The Nephite Religions

In his book Did God Have a Wife, William Dever reminds us that there has always been a difference between "book religion" and "folk religion". The Bible is essentially a "revisionist history", with Deuteronomist historians projecting their own religious sensibilities unto the history of their forefathers. The Bible doesn't describe religion as it was, rather as how they thought it should have been. Real Israelite religion consisted of the things the Deuteronomist historians condemned.

The Book of Mormon is an ancient book, written by the Prophet Mormon in the early 400's AD. Mormon was writing about a culture and religion that existed hundreds of years in his past. I suspect that Mormon shared similar limitations and weaknesses with the writers of the Bible. He was part of what had usually been an ethnic and religious minority.

Like the Deuteronomists, he described the history and religion of his forefathers in very idealistic ways. What the Book of Mormon teaches is the Nephite "book religion". What it condemns is the Nephite "folk religion". By seeing what Nephite prophets condemned, we can see what Nephite folk religion actually looked like...

Nephite Folk Religion Included...
divine kingship(Mosiah 2:10)
polytheism(Alma 11:26-29,35)
magic(Mormon 2:10, Mormon 1:19)
human sacrifice(Mormon 4:21, Alma 34:10)
animal sacrifice(Alma 34:11)
blood letting(Alma 34:11)
idols(Helaman 6:31, Alma 7:6) 2:10)
priestly caste(Mosiah 11:14, Alma 30:27)
burying treasure unto God(Alma 24:19, Helaman 13:19)

Nephite Folk Religion Lacked...
the Law of Moses(Mosiah 12:37)
an atoning messiah doctrine(4 Nephi 1:29Jacob 7:9Alma 30:12Alma31:21)

From the above lists we can see why we shouldn't look for Crown Heights in Mesoamerica. The Bible is an ancient book with some non-historical aspects. Biblical writers painted an idealized portrait of what they thought religion should have looked like. Mormon, as an ancient prophet-historian would have similar weaknesses. Nephite religions and society were far more complex than Mormon makes them out to be. He and his line of prophet-historians were an ethnic and religious minority thus they did not represent the majority.

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