The Book of Mormon is known for talking about lots of wars, eventually ending in the extermination of Nephites. But is the central message a pacifist message? Dr. Christopher Thomas teaches at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary and made a startling discovery. The story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies is in the exact center of the book. He says that is not a coincidence.
Chris: Now, there are bigger issues, like I was reading, Alma. I was reading the 1830 edition, not an original, but the replica or I wouldn’t be on Gospel Tangents. So, I’m reading along, and it’s the story of the anti-Nephi-Lehies.
Chris: Did I get that right?
GT: That’s right.
Chris 23:08 Anti-Nephi-Lehies. That is a really moving story about pacifism, right after their conversion, their deaths, etc., and all of the sort-of reactions. I’m in my study, at home, and I’m reading it and all of a sudden, I just noticed, “Man, this story looks like it’s in the middle of the book.” So, I did a page count in the 1830 edition, and it looked like it was. So, then I wrote a buddy at BYU and said, “Hey, has anybody ever counted the words in the Book of Mormon? ”
He said, “Chris, we count everything. Of course, we’ve counted the words in the Book of Mormon.”
I said, “Can you send me the data?” Man, that story’s just about dead in the middle of the book.
Now, a historical critic would say, “Oh, well, isn’t that an interesting coincidence,” but somebody’s paying attention to narrative, being in the dead center of the book, that’s theologically and literarily significant. So, in this book that’s got these real–I mean, it’s like, there’s so many wars. As a new reader, I’m reading them, and I’m thinking, “No, not another bloody war.”
Chris: You have this kind of subtext that subverts that dominant theme, not just the Alma stuff but you think about the words of Jesus. Then, you think about how that the anti-Nephi Lehies are kind of lifted up as models. I think it’s in 3rd Nephi and then in 4th Nephi, you’ve got the Golden Age, the 200 years, but you only get, I don’t know, what, about eight verses about it after all this.
Chris: Then, at the end, Mormon is just kind of worn out from war. He’s like, “Listen, don’t take up your swords against anybody unless God tells you.” So, I wanted to know what the lay of the land is. The difference, I would say, in a typical LDS knowledge of the Book of Mormon and my overview is, I tried to pay real attention to kind of the structural markers. A friend of mine at BYU was reading the book, and we would meet weekly over Skype, I think it was, and he would say to me, “I knew you were wrong about such and such. Then, I went back and read the text, but you were right, and it’s what I had been told this meant, that had kind of led me astray.”
GT: Oh, interesting.
Chris: One of my weaknesses is, I don’t know the tradition, and so I’m never sure if what I’m seeing is actually there. So, I wanted to do that, and then I wanted to look at kind of the theology of the book, not compared to the Bible, but what the theology of the Book of Mormon is.
Do you agree? Check out our conversation….
Don’t miss our previous conversation with Chris!