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Francis X. Clooney, S.J.September 22, 2012

Cambridge, MA. I tell my students that one way to figure out what one thinks is to start writing, and to a large extent that is my experience with my short and sporadic study of the 3rd Book of Nephi in the Book of Mormon these past weeks. My hope is to convince some readers of this blog at least that one can begin with no knowledge of another religion, clear one’s mind and heart for a moment of all you’ve heard, and by quiet reading get quite far in beginning to understand it and learn from it. Yes, it is correct, as pointed out by those who commented on my first blog, that there are many other ways to study the Latter Day Saints. But those are harder ways, and often superficial ways. I have never found it all that easy to sort through historical documents, oral traditions, and various popular accretions to a tradition; googling rumors is hardly the way to trace the life of a lived religion. And so I stay with the text — to each his own — and return here to 3 Nephi.

I must first express my gratitude to Grant Hardy, the distinguished scholar of the Book of Mormon, for emailing me, and making several good suggestions. Key is his work in editing The Book of Mormon: a Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press, 2003), an edition that makes the (unchanged basic) text of Mormon so much easier to read. You can still consult the online edition and the Reader’s Book of Mormon which I mentioned last time, but if you want just one book, buy Dr. Hardy’s edition. He also pointed out to me that Krister Stendahl, a distinguished New Testament professor at Harvard, Dean, and later Bishop of Stockholm, wrote a very interesting and learned essay on 3 Nephi, particular regarding its use of the Sermon on the Mount (see below). So there it is: I am the second Harvard professor, also not a Mormon, to zero in on 3 Nephi as the place for a Christian reader to start. 

Last blog I ended with the Nephites, settled in the new world (America, though of course it is never named as such), hearing the voice of Jesus: “Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God. I created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning. I am in the Father, and the Father in me; and in me hath the Father glorified his name. I came unto my own, and my own received me not. And the scriptures concerning my coming are fulfilled.” (3 Nephi 9.15-16) This voice of Jesus scolds the people for their incessant violence, and commands them to come to him. This appeal is followed by a great silence across the land, after which the people, further rebuked, repent. Mormon offers an aside to the reader, as it were, to point out that all of this fulfills the old prophecies: it is all true, it is all happening right here. (3 Nephi 10)

Chapter 11 is rather beautiful. The people “were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place.” (11.1) There follows another heavenly voice, but this time, though the voice as it were pierces them, at first they do not understand it at all. Only on the third time do they understand the words, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name – hear ye him.” But then Jesus himself comes down into their midst and stands right there before them. He invites them to see the nail holes in his hands and his feet, and the cut in his side. Bolder than Thomas, they put their fingers in the holes, and know that it is indeed Jesus. And then the mission begins.

Jesus calls Nephi to him, who bows down and kisses the feet of Jesus. After this, Jesus calls a group of twelve, to whom he gives the mission to preach and to baptize and to teach, though without any rancor: “And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (11.28-30) In her introduction to this volume of the Reader’s Book of Mormon, Linda Hoffman Campbell comments that here “the text spoke to me more directly than any other passage ever had in the volume. I thrilled at the personal, intimate invitation for each person to come, one by one, to touch the Savior’s wounds.” (xxii)

What to make of all this? Remember, all this occurs in the new world, after the Ascension. The risen, ascended Jesus has come here to speak even to this scattered tribe, in this far-off place. Unusual. But it is clear that the author wants to stress continuity: this is the same Jesus who is the Son of the Father, who died on the cross, and whose mission has not changed at all. The point seems not to privilege this group of Nephites in America as possessed of a special revelation that goes beyond the Bible, but to say that they too received “the same revelation” that is described in the canonical Gospels.

Now it is true that few of us reading a blog for America, the magazine, will be able to imagine that Jesus appeared in America, the land, in 34 CE or so. But many of us have believed that the same Jesus who lived and died and rose and taught in Palestine in those days does, as it were, truly visit us here and now. Like these Nephites, we believe ourselves to encounter the risen Christ and to hear, not a new revelation, our own secret teaching, but the same message that reverberates through the ages, for those who will come to Christ when his voice finally makes sense to them. This is, in a way, what the Spiritual Exercises are all about too. It may seem very odd to think that Jesus came to America several millennia ago; but I know people, as do you, who believe it very odd to think that Jesus visits us in our times of prayer, or that we can converse with Jesus in our heart of hearts. In its own way, the Book of Mormon creates the space, albeit as somewhat literal space, for this. Even if 3 Nephi takes a step too far for most of us, we should be able to be sympathetic with its conviction that Jesus is here, now.

That 3 Nephi is all about “the same experience” and “same teaching” occurring all over again is confirmed in Chapters 12-18 – and for this I rely on Grant Hardy’s clear subheadings – where, in Jesus’s long teaching to the gathered crowd, he first (in chapters 12-14) repeats large portions of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). See Stendahl on this very point. In my next blog, I will say a bit more on this teaching and the added chapters of teaching, blessings, and the instruction on the Eucharist, that fill out chapters 12-18 — after which, “it came to pass that when Jesus had touched them all, there came a cloud and overshadowed the multitude that they could not see Jesus. And while they were overshadowed he departed from them, and ascended into heaven. And the disciples saw and did bear record that he ascended again into heaven.” (18.38-39)

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Trent Henry
11 years 6 months ago
Excellent post, thank you. There is much we can learn from each others' religious traditions and beliefs. I feel that the Mormons are hung out to dry too often; I enjoyed this piece.
Cameron Nielsen
11 years 6 months ago

I find your complex understanding of the church very interesting and unique. On one hand you see it as a fraud, but on the other hand you recognized the fruits of the Spirit. As a Mormon, I seek to recognize fruits of the Spirit in all people. However, I don't think fruits of the Spirit can come unless there is truth to be found there, be it partial or a complete understanding.

I'm also puzzled by your statement regarding Jesus. As a Mormon, I believe that I share with all Christendom the belief and teaching of Jesus and the prophets that the spiritual trumps the temporal. Thus, death and suffering are not the ultimate tragedies, but rather sin and separation from God and loved ones are.

Viewed through this lens, horrible things that the Savior allows or causes to happen to people are for their experience to grow their empathy, to protect the innocent still on the earth from wickedness, or a merciful act of expediting their opportunity to be taught the Gospel after mortality if they were not fully accountable while living.

A final thought to share. Mormons see these visitations in the new world as one of many fulfillments of Jesus' words in John 10:16: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be onefold, and one shepherd."

Mormons believe that their are still other visitations that the resurrected Lord made to other branches of the house of Israel, which he alluded to following the chapters discussed in this post. In 3rd Nephi Ch. 15:12-23, he explains this to his chosen 'new world' disciples:
"Ye are my disciples; and ye are a light unto this people, who are a remnant of the house of Joseph. And behold, this is the land of your inheritance; and the Father hath given it unto you.
And not at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell it unto your brethren at Jerusalem. Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land.This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief theyunderstood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them.

But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me, and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you. And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them. 

And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said:Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should beconverted through their preaching. And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice—that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost."

Thus, Mormons understand an inclusive and universal Jesus, who is both the God of Israel as well as the whole earth (as he says in Chapter 11), one who in his love, visits all his children according to their faith and capacity to receive him.

Francis, thank you for your heartfelt post. The Book of Mormon (as other ancient scripture) is a strange combination of bizarre and tragic history combined with amazingly powerful spiritual events like in 3 Nephi. If you are interested in any similar passages, I'm sure Grant Hardy or another Mormon friend could point you in the right direction.


David Pasinski
11 years 6 months ago
Many years ago as a Catholic high school stduent accustomed to some great  pre-Vatican II liturgies, I saw the pageant in Palmyra and was taken by it on many levels... but found it so completely implausible. Nothing has changed that, but my appreciation for religious pluralism and respect for anyone's beliefs has, I hope, grown considerably. Surely, as you rightly point out, we ought to learn cross-culturally and interreligiously, but the historical basis for this expression continues to strike me as completely implausible with our present archaeology and knowledge. 
Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 6 months ago
It is arrogant and superficial to dismiss scriptural exegesis and oral tradition as "chasing down internet rumors." In the other three Abrahamic religions, the oral traditions account for most of the body of religious knowledge. One can understand nothing of Judaism from reading the Tanach and dismissing the Talmud as "internet rumors." The same is said to be true of the Qur'an and the commentaries on it. And who would ever pretend to understand Catholicism from the New Testament alone, without knowing anything of the Platonic and Aristotelian anachronisms grafted into its dogmatic structure?

To suggest Mormonism is reducible to "the text" is insulting. The literal meaning of anybody's religious scriptures is always the least informative. Mormons spend years studying the allegorical and moral significance of their scriptures, just as Catholics do.

One might also question whether a Catholic priest would be able to understand Mormonism. Like Judaism and Islam, the primary mode of internalization of Mormon truth is life as lived in the family. A man who has never had a wife or even a serious girlfriend professing expertise on Mormonism is like a blind man who, having met with some success as a critic of sculpture, assumes he is capable of reviewing a photography exhibit; or perhaps like a deaf man who is a specialist in modern art, mistaking a piece of sheet music for a painting and pontification to his students about its artistic merits.

Comment: Ms Ho-Ohn: I am sorry to see that you misunderstand my project, and what I have written in my blogs. It is true that I do not think highly of doing one's research solely via Google. But I do not think, and did not say, that the Mormon Religion is reducible to the text. Nor did I say that one must or must not study extra-textual sources to learn something about this (or any) religion. Of course one can take either path, and scholars of the material do well to do both. Rather, I am stressing, clearly, the value of study of the Book of Mormon itself, even if one leaves other worthy projects undone. I am sorry you are so dim on the prospects of a careful reader, even if he is a priest and a celibate, learning from 3 Nephi, and I certainly disagree with you. That said, I do want to do more good than harm, so if I egregiously misinterpret some point regarding 3 Nephi in these blogs, I would be grateful to you (and others) for pointing out errors. I am, as I said, a novice at this. FXC

Gerelyn Hollingsworth
11 years 6 months ago
Francis, I agree with Amy. 

(And I don't like the way you insert comments into other posters' comments.  Why not just add another one with your name attached?)

Amy is not 'dim'.  You should retract the insult and apologize.

Imho, a Catholic unfamiliar with the Mormon religion could learn a LOT more by reading the Recovering Mormon boards than by reading your ruminations on the Book of Mormon.  (They get 1000 posts a day.)


The Short Topics are good, too.


Comment: Ms Hollingsworth: Thanks for questioning the word "dim" - I meant only to indicate the usage, "dim on the prospects of," being skeptical about, some possibility. FXC
Bill Taylor
11 years 6 months ago
I come from a Mormon background and have studied the Mormons all of my life. I have read the Book of Mormon several times. I do not read non-Mormon material about Mormon life or Mormon beliefs.

But back to Third Nephi. First of all, it is important to understand that for Mormons, the Jehovah of the Old Testament will become Jesus of Nazareth. As III Nephi reveals, he will maintain his old smiting ways. Fr. Clooney turns to Chapter 9, but he avoids chapter 8 and the first half of chapter 9. What we witness there is a scene of horror: Tempests, earthquakes, whirlwinds, fire. Entire great cities perish: Zarahahemla, Moroni, Moronihah-whole areas sunk into the sea with their whole populations. In the end, there are three days of impenetrable darkness with 2500  trembling survivors huddling together in the ruins of their temple, unsure what is to happen next. Then comes a voice: Wo, wo, wo, wo! I burned Zarahemla, I buried Moronihah in the earth, I drowned Gilgal in the sea. The list goes on and on.  

Only then does the passage quoted by Fr. Clooney appear: "Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Then, after hours of silence, the traumatized wretches gathered in the temple hear the voice of the Father saying "this is my beloved son," and watch the white figure of Christ come down from heaven.

After allowing the survivors to touch his wounds, thus proving the prophecies about his crucifixion in the Book of Mormon true, the Christ organizes the Twelve and gives them power to baptize. A long, long sermon then follows, containing everything Jesus ever said in the Gospels and much he did not say.  The sermon ends with more threats about what will happen again if his words are not obeyed. Only after business is attended to does he minister to the sick and allow angels to tend to the traumatized children.

Every time I read III Nephi, I am reminded of a Jesus I do not know and could not serve. And I am reminded of the horrifying view Mormons have of God, if they take III Nephi seriously. Fortunately, they also read the New Testament.
Bill Taylor
11 years 6 months ago
Just a quick addition to the above. We remember our first glimpse of the living Jesus in the New Testament: He is a child held in his mother's arms. What III Nephi describes is another first glimpse of Jesus. They know him by his works: He is the destroyer of millions. This cannot be ignored when we talk about the LDS understandihng of Jesus. When I have pointed this out to visiting Mormon missionaries, the young men have all responded, "Well, they deserved it." Their Jehovah/Jesus is very limited in his mercy.
Tom Maher
11 years 6 months ago
What a wonderful idea to introduce some of the content of the Book of Mormon to America magazine readers.  I have very little detail about the LDS Church or the content of the Book of Mormon even though The Church of Later Day Saints is a signifcant religlious group and a part of United States history. 

There is a lot here to digest.  But I like your approach of beginning with something you are familiar with or which your find interesting and branch out from there.  I'm about a third into 3 Nephi which so far seems like a Bible story.  It will be interesting to see how 3 Nephi will somehow introduces Christ to some of the ancient people of North America.   And the Bibile does convey strong disapproval of many unknown things going on in the MIddle East.  Why would North America be different?

This is a very interesting intersection of different Bibilical themes with time and place.

The Gospel clearly indicates the plan was to bring Christ's messaage into to the whole world at a time when the whole world.  But whole world would not be genreally known  until well into the 1800s.  So why wait to deliver the message worldwide?  So 3 Nephi is saying the message was given to other parts of the world.   Very interesting.   There is always the possibliliy of other means to the same ends at the same time. 

Thanks for the intreduction to these interesting ideas and content.
Crystal Watson
11 years 6 months ago
This story of Jesus appearing in American seems different to me than Ignatius' idea that the Creator works directly with the creature - that we can have an experience of  Jesus in prayer.  For one thing, the kind of experience Ignatius is talking about isn't unquestioned - it's evaluated through discernment.  And it' a personal experience, not a public manifestation of Jesus to a whole group of people who appear to be having the same experience.  This isn;t to say Jesus couldn't appear to someone after his resurrection, but I don't see why this account would be any more convinving than the many non-canonical gospel accounts that the church dismisees.
Amy Ho-Ohn
11 years 6 months ago
I don't know about Recovering Mormon, but Brigham Young University has online courses. For 2 x $326.00, you can take REL 324/325, "The Doctrine and Covenants." It looks like the equivalent of a Catholic college's freshman survey course in theology, the sort of thing that's usually required of all students.


A lot of people think I'm dim. I don't mind. I'm dim but fun.

Marie Rehbein
11 years 6 months ago
Taking a dim view of something seems almost opposite of being dim.  Do people not read carefully enough? 
Stephen Murray
11 years 6 months ago
3 Nephi failed to mention that Jesus attended a Bruce Springsteen concert in 1868.  Historicity is not the question here, but a way of understanding a religious movement and what it means to be a member of a new religion. 
David Pasinski
11 years 6 months ago
I know the historicity of much in pre-Exilic era in the Hebrew Scriptures is dubious and obviously some still question even the historical person of Jesus, but I don't understand what you mean here, Steve. Am I demanding too much in my appeciation of the Latter Days Saints to ask about any historical basis for the stories and mythology presented by the Book of Mormon? Maybe I just need to talk with some LDS  folks and read their explanations more to understand this.... 
Stephen Murray
11 years 6 months ago
Dave, the LDS has resisted a great deal of intellectual inquiry from scholars who have raised serious questions about the historical and theological claims of Mormonism.  History is one thing, mythology is quite another.  The LDS is making historical claims that cannot be supported by rational inquiry.  The situation of the OT is not relevant here. If recent history (19th century) can yield Mormonism, then any and all truth claims ought to be accepted prima facie.  It would be hard to prove old Brucie could not have staged a concert in 1868.  The fact that he did not exist at that time should not be a problem for mythmakers. 
Bill Taylor
11 years 6 months ago
If you are looking for the historical truth Mormons insist on, the origins of their religion is pretty bogus. But what I focus on are the faithful lives of the devout Mormons in my family. These are honest, God-loving, decent people. An interesting discussion might focus on how a religion with a provable phony origin can become a faith where the Holy Spirit is clearly doing good things.

Makes me think of the Angllican Church, rooted in the murderous royal ambitions of two world class serial killers. And yet, today, it is often a sterling example of love and compassion.
David Pasinski
11 years 6 months ago
Thanks, Steve (though I'm still a bit coonfused) and William, for that intersting point whihc can be said about so many faith expressions... How did the "catholic" Church survive the legacy of Constantinian imperailism and all the other well documented evil =="the gates of hell..."?   
Bill Taylor
11 years 6 months ago
Unfortunately, here is the weakness of Fr. Clooney's thesis: The Book of Mormon is not the key to understanding Mormon beliefs. The Book of Mormon is basicaly a Protestant book, giving Protestant answers to the great religious questions of the day.

But as his church unfolded, Smith received a series of revelations which moved Mormonism out of the Protestant and even the Christian sphere.  First, Smith began to preach that there are three levels of heaven and no hell. Next, he began to teach polygamy. Mormons now disavow polygamy for this life, but it remains in the after life. Then Smith began to teach that God is an exalted man who achieved divinity by his own efforts. In his polygamous heaven, he has an unknown number of wives and numerous ''spirit-children.'' Jehovah was his first-born, then the Holy Ghost, Lucifer, and Michael. Father God, Jehovah, and the Holy Ghost all achieved the level of divinity, but one is subserviant to the other, a kind of modern Arianism.

At a great meeting with his spirit-children in heaven, Jehovah announced that all males have the opportunity to be exalted, ie, receive their own divine status, gods if you will. Females have the opportunity to become ''Eternal Companions,'' ever pregnant, but cannot ever be called ''goddesses.''

The whole purpose of life on earth is to obtain a mortal body and prove ourselves worthy of divinity. The spirit children in heaven enter a body on earth provided by their parents. God the Father had sexual relations with Mary, and Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament entered that body, becoming Jesus.

Sound different? It is. And it is not in the Book of Mormon. To find these doctrines, you will have to read the Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, and read two famous sermons where Smith clearly outlined his belief that men can become gods.

Fr. Clooney, if you did not do a study of Mormonism, you did not know this. You have confused the readers by making them believe they can understand Mormonism by reading the Book of Mormon.
Gerelyn Hollingsworth
11 years 6 months ago
''Yes, it is correct, as pointed out by those who commented on my first blog, that there are many other ways to study the Latter Day Saints. But those are harder ways, and often superficial ways. I have never found it all that easy to sort through historical documents, oral traditions, and various popular accretions to a tradition; googling rumors is hardly the way to trace the life of a lived religion.''


Hi, Francis:

Everyone, Catholic, Mormon, etc., has a right to examine or ignore any culture/religion.  For those of us who enjoy that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing we enjoy. 

But you seem defensive about your ''project.''  If it's worth doing, just do it.  No need to put down others for doing it differently.  Snobbery about Google is  like anti-Wikipedia snobbery.  

The two religious cultures I've look at, because of murders committed in those cultures, are the Mormons and the church of Christ.  (The strict, Winkler/Freed-Hardeman version, not the liberal, Max Lucado version.) 

The murder of Lori Soares by her husband, Mark Hacking, led me to read about the Mormon culture/religion, and the murder of Matthew Winkler by his wife, Mary Carol Freeman, led me to read about the church of Christ.  I found many good leads-to tracts, sermons, church bulletins, fund-raising letters from missionaries, journals, web sites for former members, companies supplying puppets and other worship materials, web sites denouncing former members, etc., etc., etc., on Google.

I would recommend Google as a starting point for anyone doing any sort of research into anything.

I would not recommend starting with the writings the group claims were inspired/written by their deities. 

E.g., studying David Koresh?  Where to start?  With Google or with his manuscript on the Seven Seals?
Mike Bennion
11 years 6 months ago
Fr. Clooney,

Again I appreciate your effort to draw understanding from one of the foundational texts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons.

I believe that you may find this new podcast concerning 3rd Nephi 8-11 to be of interest.


I would also kindly contest the notion that Mormons posess a lack of intellectual firepower in defense of the tenets of their religion.  In my graduate studies I have encountered academic rigor that would satisfy any thesis committee with which I am acquainted.

Mike Bennion

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