Sherem, an anti-Christ, was certainly part of what was and is Satan's plan to undercut belief in Jesus Christ. Sherem's tacts--Satan's tactics --were the same as they are today. So this chapter chapter should be read with a view to its applica- tion in today's world. The footnotes in this posting apply what Sherem did to what others in history have done, and the text addresses the wickedness in Jerusalem around 600 BC when Lehi and his family fled for their lives because they would not adopt the prostituted Judaism that destroyed what I call, borrowing this term from Margaret Barker, proto-Judiasm. My meaning for this term is slightly different than Barker's: I mean the true belief in the Savior before the so-called reforms instituted among the Jews during the reign of King Josiah. Lehi and his family carried proto-Judaism with them to the Americas. Laman and Lemuel did not believe in proto-Judaism, and this fundamental difference between the Lamanites and Nephites undergirds the conflicts between them throughout the Book of Mormon. Sherem, then, is a paradigm for those who do not believe in Christ and want to impose their non-belief on others. Which is quite different than the Lord's modus operendi.
The closing words of chapter six make it clear that Jacob had originally intended that to be the end his work, but that was before Sherem. Chapter seven is a years-later discussion about Sherem and his flattering or appealing words to people about the impossibility of seeing the future and, therefore, the silliness of a belief in Christ. This chapter is about logic. It is about epistemology. It is about hermeneutics.
This chapter is very important today, as well, because the same arguments about belief in Christ abound today. Rather than being about the unreasonableness of the future prospect of Christ, however, today’s arguments are about the irrational superstition of people who look back to Christ as their Savior.
Sherem is the stereotypical atheist, but his was a prospective atheism rather than today’s retrospective disbelief in Christ. He was well educated and a great orator, “[H]e was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech . . . .:1
The nature of is oratory is easily deduced. He accused Jacob of perverting the law of Moses and leading the people away from the truth. Sherem decried by Jacob as looking beyond the mark when Jacob and other believers said what was going to happen in the future that would add purpose to life and eternal salvation after death. That there would be a Savior. Sherem was committed to the formalism of a religion with no particular point, much like the Jews of today who believe that life ends with death: no resurrection. Sherem’s commitment to the forms of religious belief postured him so that he could, with credibility, attack the teachings about the fullness of the gospel: a Christ who was to come and redeem mankind for a resurrection of glory. The idea of Christ made the law of Moses transitory.
The same arguments made by Sherem appear to be at the bottom of the supposed reforms instituted by King Josiah among the Jews before the Diaspora,2so a digression about Josiah’s reforms and the condition of the people at the time Lehi and his family fled Jerusalem is merited.
There is substantial scholarly argument in favor concluding that there was change in Judaism before the Diaspora, which solidified these changes. Proto-Judaism, the religion and priesthood of the first temple period, was lost to a fabrication, a metamorphosis of Judiasm, that began before the exile, a reformation that changed doctrine to eliminate the nature of temple worship and eschew Wisdom—the Holy Ghost and polytheism embracing God the Father and His Son as separate beings—in favor of rigid conformity with rules, regulations, and monotheism.3An incorporeal monotheism.4
The so-called reforms of King Josiah were cemented during the Diaspora and resulted in the edited Bible preserved in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew scriptures, which is the basis of the King James Version. The edited Bible, of course, casts Josiah as a great reformer of the true religion,5but the exact nature of his reforms is uncertain. These reforms began during the twelfth year of Josiah’s reign, when Josiah was twenty,6and portray Josiah dithyrambically:
Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him.7
Whether a twenty-year-old king/sinecure was behind these reforms is questionable. Josiah was still surrounded by the de facto leaders of the country, the elders. So one must wonder who was behind this religious supposed reformation and its true nature. The accounts of Josiah’s reformations contained in the bible, which was the product of the Deuteronomists—those returning from exile—and they had an incentive to color the history of their people as they restated the law; indeed, deutero means secondary or a restatement as opposed to primary or proto.
Strong inferences can be drawn from what is known about these reformations. The book of the law found in the house of the Lord led to Josiah’s reforms. The book was found by Hilkiah, the high priest, and given to Shaphan, the king’s scribe8 Shaphan read this newly found book to King Josiah, a book that required compliance with the law of Moses and the purge of foreign idols and worship. But Ezekiel, carried to Jerusalem in a vision, saw the ancients committing wicked abominations, and Ezekiel says, “[A]nd in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan.”9
The same sarcastic castigation of the leaders is repeated in Ezekiel 11 when Ezekiel’s vision takes him to the door of the temple. There he sees another Jaazaniah and one Pelatiah. This Jaazaniah was the son of Azur, whom Jeremiah characterizes as the father of the false prophet Hananiah.10
There are scholars who believe the Diaspora solidified a change in Judaism so that proto-Judaism, the religion and priesthood of the first temple period, was lost to a metamorphosed Judaism as preserved in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew bible, the basis of the King James version of the bible.11
King Josiah’s reforms were probably a debasement rather than a reformation of Judaism because Josiah, unlike Hezekiah and Judah during his reign, was not preserved by the Lord. So the Deuteronomists who wrote 2 Kings rationalized the failure of Josiah’s reforms to head off the Diaspora by blaming Manasseh’s wickedness.
Notwithstanding [King Josiah’s reforms] the Lord turned not from the fierceness of his great wrath, wherewith his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations that Manasseh had provoked him withal. And the Lord said, I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and will cast off this city Jerusalem which I have chosen, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there. Now the rest of the acts of Josiah, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah?12
This rationalization seems contrived because it ignores the effect of Hezekiah’s reforms following the wicked reign of Ahaz, reforms that restored the Lord’s blessings and preserved Hezekiah’s life. Josiah was not so great in the eyes of the Lord that he was preserved in battle. He died as a result of wounds during a battle with the Egyptians after the Egyptian king warned Josiah that he, the Egyptian king, had the power of god with him to destroy Josiah.13
It is not rational that the Lord would destroy one of His great kings; after all, he preserved Hezekiah. Nor does the continuation of the Lord’s wrath against the Jews militate in favor of concluding that the people adopted reforms consistent with true repentance: the Lord does not continue in his wrath when people truly repent.14Thus, the notion that Josiah returned to the Lord and led his people with him is so unlikely it is probably contrived.
It is more likely that reforms attributed to Josiah were the effects of a small but powerful minority bent on imposing their view of true religion on the people. Their view of religion eliminated the focus of temple worship on the atonement and eschewed wisdom—the Holy Ghost and polytheism embracing God the Father and His Son—in favor of rigid conformity with rules and regulations and monotheism.15Indeed, these reforms and the associated editing of the bible resulted in the those following the true religion becoming outcasts whose practices remained in the background until the advent of Christ.16
What happened during the reign of Josiah may have been presented by the politically elite as a sign of divine approbation for their political, nationalistic purposes. Josiah reunited the northern and southern territories, and he destroyed, according to the Masoretic Text, the idolatrous temples and altars that had accreted after the death of Hezekiah; in other words, he nationalized the religion by consolidating it in Jerusalem, something which had not existed before and militates in favor of concluding that such profound changes to the religion had a political rather than spiritual motivation. A parallel was drawn between Hezekiah’s reform of the wicked practices of his father, Ahaz, and the reforms instituted by Josiah contravening the practices of his predecessors, a parallel that was not lost on the political elite in Jerusalem. Without a doubt, those with strong nationalistic feelings and the zealous proponents of religious reform were at loggerheads with the proponents of the true religion and temple worship that was known before these reforms.
Combining the northern kingdom with the southern carried with it a whole set of problems that were exacerbated by the centralization of the Jewish religion in Jerusalem, a change that affected Judaism down to the time of Christ and still today. The reawakened spirit of nationalism and false sense of divine approbation brought Josiah into battle with the Egyptians in 609 bc when Egypt allied with and marched to the aid of the Assyrians. Josiah, no doubt fearing the success of an Egyptian/Assyrian alliance, an alliance that would have subjected Palestine to Egypt’s control, marched his armies out to stop the Egyptians’ aid of Assyria. Not only did he fail, he was killed in the battle.
The death of Josiah in 610 BC left his son, Jehoahaz, king of a country defeated by Egypt and despoiled religiously. Jerusalem’s short, twenty-year interlude of independence came to an end. The pharaoh, Neco, summoned Jehoahaz to Egypt after three months, deposed him, exiled him to Egypt, and placed Eliakim—whose name was changed to Jehoiakim, another of Josiah’s sons—on the throne as his vassal as part of his attempt to consolidate power west of the Euphrates.17Jehoiakim was a tyrant. He died in 598 bc, was succeeded by his eight-year-old son, Jehoiachin, who was deported to Babylon with Ezekiel when Jerusalem surrendered to Nebuchadrezzar in March 597 BC. King Nebuchadrezzar put Jehoiachin’s uncle, Mattaniah, on the throne even though he was not in the royal line. Mattaniah’s name was changed to Zedekiah, and Lehi and his family fled Jerusalem for their lives at the beginning of the first year of his reign.18
The foregoing digression about Jerusalem’s history leading to Lehi’s departure gives background for the conflict between Jacob and Sherem. The reforms of the late seventh century and early sixth bc forced those following the true religion in Jerusalem into the shadows, becoming outcasts whose practices remained in the background until the advent of Christ.19
What is so remarkable about the conflict between Jacob and Sherem is that Jacob prevailed in this attack on the gospel of Christ even though the same battle had been lost in Palestine.
Lehi, Sam, and Nephi were aware of the conflict in Palestine over the nature of God, and they adhered to the proto-Judaism that meant their death as traitors if they remained in Jerusalem. They were traitors because they believed the scriptures and applied them to the wickedness of the people in Jerusalem, prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem based on the recorded words of the prophets.
Sherem, no doubt, was aware of the divergence of opinion on orthodoxy that pre-dated Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem, Laman and Lemuel followed the Judaic perversions that Lehi, Sam, Nephi, and, later, Jacob eschewed. Laman and Lemuel’s disbelief in the future advent of the Savior remained a major tenet of the Lamanites and other Nephite detractors. Jacob won the debate with Sherem, but the heresy continued to plague the Nephites.
Sherem makes an interesting admission after being smitten by the Lord, “I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures . . . .” So it appears that Sherem was a student of the scriptures, but manipulated them for his purposes, intentionally not teaching the people those parts of the scriptures that supported Jacob’s theology. He willfully and maliciously perverted the scriptures he claimed to teach.
This intentional perversion of the scriptures made Sherem worse than the typical detractor. He occupied an influential position and had knowledge that put him at risk to become a son of perdition. His position may have been simply that of an educated person with the resources to understand and appreciate the import of the message of the scriptures, a provocative thought for those in the church who have similar resources and opportunities but detract from the Church. Sherem, it seems, knew the scriptures but was selective when he taught them.
Sherem taught that polytheism was foolishness. The same thing taught by most so-called Christian churches and the Jews today. Satan, it seems, does not want people to understand the nature of the Godhead, so he is always at work to deceive people.20
Just as important as Sherem’s apparently intentional misleading of members of the Church is the resulting effect of Sherem’s confession and demise.
And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people; and they searched the scriptures, and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man.21
The peace and love restored must have been the resolution of disbelief that had arisen among the membership of the church over various points of doctrine, something analogous to the disputations that arose during the early Christian era. Unlike the early Christians, however, Jacob notes that the people searched the scriptures as the antidote to the misleading teachings of Sherem. The point to be drawn from this, of course, is simple: studying the scriptures is the guard against disbelief and being misled.
More than likely, of course, those affected by Sherem’s duplicity were not educated or, perhaps, literate. Thus, the responsibility that Sherem bore may have been greater than would have otherwise been the case, meaning that he may have a had a greater responsibility considering the talents he had. Greater talents may, for the latter-day saint, imply greater responsibility.
- Jacob 7:4.
- The reforms under King Josiah are analogous to the reforms of the German Lutheran Church that, of course, was manipulated by Adolf Hitler and his lieutenants for Hitler’s purposes. Anything Satan can do to attack the true religion, of course, is part of Satan’s plan. The church in Germany in the 1930s was prostituted. Hitler said, “It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohannedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?” Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2010) at 165. Metaxas shows how der Führer, which means the Leader, used religion to fortify his politics, “You’ll see the day, ten years from now, when Adolf Hitler will occupy precisely the same position in Germany that Jesus Christ has now [circa 1933].” Id, quoting Reinhard Heydrich. The chronicle of Hitler’s changes to the German religion was an orchestrated attack. The Nazi religion was Nietzschean: Hitler’s John the Baptist was Nietzsche, who called Christianity “the one tgreat curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion . . . the one immortal blemish of mankind.” Id. at 168. Hitler abolished the Old Testament and re-wrote the New Testament. The masses followed him rather than rebelled because what Hitler preached appealed to them. This paradigm prostituted the religion in Jerusalem in the Sixth Century bc; it was at work during the Third and Fourth Centuries ad when the concept of the Trinity emerged as the litmus test for Christianity; the reforms of Martin Luther resulting in the notion of salvation by grace were affected by it; and it is still at work today as Satan works to diminish anything religious.
- See Deuteronomy 4:1–9.
- This is akin, of course, to the Arian Controversy that led to the Nicean Creed in ad 325 based on the arguments of Athanasius that God cannot be understood and must be viewed as the pagans viewed their gods. Athanasius’ writings survive. Bishop Arius of Syria believed the Godhead was three individuals, two corporeal and on in spirit, but Bishop Athanasius–-later St. Athanasius—argued for the triune monotheism of shape-shifting like notion of the Trinity. Emperoro Constantine chose Athanasian ideas; thus, the litmus test—still today—for whether one is a Christian.
- See 2 Kings 22–ch. 23, 2 Chronicles 34–35,
- 2 Chronicles 34:3.
- 2 Kings 23:24–25. The encomium found in 2 Chronicles 35 is a similar panegyric.
- 2 Kings 22:8.
- Ezekiel 8:11. The people with Ezekiel in exile were part of the upper class, so they would have known Shaphan and his son, Jaazaniah.
- Jeremiah 28:1.
- See Margaret Barker, The Older Testament (Sheffield, TN: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005).
- 2 Kings 23:26–28.
- 2 Chronicles 35:20–24.
- Cp. Jonah.
- See Deuteronomy 4:1–9.
- Cf. 1 Nephi 13:40 (the “plain and precious” parts of the gospel kept from the people are described by an angel as, “the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved”); Jacob 7 (Sherem attempts but fails at reformations that deny Christ, claiming no one can know the future and that preaching of a Savior is a blasphemous perversion of the law of Moses).
Ezekiel 8 is the first of several visions Ezekiel had will sitting among the elders in Babylon after the first deportation of the Jews. As noted at the beginning of the analysis of chapter eight, infra at ?, there is an affinity between a Visio Zenez Patris Gothoniel and Ezekiel’s writings. It may be that the writings of Zenos in the Book of Mormon are among those suppressed during the debasement of Judaism during and subsequent to the reign of King Josiah. Those in Jerusalem who believed in a future redeemer—polytheism—were in mortal danger because such a belief affected the regard these people had for the wickedness around them, against which they declaimed.
The wickedness in Jerusalem was characterized by Ezekiel as worse than the sins of Sodom. Ezekiel’s characterization is discussed as part of this exegesis of 1 Nephi 1, supra at 204 and is covered in the author’s blog on 1 Nephi 1 https://studyitout.com/1-nephi-1/.
- 2 Kings 23:31–35.
- 1 Nephi 1:4.
- See Margaret Barker, The Older Testament (Sheffield, TN: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2005).
- The irrationality of a triune god is so irrational when one reads the scriptures that it is startling. But there are not many who can use the scriptures to obliterate this anti-Christian idea. A book that shows the folly of the tradition of a triune god—the Trinity—is Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition, A Reconsideration of the Orthodox Doctrine of the Trinity in Light of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (Bloomington, IND:AuthorHouse, 2011).
- Jacob 7:22.