Friday, 15 March 2013

2 Nephi 9: Arguing Se(wo)mantics

Jacob is still prophesying and teaching. He says that he is reading Isaiah so that the people will know about the covenants that God made with the house of Israel (v. 1). He speaks of the gathering of the Jews and their reconciliation with God (v. 2), Jesus coming to Jerusalem (v. 5),  and the resurrection and atonement (vv.4-8). In verse 9, Jacob references Satan, Adam, and Eve. He references The Fall, which happened when "that being ... beguiled our first parents". I am surprised that Jacob doesn't place all of the blame on Eve. I wonder how the account of The Fall in the brass plates differs from the account in the KJV.

The following verses continue to discuss what happens to the soul after death, referencing paradisespirit prison, and judgment, which are all central to the Plan of Salvation. Jacob then goes on to talk about the wonderfulness of God, but instead of referencing the Heavenly Parents, he is actually referencing Jesus (vv 20 ff).
"And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature*, both men, women and children, who belong to the family of Adam" (v. 21).
Just now when I read this and now as I write about it, I was drawn to the specific reference to women. Hurray! Jesus understands women! But as I reread it, there are problematic elements in the language.

When I was in high school, I chose Latin as my foreign language option. My teacher repeatedly emphasized that if you have a large group of women together and there is one man included in that group, you use the masculine plural to describe that group. One man changes the gender of the group from feminine to masculine. I appreciate that the Bible wasn't originally written in Latin, but I've always assumed that Hebrew and Greek were more or less the same when it came to rules of gender. (Biblical scholars, tell me if I'm wrong.) In the scriptures, you can read the word "men" and know that the author could have meant "men only" but also "men and women".

In the past, I've consciously read the word "men" as "mankind", which I understood to including men and women. I probably got the idea from General Conference, lesson manuals, and church magazines that reference "mankind" far more often than the scriptures.  In this particular reading of the Book of Mormon, I'm not applying my former mankind rule and because of the misogyny that I've discussed in previous posts, I now feel that Book of Mormon authors mostly just mean men when they use that word. In the verse above, Jacob explains his inclusive use of "men" in this instance and I'm glad that he clarifies. And the very fact that he feels he has to clarify his meaning here suggests that he doesn't generally mean "mankind" when he uses the word "men". This definition comes at the end of a longer explanation of what happens to the soul after death, where he used the word "men" repeatedly. So Jacob, what happens to the souls of women when they die? (Sorry for the drama, it feels appropriate.)

Cross-posted at

* I have to say that the use of the word "creature" to describe women and children is more than a little off-putting. I looked the term up on Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, which indicated that "creature" could simply refer to something that has been created, as opposed to the negative connotations that the English word carries. So I'm going to let "creature" go. And yes, I know that I had to look up a Greek word to try and explain a Hebrew-word-written in-"reformed-Egyptian"-and-translated-by-divine-inspiration-into-English. Linguists, please forgive me.

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