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Uh-nuth-uh One Bites the Dust

Ideas In the Book of Mormon


Research & Editing by Kerry A. Shirts
My good friends on the Mormon Discussion Board brought up a subject with
very interesting insights to which I wish to add others, as their discussion
stimulated me and caused me to look further into this. Thanks to David
Bokovoy, Consiglieri, Ron Beron, MfBukowski, for their ideas. I will not worry
about attributing specific ideas to each as they gave them, but simply lump
them all together with my own for this research. The thread, if one wishes to
pursue it is at:
http://www.mormonapologetics.org/index.php?showtopic=41513
One of the classic biblical themes presented throughout the Book of Mormon
includes the notion of rising from the dust. This Book of Mormon admonition
reflects the account of mans creation described in Genesis 2:7. There we
read : s : e . : s -s : s s the KJV translation being
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground noting that
s ycer from the word s yatsar, is from the language of pottery, the pot-
ter (Tpfer) forming the pot from already existing stuff. This is precisely the
Egyptian idea of Khnum as the Divine Potter.[1] There is no Creation ex Nihilo
here.[2] This is creation in the form of fashioning, implying something already
there to work on.
[The LXX has .:ac.| which from Hesiod down to the Septuagint uses .:ac.|
chiefly for the Hebrew s; to form, mould (properly, something from clay, wax, etc.): this
word is used of a potter, Romans 9:20. Robertsons Word Pictures notes here at
Romans 9:20 - in LXX it reads The thing formed (e :aca to plasma). This is
an old word used by Plato, Aristophanes, etc., from :acca plass, meaning
to mould, as with clay or wax, from which the aorist active participle used
here (ti plasanti) comes. Paul quotes these words from Isaiah 29:16 verba-
tim. It is a familiar idea in the Old Testament, the absolute power of God as
Creator like the potters use of clay in Isaiah 44:8; 45:8-10; Jeremiah 18:6, 1
Timothy 2:13.]
What prior substance is worked on in this case, is the ground (: s) from which
mankind comes from. Interestingly, the Hebrew for mankind or human being
in general is strikingly similar to the word for the ground. Mankind = :s
(h|dm) and ground, earth, etc. = : s (hdm) the difference of
only the
letter .
The imagery of rising from the dust held considerable meaning for Lehi, who,
following his initial admonition in 2 Nephi 1:21, continued the theme: Shake
off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and
arise from the dust (2 Nephi 1:23).
Lehis repetitive invitation reflects the use of creation imagery in the Old
Testament. In an important study devoted to an analysis of this motif, biblical
scholar Walter Brueggemann has illustrated that the Bible features a connec-
tion between rising from the dust and enthronement. To be taken from the
dust, he notes, means to be elevated from obscurity to royal office and to
return to dust means to be deprived of that office and returned to obscurity
(see Walter Brueggemann, From Dust to Kingship, Zeitschrift fr die
Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 8 (1972): 118).
In the Book of Mormon, Lehis use of this biblical image clearly reflects
Brueggemanns observation:
Come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust (2 Nephi 1:23).
A helpful reference that reflects Brueggemanns observation connecting dust
with kingship includes 1 Kings 16:2: s c :. . .. z.-s e .:
z- : :s . I [God] exalted thee out of the dust, and made thee
prince over my people Israel. Notice how the LXX reads - u(aca c. a:e ;
,; the Greek u(aca is from u(ea, describing an elevating, heightening, exalt-
ing, etc. In Judaism, u(ea can mean the resurrection, arising up meaning
being resurrected. Being raised up from death.[3]
Returning to the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin demonstrates an apparent
awareness of this subtle biblical tradition:
And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are;
for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield
up this mortal frame to its mother earth (Mosiah 2: 26).
While the biblical concept of returning to the dust from which we were taken
would have been an extremely popular motif to 19th century Americans, the
use of dust in King Benjamins sermon provides evidence for an extremely
subtle biblical/Book of Mormon connection. By specifically linking dust with
kingship, Mosiah 2:26 provides yet another impressive tie between the cultur-
al/religious traditions of ancient Israel and the Book of Mormon.
In an interesting connection also is the Biblical narrative of the murder of
Abel. His blood is not the only inanimate object which is personified. The
blood is represented as crying out loud : s : s :.s the word from
:.s is .s (aq) meaning to cry, cry for help, call. The BDB suggests the
original meaning in Arabic was sound as thunder. This root means to call out
for help under great distressA strong outcry frequently indicates that right-
eousness is absent or judgment is being executed. [4] The earth is represent-
ed as opening her mouth to receive the blood of the victim. Similar to this is
Aeschylus speaks of the ground drinking the blood of the murdered
Agamemnon. However, in the Genesis account, the murderer was cursed
from the ground, : s : - s s On the basis of Akkadian araru to
snare, bind and the noun irritu noose, sling Brichto, following Speiser,
advances the interpretation that Hebrew arar means to bind (with a spell),
hem in with obstacles, render powerless to resist. Thus the original curse in
Gen 3:14, 17, cursed are you above all cattle and cursed is the ground for
your sake means you are banned/anathematized from all the other animals
and condemned be the soil (i.e., fertility to men is banned) on your account.
Similarly, Gods word to Cain, you are cursed from the earth means Cain is
banned from the soil, or more specifically, he is banned from enjoying its pro-
ductivity.[5] The implication here is that the earth, polluted by blood and
offended by his crime, would refuse to allow the seed sown by the murderer
to germinate and bear fruit. It would actually expel him from the cultivated
soil which he had prospered on before, driving him into the barren wilderness,
a vagabond and wanderer, the actual meaning of the word Nod. We read
further in Leviticus that when the land is defiled by her inhabitants, she reacts
violently! Leviticus 18:25 and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.
::-s s s- The earth simply wont allow the defilers to stay in her,
(qy) implying violent action against them. The LXX has :ece,t,a: the
aorist :eca,tca means to be wroth or displeased with. At Genesis 27:46,
Rebekah tells her husband she is weary (:ece,t,a) of her life. At Numbers 21:5,
:eca,tc.| means loatheth.[6]
This may very well be a take off of another idea in the Ancient Near East
where Ones mouth is stuffed with dust and ashes as a death sentence.[7]
There also comes forth from the ground a river or a source of water, s
watering the whole surface of the earth, : s. Then Yahweh formed earthly
Man, : s out of earth, : s as dust, e.. This statement with its play upon
: s and : s indicates that Man was fashioned by God from the red dry
particles of earth, : s meaning the red arable soil.
Now this pun takes us of course back to Canaan, where we find : s not only as the
designation of mankind but also as the name of a deity of earth, and where in the
RS texts El is called Abdama as was indicated above. This manner of creating
mankind by fashioning a being out of the dust of earth is a well-known theme
in Mesopotamian mythology and we are taken back once more to
Mesopotamian mythical stories, at the same time clearly discerning the spe-
cific Canaanite colour of the narrative of Genesis 2:7.
Here it is made clear that we are made, at least according to Ugartic litera-
ture, from the body of the deity of the Earth. Further Philo of Alexandria con-
tinues this thought equating Adam with the kingship of this earth. In the book
The Tree of Souls the authors, Howard Schwartz, Caren Loebel-Fried, Elliot K.
Ginsburg assert that God intended man to rule the earth while God ruled the
Heavens hence, the comment, Now the man has become like one of us.
(page 125)
More on this theme was discussed by George Widengren in Early Hebrew
Myths And Their Interpretation.:
While one tradition (Gen. i. 26) considers this Primordial Man the image of
God, another statement (Gen. ii. 7), which we have just mentioned, says that
Yahweh breathed into him His breath of life. At any rate the connexion
between God and Primordial Man is very intimate and we may find here a
faint trace of the original Canaanite idea according to which El was the father
of Adam, Mankind. Primordial Man would then be entitled to be called the Son
of God, as has been noted already. We saw that for this mythical conception a
ritual association was found in so far as the king was looked upon as a liv-
ing incarnation or representative of this Primordial Man. Now, certain
hints in both Ugaritic and Old Testament texts would seem to indicate
that the ruler as son of the godhead was given the special designation
of firstborn, cf. Ps. lxxxix. 28, where God gives the following proclamation
concerning David:
s :: . .-s :: .s s I shall put him as the Firstborn, as the
highest one for the kings of the earth.
I shall put him as the Firstborn, (:: - LXX reads :aee-e| (:ae;,
t-a), the Septuagint rendering for ::, firstborn;) as the Highest (.) one for
the kings of the earth.[8] The Greek u(e| [either highest or higher]means
metaphorically, eminent, exulted: in influence and honor, Luke 16:15; u(a |e|.t|, to
set the mind on, to seek, high things (as honors and riches), to be aspiring, Romans
12:16; also Romans 11:20. Hebrews 1:3; exalted on high: u(e.e; a| eua|a|
(made higher than the heavens).
Lehis description of rising from the dust is somewhat different than how
Isaiah talks about the dust. Isa. 52: 2
: : :: : e .: ..- Shake thyself from the dust(e.:); arise, and
sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive
daughter of Zion.
Here Isaiah does not say to arise from the dust, but to Shake thyself from
the dust; arise, and sit down. Although the original in Hebrew may have a
different meaning, reading it in English I have always thought it to refer to
somebody simply sitting on the ground and getting dirty, who is told to shake
off the dust, arise and sit down.
I confess this has never made much sense to me, because I had thought the
person was already sitting; and yet if that were the case, Jerusalem is told
to shake off the dust (before standing), stand up, and sit down again, which
seems rather pointless. I mean, if Jerusalem can shake off the dust while
sitting down, why the bother of standing only to sit down once more?
And if this is the correct understanding of the passage in the original Hebrew,
it seems that Moroni understood it in the same way:
Moro. 10: 31And awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and
put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes
and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded,
that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O
house of Israel, may be fulfilled.
Could this be an instance of the Book of Mormon altering an Isaiah quote
from the KJV in such a way as to more accurately convey the meaning of the
underlying Hebrew?
The quote from the paper dealing with geo-personification finds corroboration
in the Book of Moses:
Moses 7:48And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he
heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of
men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children.
When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out
of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness
for a season abide upon my face?
The filthiness that has gone out of the earth refers to wicked mankind, but
the fact the earth states it has gone forth out of me surely refers to the ini-
tial creation of man from the dust of the earth.
Notes
1. Ludwig Koehler & Walter Baumgartner, A Bilingual Dictionary of the Hebrew and Aramaic
Old Testament, E. J. Brill, 1998: 396. For Khnum as potter, Hugh Nibley, The Message of
the Joseph Smith Papyri, Deseret/FARMS, 2
nd
ed., 2005: 219.
2. See the discussion in William P. Brown, Structure, Role, and Ideology in the Hebrew and
Greek Texts of Genesis 1:1-2:3, SBL Dissertation Series 132, Scholars Press, 1993: 32-
35.
3. Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 10
vols., Wm B. Eerdmans, reprint 1983, 8:606-607.
4. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old
Testament, (Hereafter cited as TWOT) Moody Press, 1980, 2 vols., quotes in 2:772.
5. TWOT, 1:75; See also G. J. Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the
Old Testament, William B. Eerdmans Co., 1974, Vol. 1:408-409.
6. Folklore in the Old Testament: Studies in Comparative Religion Legend and Law, 1918, Sir
James Frazer.
7. T. H. Gaster, Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament, Harper and Row, 1981, 2
vols., idea found in vol. 2: 826.
8. Myth, Ritual, and Kingship: Essays on the Theory and Practice of Kingship in the Ancient
Near East and in Israel by S. H. Hooke; Clarendon Press, 1958.