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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lehi's Dream and the Tree of Life

Why you will never hear a complete explanation of Lehi's Dream in Sunday School.

Lehi would have been completely familiar with the Tree of Life. When God speaks to man, he uses language man understands. If he were to speak to me today, he would use English -- not the language of the heavens. It is no surprise, therefore, that he spoke to Lehi through the symbolism of the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life is found in virtually all times and places of the earth. It takes its place alongside the cross, the spiral and the swastika as a truly universal symbol. Some have suggested that it is the second tree in the Garden of Eden.

The first tree undoubtedly represents the law -- not just the Law of Moses, as it is called, but the law of all human interaction. It may be called ethics, morality, Natural Law; but whatever it is called, it is clearly symbolized by the apple, the pomegranate, the fruit first sampled by Eve and then given to Adam.

The second tree was forbidden to Adam and Eve. It may be seen as the Cross; he who eats of the fruit of that tree will never die. More accurately, their spirits would never die; Christ brings us the Resurrection. The cross is truly the Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life is symbolized by the Jewish Menorah, with its lighted branches. For Christians, it comes to us in the form of the Christmas Tree. It may take a moment to make the connection; we tend to think of the Christmas tree as being of German or Scandinavian origin. But in The Golden Bough Sir James George Frazer (1854-1941) says
THE WORSHIP of the oak tree or of the oak god appears to have been shared by all the branches of  the Aryan

In the Book of Mormon Jacob 5 and in the New Testament Romans 11:16-25, we read the parable of the olive tree. Joseph Smith called Doctine and Covenants 88 an

 "olive leaf . . . plucked from the Tree of Paradise, the Lord's message of peace to us." John 15:1-5: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. ...I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing."
The sacred tree turns up just about everywhere. The Celts, the Basque, the Greeks and Romans, Asians, Mayans and Australian Aborigines. We speak of our family tree, and on a wider scale, the evolutionary tree.

It is easy to see the tree as a sacred symbol; drawing nourishment from the earth, its leaves and branches scattering its truths to the sky.

Books continue to be written on this subject. All I've given you here is hint, a nibble. Go on the Net and enter "tree of life" or "sacred tree" with almost any ethnic, cultural or geographic modifiers you can think of. Get a coke or a cuppa and sit down for many a long evening of fascinating research.

And that, boys and girls, is why you will never hear a complete explanation 
of Lehi's dream in Sunday School.

The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion: A New Abridgement from the Second and Third Editions (Oxford World's Classics) by Sir James George Frazer
Buy new: $12.26 / Used from: $9.98 Usually ships in 24 hours
Muhammad and the Golden Bough: Reconstructing Arabian Myth by Jaroslav Stetkevych
Buy new: $14.95 / Used from: $3.81 Usually ships in 24 hours
(You will find more than 25,000 titles on the subject in the Saints Alive! store)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Was There Really Ever a Prophet Named Lehi? And Where Did He Preach?

The Book of Mormon is the prescribed course of study for the year 2012. It opens with the Prophet Lehi, discouraged by the failure of the people to receive his teachings, taking his family into the wilderness; eventually they will cross the ocean to the precious land of promise.

So far we have had two classes. The teacher displayed the usual fanciful depiction of a man standing on a kind of raised stone dais, presumably shouting his message to the crowd at his feet. Someone in the class suggested that perhaps Lehi really spoke to small gatherings of his friends; no one raised the possibility of the city gates.

Now the city gate was more than just an opening in the wall. It was a large building, two or three stories high; most had two chambers on the left and two on the right. Solomon's gates (trust him to do everything bigger and better than anyone else) had three chambers on each side. The gate served for defense of the city in time of war. In peacetime, it was the center of the community, like the county courthouse or city hall in our day. Here the elders assembled, and here the people came to have disputes settled. Stephen was tried here and stoned "outside the gates."

Women, too, were acknowledged here. Proverbs 31 says "her husband is known in the gates. . . let her own works praise her in the gates." [italics added].

I suggest that Lehi, like most of the other prophets, delivered his message in the only plausible place: the city gates.

But was there actually a prophet named Lehi? 

A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Israeli archaeologist Dr. Joseph Ginat. Dr. Ginat told of his experiences in seeking a prophet named Lehi, apparently well known among Israeli archaeologists but not mentioned in the Jewish scriptures. On a trip to Salt Lake City in 1970, he was introduced to the Book of Mormon, and there on the very first page, he found his missing prophet. He further told of a place called Beit Lehi (House of Lehi), about 22 miles south of Jerusalem.

At that time, the only discovery had been an ancient oak tree near a well encircled by stones. Beduoins told him that the tree and the spring marked the spot where, long before Mohammed, a prophet named Lehi blessed the people of both Judah and Ishmael. About a quarter of a mile away is a cave with inscriptions dated to 600 B.C. and rock art depicting a man with raised arms. Another carving  depicts a sailboat.

Since then, a foundation has been established and archaeologists have uncovered a large multi-layered complex. The site was apparently inhabited from 600 B.C to the Mameluke period, around A.D. 1500. There are the remains of a Byzantine church, several columbaria, olive and wine presses.

Some have speculated that the cave here is the one in which Lehi's sons hid when fleeing the servants of Laban. I personally wonder whether this were not in fact Lehi's home in "the land of Jerusalem." 1 Nephi 3 mentions going "up" to the home of Laban, then "down to the land of our inheritance" to gather up their gold and silver and precious things. Obviously, their home was not in Jerusalem, but somewhere nearby.

Photos, site reports and videos may all be seen at

Yes, Virginia, there really was a Prophet Lehi.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Why Electors Instead of Popular Vote?

2012 is the year in which the United States chooses a President for the next four years. This is hardly news to many of you, but the Internet reaches everywhere in the world, and there are probably millions of people who do not know this (and possibly do not care).

Really, U.S. citizens may ask? Yes, really. Do you, for example know how our nearest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, choose their leaders? How about Afghanistan, Albania or Azerbaijan? And that's just three of those nations whose names begin with "A".

So understanding how chaotic our elections must appear to others, let's take a moment to sort of summarize this quadrennial raindance.

Like all good stories, it starts with "In the beginning."

In the beginning was the Declaration of Independence.

It is true that these were not new ideas; they reflect the views of John Locke, among others. Neither was rebellion agaist the English anything new. See any history of Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Jefferson brought them to life with his exalted and unforgettable words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

There followed the American Revolution, and after much deliberation, and a few failed experiments, the Constitution of the United States.

N.B.: The Constitution was adopted by the consent of the delegates, not by the consent of the people at large, who were given no opportunity to vote on it.

Q. When did the United States government go into operation under the Constitution?
A. The Constitution became binding upon nine States by the ratification of the ninth State, New Hampshire, June 21, 1788. Notice of this ratification was received by Congress on July 2, 1788. On September 13, 1788, Congress adopted a resolution declaring that electors should be appointed in the ratifying States on the first Wednesday in January, 1789; that the electors vote for President on the first Wednesday in February, 1789 . . . On March 3, 1789, the old Confederation went out of existence and on March 4 the new government of the United States began legally to function . . . however, it had no practical existence until April 6, when first the presence of quorums in both Houses permitted organization of Congress. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States . . . [emphases added] 
April 6th holds a special significance for Latter-day Saints; it was on April 6th, 1830, just 41 years later, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. Mormons believe that without the nation, the Church could not have come into existence.

There is an order to all that God does, for He is not a God of confusion

We may ask ourselves, Would it not be more "fair" if the person with the majority of the popular vote won the election? Consider that the President is the President of the United States, and only by extension the President of the people. Note that the Constitution was adopted by the majority of the delegates. Thus today, the President is elected, as was George Washington, by the electors of each State.

The manner of choosing their electors is left to the States; most States choose by holding Primary Elections; some hold a caucus. Texas does both.

Nothing is said in the Constitution about political parties. In theory we could have not only three but twenty-three, if the people so desired, or in fact none at all. It would be hard to imagine an election if people could not group together somehow to make their wishes known.

The Church takes no position politically. That doesn't stop you or me from lectioneering all we want to. It is vitally important that we cast an informed vote. Our ballot is a precious heritage from centuries past, the product of sacrifice by men and women of good will. Don't waste it; don't be a spoilsport and stay home if your candidate doesn't win your party's nomination. Just make up your mind to work a little harder next time.