Book of Mormon Sunday School Lessons - Teacher Helps

1 Nephi to Enos:

Beehive Standard Weekly

January 2008

Many teachers struggle to adequately connect the early books of the Book of Mormon to the history of the Old Testament. Understanding the history of the people and the times of that day and age will help your class trust the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as well as giving them important insights into some of the promises and visions contained in this important work of scripture.

Volumes of information could be written on the history of the Kingdom of Judah at this time, but here is a brief look at why the history is important to the study of the Book of Mormon.

First, if we look back immediately before the Prophet Lehi comes onto the stage, we see a region that is in significant transition.

The Assyrians have ruled the known world for many generations. Between 700 BC and 600 BC, Babylon begins to assert itself and rebels against the rule of the Assyrians. First, the Babylonians are beaten back, but they keep pushing and are eventually successful in winning independence. Shortly thereafter, they begin to dictate and rule over other nations.

There are four important regions that are in transition during this time. Babylon (modern-day Iraq) is the new power and must find alliances with other nations to keep momentum going. Assyria is the old power in the region and seeks assistance from its allies in order to maintain its power. Israel is perceived as a political threat to Assyria's stability, so most of Israel is plundered and the tribes scattered -- all but the Kingdom of Judah which aligns itself with Assyria against the other tribes and survives the pillage. Lastly, we have Egypt, which has essentially lost its glory, but is still strong enough to be in an important alliance with Assyria.

The problem with Israel is that it is in the middle of the path between Assyria and Egypt, one of Assyria's most important allies. The Kingdom of Judah is just far enough inland that it does not impede the traffic to and from Assyria and as such can keep out of the most immediate path.

In 721 BC, Assyria decides that it has had enough and conquers all of Israel, save the Kingdom of Judah. By doing so, it keeps the pathway open between Egypt and Ninevah, Assyria's capital. By scattering the people from the various sub-kingdoms of Israel, Assyria stops them from returning and reforming their nation.

In the map section of the Bible, one can find a map of Israel at the time of the scattering. It is important to note that the descendant tribes of Joseph are located very close to the Kingdom of Judah. This is important for Book of Mormon scholarship because those living in those areas likely escaped into Judah immediately before the Assyrian invasion in order to protect themselves and their families.

Historians note that the city of Jerusalem increased in size by 500 percent at this time. This indicates that there was a huge influx of refugees who left the other kingdoms of Israel to find protection in the Kingdom of Judah.

Though speculation, it is a reasonable conclusion to assume that Lehi's family (before Lehi was born) as well as the family of Laban were part of those seeking refuge from the Assyrian invasion.

We know that both of these families were descended from Joseph, which puts them immediately next to the Kingdom of Judah in terms of location before the invasion. Some may also speculate that they brought with them their important writings of prophets and this is also likely. It is more probable, however, that they brought their genealogy.

As with many refugees, those with wealth are more likely to find an invitation to settle into another kingdom than those who are poor. We can assume that both the family of Lehi and Laban were financially stable. In the case of both families, they were likely workers in metal as the theme of metal and metal working is strong in the histories given us by Nephi, e.g, Laban's sword observation, brass plates, etc.

This brings us forward in history. We now have the Assyrians who have cleared the path between Egypt and Assyria and the Kingdom of Judah, all fairly stable. The families of Lehi and Laban are now found in the Kingdom of Judah, though they were technically refugees from neighboring Kingdoms.

In 701 BC, Assyria needs more tax revenue as it is having to sustain a costly war with the Babylonians. The only way to do this, and keep its alliance with Egypt strong, is to tax the Kingdom of Judah, while keeping trade up with Egypt. Raising taxes on the Egyptians would have been a disaster.

Between 687 and 642, the Kingdom of Judah is ruled by Mannasah who tries to renew kinship with the Assyrians by introducing their religion in the Kingdom of Judah. Of course, as one might guess, this does not work out well for Mannasah. He tries to enforce the new pagan religion by killing the High Priests and religious leaders and things start getting even worse. Babylon now enters the scene for the first time.

In hopes of finding a new ally in its mounting campaign against Assyrian domination, Babylon takes Mannasah prisoner only to return him to the Kingdom of Judah after he has agreed to change his ways (or his alliances). After his return, he begins to make adjustments to his policies, including returning the worship of Jehovah to the people. He dies before he can make full reforms.

In 664 BC, Assyria decides it cannot take the threat of Babylon lightly and decides that it will make Egypt a subordinate state. That will mean more tax revenues for Assyria as it builds its military machine against the strengthening Babylonians.

Around 640-650 BC we have the births of two important individuals. The first is the ruler Josiah and the second is the Prophet Lehi (though this date is only approximate as calculated by the age of Lehi's sons at the time of his departure from Jerusalem)

The rule of Josiah's father, Anon, ends abruptly when members of his court conspire to kill the ruler as he appears to have desired to return to polytheism, which was so costly to the kingdom before.

His son, Josiah sees the error of the ways of his ruling ancestors and decides to continue in the restoration of the worship of Jehovah to the Kingdom of Judah. Of course, the fact that he is only eight years old indicates that it may be his guardians who want the restoration, but Josiah does not appear to be troubled by it all and continues the restoration throughout his entire life.

In 640 BC, the Kingdom of Judah aligns itself with Assyria under a new pact. In short, Judah has shown that it is an important pawn in the power game and gets some self-determination. This provides some peace with the waring factions for a time as Josiah grows to adulthood.

In 624 BC, Josiah orders the remodeling of Solomon's Temple in the Kingdom of Judah. During the remodel, the workers find a copy of the "law" that has been placed into the temple walls. According to historians, the Kingdom of Judah had either lost the law or it had been fragmented to such an extent that it was no longer part of the national identity.

The book of law, in this case, was likely the books of Moses which contained the Mosaic Law. It is probable that the Jewish people had the books of the more recent prophets, but lacked the underlying books of the law.

When Josiah had the books read to him, he tore his cloak and realized how out-of-step the nation had been and immediately began reforms to comply with the law. It was at this time that Josiah brought together all of the books existing up until that point and created what we know now as the Old Testament or at least a great portion of the Old Testament. Josiah could be considered the Mormon of his day as he brought the important religious works together.

Here is some speculation, but it appears to be a very strong probability, that Josiah never wanted to lose the law again and ordered that it be preserved in the best fashion possible. At the time, the best medium for keeping records permanently would have been on metal plates. Brass was the most common metal, so it is logical that many copies of the law would have then been placed on brass to preserve the law for many generations. Given the difficulty of writing on metal plates -- and the cost, Josiah would have wanted to use the most brief language for purposes of preserving the law and making as many copies as possible. Again, this is speculation, but at the time reformed Egyptian may have been more descriptive and less copious for purposes of transcribing the law.

In 612 BC, Babylon decides that it has had enough of Assyrian and battles to take Ninevah. Assyria calls upon its sub-state Egypt to come to shore up its armies. What happened next is as important as any development in a thousand years in Israel.

First, the Kingdom of Judah, recognizing an opportunity to gain more independence, aligns itself with Babylon. In 607 BC, Egypt sends troops to help Assyrian in its battle against Babylon. In order to join the battle, however, the Egyptians must pass through the narrow strip of land bordering the Kingdom of Judah -- just west of Jerusalem, which is still in Assyrian control.

With the change of alliances, Josiah and the Kingdom of Judah wage war with the Egyptians to support their Babylonian alliance. In the battle, Judah loses tens of thousands of its great leaders, including Josiah, who is killed by an arrow.

Here is the speculation again. It is possible that the father of Laban is also killed in this great battle. Laban's family was clearly pious and important as he had charge of the brass plates, but it seems unlikely that Laban would have been the one to earn such an honor. Yet, Laban has the brass plates. It is more than likely that Laban's father was the important ruler along with Josiah, but lost their lives in the battle against the Egyptians. Laban inherited the wealth of his father, his positions and most importantly the brass plates.

Lehi's family appears to be in the metal trade, but he does not have the religious position of Laban (or perhaps more importantly, Laban's father). Despite that fact, he is wealthy and educated and his wealth appears to be counted in terms of precious metal. It is even possible that Lehi or his family had something to do with the very formation of the brass used in the plates held by Laban. Remember, the formation of the book of law, along with the more recent prophecies, which were then joined with the genealogy of the tribes descended from Joseph, could only have been created since 624 BC. As such, Lehi and his family, if they were in the metal trade, had to have been right in the middle of the creation of such items.

Back to History.  The war campaign against Egypt was successful, though costly. Ninevah and Assyria soon fell and Babylon became the great power of the day.

Angered by Judah's interference, Egypt asserts its greater strength against Judah and takes the son of Josiah prisoner back to Egypt, leaving a weak head-of-state for the Kingdom of Judah.

With nearly all of her main leaders killed in the great battle with Egypt, and another ruler taken captive, the Kingdom of Judah is left with little backbone and quickly turns away from the reforms of Josiah.

In 604 BC, the Egyptian leader, Necho II, tries to regain a foothold on power and trade. He believes if he can build a canal between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, that Egypt can become a great nation again. He dedicates the next ten years towards building the Suez Canal, which is ultimately unsuccessful. He loses 120,000 men in the process, which greatly weakens his military strength.

Egypt tries to stay out of the picture for a great while, hoping that the battle with Babylon will come later, rather than sooner. The Kingdom of Judah is safe for a season. It has chosen the right side of the battle and is given time to heal under Babylon's protection and under an oath of allegiance that Judah's ruler takes.

Babylon tries to force the oath upon Egypt, but is beaten back by Necho II in 601 BC. The writing is on the wall that Babylon will one day capture Egypt, but not for a season.

Foolishly, Judah mistakes its new found peace for power and seeks independence from Babylon in 597 BC. It is crushed in the process and soon finds itself being punished by taxes and a greater influence from Babylon. The pride of the Kingdom of Judah would be its ultimate downfall.

Thinking that Babylon would go around the Kingdom of Judah rather than bother overtaking Judah was a huge miscalculation.

The pride of Judah and its return from the reforms of Josiah and the rejection of Jehovah doomed it to failure. Babylon needed a staging area for its soon-to-come war with Egypt and Judah was in the way -- or more accurately, Judah was not cooperating and did not see the big picture.

Soon prophets began to fill the streets of Jerusalem to preach the destruction of Judah, but none would listen. There was peace in the land and the belief that Judah would be spared the wrath of Babylon.

Then a man named Lehi prayed and received a vision and the story of the Book of Mormon begins.

As we read the first books of the Book of Mormon, we have a much greater understanding of why Lehi and the prophets obtained promises to preserve the law for the people and for those in the last days. This was not a promise out of the blue, but rather a promise obtained because as a people they had lost the law and then found it again in the temple walls. It had been hidden-up to the Lord.

Lehi's dream of the Iron Rod, which represented the Word of God, wasn't by accident. The word of God or the "law" was vital towards bringing men to the Tree of Life and finding joy. When Enos prayed for his enemies, he understood that eventually, if his descendants had the "law" they too would find the joy that he was experiencing because of his journey with the law.

The concept of the book of law and the protection of the word of God, and the importance of handing that law down through generations was built into the culture at the time. Even Laban understood the value of the book, though he clearly did not see the value in following the words within the book. But Laban refused to give the book up at any cost.

Likewise, we see several unrighteous descendants understanding that their role in protecting the book of law was important, despite the fact that they individually were not living by the words of the book. The book of law is then joined with the plates and later abridged by Mormon to become our Book of Mormon.

In the end, the last prophets obtain a promise from God that the law will come forth again in a restoration in the last days. Moroni (Sidney Rigdon) then buries the plates. If a temple had existed, perhaps Moroni (Sidney Rigdon) would have placed the book into the temple walls, but that wasn't possible under the circumstances.

The book is, however, sealed up and then delivered in the last days as the Lord promised.

We see in the history a type and a pattern that is followed and explains a great deal about the culture of the prophets of the Book of Mormon and their motivations.

In summary, Joseph Smith was not a bible scholar and much of the information about this history was not available to him. When we talk about authenticity of ancient documents, we must look at what was known and when certain things were known. If Joseph Smith did not have knowledge of this history, and did not have access to the greatest libraries of history, he would not have known about the great number of historically accurate details found in the Book of Mormon.

A fair reading of the history leads to no other conclusion that the translation was indeed of an ancient record, as it matches on all four corners of the history as it is now known for that area of the world at that time.