because it does not involve the use of clothing. . . . A closer look at Kayapo bodily adornment discloses that the apparently naked savage is as fully covered in a fabric of cultural meaning as the most elaborately draped Victorian lady or gentleman.” See also E. Adamson Hoebel, “Clothing and Ornament,” in Dress, Adornment, and the Social Order, ed. Mary E. Roach and Joanne B. Eicher (New York: Wiley & Sons, 1965), 16–17: “A favored tale among anthropologists is that of Baron von Nordenskiold, who in his Amazonian travels undertook to purchase the facial plugs of a Botocudo woman, who stood all unabashed in customary nudity before him. Only irresistible offers of trade goods at long last tempted her to remove and hand over her labrets. When thus stripped of her proper raiment, she fled in shame and confusion into the jungle.”

3.    Susan B. Kaiser, The Social Psychology of Clothing and Personal Adornment (New York: Macmillan, 1985), 32–33: “There is little evidence to support the idea that individuals are instinctively ashamed of their bodies. . . . The fact that modesty is socially learned and situated–and thus not instinctive–can be illustrated by the fact that children are not instinctively modest. . . . Cross-cultural definitions of modesty vary. That is to say, what is considered to be a shameful display of the body in one culture may be totally acceptable, or even expected, in another.”

4.    Martha T. Roth, Law Collections from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997), 168–69, Middle Assyrian Law Code A, 40-1. Similarly, a palace decree of Tiglath-Pileser states if a male responds to the attentions of a woman of the palace who “has bared her shoulders and is not covered even with a kindabašše garment” and he is reported, the one who gives the report gets the clothing of the offending individual, and in the end, the offending individual has only sackcloth tied around his waist (206).

5.    Meir Malul, Studies in Mesopotamian Legal Symbolism (Kevelaer, Germany: Butzon & Bercker, 1988), 122–38. Also, Karel van der Toorn, “The Significance of the Veil in the Ancient Near East,” in Pomegranates and Golden Bells: Studies in Biblical, Jewish, and Near Eastern Ritual, Law, and Literature in Honor of Jacob Milgrom, ed. David P. Wright, David Noel Freedman, and Avi Hurvitz (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 327–39.

6.    See ke Viberg, Symbols of Law: A Contextual Analysis of Legal Symbolic Acts in the Old Testament (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1992), who discusses these texts: “The act performed by Jonathan may very well be based on a legal symbolic act which is also known from Ugarit, Emar and El-Qiṭar. There are three texts from Ugarit that are relevant, PRU IV, 17.159; RS 8.145 and Ugaritica V, 83 (RS 20.146). Of these RS 8.145 and Ugaritica V, 83 are wills, describing how a son who refuses to obey his father is forced to leave the house and deposit his mantle on the stool or the door-bolt. The legal function was to expel a member from the family, thus depriving him of his legal status as a member of the family. In PRU IV, 17.159, the prince and heir to the throne of Ugarit, called Utrisharruma, is given an ultimatum, lines 22–31. Either he stays with his father Amistamru, King of Ugarit, or he follows his mother Bentesina, who has been divorced from the king, lines 8–10. As mentioned above, if the prince chooses to follow his mother, he is told to put his mantle on the throne and leave, line 26. The texts from Emar are mainly wills, containing clauses that regulate the inheritance in the case of certain changed circumstances. One of these wills states that a daughter who does not accept the mother after the death of the father, must put the mantle on a chair and leave the house. The same is applied to a child who does not accept the father, the husband in the will of the wife, and the wife in the will of the husband.” Similarly, in an Old Babylonian text (BRM IV 52), the stripping of the wife’s clothes was performed for divorce. Elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern documents, divorce was effected by the cutting off of the hem of the spouse (primarily the wife’s hem); see Wolfram von Soden, Akkadisches Handwšrterbuch (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1965–81), s.v. sissiktu, 4a, 1051. For a general discussion on the role of hems, see Jacob Milgrom, “Of Hems and Tassals: Rank, Authority and Holiness Were Expressed in Antiquity by Fringes on Garments,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9/3 (1983): 61–65; see also Paul A. Kruger, “The Hem of the Garment in Marriage: The Meaning of the Symbolic Gesture in Ruth 3:9 and Ezek 16:8,” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 12 (1984): 79–86.

7.    Robert K. Ritner, The Mechanics of Ancient Egyptian Magical Practice (Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1993), 114–36. Rendering the captive naked is a common image; see also the Megiddo Ivory in the Israeli Museum.

8.    Similarly, in the Old Testament foreign women who are taken captive are made naked. See Saul Olyan, Rites and Rank: Hierarchy in Biblical Representations of the Cult (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 97: “The text describes the process by which a foreign woman, taken by force to the home of her captor, makes the transition from alien captive to wife or concubine of an Israelite male. A series of ritual actions are presented that are intended to begin that transition. The shaving of the hair of the head, the cutting of the nails, and the removal of the ‘garment of captivity’ move the woman into a period of liminality during which she mourns her parents, whom she will never see again. It is probable that they have become ‘socially dead’ to her, though they are not physically dead. These gestures are all to be understood as rites effecting the separation or alienation of the woman from her previous identity. . . . To shave off the hair and cut the nails in combination with discarding the ‘garment of captivity’ and mourning socially dead parents seem in this context to mean to cut off the captive from her past, erasing her old identity and making it possible for her to assume a new identity in Israel.”

9.    Maximilian Streck, Assurbanipal und die Letzten Assyrischen Kšnige bis zum Untergange Niniveh’s, vol. 2 (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1916), 34, IV, 1.26. For a general study on the role of stripping as a form of subjugation and humiliation, see M. E. Vogelzang and W. J. van Bekkum, “Meaning and Symbolism of Clothing in Ancient Near Eastern Texts,” in Scripta Signa Vocis: Studies about Scripts, Scriptures, Scribes, and Languages in the Near East, Presented to J. H. Hospers, ed. H. L. J. Vanstiphout et al. (Groningen, Netherlands: Forsten, 1986), 265–84.

10.    Victor H. Matthews, “The Anthropology of Clothing in the Joseph Narrative,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 20/65 (March 1995): 31. Interestingly, the entire Joseph pericope centers around the reception and loss of clothing. When Potiphar’s wife seeks relations with Joseph, Joseph is again reduced to “nakedness”: “Again, he is stripped of his status-marker and the symbol of his role within that community” (32). Later, he is reinvested with clothing upon entering the royal court: “The radical change in appearance effected by these new robes of office, and the other gifts given to him by the pharaoh (his new name, and his Egyptian wife) transforms Joseph from a prisoner into a courtier” (34). Finally, Joseph demonstrates his acceptance of his brothers by providing them with their own sets of clothing. “This final step brings the story full circle and provides one final use of garments as a status marker. Joseph is now in a position to give clothing to his brothers” (35).

11.    Shaving was used to humiliate and shame an individual as well. Saul Olyan discusses the role of shaving in rites associated with transition in social status; see Saul M. Olyan, “What Do Shaving Rites Accomplish and What Do They Signal in Biblical Ritual Contexts?” Journal of Biblical Studies 117/4 (1998): 611–22.

12.    Both social relationships are emphasized in the recent document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”

13.    Liminality is first used in the studies of Arthur Van Gennep in his seminal work The Rites of Passage, trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960). Van Gennep coined the term to describe the temporary time and space created during ritual processes in which individuals were formally taken out of one social state (childhood, single status, etc.) and prepared for both entrance and participation in another social state (puberty, marriage, etc.). Because liminality exists outside of “normal” space and time, this place was symbolized as death, the womb, the outside, and was a dangerous place in terms of its being outside society but completely necessary for the smooth transitions within a society. Most important, liminality was never meant to be a permanent state but a temporary one that existed for the specific purpose only.

14.    Julie Galambush, “ʾādām from ʾadāmā, iššâ from ʾ”š: Derivation and Subordination in Genesis 2.4b–3.24,” in History and Interpretation: Essays in Honour of John H. Hayes, ed. M. P. Graham et al. (Sheffield, England: JSOT, 1993), 38: “Shame’s absence is noteworthy only in a world characterized by its presence.”

15.    Kaiser, Social Psychology of Clothing, 216–17, emphasis in original: “There are two important functions to clothes in nonverbal communication. First, they help us to negotiate identities, as we present our situated identities or roles, moods, values, and attitudes to one another. Second, they help us to define situations, that is, to socially construct the basis for our interactions.” See Malcolm Bernard, Fashion as Communication, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2002), 39: “Clothing and fashion, as communication, are cultural phenomena in that culture may itself be understood as a signifying system, as the ways in which a society’s beliefs, values, ideas and experiences are communicated through practices, artefacts and institutions. . . . Fashion, clothing and dress are the artefacts, practices and institutions that constitute a society’s beliefs, values, ideas and experiences. According to this view, fashion, dress and clothing are ways in which people communicate, not only things like feeling and mood, but also the values, hopes and beliefs of the social groups of which they are members. They are, then, the ways in which society is produced and reproduced.”

16.    “Prophets of God have continually counseled His children to dress modestly. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and you can be a good influence on others. Your dress and grooming influence the way you and others act.” For the Strength of Youth (2011), 6.

17.    Kate Soper, “Dress Needs: Reflections on the Clothed Body, Selfhood and Consumption,” in Body Dressing, ed. Joanne Entwistle and Elizabeth Wilson (Oxford: Berg, 2001), 20–21: “In the emphasis on the need for clothing as personal self-expression, we should not overlook the recourse to regulations on dress and the wearing of uniform as a means of excluding, oppressing and condemning. Nor should we forget the extent to which restrictions on human dress are used to distinguish and police social and sexual hierarchies.”

18.    Some suggest that this status change represents a movement from animal to human. See Soper, “Dress Needs,” 17: “In Christian mythology, we acquire our clothes in losing our ‘natural’ innocence and coming into knowledge of good and evil. Clothes are in this sense definitively cultural objects closely bound up with a sense of shame, and their primary purpose is to conceal the organs of those functions . . . which have been deemed to degrade us by tying us too closely to a bestial nature. Clothes, in short, serve us as a cardinal marker of the divide between ourselves and the rest of the animal world. . . . Clothes have been very extensively used to assert the cultural status of human beings, to police the border between humans and animals.”

19.    Rita C. Poretsky, “Clothing and Self: Biblical and Rabbinic Perspectives,” Journal of Psychology and Judaism 10/1 (1986): 53: “Nakedness is a nakedness of self in a social context, not just a nakedness of body. There is a microcosmic balancing of principle within each specific act. . . . The fear of being naked, without identity, is strong, especially when the only available clothes do not fit. The task to make new clothes and a new world in order to be whole is overwhelming, but the only other choices are a lost sense of self, from wearing no clothes; or a self that is betrayed, bound to the dead hand of custom and costume. In this context, it is not surprising that Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, saw that they were naked, and Adam-humankind felt afraid before God.”

20.    Terje Stordalen, Echoes of Eden: Genesis 2–3 and the Symbolism of the Eden Garden in Biblical Hebrew Literature (Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 228–29: “If nakedness was depriving within the shame codex in which the implied reader was socialised, Gen 2:25 would not imply restrained happiness. . . . Eating from the tree has a positive function in removing human ignorance. By 3:8.10 the human couple has gained the insight that one should not appear naked before YHWH. Such an effect of the tree is conceived of as ‘regular’ within the story world. . . . All this should indicate a positive development, stretching from the ignorance in 2:25 through the eating (3:1–6) and the gained insight (3:7–11) to the clothing (3:21).”

21.    Robert A. Oden Jr., “Grace or Status? Yahweh’s Clothing of the First Humans,” in The Bible without Theology: The Theological Tradition and Alternatives to It (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 102–3: “Finally, and significantly, Utnapishtim asks that Gilgamesh return to civilization, to his city, wearing a ‘garment,’ ‘his finest garment.’ . . . The cumulative effect of all these references to clothing in the Gilgamesh Epic is impressive. The human state–and that, among many other things, is partly what Gilgamesh is all about–is a state symbolized by the donning of manufactured garments. . . . Humans are those who live most properly in cities (the social setting, par excellence), are mortal, have obligations to one another–and wear clothing.”

22.    Frank H. Gorman Jr., The Ideology of Ritual: Space, Time and Status in the Priestly Theology (Sheffield, England: JSOT, 1990), 116–17: “The change of clothes is symbolic of a ritually constituted change of status. In Lev. 16.4, 24 Aaron’s bathings mark off his marginal status, symbolized by his change of clothes, within the larger ritual process.”

23.    Ernest Crawley, “Sacred Dress,” in Dress, Adornment, and the Social Order, 141: “With the vestment the priest puts on the ‘character’ of divinity. By change of vestments he multiplies the Divine force, while showing its different aspects.”

24.    See Leviticus 16:4–24, which describes the divestiture and investiture of the high priest on the Day of Atonement. Jung Hoon Kim, The Significance of Clothing Imagery in the Pauline Corpus (London: Clark International, 2004), 20: “All these garments seem to constitute the formal apparel of Aaron the [high] priest. No doubt, whenever he entered the Holy Place for the performance of his ministry, he had to wear them. Yet, when he entered the most holy place, he might wear only the linen tunic, linen undergarments, the linen sash and the linen turban, and not the ephod and the blue robe. The author of the Pentateuch does not provide any explanation concerning this difference. But as the whiteness of the four linen items can represent divine holiness, the difference probably means that when the priest entered the most holy place, he had to endue himself with a holiness which was suited to the supreme sacredness of the place.”

25.    A similar transformation is witnessed in Zechariah 3:3–5, where the high priest Joshua is in the presence of an angel and Satan. After Satan is rebuked and sent away, God commands that Joshua be clothed and given a crown before being given his instructions. Though this article concerns the transformations through investiture and divestiture in the scriptures, it should be pointed out that this process is found throughout intertestamental and postbiblical literature; see the Testament of Levi, 2 Enoch, 3 Enoch, the Ascension of Isaiah, and the Apocalypse of Abraham. In each case, as the individual ascends into the presence of God, a change of apparel, usually performed by another member of the divine society, is required for the transformation to be made complete. For more on the role of investiture in divine ascents, see Martha Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); and William J. Hamblin, “Temple Motifs in Jewish Mysticism,” in Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism, ed. Donald W. Parry (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1994), 440–76.

26.    Gorman, Ideology of Ritual, 118–19, 134–35: “Aaron is clothed in the special attire of the high priest. The concern here is not to find any particular symbolic meaning for each item of clothing; rather, the concern is to see the ritual importance of the act of clothing. As already suggested, the clothing rite serves as a marker of Aaron’s passage into his new status. It does not in and of itself effect that passage. . . . The clothes are a symbolic statement about his status. They give tangible evidence of his changed position in society and serve as a symbol of his unique status. . . . There is a consistent theme in these chapters that those who encroach upon the realm of the holy are liable to death. This is the response of Yahweh to encroachers who cross the boundaries of the sacred improperly. Aaron and his sons have been given safe passage, not only to cross these boundaries, but to stay within them. The crossing of the sacred boundaries is dangerous, but ritual structures make it possible. The priests have stood in the breach between life and death and now live to act as mediators between the sacred and non-sacred, and between life and death.” While Gorman would assign only symbolic meaning to the investiture, that the investiture can also be a ritual of transformation is demonstrated in Numbers 20:25–29. Here Moses invests Aaron’s son Eleazar with Aaron’s garments, signifying that he has become the new high priest. Aaron then dies on the mountain. It is possible that his death is brought upon by his now profane state. Whatever the reason for his dying, it is clear that the stripping of Aaron and the dressing of Eleazar is the primary ritual that denotes the transformation, not the washing.

27.    George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1955), 1:306: “‘Dust’ has several figurative and symbolic meanings in the Scriptures. To sit in the dust and to sprinkle dust on the head was a sign of deep mourning. (Job 1:12, 13; Isa. 47:1) To lick the dust of one’s feet, as it is said was customary at some Oriental courts, when subjects were admitted to the presence of sovereigns (Isa. 49:23) was, of course, a degrading humiliation. When the Serpent (Gen. 3:14; Isa. 65:25) was condemned to ‘eat dust’ all the days of his life, he was, in modern language, doomed to an existence of the most degrading nature imaginable. He who, in the Garden of Eden, was the spokesman of Satan, became, as it were, a slave of slaves of the fallen angel. (Pearl of Great Price, Mos. 4:6–7).” In the apocryphal work Discourse on Abbaton (found in Coptic Martyrdoms etc. in the Dialect of Upper Egypt, ed. and trans. E. A. Wallis Budge [London: Longmans, 1914], 483–84), we read an interesting passage concerning Satan’s loss of clothing leading to a loss of his power and authority: “And when Adam had risen up he cast himself down before [My] Father, saying, ‘My Lord and my God! Thou hast made me to come into being [from a state in which] I did not exist.’ Thereupon My Father set him upon a great throne, and He placed on his head a crown of glory, and He put a royal sceptre [in his hand], and My Father made every order [of angels] in the heavens to come and worship him, whether angel or archangel. . . . And My Father said unto him (i.e. their chief), ‘Come, thou thyself shalt worship my image and likeness.’ And he, being of great pride, drew himself up in a shameless manner, and said, ‘It is meet that this [man Adam] should come and worship me, for I existed before he came into being.’ And when My Father saw his great pride, and that his wickedness and his evil-doing were complete, He commanded all the armies of heaven, saying, ‘Remove the writing [which is] in the hand of the proud one, strip ye off his armour, and cast ye him down upon the earth, for his time hath come.’ . . . And all the angels gathered together to him, and they did not wish to remove the writing from his hand. And My Father commanded them to bring a sharp reaping-knife, and to stab him therewith on this side and that, right through his body to the vertebrae of his shoulders” (bracketed text in original). Nibley changes this translation slightly by placing “token” there instead of “writing” and “panoply” instead of “armor.” Moreover, he notes that the cutting is at breast level with a sickle-shaped instrument. For the purposes of this paper, note Satan’s humiliation and loss of social status through the symbolic loss of clothing (his armor). Hugh Nibley, “On the Sacred and the Symbolic,” in Temples of the Ancient World, 556.

28.    Kim, Significance of Clothing, 17: “Adam’s restoration to God’s image particularly denotes the restoration of his royal status. The garment of skin also connotes reconciliation with God. When Adam wore his own fig-leaves apron, he was afraid of God, but when he was clothed with a garment of skin provided by God, he did not panic before him. In short, the clothing image in Gen. 3.21 signifies that Adam’s restoration to his original life and glory, to peace with God, and to kingship over the other creatures has started.”

29.    The Hebrew word translated as “atonement” or “atone” in the Old Testament is kipper. Though its meaning has been debated somewhat, the act associated with the term describes a smearing or wiping of a substance, usually blood, on the surface of another. Thus one is “atoned” when blood from the sacrifice covers the prescribed item regardless of whether the term actually means “cleansing” or “covering.” Thus the act of covering becomes symbolic of Christ’s atonement when he was “covered” to cleanse us from sin. Interestingly, the clothing is made of skins, suggesting that Christ performed an animal sacrifice symbolic of his own atoning sacrifice, thus perhaps representing the doctrine that only Christ could perform the atonement. This, in turn, provides greater significance to the nakedness experienced by Christ in the atonement. Like Adam and Eve, Christ goes through a series of investitures and divestitures through the process, beginning clothed and ending naked. Adam and Eve go from naked to clothed. Both are defined by mortals, Adam and Eve in the beginning and Christ at the end, and defined by God, Christ in the beginning (covered in blood), Adam and Eve at the end (by Christ).

30.    The seven pieces are the underlying pure white linen shift, the breastplate, the ephod, the girdle, the robe, the bonnet or mitre, and the outer coat. Of these the breastplate, the ephod, the girdle, and the border of the robe all incorporate the blue, scarlet, and purple colors found on the veil.

31.    Philo of Alexandria and Josephus both describe the high priest’s clothing as being covered in images symbolizing the cosmos and thus standing as the universe itself. It is a long-standing tradition that the robes of the high priest are in fact the same garments given to Adam prior to the expulsion. Thus the garments themselves would have represented the cosmos (see Wisdom of Solomon 18:24; Josephus, Antiquities 3.184). It is unclear whether the descriptions found within these references represent older traditions since they are all of relatively late dating. Nothing in the Old Testament explicitly states that these clothing items carried these connotations.

32.    The role of clothing to provide protection from supernatural forces is attested elsewhere; see Linda Welters “Introduction: Folk Dress, Supernatural Beliefs, and the Body,” in Folk Dress in Europe and Anatolia: Beliefs about Protection and Fertility, ed. Linda Welters (Oxford: Berg, 1999), 10: “In many parts of the Western world, people still believe that clothing holds special powers. They still practice rituals and customs that invest cloth with the power to aid and protect the body. ‘Luck’ is a quality we all associate with certain articles of dress in our wardrobes. For decades brides have worn ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ to ensure a happy union blessed with children. Baseball players use clothing rituals as ‘magic to try to control or eliminate the change and uncertainty built into baseball.'” Other examples are explored in Patricia Williams, “Protection from Harm: The Shawl and Cap in Czech and Slovak Wedding, Birthing and Funerary Rites,” in Folk Dress in Europe and Anatolia, 146–47: “The earliest extant examples of Slavic ritual cloths have red embroidery, which represents good fortune and is a repellent of the evil eye. The idea of the color was so powerful that it did not matter if the dyes failed to achieve a deep tone. . . . During the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries simple embroidery, incorporating symbols first developed in materials other than textiles, replaced the use of three-dimensional fetishes and amulets worn on the body and attached to clothing.” See also Mary B. Kelly, “Living Textile Traditions of the Carpathians,” in Folk Dress in Europe and Anatolia, 167, 169: “Whether in the Ukraine or Romania, mountain women protected themselves and their families with sacred motifs on dress. The placement of the motifs on clothing was of particular importance. . . . The sleeves of both men’s and women’s garments were banded with designs over the pectoral muscle that emphasized strength for the arm. The openings of the neck, sleeve and hem, the areas where evil could enter and harm the body, were similarly protected. Positioning of motifs on the chest area of men’s shirts, and over women’s breasts, emphasized power for the men and good milk for the women.” See also Henry Maguire, “Garments Pleasing to God: The Significance of Domestic Textile Designs in the Early Byzantine Period,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 44 (1990): 215: “The designs on early Byzantine domestic textiles were more than mere conveyors of messages; it was not only information that they projected, such as social rank or status, but a force operating invisibly on behalf of the wearers or users of the textiles.” See also 2 Kings 2:8, where Elijah uses his cloak to split the river Jordan.

33.    The idea of clothing as liminality has been realized elsewhere; see Joanne Entwistle, “The Dressed Body,” in Body Dressing, 37: “Dress lies at the margins of the body and marks the boundary between self and other, individual and society . . . [and] is structured by social forces and subject to social and moral pressures.”

34.    Blake Ostler, “Clothed Upon: A Unique Aspect of Christian Antiquity,” BYU Studies 22/1 (1982): 35–36: “Many ancient texts confuse the garment with the veil of the temple, such as Ambrose of Milano’s Tractate of the Mysteries or the Hebrew Book of Enoch where ‘garment’ and ‘veil’ are used interchangeably. Enoch is clothed with the veil in the Hebrew Book of Enoch: ‘The Holy One . . . made me a throne similar to the throne of glory. And He spread over me a curtain [veil] of splendour and brilliant appearance of beauty, grace, and mercy, similar to the curtain [veil] of the throne of glory, and on it were fixed all kinds of lights in the universe.'”

35.    This is somewhat ironic in that the term Messiah is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew meshiach, which means the one who is anointed, or covered, in oil. Similarly, the Greek translation “Christos” describes one who has been covered in oil (which is the meaning of the word chrism). Thus the Messiah, one who was covered, has the primary responsibility to clothe and cover others.

36.    Though the KJV translates the term peēr as “beauty,” a more literal translation would reflect a piece of clothing, thus “a turban for ashes.”

37.    Other scriptures associate divine investiture of the priests with clothes of salvation: “Let thy priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation” (2 Chronicles 6:41), and “I will also clothe her priests with salvation” (Psalm 132:16). In both cases, this is followed by a clause recounting the joyful praise of the saints following the investiture. Interestingly, the Isaiah reference above can be construed as the type of praise the saints will have, as it is in the voice of the one invested. The same terminology is employed in Doctrine and Covenants 109:80, the dedicatory prayer for the Kirtland Temple: “And let these, thine anointed ones, be clothed with salvation, and thy saints shout aloud for joy.” Finally, the imagery allows us to grasp the full depth of Nephi’s plea, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness” (2 Nephi 4:33), as it emphasizes his desire to participate in the social relationship with God implied through investiture. Brigham Young associated this series of exchanges with the temple endowment: “Brethren, we verily know and bear testimony that a cloud of blessing and of endowment, and of keys of the fulness of the priesthood, and of things pertaining to eternal life, is hanging over us. . . . Therefore . . . enter steadily and regularly upon a strict observance of the law of tithing, and of freewill offerings, till Jehovah shall say it is enough; your offerings are accepted: then come up to the House of the Lord, and be taught in his ways, and walk in his paths; yea, enter his sanctuary; and receive the oil of joy for mourning, and garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (History of the Church, 7:280).

38.    His sitting at Christ’s feet would have demonstrated not only a return to society but also the recognized position between teacher and student.

39.    The primary characteristic of all the divine beings, including those who had been exalted, is the clothing or the white robe. As such their clothing represents their divine status. See Dietmar Neufeld, “Sumptuous Clothing and Ornamentation in the Apocalypse,” Hervormde teologiese studies 58/2 (2002): 684: “These astral deities, so clad in white and gold, . . . symbolize purity and righteousness and exalted status. . . . They are power wielders who are entitled to privileges not normally accorded human beings. . . . Yet, even though the scene is not part of human experience, those who are robed in white, may, however, share in the reign of God.”

40.    See 1 Nephi 12:10, 11; Alma 5:21, 27; 13:11; 34:36; 3 Nephi 27:19; Ether 13:10. Alma 5:21–29 discusses the need for clean clothing, how one becomes clean, and the necessity of becoming naked first by stripping oneself of pride and envy.

41.    The five references are 1 Corinthians 15:53–54; Enos 1:27; Mosiah 16:10; Alma 40:2; and Mormon 6:21. Throughout Leviticus to put on is used to describe the act of the priestly dressing.

42.    An intriguing study on the early Christian association of Christ with clothing can be seen in Ewa Kuryluk, Veronica and Her Cloth: History, Symbolism and Structure of a “True” Image (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991), where she explores the role of cloth imprinted with the images of Christ in early Christian belief.

43.    “Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, . . . bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another . . . and above all these things, put on charity” (Colossians 3:12–14). The association of the Holy Ghost with clothing is found elsewhere. In Judges 6:34, the Hebrew reads, “The Spirit clothed Gideon.” For more on the divine influence as clothing, see Nahum M. Waldman, “The Imagery of Clothing, Covering, and Overpowering,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 19 (1989): 161–70. See also Yochanan Muffs, “As a Cloak Clings to Its Owner: Aspects of Divine-Human Reciprocity,” in Love and Joy: Law, Language, and Religion in Ancient Israel (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1992), 49–60.

44.    In the Book of Mormon, Jacob tells us that the gate to eternal life is narrow and that “the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there; and there is none other way save it be by the gate” (2 Nephi 9:41).

45.    As such, Christ’s work, and even Christ himself, may be associated with liminality, as his ministry provides a time and space to work out our salvation. Alma understood the liminal nature of time-space created through the atonement when he stated in Alma 42:13 that only on conditions of repentance and this probationary state (elsewhere described as a preparatory state, a liminal description to be sure) could salvation come about. Thus Christ takes the negative liminality of the Garden of Eden and creates a new, positive liminality, our time-space, in terms of our eternal destiny.

46.    This specific stripping had another powerful connotation that would have been recognized by Jewish readers. According to Exodus 22:26–27, a person’s clothing, if taken in a pledge, is to be returned to that person by evening: “If thou at all take thy neighbor’s raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by [the time] the sun goeth down: for that is his covering only.” In other words, to avoid the individual’s nakedness the clothing has to be given back that day, unlike his land or other possessions, which may kept longer. Thus Christ is stripped of the only possession that a man can truly keep at all times. He is utterly bereft.

47.    Gerald G. O’Collins, “Crucifixion,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1208–9: “The victims carried the cross or at least a transverse beam (patibulum) to the place of the execution, where they were stripped and bound or nailed to the beam. . . . The Romans frequently employed the sadistically cruel and utterly shameful death by crucifixion to uphold civil authority and to preserve law. . . . In Palestine crucifixion was a public reminder of Jewish servitude to a foreign power. Hence Jesus’ cross was a sign of extreme ‘shame’ (Heb 12:2).” The same idea is found in 2 Nephi 9:18: “they who have endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it, they shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

48.    The common term used to designate a disciple in the New Testament is mathētēs; however, the only feminine form of the word (mathētria) appears in Acts 9:36. While some have questioned the exact relationship between the widows and Tabitha’s clothing, Fitzmyer points out that the verb used to describe the widows showing Peter the clothing (epideiknymenai) means “to show oneself”–in other words, they showed themselves dressed in the robes she made for them. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Acts of the Apostles (New York: Doubleday, 1997), 445.

49.    Sebastian Brock, “Clothing Metaphors as a Means of Theological Expression in Syriac Tradition,” in Typus, Symbol, Allegorie bei den šstlichen VÅ tern und ihren Parallelen im Mittelalter, ed. Margot Schmidt (Regensburg: Pustet, 1982), 20: “We have already seen that the eschatological aspects of the ‘robe of glory’ obviate any idea of a purely cyclical process, in that the Endzeit is by no means a straight reflection of the Urzeit: the last state of Adam/mankind is to be far more glorious than his former state in the primordial Paradise, for, as Ephrem puts it, ‘The exalted One knew that Adam desired to become a God, so he sent his Son who put Adam on, to give him his desire.’ The Syriac Fathers, no less than the Greek, see the theōsis or divinization of man as the end purpose of the inhominization of God.”

50.    Jean A. Hamilton and Jana Hawley, “Sacred Dress, Public Worlds: Amish and Mormon Experiences and Commitment,” in Religion, Dress and the Body, ed. Linda B. Arthur (Oxford: Berg, 1999), 49–50: “A garment-wearing Mormon is not obvious to an observer. Hidden by street clothes, the benefits of wearing one’s garments, from the view of most members, are spiritual. However, as an unseen undergarment, they also facilitate the individual’s immersion in and influence on, the dominant social world. . . . This, in turn, facilitates their ability to influence it. . . . Their sacred dress serves to preserve their worldviews at the same [time] as it mediates being both in and of the public world” (emphasis in original).


Moses, Captain Moroni, and the Amalekites

Provo, Utah:
Maxwell Institute
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage and crossing of the Red Sea, another enemy, the Amalekites, attacked the camp on its pilgrimage to worship God at Sinai.1 Moses, in response to this cowardly act, directed Joshua to fight them. For his part, Moses would stand atop a nearby hill holding the rod of God. “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.” Moses, however, was tired and could not always keep his hands up, so “Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun” (Exodus 17:8–12, emphasis added), allowing Joshua and the men of Israel to prevail in the battle.

In the Book of Mormon, the narrative in Alma 43–44 evokes the biblical story of the Amalekites. The shared elements, likely more than mere coincidence, make for an interesting comparison.

Deuteronomy records that the Amalekite offensive was particularly heinous because the attackers “smote the hindmost of [Israel], even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and [the Amalekites] feared not God” (Deuteronomy 25:18). Like their biblical counterparts, the Amalekites in Alma’s narrative led massacres of unsuspecting people. In these attacks, the Amalekites and their supporters killed thousands of converted Lamanites in the land of Nephi. Because they refused to take up arms against their attackers (Alma 24:20–23; 27:2–3), the surviving converts migrated to the land of Jershon for safety, where Lamanites, led by Amalekites and Zoramites, unsuccessfully tried to repeat the earlier atrocities. Thwarted by Nephite armies, they went over to the land of Manti, “that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people” (Alma 43:19–24).

In both Exodus and the book of Alma, when the battle’s outcome was in doubt, the Lord, through his representative, encouraged his people and inspired them to victory. Whereas Aaron and Hur held up Moses’s arms so Israel could prevail over Amalek’s army (Exodus 17:11–12), when the Nephites were frightened by the ferocity of their enemies, “Moroni, perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts . . . and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage. And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power” (Alma 43:48–50). In an apparent allusion to the steadying of Moses’s arms, Captain Moroni credits “God, who has strengthened our arms” (44:5).

Additional elements in the Alma narrative may also evoke words and phrases from the Exodus account. The Israelites were attacked while camped at Rephidim, a word whose root (rpd) can mean “support, help, carry.”2 In his speech to the enemy commander Zarahemnah, Moroni emphasized that his people’s victory over their enemies was evidence of the Lord’s help: “Ye see that God will support ” the Nephites (Alma 44:4). He also speaks of “the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children” (v. 5). In Exodus, Amalek’s attack occurred after Israel had murmured for water, chided the Lord and Moses, and asked, “Is the Lord among us, or not? ” (Exodus 17:7). In the Book of Mormon, Moroni pointedly observes to his cornered enemies, “But now, ye behold that the Lord is with us ” (Alma 44:3), a phrase that evokes Israel’s deliverance from Amalek. Moreover, like the biblical Amalekites, the Amalekite- and Zoramite-led army in the Book of Mormon did not “fear God,” but attributed all the success of Moroni’s forces to their superior armor and cunning (Deuteronomy 25:18; Alma 44:9).

The word steady in Exodus 17:12 (“his hands were steady”) is rendered from the Hebrew ʾĕmûnâ, a word that most often refers to the moral quality of “faithfulness.”3 As if to hammer home to his apostate enemies that it was the Lord and not the Nephites’ own wisdom and weaponry that had delivered them, Moroni observes, “Ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith” (Alma 44:4).

When Israel prevailed in battle under Joshua, the Lord told them to remember what the Amalekites had done and also that “the Lord [would] have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:14, 16). Israel was eventually commanded to “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25:19). Similarly, Moroni threatened his Amalekite-led enemies with extinction if they did not surrender their murderous purpose (Alma 44:7). By evoking the biblical story of the Amalekite attack, to be remembered “from generation to generation,” Captain Moroni and Mormon, his admiring narrator, emphasized how the Lord did “great things” for their fathers (Book of Mormon title page).4 God supported and delivered them as long as they remained faithful, just as he had delivered the Israelites under Moses from their Amalekite enemies.

By Matthew Roper
Research Scholar


1. Benno Jacob, The Second Book of the Bible: Exodus (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1999), 489–90. Attacking worshippers on a pilgrimage was a particularly heinous crime in ancient Near Eastern culture.

2. William H. C. Propp, Exodus 1–18: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 604.

3. Nahum Sarna notes that this is the only passage in the Hebrew Bible in which ʾĕmûnâ is used in a physical sense. Usually it refers to moral quality, such as faithfulness. Nahum Sarna, Exodus: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 96.

4. Mormon likely named his own son after Captain Moroni.

A History of Mormon Catechisms

Kenneth L. Alford

Kenneth L. Alford is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.

When I first heard the term catechism as a young grade-school student, I had no idea what it meant. I later learned that the word comes from two ancient Greek words, kata, which means “down,” and echein, which means “to sound.” Literally, catechism means “to sound down (into the ears)”; in other words, a catechism is “instruction by word of mouth.”[1] Catechisms can take two different forms—either a series of questions and answers or simply a series of questions.[2] Catechisms are most frequently associated with religion, but they have also been used for centuries in a variety of scientific, political, military, and other fields.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism observes that “conspicuously absent from LDS language  . . . are many terms of other Christian cultures, such as ‘abbot,’ ‘archbishop,’ ‘beatification,’ ‘cardinal,’ ‘catechism,’ ‘creed,’ ‘diocese.’”[3] However, the word catechism was actually used frequently by Latter-day Saints during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Imagine that President Thomas S. Monson were called to Washington DC and asked to testify before a Senate committee regarding whether the Church uses catechisms. Strange as this may seem today, that situation actually occurred in the first decade of the twentieth century. President Joseph F. Smith traveled to Washington DC and testified in hearings before the United States Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections to determine if Reed Smoot, one of the Twelve Apostles and the senator-elect from Utah, should be seated in the Senate. One of the questions he was asked by Senator Lee S. Overman, a first-term senator from North Carolina, was, “Do you have catechisms for the children?” President Smith answered, “Yes, sir.” The hearing transcript reveals that the next several questions from Senator Overman addressed the Church’s use and understanding of catechisms.[4]

A Christian Catechistic Tradition

A rich Christian catechistic tradition stretches back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians developed and encouraged the use of catechisms. Catechisms also played an important role during the establishment of the American colonies.

Puritan and Pilgrim alike in the early days in New England had family religious instruction through catechism, questions and answers. . . . One of the earliest catechisms among the Puritans and Pilgrims was that by John Cotton, . . . issued in London in 1646. Cotton Mather call[ed] it, “The Catechism of New England,” and fifty years after its issue [said], ‘The children of New-England are to this day most usually fed with this excellent catechism.’ It contained sixty questions and answers which became familiar as household words in New England, and it was made a part of the famous New England Primer in the next century, thus continuing its popularity for more than a hundred years.[5]

Religious catechisms were especially popular in the nineteenth century among a variety of American Christian denominations, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Methodists.[6] There were also numerous nondenominational Christian catechisms published. Catechism societies—groups whose members met for the purpose of reciting religious catechisms—were organized across the United States. For example, the preface to A Short Biblical Catechism, published in Boston in 1816, briefly outlines how the catechism societies functioned. “At each meeting the members severally may answer the questions succeeding those which they answered at the previous meeting.”[7]

Catechisms also figured prominently in much of popular nineteenth-century literature. Books such as Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë), Walden (Henry David Thoreau), Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe), Les Misérables (Victor Hugo), The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne), and Hard Times (Charles Dickens) all included references to catechisms.[8]

A Latter-day Saint Catechistic Tradition

It should not be surprising that early converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often brought with them a catechistic background. Commenting on his Anglican and Methodist childhood, President John Taylor said, “I learned and said my prayers; was taught the catechism; knew the litany and a great many of the church prayers by rote; repeated week after week.”[9] President Wilford Woodruff explained that when he was a child, “I dared no more go out to play on a Sunday than I dared put my hand in the fire. It would have been considered an unpardonable sin. We could not attend a ball and dance; we did not dare attend a theatre, and from Saturday night, at sundown, to Monday morning, we must not laugh or smile, but we must study our catechism.”[10]

Truths taught to children through catechisms often made a lasting impression upon their lives. As Elder George A. Smith noted in 1855, “It may be said of me that I never knew anything else but ‘Mormonism,’ yet I have found that some of the traditions of my early education (as I was piously educated at the Sunday school in the doctrine and principles of Presbyterianism)—some of these principles which I received in my youth have clung to me so closely that I have had to stop at times and reflect whether I had learned that from the proper source, or whether it was part of my old catechism.”[11]

Thus catechisms were a familiar religious educational device to many early Latter-day Saint converts. It was a natural extension, therefore, for Latter-day Saints to create and use catechisms to teach the doctrines of the Restoration. The Lectures on Faith (until 1921 the doctrine portion of the Doctrine and Covenants) contain what may be the earliest examples of Latter-day Saint catechisms.[12] The first five lectures each end with a formal catechism that reiterates the key concepts, doctrines, and scriptural facts from the preceding lecture in a question-and-answer format. Many questions are doctrinal in nature. For example:

Q. Is faith anything else beside the principle of action?

A. It is.

Q. What is it?

A. It is the principle of power, also.

Q. How do you prove it?

A. First, It is the principle of power in the Deity, as well as in man. Heb. 11:3. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God.[13]

Some questions and answers are factual, including many that most gospel students today would probably consider to be gospel trivia.

Q. How many noted righteous men lived from Adam to Noah?

A. Nine; which includes Abel, who was slain by his brother.

Q. What are their names?

A. Abel, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methusalah, and Lamech.

Q. How old was Adam when Seth was born?

A. One hundred and thirty years. Gen. 5:3

Q. How many years did Adam live after Seth was born?

A. Eight hundred. Gen. 5:4.[14]

The two final lectures in the Lectures on Faith did not contain a catechism. A note to readers at the end of lecture six states, “This lecture is so plain and the facts set forth so self-evident that it is deemed unnecessary to form a catechism upon it: the student is, therefore, instructed to commit the whole to memory.”[15]

In 1835, Oliver Cowdery explained why catechisms were added to the Lectures on Faith. He suggested that “in giving the following lectures we have thought best to insert the catechism, that the reader may fully understand the manner in which this science was taught. It was found, that by annexing a catechism to the lectures as they were presented, the class made greater progress than otherwise; and in consequence of the additional scripture proofs, it was preserved in compiling.”[16]

The treatise “Of Governments and Laws in General,” authored by Oliver Cowdery and canonized as Doctrine and Covenants section 134, is written as a form of implicit catechism, with the individual questions missing and each of the answers beginning with either “We believe” or “We do not believe.” With the questions made explicit, it might look something like this:

  1. Q. Why were governments instituted?A. We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.
  2. Q. Do governments have the right to establish laws?A. We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious belief.[17]

The Articles of Faith, written by Joseph Smith in 1842, follow this same implicit catechistic format.

The Reformation

From 1856 to 1857, the Church, especially within the Utah Territory, enacted a religious “reformation” to help members return to fundamental doctrines and practices. Church members were often called to repentance by specially called missionaries who used a formalized set of questions that they regularly referred to as a catechism. There were several versions of reformation catechisms. Members were asked questions regarding their spiritual life, such as, “Do you pray in your family night and morning and attend to secret prayer? Do you pay your tithing promptly? Do you teach your family the gospel of salvation? Do you and your family attend Ward meetings? Have you lied about or maliciously misrepresented any person or thing? Have you borne false witness against your neighbor? Have you taken the name of the Deity in vain?”

They were also asked questions of a more legal nature: “Have you committed murder, by shedding innocent blood, or consenting thereto? Have you betrayed your brethren or sisters in anything? Have you committed adultery, by having any connection with a woman that was not your wife or a man that was not your husband? Have you coveted anything not your own? Have you taken and made use of property not your own, without the consent of the owner? Have you been intoxicated with strong drink?”

Some questions reflected living conditions in the mid-nineteenth century: “Do you wash your body and have your family do so as often as health and cleanliness require and circumstances will permit? Have you cut hay where you had no right to, or turned your animals into another person’s grain or field, without his knowledge and consent? Have you taken water to irrigate with, when it belonged to another person at the time you used it? Have you taken another’s horse or mule from the range and rode it without the owner’s consent? Have you branded an animal that you did not know to be your own?”[18]

Historian Paul Peterson noted, “The administration of the catechism was a particularly sensitive problem. It would appear that initially, at least in some instances, it was administered publicly, and the confession that followed was likewise public. Most often, however, teachers and home missionaries went to individual homes and catechized families as units. This naturally led to embarrassing moments.”[19]

Commenting on the reformation catechism in a letter to Elder Orson Pratt, President Brigham Young stated, “Those missionaries go from house to house, and examine every individual therein separately; and, as a consequence, we have had this people examining themselves minutely; much honest confession and restitution have been made. The catechism has been as a mirror to the Saints, reflecting themselves in truth.”[20]

Latter-day Saint Catechism Publications

Beginning in 1845, the Millennial Star, an influential Church publication in Great Britain, published a series of catechisms—“The Mormon Creed” by Orson Pratt (1845), “Questions and Answers” by Thomas Smith (1848), “The Child’s Ladder” by David Moffat (1849), and “Catechism for Children” by John Jaques (1853–54).[21] Jaques, who was baptized at age eighteen in England in 1845, published fourteen catechism chapters serially in the Millennial Star. In 1854, Jaques combined those chapters into a book, Catechism for Children, Exhibiting the Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which became the most famous Latter-day Saint catechism book.[22]

Jaques’s book was printed and reprinted for thirty-five years, including editions in Samoan, Danish, German, Swedish, Hawaiian, Dutch,[23] and the Deseret alphabet.[24]Catechism for Children is the first broadly distributed LDS children’s book. Its importance, however, goes beyond this bibliographical footnote: for by claiming to list the doctrines of Mormonism, it  . . . helped to standardize Mormon theology.”[25] By 1888, Jaques’s Catechism for Children was in its tenth printing and had sold over thirty-five thousand copies—almost one copy for every five members of the Church (equivalent to selling almost three million copies today). Sales were helped, no doubt, by comments such as Elder George A. Smith’s during the April 1872 general conference: “The catechism for children, exhibiting the prominent doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, should be in every family, school and Bible class.”[26]

The eighteen chapters in Jaques’s Catechism for Children covered a wide variety of gospel doctrines and topics—the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel, the Council in Heaven, the Fall, the Atonement, the Ten Commandments, the Word of Wisdom, the organization of the Church, the priesthood, and other subjects. Here is a sample from chapter 5 (“Person, Character and Attributes of God”):

  1. Q. What kind of a being is God?A. He is in the form of a man.
  2. Q. How do you learn this?A. The Scriptures declare that man was made in the image of God. Gen. i. 26, 27.

Repeat the passage.

And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. * * * So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female created he them.

  1. Q. Have you any further proof of God’s being in the form of man?A. Yes. Jesus Christ was in the form of man, and was at the same time in the image of God’s person. Heb. i. 3.[27]

The influence of Jaques’s Catechism for Children was widespread and long lasting. On August 18, 1901, Elder B. H. Roberts delivered a lecture to the Mutual Improvement Association conference. His discourse was published in the Deseret News and the Improvement Era, and a copy “fell into the hands of the Reverend C. Van Der Donckt, of Pocatello, Idaho, a priest of the Roman Catholic Church,”[28] who wrote a reply that was also published in the Improvement Era. Elder Roberts answered his reply, and the entire exchange was published in 1903 in Elder Roberts’s book The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: The Roberts–Van Der Donckt Discussion. The influence of Jaques’s book is shown by the fact that some of their debate centered on questions and answers from his book.[29] Roberts also quoted Jaques’s Catechism in his Seventy’s Course in Theology and Defense and the Faith of the Saints. [30] Furthermore, the first serious scriptural commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, written from 1913 to 1916 by Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, quoted John Jaques’s definition of the term dispensation in helping to expound on Doctrine and Covenants 27:13.[31]

Proliferation of Catechisms

The 1880s saw the height of Latter-day Saint catechism popularity. On Christmas Day in 1881, Eliza R. Snow wrote to Robert Welch, a Primary secretary who had earlier written to her, saying, “I am now devoting what time I can to a series of three books for the Primary Associations, especially for recitations. These books are very much needed, and I feel anxious to get them out as soon as possible.”[32] She had recently completed and published Bible Questions and Answers for Children, a book of questions and answers about both the Old and New Testaments. Her book begins with this catechism:

  1. Q. Who made this world?A. The Gods.
  2. Q. How long did it take to make the world all things in it?A. Six days.
  3. Q. At that time, how many years long was a day?A. One thousand.
  4. Q. What was the world called?A. The earth.
  5. Q. What was the great deep?A. Water.
  6. Q. What was on the face of the water?A. Darkness.[33]

Eliza R. Snow’s book of Bible catechisms is especially interesting because it included an explanatory note informing readers how her book of catechisms was to be used with students. She said, “This book is designed to assist those who have charge of the children. The president, or one whom she shall appoint, is expected to read a question, and another appointee read the answer, and all the children present repeat the answer in concert. As soon as the children can answer the questions the prompting may be dispensed with. One chapter, or part of a chapter, may be taken for a lesson, and be repeated week after week until it is well committed.”[34]

In the 1880s, the Deseret Sunday School Union published several catechism books. The first of these—Questions and Answers on the Life and Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith—was published in 1882.[35] It contained thirteen chapters that began with Joseph Smith’s birth and boyhood and ended with the Martyrdom. In 1886, Abraham H. Cannon, the son of Apostle George Q. Cannon and one of the seven Presidents of the Seventy, authored Questions and Answers on the Book of Mormon, which was “designed and prepared especially for the use of the Sunday Schools in Zion.”[36] In the preface, the publishers stated, “The importance of a careful study of writings so fraught with historical and religious truths as the volume translated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, cannot be overestimated. And our most earnest desire will be gratified if these questions and answers can but induce the young people of Zion to search with greater diligence for the valuable truths contained in the revelations of ancient and modern times, all of which are given the Latter-day Saints for their instruction.”[37] The catechism questions and answers begin with the background and history of the Book of Mormon:

  1. Q. What is the Book of Mormon?A. The sacred history of ancient America.
  2. Q. By whom was it written?A. A succession of ancient prophets who inhabited the continent.
  3. Q. On what was it written?A. On plates which had the appearance of gold.[38]

The first two chapters discuss the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the Three Witnesses, the Eight Witnesses, and even the Jaredites. The questions in chapter 3 start with 1 Nephi 1:

  1. Q. Whose writings are found in the first part of the Book of Mormon?A. Those of Nephi.
  2. Q. Who was his father?A. Lehi, who was a descendant of Manasseh, the son of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt.
  3. Q. How many brothers did he have older than himself, and what were their names?A. Three, Laman, Lemuel and Sam.[39]

The remaining chapters walk the reader through the remainder of the Book of Mormon, concluding with Moroni’s promise, his farewell, and Joseph Smith’s testimony:

  1. Q. How does Moroni say people can learn of the truth of the Book of Mormon?A. By asking God, with a sincere heart, in the name of Christ.
  2. Q. What is Moroni’s last exhortation to all people?A. To come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift.
  3. Q. What is the testimony of the Prophet Joseph concerning the Book of Mormon?A. “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”[40]

During the 1880s, the Juvenile Instructor published numerous catechisms[41] as well as a series of six “Motto Catechism Cards”small cardboard cards with catechisms of various gospel topics printed on them.[42] Card number one was about wisdom, number two about the knowledge of God, and so forth. Other catechism cards were published during the 1880s and 1890s by various Church organizations and private individuals.

Speaking during general conference in October 1899, Elder Francis M. Lyman stated, “With pleasure we refer to the value that the Juvenile Instructor . . . has been in aiding the great Sunday school work. . . . The publication in its columns of the catechisms on the Bible, Book of Mormon, Church History, etc. . . . have rendered it a necessity in our Sunday schools whose influence can scarcely be over-estimated.”[43]

In 1898, the Deseret Sunday School Union published The Latter-day Saints’ Sunday School Treatise. A section devoted to catechisms informed Sunday School teachers and officers that catechization was “the art of asking questions in accordance with the laws of the most rapid proportionate development and culture of the pupil.” Readers were informed that catechism questions should be “adapted to the capacity of the pupil. Questions should lead the pupil from the known to the unknown. From the concrete to the abstract. From the simple to the complex.” Catechisms could help teachers with “the correcting of errors. The drawing out of new ideas. The inculcation of the principles of the Gospel. The training in obedience to the will of God.”[44] The discussion of catechisms also included these fourteen “Rules of Catechization” to assist teachers in creating and using their own gospel-centered catechisms:

  1. See that every question and every answer is a complete sentence.
  2. Aim to have every question bear directly on the subject in hand.
  3. Be clear, concise and logical.
  4. Aim to never use more than three questions explanatory of the same point.
  5. Repeat no pupil’s answer habitually.
  6. Have no habitual expletives, as, for instance, “Just so,” “Right,” etc.
  7. Avoid direct questions, that is, such as can be answered by “Yes” or “No.”
  8. Ask more reflective than mere memorative questions.
  9. Be natural, avoiding all affectation.
  10. Avoid peculiarities in speech, gestures or voice.
  11. Do not place yourself at the mercy of your class by non-preparation or by unguarded questions.
  12. Prefer pupil’s own language to mere quotations, but encourage exact quotations of scriptural passages.
  13. Put the same question in several forms occasionally.
  14. Be pointed in your questions, so that they will admit of but one perfect answer.[45]

Sunday School teachers were informed that “pupils should feel as anxious to answer as the teacher to ask, and they should feel as free in asking questions.”[46]

The Influence of Catechisms

Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint catechisms had a large influence on members of the Church, including future Church presidents. For example, Joseph Fielding Smith said, “I remember that one thing I did from the time I learned to read and write was to study the gospel. I read and committed to memory the children’s catechism and primary books on the gospel.”[47] Future Church President Heber J. Grant “took advantage of the ward’s new school. In fact, the ambitious and assertive boy was often at front stage. Excelling at memorization, he quickly mastered the Articles of Faith; the first five pages of John Jaques’s Catechism; and Joseph Smith’s health revelation, the Word of Wisdom, a frequent Sunday School recitation.  . . . On one occasion, Heber pitted his declamatory skills against Ort [Orson F.] Whitney [and lost]  . . . But ‘Heber had another card up his sleeve,’ Orson Whitney recalled many years later. ‘He answered more questions from the Catechism than any other student in school, and won a prize equal to mine, which was the Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt.’”[48]

In an October 1874 session of general conference, Elder George A. Smith promised the young men of the Church “that if they will attend the Bible classes and study the catechism in use in our schools, and make themselves familiar with it, they will become so thoroughly informed in the principles of the Gospel and the evidences of it, that when called upon to go abroad to defend the doctrines of Zion they will be well prepared to do so.”[49]

Almost thirty years later, during the October 1903 general conference, Elder Reed Smoot approvingly noted, “Not later than last Wednesday, September 30, Chancellor McCracken of New York University, in his address to the student body, made the following statement: ‘I wish we could require from every freshman a Sunday school diploma that would certify that he knew by heart the ten commandments, the sermon on the mount, a church catechism of some kind, a score of scripture psalms and best classic hymns.’”[50]

The experience of Eli Peirce illustrates the effect that catechisms had on many members of the Church. On October 5, 1875, Peirce was working at the railroad office instead of attending general conference. He later explained:

One of my fellow employees was at the conference; I was not, because I did not care to be. He heard my name called [to serve as a full-time missionary], abruptly left the meeting and ran over to the telegraph office to call and tell me the startling news. This was the first intimation I had received that such a thing was contemplated. At the very moment this intelligence was being flashed over the wires, I was sitting lazily thrown back in an office rocking chair, my feet on the desk, reading a novel and simultaneously sucking an old Dutch pipe, of massive proportions, just to vary the monotony of cigar smoking.

As soon as I had been informed of what had taken place, I threw the novel in the waste basket, the pipe in a corner and started up town to buy a catechism. Have never read a novel nor smoked a pipe from that hour. Sent in my resignation the same day, to take effect at once, in order that I might have time for study and preparation.

Remarkable as it may seem, and has since appeared to me, a thought of disregarding the call, or of refusing to comply with the requirement, never once entered my mind.[51]

To Eli Peirce, purchasing and studying Latter-day Saint catechisms seemed to be closely linked with mission preparation and righteous living.

The Decline of Latter-day Saint Catechisms

Catechisms quickly faded from popular Latter-day Saint culture in the first decades of the twentieth century. Influential leaders such as Elder James E. Talmage spoke out against rote memorization, the favored method for teaching catechisms. He believed that religion “is more than knowledge, though that knowledge be classified and codified, and annotated to perfection. Religion is the application of the laws of God in our lives, the living up to all we have learned as to our duty, and it entails the obligation to so live until right life is a part of our natures and calls not for rule and rote at every turn.”[52]

Catechisms Today

Catechisms can still be found today in many forms and in many places. For example, hymn 11 in the current hymnbook, “What Was Witnessed in the Heavens?,” is a catechism.[53] The Primary children’s song “He Sent His Son,” by Mabel Jones Gabbott, is also in the form of a catechism:

How could the Father tell the world of love and tenderness?

He sent his Son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness.

How could the Father show the world the pathway we should go?

He sent his Son to walk with men on earth, that we may know.

How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice, of death?

He sent his Son to die for us and rise with living breath.

What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say?

Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way.

What does he ask?

Live like his Son.[54]

Primary children continue to memorize the Articles of Faith. The current missionary manual, Preach My Gospel, has several catechistic elements, as does the pamphlet For the Strength of Youth. In a manner reminiscent of the worthiness questions asked during the 1856–57 reformation, every two years, members of the Church who wish to receive or renew a temple recommend are asked to answer—not just once, but twice—a series of questions that Saints in the nineteenth century would have recognized as a catechism. Catechisms may have faded from the collective consciousness of Latter-day Saints, but they can still easily be found.


[1] Oxford English Dictionary, “catechism” and “catechesis.”

[2] The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th ed., “catechism.”

[3] Robert W. Blair, “Vocabulary, Latter-day Saint,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 4:1537; emphasis added.

[4] Testimony of Important Witnesses as Given in the Proceedings before the Committee on Privileges and Elections of the United States Senate in the Matter of the Protest Against the Right of Hon. Reed Smoot, a Senator from the State of Utah, to Hold His Seat (Salt Lake City: Salt Lake Tribune, 1905), 207.

[5] Edwin Wilbur Rice, The Sunday-School Movement 1780–1917 and the American Sunday-School Union, 1817–1917 (Philadelphia: American Sunday-School Union, 1917), 73.

[6] In the nineteenth century, catechisms were even produced for those who could not read. See Barbara H. Jaye and William P. Mitchell, eds., Picturing Faith: A Facsimile Edition of the Pictographic Quechua Catechism in the Huntington Free Library (Bronx, New York: Huntington Free Library, 1999); and A Catechism to Be Taught Orally to Those Who Cannot Read; Designed Especially for the Instruction of the Slaves (Raleigh: Office of “The Church Intelligencer,” 1862).

[7] Hervey Wilbur, A Short Biblical Catechism, Containing Questions, Historical, Doctrinal, Practical and Experimental (Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1816), v.

[8] See Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1924), 58. “The Sunday evening was spent in repeating, by heart, the Church Catechism, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of St. Matthew; and in listening to a long sermon, read by Miss Miller, whose irrepressible yawns attested her weariness.” See also Henry David Thoreau in Walden and Other Writings of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Brooks Atkinson (New York: The Modern Library, 1992), 8. Thoreau introduced one of his arguments with an appeal to catechisms: “When we consider what, to use the words of the catechism, is the chief end of man, and what are the true necessaries and means of life, it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other.”

[9] Dean C. Jessee, “The John Taylor Nauvoo Journal,” BYU Studies 23, no. 3 (Summer 1983): 2.

[10] The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, ed. G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969), 181.

[11] George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–1886), 2:361.

[12] Doctrine and Covenants section 77, received by Joseph Smith Jr. in March 1832 at Hiram, Ohio, is in the form of questions and answers about the book of Revelation, but there do not appear to be any indications that it was used as a catechism for educational purposes.

[13] Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints: Carefully Selected from the Revelations of God (Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams, 1835), 10.

[14] Doctrine and Covenants (1835), 28.

[15] Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 71.

[16] Oliver Cowdery, Messenger and Advocate, May 1835, 122.

[17] See Doctrine and Covenants 134:1–2.

[18] Paul H. Peterson, “The Mormon Reformation” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1981), 75–76.

[19] Paul Peterson, “The Mormon Reformation of 1856–1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” Journal of Mormon History 15 (1989): 72.

[20] Brigham Young to Orson Pratt, January 31, 1857, in Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, comp. Preston Nibley, 4th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1936), 269.

[21] Davis Bitton, “Mormon Catechisms,” Task Papers in LDS History, no. 15 (Salt Lake City: Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1976), 4–7.

[22] John Jaques, Catechism for Children, Exhibiting the Prominent Doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (London: F. D. Richards, 1854).

[23] Bitton, “Mormon Catechisms,” 8.

[24] Deseret Alphabet Manuscripts, ca. 1869, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.

[25] Peter Crawley and Chad J. Flake, A Mormon Fifty: An Exhibition in the Harold B. Lee Library in Conjunction with the Annual Conference of the Mormon History Association (Provo, UT: Friends of the Brigham Young University Library, 1984), 32.

[26] George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 14:376.

[27] Jaques, Catechism for Children, 15.

[28] B. H. Roberts, The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: The Roberts-Van Der Donckt Discussion (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1903), vi.

[29] See Roberts, Mormon Doctrine of Deity, 87–89.

[30] See B. H. Roberts, The Seventy’s Course in Theology, Second Year: Outline History of the Dispensations of the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1907), 11; Defense of the Faith and the Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1912), 2:266.

[31] Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, The Doctrine and Covenants: Containing Revelations Given to Joseph Smith, Jr., the Prophet, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 136.

[32] Eliza R. Snow to Robert Welch, December 25, 1881, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.

[33] Eliza R. Snow, Bible Questions and Answers for Children, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1883), 10.

[34] Snow, Bible Questions and Answers, explanatory note.

[35] Deseret Sunday School Union, Questions and Answers on the Life and Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882).

[36] A. H. Cannon, Questions and Answers on the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1886).

[37] Cannon, Questions and Answers, preface.

[38] Cannon, Questions and Answers, 9.

[39] Cannon, Questions and Answers, 15–16.

[40] Cannon, Questions and Answers, 62.

[41] See “Questions and Answers on the Bible” and “Questions and Answers on the Book of Mormon,” Juvenile Instructor, May 15, 1875, 116.

[42] “Motto Catechism Cards,” Juvenile Instructor, Church History Library.

[43] Francis M. Lyman, in Conference Report, October 1899, 79–80.

[44] The Deseret Sunday School Union, The Latter-day Saints’ Sunday School Treatise, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1898), 110.

[45] The Deseret Sunday School Union, Latter-day Saints’ Sunday School Treatise, 111.

[46] The Deseret Sunday School Union, The Latter-day Saints’ Sunday School Treatise, 110.

[47] Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1963), 4:vi.

[48] Ronald W. Walker, “Young Heber’s Years of Passage,” BYU Studies 43, no. 1 (2004): 43.

[49] George A. Smith, in Journal of Discourses, 17:257.

[50] Reed Smoot, in Conference Report, October 1903, 61.

[51] Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1884), 408, 415. Eli left for his mission on November 1, 1875. He served in the Pennsylvania area for ten months, baptized fifty-six people, and organized three branches.

[52] James E. Talmage, in Conference Report, April 1905, 78.

[53] John S. Davis, “What Was Witnessed in the Heavens?,” Hymns (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 11.

[54] Mabel Jones Gabbott, “He Sent His Son,” Children’s Songbook (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2000), 34–35; emphasis added.

Jews of India

India has a legacy of three distinct ancient Jewish groups: the Bene Israel, the Cochin Jews, also called the Malabar Jews, and the White Jews from Europe. Each group practiced important elements of Judaism and had active synagogues. The Sephardic rites predominate among Indian Jews. More recent Jewish immigration to India includes the Baghdadi Jews, Bnei Menashe, and Bene Ephraim.Jewish merchants from Europe traveled to India in the medieval period for purposes of trade, but it is not clear whether they formed permanent settlements in south Asia. Our first reliable evidence of Jews living in India comes from the early 11th century. It is certain that the first Jewish settlements were centered along the western coast. Abraham ibn Daud’s 12th century reference to Jews of India is unfortunately vague and we do not have further references to Indian Jews until several centuries later.Migrations in the 16th and 17th centuries created important settlements of Jews from Persia, Afghanistan and Characin (Central Asia) in northern India and Kashmir. By the late 18th century, Bombay became the largest Jewish community in India. Bene Israel Jews lived in Bombay, as did Iraqi and Persian Jews.Bene Israel JewsThe Bene Israel (“Sons of Israel”) lived primarily in the cities of Bombay (now Mumbai), Pune, Karachi (now in Pakistan), and Ahmadabad. The native language of the Bene Israel was Judeo-Marathi. They arrived in India nearly 2,100 years ago after a shipwreck stranded seven Jewish families from Judea at Navagaon near Alibag, just south of Mumbai.

Bene Israel Synagogue

The Bene Israel claim to be descended from Jews who escaped persecution in the Galilee in the 2nd century B.C.E. The Bene Israel resembled the non-Jewish Maratha people in appearance and customs, which indicates intermarriage between Jews and Indians. The Bene Israel, however, maintained the practices of Jewish dietary laws, circumcision, and observation of Sabbath as a day of rest.The Bene Israel say their ancestors were oil pressers in the Galilee and earned the nickname “Saturday oil-pressers” because they abstained from work on Saturday, which is the Jewish Shabbat, a day of rest. In the 18th century, they were “discovered” by traders from Baghdad. At that time, the Bene Israel were practicing just a few outward forms of Judaism (which is how they were recognized), but had no scholars of their own. Teachers from Baghdad and Cochin taught them mainstream Judaism in the 18th and 19th centuries.In the 1830s, there was an estimated 6,000 Bene Israeli Jews living in India, and nearly 10,000 at the turn of the century. At their peak in 1948, the Bene Israel numbered 20,000. Since then, most of the Bene Israel Jews have migrated to Israel, and under 5,000 remain today.

Bene Israel

In 1964, the Rabbinate of Israel declared that the Bene Israel are “full Jews in every respect.”The Bene Israel community claimed to be descendents of the Kohanim, the ancient Israelite priests, which claims descent from Aaron, the brother of Moses. In 2002, a DNA test confimed that the Bene Israel share the same heredity as the Kohanim.Jews of CochinThe first Jews to come to India were the Jews in Cochin in southern India (today, its the port city of Kochi) were the so-called “Black Jews,” who traditionally spoke the Judeo-Malayalam tongue, native to the state of Kerala. Some say that these “Black Jews” settled in the Malabar coast during the times of King Solomon of Israel, and after the Kingdom of Israel split into two. The Pardesi Jews, also called the “White Jews” settled later, coming to India from western European nations such as Holland and Spain, and spoke the ancient Sephardic language of Ladino. A notable settlement of Spanish and Portuguese Jews starting in the 15th century was Goa, but this settlement eventually disappeared. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Cochin had an influx of Jewish settlers from the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain.

Pardesi Synagogue Cochin

The Jews of Cochin traditionally say that they came to Cranganore (an ancient port near Cochin in south-west India) after the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. They had, in effect, their own principality for many centuries until a chieftainship dispute broke out between two brothers in the 15th century. The dispute led neighboring princes to dispossess them. In 1524, the Moors, backed by the ruler of Calicut (today called Kozhikode) attacked the Jews of Cranganore on the pretext that they were tampering with the pepper trade. Most Jews fled to Cochin and went under the protection of the Hindu Raja there. He granted them a site for their own town that later acquired the name “Jew Town” (by which it is still known).Unfortunately for the Jews of Cochin, the Portuguese occupied Cochin in this same period and indulged in persecution of the Jews until the Dutch displaced them in 1660. The Dutch Protestants were tolerant, and the Jews prospered. In 1795, Cochin passed into the British sphere of influence. In the 19th century, Cochin Jews lived in the towns of Cochin, Ernakulam, Aluva, and North Paravur.Most of Cochin’s Jews have emigrated (principally to Israel), intermarried, or converted, and now there are believed to be only 13 elderly Indian-born Jews, from seven families, still living in Kochi. There are currently 53 practicing Cochin Jews in Kerala, along with three synagogues. The Pardesi Synagogue in Kochi, built in 1568, is the only one still open and is a protected heritage site. Many fear that the Jews of Cochin will soon wither away.

Cochin Jew Cochin Cemetery
Photo taken on Jew Town Road, Cochin across from Pardesi Synagogue.
Notice the Rabbi Nachman stickers on the motorbike.
Jewish cemetery in Cochin

Jews of CalcuttaNear the end of the 18th century, a third group of Indian Jews appeared. They are the middle-eastern Jews who came to India through trade. They established a trading network stretching from Aleppo to Baghdad to Basra to Surat/Bombay to Calcutta to Rangoon to Singapore to Hong Kong and eventually as far as Kobe, Japan. There were strong family bonds amongst the traders in all these places.Typical is the founder of the Calcutta community, Shalom Aharon Ovadiah HaCohen. He was born in Aleppo in 1762 and left in 1789. He arrived in Surat in 1792 and established himself there. He traded as far as Zanzibar. In 1798 he moved to Calcutta. In 1805 he was joined by his nephew, Moses Simon Duek HaCohen, who married his eldest daughter Lunah. Soon the community was swelled by other traders and Baghdadis outnumbered those from Aleppo.

Calcutta Synagogue
Beth El Synagogue Calcutta

Under British rule, the Jews of India achieved their maximum population and wealth, and the Calcutta community continued to grow and prosper and trade amongst all the cities of the Far East and to the rest of the world. The Indians were very tolerant and the Jews of Calcutta felt completely at home. Their numbers reached a peak of about 5,000 during World War II when they were swelled by refugees fleeing the Japanese advance into Burma.The first generations of Calcutta Jews spoke Judeo-Arabic at home, but by the 1890s English was the language of choice. After WWII, the rise of Indian nationalism made Jews feel less comfortable because they were identified with the English by the Indians. India’s Jewish population declined dramatically starting in the 1940s with heavy immigration to Israel, England and the United States. This is where most Indian Jews live today.The Jews of Calcutta now number about 2,150, of whom 150 are European and the remainder natives of Asiatic Turkey, Persia, and southern Arabia.Baghdadi JewsThe Baghdadi Jewish community, so-called because they are descents of Iraqi Jewish immigrants who came to that country during the British Raj, not only includes Jews from the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad, but from other areas of Iraq, as well as Jews from Syrian, Yemenite, Persian, and Turkish origin. The community developed as a result of Jews fleeing religious persecution in Muslim lands to the northwest of India during the British imperial era. Unlike other Jewish communities in India whose oral tradition attest to a presence in India going back as long as 2000 years, the Baghdadi communities were established relatively recently (in the past few centuries).The Baghdadis have completely assimilated into Indian society. A contributing factor for their assimilation was their physical features and resemblance to the East Indians. The Baghdadis originally came to India from Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan, so they had dark olive skin and black, dark brown hair, that gave them that distinct Middle Eastern appearance and an Indian resemblance.Bnei MenasheThe Bnei Menashe community consists of close to 9,000 members of the Chin-Kuki-Mizo tribe, which lives in the northeast Indian states of Manipur and Mizoram, near the border of Myanmar (formally Burma). Linguistically, they are Tibeto-Burmans. For generations they kept Jewish traditions, claiming to be descended from the Tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel that were exiled by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C.E. and have since disappeared.In the 19th century, the tribe’s members were converted to Christianity, but in the 1970s, some of the community began practicing Judaism again and set themselves apart from the rest of the tribe, after Pentecostalist called Chalianthanga or Mela Chala (the name varies) from the Buallawn village dreamt that God instructed him to direct his people to return to their pre-Christian religion, which he determined to be Judaism, and to return to their original homeland, Israel.

Flag of Bnei Menashe

The group was named Bnei Menashe by Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail, who heard about the tribe in 1979 and traveled to their village in India several times in the 1980s, because they believe that the legendary Kuki-Mizo ancestor Manmasi is one and the same with Menassah, son of Joseph. Rabbi Avichail’s organization, called Amishav (Hebrew for “my people return”) dedicated himself to converting the Bnei Menashe in the Orthodox tradition, and eventually bring them to settle in Israel.In July 2005, the Bnei Menashe community built their first mikvah, or a Jewish ritual bath, in Mizoram under the supervision of Israeli rabbis in order to begin the conversion process. Shortly after, a similar mikvah was built in Manipur. In mid-2005, with the help of Shavei Israel, an organization founded by Avichail’s friend, journalist Michael Fruend, and the local council of Kiryat Arba, the Bnei Menashe opened its first community center in Israel.In March 2005, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, one of Israel’s two chief rabbis, decided to recognize the members of India’s Bnei Menashe community as descendants of the ancient Israelites due to their exceptional devotion to Judaism. In the past two decades, some 1,700 Bnei Menashe have emigrated to Israel.Indian religious figures in the Mizo-Kuki churches in Mizoram, as well as Indian government officials, later expressed concern about the plan to convert the Bnei Menashe and bring them to Israel so the effort was since suspended, although members of Bnei Menashe continued to arrive in Israel in 2006 and 2007.Bene EphraimThe Bene Ephraim (in Hebrew, “Sons of Ephraim“) are a small group of Jews, sometimes called the Telugu Jews because they speak Telugu, a Dravidian national language of India, who reside in the south-eastern province of Andhra Pradesh, whose recorded observance of Judaism, like that of the Bnei Menashe, is quite recent, going back only to 1981. In the 19th century, the Bene Ephraim were converted to Christianity by Baptist missionaries.Since 1981, about fifty families around Kottareddipalem and Ongole (capital of the nearby district of Prakasham) have begun to study and teach Torah, learn Hebrew, and sought recognition from other Jewish communities around the world. The community has been visited over the years by several groups of rabbis, who have thus far not seen fit to extend the same recognition to this community as that recently extended to the Bnei Menashe.In 1992, the first Bene Ephraim synagogue opened in Kottareddipalem, called The House of the Children of Yakob, founded by former Christian preacher Shmuel Yakobi, who first encountered Judaism in the 1980’s on a trip to Jerusalem. Yakobi also founded an independent open university offering correspondence courses in Torah and Hebraic Studies, calling the community the Council of Eastern Jewry.

The Jewish Virtual Library  c 2013 by The American-Israeli Cooperative EnterpriseSources: Shamash; Jerusalem Post, (November 9, 2005)
Wikipedia, “History of the Jews in India”
Francisco, Jason L., “Meet the Telugu Jews of India”
Jewish Encyclopedia, “Calutta Jews”
Wax, Emily. “In India, a Jewish Outpost Slowly Withers.” The Washington Post, August 27, 2007.
Calcutta synagogue photo courtesy of HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library (Jono David Media)
All other photos courtesy of Karen Schapiro and Wikipedia

Synagogues in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon mentions synagogues in twenty-five passages. An important resource that may help us understand what the Book of Mormon means by the word synagogue is the body of research on biblical synagogues. This is especially true of research related to the years prior to the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, which began in 586 BC, since this is the time period when Lehi left Jerusalem; we would expect, therefore, that the nature of biblical synagogues before the captivity would have greatly influenced the concept of the synagogue that Lehi and his family took with them to the New World.

Synagogues of the Biblical Era

Over the past two decades archaeologists have unearthed a number of synagogues. These discoveries have led Eric M. Meyers to write, “One might characterize the state of synagogue studies as being in flux. New material has created a healthy climate of reconsideration and reevaluation.”1

What we know about the history of biblical synagogues divides into the following time periods:

  1. the centuries just before Lehi and the Babylonian captivity of the Jews from Jerusalem at about 586 BC,
  2. the time of the return of the Jews from captivity to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple under Ezra and Nehemiah some 70 years later,
  3. the third and second centuries BC, and
  4. the first century BC and the first century AD

Before Lehi and the Babylonian Captivity
One aspect of our understanding of biblical synagogues that has been reevaluated in the light of new research is the view that synagogues did not exist until after the Babylonian captivity. Lee I. Levine, a leading scholar on the history of the synagogue, has suggested that synagogues did exist before the Babylonian captivity in the form of chambers in the city gates.2 Such gates have been excavated by archaeologists at such important Old Testament sites as Beersheba,3 Gezer,4 Lachish,5 and Megiddo.6 Each of these has

  1. at least one chamber (which is nearly square) lined with stone benches around the interior walls (the benched chamber at Lachish has two tiers of benches),
  2. a single doorway, and
  3. where there is enough of the original wall left to determine it, a niche. I suggest that these niches were used for storing special ritual items, perhaps even sacred scrolls.

Floor plan of the Meroth synagogue (late fourth or early fifth century AD). Courtesy Biblical Archaeology Society.

Levine concludes that since later synagogues closely mirror the architecture of the gate chambers, these chambers may well have been the original synagogues. This conclusion is supported by a number of biblical passages that indicate that the city gate and its vicinity were the hub of a community’s life. The gate area served as

  1. the market place (see 2 Kings 7:1),
  2. the general court (see Genesis 23:10, 18; Deuteronomy 17:5, 21:19 and 22:24; Ruth 4:1– 12; Jeremiah 38:7; Daniel 2:48– 49; and Esther 5:9, 13; 6:10),
  3. the royal court (see 2 Samuel 18:4 and 19:8; and 1 Kings 22:10, which equals 2 Chronicles 18:9), and
  4. a place of worship (see 2 Kings 23:8 and Nehemiah 8:1).7

Support for Levine’s conclusion is also found in the Old Testament terminology for worship service. Several Old Testament writers (see Hosea 2:11; Jeremiah in Lamentations 2:6; Ezekiel 44:24) link Sabbath worship with the Hebrew word mo‘ed which means “assembly, meeting.”

If Levine is correct, then, before the captivity, a town’s or city’s social activities centered around the city gate, and it seems reasonable that these social activities included Sabbath worship in a chamber of the gate that resembled later synagogues and functioned similarly.

The Return under Ezra and Nehemiah
The Babylonian captivity was a time of crisis for the Jewish people, chiefly because the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. But the captives knew the prophecies of Jeremiah wherein they were promised that they would return to Jerusalem in seventy years (see Jeremiah 29:10). At the end of that period, Jews did return under Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. Concerning this time, we find two pieces of information that may help us to understand the nature and function of synagogues. The first is a note written in Hebrew in the sixth century BC on a broken piece of pottery (an ostracon). On one side is a list of four names and on the other are the words “house of assembly at Jerusalem.”8 House of assembly is a Hebrew term for synagogue.

The second is a reference in Nehemiah 8:1– 12 to people assembling at a city gate. The walls of Jerusalem in this time were thin and the gates were simply openings in the wall, without chambers. As a result the assembly “gathered . . . into the street that was before the water gate.” To this assembly, Ezra read the Law of Moses from the top of a wooden platform, and the Levites helped the people understand what was read. Next, Ezra blessed the Lord in prayer and the people raised their hands saying, “Amen, Amen.” The reference does not specify that this was a Sabbath service, but what occurs in this passage is close to what went on later in Sabbath synagogue worship.

The Third and Second Centuries BC
The apocryphal record 1 Maccabees tells us that synagogues were used at this time for public reading from the Law of Moses (see 1 Maccabees 3:48). Ben Sira says: “Draw near to me, you who need instruction, and lodge in my house of learning” (Ben Sira 51:23). If “house of learning” refers to a synagogue, and it appears to, then “lodge” indicates that the synagogue functioned as a hostel as well as a place for study. In Egypt, Jewish centers were referred to not only as synagogues but also as “places of prayer.” Thus prayer was an additional function of these locations. From descriptions in texts from Egypt, we learn further that people donated doors, pillars, and special seats (thought to represent the Seat of Moses) to structures at these locations9 that had long-standing leaders10 and consumed large volumes of water.11 Water was likely provided for the comfort of visitors in hostels and for ritual washings, which in later Judaism preferred a constant flow of fresh water.12

The First Century BC and the First Century AD
The next era brings us to the time just before and during the New Testament. Synagogues from this period have been excavated on Delos (a Greek island),13 and at Gamla,14 Capernaum,15 Herodium, and Masada.16 These discoveries lead us to conclude that synagogues of this period tended to

  1. be nearly square,
  2. be a part of the city wall,
  3. feature one or more tiers of stone benches around the interior,
  4. include a niche in the wall for storing sacred scrolls,
  5. feature a platform (or podium) raised about a foot high in the center of the room,
  6. possess one doorway, and
  7. include pillars to support the roof.

As noted above, because of the similarities between these structures and the form of the precaptivity city-gate chambers, Levine argues that the design of the chambers is mirrored in these later synagogues. Unfortunately, this is a leap of five centuries in time. To accept his proposal fully, it would now be desirable to discover synagogue structures scattered through those centuries to confirm a continuous tradition. There are at least two that appear to do so. The key will be to identify synagogues earlier than the one at Gamla, which lies east of the Sea of Galilee and was built about 65 BC

A recent discovery has revealed a synagogue in the Hasmonean winter palace near Jericho. The date of its construction was around 70 BC There is also a second discovery. Roland de Vaux, who excavated Qumran near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, suggested that two of the rooms at Qumran (built around 140 BC) were for assemblies.17 One room (location 4) is nearly square, includes stone benches around the interior, and features two “recessed cupboards” or niches in one wall. With these discoveries, the gap between city-gate chambers and later synagogues is narrowed to about four centuries. But it remains large.

For the latest time frame (first centuries BC and AD) two sources help us understand what occurs at a synagogue: the New Testament, and a stone inscribed in Greek that was found at Jerusalem. These sources tell us that synagogues of this time were used for

  1. Sabbath worship, which included “reading the law and the prophets” followed by a discussion of the reading (see Luke 4:14– 21; Acts 13:14– 16),
  2. a school for study,
  3. hostels for “itinerants” including water for their comfort,
  4. judicial actions (see Matthew 10:17; Luke 12:11; 21:12), and
  5. leaders of long standing.18

In AD 70 Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. After this destruction, the synagogue became the primary religious and social institution in Judaism and took on new functions. The sacrifices previously performed at the temple were replaced by prayers in each local synagogue.

Table 1 summarizes the information from the above discussion. Unfortunately, some Bible scholars have tended to mix evidence and speculation and have failed to keep up-to-date with new research.19 For the sake of clarity, any speculation on my part is followed by a question mark in the table.

To conclude this section on biblical synagogues, the local center of Jewish life before the Babylonian captivity was the area of the city gate. It has been plausibly argued that community assembly for worship also occurred at the city gate, and after the Babylonian captivity this concept of a local center continued on in the form of synagogues. However, some of the functions carried out earlier at the gate area, such as royal courts and markets, were now moved elsewhere. Later worship centers took on new functions, such as that of a hostel. It appears that when Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem shortly after 600 BC they would have taken with them the older, preexilic concept of a synagogue according to which it served as a social center for each community where certain religious activities were also carried out.

What Is the Nature and History of Synagogues in the New World?

We turn now to a consideration of the term synagogue and related terms found in the Book of Mormon. Like the Bible, the Book of Mormon mentions synagogues only in passing, since the purpose of each record is not to give cultural details but to encourage righteous living.

The Meaning of Synagogues among Lehi’s Descendants
As mentioned earlier, the term synagogue (including the plural) occurs twenty-five times in the Book of Mormon. The first is found in a sermon by Nephi: “Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay” (2 Nephi 26:26).

This verse appears in Nephi’s long sermon (see 2 Nephi 25– 32), which was prompted by reading Isaiah 2 –14 as found in 2 Nephi 12 –24. In this section, Nephi prophesies about the future as far as the last days. In verse 23 he shifts the time frame from the future to the present and assures readers about what Christ does in any age (see 2 Nephi 26:23). One thing the Lord does not do, Nephi says, is order people out of synagogues. The additional words “or out of the houses of worship” are revealing. They appear to be an appositive, which helps to define the term synagogues and reemphasizes what the Lord does not do. The expression also suggests that synagogues are structures (houses) and that one function of a synagogue is worship.20 Furthermore, closely connected to the concept that synagogues may have been buildings are prepositional phrases such as out of and into with reference to synagogues.

A structural feature of the apostate Zoramites’ synagogue was the Rameumptom, a raised platform with room for only one person at a time to stand and recite a fixed prayer (see Alma 31:12 –14 and 21). As noted above, the first century BC and AD Jewish synagogues had a slightly elevated podium in the center. However, the earlier gate-chambers with benches did not have raised platforms. Furthermore, Alma and his companions were surprised by the Zoramite arrangement. This suggests that the Rameumptom was a Zoramite innovation differing from the normal Nephite pattern.

Most Bible scholars have supposed that synagogues did not come into existence until the Babylonian captivity, after Lehi had left Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed.21 We might then wonder whether synagogues could have arisen separately as a parallel development in the New World. But the passage at 2 Nephi 26:26 is only a few decades from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem. Hence it appears that he and his family brought the already existing concept with them to America. That would have been the case, of course, if Levine’s theory of the gate-chamber origin of the synagogue is correct.

Second Nephi 26:26 suggests that synagogues were used for worship in Nephi’s day. This raises the question: How did Nephites worship? A number of later passages describe visitors preaching and teaching in synagogues (see Alma 16:13; 21:4, 5, 16; 26:29; 32:1; Moroni 7:1). Public discussions of scripture topics in the synagogues were evidently a part of that teaching and preaching (see Alma 21:5, 11). Prayer apparently is also a part of the worship, for in Alma 31:12 –14 Alma’s astonished reaction was to the form of the Zoramite prayers, not to the fact that they offered prayers in their synagogues. This passage also suggests that synagogue worship was held on only one day of the week and that people had the misconception that God could be worshiped only on that day and only in a synagogue (see Alma 32:2, 5, 9, 10, 12; 33:2). Other aberrant synagogue worship practices are mentioned in a sermon given by Jesus in 3 Nephi wherein he denounced public almsgiving and loud praying both in synagogues and in the streets (see 3 Nephi 13:2, 5).

The Book of Mormon identifies several groups who built synagogues. First of all, there were the true followers of the Law of Moses (see 2 Nephi 26:26; Alma 16:13) including Nephite Christians (see Moroni 7:1). Also, at the request of King Lamoni, Lamanites built synagogues (see Alma 21:20; 23:2). Moreover, we find that apostate groups such as the Amalekites, Amulonites, and Zoramites built synagogues (see Alma 21:4, 5; 31:12).

In several passages, synagogues appear in a list of locations where missionaries met with and preached to people. I believe that these lists help to put synagogues and their worship into perspective: “And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them” (Alma 26:29). “And it came to pass that they did go forth, and began to preach the word of God unto the people, entering into their synagogues, and into their houses; yea, and even they did preach the word in their streets” (Alma 32:1).

In these two passages the word houses suggests that missionaries taught people in their private residences. On the other hand, streets and hills suggest that they met people in public places. Next, places of worship, temples and synagogues, are juxtaposed with each other. According to the Law of Moses a person went to a temple to offer sacrifices for special occasions such as the birth of a child or a holy day. In contrast, a person went to a synagogue for instruction and prayer on a weekly basis.

A related term in the Book of Mormon is church. When we use this term in modern English, we may be referring to a building (“the church down the street”) or to an organization (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”). The two hundred plus occurrences of church/churches in the Book of Mormon seem to point to a movement or organization rather than a building. The single exception is 4 Nephi 1:41, wherein the word churches seems to refer to structures that people could adorn. Thus, in the Book of Mormon, it appears that churches in the sense of organized congregations could have met in buildings or locations called synagogues.

The History of Synagogues in the American Promised Land
It is helpful to look at synagogues in the Book of Mormon from the perspective of their historical development.

Nephi’s straightforward use of the term synagogues (see 2 Nephi 26:26) around 550 BC implies that he was personally familiar with some form of a place of worship in his original homeland. He and his father brought religious practices from Jerusalem to the New World (see 2 Nephi 5:16; 2 Nephi 25:5– 6); presumably, the concept of synagogue as well as associated practices had the same source.

On the other hand, there is no mention that the Nephites who lived around the city of Nephi at the time of Jacob built synagogues, though they did build a temple (see Jacob 1:17). Neither do we read about synagogues when the Nephites moved to the land of Zarahemla under Mosiah and joined with the people of Zarahemla. Nor is anything said about such structures during the reigns of King Benjamin and King Mosiah.

In the first century BC (some four centuries after Nephi’s mention of synagogues), under the jurisdiction of the judges, the Nephites were building synagogues “after the manner of the Jews” (Alma 16:13). It is from this era that we learn the most about the form and function of synagogues among the Book of Mormon groups. Other Book of Mormon peoples also built and met in synagogues. Lamanites in the land of Ishmael who were converted by the preaching of Ammon began to build and use synagogues under the leadership of King Lamoni (see Alma 21:20). Prior to this time, Lamanites met in mere “assemblies” (Alma 21:16).

Among Nephite dissenters who built synagogues in this era were the Zoramites whose synagogues included the Rameumptom. Other groups include the Amalekites and Amulonites whose doctrines and practices “after the order of the Nehors” (Alma 21:4) spread among Nephites in the land of Zarahemla as well as among Nephite dissidents in Lamanite territory. It appears that these dissenters took the basic concept of a synagogue in both form and function from Nephite worship and modified it to meet their own special demands. On the Nephite side, as the population expanded into the land northward settlers built synagogues (see Helaman 3:9, 14).

The next reference to synagogues appears in the words of Christ as he visited the New World after his resurrection. He admonished Nephites and Lamanites not to pray loudly nor to make a public display of giving alms for the poor in their synagogues (see 3 Nephi 13:2, 5). Nor were they to cast people out of their “synagogues, or . . . places of worship” (3 Nephi 18:32).

The text of the Book of Mormon then remains silent on the subject until sometime during the fourth century AD when we learn that Mormon, a Christian, gave a sermon to his fellow believers in “the synagogue which they had built for the place of worship” (Moroni 7:1). Apparently, the term synagogue was broad enough in meaning at that time to include places where Christians were accustomed to worship.

Table 2 displays as much as we can learn about the form, function, and history of synagogues in the Book of Mormon. Ultimately, the Book of Mormon gives us only a glimpse into the form and function of synagogues. In form, they were structures of unspecified size and shape. Functionally, they were used for worship —including prayer and religious instruction —by people from different religious backgrounds. In short, the term synagogue in the Book of Mormon simply means “a place where local congregations meet for worship.”

The other, more cultural functions (which were a part of the city gate and later synagogues in Bible lands) do not appear in the Book of Mormon. It seems that this silence is a result of the purpose of the Book of Mormon, which is to encourage righteous living. As a result of this orientation, the worship aspect of synagogues is mentioned only incidentally, and these incidental references are mostly in a context of sermonizing and missionary work. These other functions were simply not considered germane to the overall objective of Mormon’s record.


1. Eric M. Meyers, “Synagogue,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 6:259.

2. Lee I. Levine, “The Nature and Origin of the Palestinian Synagogue Reconsidered,” Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1996): 425 –48.

3. Y. Aharoni, ed., Beer-Sheba I (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 1973). Plate 8 shows the bench around one of the gate chambers.

4. William G. Dever, “Gezer,” in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, ed. E. Stern (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), 2:496 –506. The photograph on page 503 shows the plan of the Solomonic gate, wherein each of the six gate chambers have benches.

5. Olga Tufnell, Lachish III: The Iron Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953). Figure 4 on plate 15 shows a gate chamber with two tiers of benches and a niche in the wall.

6. Robert S. Lamon and Geoffrey M. Shipton, Megiddo (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939), 77. Figure 88 shows a gate chamber with benches.

7. In contrast to such centers for local activity, of course, the temple was where priests and Levites performed sacrifices. On special occasions, such as the birth of a child or holy day, worshipers would leave their local town or city and travel to the temple to make their offerings.

8. The discovery was reported by Nelson Glueck, “Ostraca from Elath,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 82 (April 1941): 7 –11. The dating was done by William F. Albright, “Ostracon No. 6043 from Ezion-Geber,” ibid., 11. And the translation was reported by Charles C. Torrey, “A Synagogue at Elath?” BASOR 84 (December 1941): 4 –5. Elath and Ezion-Geber are two names for the same location.

9. Victor A. Tcherikover and Alexander Fuks, eds., Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957), nos. 1441 and 1444.

10. Ibid., no. 1447.

11. Ibid., no. 432.

12. See Mishnah, Tractate Mikvaoth 1:8.

13. A. Thomas Kraabel, “Social Systems of Six Diaspora Synagogues,” in Ancient Synagogues: The State of Research, ed. Joseph Gutmann (Chico, Calif.: Scholars, 1981), 81–82 and fig. 19.

14. S. Guttman, “The Synagogue at Gamla”; Z. Ma’oz, “The Synagogue of Gamla and the Typology of Second-Temple Synagogues,” both in Ancient Synagogues Revealed, ed. Lee I. Levine (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982), 30 –34 and 35– 41, respectively.

15. James F. Strange and Hershel Shanks, “Synagogue Where Jesus Preached Found at Capernaum,” Biblical Archaeology Review 9/6 (1983): 24– 31.

16. G. Foerster, “The Synagogues at Masada and Herodium,” in Ancient Synagogues Revealed, 24 29; and E. Jan Wilson, “The Masada Synagogue and Its Relationship to Jewish Worship during the Second Temple Period,” BYU Studies 36/3 (1996 –1997): 269 –76.

17. Roland de Vaux, Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 7, 10 –11, 18– 19.

18. A. Kloner, “Ancient Synagogues in Israel: An Archaeological Survey,” in Ancient Synagogues Revealed, 11 12.

19. An example of this speculation is outlined in Eric M. Meyers, “Synagogue,” in Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6:259.

20. Other passages that refer to synagogues as buildings are Alma 21:4, 20; 31:12, 13; 32:1, 3, 5, 9, 11, 12; 3 Nephi 13:2, 5; 18:32; Moroni 7:1.

21. Good examples of this theory are Meyers, “Synagogue,” 251– 60; Samuel Sandmel, Judaism and Christian Beginnings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 143 –53. Since this theory sees no synagogues until after the time Lehi left Jerusalem, a number of Book of Mormon critics have cited that view in order to denounce the Book of Mormon. Three of these authors are Latayne C. Scott, The Mormon Mirage (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1979), 83; William D. Russell, “A Further Inquiry into the Historicity of the Book of Mormon,” Sunstone, Sept.– Oct. 1982, 23; James R. White, Letters to a Mormon Elder (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1993), 145. But if one takes into account Levine’s argument that before the Babylonian captivity of 586 BC (1) city-gate chambers served as synagogues and also were the prototype for first-century BC synagogues, (2) city gates were the social center of a town or city, and (3) Sabbath services at that time were called a moed, the theory expressed by Meyers and Sandmel is far from demonstrating that synagogues did not come into existence until after Lehi’s day. As things stand now, Book of Mormon critics lack a factual basis for attacking the mention of synagogues in the Book of Mormon.

William J., and Jr. Adams
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 9, Issue – 1, Pages: 4-13
Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2000


Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

In the late 1960s, a young Latter-day Saint discovered that an ancient form of Middle Eastern poetry was found throughout the Book of Mormon, suggestive of its ancient Semitic origins. This poetical form, chiasmus, a type of inverted parallelism, reaches highly artistic heights in the Book of Mormon and is difficult to ascribe to chance. Yet the information available to Joseph Smith when the Book of Mormon was translated provided nothing to guide him in crafting such structures. Could this be part of a growing body of evidence for ancient Semitic origins for the text? This page is one of several pages in a suite of “Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs” maintained by Jeff Lindsay, a Book of Mormon aficionado who takes full responsibility for this work, which is neither sponsored nor endorsed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormanity is my LDS blog, in operation since 2004. Numerous issues have been discussed there. Join the fray! Or visit the other blogs on my blogroll there.

Also consider my “Book of Mormon Evidences” page.

Chiasmus is a form of parallelism used as a poetical structure in some ancient writings from the Middle East and Greece [note 1]. The word chiasmus derives from the Greek letter chi (X) which symbolizes the top-to-bottom mirror image reflection achieved by elements of text. An example of a very simple chiasmus is found in Psalms 124:7:

We have escaped as a bird
From the snare of the fowlers
The snare is broken
And we have escaped.

Here are two examples from Isaiah, as presented by Victor L. Ludlow in Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet [note 2] (one of my favorite books):

(a) Make the heart of this people fat,
(b) and make their ears heavy,
(c) and shut their eyes;
(c’) lest they see with their eyes,
(b’) and hear with their ears,
(a’) and understand with their heart,
and convert [return], and be healed. (Is. 6:10)
(abc) Come … to the house of the God of Jacob; and … and we will walk in his paths…
(d) And he shall judge among the nations…
(e) they shall beat their swords into plowshares
(e’) and their spears into pruninghooks
(d’) nation shall not lift up sword against nation…
(a’b’c’) O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the LORD. (Isaiah 2:3-5)

The example from Isaiah 2 shows that the pattern can be complicated with groups of parallel elements (abc) treated as a single element. The conjugate elements in a chiasmus (e.g., b and b’) can be related in several ways – direct repetition (synonymous parallelism), contrasting ideas or terms (antithetic parallelism), complimentary concepts (synthetic parallelism) in which one item completes or compliments the other, and more. Through such techniques, very sophisticated structures can be created (see Ludlow, op. cit., pp. 31-39). In major passages of chiasmus, the most important regions tend to be the central or pivotal point (the focal point) in the middle of the chiasmus, and then the ends (top and bottom).

A much longer and very elegant Biblical example of chiasmus is Leviticus 24:13-23 (details presented in Welch, 1991, pp. 115,116).

Chiasmus was a common form of presenting ideas among those with literary skills in the ancient world and was used to create powerful poetry. This form, however, was not widely appreciated as a hallmark of ancient writing in the middle east until this century. Some historical background is provided by John Welch in his classic and ground-breaking article, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1969 (link is a PDF file):

Chiasmus appears to have begun as a structural form which then developed into an intriguing rhetorical device which has been used sporadically in prose and poetry by many authors for nearly three thousand years. Nevertheless, the awareness of such a form, except in isolated cases, remained a part of the intellectual subconsciousness of modern Western Europe until frequent chiasmal passages were discovered in the Bible. Since that time in the mid-nineteenth century, there have been several reputed scholars, mostly theologians, who have published on the subject. Their works indicate that, although some chiasms appear in Greek, Latin and English, the form was originally Hebrews and dates at least to the eighth and tenth centuries B. C. in Isaiah and in the Psalms….

The rediscovery of chiasms in the Bible can be credited to three theologians of the nineteenth century: Robert Lowth, John Jebb and John Forbes. Lowth (Robert Lowth, De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum Praelectiones Academicae, translated by G. Gregory, Andover, Mass., 1829 [available online via Google Books]), the Bishop of London, and Jebb (John Jebb, Sacred Literature. London, 1820 [available online at Google Books]), the Bishop of Limerick, both wrote 300-page volumes describing Hebraisms in the holy scriptures. But their emphasis is almost entirely placed on poetical imagery and direct parallelisms, and only Jebb pays much attention to epanodos (the name he used for chiasmus). In 1854, however, John Forbes (John Forbes, The Symmetrical Structure of Scripture, T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1854) completed a much more extensive study…. With the publication of this book, it is possible to begin speaking of relatively widespread awareness of chiasmic forms in the Bible. A wave of other writers followed Forbes, and in 1860 a section on chiasmus was finally added to T. H. Horne’s famous encyclopedic Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (T. H. Horne, 3 Vols., 11th Edition: London, 1860). This marks the recognition of the form as genuine and significant.

John Welch has slightly revised some earlier conclusions about the possibility that Joseph could have known anything about chiasmus. The virtually impossible is not just highly improbable. His article, “How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated?” appears in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2003 (download the PDF version for best results). Welch notes that it was theoretically possible but highly unlikely that Joseph could have known about chiasmus. He considers many historical details regarding the information on chiasmus in Joseph Smith’s day.

Concerning Robert Lowth, one student of chiasmus e-mailed me the following note in 1998:

Lowth’s lectures were delivered at Oxford in the 1740’s and published, in Latin, in 1753. Despite the fact that all educated people of the time read (and wrote) Latin, his comments on parallelism passed pretty well unnoticed. Much more attention was paid to the exotic nature of near eastern customs which he described. This latter interest fit in with the growing fascination with the “sublime.”

While chiasmus is now increasingly recognized as a hallmark of ancient Semitic writings, it does not prove anything per se, for chiasmus does occur in some modern texts by accident. In fact, one can force a weak, contrived chiasmic pattern to fit into many texts if one is willing to work hard enough. However, if a passage shows a chiasmatic structure that is related to and enhances the meaning of the text, that is tightly and densely woven into the text, with consistent multiple layers, then one may suspect that such a passage was crafted rather than accidental.

So what the probability is that a given chiasmus occurred by chance rather than being intentional? A significant new publication applies careful statistical reasoning to address this issue. The work is that of Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, “Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?,” BYU Studies, Vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 103-130 (2004). The entire article and many supplementary materials – including software for you to explore the statistics of chiasmus yourself – are also available free online at http://byustudies.byu.edu/chiasmus/. The authors find that examples of chiasmus in the Book of Abraham or the Doctrine and Covenants are likely to be due to chance, but several well-known examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon appear to be intentional with a high level of confidence. They also provide useful background information and other insights. Well worth reading! Their analysis technique is applied later in examining the possibility that an apparent chiasmus in a letter from Joseph Smith to his wife, Emma, was merely due to chance (68% probability of being unintentional in that case). See Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards, “Does Joseph’s Letter to Emma of 4 November 1838 Show that He Knew about Chiasmus?,” Dialogue: A Journal Of Mormon Thought, Dialogue Paperless: E-Paper # 4, August 26, 2006, online at http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/physics_facpub/572/.

An excellent scholarly resource on chiasmus in the Middle East, the Book of Mormon, and elsewhere is the book, Chiasmus in Antiquity, edited by John Welch. The full text of this book is available free online at the Maxwell Institute. Be sure to read John Welch’s chapter, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.”

Some other useful resources include the FARMS Multimedia Page with video and sound recordings of John Welch’s lecture, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon” – a masterful 54-minute lesson that could be a valuable resource for a class or any serious student of the Book of Mormon. The movie is available for Quicktime and Windows Media Player. You can also skip the video and just listen to the lecture if you have Quicktime.

Also see John Welch’s chapter, “What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove? in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, pp. 199-224.

2012 Update: Another useful resource on chiasmus and many other forms of ancient Hebrew poetry in the Book of Mormon can be read in part using Google Books (but buy the book and read it all!). I refer to James T. Duke, The Literary Masterpiece Called the Book of Mormon (Cedar Fort, Springville, UT, 2004). See in particular the chapter on chiasmus.

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

Interestingly, The Book of Mormon, which claims to have its literary roots in the ancient Middle East, shows many excellent examples of what appear to be deliberate, crafted chiasmus. The examples are strong enough that they are difficult to explain if we assume that Joseph Smith (or any other person in the 1820s) wrote the book himself. In my opinion, there is simply no way a poorly schooled farm boy in that era could have crafted sophisticated examples of an ancient writing form that was probably completely unknown to him. And even if chiasmus had been understood then and even if Joseph had been able to craft examples of it in his text, he and his followers would surely have pointed out its existence as evidence of authenticity. In fact, chiasmus was not searched for and discovered in the Book of Mormon until the late 1960s, when LDS scholar John Welch learned of scholarly work on chiasmus in antiquity and hypothesized that the Book of Mormon might contain examples as well [note 4]. His findings were truly surprising, revealing that clear, distinct, and elegant passages of chiasmus existed in the Book of Mormon. Since that time, many chiasmic structures have been found. See, for example, Donald W. Parry’s The Book of Mormon Text Reformatted According to Parallelistic Patterns, FARMS, Provo, Utah, 1992 (order as PAR-92 for $18.50 from FARMS), which also includes an excellent essay on Semitic poetry in general and the role of chiasmus.

Several brief examples of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon include:

Mosiah 3:18,19:
(Men will drink damnation to their souls unless)

(a) They HUMBLE themselves
(b) and become as little CHILDREN
(c) believing that salvation is in the ATONING BLOOD OF CHRIST;
(d) for the NATURAL MAN
(e) is an enemy of GOD
(f) and HAS BEEN from the fall of Adam
(f’) and WILL BE forever and ever
(e’) unless he yieldeth to the HOLY SPIRIT
(d’) and putteth off the NATURAL MAN
(c’) and becometh a saint through the ATONEMENT OF CHRIST
(b’) and becometh as a CHILD
(a’) submissive, meek and HUMBLE.

Mosiah 5:10-12:

(a) And now it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall not take upon him the NAME of Christ
(b) must be CALLED by some other name;
(c) therefore, he findeth himself on the LEFT HAND of God.
(d) And I would that ye should REMEMBER also, that this is the NAME
(e) that I said I should give unto you that never should be BLOTTED out,
(f) except it be through TRANSGRESSION;
(f’) therefore, take heed that ye do not TRANSGRESS,
(e’) that the name be not BLOTTED OUT of your hearts.
(d’) I say unto you, I would that ye should REMEMBER to retain the NAME
(c’) written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the LEFT HAND of God,
(b’) but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be CALLED,
(a’) and also, the NAME by which he shall call you.

The use of parallelism in this passage emphasizes the danger of transgression (sin) and the importance of remembering the name that we are to take upon us, Christ.

Consider also an interesting example in Alma 41: 13-14:

O, my son, this is not the case; but the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish–

(a,a) GOOD for that which is GOOD;
(b,b) RIGHTEOUS for that which is RIGHTEOUS;
(c,c) JUST for that which is JUST;
(d,d) MERCIFUL for that which is MERCIFUL.

(d’)Therefore, my son, see that you are MERCIFUL unto your brethren;
(c’) deal JUSTLY,
(b’) judge RIGHTEOUSLY,
(a’) and do GOOD continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward;

(d”) yea, ye shall have MERCY restored unto you again;
(c”) ye shall have JUSTICE restored unto you again;
(b”) ye shall have a RIGHTEOUS judgment restored unto you again;
(a”) and ye shall have GOOD rewarded unto you again.

This passage begins with double elements in the first half (good,good; righteous, righteous; etc.). Double elements also occur in the second half, but they are now expanded into two series of single elements (d’,c’,b’,a’) and (d”,c”,b”,a”). This demonstrates a skillful use of parallelism. The attribute of mercy may be given emphasis in this passage.

The early writings of Nephi contain multiple examples of chiasmus; in fact, the entire first two books of Nephi appear to have organized in an overarching chiasmus. Perhaps even more interesting is the structure of the Book of Mosiah, which is organized into a complex chiasmus which focuses on the Messianic teachings of Abinadi, and also puts emphasis on the powerful teachings of Benjamin and Mosiah (see Welch, BYU Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1969, p.82, available online as a PDF file):

A King Benjamin exhorts his sons (1:1-8)
 B Mosiah chosen to succeed his father (1:10)
  C Mosiah receives the records (1:16)
   D Benjamin's speech and the words of the angel (2:9-5:15 )
    E People enter into a covenant (6:1 )
     F Priests consecrated (6:13)
      G Ammon leaves Zarahemla for the land of Lehi-Nephi (7:1-6)
       H People in bondage, Ammon put in prison (7:15)
        I The 24 gold plates (8:9)
         J The record of Zeniff begins as he leaves Zarahemla (9:1)
          K Defense against the Lamanites (9:14-10:20)
           L Noah and his priests (11:1-15)
            M Abinadi persecuted and thrown in prison (11-12)
             N Abinadi reads the old law and old Messianic prophecies to the priests (13-14)
             N' Abinadi makes new prophecies about Jesus Christ (15-16)
            M' Abinadi persecuted and killed (17:5-20)
           L' Noah and his priests (18:32-20:5)
          K' Lamanites threaten the people of Limhi (20:6-6-26)
         J' Record of Zeniff ends as he leaves the land of Lehi-Nephi
        I' The 24 gold plates (21:27, 22:14)
       H' People of Alma in bondage (23)
      G' Alma leaves the land of Lehi-Nephi for Zarahemla (24)
     F' The Church organized by Alma (25:14-24)
    E' Unbelievers refuse to enter covenant ( 26: 1-4 )
   D' The words of Alma and the words of the angel of the Lord (26-27)
  C' Alma the Younger receives the records (28:20)
 B' Judges chosen instead of a king (29:5-32)
A' Mosiah exhorts his people (29:5-32)

I have noticed that there are other elements which could be included with some of the groupings above. For example, for A and A’, we could also note that Mosiah 1:1 speaks of “continual peace” in the land, attributable to King Benjamin’s efforts, while the end of the book speaks of “continual peace through the land” (Mosiah 29:40) as a result of the system established by Mosiah the Second and the work of the judge, Alma. Chapter 1 also begins with Benjamin getting old and facing death (1:9), which motivates his farewell address, while Mosiah ends with the deaths of the Alma the Elder at age 82 and Mosiah the Second at age 63 (29:45,46), following the account of his major address in Chapter 29.

For many additional examples of chiasmus from the writings of Nephi, see the article, “Nephi’s Convincing of Christ through Chiasmus: Plain and Precious Persuading from a Prophet of God” by David E. Sloan, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1997. (The link is for a PDF file. The article is also available in HTML format.) Also see Russell Anderson’s Chiasmus Page and Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: A Remarkable Literary Art at ComeToZarahemla.org, where the chiastic structure of First Nephi is discussed.

I have long felt that the highlight of the Book of Mosiah was the Messianic preaching of Abinadi, with the sermon of King Benjamin at the beginning being of great importance as well. Only recently did I learn that the entire Book of Mosiah fits into a well designed chiasmus that puts Abinadi’s teachings at the focal point, with secondary emphasis on the teachings of King Benjamin and King Mosiah at the beginning and end of the book. The pattern seems unlikely to have been accidental or contrived, but is logical, enhances the meaning of the text, and is consistent over many parallel levels.

Alma 36: A Masterpiece of Chiasmus

The most powerful and beautiful example of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon – and perhaps anywhere! – is Alma 36. (See the full text of Alma 36 – but without delineation of the structure.) The structure is obviously chiastic, but there are some very sophisticated and elegant perturbations which have been the subject of careful and lengthy analysis (Welch, 1991, Welch, 1989, and Brown, 1988). In his essay, “A Masterpiece: Alma 36,” Welch (1989, 1991) presents several levels of chiasmic structure. Here I reproduce the overall structure, which is Level 1 in Welch, 1991. In addition, he analyzes the complete text to show the extensive chiasmic detail, including fascinating relationships between larger paired sections and the subtle use of weaving factors (transitions) that provide remarkable unity and a smooth flow of thought throughout the chapter. Welch also assess the degree of chiasticity, showing that this is not a contrived example or chance occurrence but fits objective criteria for intentional and deliberately crafted chiasmic structures. Finally, a comparison of other accounts of Alma’s conversion story in the Book of Mormon show that only this one is presented in chiasmic form, indicating that this passage, crafted about 20 years after the initial experience he describes, had been carefully reorganized to yield a masterful and poetical statement of his conversion.

So here it is, Welch’s outline of the overall structure of Alma 36. (Again, this is only scratching the surface of the rich structure in this chapter, but what a scratch!) Only the key phrases and concepts (sometimes paraphrased) are shown, with the verse number. The entire text of Alma 36 is also available.

(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1) (b) KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS of God and ye shall PROSPER IN THE LAND (2) (c) DO AS I HAVE DONE (2) (d) in REMEMBERING THE CAPTIVITY of our fathers (2); (e) for they were in BONDAGE (2) (f) he surely did DELIVER them (2) (g) TRUST in God (3) (h) supported in their TRIALS, and TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (3) (i) shall be lifted up at the LAST DAY (3) (j) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4) (k) BORN OF GOD (5) (l) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9) (m) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10) (n) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15) (o) PAINS of a damned soul (16) (p) HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS (17) (q) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17) (q’) I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18) (p’) HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS no more (19) (o’) Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20) (n’) Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22) (m’) My LIMBS received their strength again (23) (l’) I labored to bring souls to repentance (24) (k’) BORN OF GOD (26) (j’) Therefore MY KNOWLEDGE IS OF GOD (26) (h’) Supported under TRIALS, TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (27) (g’) TRUST in him (27) (f’) He will deliver me (27) (i’) and RAISE ME UP AT THE LAST DAY (28) (e’) As God brought our fathers out of BONDAGE and captivity (28-29) (d’) Retain in REMEMBRANCE THEIR CAPTIVITY (28-29) (c’) KNOW AS I DO KNOW (30) (b’) KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS and ye shall PROSPER IN THE LAND (30) (a’) This is according to his WORD (30).

Note the focal point of this story, the key element in his conversion story: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As Welch notes, Alma shows that it was not the angel or his suffering or the prayers of others that caused his conversion. It was not until he remembered that his father had taught of the atonement of Christ and then exercised faith to call upon Christ that his conversion occurred, bringing a rapid change in which guilt and the pains of hell were replaced with joy and a taste of heaven. I find this story to be powerful and moving, and knowing the underlying chiasmic structure greatly enhances my appreciation of this marvelous text.

Critics, of course, will complain that (i’) is out of place. Actually, the structure that Alma is using is somewhat more complex and elegant than can be shown with the simple synopsis presented above. The full structure can only be presented by treating the entire text. (E.g., there are other small chiasmic structures and other forms of parallelism within the overarching structure.) This results in Level 2 that Welch explores in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon (it is also shown in Welch, 1989). In the expanded analysis, components (i) and (i’) above become part of a larger grouping of text labeled as (E) and (E’), which I show below (those wanting to see the full grouping are referred to Welch’s publications.

E (end of verse 3):

for I do know that whosoever shall put their TRUST IN GOD shall be

E’ (verses 27 and 28):

And I have been SUPPORTED under TRIALS and TROUBLES of every kind, yea, and in all manner of AFFLICTIONS;
yea, God has DELIVERED me
from prison,
and from bonds,
and from death;
Yea, and I do put my TRUST IN HIM,
and he will still DELIVER me.

And I know that he WILL RAISE ME UP AT THE LAST DAY, to dwell with him in glory.

Welch notes that E and E’ contains triplets such as “supported under trials, troubles, and afflictions” as well as “prison, bonds, and death.” The former triplet appears in the center of E (and is repeated in E’), while the latter triplet stands in the center of E’. Both sections also discuss trust in God and being lifted up at the last day.

My comments: Alma 36 is amazing and contributes to the literary value of the Book of Mormon. The indisputable existence of intricate, deliberate, and artful chiasmus in the Book of Mormon raises a big question about it’s origin: how could it possibly be the product of an early nineteenth century writer? To me, this piece of evidence is one of many that demands that we at least seriously consider the possibility that the book is a document from antiquity.

Other Examples in the Book of Mormon

Another example is nearby in Alma 34:9:

A. For it is expedient that an atonement should be made;
B. for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made,
C. or else all mankind must unavoidably perish;
D. yea, all are hardened;
D. yea, all are fallen and are lost,
C. and must perish
B. except it be through the atonement
A. which it is expedient should be made.

Alma 13:2-9 is another gem from the writings of Alma. As James Duke recently noted (“The Literary Structure and Doctrinal Significance of Alma 13:1-9” (a PDF file – also available in HTML), Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1996, pp. 103-118), this passage contains a main chiasm with four shorter chiasms and four alternates, along with other poetical forms. The full passage follows:

1 And again, my brethren, I would cite your minds forward to the time when the Lord God gave these commandments unto his children; and I would that ye should remember that the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people.

2 And those priests were ordained after the order of his Son, in a manner that thereby the people might know in what manner to look forward to his Son for redemption.

3 And this is the manner after which they were ordained–being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works; in the first place being left to choose good or evil; therefore they having chosen good, and exercising exceedingly great faith, are called with a holy calling, yea, with that holy calling which was prepared with, and according to, a preparatory redemption for such.

4 And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren.

5 Or in fine, in the first place they were on the same standing with their brethren; thus this holy calling being prepared from the foundation of the world for such as would not harden their hearts, being in and through the atonement of the Only Begotten Son, who was prepared–

6 And thus being called by this holy calling, and ordained unto the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest–

7 This high priesthood being after the order of his Son, which order was from the foundation of the world; or in other words, being without beginning of days or end of years, being prepared from eternity to all eternity, according to his foreknowledge of all things–

8 Now they were ordained after this manner–being called with a holy calling, and ordained with a holy ordinance, and taking upon them the high priesthood of the holy order, which calling, and ordinance, and high priesthood, is without beginning or end–

9 Thus they become high priests forever, after the order of the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, who is without beginning of days or end of years, who is full of grace, equity, and truth. And thus it is. Amen.

The structure of the main chiasmus is:

A. order of his Son (v. 2)
B. ordained (v. 3)
C. called (v. 3)
D. foreknowledge of God (v. 3)
E. prepared (v. 3)
F. foundation of the world (v. 5)
G. Only Begotten Son (v. 5)
H. high priesthood (v. 6)
I. his rest (v. 6)
H’. high priesthood (v. 7)
G’. his Son (v. 7)
F’. foundation of the world (v. 7)
E’. prepared (v. 7)
D’. foreknowledge of all things (v. 7)
C’. called (v. 8)
B’. ordained (v. 8)
A’. order of the Son (v. 9)

One reason why this chiasmus is difficult to spot is that many of the key words occur in several places in the passage. The multiple occurrences are at least partially due to additional chiasms or other literary forms intertwined in the main chiasmus. For example, verses two and three contain a short chiasm:

a. And those priests were ordained
b. after the order of his Son
c. in a manner
d. that thereby the people might know
c’. in what manner
b’. to look forward to his Son for redemption.
a’. And this is the manner after which they were ordained

Duke also discusses the special significance of the word “rest” as the turning point of the chiasm, which is in harmony with other scriptures about the priesthood and the “rest” of God (esp. Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-24), which refers to eternal life. Alma used the word “rest” four times just prior to the present chiasmic passage (see Alma 12:34-37) and four times in the concluding portions of his discourse (Alma 13:12,13,16, and 29). The “rest” of God is possible only through the Atonement of Christ through faith and repentance (Alma 12:37; see also Alma 40:11-12; 3 Nephi 27:19; Enos 1:27). The chiasmic structure of Alma 13:1-9, coupled with Alma’s use of the word “rest” before and after this passage adds to the power and meaning of the text in a way that can only be described as poetry. That’s exactly what chiasmus is – an ancient form of poetry.

A recently discovered chiasm is found in Helaman 6:7-13, which reports the sixty-fourth year of the Reign of the Judges. According to Chapter 66 of Reexploring the Book of Mormon (John Welch, ed., Deseret Book, SLC, UT, 1992, p. 230), the main features of this chiasm can be listed as follows:

A. “And behold, there was peacein all the land” (6:7).
B. [Freedom of travel and trade in both landsis discussed (6:7-8).]
C. “And it came to pass that they became exceedingly rich, both the Lamanites and the Nephites;
D. and they did have an exceeding plenty of gold, and of silver, and of all manner of precious metals, both in the land south and in the land north” (6:9).
E. “Now the land south
was called Lehi, and
the land north
was called Mulek,
which was after the son of Zedekiah;
for the Lord
did bring Mulek
into the land north,
and Lehi
into the land south” (6:10).
D’. “And behold, there was all manner of gold in both these lands, and of silver, and of precious ore of every kind;
C’. and there were also curious workmen, who did work all kinds of ore and did refine it; and thus they did become rich” (6:11).
B’. [Economic prosperity in both lands is discussed (6:12-13).]
A’. “And thus the sixty and fourth year did pass away in peace” (6:13).

Commentary on this passage is given in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 231:

This composition is remarkable in several ways. First, the report itself is beautifully executed. Words, phrases, and ideas that appear in the first half are repeated with precision and balance in the second half. This entry exhibits both fine quality and admirable length.

Second, since the chiasm encompasses the entire report for the year, this unifying structure strongly suggests that the account was written as a single literary unit that Mormon copied verbatim from the Large Plates of Nephi into his abridgment. Apparently the contemporary historian used chiasmus to record an extraordinary year in the annals of his people. The report documents a great change that occurred during the sixty-fourth year involving prosperity, free travel, and peace between both the Nephites and Lamanites. Significant trade and peace treaties must have been entered into in order for this kind of peace and prosperity to occur, since before this time, restriction on travel was the norm in Nephite society, as is evidenced by Mosiah 7:1; 8:7; 28:1; Alma 23:2; 50:25; and Helaman 4:12. Official decrees of this type may be related to the misharum edicts of the Near East that typically proclaimed freedom for slaves and granted “equity” for the land. In addition to marking an unprecedented turning point in Nephite history, using chiasmus would insure against additions to or deletions from the text, since any alteration would be strikingly apparent.

Third, and most remarkable, the center of this chiasm involves two individual words. At the very apex, the words “Zedekiah” and “Lord” stand parallel to each other, which is intriguing since the Hebrew word for “Lord” constitutes the theophoric suffix -yah at the end of the name “Zedekiah.” [The Hebrew name Zedekiah can mean “The Lord is righteousness.”]

The chiasm in Helaman 6:7-13 is best understood by considering the Hebrew meaning of Zedekiah, evidence that the chiasm was originally constructed in a language with Hebrew origins or elements. Apparently, the poetical structure was well preserved in the English translation. One may ask how many original chiasms in the Book of Mormon were clouded by translation into English. Some chiastic elements may have involved Hebraic word plays or relationships between pairs of words with common roots or sounds. Such chiasms may not be translatable into English.

In 2008, during an evening when we were reading in the Book of Mormon, my youngest son, Mark, spotted an possible example that I hadn’t seen discussed before. This was in Helaman 16:1-6, as I discuss in a post at Mormanity. Take a look and let me know what you think!

Discussion: What Is the Meaning of Apparent Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon?

John Welch offers the following analysis in his classic 1969 BYU Studies paper (PDF file), p.75:

“[T]here exists no chance that Joseph Smith could have learned of this style [chiasmus] through academic channels. No one in America, let alone in western New York, fully understood chiasmus in 1829. Joseph Smith had been dead ten full years before John Forbes’ book was published in Scotland. Even the prominent scholars today know little about chiasmic forms beyond its name and a few passages where it might be found. The possibility of Joseph Smith’s noticing the form accidentally is even more remote, since most biblical passages containing inverted word orders have been rearranged into natural word orders in the King James translation. And even had he known of the form, he would still have had the overwhelming task of writing original, artistic chiasmic sentences. Try writing a sonnet or multi-termed chiasm yourself: your appreciation of these forms will turn to awe. If the Book of Mormon then is found to contain true chiasmal forms, should it not be asserted without further qualification that the book is a product of ancient Hebrews culture?”

A related perspective comes from John W. Welch in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (ed. Noel B. Reynolds, Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997, pp. 218-219 – chapter available online):

A further element in this calculation is the degree to which Joseph Smith might have learned about chiasmus from sources in his so-called information environment in Palmyra, New York, or more precisely, in the neighborhood of Harmony, Pennsylvania, where he dictated most of the Book of Mormon to his scribe Oliver Cowdery in the spring of 1829. Since no library existed within that region of the Susquehanna Valley, one cannot assume that Joseph Smith would have had access to any of the British books that in the 1820s were beginning to comment on various forms of parallelism in biblical literature. None of those books were published in the United States, and it is only remotely possible that one or two of them made their way to the United States in Joseph Smith’s lifetime. No definite listings of the titles by John Jebb or Thomas Boys have been found in any American libraries before 1829. And even if Joseph Smith had somehow learned of the concept of chiasmus, he would still be presented with the formidable task of writing-or rather, dictating-extensive texts in this style that was unnatural to his world, while at the same time keeping numerous other strands, threads, and concepts flowing without confusion in his dictation. The low probability that Joseph Smith was conscious of chiasmus in any respect tends to enhance its evidentiary value as an indicator of other origins (presumably Israelite) for this aspect of the book’s style.

A few non-Latter-day Saint scholars have been impressed by the presence of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. See, for example, Angelico Salvatore di Marco, review in Revista Biblica 31 (1983): 377-81; David Noel Freedman, review in preface to Chiasmus in Antiquity, 7-8; and Stanislav Segert, review in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 46 (1984): 336-38 (all examples cited by William J. Hamblin, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, p.498).

I recommend reading David Noel Freedman’s preface to the remarkable and highly acclaimed scholarly book, Chiasmus in Antiquity, edited by John Welch. The full text of this book is available free online at the Maxwell Institute. Here is part of what Dr. Freedman has to say:

The more extended uses of chiasm raise further questions. As with much of literature, especially poetry, ambiguity and obscurity are inherent in the form and content: chiasm only adds to the uncertainty and mystery. Scholars now recognize chiasms beyond the simple type described above, chiasms which involve passages of verse or prose ranging in length from a few sentences to hundreds of thousands of words. This more complex form of chiasm is not merely grammatical but structural or intentional; it systematically serves to concentrate the reader’s or hearer’s interest on the central expression. The number of such chiastic constructions which satisfy both sets of criteria: inversion and balance on the one hand, and climactic centrality on the other, is substantially less than the simpler mechanical variety. But wherever they are present, these structures may add novel perspectives and unexpected dimension to the texts in which they appear.

There is yet a further extension of the term chiasm. Even more difficult and controversial issues arise when chiasm is defined in terms of thought and theme, rather than the more visible words and patterns. Inevitably a large subjective element enters into these discussions, and the presence or absence of chiasm on this level can become almost a voter’s choice.

Scholars, therefore, may range between separated areas of research in their approach to chiasm. On the one extreme, the phenomenon itself can be described or defined rigorously, so that it is verifiable and often self-evident; while in this sense it is part of a deliberate pattern of composition, it nevertheless leaves the wider world of symbolism and significance to others. At the other end of the spectrum, definitions and limits are hard to determine, and speculation is rife; but large issues of meaning and intention can be raised, and important questions about the nature and significance of extended literary pieces are considered. The study of these great chiasms has enormous implications for analysis and interpretation, but the wider the scope and the more extended the reach, the less certain the results necessarily become. In the end, neither approach will escape if carried to extremes.

Only a book with many varieties of presentation can display the present state of chiastic studies. While a great deal of important work has been done across the many domains of ancient literature, the study of ancient literary techniques is still in ferment and flux. A common fund of axioms and assumptions and a single sure-handed methodology are yet to be established. The present volume reflects accurately both the ferment and the progress which is being made on a variety of fronts, and is all the more to be welcomed for bringing together the results of research in different literatures of antiquity. The editor is to be commended for his catholicity and courage, and for his own original contributions in several domains including a unique treatment of the Book of Mormon. His introduction to the whole work is indispensable. [emphasis added]

–David Noel Freedman

Dr. Freedman has been called one of the world’s foremost scholars on the Bible. You can also read about him on Wikipedia. He passed away in 2008.

Of course, scholars aren’t exactly lining up to be baptized as Mormons. But once Mormonism becomes helpful in obtaining tenure, perhaps that will change quickly. 😉

Please note that chiasmus can occur by chance, and often does. Just because one can pick out a few words in a passage that find a chiastic order does not mean that the author was consciously crafting chiasmus. There is a huge difference between a compact, extensive, meaningful chiasmus such as Alma 36 and an accidental one found in a random text, just as a few random splashes of paint spilled on a canvas are in a different category than, say, the Mona Lisa. John Welch addresses this issue in his article, “

Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus


Journal of Book of Mormon Studies

, Volume 4, Issue 2, 1995. Welch has warned that some Latter-day Saints have taken the chiasmus issue way too far, finding chiasmus everywhere when it may not have really been intentional chiasmus. Detailed insight into the issue of chance chiasmus versus intentional chiasmus comes from a thorough statistical analysis by Boyd F. Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards in a significant scholarly work, “Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?,”

BYU Studies

, Vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 103-130 (2004). The entire article and many supplementary materials – including software for you to explore the statistics of chiasmus yourself – are also available free online at



Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon is evidence of an ancient origin, not conclusive proof. It is just one of several complex forms of literary parallelism that are common to other ancient Semitic writings. If these examples are real and nonrandom, then it becomes increasingly probable that the Book of Mormon is not a nineteenth century writing, but is a translation of an ancient text representing, at least in part, a highly developed literary tradition. Chiasmus is part of the intellectual evidence for accepting or believing in an ancient origin to the text. For some critics, it is so convincing that they must resort to arguing that Satan inspired the chiasmus in the text in order to deceive people. An example is found in a book by Loftes Tryk, The Best Kept Secrets in the Book of Mormon, Redondo Beach, CA: Jacob’s Well Foundation, 1988. Tryk argues that the Book of Mormon is packed with elegant examples of chiasmus and other complex structures. “Even a very high native intellect would not account for a computer-like selection of images which have been fitted into the story with such knife-edge precision. The closer we examine the Book of Mormon’s literary character, the greater burden will be placed on the theory of an unaided creation. There are too many complex uses of symbolism and of sophisticated literary form in it” (Tryk, p. 82). He notes that the chiasms of Alma 42 are “a formidable piece of writing,” perhaps “unequaled in brilliance anywhere else in literature” (p. 84). Tryk argues that the only reasonable explanation is supernatural origin – but he ascribes that supernatural power to Satan. I find that a pretty wild argument, especially when much of the chiasmus – like the Book of Mormon itself – is designed to focus our attention on Christ as the Redeemer and Savior. Look at Alma 36, for example. What honest Christian can help but rejoice to see the forgiving power of Christ so beautifully taught and so majestically crafted into poetry? The Book of Mormon is a Christ-centered book, teaching us to look toward Christ – the Christ that we read of in the Bible, not “some other Christ” as critics often try argue – for salvation, for grace, for forgiveness, to be baptized in His name and follow Him. I don’t think anyone can honestly read the Book of Mormon without realizing that it confirms the Bible and teaches of Christ.

The Book of Mormon does have a divine and ancient origin, having been prepared by prophets of the Lord Jesus Christ in ancient Central America who knew our day and edited its content to be of value to us. Understanding chiasmus helps us understand its message, a message centered on Christ.


1. Hildesheim, Chiasmus in Antiquity, Gerstenberg, 1981, as cited by J. Welch, “Chiasmus in Alma 36,” FARMS Working Paper WEL-89a, Foundations for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1989. [BACK]

2. Victor L. Ludlow, Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1982, p. 37. [BACK]

3. John W. Welch, “A Masterpiece: Alma 36,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. J.L. Sorenson and M.J. Thorne, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, Utah, 1991. Available online at http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/books/?bookid=72&chapid=865. [BACK]

4. J. Welch, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” BYU Studies, 10: 83 (1969). [BACK]

5. J. Welch, “Chiasmus in Alma 36,” FARMS Working Paper WEL-89a, Foundations for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1989. [BACK]

6. Wade Brown, The God-Inspired language of the Book of Mormon, Rainbow Press, Clackamas, Oregon, 1988, pp. 554-560, as cited by Welch, 1989. [BACK]

Links and Suggested Reading

Does Chiasmus Appear in the Book of Mormon by Chance?

” by Edwards and W. Farrell Edwards in

BYU Studies

, Vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 103-130 (2004). The link includes the article and some related resources. A must read!

What is Chiasmus? – a helpful article at Chiasmus.com

Book of Mormon Evidences

Introduction to the Book of Mormon

Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature (PDF) by Brad McCoy, an excellent survey of scholarship on the importance of chiasmus in the Bible.

Nephi’s Convincing of Christ through Chiasmus: Plain and Precious Persuading from a Prophet of God by David E. Sloan, from Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 6, Issue 2, 1997. The link is for a PDF file. The article is also available in HTML format.

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: A Remarkable Literary Art at ComeToZarahemla.org.

How Much Was Known about Chiasmus in 1829 When the Book of Mormon Was Translated? by John Welch

The FARMS Multimedia Page – excellent video and audio recordings of significant lectures on LDS topics. Be sure to see John Welch’s lecture, “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” in Quicktime or Windows Media Player formats.

Criteria for Identifying and Evaluating the Presence of Chiasmus by John Welch, from Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Volume 4, Issue 2, 1995.

Russell Anderson’s Chiasmus Page

Out of the Darkness: The Chiastic Structure of Christ’s Introduction in 3 Nephi 9:13-22

Metal plates and the Book of Mormon

The Mormons: Jeff’s Introduction to the Church

Summary of my main LDS pages

Robert Lowth, Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews (orig. De Sacra Poesi Hebraeorum Praelectiones Academicae), translated by G. Gregory, Andover, Mass., 1829, available online via Google Books.

John Jebb, Sacred Literature. London, 1820, available online at Google Books. See for yourself if the discussion of “epanodos” there could have been used to create Alma 36 and other masterpieces of chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. Start on page 65.

Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, edited by Noel Reynolds (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997). This is on the MUST IGNORE list of all self-respecting anti-Mormon critics. It’s loaded with powerful essays that turn the tables on our critics, giving them what I see as insurmountable difficulties in defending their theories for the origins of the Book of Mormon. This explores alternate theories of the Book of Mormon’s origins, details of the translation of the book, summarizes key issues regarding evidence, and explores several key issues in depth, including chiasmus, wordprint analysis of the Book of Mormon, (and it even cites the thesis of my wife, Kendra Lindsay, who did wordprint analysis of the Pauline epistles in completing her requirements for a Masters degree in statistics), and explores the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican record. Deals with many major issues as well as lots of little gems (like “sheum” in the Book of Mosiah being an authentic ancient Akkadian term for grain, which may have been a word imported by the Jaredites). Over 500 pages of well-written and documented fun. Jeff Lindsay’s home page

Curator: Jeff Lindsay ,   Contact:jeff_at-jefflindsay-dot_c0m
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Why would a Jew become a Mormon? Ask Marlena

Posted by Mark Paredes (from his blog Mormons and Jews)  June 5, 2012

This is the edited version of my article for his blog. Original title: Why Should A Jew Become a Mormon? The final question was the title question. The Reform Jewish editors of Paredes’ blog took the question and answer off, deleting even more . I have added the final Q and A back in to the bottom of this post. For the total original article, email me at: marlenatanya@gmail.com.


The proverbial “third rail” issue for a Christian blogger on a Jewish website is Jewish conversion to Christianity. It is one of the few issues that unites practically all Jews, and well-funded organizations (e.g., Jews for Judaism) have been set up to keep Jews from converting. Although many Jews who know me well have asked why a Jew would become a Mormon, I have declined to blog on the subject because I considered it too sensitive.

Until now. After more than two years blogging for the Jewish Journal, I’m pretty confident that readers know that my purpose in writing this column is not to convert Jews. A few weeks ago a prominent Jewish leader asked me why Jews decide to become Mormons. I decided to pose a series of questions to my friend Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a well-known Jew-turned-Mormon speaker, author, and researcher. Marlena travels around the country making presentations on Jews and Mormons. I am grateful to her for taking time out from her Baltic cruise to compose her answers. She and her wonderful husband Daniel live in the Seattle area.

Q: How old were you when you converted to the LDS Church?

A: I often contemplated the gifts promised the human family in the Tree of Life mentioned in Genesis 2. The Hebrew life giving tree motif I found in a copy of Kabbalah (esoteric Judaic writings). It stirred in me a deep curiosity about the mysterious connections of all things in earth and heaven. I read of covenants, oaths, the patterns and behaviors of men –blessings received, curses endured. Always the connection of God to His children was tested and tried. The Hebrew people have always been engaged in a love story (often also a tryst!) with their Father/Lord. So, in a fashion, I was being spiritually prepared for my transformation at age 47 – from Orthodox/Conservative Jewess to a temple-attending Latter-day Saint.

Q: Jews believe the Abrahamic covenant still applies to them. Mormons also believe that the Abrahamic covenant is applicable today. Why is there a need for a Jew to become a Mormon if the Abrahamic covenant is still alive and well?

A: Being raised an observant Jewess, I trusted that the everlasting Avrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 28) was the blueprint for every life. An agreement between mankind and God, it is unconditional in its nature to bless the tribes of Israel (see Genesis 12:2-3). Nations and kings were to descend from that patriarch who would become father of a “great nation”, receiving special blessings for their faithfulness, including the Mashiach’s (Messiah’s) return into their midst. Many Jews believe in these future events but have little idea of the profound meanings implicit in them. Spiritual truth often lies in mystery, but to ignore that tantalizing search is to remain dead to the potential for life that waits hopefully within each soul.

Fortunately for me, through the teachings of the missionaries, I discovered that Mormons understand covenants better than anyone, because they realize the importance and urgency of gathering members of the house of Israel through the restored, latter-day Gospel teachings as reintroduced through the Prophet Joseph Smith; his translation of the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the restoration of the temples of God to the earth.

[According to LDS belief] Jews are the “chosen” people according to God’s covenant with Abraham. [Mormons believe that] Abraham wanted to regain the true priesthood and gospel principles that had been lost through apostasy. But neither the Jews nor anyone else can be automatically saved. The Latter-day Saints have been charged with finding those who are lost and teaching them the essential news of the restoration of ancient priesthood powers which God has covenanted to them unconditionally on His part. But individual faithfulness and action are required to bring fulfillment. [I believe that] Judaism is the foundation of Christianity, not the final product.

Q: What was it that attracted you to Mormonism?

A: How does a proper Jewess cross the seemingly uncrossable line to Christianity, then venture further to the hallowed country of the Gentilic, gentle Saints? For me, it was the hardest work my rebellious soul has EVER done! I was 14 and just confirmed from Hebrew school when I realized something was missing from my synagogue experiences. My parents thought me mad. I was told to get over it. It was 1954.

Arriving at age 40 I found myself alone and poor, a victim of many abuses as a child and teen. During my growing years as a female in a traditionally male cultural setting, I sought in the synagogues for a deeper and especially a personal solace. Synagogue prayers are praises to God and petitions for Israel – our traditional way of approaching Deity. But I needed a personal witness. Finally, pleading with God before the opened Torah scrolls, I challenged Him to bring me what He knew I needed; then I determined to find it myself, if it took this lifetime to do so.  It took several years longer.

My only sibling, a younger brother, eventually accepted the Gospel more or less against his will. Mark had married a Tongan whose father translated the Book of Mormon into Tongan for the country’s royalty. Mark’s wife and family were, of course, devoted Mormons.  In 1975, he brought me a Book of Mormon, to share the joy in the Gospel that he had found. I immediately rejected it.“I have Torah. Why would I need another book? No, thanks. I prefer to remain a Jew. Is this what our people have fought to become?  I think not.” I put the book in my bookcase and left it there for years. Many years later, in 1985, I moved to Oregon from L.A. to assist with care for my now widowed brother’s children. Senior Mormon missionaries lived next door!

I was quite disturbed by this new and sudden interest of these Christian people in my background and my beliefs as a Jew. Having been taught by my parents that non-Jews (Gentiles) were off limits to me, I’d never learned Christian ways or beliefs.  They couldn’t pronounce the gutteral ch. They didn’t like Jewish food, they didn’t know Hebrew history or celebrate any Jewish holidays. But I was attracted to them in ways that stirred my soul.

1. I found those Mormons I met and who befriended me to be genuinely caring about each and every person and were gentle and forgiving folk. They were genuinely kind to me and they related all their life experiences to faith and love of God and Christ. What impressed me so much was their close relationship with God. That gave them satisfaction I had only dreamt of finding. They listened to my denials of Christ, asked me about Judaism, and were genuinely interested in comparing religions through scripture and through their own understanding. And then there was the “look” in their eyes. Was it joy? True happiness? Their constant relationship with the mysterious Holy Spirit? I wanted it!

2. They patiently spoke of New Testament gospel writers, pointing out that most were Jewish men, including the apostles of Christ. I had never thought that important. I confess that at first I only allowed them to entertain me with these things because my brother had earlier brought me that book which claimed our ancient Jewish ancestors truly came from Israel to these American continents and – would you believe – accepted Jesus as the Christ? They told me that Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses (Matt 5:17) and create a new covenant between God and his people, that he visited the American continents (Book of Mormon, 3Nephi 11-28). The Book of Mormon is a sign that the gathering of Israel and the fulfillment of his covenants with them was beginning.

3. These apostles learned there was a higher law than the Aaronic/ Levitical priesthood: the higher or Melchizedek priesthood. This man, Melchizedek (Heb 7:2) was a notable prophet and leader who lived about 2000 BC. He was the first individual to be given the title of Kohen (priest) in Torah. Father Abraham paid tithes to him. Melchizedek is mentioned in many places in Torah and in latter-day scripture. Mormons claim that these two priesthoods have been restored in our day, along with prophets, temples, baptism and other ordinances by priesthood authority, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost and other blessings, and proxy work for the dead. I was finding a unity between our two faiths; that we are connected by many things. Mormons have more in common with Judaism than any other religion because Judaism laid the foundation for Christianity and through the LDS church the fullness of many covenants God made with the nation of Israel will be realized. These include the Abrahamic (Gen 12:1-3, 15), Edenic (Gen 3:16-19), Palestinian (Deut 30:1-10), Davidic (2Sam 7:8-16, Luke 1:32-34), and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31-34).

4. I was attracted to the notion that prophets and seers were once again on the earth. In Torah many prophets are mentioned, some true, some false.  The greater ones were usually disbelieved and hated for their unpopular messages. Some met with an untimely death. The last Hebrew prophet, Malachi, lived at the end of the 70-year Babylonian exile. Judaism today does not recognize anyone as having the voice to speak for them. But the Mormons claim Joseph Smith was a prophet and seer and that these chosen men of God will never again be taken from the earth. Thomas S. Monson is regarded as the current seer and prophetic voice among the Saints and he has two counselors. Together they form the First Presidency of the church. Their writings, in my mind, equal and often surpass those of many scholarly Talmudic sages.

5. The Mormon view of the afterlife attracted me greatly. Jews believe there is an Olam Haba – the world to come after death. Torah [the 5 books of Moses] emphasizes immediate, concrete, physical rewards and punishments rather than abstract future ones. See, for example, Lev. 26:3-9 and Deut. 11:13-15. However, there is clear evidence in Torah of belief in existence after death. Indicated in several places the righteous with their loved ones will be reunited after death, while the wicked will be excluded. Ideas about resurrection and reincarnation are accepted, but there is much room for personal opinion, because Torah does not mention this subject directly, though the early temples practiced cleansing and vivifying rites. I was very concerned with what hope there was for mine and my family’s death. Mormons have revealed knowledge through prophets that explains and clarifies much about the spirit world before and after mortal life, and I found it reassuring.

6. The missionaries read with me the Book of Mormon, enlightening my understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Q: According to one of your websites, you engaged in five months of “secluded studying” of Hebrew and LDS scriptures before converting. What did you learn from this experience?

A: I learned, in essence, through totally independent study and prayer that the Gospel as taught in the LDS church is completely correct. I found my personal answers to the questions: Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going?

There is room here for several specific examples.

1. I learned about the priesthood of God, its purposes, duties and ministrations. See Exodus 40, a detailed account of Aaron and his sons receiving the Aaronic priesthood. After the fall of Herod’s Temple in 70 AD, that and the greater priesthood were lost, the Jewish nation scattered. In these latter days that most precious gift has been restored to the earth and all of us are blessed through the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood of God in these latter days.

2. Exodus 34 gives the story of Moses (Moshe) receiving God’s commandments. Moses asks the Lord to pardon the iniquity of his people, to which the Lord replies in part (v.14) that the Jews shall have no other god but the Lord, “…whose name is Jealous…”  All others are said to be false, and to Jews, that includes Jesus.  But the New Testament history of Jesus and his times is compelling. He converted thousands of Jewish followers.  This is not mentioned in Torah or Talmud. Why not?

3. When the missionaries told me that Joseph Smith received his visitation from our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in April of 1820 and that the LDS church was established in April of 1830, I discovered these dates coincided with the Jewish Passover. Joseph’s visit by the angel, Moroni, and additionally when he visited the place the golden plates were buried and retrieved them four years later –  these occurrences came during the annual Feast of Sukkot in September, 1823 and the Jewish New Year of 1827. Coincidences? These and numerous other occasions in LDS history helped to convince me that the history of Jews and Mormons was intertwined in the mind and heart of God and an important clue to my understanding of how God works with mankind.

4. I learned through the Book of Mormon that God spoke directly to the descendants of the Jewish people in America, introducing them to Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son. Since I do believe that God is in charge and can do as He wishes, I understood and accepted that the history of the Jews in the lands of America included the visitation and teachings of Christ in the Americas. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 29:31-33, I read that Heavenly Father’s works are without end. This made sense to me.

5. I learned that both religions honor their ancestors and place them in high esteem. Both believe in the principle of fasting and both have a set of dietary laws that are sensible and spiritually conceived by Deity. Both religions honor God and His commandments. Both revere and celebrate the Sabbath and believe in keeping it holy. There are many similarities between Jewish and LDS beliefs and religious observances, but much has been lost of ancient truths through time.

6. Ezekiel 37 in part refers to the prophecy of combining the “two sticks”, that of Joseph, by which is meant the Book of Mormon, with the stick (record)of Judah – meaning the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible –. The LDS “quad” contains those scriptures in one volume that also includes more scripture, much of it dictated by Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I learned that this is a further evidence of the message for unity between Mormons and Jews.

7. The Book of Mormon opened my eyes to profound teachings, truths about the history of my Hebrew ancestors in the Americas, the true nature of the spirit of mankind, Jesus in America. It is testimony to how the Holy Ghost works in our lives, the divinity of Jesus Christ and presents undeniable evidence that the book was translated by the gift and power of God. It is truly a second witness of Jesus Christ and contains the fullness of the Gospel that Jesus tried to teach the Jews in Israel millennia ago. I could not deny its truthfulness. The Holy Ghost testified of these things to me in an undeniable way, even to the extent of giving me a vision, words from an angelic source, and a transformation of spirit.

8. Importantly, I discovered the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of scriptures containing revelations from the Lord Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This book amazed me. It is not a translation but claims to be a witness of Jesus Christ. Indeed, as I read the first section, dictated to Joseph by the Lord Himself, I was amazed that I had not known of this book. I now had the problem of believing or denying that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of the world! The book proclaims that the heavens are open again. It contains revelations for LDS church governance and the essential beliefs of the organization of the Saints. While reading it I realized the voice of Jesus was the same voice I read and felt in Torah. Now it became impossible to deny that Jesus was the one who made the Exodus from Egypt possible.

9. The Pearl of Great Price is another enlightening collection of scripture that is invaluable in understanding the way Heavenly Father works with humanity. The Joseph Smith history is also undeniably true, and from it I learned of the First Vision. The book of Moses and book of Abraham teach the doctrine of plurality of gods. I read about the doctrine of exaltation and learned of its significance to us. Jewish canon does not include any of the information found in the Pearl…  This is a vast treasure trove of information that really opened my eyes to the mysteries of God.

10. The most important thing I discovered in my reading, pondering and praying was that God is in charge. Consistently, in all scripture, He tells us that. He does what He wants in His time. He is not subject to human rules or traditions, whims, requests, threats, pleadings, etc.

Q: You’ve said that personal revelation has inspired you to facilitate mutual understanding between Jews and Mormons. In what ways do you do this?

A: My mission, bestowed upon me in 1989 under a priesthood calling, was to “be as an Esther to my people” by bringing the Jews to God’s true church, mainly through the tribe of Ephraim –  the preponderance of members of the LDS church are of that tribal affiliation. I am to teach them about the genesis of their religion and how to fellowship and understand their Jewish neighbors, thereby to “help them come to the salvation of their souls through their Mashiach, Jeshua, even Jesus their Christ.”

To this end I have embarked upon a mission:  writing books for the Mormon reading public: about my conversion to the church, about the Jewish people –  their history, beliefs, culture and language. I also have published fiction that highlights their plight in America and in Eastern Europe.  I give firesides, lectures and classes to LDS congregations on these subjects, as well as maintaining several blog and websites featuring many useful articles on Jewish life. I point out the many similarities and connections (see listing) between the two religions and cultures. I tell my audiences to reach out to their Jewish neighbors, embracing their culture and making as many connections as possible with them in various settings.

Q: Has the Jewish community been receptive to your work? How do Mormons react to your presentations?

A: The work that I do is strictly for the LDS population. Jews do not want me to speak to their congregations because I have embraced Christianity, though many Jews are fond of Mormons. Having a Jew convert to “the other side” of the Jewish world and, in effect, become a “Gentile” (a non-Jew) is anathema to a Jew. My conversion makes them very uncomfortable.

Happily, those to whom I have spoken and written are very pleased with my books, blogs and presentations. Many Mormons are genuinely interested in their Jewish neighbors and have lots of questions I help them to answer. I tell them I am only a messenger. They must do the real work of investigating and understanding to make the connections.

Q: You’ve written “A Mormon’s Guide to Judaism.“What is one thing that every Mormon should know about Judaism? What should every Jew know about Mormonism?

A: Through the years I have asked many fellow Jews why they do not wish to believe in Christ. Their responses span their range of involvement in religious worship. By far, their responses included an avowed devotion to Judaism alone – showing little or no interest in any other religion. I have also noticed that relatively few Mormons have any more than a surface understanding of other religions and do not investigate the similarities and differences between their religion. This puts them in the same category with most Jews.

So, in my view, it is essential that Latter-day Saints become aware of the underpinnings of their belief system; Jesus was a Jew. The original Gospel evolved through Mosaic Law. Judaism is the language and belief system that propelled Christianity into being, though it was soon and continually corrupted by many factors. A knowledge of Jewish prayers, group and individual worship, holidays, culture, language, dietary laws and other elements of their sub-civilization should be sought after by the LDS population. This will increase Mormon understanding and appreciation of their own religious life.

As for my first people, I would advise them of the many similarities of the Hebrew religion and current Jewish congregations to LDS ways of life and urge them to investigate these. The Jews are increasingly positive about the LDS church and generally believe Mormons to be helpful, accepting, loyal, supporting and who accept their Israelite progenitors as brethren without prejudice or anti-Semitism. That is especially helpful in the present dangerous political situation in Israel and elsewhere in the world. I would ask them to consider learning of Christ with an inquiring and searching spirit, rather than to be forever satisfied with their centuries-long traditions.  I think that the Jewish people in the main resist Christianity because of centuries of persecution, forced conversions and ostracism.

It is important for the Jewish people to understand that the ancient tribal identities and relationships have been restored; that those who are descendants of the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt, Babylon, etc. , and now scattered throughout the earth – are in the process of being gathered again, according to ancient prophecy (Isa 54:7, Ezek 11:17, Jer 50:4 and others). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints pursues the literal gathering of Israel throughout the world and the restoration of all the tribes (families) of Jacob prior to the coming of the Mashiach. The fullness of the early Gospel taught by our first prophets is here upon the earth today and available to each of us. Without the birthright tribe (holding the priesthood keys through Christ and his church) of Ephraim, the lineage of Judah (protector of the temples and the people) is as a sword of undirected energy.

Q: You speak often on the symbolic connections between Mormon and Jewish worship. What is the most important connection?

A: That is an easy answer. It would be our holy temples, those that once stood in Jerusalem and those built by the Latter-day Saints. It was and is now Beit YHVH or YHWH, the house of the Lord. The history of the temple in Jerusalem begins in 957 BC with King Solomon’s construction. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice more. It was the center of Jewish civilization and all things in life revolved around that holy shrine built to God.  In the temple, offerings were made, blessings and benedictions pronounced,  ritual cleansings performed. Isaiah spoke of the importance of prayer in the Temple, calling it God’s “holy mountain”. The loss of the temple in a.d. 70 brought on the Diaspora of the Jews which has lasted to this day. Jews believe they no longer have a temple in which to worship, but that is no longer the case.

The first temple structure built by the Mormon people was in Kirtland, Ohio. It was dedicated in March 1836 and the Lord accepted it. As of May 2012 there are 137 operating, 15 under construction, 14 announced temples. See http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/temples/.

These houses of the Lord are clear and direct links between Judaism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They provide a place set apart for eternal covenants, a place that is sacred and suitable for the performing of holy ordinances that bind on earth and heaven. They provide ordinances for living and dead that assures the possession and association of families, worlds without end and exaltation for ourselves and our families in the kingdom of God. They contain emblems of ancient Judaic worship. When I first saw these, my heart jumped and I knew I had finally “come home”.  LDS temples are based on the fact of the atonement of Jesus Christ, without whom all mankind would be irretrievably lost. In ancient and modern times, the “work” done in Mormon temples is binding, the “glory and honour” referred to in Psalm 8:3:

“When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? …For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour” .

[At the suggestion of Jewish Journal editors, a few edits have been made to Marlena’s interview in order to clarify Judaism’s beliefs]

Can a person be both Jew and Mormon? (from original post)

To be a technical Jew, it is necessary to be born of the nation and ethnoreligious group that originated in the ancient Near East and which were once Hebrews and before that, Israelites. Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Having said that, anyone can choose to embrace the LDS faith (or any other) through investigation, prayer, personal feeling of “rightness” and a spiritual certainty. As we read in Romans 10:12, the same Lord is over all, both Jew and Greek, and they must call upon him. Specifically, I have found it logically and spiritually sound to progress from monotheism to an understanding of the Godhead, to realize the atonement of Christ stands as eternal, replacing the constant sacrificing of innocent animals. I see the progression from ancient to modern prophets, a restored priesthood authority, temples, revealed prophecies, and so on. I cannot deny it.

A Jew is always a Jew. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that Jew will more fully understand his Jewishness and all it has meant throughout time. He will offer his heart to be circumcised. The “blinders” mentioned in Romans 11:7-10, will fall away, and the true branches of the olive tree can be again grafted in.

The church teaches that the Mosaic Law (Ex 21-24; 31-35) was a preparatory gospel, a series of progressive steps to a fuller understanding of our purpose on earth. It was not a substitute for the higher law of the Gospel. (See D&C 84:23-27). In Galatians 3:23-24 we read the Law of Moses was given as a schoolmaster to bring Israel to Christ. Of course, much of Mosaic Law was important case law; a series of broad premises, such as the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:15, Deut. 5:19).

Secondly, the Law is primarily negative, as many of the commandments deal with what ought not to be done. A negative concept of law insures liberty. That concept of liberty is behind all of the teachings of the prophets who received through revelation the knowledge that we are free to decide what and what not to believe.  Therefore, Jesus of Nazareth came to earth to teach of his Heavenly Father, to restore the subverted teachings of the scribes, the Sadducees and Pharisees to their original meaning, intent and purposes that each soul could find a personal relationship with the Godhead. He taught that our liberty lies in faith in God. True faith in God will bring a soul to Christ.

I believe that with diligent inquiry, study, prayer and revelation, each person who has ever lived will come unto Christ with full purpose of heart and become a member of his church, finding joy and completeness of spirit for himself and his deceased family through the restored temples of God that now dot the earth. A Jew who does that becomes a completed Jew, for the mysteries of God are more certainly revealed to us. We can add the lily to the Passover table and know that Elijah has returned and drunken from his waiting cup. We can finally understand who we are, why we are here and where we are going. I am grateful for that miracle in my life and this is my testimony of the truth of these things. I would restore the Jewish creedal prayer to read:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is Jehovah!

In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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