Jacob 7

 

A Covenant Plan of Salvation

      (2 Nephi--Enos)


 

Jacob 7:1 There Came a Man among the People of Nephi:

 

     Somewhere around 500 B.C.,

     there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem. And it came to pass that he began to preach among the people, and to declare unto them that there should be no Christ. And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and this he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ. (Jacob 7:1-2; emphasis added)

 

     When Jacob mentioned that "there came a man among the people of Nephi" (Jacob 7:1), was he implying that this man came from some place that was not part of the lands of the Nephites, or was this just an idiomatic expression for Jacob? The reader should note that the name "Sherem" can be linguistically linked by "mimation" (names ending in -m) to the Jaredite culture.204 The name Sherem is similar to the name "Shelem" (Ether 3:1), which was the name given to the mountain upon which the brother of Jared came to know the true nature of Jesus Christ.205 Yet Sherem was an anti-Christ, and this fact links him with two other anti-Christs in Nephite history who also had Jaredite names: Nehor and Korihor (see Alma 1:2-15; 30:6-60). The fact that Sherem's intent was to "overthrow the doctrine of Christ" also links him with the cause of the Jaredite destruction (see Ether 12--13:22; 15:1-4).

     In Jacob 7:6, Sherem makes an odd statement: "Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard . . . " (Jacob 7:6; emphasis added). According to John Sorenson,

     Jacob, as head priest and religious teacher, would routinely have been around the Nephite temple in the cultural center at least on all holy days (see Jacob 2:2). How then could Sherem never have seen him, and why would he have had to seek "much opportunity" to speak to him in such a tiny settlement? And where would Jacob have had to go on the preaching travels Sherem refers to, if only such a tiny group were involved? Moreover, from where was it that Sherem "came . . . among the people of Nephi" (Jacob 1:1)? The text and context of this incident would make little sense if the Nephite population had resulted only from natural demographic increase without any influence from native populations. (John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived, Did They Find Others in the Land?, in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, F.A.R.M.S., p. 4)

 

     While all this information might be considered speculative, it does suggest that one cannot rule out the possibility that even as early as about 500 B.C., the Nephites could have interacted with people influenced by the Jaredite culture. Moreover, if Sherem "came among the people of Nephi" by way of a coastal travel corridor which apparently led from the land northward to the land southward (see Alma 22:32; 50:34; 63:5), then he probably would have taken a route which went by Izapa on the Pacific coast of Guatemala in order to reach Kaminaljuyu in what is now Guatemlala City. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

     Some might wonder how the Nephites could have come under Jaredite influence so early. John Sorenson writes:

     It is commonplace for students of the geography of Book of Mormon events to suppose that the Jaredites dwelt only in the land northward. True, at one point in time centuries before their destruction, during a period of expansion, the Jaredite King Lib constructed "a great city by the narrow neck of land" (Ether 10:20). At that time it was said that "they did preserve the land southwards for a wilderness, to get game" (verse 21), but it is unlikely such a pattern of exclusive reserve could continue. The fact is that it makes no sense to build a "great city" adjacent to pure wilderness. Rather, we can safely suppose that, in addition to whatever limited area was kept as a royal game preserve, routine settlers existed southward from the new city and that they provided a support population for it. At the least there would have been peoples further toward the south with whom the city would trade whether or not they were counted as Lib's subjects. As population grew over the nearly thousand years of Jaredite history after Lib's day, more local settlements in parts of the land southward could have developed due to normal population growth and spread. (John L. Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived, Did They Find Others in the Land?," p. 22)

 

Jacob 7:1-2 There Came a Man among the People of Nephi . . . to Declare unto Them That There Should Be No Christ:

 

     In Jacob 7:1-2 we are told that "there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem. . . . to declare unto them that there should be no Christ. And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and thus he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ."

     According to Brant Gardner, here we are faced with an apparent stranger who comes into the midst of the Nephites for the specific purpose of contradicting one of the ostensibly main teachings of the Nephites--that there should be a Messiah, a Christ. This tells us that Sherem knows of the teachings of the people of Nephi. But where did he learn them? There are two possible sources: the Nephites or the Lamanites. (Note* At this time period there is also a possibility that he could have learned such things through the Jaredites.)

     The first probability is the Lamanites, because they would have had the information, but would have rejected it as a teaching. However, the most damning evidence against this hypothesis is verse 10 where Jacob asks Sherem if he believes the scriptures, and Sherem answers affirmatively. The only scriptures so termed in the New World were the brass plates. There is no indication that Laman and Lemuel had much interest in them and besides, the brass plates were certainly with the Nephites.

     The second alternative is that Sherem gets his religion from the Nephites. Doing so gives him access to the scriptures. But Sherem is a Nephite, why is he almost certainly described as a non-Nephite? The answer might come in the extensive trade relations between the people of Nephi and other communities. It appears religion might have been one of the exports, along with the scriptures to back it up. In the hands of a community separated from the body of the Nephites, however, the religion might have undergone reinterpretation--a reinterpretation that did not include the Messianic meanings of the text. Thus, Sherem might have been a converted Nephite from a separated community which traded with the Nephites.

     What is interesting is that the next piece of information we are told about Sherem is that he preached "many things which were flattering" to the Nephites. So one might ask, What were flattering things? First, to be flattering, Sherem had to tell the people pleasant things, and probably had to praise them. One is flattered if one is told that they are good, or respected, or important. It isn't that hard to see that a man from a trading community, who has seen enough value in the cultural artifacts of the Nephites, and even in their religion, could find things to praise about the Nephites.

     Jacob had previously preached against the pride of the Nephites. It is quite likely then that Sherem preached to that pride, using their own opinions of their prosperity as evidence of their blessedness before God. Furthermore, the fact that Sherem preached from their own scriptures provided an authoritative perspective that the Nephites could readily accept.

     Now Sherem had come specifically to preach against the concept of Christ specifically taught by Jacob. Why would he do that? Of course one might presume that this is a true contest between religions, but it seems rather strange that a missionary would come to preach the Law of Moses to the Nephites. Indeed he does not, but preaches rather against the allegedly newer teachings of Nephi and Jacob concerning Christ. Again, why would he do so?

     Once again the likely scenario lies in the content of Jacob's sermons. The temple sermon recorded at the beginning of the book of Jacob would place Jacob in direct conflict with influential traders among the Nephites. Jacob had preached against them directly, and condemned their practices. It would be these very men who would have been the source of the exported copies of the brass plates' text from which Sherem drew his knowledge and ability to preach. Thus there is a very high likelihood that Sherem's understanding of this adopted religion comes through a perspective skewed by the interests of the traders who introduced it to him, and who were in social conflict with Jacob. Sherem will note that he specifically searched out Jacob (Jacob 7:6). The implications are that Sherem's mission was to discredit Jacob's teaching and thereby decrease the Nephite opposition to the practices of the prideful traders.

     Jacob's future comment about Sherem's "perfect knowledge of the language of the people" (Jacob 7:4) seems to imply two things. The first is that his education allowed him to be verbally artistic. The second is that Jacob's native tongue was not that of Sherem. By stating that Sherem spoke a second tongue "perfectly," Jacob seems to imply that Sherem's learning was above that of any known Nephite. While Nephite traders and those with whom they traded would certainly have known how to communicate, having a "perfect knowledge" of another's language would be quite another thing. Thus Sherem must have been esteemed highly by his peers in the trading world.

     In review, it appears that after Jacob had delivered his condemnatory sermons, the rich and influential traders and leaders of the community had Jacob removed from office. However, Jacob's continued preaching in unofficial capacities would have still influenced many of the members of the community. As a further move to decrease the influence of Jacob, the great debater Sherem would have been brought in. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/Jacob/ Jacob7.htm, pp. 1-7]

 

Jacob 7:2 [Sherem] Began to Preach among the People:

 

     Sherem (Jacob 7:1) is one of the first avowed anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon. According to Daniel Ludlow, it might be profitable, therefore, to review his teachings, because later anti-Christs (Nehor, Korihor, etc.) teach essentially these same things. Sherem:

     (1) preached those things which were flattering unto the people (Jacob 7:2).

     (2) claimed that no man can tell of things to come (Jacob 7:7).

     (3) claimed to believe in the scriptures, but clearly did not understand them (Jacob 7:10-11).

     (4) denied the existence of Christ (Jacob 7:9).

     (5) would not accept evidence unless it could be perceived through the physical senses and thus asked for a sign which he could feel (Jacob 7:13).

[Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, pp. 161-162]

 

Jacob 7:3 [Sherem] labored diligently that he might lead away the hearts of the people (Illustration): Three Diverse Nephite Opponents. [John W. Welch and Morgan Ashton, Charting the Book of Mormon, Packet 1, 1997]

 

Jacob 7:6 Brother Jacob, I Have Sought Much Opportunity That I Might Speak unto You; For I Have Heard:

     [See the commentary on Jacob 7:1]

 

Jacob 7:6 Preaching That Which Ye Call the Gospel, or the Doctrine of Christ:

 

     Sherem accused Jacob of "preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ" (Jacob 7:6). According to Cleon Skousen, Sherem's use of the word, "gospel," is interesting. The original writings of Moses state that the "Gospel" was preached "from the beginning" (Moses 6:58); yet our present Old Testament does not mention the word "Gospel" even once. However, it is used frequently in the translation of the New Testament. The fact that Sherem was using a word in the fifth century B.C. which meant "Gospel" shows that it was a thoroughly familiar term in Old Testament times. The Book of Mormon uses it thirty times prior to the coming of Christ. The modern word "Gospel" comes from the Anglo-Saxon--godspel--which means "good tidings" of the God-story. The word in Greek is "euaggelion" and in Latin, "evangelium." It is from the Latin version of the word Gospel that our term evangelism comes. An evangelist is one who proclaims the good tidings of the Gospel, or the good news of the mission of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation. Sherem was right on target when he used the word "Gospel, or the doctrine of Christ" to describe what Jacob was teaching. [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1452]

 

Jacob 7:7 (Sherem's Accusations against Jacob):

 

     An interesting encounter is reported in Jacob 7 between Sherem and Jacob. According to John Welch, in light of the ancient Israelite criminal law that was in force among the Nephites at this time and at least to the reforms of Mosiah (2 Nephi 5:10; Jarom 1:5; Mosiah 17:7-8; Alma 1:17), it is evident that Sherem's accusations were serious allegations. On three accounts in Jacob 7:7, he accused Jacob of offenses punishable by death:

     [1] Ye have led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence.

     [2] And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is blasphemy;

     [3] for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come.

 

Each of Sherem's three accusations can be traced to specific provisions in preexilic Israelite law:

     (1) Causing public apostasy: Leading other people or a city into apostasy--was recognized as a serious infraction under the law of Moses and the Talmud. Deuteronomy 13:1-18 condemns to death any person, whether a prophet, or brother, or son, or wife, who says to the inhabitants of their city, "Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known" (Deuteronomy 13:2, 6, 13). "Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; . . . but thou shalt surely kill him" (Deuteronomy 13:8-9).

     Sherem's point was that Jacob had converted the observance of the law of Moses into the worship of an unknown future being ["the Lamb," "the Messiah," "Christ"].

 

     (2) Blasphemy: It was a felony under the law of Moses to blaspheme (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 24:10-16). Leviticus 24 established that any person who blasphemed, even in a brawl, was to be stoned to death.

     

     (3) False Prophecy: The test for whether a prophet had spoken truly or falsely was usually to see "if the thing follow not, nor come to pass" (Deuteronomy 18:22). First of all, Sherem objected to the fact that Jacob had spoken of things too far distant in the future to be proven. Secondly, Jacob's "preaching . . . the doctrine of Christ" (Jacob 7:6) was characterized by Sherem as a form of speaking "in the name of" another god, for the Nephites had begun worshipping God only in the name of Christ (2 Nephi 25:13-19; Jacob 4:5). Deuteronomy 18:20 requires that a man shall be put to death if he speaks "in the name of other gods." (Note* Welch comments that perhaps Book of Mormon prophets insisted so emphatically that God and his Son were but "one God"--2 Nephi 31:21; Alma 11:28-29, 35--partly to affirm that speaking in the name of one was not to be construed legally as speaking in the name of any other god.)

     Thus, Sherem's allegations were not merely vague rhetorical criticisms; they were well-formulated accusations, logically derived from specific provisions of the ancient law. Sherem's words put Jacob's life in jeopardy. If allowed to stand, these accusations would have justified Jacob's execution. But at the same time, Sherem also put his own life on the line. The ancient punishment for a false accuser was to suffer that which "he had thought to have done unto his brother" (Deuteronomy 19:19). Not only does this show that Sherem was deeply committed to his views and dead serious about the charges he raised against his "brother Jacob" (Jacob 7:6), it also explains the sense of legal justice that exists in the fact that, in the end, Sherem was smitten by God and soon died. [John W. Welch, "Sherem's Accusations against Jacob," in FARMS Insights, January 1991, http://farms.byu.edu/web/insights/archive2/jan_91.asp, pp. 1-2]

 

Jacob 7:7 This Is Blasphemy:

 

     Sherem accused Jacob of "blasphemy" (Jacob 7:7). What does the word "blasphemy" mean? According to Hugh Nibley, it's to treat lightly, not with contempt, but not seriously. It is not to damn something to hell. It is not to say horrible and tremendous things, but to treat lightly. It's much worse to treat the gospel as trivia and laugh it off (you can't reach people like that) than it is to attack it savagely and say, "I'll show you where it is wrong," and really do some studying because then you are in danger. But that's what blasphemy is. We get the impression that when a person speaks blasphemy, he has spoken terrible things. He has denounced and used vile language. That's not it. Blasphemy is treating it lightly, "this is nothing; we'll laugh it off." It's laughing something off, which is the best argument if you want to crush something that you can't answer. You just laugh it off and walk out of the room. They ask plenty of questions about the gospel, but they never wait for the answers. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, p. 406]

 

Jacob 7:9 There Is No Christ, Neither Hath Been, nor [Never] Will Be:

 

     According to Barbara Fowler, to most English-speaking people, the use of a double negative, such as, "You cannot have no candy," grates against the ears and conjures up images of a stern English teacher reproaching students with the axiom, "Two negatives equal a positive!"

     However, in Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar it is stated that "Two negatives in the same sentence do NOT neutralize each other but make the negation the more emphatic" (Kautzch 1909:483).

     In the process of restoring words from the Original and Printer's manuscripts of the Book of Mormon, several instances were found where a negative word had been deleted or changed to a positive word. One such change from the negative to the positive involves the change of the word "never" to "ever." A good example of this is found in Jacob 7:9. By returning the verse to its true Hebrew context (with the addition of "never") we find that Sherem emphatically denied Christ three times:

     If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him;

     But I know that:

           there is No Christ,

           Neither hath been,

           Nor Never will be.

     Thus, Jacob truly emphasized the attitude and magnitude of Sherem's actions through the use of the Hebrew double negative. [Barbara Fowler, "Double Negatives in the Book of Mormon? Yes! Yes!," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 57-58]

 

Jacob 7:13 Show Me a Sign:

 

     It is interesting that in the two recorded instances of people who demand a sign from God (Sherem -- Jacob 7:13, and Korihor -- Alma 30:43,48) both the men who made the demands suffer death. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Jacob 7:14 If God Shall Smite Thee, Let That Be a Sign unto Thee That He Has Power:

 

     According to John Welch, the stunning of Sherem -- see Jacob 7:13-15) was precisely the kind of sign or restraint that people in the ancient Mediterranean world [and by extension the Nephite world] expected a god to manifest in a judicial setting when false accusations or unfair ploys placed an opponent at a distinct disadvantage.

     What is interesting, in comparing this Mediterranean cultural practice with what is recorded in the Book of Mormon, is that stricken litigants often erected confession stelae. The inscriptions apparently were "a confession of guilt, to which the author has been forced by the punishing intervention of the deity, often manifested by illness or accident"206 In hopes of appeasing the offended god, a punished litigant would inscribe on the stela a clear profession of his newly admitted faith in the deity and would warn others not to disdain the gods.

     The story of Sherem shows these same trends of confession. Sherem also acknowledged the power of God:

           And it came to pass that on the morrow the multitude were gathered together; and he [Sherem] spake plainly unto them and denied the things which he had taught them, and confessed the Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, and the ministering of angels. And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment. (Jacob 7:17-18)

 

[John W. Welch, "Cursing a Litigant with Speechlessness," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, p. 155] [See the commentary on Alma 30:49 and Alma 30:52]

 

Jacob 7:16 He Said unto the People: Gather Together on the Morrow:

 

     Did Jacob’s command, "gather together on the morrow, for . . . I desire to speak unto the people before I shall die" (Jacob 7:16) imply that all the Nephites were living within a day's journey of the temple? Did the "multitude" which gathered the next day include all of the Nephites? Does this in any way indicate the size of Nephite lands? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Jacob 7:20 He Gave Up the Ghost:

 

     According to Sidney Sperry, "one of my friends has noticed in the Book of Mormon an apparent Hebrew idiom, 'to give up the ghost,' which is used to express the death of a person." Let us look at it for a moment. The expression occurs three times in the Book of Mormon:

     And it came to pass that when he had said these words he could say no more, and he gave up the ghost (Jacob 7:20). [See also Jacob 7:21 and Helaman 14:21]

     As is well known, parallels to these are found in both the Old and New Testaments. Let us examine two or three examples from the Old Testament:

     She hath given up the ghost; her sun is gone down (Jeremiah 15:9).

     In this example the Hebrew of the words in italics reads literally: "She has breathed [or blown] out her soul [nephesh]." The same essential words (not used grammatically the same) will be found in Job 11:20.

     However, a different usage of the Hebrew can be found in other examples in the Old Testament:

     Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age (Genesis 25:8).

     Here the Hebrew original of the word in italics, wayyigwa, is completely different from those in Jeremiah 15:9 given above. In contrast to the King James Version, this may be translated: "Then Abraham expired, and died in a good old age."

     It is highly probable that the Nephites used both Hebrew expressions "breathe out the soul" and "expired" in referring to the death of a person. [Sidney Sperry, "Hebrew Idioms in the Book of Mormon," in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, F.A.R.M.S., p. 224]

 

Jacob 7:23 They Searched the Scriptures:

 

     In Jacob 7:23 it says that "they [the Nephites] searched the scriptures." What does this mean culturally? Does this indicate that the people of Nephi had access to written scriptures sufficient to educate a number of people, and that the people were all literate? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

Jacob 7:27 I [Jacob] said unto my son Enos: Take these plates (Nephite Record Keepers) [Illustration]: Nephite Record Keepers. Adapted from [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 155]

 

Jacob 7:27 Adieu:

 

     According to Daniel Ludlow, some anti-LDS critics of the Book of Mormon have raised the question as to how Jacob could possibly have used such a word as "adieu" when this word clearly comes from the French language, which was not developed until hundreds of years after the time of Jacob. Such critics evidently overlook the fact that the Book of Mormon is translation literature, and Joseph Smith felt free in his translation to use any words familiar to himself and his readers which would best convey the meaning of the original author.

     It is interesting to note that there is a Hebrew word "Lehitra 'ot" which has essentially the same meaning in Hebrew as the word "adieu" has in French. Both of these words are much more than a simple farewell; they include the idea of a blessing.

     Would it be unreasonable to remind these critics that none of the words contained in the English translation of the Book of Jacob were used by Jacob himself? These words all come from the English language which did not come into existence until long after Jacob's time! [Daniel Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 163]

 

Jacob 7:27 Adieu:

 

     According to Richardson, Richardson and Bentley, the closing word in the book of Jacob ("Adieu"--Jacob 7:27) has been the subject of harsh criticism by faultfinders. However, the fact that Jacob ends his book with the French word adieu, has actually become another evidence for the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Some uniquely French words also appear in the King James Bible such as tache (Exodus 26:6, 11), laver (Exodus 30:18, 28) and brute (Jeremiah 10:22; Nahum 3:19). Those who criticize the Book of Mormon for using a French word are inadvertently criticizing the Bible, which is guilty of the same charge. [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, p. 269]

 

Jacob 7:27 Read My Words . . . Adieu:

 

     According to Angela Crowell, Jacob closes his book with a farewell sentence which ends with the word "adieu." A question has arisen in the minds of some readers of the Book of Mormon as to why this common French word (adopted by English speakers) was used.

     The 1828 edition of Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language defines "adieu" as "A farewell, or commendation to the care of God; as an everlasting "adieu." An understanding of the Hebrew word for "bless" helps to explain the reason "adieu" could be correctly used here.

     The Hebrew verb barak means "kneel," or "bless." "Blessing is a most important concept in the OT [Old Testament]. . . Like cursing it involves a transfer by acts and words" (Bromiley 1985:275).

     The power transfer that Jacob desired to endow upon the reader is brought out very clearly not only by the use of the word translated as "adieu," but also in a skillful chiastic arrangement his last verse:

And to the reader

   A. I bid farewell,

      B. hoping that many of my brethren

         C. may read my words.

      B' Brethren,

   A' adieu

     True to the form of ancient Hebrew chiastic structure we have at the center the most important thought--the point Jacob wishes to emphasize--"read my words." [Angela M. Crowell, "Adieu: The Right Word After All," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, p. 40]