04 aprilie 2016

Christopher Nemelka: My Take

I no longer remember the context, but a few years ago someone told me about the sealed portion of the Book Mormon supposedly being translated. I found it online, glanced through it, and dismissed it almost immediately as a fake, and thought no more about it.

It has come up again recently, and so I decided to take a better look at it and Christopher Nemelka, the guy who claims he translated it. Apparently he has a bit of a following, and a few people are taking his work seriously.

There are a couple problems with just writing him off like everyone else does. If you do a google search on his name, you will come up with a bunch of anti-Chris Nemelka sites filled with vitriol and malice. The tone of a lot of the criticism is exactly like the tone of much of the anti-Joseph Smith stuff. I'm sure that fact alone makes him and his followers feel vindicated. And of course, if you simply dismiss Nemelka's work as fraudulent, he can just point out that you can't judge the work if you haven't read it (the way many LDS often respond to critics regarding the Book of Mormon).

So I decided this morning I would delve in and decide whether the "Sealed Portion of the Book of Mormon" has merit on its own terms, regardless of who the author is. I wasn't able to read all 600+ pages, but I got through enough of it to make a reasonable judgment, I believe. Here are a few key observations.

The tone of the Sealed Portion is significantly different from the tone of the Book of Mormon.
The Book of Mormon is purportedly Joseph Smith's 1830 translation of a record compiled by Mormon in the 5th century. So you would expect to find 5th century (and older) ideas and imagery expressed in 19th century language. That is, in fact, a decent description of the language of the Book of Mormon. It's full of biblical imagery (parallelism and chiasmus abounding) expressed in Joseph Smith's language--not in the way Joseph talked, but in the way he expected scripture to sound. So you have a unique combination of KJV language mixed with bad grammar, because Joseph (at least at this point in his early twenties) was barely able to put a complete sentence together, let alone conjugate archaic verbs correctly.

The Sealed Portion adds another layer of interpretation--it sounds like the Book of Mormon mixed with the funny way LDS General Authorities sometime speak over the pulpit. An argument could be made that that's consistent with Joseph's experience of translation, but in the meantime, I didn't see any ancient ideas or imagery in the background besides in the sections that were direct quotations of other scripture. The ideas were very modern, which would make sense if this were a modern revelation, but the Sealed Portion is supposedly a translation of Moroni's continued record, mostly a retelling of the brother of Jared's revelation several millenia ago. So it doesn't make any sense for the ideas to be modern. The tone and structure are vastly different from ancient writings. As a native speaker of English who is a decently-skilled writer and reasonably familiar with existing scriptures, I feel qualified to make the judgment that the Sealed Portion is a modern man's attempt to imitate Mormon scripture, and not a continuation of Mormon and Moroni's work.

Extremely conscious of hierarchy
I'm not going to attempt to debunk the doctrine proposed in the Sealed Portion--it's too complicated; I'd have to explain my interpretation of each doctrinal point first before I could demonstrate how Nemelka's condradicted it, and in the end, all I would be saying is that I don't agree with him. I will just make a single observation and example. Nemelka's work seems uber-conscious of hierarchy: who is whose parent, who rules over whom, who is less worthy than whom, etc. I personally agree with another online writer who asserted that "the kingdom of God is an organizational pancake." In other words, there is no hierarchy. Jesus came to be the servant of all, condescending to make himself equal with us, in order to raise us up at the last day to be equal with him. I think this is a critical part of God's plan, and I think it is a mistake to overlook or override it.

"The word of God is a two-edged sword"
See Hebrews 4:12 and D&C 6:2 for a couple examples. When God delivers actual transcribe-able words to us, he cuts to the quick. It is concise and powerful, with not a word wasted, and every phrase is fraught with meaning. (Consider D&C 1, or 3 Ne 12.) When God grants visions, he shows you things you wouldn't be able to see or understand otherwise, and in contrast to what he shows you, he spends little time explaining in words. (See 1 Nephi 11 or Revelation 4 for examples.) I guess when each of your words carries the weight of eternity, it's important to be concise.

Men, on the other hand, ramble on all the time. Do a scripture search on the word "plates" and just look at how much time Nephi spent explaining what he was writing on the plates and why--in spite of the fact that our Book of Mormon was supposed to be the "shorter" record and engraving was hard work. Or read the epistles of Paul and observe how he made sure he said hello to all the right people in his letters, kind of like a boring Oscar acceptance speech. The point is, men are verbose, but God values brevity.

Nemelka's work in the Sealed Portion is anything but concise. And in the visions and revelations he includes in the book, God spends an incredible amount of time explaining stuff--unparalleled by any other record we now have. The explanations are also repetitive, unlike any other revelation record we have. Even if I overlook the content and doctrine expressed in the visions, I still believe the explanation and mode of communication is highly uncharacteristic of divinity.

Gratifying revelation
There is one final and most significant observation I want to share about Nemelka's work. For me, it's the clincher. The actual content of Nemelka's work is all the stuff intellectuals and critics of the church like to argue most about: heavenly mother, premortal existence, details of significant biblical events, modern materialism, follow-the-leader mentality, other flaws of today's church, etc. The problem is, a good portion of the content is a repeat of things that are already in the Book of Mormon, and the rest of the content contains ideas that have already been proposed by various people. In other words, the ideas aren't new. And all of them are gratifying in one way or another; reassuring certain segments of the church (or certain critics of the church) that they were right all along. It begs the question: if the real content of the sealed part of the Book of Mormon is stuff that we either already have or can speculate about on our own, then why on earth would it be sealed?

The scriptures talk a lot about "the marvelous work and a wonder." Very few details are given about what exactly it will entail, other than it will be the work of the Father, it will begin when he starts fulfilling his promises to the house of Israel, and it will be surprising and shocking. "And when that day shall come, it shall come to pass that kings shall shut their mouths; for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider" (3 Ne 21:8). "The wisdom of their wise and learned shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent shall be hid" (2 Ne 27:26). I did not find anything surprising or new in the Sealed Portion.

As the scriptures say, man's ways are not the Lord's ways. I have noticed that the guidance and solutions the Lord offers to us when we ask for it are always at least a little surprising. We want the Deus ex machina solution where God roars in and solves our problem for us, but usually his influence is much more subtle. Because we don't have his perspective, we can't see what's coming, even if he warns us (1 Ne 20:3-8). It is only in retrospect that his purpose and methods become clear to us, and even then, it is never gratifying; it is humbling.

When I read Nemelka's Sealed Portion, I sense no greater perspective, no expansion of my understanding. Instead, I just feel like the author is showing off how clever he is.

(The most gratuitous bit of the Sealed Portion? It forbids polygamy--except to the man who "brings forth the record" and those that he personally authorizes. Seriously?)

I have now read enough of the Sealed Portion to know that even if it does contain some truth, the vast majority of that truth is already available to me in the standard works. And it is not worth the time it would take me to comb through the rest to discover anything else of value; at least not when there is still so much I have yet to learn from the scriptures I already have.

Now that I have evaluated the Sealed Portion on its own merits, I am convinced the Sealed Portion is nothing more than Christopher Nemelka's opinion on various doctrines. So is there any reason for me to care about Nemelka's opinion? No, not really. I don't recommend spending a lot of time reading the articles on the critic websites because they are so hostile, but this timeline seems very well researched and documented, and it gives as unbiased a view as you can find about what kind of man Nemelka is.

3 comentarii:

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate the thorough attention you gave it!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate the thorough attention you gave it!

  3. The marvelous work and a wonder is not just the sealed portion it's the entire work www.marvelousworkandawonder.com which ultimately leads to knowing the actual solution to eliminate poverty which is the main objective of this work. Again you concentrate on what Mormons believe yet this work is for all religions and takes a person away from organized religion through leach book. You should really review the enire work and you will see it's quite Marvelous