1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just man—for he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it—
Our information about Enos comes from Jacob' s declaration that Enos is his son and was charged to receive and write on the plates according to the desires of Nephi (Jacob 7:27). We also have this short personal introduction. There is really very little that we can learn about Enos. We do not know when he was born, nor how old he was when given the charge concerning the plates.
In the discussion of Jacob 1:11 it was noted: "We do not know the precise date of Jacob’s death. The next specific date marker we have is just prior to Enos’ death where he notes that 179 years have passed since the departure from Jerusalem (Enos 1:25). From the time of Nephi’s death until Enos’ death (presuming it came soon after that 179 year marker) we have 124 years in which there are only two writers on the small plates. This is a long time, and requires advanced ages for both Jacob and Enos. Splitting the difference between them, each would have had to have had a life time of about 87 years. That is quite old for the ancient world, but Nephi lived into his 70’s, and these ages would not be beyond possibility, although remarkable. Of course any revision of Jacob’s probable date of birth to a later year makes this span shorter."
Of course Jacob would have to have been alive for Enos to have been born, and Enos learned from his father, so Jacob lived at least into Enos' youth. This still places both Jacob and Enos into their 90's to make the chronology work for these two.
We can clearly assume that Enos would have known about the plates, but simply not have had the charge to write upon them. With the chronological problems, the most tempting solution is to have Enos be fairly young when Jacob dies. It might be plausible, then that Jacob gives Enos the instructions, but they do not sink in until later in Enos' life, and hence the transformational experience he describes in this chapter.
Most curious in Enos' introduction is the dual statement that his father taught him in the language of his father and in the ways of the Lord. We can readily understand this last idea, for we also strive to teach our children the ways of the Lord. What is much less clear is why Jacob would have to teach Enos "his language."
The most logical reference for this would be to return to Nephi's opening statement where he too was taught in the language of his father. While the use of language as a term in the Book of Mormon at times fits the idea of culture more than spoken or written language, the presence of the term in this verse makes much more sense as either written or verbal language than it does to culture.
Of course this raises the question as to why Enos would comment that his father taught Enos his language. Is it not automatic that parents teach their language to their children? Do not children learn language without conscious teaching?
There are two possible meanings to this phrase. The first is that Jacob taught Enos the language of the Old World because a different language has become the norm for the New World community The second reading is that Jacob taught Enos writing, and specifically the "Egyptian" that was required for the plates with which he would be entrusted. While the first reading is an intriguing possibility, and fits in with the expected linguistic adaptation to a new location, it appears more certain that the second reading should be preferred. Regardless of the spoken language, the plates appear to require a specific script and understanding, modeled after the brass plates. It is most likely that it is to this learning that Enos refers.
2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Enos jumps into his story after the briefest of introductions. His narration is intensely personal. Where Jacob's writings focused on his mission to the people, Enos returns to the personal experience narration that characterized much of 1 Nephi.
Sociological: The book of Enos is an important departure from the books of Nephi and Jacob. What is significant is what is not here.
Contrasting what we will find in the book of Enos with the material from Nephi and Jacob, what we find absolutely missing is any reference to an official position among the people. There are no recorded public ceremonies of recognition of place. Nephi was made king, and Jacob declared a priest. Enos is a prophet, but the nature of a prophet for the Nephite community during this period of development was much more similar to ancient Israel than modern Mormon norms. Enos is a prophet, but there were many prophets (Enos 1:22).
While the last of the book of Jacob saw the redemption of Jacob, it apparently does not create a condition that passes on to his son. Enos does not appear to be a formal priest for the people. He has no public function that can be discerned and the process of marginalization we saw with Jacob becomes more apparent in Enos, and becomes painfully obvious in subsequent small plate writers.
What can we reconstruct of Nephite society at this point? Certainly they would have had a continuation of the position of king. It is very likely that there was some position of official priest, as the size of the community would warrant such a religious specialist. However, it is clear that the religious leader was not assigned as hereditary through Jacob. If it were a hereditary position it probably reverted to members of Nephi's line rather than that of his brother.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
Enos is hunting alone. This suggests that he was considered experienced enough to hunt without a companion. We may consider him of an age to be reflective, but guesses at age are difficult as it is very likely that a youth in this society would have more rapidly passed into early adulthood than his modern counterpart. We may suggest that Enos was no younger than perhaps early to mid-teens when he has this experience, but there is nothing to preclude him being older than that. It is rather certain at this point, however, that Jacob is deceased, and that these remembrances of teachings are coming from past experiences, not present. Jacob's words have taken time to work into Enos' heart, and situation that many modern parents can understand, and perhaps take comfort in the eventual effectiveness of parental teaching and testimony.
Enos tells us explicitly that he has learned of the Lord from his father. For some reason, at this particular time those teachings become pressing, and Enos feels the need to have a personal experience of those things he has heard from his father.
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
The key to Enos' experience is the hunger in his soul. Enos does not have his transformational experience because he thought it might be nice to have one. His struggle before the Lord (verse 1) was a real effort, not a tossed-off prayer. Enos speaks of a real desire from the core of his spiritual being. He accurately represents it as a struggle for he was required to fight through his natural man to his spiritual self. His hunger for the spirit was greater than his hunger for food, for he indicates that he prays throughout a day and a night.
We do not really know with what topics Enos occupied his prayer for that length of time, but we may assume from his subsequent statements that it became a time of self-revelation and realization of his standing before God. It certainly became a time of sincere repentance of acting upon the self-revelations he uncovered.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
The Lord's voice comes to Enos declaring the forgiveness of sins. It is from this that we presume that some of the time of the long prayer was spent in recognizing and repenting of those sins, such that the Lord could declare them removed. Certainly there is more, however, as many have their sins removed without the voice of the Lord proclaiming it, and the sins are just as effectively removed without that spectacular occurrence. What we have in this experience is not only the struggle of Enos, but the call of Enos as a prophet. it is this high calling that warrants the direct communication, indeed, that demands such a direct communication by definition.
It is also interesting that Enos does not feel his sins swept away until he notes that he believes the Lord's declaration. This is an important point for those of us who must repent, for while the actual removal of sin happens through the power of God (and the miracle of the atonement), we nevertheless are not truly forgiven until we are able to forgive ourselves. Enos' sins were already gone from the accounting of the Lord, but until they were gone from his own accounting they remained with him as painful remembrances, and perhaps even spiritual shame. Enos was able to let them go, however because of the Lord's declaration, and his understanding that God would not lie.
So too we, when forgiven, may trust in the word of God that our sins are removed. We may not receive the vocal witness of Enos, but we have witness sufficient in the scriptures and the words of the prophets that we may be free of sin if we truly repent, are baptized and correctly renew those baptismal covenants. We should have no less faith in the word of scripture or modern prophets than did Enos in the voice he heard in the forest.
7 And I said: Lord, how is it done?
8 And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.
Enos could feel the weight of sin lifted from him. This was not an ephemeral experience, but one with tremendous power. The removal of sin was so dramatic as to be conclusive. Enos did not wonder if perhaps he had been forgiven. Enos could feel that the burden of sin was gone, a change in state so dramatic that he inquired of the Lord how it could have happened.
The answer is that the atonement comes through the Savior. This is the crowning message of Nephi and Jacob, and now Enos has his foundational prophetic experience grounded in that very knowledge. Enos will also be a prophet who declares the Christ for he has had personal experience with the saving mission of the coming Messiah.
9 Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.
As noted for the people of Nephi after their revival based on the confession of Sherem, the impact of the spirit is often an impulse to share. Enos has had very personal experience, and now wants to share the knowledge and joy he has gained with his people, the Nephites. It is this turning of interest from self to others that may mark the prophetic calling. All prophets would have had experiences similar to Enos in the tangible removal of the burden of sin. What makes them prophets is their ability to turn outward for the benefit of others. A prophet is no prophet if he keeps his knowledge to himself. The calling absolutely requires that one care deeply for his brethren.
10 And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying: I will visit thy brethren according to their diligence in keeping my commandments. I have given unto them this land, and it is a holy land; and I curse it not save it be for the cause of iniquity; wherefore, I will visit thy brethren according as I have said; and their transgressions will I bring down with sorrow upon their own heads.
11 And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites.
Verses 10 and 11 provide an interesting contrast, for verse 11 is presented as flowing from the event in verse 10. That is, the faith of Enos which begins "to be unshaken" comes as a result of the "voice of the Lord" came into Enos' mind. Presented this simply, there is no question but that hearing the voice of the Lord might increase one's faith. In this case, however, it appears that it really was the hearing of the voice rather than the message of the voice that had this effect on Enos.
The Lord does speak to Enos in direct response to his query about his brethren, but the Lord's response is not what one might expect. We might expect that Enos would procure some promise about the future of his people, or at least their current temporal state. The Lord responds with the promise of the Land, not the people.
The promise of the Land is preserved, and the people benefit in it to the degree of their righteousness. This was the covenant with Lehi, and the Lord does not change it for Enos. Enos receives no promise other than that contingent upon the righteousness of the people. Indeed, the Lord's final promise is that he will visit the wickedness of the Nephites upon their heads. This fairly bleak picture of the future is apparently well understood by Enos, as we will see in verse 13.
12 And it came to pass that after I had prayed and labored with all diligence, the Lord said unto me: I will grant unto thee according to thy desires, because of thy faith.
Enos' increase in faith has moved him to increase his petition to the Lord. Enos continues in supplication until he does receive a promise.
13 And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him—that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation—
Sociological: In this verse we have the subject of Enos' great and faithful supplication. He asks that should the Nephites be destroyed, that a record be preserved to bring the gospel to the Lamanites. The is a great subtext in Enos' plea that we need to understand.
When Enos first begins to pray, he prays for the Nephites. This is normal, for they are his own people, the society in which he lives. However, his supplications for his people result in only the very weakest of promises by the Lord, that the Lord will visit the acts of the Nephites upon their heads. In other words, God will reward or punish them as they deserve through their actions. Two things are important about this promise. First, that the Lord is so cautious about the future history of the Nephites.
The second interesting point is that Enos so fully accepts this response, and in his greater supplication, turns not to the Nephites, but to the preservation of the records of the Nephites should they be destroyed. This is a rather pessimistic acceptance of a future failure of Nephite society to follow the Lord to preserve themselves among the land. It may be that Enos has greatly abbreviated his conversation with the Lord (understandable if it lasted throughout most of a day) and that Enos received the prophetic vision of the future that Nephi had seen (and which was surely understood by Jacob whether he had seen it or read Nephi's account). It may also be that he understands that there will be a great destruction of the Nephites within a few generations, for such is recorded in the Book of Omni (Omni 1:5-7).
From a sociological perspective, what allowed Enos to so easily accept such a gloomy future for his people? Perhaps it was because he had been witness to the Nephite apostasy that was apparently only temporarily reversed with the Sherem incident. Perhaps even after the redemption of the Jacob as a prophet of the Lord, there were trends Enos saw that led him to understand that the struggle of the Nephites to remain faithful was not over after their turnabout to the Lord upon the death of Sherem. Indeed, the later evidence in Omni suggests that there was a rather widespread continuation of some of the practices which led the Nephites away from the Lord, and eventually led to their destruction.
Biographical: While it is an inference, and not explicit, it appears that while Enos had been taught sufficient to keep the plates, he had not necessarily read them. Enos' understanding of the future history of the Nephites appears to come in this epiphanal experience, and not through his reading of Nephi. When Enos begins to pray, he is pondering on the words of his father, not the written text.
Once again. it is inference, but it is probably significant that Enos notes that he pondered his fathers words rather than text. In many early literate societies, the text itself becomes sacred. The scrolls of the Torah become holy as vessels for the word of God, such that hands should not touch them, but rather that they be manipulated with a stick.
Later in the Book of Mormon itself we will see the brass plates passed along as part of the set of symbols associated with sacred rulership (along with the sword of Laban and the Liahona - Mosiah 1:16). Certainly at that later time the text itself is considered sacred, and it is not a far stretch to assume that it would also be at least sacred in purpose if not in its physical form for Enos. In such a case, we should expect that had Enos received his knowledge from the text that he would have been certain to note such a sacred origin. Indeed, both Nephi and Jacob cited text (including whole passages) to support their preaching. Enos does not do so, and so we are allowed the speculation that while Enos is sufficiently righteous to accept the small plates from his father, to this point he has not read them. We may also expect that this condition will change soon. With Enos' new experience, his sensitivity to things of the spirit would increase, increasing his desire to know the contents of the sacred records he is preserving.
Whether Enos has read them or not, he does know that they are important, a lesson learned from his father. Thus when he does pray for an eventual good, it concerns these records. Indeed, it is tempting to assume that this experience in the woods comes soon after receiving the plates from his father, a reason that they should be foremost in his mind during this discourse with the Lord.
14 For at the present our strugglings were vain in restoring them to the true faith. And they swore in their wrath that, if it were possible, they would destroy our records and us, and also all the traditions of our fathers.
From a Nephite perspective, this is the foundation of the conflict between Lamanite and Nephite. There are two objects of hatred, the "tradition of our fathers" and "our records." In later restatements of this conflict, we will see only the traditions issue, and not the records. For all intents and purposes, however, they are the same issue.
What might the "traditions of our fathers" refer to? Certainly one aspect is their inherited religious beliefs, their Jewish traditions out of Jerusalem. While this is possible, it is not likely. Laman and Lemuel may not have been very religious, but their rebellion was not against God (in their eyes) as much as it was the oppression of younger brother who had usurped the right of leadership for the family.
It is the tradition of superior status of the Nephites that galled, and would continue to gall, the Lamanites. While the Nephites remained, their traditions indicated that they had precedence over the Lamanites. The lesson of later Mesoamerica is instructive here. When the young city of Tenochtitan began to flex its military and political muscle, they made moves to assure that they could lay claim to a Toltec heritage. This was an essential legitimizer of power, and a step taken to establish themselves as legitimate powers. (Gillespie, Susan D. The Aztec Kings. Tucson, University of Arizona Press. 1989, p. 25).
In the earlier times of the Lamanites, we may also assume appeals to legitimacy. Whereas the Lamanites probably mixed with other communities (as did the Nephites), their claim to inherent right of leadership was diminished by the countervailing claims of the Nephites. In addition, the records of the Nephites established, and probably sacralized those claims.
In later Mesoamerican society, written map, or lienzo, established the land ownership of certain groups. (see Marcus, Joyce. Mesoamerican Writing Systems. Princeton University Press, 1992, pp. 153-189). Mesoamericans held documents in esteem as legal, moral, and religious proof of claims upon land or leadership, as evidenced by the rapid assimilation of the Nahuas (Aztecs) to the written documents required of the Spanish courts (see Anderson, Arthur J.O., Frances Berdan, and James Lockhart. Beyond the Codices. University of California Press, 1976). Thus when the Lamanites threaten the records of the Nephites, they threaten the legitimacy of the Nephite position and right of rule.
15 Wherefore, I knowing that the Lord God was able to preserve our records, I cried unto him continually, for he had said unto me: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.
Enos' desires to preserve the records now have multiple contexts. He is preserving them for a beneficial purpose, but the urgency of the preservation itself is based on explicit threats upon them by the Lamanites. In this desire to preserve the records, the Lord grants Enos' desire.
16 And I had faith, and I did cry unto God that he would preserve the records; and he covenanted with me that he would bring them forth unto the Lamanites in his own due time.
17 And I, Enos, knew it would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest.
The Lord agrees to preserve the plates, but more than that, covenants to do so. The Lord had shown Nephi that his words would be preserved, and would play a major role in the redemption of future Israel. Enos does not appear to have known of this prophecy, based on his personal urgency to assure the continuation of the records. Therefore, he requires it of the Lord. The difference in Enos case is the covenant. Where Nephi was show the future, with Enos the Lord makes it official.
18 And the Lord said unto me: Thy fathers have also required of me this thing; and it shall be done unto them according to their faith; for their faith was like unto thine.
Might this be a slight suggestion from the Lord that Enos search through the records with which he has been entrusted? Enos' request is not new, and the Lord lets Enos know that his fathers (at least Jacob and Nephi) have requested the same. The Lord nevertheless renews the promise of their preservation.
19 And now it came to pass that I, Enos, went about among the people of Nephi, prophesying of things to come, and testifying of the things which I had heard and seen.
From the record of Enos, we cannot be certain exactly what Enos preached. He says that he prophesied of "things to come," but does not say what those things were. From what Enos does say, however, we may speculate that those things concerned the ultimate fate of the Nephites. Certainly Enos' concerns over his brethren's future, and ultimate desire to preserve the records should the Nephites fail suggests that Enos had seen that ultimate eventuality. Enos would be prophesying of that coming fate, and exhorting his brethren to avoid it, to avail themselves of the promise of the Lord that he would visit them according to their actions. Therefore, if they would repent, all would be well with the. After this manner we might expect Enos to have preached.
20 And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us.
21 And it came to pass that the people of Nephi did till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit, and flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses.
Sociological: These two verses are packed with information, and it is tempting to treat them separately. However, doing so would miss a very important point. Note the contrast between Lamanite and Nephite. In addition to the distinction in name, there is a tremendous difference in lifestyle with the Lamanites being more nomadic, or more in the line of what is termed hunter-gatherers, while the Nephite description requires reasonable permanence of place, and assumes some social organization. Above and beyond the specifics, the gulf between Lamanite and Nephite occurs across these disparate lifestyles. While hunting and gathering is a viable lifestyle (particularly in food-rich Mesoamerica) it is diametrically opposed in all facets to the more structured and localized life of the Nephites. Understanding that we all assume that our own customs are good, and that someone else's different customs are unusual (at best) or terrible (typically), it is quite understandable that Enos characterized the Lamanites in the worst possible of terms When combined with the obvious fact of their enmity, and particularly the wars between them, discussing Lamanites in pejorative terms is only to be expected, and we should read those comments with a grain of salt.
The Lamanite Cultural Catalog
Let's examine the characteristics Enos paints for the Lamanites:
…they became wild, and ferocious…
This information is a value judgement more than a cultural description. Enos is showing his cultural prejudice here, not a detached description. The evidence for their "wildness" and "ferocity" must be seen in other parts of the description, namely:
…feeding upon beasts of prey… And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat…
The terminology "beasts of prey" suggests that they Lamanites were hunting animals rather than keeping them. No one ever refers to domesticated animals as "beasts of prey." Enos is therefore describing people who hunt wild animals for a living rather than tend to domesticated or semi-domesticated flocks. His phrase should not be seen as a condemnation of hunting in all cases, however, because he tells us that he has his great experience with the Lord while he was hunting. Rather, this should be seen as a mode of living to be contrasted to the description of the Nephites who have: "…flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats…" Enos is therefore contrasting the way in which the two peoples obtain their meat. The Lamanites are "wild and ferocious" because the hunt and eat animals that are also "wild and ferocious" (beasts of prey). As noted previously, this is a cultural contrast, with Enos obviously preferring his own way of life.
The eating of raw meat may or may not have occurred, but it is certainly significant in the wild/cultured opposition that Enos is creating. Of course the wild men would eat raw meat like wild animals. Whether or not it was correct, the purpose of the statement is to underline the wildness of the Lamanites, and their diametric opposition to the cultured life of the Nephite.
…dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness…
These are descriptive of a nomadic people. If the Lamanites are pursuing a hunter-gatherer strategy for survival, then the idea of dwelling in tents and "wandering about in the wilderness" would be accurate descriptions of the necessity of that lifestyle. Certainly Enos seems the terms pejoratively, but the fact is that they are simply aspects of a strategy for survival on the land. If the Lamanites had elected not to settle into towns, then the nomadic way of life is the only way to cover sufficient ground to provide food for the group.
The problem with this description is that it also stands in direct contrast to some of the later descriptions of Lamanites, where they do have cities, and even more importantly, large numbers in the army. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle is suited to smaller groups, not larger. The greater food needs of the larger community require that the community be engaged in careful tending of the food, such as farming or the apparently organized "flocks of herds" Enos speaks about. To the degree that we begin to see larger and larger numbers in the Lamanite army, we may be confident that those armies are supported by towns and farms, and not by the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
It would appear likely that just as the Lamanites have traditions about the Nephites that allow them to justify their aggression against the Nephites, so the Nephites had traditions about the Lamanites that allowed the Lamanites to be seen in an unfavorable light. No doubt the original Lamanites would have qualified for all of these descriptions, but it is likely that by the time of Enos, many of those that were being called Lamanites were equally as well grounded as the Nephites. The Mesoamerican model also tells us that groups of town dwellers and those that might have a more nomadic lifestyle might live in the same gross area, and so we may assume that there enough of the people who could be termed Lamanites that continued to fit Enos' descriptions that the cultural descriptions could be continued, in spite of the increasing urbanization of the greater Lamanite population (parallel to the urbanization of the Nephites).
…full of idolatry…
Enos does not give us any examples, but certainly we can understand that Enos' idea of idolatry would be close enough to the Jewish precedent to let us understand that the religious practices of the Lamanites had been altered to the point of accepting idols of gods. Unless this is also an exaggeration, the Lamanites would have begun accepting idols into their religious practices.
Even though the practice is expressly forbidden in the Torah, Israel for years had had problems expunging the influence of the foreign gods from their midst. Laman and Lemuel were not gospel scholars (evidenced by their exchanges with Nephi) and it is very understandable that they would have been susceptible to the inclusion of foreign gods. In the context of a Mesoamerican setting, we know that there were multiple gods worshipped, with multiple representations. If the Lamanites were accepting these modes of native American worship, then the accusation of idolatry is easily understandable, and need not be explained as an exaggeration, but rather a correct portrayal of the Lamanite practice.
The filthiness of the Lamanites is a concept that fits into both the pejorative comparisons and the requirements of a hunter-gatherer life. With the need to travel far, and without set facilities, the nomadic Lamanite groups could be seen as filthy by the more urbanized Nephites.
…with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven…
This is surely descriptive of at least some of the Lamanites. It is most likely descriptive of the earliest groups who would have stayed along the coastal regions of the Guatemalan coast. Sorenson suggests:
"What can we tell about living conditions in the land of first inheritance? The coastal plain where the landing of Lehi would have occurred was uncomfortably hot and humid. That climate favored rapid crop growth, but the weather would be unpleasant for colonizers. The Nephites soon fled up to the land of Nephi, where the elevation permitted living in greater comfort. As Nephi tells the story, the Lamanites down in the hot lowlands were nomadic hunters, bloodthirsty, near naked, and lazy (2 Nephi 5:24; Enos 1:20). The circumstances of life in that environment could account for some of those characteristics. Many centuries later the Spaniards spoke in like terms of natives in the same area. The Tomas Medel manuscript, dating about A.D. 1550, just a generation after the first Spaniards arrived in the area, reported that the Indian men on the Pacific coast of Guatemala "spent their entire lives as naked as when they were born." That practice may have seemed a sensible response to the oppressive climate. In the late seventeenth century Catholic priest Fuentes y Guzman contrasted the "lassitude and laziness" of the same lowlanders with the energy of the highland inhabitants. As for getting a living, the tangle of forest and swamp along the coast itself may have been too hard for the Lamanite newcomers to farm effectively, since they wouldn't immediately get the knack of cultivation in that locale. (They, or their fathers, might not even have been farmers in Palestine.) It may have been economically smart for them to hunt and gather the abundant natural food from the estuaries, while again the damp heat would make their lack of energy understandable." (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Provo, FARMS. 1985, p. 140).
We should remember, however, that this is a description based upon the early experience of the Nephites and Lamanites, which may become a codified description. We find similar references to minimal clothing for the Lamanites in Mosiah 10:8, Alma 3:5, 43:20, and 49:6. However, each of these citations places the clothing in a military context, and probably says more about battle attire than daily attire.
To the extent that we find larger Lamanite populations later in the Book of Mormon, we may assume that those urban Lamanites would have had the same taste for fine clothes as the Nephites of Jacob's time.
…a blood-thirsty people… their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax…
The first weapon listed is the bow. The bow is rather controversial in Mesoamerica, as there is no proof positive of the existence of the bow in early Nephite times. However, recent research has shed more light on the subject which is treated at length by William Hamblin. He concludes:
" In summary, there is no inscriptional evidence relating to the use of bows in Mesoamerica. However, there are limited artistic representations of the use of the bow by at least the second century A.D. Furthermore, there are numerous stone projectile points that can be classified as arrowheads, and the current trend in scholarship is to reclassify such projectile points as arrowheads, thereby dating the use of the bow by Mesoamericans to at least the first millennium It is also possible that some Mesoamericans used arrows with nonstone projectile points. Thus there is no reason to maintain that the mention of the bow in the Book of Mormon is incompatible with the archaeological evidence from Mesoamerica.
I should emphasize one last point. The fact that the bow was known in Mesoamerica does not mean that all cultures in that region would have used the weapon or would have used it extensively in warfare. As Christian Feest puts it: "Since the bow undoubtedly represents the highest development of arms technology in the tribal world, it seems strange that it is not always employed as a weapon of war. In Polynesia bows and arrows were restricted to hunting; in parts of Melanesia the spear replaced the bow, and even the civilizations of Mexico and Peru preferred the spearthrower. Since there are no technical reasons for this, it is likely that the bow was less suited to the particular war tactics of these regions." One could add that although the bow was known throughout Africa, some African tribes preferred not to use it in warfare." (Hamlin, William J. "The Bow and Arrow in the Book of Mormon." In: Warfare in the Book of Mormon. Provo, FARMS, p. 386.)
The next weapon discussed is the cimeter, of which the more modern spelling is scimitar. In modern literature the reference is always to the sickle sword associated with the Middle East. In Mesoamerica no such metal sickle swords are known. However, in the Book of Mormon we are also dealing with a conflation of vocabularies that can make some identifications imprecise. We have two possibilities of vocabulary disjuncture, the Nephties themselves who would have brought Old World vocabulary to New World artifacts (including plants, animals, and weapons) and we have a similar disjuncture with Joseph Smith as a translator, who might also bring a more modern vocabulary to bear on cultural items for which there was no precise identification available to him. Such appears to the be case with the scimitar, a name for a Mesoamerican weapon for which the curved shape gives it the linguistic connection to the Old World or modern term.
Hamlin and Merrill discuss several aspects of the use of cimeter in the Book of Mormon. Of particular interest is the likely corresponding Mesoamerican weapon:
"One of the earliest Mesoamerican candidates for the Book of Mormon scimitar is found in a Late Pre-Classic sculpture that shows a warrior holding in one hand a macuahuitl and in the other a strange curved weapon (see fig. 3, p. 339 in chapter 15). It is impossible to say for certain what this item is supposed to represent. However, a similar weapon is known in India—the haladi. Note that this warrior holds both a macuahuitl sword and a curved weapon just as Zerahemnah is described in the Book of Mormon as being armed with.
In our opinion, however, the Book of Mormon cimeter should probably be identified with a curved, axlike weapon held by many of the figures in the Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza. It appears to be a curved piece of wood in the end of which was inserted obsidian or flint blades (see fig. 1). Although in appearance it is somewhat like an ax, it is structurally different, in that an ax has a straight shaft of wood with a blade mounted on the shaft, while this weapon has a curved shaft of wood with a blade mounted at the tip of the wood. (Hamblin, William J. and A. Brent Merrill "Notes on the Cimeter (Scimitar) in the Book of Mormon." In: Warfare in the Book of Mormon. Provo, FARMS, p. 361).
The ax is much less controversial, as several types of weapons easily fit the general concept of weapon designed for striking.
The Nephite Cultural Catalog
…till the land, and raise all manner of grain, and of fruit…
The first important aspect of the Nephite cultural catalog is the raising of foodstuffs. They raise all manner
of grain and fruit. These are tended farms, and the depiction is of a settled life rather than a nomadic one. Once
a society finds that sedentary agriculture provides the best strategy for their survival, the ties to the land
get stronger, and
…flocks of herds, and flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind, and goats, and wild goats, and also many horses…
There are two aspects of this catalog of animals. The first is the general import of the statement itself, which is to describe the tending of animals as opposed to the hunting of "beasts of prey." In that light, Enos is making a direct contrast to the strategies for obtaining meat, with hunting contrasted to husbandry.
The second aspect is the particular animals mentioned.
As noted in the discussion of 2 Nephi 5:11, the Book of Mormon usage of "flocks" becomes problematic, and particularly in Enos where we find "flocks of herds." It appears that there has been some type of linguistic shift for Enos that can conflate two terms that we would use for separate collective descriptions of animals in English. In the very old animal terminology inheritance of English, specific collectives are attached to specific types of animals (such as a pride of lions). In English, "flocks" refer to fowls, and "herds" are typically reserved for cattle, though the extension to other types of four legged domesticated animals understandable. In Enos, however, our English can make no sense of "flocks of herds" precisely because it implies two very different types of animals in the same phrase.
In short, "flocks of herds" is a mistake, and the question is why. We may presume Joseph Smith knew nothing of animal husbandry only to our folly, for it would be difficult to exist in an agricultural area such as those of Joseph's youth and not understand the standard vocabulary of both agriculture and husbandry. The much more likely scenario is that we have alterations of terms used to describe the domesticated or semi-domesticated collectives of Mesoamerican animals.
John L. Sorenson discusses the concepts of domestication attached to "flocks" and "herds" without noting Enos' unusual usage. His comments are instructive for the possible linguistic disjunctures	that might account for the Book of Mormon naming animals not known to be present in Mesoamerica:
"The late Dennis Puleston of the University of Minnesota concluded a few years ago that the Maya ate the flesh of "semi-domesticated animals" far more often than had been thought. I have accumulated additional evidence to support Puleston's point. Considering all we now know about animal use in Mesoamerican cultures, it is fair to state that most of what the Book of Mormon says about animals is plausible. Some of the book's statements remain hard to square with present knowledge, but the picture is considerably more acceptable to scientists than a few years ago.
The terms flocks and herds are easy to account for. Deer and pigs (peccary) could have fallen under those terms. Fowls in flocks were common. The turkey (Meleagris sp. and Agriocharis sp.) was, after all, an American native. Other domesticated, tamed, or at least caged fowls included the Muscovy duck, Tinamou duck, quail, "pheasant," "partridge," "dove," curassow, cotinga, roseate spoonbill, macaw, chachalaca, and parrot. The term flocks could have included such smaller animals much used by native peoples in Mesoamerica as hares, rabbits, and the paca and agouti (both rodents the size of small pigs).
Dogs are mentioned at five places in the Book of Mormon, but nothing is said of their use. Two types (perhaps two species) were common in Mesoamerica. The large, white, humped mastiff (Nahuatl itzcuintepotzotli) was the creature whose noisy descendants plague Mexican villages today. A smaller, hairless sort (Nahuatl xoloitzcuintli) was fattened and eaten as a delicacy. The Spaniards relished the flesh of these animals at the time of the conquest, although they would have been offended, as most of us would be, at being offered the flesh of the bigger dog. Perhaps Nephite "flocks" included fattened dogs." (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS, 1985. P. 292-3).
What about the horse? Again, Sorenson notes:
"I recently summarized evidence suggesting that the issue is not settled. Actual horse bones have been found in a number of archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, in one case with artifacts six feet beneath the surface under circumstances that rule out their coming from Spanish horses. Still, other large animals might have functioned or looked enough like a horse that one of them was what was referred to by horse. A prehispanic figure modeled on the cover of an incense burner from Poptun, Guatemala, shows a man sitting on the back of a deer holding its ears or horns, and a stone monument dating to around A.D. 700 represents a woman astride the neck of a deer, grasping its horns. Then there is another figurine of a person riding an animal, this one from central Mexico. Possibly, then, the deer served as a sort of "horse" for riding. (That was a practice in Siberia until recently, so the idea is not as odd as moderns might think. Besides, in the Quiche languages of highland Guatemala we have expressions like keh, deer or horse, keheh, mount or ride, and so on.) (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS, 1985. P. 295).
The linguistic evidence from the Quiche is particularly interesting, and as keh for "deer" can be reconstructed to proto-Quichean, placing the term firmly pre-Hispanic (Campbell, Lyle. Quichean Linguistic Prehistory. University of California Press, Berkeley. 1977, p. 48). Thus the Quiche, when faced with an animal without a name in their language, transferred their word for deer onto the animal we know as a horse. Of course Sorenson's suggestion about keheh for "mount or ride" may or may not refer to the riding of deer, likely to have been a ritual/shamanistic function, as this term could easily be derived from regular grammatical rules after the association of keh with "horse." In spite of this, however, the linguistic practice of using a familiar name for an unfamiliar animal is amply attested, and specifically in this example.
22 And there were exceedingly many prophets among us. And the people were a stiffnecked people, hard to understand.
The modern LDS model of church presumes a single prophet at the head of a unified organization. This is not the model of the Old Testament, nor certainly of the early Nephite society. During Nephi's lifetime the community had both Nephi and Jacob as "prophets," although only Jacob was officially in the priestly capacity, with Nephi in the more secular capacity (though such distinctions are two absolute for ancient societies). Enos has declared that after his epiphany he preaches to the people, and prophesies (verse 19) to the people. Thus Enos is a prophet. Yet during Enos' lifetime he speaks of "exceedingly many prophets." This is very certainly the Old World model of the individualized prophetic calling, where the call is to social and religious repentance, rather than to a single person to lead the community of religious adherents.
In spite of the general turnaround of the people after Jacob's experience with Sherem, there was still a tendency for them to leave the way of the Lord. If the proposed scenario is correct in that much of the social unrest was a direct result of trading interactions with other powerful non-Nephite communities, we may presume that such contact continued, and that the pressures to conform to the greater Mesoamerican ideology/culture-set continued to be great. Thus the people would have continued to be a "stiffnecked people." The "hard to understand" phrase means that the Nephites had a hard time understanding the Lord's way, not that it was difficult to comprehend what a Nephite said.
23 And there was nothing save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God, and all these things—stirring them up continually to keep them in the fear of the Lord. I say there was nothing short of these things, and exceedingly great plainness of speech, would keep them from going down speedily to destruction. And after this manner do I write concerning them.
24 And I saw wars between the Nephites and Lamanites in the course of my days.
Verse 24's wars are the explanation for verse 23's "prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death." The preaching of the prophets focuses on the same topics as all other prophets, the return to righteousness, but the message is colored by the very real presence of death from war. In addition to the rest of their message, the urgency of undelayed repentance is highlighted by the wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites.
Enos also highlights by his description of the topics preached to the people the clear tendency they maintained to move away from the path of the Lord. The call to return was harsh because only the harshness of the penalties was sufficient to "keep them from going down speedily to destruction."
In the view of a prophet, and particularly Enos after the nature of his conversation with the Lord, the speedy destruction would be to continue along the path they had begun during his father's lifetime. That path was "speedy" because it was so tempting. It was tempting them away from their religious/cultural heritage, and wrapping them in a new culture that unfortunately brought with it new religious ideas which came dangerously close to supplanting those they had received from Nephi, Jacob, and all the other prophets Enos mentions.
Historical: The brevity of Enos' account contrasts mightily with his longevity. Enos must have live into his 90's, and have been in charge of the plates from his youth (given the approximately 170+ years that had to be covered by two life spans, with some overlap). Thus we have Enos in charge of the records for somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 years, and we have one specific event, and a brief synopsis of the rest. Perhaps to Enos it was so much of the same thing that condensing it into lots of preaching and lots of wars said it all.
The multiple wars mentioned suggests that what we see here is the conflict of a society in the throes of merging cultures, with the difficult task of maintaining and integrating the old into the attractive new.
25 And it came to pass that I began to be old, and an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.
Allowing for around 8 years of travel through the wilderness to Bountiful, we have a culture now nearly over 170 years old in the New World. After that length of time, they were no longer a transplanted Old World colony. Jacob's apparent advanced age when he died suggests that Jacob may have been the last of the community born in the Old World. From this point in time on, we are surely dealing with a culture that is now a New World culture, with adaptations to the climate and foodstuffs, and certainly contact with the other extant towns/cultures around them.
While a subtle theme rather than an explicit one, this interaction with other established cultures, and the borrowing or assimilating of physical and perhaps ideological culture from those other peoples will run as a sub-current under the text of the Book of Mormon, just as the religion of Canaan runs as a traceable but faint sub-stream under the Old Testament.
26 And I saw that I must soon go down to my grave, having been wrought upon by the power of God that I must preach and prophesy unto this people, and declare the word according to the truth which is in Christ. And I have declared it in all my days, and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.
At the end of his life, the seminal event for Enos was still the initial encounter with God in the forest. Indeed, how could it not be? For however much Enos received revelation from the Lord thereafter as he fulfilled his commission to prophesy, that first experience was transcendental, both in the great effort which accomplished it, and the power of the experience itself.
As with Jacob, Enos testifies of Christ. The potential conflict between the law and the preaching of Christ that Sherem proposed is certainly not present in Enos' understanding. He understands the coming Messiah, and preached that understanding.
27 And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father. Amen.
Literary: Enos ends his writing with his final testimony which emphasized both the Redeemer aspect of Christ's mission as well as the resurrection. In so doing, the language we have reflects two texts from the King James Version of the Bible.
The " mortal shall put on immortality" is certainly patterned after Paul's similar usage in Corinthians:
"1 Cor. 15:53 -54
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory."
Similarly, the "see his face" is certainly patterned after Job:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:"
As with other such passages in the Book of Mormon, the parallels to the language of the Bible simply indicates the presence of those phrases in Joseph's mind as ways in which the meaning could be translated. Enos understood the resurrection, and in so understanding, the concept of the physical resurrection is the intent of his statement. That Joseph Smith couched Enos' meaning is phrases of similar meaning and familiar ring indicates nothing other than that which is well known, that the cadences and literary feeling of the Book of Mormon is intentionally patterned after the King James Version of the Bible.
|by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999|