Sunday, December 9, 2012

Was Joseph Smith Descended from Lehi? The problem of no quotation marks in 2 Nephi Chapter 3, and a misleading footnote in the D&C.

When I was growing up I remember having a few discussions in Sunday School and in Seminary about 2 Nephi chapter 3 and there was always some confusion about what that chapter was saying, with the most confusing parts being from verse 18 to the end. A quick and not careful reading of the text seems to imply that Joseph Smith was descended from Lehi, which would be problematic since that would require Joseph Smith to have some Native American ancestry, which he definitely did not have. This idea was discussed occasionally in my classes and the teachers of some of the students always concluded with "Well it seems that somehow somewhere Joseph Smith had at least one Native American ancestor." or "We really don't know what that is talking about, but I'm sure that the scriptures are still true."

As it was only a minor thing I never gave it much thought. There were plenty of other apparent discrepancies in the scriptures that seemed much more pressing so it was something that I just filed away in my mind as an oddity. Many years later I was in a Book of Mormon class at BYU taught by Stanley Johnson and he did something interesting. He took the text of 2 Nephi chapter 3 and put it on a transparency and projected it onto a screen with an overhead projector. He then proceeded to mark the text with quotation marks and began to explain the text in a different light now that the text had been broken up in a different way because of the inclusion of quotation marks.

2 Nephi chapter 3 contains the words that Lehi spoke/wrote to his son who he had named Joseph, after Joseph in Egypt. The bulk of the chapter contains a series of quotes that Lehi apparently took from the Brass Plates, and a few other sources, none of which appear in our current Bible. The problem is that the only cues regarding whether or not a portion of the text is a direct quote come from a series of short introductory statements such as, "For Joseph truly testified saying:" and "Yea, Joseph truly said:". In each case the direct quote begins with a statement like that ending in a colon (:). There is no indication that a quote has ended except for a statement indicating the beginning of another quote. This is further complicated by the fact that there are even quotes within quotes.

For example one direct quote from Joseph begins, "Yea, Joseph truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto me:" What follows is a rather lengthy quote of the Lord by Joseph. It is precisely these quotes within quotes that cause all the confusion and lead people to think that the Book of Mormon implies that Joseph Smith was a descendant of Lehi, which would necessitate Joseph Smith having at least some Native American blood. This point has become a minor point of criticism by some anti-Mormon writers who use it as just one more point to criticize the Church. But if we look closely at the text and include a few quotation marks the text can be interpreted differently and it can be shown that the text does not necessarily imply that Joseph Smith was descended from Lehi as was supposed by so many Seminary teachers and students.

Let us look at the text of 2 Nephi 3 now with the inclusion of a few quotation marks and see if this makes a difference. I will not include all of the text but I will include the parts where major quotes begin and end, and mark them with quotation marks (which I will highlight. If there are quotes within quotes I will highlight the quotes with a different color.). Starting in verse 6 and ending on verse 21:
6 For Joseph truly testified, saying: "A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins." 
7 Yea, Joseph truly said: "Thus saith the Lord unto me: "A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins....
8 .... 
9 .... 
10 .... 
11 .... and not to the bringing forth my word only," saith the Lord, "but to the convincing them of my word .... 
12 .... 
13 .... O house of Israel, saith the Lord."" 
14 And thus prophesied Joseph, saying: "Behold, that seer will the Lord bless ....
15 .... by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation."
16 Yea, thus prophesied Joseph: "I am sure of this thing, even as I am sure of the promise of Moses; for the Lord hath said unto me, "I will preserve thy seed forever.""
17 And the Lord hath said: "I will raise up a Moses; ....and I will make a spokesman for him."
18 And the Lord said unto me also: "I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins; ....
19 ....
20 ....
21 .... unto the remembering of my covenant which I made unto thy fathers."
Thus there are six major quotes with two subquotes (quotes within a quote). The break down of the quotes is as follows:
  1. Verse 6: A quote from Joseph in Egypt.
  2. Verses 7-13: This quote is actually a quote from the Lord, as recorded by Joseph in Egypt. Lehi introduces the quote by saying, "Yea, Joseph truly said:" and the quote begins with Joseph introducing the quote from the Lord by saying, "Thus saith the Lord unto me:". The following verses are all part of the same quote and it is only interrupted in verse 11 with Joseph saying "saith the Lord". The quote ends in verse 13.
  3. Verses 14-15: Another direct quote of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph does not quote anyone in this passage.
  4. Verse 16: This contains a brief statement from Joseph which he ends with an even briefer quote from the Lord.
  5. Verse 17: This appears to be the beginning of all the misunderstanding. There are two ways to view verse 17. We can view it as a continuation of the quote started in verse 16, thus making verse 17 a subquote, or we can view it as the beginning of a new quote. There is no reason to think that verse 17 is a continuation of the quote from verse 16 and thus we can consider it as a separate quote given by Lehi. Thus there is no indication that verse 17 was written by Joseph in Egypt, and because we do not know the source we do not know who wrote it.
  6. Verses 18-21: If verse 17 was the beginning of the misunderstanding then this section is the culmination of it. If we first assume that verse 17 is a continuation of the quote started in verse 16 and we then assume that the next quote is also a continuation of the same quote then this is where all the trouble arises. But if we do not make that assumption then the quote takes on a different meaning. Verse 18 begins with "And the Lord said unto me also:". If we assume that it is a continuation of the quote in verse 16 then the "me" refers to Joseph in Egypt. But if we do not then the "me" in verse 18 refers to Lehi.
It is easy to see why one might assume that verses 17-21 are simply a continuation of the quote started in verse 16 (quote #4). Up to this point there were two subquotes where Joseph in Egypt said, "the Lord said unto me:" followed by a direct quote. So in verse 18 when the text states, "And the Lord said unto me also:" it is easy to assume that this is Joseph in Egypt giving a direct quote again. But if we read carefully we will see that all the quotes from and directly attributed to Joseph in Egypt end in verse 16. The last two quotes are two direct quotes from unknown origin where the Lord Himself is speaking, with the last quote being one that was directed at Lehi specifically.

The origin of this last quote may be found in verse 22 which says:
22 And now, behold, my son Joseph, after this manner did my father of old prophesy.
If we assume that verses 17-21 are a continuation of quote #4 then the "father of old" referred to here is obviously Joseph in Egypt. But if we take them as two separate quotes then the "father of old" may refer to Lehi's own father! Thus quote #6 is a revelation given to Lehi, by his father, long before Lehi took his family and left Jerusalem (perhaps we can think of it as part of Lehi's Patriarchal Blessing).

So now that we have unpacked that little matter we return to the part where people think that Joseph Smith was descended from Lehi. If we return to verse 18 we can see the origin of this little misunderstanding.
18 And the Lord said unto me [Lehi] also: I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins; and I will make for him a spokesman. And I, behold, I will give unto him that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins; and the spokesman of thy loins shall declare it.
 At first glance this may be the source of the misconception that Joseph Smith is (according to the Book of Mormon) a descendant of Lehi (a of necessity has some Native American blood in him). Because it says that "I will raise up unto the fruit of thy loins" meaning a descendant of Lehi will be the one to "write the writing" of the descendants of Lehi. This would "require" that Joseph Smith be a descendant of Lehi! But wait! Who wrote the Book of Mormon? Why Mormon of course! Mormon is by his own admission (he should know since he kept his own genealogy) a direct descendant of Lehi, and he wrote the Book of Mormon. Over and over again Mormon says that he is writing the book to his "brethren the Lamanites". The title page itself declares that it was "Written to the Lamanites". Joseph Smith, and all those who helped translate, never claimed to have written the Book of Mormon. Thus we see that the person who is referred to in these verses is Mormon and not Joseph Smith.

If we dig a little deeper we can find additional sources for the confusion that Joseph Smith was a descendant of Lehi. In Doctrine and Covenants 100:9 we read:
9 And it is expedient in me that you, my servant Sidney, should be a spokesman unto this people; yea, verily, I will ordain you unto this calling, even to be a spokesman unto my servant Joseph.
At the word "spokesman" there is a footnote that gives the reference 2 Nephi 3:17-18! One might naively  look at the footnote in D&C follow it to 2 Nephi and assume that the one who was "risen up" from the fruit of the loins of Lehi is Joseph Smith and the "spokesman" mention in verse 18 is Sidney Rigdon. It all fits right? Except for the fact that Joseph Smith did not write the Book of Mormon (Note: It is not the Book of Joseph!). Here we have a case of footnotes, which are not part of the original text, nor are they considered scriptural, which are unintentionally misleading. But again, if we do not make this connection then we do not end up with the problem of Joseph Smith being descended from Lehi. Mormon is the one referred to as being descended from Lehi and having written the writings of the descendants of Lehi. And we can safely assume that the "spokesman" referred to in quote #6 is Joseph Smith, because it never implies that the spokesman is actually a descendant of Lehi.

Thus when we come to verse 24 we can know that it refers to Mormon and I think it is a fitting description of someone who has done so much to bring us the word of God.
24 And there shall rise up one mighty among them, who shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the seed of thy brethren.


LL said...

I believe that you're correct. Mormon - and by extension, his son, Moroni.

bgbird said...

Thanks for your post! It helped me understand the text and answered my question.

Tyler Larsen said...

On i found the following quotation,

"Elder Bruce R. McConkie identified the people spoken of in 2 Nephi 3:18 as follows: “Note these words of the Lord: ‘And I, behold, I will give unto him [Mormon] that he shall write the writing of the fruit of thy loins [the Nephites], unto the fruit of thy loins [the Lamanites]; and the spokesman of thy loins [Joseph Smith] shall declare it.’ That is, Mormon wrote the Book of Mormon, but what he wrote was taken from the writings of the Nephite prophets; and these writings, compiled into one book, were translated by Joseph Smith and sent forth by him unto the Lamanites” (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 426)."

You were obviously right about it referring to Mormon and not to Joseph Smith, but according to McConkie the spokesman is referring to Joseph Smith which is confusing me because it also states that the "spokesman of thy loins shall declare it". Does that mean that Joseph is a direct descendant of Lehi by some miracle or genetic phenomenon? Or does it simply mean that they are related (which they are because they share the common ancestor of Joseph of Egypt) because it doesn't specifically say "fruit of thy loins" but rather just "of thy loins"? or is there another possible interpretation of "spokesman"?

Thanks for your time, just wondering if you would have any insight on that. My seminary teacher said that Joseph was indeed a direct descendant of Lehi because of the misleading information in verse 18 that led him to think that it was referring to joseph smith and that sidney rigdon was the spokesman.

Quantumleap42 said...

Hey Tyler, thanks for your comment.

I have never seen that quote from McConkie before. Perhaps it should be more widely used since I also was taught in Seminary that Joseph Smith was descended from Lehi. As I stated it makes more sense that it was referring to Mormon who actually wrote the Book of Mormon. In my post I concluded that Joseph Smith was the spokesman referred to in the passage. It is possible to interpret the verse where it says, "spokesman of thy loins shall declare it" to mean that JS is a spokesman for the descendants of Lehi, but he is not actually descended from Lehi.

But upon further reflection I thought of another possibility. I have always wondered why it was Moroni who came to Joseph Smith to tell him about the Book of Mormon, instead of Mormon himself. But if we do not assume that the spokesman mentioned in 2 Nephi 3:18 is Joseph Smith then the only other possibility is Moroni. Considering that Moroni is used as a symbol of announcing the gospel (he is on our temples, he is on our books etc.) I think that we are unknowingly using him (Moroni) as the spokesman for spreading the gospel.

Moroni was the one who first declared the gospel message to Joseph Smith and told him where the gold plates were. He also acted as the announcer and presenter of the plates and the other items to the three witnesses. So I guess that would make him the spokesman. This way both the writer of the book and the spokesman are descended from Lehi and we don't have to resort to any historical, genetic or other mumbo-jumbo to make Joseph Smith a descendant of Lehi.

I just find it ironic that we, as a church, were fulfilling prophecy by using Moroni as a symbol of the gospel, all while misinterpreting the scripture.

Ric said...

Thanks for the insight. I'm not sure I know which is the correct interpretation but I think there are several ways of understanding this that don't require Joseph Smith to have Native American ancestry.

Alan Thacker said...

I am a seminary and institute teacher in Ogden, UT. The McConkie quote referred to previously is in the latest Seminary curriculum (just released this past year 2013) for the Book of Mormon as commentary on this specific chap 2( Ne. 3).

Quantumleap42 said...

Thanks for your comment Alan. I remember being a seminary student and having this question come up and having people trying to figure out how Joseph Smith was descended from native Americans. The entire debate always seemed problematic to me and think it was only a problem because we were interpreting the scriptures incorrectly.

Amy T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I still believe Joseph Smith descended from Lehi. Moroni didn't do as much Joseph Smith did during the restoration. Also, Joseph Smith need not have a native American blood for this to happen. Let's remember that no one knows what happened to the Nephites who joined Hagoth. Some of them might have ended up in Europe long after they landed northward. Although Brigham Young stated that Joseph Smith was an Ephraimite, part of his ancestry was Manasseh if what I'm thinking is true. No one is pure blood anyway today.

matt lohrke said...

I totally agree with the assessment that Mormon is the choice seer. To my view its pretty clear.

But one could reasonably assume that Joseph Smith could be descended from Joseph of Egypt's other son, Ephraim. It would work that way. Lots of Ephraimic blood in the British Isles.

I think it might be a stretch to assume Joseph Smith is a blood descendent of Manesseh.

Naomi Martineau said...

I enjoy this analysis. However, I disagree on verse 17. There is reason to believe that verse 17 is written by Joseph, and not by Lehi: Look at the content. The Lord is revealing that he will raise up Moses. Well, this is old news to Lehi. He has the Torah and knows all about it. But for Joseph, a stranger in a strange land, whose people are in an unstable situation, he wants the assurance that there is a future for his people. Moses is a key to that future, so Joseph was happy to learn about Moses.