Welch’s juice squeezed from the Narrative of Zosimus yields few drops.
In his article "The Narrative of Zosimus and the Book of Mormon", John W. Welch compares these two pieces of literature and examines conceptual parallels and motifs between the two. He concludes at the end of his essay that "Too many similarities exist between these two writings to account for them all simply in terms of normal human experience, the commonality of man, and happenstance...it can at least be said that these two texts share a considerable amount of common ground and that these close parallels corroborate the claim that the authorship of the Book of Mormon is rooted in the ancient Near East." [Welch, 371-2] Earlier, he has pointed out that the narrative did not reappear in modern times until the 1870s, when it was translated into Russian from an Old Church Slavonic text [Welch, 325]. This obviously rules out the notion that Joseph Smith would have had access to this text at the time he translated the Book of Mormon (which we will call BOM).
This essay will challenge Welch’s claims by demonstrating 1) Most of the parallels mentioned were available to Joseph Smith in the King James Bible 2) Some of the parallels mentioned are actually closer to the 17th century work "Pilgrim’s Progress" (which we will call PP) by the English Puritan John Bunyan. 3) Using Welch’s methodology, we could make at least as strong a case for the BOM being related to PP, placing the BOM in the English-speaking, post-Reformation world, rather than the ancient Near East.
By making comparisons with PP, we are not necessarily suggesting that this book influenced the BOM. As the most widely published book in history next to the Bible, it seems almost certain that Joseph Smith would have had the opportunity to read this book. Nonetheless, we simply make the comparison to show that the parallels between the BOM and Zosimus prove nothing in regards to determining the BOM’s date of composition.
For those not familiar with one or more of these works, we present the basic plot outlines (Note that all three follow the same general plot of leaving a doomed home for a promised land)
In 1 Nephi, (the first book in the BOM), Lehi, a man living in Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah is warned to leave Jerusalem with his family to escape the coming destruction from Babylon. They journey across the Arabian peninsula over a number of years. During this time, both Lehi and his son Nephi see visions of a tree of life. Eventually, they set out from Arabia in a ship across the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and sail to the Americas, where they separate into two nations, the righteous Nephites and the evil Lamanites. Nephi writes the record of this story down on golden plates. We will be following the 1981 edition published by the Utah LDS church.
In PP (which is intended as an allegory of the Christian life), a man named Christian leaves his city (which is doomed to destruction) to the Celestial City, where the king of the country lives. He sets off on a journey that is filled with many perils and meets many others who either encourage or hinder him. The second part of the book focuses on his wife, Christina, and his children, who, after Christian’s death, decide that he was right after all and choose to follow the same path. Page references are based on the edition published by Barbour & Company (Uhrichsville, Ohio, 1985)
In the NOZ, a man named Zosimus seeks a land inhabited by righteous people. He wanders through the wilderness, and eventually finds a tree that has water flowing from its roots. He then meets an angel who introduces him to the Recabites (from Jeremiah 35), who tell him how their forefathers left Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day, and that they had their history written down on stone plates.
Welch’s article is structured as follows; After introductory comments, each chapter of the Syriac version (translated by James Charlesworth) of the NOZ is presented. Then, conceptual parallels between the Greek version (translated by M.R. James) and the BOM are laid out. A number of these parallels are of little consequence, and we will ignore these. After the comparison of each chapterwith the Greek text of the NOZ, Welch elaborates on the parallels that he apparently feels are the most noteworthy. It is on these that we will focus our attention. All quotes from Zosimus will be denoted by a "Z", and all BOM quotes (denoted by a "N") are from 1 Nephi (denoted by an N) unless otherwise noted.
1. Z: "This man was entreating God that he"
N: (1:5) "Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord , yea, before the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people."
2. Z: "might see the way of life of the blessed"
N: (11:3) "And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw."
3. Z: "and behold an angel of the Lord was sent saying to him, Zosimus"
N: (8:5) "And he (an angel) came and stood before me"
Comments on 1,2, and 3: Welch acknowledges [Welch, 328] that some parallels are not found in the same chronological order, and that in those cases, "the strength of the noncontextual parallels must be reduced." Such is the case with 1 and 3. They occur chapters apart. All this really amounts to is that both stories contain prayer and an angel appearing before a man. These appear quite frequently in the Bible, and are too general to be significant.In PP, we note that creatures called "The Shining Ones" (angelic-like beings) appear on p. 36, and on p. 134, Christian and Hopeful pray while they are in the Giant’s castle. 2. also has a parallel in PP (p. 25) when Christian says to a man called the Interpreter "I was told....that if I called here, you would show me excellent things."
4. Z: Man of God, behold I am sent by the Most High, the God of all, to tell thee that thou shalt journey to the blessed, but shall not dwell with them.
N: (11:6) "The Spirit cried with a loud voice, saying: Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea even above all...Because thou believest...thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired."
Comment: (......) Welch finds the reference to "The Most High God over all" as "particularly noteworthy." (Welch, 331) This appears in the KJV (Ps. 83:18), and Isiah 54:5 (also KJV) says that God is "God of all the earth." s does . In addition, the phrase "Most High God" is used many times. Likewise, PP uses the term "Most High" twice (pp.17 & 161).
5. Z: And looking up, I saw a wall of cloud stretching from the waters to the heaven, and the cloud said, Zosimus, man of God, through me no bird passes out of this world, not breath of wind, nor the sun itself,...
N: And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceeding great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost.
6. Z: Nor can the tempter in this world pass through me [the wall of cloud]
N: (12:17) And the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, which blindeth the eyes, and hardeneth the hearts of the children of men.
7. Z: My spirit grew faint and my body failed, and being exhausted.
N: (1:7) He cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit.
Comments on 5, 6, and 7: Welch, while listing this as a parallel, notes that in Zosimus’ story, "the wall of cloud is not equated with the tempter....For Nephi, however, the mists over the river are the temptations themselves created by the devil to keep the children outside that paradise." [Welch, 334-5] While Welch sees this as a slight difference, we note that PP has a far more striking parallel [Ibid, 338-9). Not too long before the second group of pilgrims reach Celestial City, the come to an enchanted Arbour where a "great Mist and Darkness" falls on them. The Arbour is called "The Slothful’s friend, on purpose to allure, if it might be, some of the Pilgrims there, to take up their Rest, when weary." (p. 360), which also parallels Nephi and Zosimus being weak.
8. Z: (Syriac) I prayed to God for three days.
N: (2:6): And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness.
Comment: Jonah. Jesus Christ. No need to say more.
9. Z: beside a river and the name of the river is Eumeles. And behold when I desired to cross the river, some one cried as if from the water, saying Zosimus, man of God, thou canst not pass through me, for no man can divide my waters: but look up from the waters to the heaven.
N: (8:13) And as I cast my eyes round, about...I beheld a river of water. (8:32) And... many were drowned in the depths
Comment: The point here is that the river forms a watery barrier that separates the main character from paradise. A similar parallel occurs here in PP as well. Christiana must cross a river in order to enter paradise; "But behold, all the banks beyond the River were full of horses and chariots, which were come down from above to accompany her to the City Gate. So she came forth, and entred(sic) the River, with a beckon of farewell, to those that followed her to the Riverside." (p. 372) The source of this motif in all three works could very well be the book of Joshua, where the Israelites crossing of the Jordan River in order to enter the Promised Land.
10: Z: And I Zosimus, issuing from my cave with God leading me, set out not knowing which way I went,
N: (8:7) As I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.
Comment: Welch notes that both Lehi and Zomus are guided by a divine escort (p. 334)In PP, as the pilgrims enter the enchanted Arbour where the "great Mist and Darkness" falls upon them, a man named Mr. Greatheart leads the pilgrims; "Over this Forest therefore they went....and Mr. Greatheart went before, as he was the Guide." (p. 358)
11. Z: And the tree on this side bent down and received me on its top, and was lifted up exceedingly above the middle of the river, and the other tree met me and received me in its branches and bending down set me on the ground; and both trees were lifted up and set me away from the river on the other side.
N: (8:19, 24): And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led (from the head of the fountain) to the tree by which I stood...I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree.
Comment: Welch comments that "in both cases, man cannot make this passage without help." (Welch, 337). PP has an episode that is quite similar (pp.9-10). Not long after Christian sets off from his home, he is stuck in the Slough of Despond, which he is unable to get out of by his own power. A man named Help stops by and lifts him out by the hand. He also tells him that he could have gotten out by some steps, which are very difficult to find.
12. Z: And as I prayed, behold two trees sprang up out of the earth
N: (8:10) And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.
Comment: In PP, (p. 125) the pilgrims come upon a River with fruit trees on either side. This motif is not really extraordinary. In the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2), Ezekiel’s temple (Eze. 47), and the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22), a scene of a river flowing near fruit trees is given.
13. Z: fair and beautiful, laden with fragrant fruits.
N: (8:11) [The fruit thereof] was most sweet, above all that I had ever before tasted....[and] white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
Comment: This is not very impressive, either. In Gen. 2:9, the KJV says "And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food;". In the PP scene (Ibid) the fruit of these trees the pilgrims were "also much delighted;" The Bible is a very likely source for all three writings.
14 . Z: I went forward, whither I knew not, and that place was filled with much fragrance, and there was no mountain on either hand, but the place was level and flowery, all crowned with garlands, and all the land was beautiful.
N: (8:9, 20) And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field...as if it had been a world.
Comment: Likewise, the scene in PP (Ibid) describes the river and trees as being in a meadow. Obviously most fruit trees located near a river are in fields rather than hills.
15. Z: And I saw there a naked man sitting, and said to myself, Surely this is not the tempter. And I remembered the voice of the cloud the voice of the cloud that it said to me, Not even the tempter in this world passes through me. And thus taking courage, I said to him, Hail, brother. And he answering said to me, The Grace of my God be with thee.
N: (11:11) I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another.
Comment: Welch comments, "In this chapter, Zosimus discovers a man, who appeared at first to be naked, sitting beside him....after assuring himself that this man is not the tempter, Zosimus engages him in polite conversation. This is somewhat comparable to Nephi’s account where he also directly encounters a being in the form of the man. After assuring himself that this is the spirit of the Lord, Nephi and the messenger converse with one another as men normally do, as did Zosimus and his escort. [Welch, 338]
There is also a scene like this in Ezekiel 1:26-28. In Ezekiel’s vision, among other things, a human sits in a throne, and after realizing that the splendor that accompanies this being is "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord", he falls facedown before the being and receives instruction from him.
16. Z: Again I said to him, Tell me, man of God, who thou art? He answered and said to me, who art thou rather?
N: (11:2-3) And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
Comment: Welch comments, "In both records, the attendant questions or comments to the traveler. In the Narrative of Zosimus, the question initially asked or implied is who Zosimus is....The initial question put to Nephi is simply, What do you want?" All this really amounts to is that both Zosimus and Nephi were asked a question, each of which is extremely natural to ask someone you’ve just met; namely, "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" For those who need proof of this, we note that in PP, when Christian comes up to the Interpreter’s house, the man who answers the door and asks "Who was there?" (p. 24). And when the Interpreter comes down, he asks Christian "what he would have?" (p. 25)
17. Z: He answered me and said to me, I also know thou art a man of God, for if not, thou couldst not have passed through the cloud and the river and the air. For the breadth of the river and the air. For the breadth of the river is about thirty thousand paces, and the cloud reaches to heaven, and the depth of the river to the abyss.
N: (15:27-29) The water...was filthiness...it was an awful gulf, which separated the wicked from the tree of life, and also from the saints of God...It was a representation of that awful hell.
Comment: Welch comments that "the river or ocean functions as a demarcation between the righteous saints and the worldly sinners." [Welch, 339]. This has been previously discussed under Chapter 2. It is also worth pointing out that even the BOM itself, by cross-referencing this passage with the parable of Lazarus in Luke 16, points out where this may have been borrowed from.
18. Z: And having ended this discourse the man spoke again, Hast thou come hither out of the vanity of the world? Wherefore art thou naked? He said, How knowest that I am naked? Thou wearest skins of the cattle of the earth, that decay together with thy body, but look up to the height of heaven and behold of what nature my clothing is.
N: (8:26) On the other side of the river of water...(11:36) I saw....the pride of the world.
Comment: Welch states that "clothing readily distinguishes the righteous from the wicked. In Zosimus, the attendant points out how vain the world is, wearing clothes of skins...In 1 Nephi, the pride of the people in the great and spacious building is specifically associated with their exceedingly fine but foolish dress."[Ibid.339] (This comes from 1 Nephi 8:27 which says "And it (the building) was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine;"). In a part that we have noted previously, PP also parallels this (p. 36), when Christian encounters the three "Shining Ones", the first of which says to him "Thy Sins be forgiven."; the second strips him of his rags and clothes him with a "Change of Raiment;" the book notes that this concept is drawn from Zechariah 3:4. In addition, the when the pilgrims come to a town called Vanity-Fair (Incidentally, that does not contain columnist Dominic Dunn running around yelling "OJ did it!" ) :-), their Raiment is said to be quite different from
the townspeople. (p. 100)
19. Z: and trembled, falling upon the ground.
N: (1:6-7) And because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly...And he cast himself upon his bed.
20. Z: and his clothing as lightning, which passes from the east to the west,
N: (8:5) I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe. (1:9) And he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
Comments on 19,20): Welch admits that "Visions of the divine usually come in brightness and trembling, so the similar accounts of Lehi’s and Nephi’s visions are not singular in this regard but are nonetheless interesting." (Welch, 343) He then proceeds to state that the fact that Lehi sees beings whose "brightness did exceed that of the stars of the firmament (1 Nephi 1:10)."is "more remarkable." (Ibid). The fact is that in the Bible, supernatural beings are also frequently described as radiating a very bright light (Eze. 8:2, Dan. 10:6, Matt. 28:3, Rev. 1:16). In the end, the appearance of both of these parallels in the BOM is easily explained by reference to the Bible and are not impressive. We further note that the Shining Ones" mentioned above in the PP story also provide a parallel.
21. Z: and I watched and behold two angels stood before the assembly of the Blessed Ones, and said to them, "The end has not yet arrived; do not be afraid by the coming of this man who is among you....Write out for him and inform him about all of God’s providence respecting you,
N: (1:11) And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book.
Comment: Welch comments "...Lehi receives a book, from one of them (1 Nephi 1:11), just as Zosimus will receive a book from the elders." In PP (p.36), the "Shining Ones" give Christian a "Roll" (scroll) that is sealed and reads for encouragement (pp. 40-41).
22. Z: and the water came out from the root of the tree sweeter than honey
N: (11:25) I beheld...the fountain of living waters, or....the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.
Comment: Welch comments, "Although the Book of Mormon text is a bit ambiguous about the source of the flood; it appears that Nephi likewise identifies the tree of life with both fruit-bearing and water-giving functions....It is remarkable that all these texts contain this unusual tree-fountain combination-where the root of the tree itself is also a fountain and not just a tree growing beside a fountain of water." [Welch, 347] This would be an impressive parallel, but it is questionable whether this is the correct interpretation of the BOM passage. 1 Nephi 11:25 in its entirety (with the key words omitted by Welch’s ellipsis’s in bold italics) reads
"And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God."
This makes possible a second interpretation, namely that the iron rod leads to two things, 1) the tree of life, and 2) the fountain of living waters. Since Nephi’s vision is supposed to be of the same things that his father Lehi saw (1 Nephi 11:3-6), we can look back at 1 Nephi 8 for clues. What we find is a mention of a fountain (referred to as "the fountain") that is separate from the tree of life, with no mention of any water flowing from the tree of life;
"And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field as if it had been a world." (1 Nephi 8:20)
One LDS commentary confirms this interpretation by saying that the rod of iron leads both to the tree of life AND the fountain [McMi.DCBM.81]
23. Z: and all the country was stirred up, and they came to see me because it seemed strange to them. Therefore they were asking me all things and I was answering them, and I became faint in spirit and in body.
N: (8:25) And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.
Comments: Welch comments "In Zosimus, this righteous multitude wearies the traveler so that he wishes they would not bother him. In 1 Nephi, the wicked multitude in the great and spacious building fulfills a similar role, making those who come to the tree feel uncomfortable and prone to fall away." In PP (p. 101-2), a closer parallel occurs, as the pilgrims are beaten by a multitude of townspeople from Vanity-Fair, and then are put on public display to be made fun of. Note also that the spacious building in1 Nephi (where the multitude is), is specifically identified with "the pride of the world." (11:36)
24. Z: "And the man of God cried out saying, Woe is me, that the story of Adam is summed up in me, for Satan deceived him through Eve....take me away from hence, for I shall flee from the place. For behold he wishes to sow in me seeds of the world of vanity....Depart from us, man; we know not wence thou art come to us.
N: (2 Nephi 2:18, 19) Wherefore, he (Satan), said unto Eve, yea, even that old serpent, who is the devil, who is the father of all lies....And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driven out."
Comment: Welch notes that both works mention the story of Adam and Eve and "emphasize the role of lies and flattery in the encounter with Satan in the Garden of Eden." (p. 347) He does readily admit that, however, that this is inconsequential, and we agree, since both the author of Zosimus and Joseph Smith had access to this story in the Bible.
25. Z: But I lamented with great lamentation and I cried out to the elders, saying, Forgive me, my lords, and the elders stilled the Lord made quietness...I besought the Lord to come to you, and he deemed me worthy.
N: (8:36-7) [And Lehi] exceedingly feared for Laman and Lemuel...And he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent,...that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them, and not cast them off.
Comment: Welch, while noting the difference between Zosimus, who is grieved over his own sin, and Lehi, who is grieved over his sons’ sins. This is hardly extraordinary, since grief over sin, whether it be one’s own or someone else’s, is a frequent occurrence in the Bible. And just for good measure, we also note that in PP, a woman named Mercy weeps for her relatives who are still in the state and condition of being under judgment (p. 216)
26. Z: for when the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that the city of Jerusalem should be delivered into the hands of the destroyers.
N: (1:4) There came many prophets [including Jeremiah], prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.
Comment: Welch comments, "The next three chapters in the Narrative of Zosimus contain the story of a small group of people who were saved from the ravages of an unrepentant king and during the ministry of Jeremiah." (Welch, 354). It should be noted that this time period is highly significant in Biblical history, and it is not at all suprising that Joseph Smith would have picked it. In PP, although not set in Jerusalem or the time of Jeremiah, contains a close parallel in that Christian also sets out from a city that is doomed to destruction (p. 2)
27. Z: And taking up tables of stone they wrote on them with their nails, thus, hear, ye sons of men, Hear ye us who are become blessed, that we also are of you;
N: (19:1) I did make plates of ore that I might engraven upon them the record of my people.
Comment: Of course, Moses wrote out the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Ex. 24:12). In addition, as Thomas Finley, in his critique of Hugh Nibley’s article comparing the Lascich letters with the BOM, points out,
"......Joseph Smith would not have needed divine knowledge to know of the ancient use of metal plates as a writing surface. Historian Dan Vogel has documented legends in early nineteenth-century American (pre-dating the Book of Mormon) of "a lost Indian book" and metal plates engraved with writing by the ancient Indians. The Mormon prophet most likely simply borrowed this exotic idea from the popular culture of his day."
28.Z: he rent his garments and put sackcloth upon his loins, and sprinkled dust upon his head, and took earth upon his bed, and told all people to turn from their wicked way.
N: (1:4) There came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent.
Comment: Besides being a very common Biblical theme, in PP a character named Hopeful, in describing his conversion experience, also mentions his need to repent. (pp. 157-160)
29. Z: And our father Rechab, the son of Aminadab, heard him and said to us, Ye son and daughters of Recab, hearken to your father....
N: (2:2-4) the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness..
Comment: Welch elaborates on this by stating that there is the parallel of "the righteous prophet or father who leads the group away." (Welch, 354) This is a common Biblical theme and could apply to many biblical characters, of course, among them Noah, Moses, or Joseph. And in PP, it is the righteous father Christian who realizes the peril that his city is in and leaves, and his family eventually follows him.
30. Z: And the king said to us, Ye have done well. Now therefore mingle with my people, and eat bread and drink wine, and glorify your Lord, and ye shall be serving God and the king. But we said, We will not disobey God.
N: (2:3) He was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.
Comment: Obedience is a very common theme, both in the Bible, and PP..
31. Z: On the first night, a brilliant light shone upon us; and angels of God in glorious forms appeared to us. And they led all of us out from prison, and placed us in the air that is above the land, and brought us to this place in which you now see us, and allowed us to dwell in it.
N: (3:29) And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them (Laman and Lemuel, Nephi’s younger rebellious brothers) saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities."
Comment: Welch notes that both stories mention a rescue by an angel.(Welch, 354). This also appears in the Bible (Daniel 7:22, Acts 12:7). In PP, Christian and his companion Hopeful are led into a net trap by a deceiver named Flatterer. A "Shining One" then comes to rescue them (pp. 152-53).
32. Z: And we traveled with the water and with the angel. When therefore he had brought us to this place, the river was dried up and the water was swallowed up by the abyss, and he made a wall round this country, and there came a wall of cloud, and shadowed above the water....and he did not scatter us over the earth but gave us this country.
N: (18:8) We did put forth into the sea and were driven forth before the wind towards the promised land. (10:13) Wherefore, he said it must be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.
Comment: It is noted that both journey across the sea to reach a promised land. In Zosimus, the Recabites travel over the sea only. In the BOM, Lehi and his family travel over both sea (Indian and Pacific Ocean) and land (the Arabian peninsula). So while in PP, the pilgrims do not travel over the sea, they do travel over land, and they endure many trials, just as Lehi’s family "wade(s) through much affliction." (1 Nephi 17:1)
Welch draws one other connection here, that the journey over the sea is mentioned in connection with the scattering of Israel [Welch, 354] The scattering of Israel is, once again, a very common biblical theme, and there is a large difference that considerably weakens the parallel. The righteous in Zosimus avoid being scattered, while Lehi’s clan is scattered upon reaching the promised land.
33. Z: "Here, ye sons of men, hear the way of life of the blessed. For God placed us in his land, for we are holy, but not immortal. For the earth produces most fragrant fruit, and out of the trunks of the trees comes water sweeter than honey, and these are our food and drink."
N: (18:24-25): "We did put all our seeds into the earth They did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance."
Comment: Welch notes "As in the case in the promised land of the Nephites, the land of the blessed in the Narrative of Zosimus is described as an ideal land that almost effortlessly produces fruit and all the necessities of life." [Welch, 359] In PP, we note that when Christian reaches the Celestial city, he is told that he shall see "the Tree of Life, and eat of the neverfading Fruits thereof" and receive "The Comfort all your toil." (p. 184)
34. Z: (Syriac) "so darkness and night do not enter it."
N: (3 Nephi 1:15); "Behold, at the going down of the sun there was no darkness."
Comment: Welch himself lists Zechariah 14:7 as including this theme "it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night: but....at evening time it shall be light." This is sufficient to destroy the apologetic value of this parallel, but we also note that in PP (p. 188) the Celestial City shines like the sun."
35. Z: Neither do any of us take to themselves wives, except for so long as to beget two children, and after they have produced two children they withdraw from each other and continue in chastity..."
Jacob 2:27-28 "For there shall not be any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I the Lord God delight in the chastity of women.
Comment: Welch, speaking of the blessed in the NOZ, says "While this (sexual relations only in order to perpetuate the race and constant prayer) is consistent with the probability that these Narrative sections were subject to extensive interpolation by later writers, it is worth noting that chastity and prayer are among the practical religious teachings found on the small plates of Nephi." Frankly it’s not worth noting, if our purposes are, as Welch states it is, to establish some kind of link between the NOZ and the BOM. The fact that the NOZ here reflects the asceticism of later monasticism means that this parallel appears purely by chance. It is too late either to have been an influence in the writing of the BOM or for the BOM to have influenced the Zosimus account (more on this a bit later.)
36. Z: "And there is no count of time, neither weeks nor months nor years, for all our day is one day."
Alma 40:8: All is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.
Comment: The BOM quote here is from the Book of Alma, which is later (which the BOM dates in the 1st century B.C.). The idea of timelessness, or God measuring time differently than we do, appears in the Bible (Ps. 90:4, 2 Pet. 3:8)
37. Z: "But we are not naked of body, as ye wrongly imagine, for we have the garment of immortality and we are not ashamed of each other."
N: (12:11) And the angel said unto me: Look! And I looked, and beheld three generations pass away in righteousness; and their garments were white, even like unto the Lamb of God.
Comment: This has already been covered under Chapter 5.
38. Z: "and the angels of God dwell with us every day, and tell us all things concerning you.....and we rejoice with the angels over the works of the just, but over the works of sinners we mourn and lament, praying to the Lord that he may cease from his anger and spare your offenses."
N: (11:8, 13) The Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked....and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities....2 Nephi 1:4 For, behold, said he, I have seen a vision, in which I know that Jerusalem is destroyed....Eons 9, 11 "I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.
Comment: The point here is that the blessed, like the BOM people, still are concerned about the people left behind in the Old World. Of course, being concerned over the plight of the wicked is a fairly familiar Biblical theme, and PP (p. 377), in recounting Mr. Standfast’s last words before he crosses over the river into the Celestial City, tells of his final instructions to Mr. Greatheart. These are that he tell his wife and children (who, like Christian, he left behind) how he has arrived in paradise. He also says "I have little or nothing to send to my family, except it be Prayers and Tears for them;"
Welch says "There are few specific similarities between the concluding portion of the Narrative and the Book of Mormon. (Welch, 365). Welch lists a few very general parallels, which we will pass on.
Back The Other WayNot every parallel proposed by Welch has a corresponding parallel in PP. However, we will now note several parallels (at least as close as many Welch suggests) between PP and the BOM.
1. N: (1:1) "I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days
PP: (p.203) "Hear of him! Ay; and I also heard of the molestations, troubles, wars, captivities, cries, groans, frights, and fears that met with and had in his journey."
Comment: Both Nephi and Christian endure many trials.
2. N: (5:2) "and she (Sariah, Lehi’s wife) also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man, saying; Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance.."
PP (p. 4) "Now he had not run far from his door, but his wife and children perceiving it, began to cry after him to return;"
Comment: "Both Lehi and Christian are second-guessed by their wives on whether they should have left their homes.
3. N: (18:13) "and they (Nephi’s brothers Laman and Lemuel) began to be frightened exceedingly lest they should be drowned in the sea (the Pacific Ocean)"
PP: (p. 182) "But all the words that he spake still tended to discover, that he should die in that River, and never obtain Entrance in at the Gate. Here also, as they that stood by perceived, he was much in troublesome thoughts of the Sins that he had committed, both since and before he began to be a Pilgrim."
Comment: Both Nephi’s brothers and Christian fear drowning, for punishment of sin, in the watery barrier that separates them from paradise .
4. N: (11:36) "And it came to pass that I saw and bear record that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great."
PP: (p. 340) "Then they fell to demolishing Doubting-Castle....They were seven days in destroying of that."
Comment: Both stories contain the destruction of a building that is presented as a symbol of something that leads astray.
5. Comment: Both Lehi (see introduction to 1 Nephi) and Christian have four sons (PP, p. 198).
6. Comment: One of Lehi’s sons is named Sam (1 Nephi 2:5), and one of Christian’s sons is named Samuel (PP, p. 266).
Welch cautiously avoids trying to draw any definite conclusions about what specific relationship might exist between NOZ and 1 Nephi.
"We simply know too little about the authorship and transmission of the
ancient core material in the Narrative of Zosimus to venture any judgment about the kinds of spiritual experiences its authors may have had and how they might have compared with the visions and revelations of Lehi or Nephi. Similarly, we cannot know precisely what influence the general literary or cultural backgrounds of ancient Israel may have had on those who were responsible for composing and transmitting the Narrative of Zosimus or, for that matter, on Nephi as he recounted his own and his father’s inspirations." [Welch, 366]
Welch proffers several possibilities:
1. Contacts with Lehi’s group - "The Narrative of Zosimus might reflect, to some extent, someone’s faint memory of Lehi and his departure from Jerusalem." Welch is not sure how these memories could have been transmitted in the ancient Near East, but considers this a possibility nonetheless "...Lehi’s dreams and prophecies or some reflection of them could stand behind parts of the narrative." (Ibid) This, in essence, makes the narrative of Zosimus ultimately dependent on Lehi’s group. If I were a BOM defender, I imagine this would at first glance seem to be a very attractive theory. Indeed, the broad outline of the story sounds very similar to 1 Nephi - a righteous group of people leaving Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah for a paradise across the sea. How could this be anything but the memory of Lehi preserved in a corrupted form? However, we have demonstrated that nothing really unique to the BOM made it’s way into the NOZ, and we are left to wonder why. Why is it that the Recabites are the group mentioned, with not even so much as a single name or unique story from Lehi’s group appearing in the narrative? On the face of it, the evidence suggests that the Recabites, and them only, are the source of the inspiration from the story.
In regards to the seeking a paradise or promised land across the ocean, we must note that the "island of the Blessed Ones", (Note: The exact parlance from the Narrative of Zosimus) appears in the Mediterranean world. two whole centuries before Lehi’s supposed departure from Jerusalem. Charlesworth describes the history behind this theme;
"The description of the abode of the Recabites is in places impressively similar to Iranian myths, notably the Var de Yima, which depicts paradise. At least six early Greek and Roman authors preserved ideas that appear eventually to have influenced the author(s) of the History of the Recabites. Hesiod (fl. 800 B.C.) describes the region in which heroes live after death; it is the "island of the Blessed Ones," which is beyond the shore of the ocean at the ends of the world (Works and Days 159-74; cf. also Homer, Odessy IV.560) Pindar (522-448 B.C.) records the idea that souls that are pure "pass by the highway of Zeus unto the Tower of Cronus, where the ocean breezes blow around the Islands of the Blest (lit. "Island of the Blessed Ones: makron nasos." (Char.OTP. 447).
Charlesworth goes on to show use of this theme in Herodutus (c. 485-425 B.C.), Virgil (70-19 B.C.), and Lucian (A.D. 125-200). (Ibid) Once again, the evidence is strongly in favor that it is against this background that the Narrative of Zosimus is drawn from, and not from Lehi’s group. And, as we have demonstrated, much of the other material in the NOZ can easily be explained as having been drawn from Biblical imagery.
2. Similar Religious Experiences - "Lehi, Nephi, and the author of the Narrative of Zosimus could have had similar revelations or religious experiences." (Welch, 368) This is not testable, and assumes that the BOM is indeed an ancient book, which is the very issue we are discussing,so we will not comment further.
3. "Other Sheep" "The final form of the Narrative of Zosimus may have drawn some inspiration and information from some unknown words of Jesus spoken in connection with his statement that he had "other sheep" elsewhere. (John 10:16)
(Welch, 368) Same as above. Incidentally, the LDS interpret this verse in John as referring to the Book of Mormon people over in the Americas, as opposed to orthodox interpreters, who see this as referring to the Gentiles. Both agree, however, that the sheep are lost and need to be "brought in." This can hardly apply to the righteous Recabites living in Paradise in the NOZ, so if this theory is true, it is based on a bad misunderstanding of Jesus.
Since Welch’s fourth and fifth proposals are variants of the same theory, we will present them together, then critique them.
4. "A Common Influence" "More likely, a third text or tradition could stand behind both the writings of Lehi and the Narrative of Zosimus." (Ibid). Welch proposes that the teachings or traditions of the Recabites could have been known to Lehi and Nephi, and thus influenced the way they wrote 1 Nephi;
"It is not improbable that Lehi and Nephi were influenced by other religious writings of their day. Most writers reflect, to some extent, elements of the cultural world in which they live. Lehi and Nephi could have read Rechabite writings or witnessed Rechabite ceremonies, which could have given them impressions or backgrounds upon which their own visions and insights were received." (Ibid, 369)
5. Ritual transmission "Even if these four speculations are accepted, it is still puzzling how or why these traditions or teachings were handed down from generation to generation, which raises the possibility that these teachings might have been part of a ceremony or ritual....If their covenants were set down in a ceremonial text, this would have enhanced the importance of these teachings in the minds of Lehi and others, thereby increasing the chances of the teachings’ being preserved through the centuries." (Ibid, 369-370)
Both of these options in essence make the BOM in some way dependent on an earlier version, written or oral, of the NOZ. This raises an important question: Can the traditions associated with the Narrative be dated as early as the date of Lehi’s flight from the Old World? Earlier in his essay, Welch has acknowledged Charlesworth’s study of the Narrative;
"He (Charlesworth) concludes that it was originally written somewhere in Judea, that it was written in Hebrew, and that ‘it would be unwise to ignore the possibility that this oldest section is a Jewish work that predates the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. ‘How long before A.D. 70 this early material was actually written down is difficult to tell."
Charlesworth’s full hypothesis, while being only a hypothesis, it is worth looking at. He believes that the present text of the NOZ contains an ancient core (like Welch notes), with layers of additions added by various later groups, added at the back and front of the Narrative each time. What he ends up concluding relevant to our study is that ;
1. Chapter 1 was added at the latest stage, after the end of the NT era (his reasoning behind this is that chapters 1 and 22 are both written in the third person, as opposed to the rest of the Narrative, which is in the first person). (Char.PMR, 224)
2. Chapter 2 belongs to a stage somewhat earlier than this. ("Either the scribe of this stratum was a Christian, or his work was redacted by a Christian". (Ibid)
3. Chapters 3-15-A are earlier. Chapters 3-6 and 10-15-A contain the apocalyptic elements of the Narrative, and because of parallels with The Lost Tribes, Charlesworth believes that a date of composition of around 100 A.D. is indicated" (Ibid, 225)
4. Chapters 7-9, which describes the dwelling place of the Reacbites, contain the most ancient strata, and possibly predates 70 A.D. (Ibid).
This reconstruction seems plausible enough, even if it remains tentative. Even if it is not correct in every detail (Welch does not dispute any of it), the main point to be gathered is that chapters 1 through 6 and their accompanying motifs do not appear to have been associated with the Recabite story until centuries after Lehi’s family is alleged to have left for the New World, and therefore would be too late to have influenced Lehi and Nephi’s writing. As such, the parallels are simply coincidental.(Curiously, Welch acknowledges most of the main points of Charlesworth’s reconstruction but fails to draw that conclusion). Perhaps one might be tempted to argue that the parallels were associated with the text in oral tradition. If there was only one stage of layers added, then perhaps this could be considered plausible. But since it appears that we are dealing with multiple layers, we need to ask; Why would redactors adding on oral tradition to the text only write down part of the oral portion and continue to pass the rest on orally?
In hypothesizing that a text stands between the NOZ and the writings of Nephi, Welch seems to have overlooked the most obvious text - the Bible. This was available both to Joseph Smith, the writer(s) of the NOZ, and John Bunyan. The motifs of their respective stories can easily explained as largely as having been developed from there, and may be expected to appear in any writing that attempts to draw on biblical themes.
In addition, the most promising proposals for explaining the appearance of these parallels are not just simply hypothetical and unsubstantiated at this point (as Welch himself admits), but are in fact undermined by the available evidence.
[Char.OTP] Charlesworth, James. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vol. II. Garden City, NJ. Doubleday, 1985
[Char.PMR] Charlesworth, James. The Pseudepigrapha & Modern Research. Missoula, MT. Scholar’s Press, 1976
[McMi.DCBM] McConkie, Joseph Fielding and Millet, Robert L. A Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987
[Welch] Welch, John W. "The Narrative of Zosimus (History of the Recabites) and the Book of Mormon", in Reynolds, Noel (ed.) Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins. Provo, UT. Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), 1997.