This article is chapter two from my book Refuting the Critics (Horizon Publishers, 1993). All cited references can be found in the book.

DIVINE JUSTICE IN THE BOOK OF MORMON:

A REPLY TO ANTI-MORMON CRITICISMS OF THE GREAT DESTRUCTION AND OF THE SAVIOR'S NEW WORLD MINISTRY RECORDED IN 3 NEPHI

Michael T. Griffith

According to 3 Nephi 8-10 in the Book of Mormon, a great destruction was heaped upon the Nephites and Lamanites just prior to the resurrected Savior's appearance to them in the New World. The more wicked among them were killed in the catastrophe.

Just after this devastation had occurred, the Savior spoke to the survivors: ". . . many great destructions have I caused to come upon this land, and upon this people, because of their wickedness and their abominations. O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" (3 Nephi 9:12-13).

A number of anti-Mormon critics have questioned the morality of this great destruction and have pointed to it as substantiation for their allegation that "the Book of Mormon Jesus is not the Biblical Jesus."

One such critic is Ed Decker, a former Mormon of 19 years and the founder of Saints Alive/Ex-Mormons for Jesus. He voiced the anti-Mormon position on this matter in an article entitled "The Book of Mormon: A Testament of ANOTHER Jesus Christ?" The article was printed in the Spring 1989 edition of SAINTS ALIVE JOURNAL. Decker summed up the anti-Mormon objections to the great destruction as follows:

In the Book of Mormon, Jesus brought death and destruction with him to the Cross. In 3 Nephi, Chapters 8 and 9, it details the events testifying of Christ's crucifixion.

It describes the desolation of the great city of Zarahemla by fire, and the city of Moroni:. . . .

3 Nephi Chapter 9 tells of further wrath the cities and inhabitants of Gigal, Onihah, Mocum, Jerusalem, Gadiandi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, Gimgimmo, Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen annihilated (a total of 16 major cities).

Who did all this killing to testify of our Lord's atonement on Calvary? 3 Nephi 9 :15 reveals the murderer of approximately 2 mill ion innocent inhabitants of the Book of Mormon lands, "Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God . . . ."

I guess the easiest way for the Book of Mormon Jesus to "bring redemption" was to kill almost every human being; at least the vast majority of that portion of his "other sheep have I." This Jesus was a god of wrath, exercising some form of Old Testament judgement by the one who was supposed to be the end of the law.

The Biblical Jesus cried out to His Father behalf of those who nailed him to a cross with cruel spikes, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." The Book of Mormon Jesus wipes out millions of people who knew nothing of Calvary. Pretty simply, we see two different Jesus' here (12-13).

This chapter will show that the great destruction recorded in 3 Nephi was morally justified and in harmony with the biblical pattern of divine justice.

The Judgments Of Yahweh In The Old Testament

When considering Decker's arguments, one of the first questions that comes to mind is, What about those instances in Old Testament times when Yahweh (Jehovah) destroyed the wicked for many of the same reasons the wicked were killed in the great destruction?

For example, Moses was commanded by Yahweh to kill three thousand Israelite idolaters (Exodus 32:26-28). Through Joshua the Lord told the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child of the pagan inhabitants of Jericho, except for Rahab and her family (Joshua 6:17, 21, 27). Similarly, Yahweh commanded King Saul to destroy all living things, including infants, among the wayward Amalekites (1 Samuel 15 :2-3, 32), and the Lord destroyed the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire (Genesis 19).

A number of Bible scholars have questioned the morality of Yahweh's command to destroy the Canaanites. Some of the objections raised by these scholars resemble Decker's attacks on the great destruction recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Conservative Protestant scholar Merrill Unger responded to those who have questioned the morality of Jehovah's devastation of the Canaanites. Note the way Unger's reply answers some of Decker's criticisms of the great destruction:

Was the command to exterminate the Canaanites a justifiable act on the part of God, who ordered it, or on the part of man, who partially, at least, obeyed it? Was the episode at variance with the character of God and His people? That it was inconsistent and unjustified both on God's side and man's has been so often asserted, that a consideration of the moral and religious character of the Canaanites is a question of utmost importance in solving the supposed theological difficulties that are commonly adduced.

Professor H. H. Rowley, for example, claims that the divine command to destroy the Canaanites in general, or Jericho and its inhabitants in particular, and similar episodes in the Old Testament, are contrary to the New Testament revelation of God in Christ, and involve merely the erroneous thoughts of the writers or characters in question about God, which we can now no longer accept as true. Moreover, Rowley claims that such incidents of wholesale destruction contain that which is "spiritually unsatisfying" and involve "dishonoring God ...."

The character of the Canaanite cults completely justifies the divine command to destroy their devotees. It is without sound theological basis to question God's justice in ordering the extermination of such a depraved people or to deny Israel's integrity as God's people in carrying out the divine order. Nor is there anything in this episode or the devotion of jericho to destruction that involves conflict with the new testament revelation of God in Christ . . .. God's infinite holiness is just as much outraged by sin in the new testament as in the old, and the divine wrath is not one whit mitigated against the sin of those who do not accept the forgiveness provided in christ, as the apocalyptic judgements of the book of revelation, directed against Christ-rejecting men of endtime, amply testify. (1954:167, 176, emphasis added).

Other conservative Bible scholars have expressed similar sentiments on the subject (Harrison 1970:174-175; Archer 157-159).

Jesus Is Yahweh: A Serious Theological Problem for Anti-Mormons

In light of the Old Testament judgments of Yahweh discussed above, the fact that Christ was Yahweh come to earth. Decker's claim that the destruction of the wicked Nephites and Lamanites is at variance with "the Biblical Jesus" runs into serious theological problems. No informed orthodox Christian would deny that Jesus and Jehovah were and are one and the same deity. In fact, the principal objection raised by Catholic and Protestant writers against the Jehovah's Witnesses is that the Witnesses do not believe Christ and Yahweh are the same deity. The Savior expressly presented Himself as such and the epistles of the New Testament confirm this understanding.

That Jesus Christ of the New Testament is Jehovah of the Old Testament is clearly established by comparing passages from the two testaments of the Bible. Qualities and titles attributed to Jehovah in the Old Testament are attributed to Christ in the New Testament in numerous passages and situations.

It should be recalled that throughout the Old Testament the tetragrammaton (the sacred name of God consisting, in the Hebrew consonantal script, of the four letters Y-H-W-H) is written LORD, in all-capital letters. The word LORD stands for the name of the God of the Old Testament which is referred to today as Jehovah.

The Lord told Abram, in Genesis 17:1: "I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect." In the Book of Revelation, Christ told the apostle John, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the almighty" (Revelation 1:8; see 1:1).

When Moses asked God what his name was, "God said unto Moses, I AM that I AM: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you . . . This is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations" (Exodus 3 :14-15) . In the New Testament, Jesus applied that title to himself, telling accusers who were challenging him that, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58). The unbelieving crowd thought his use of the name of God to be blasphemous and took up stones to cast at him.

The Old Testament says that the LORD accompanied the children of Israel in their flight from Egypt. Moses told them that "the LORD your God . . . went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, . . . and in a cloud by day" (Deuteronomy 1:30-33). Paul taught that Christ was the Divine Being that accompanied them (I Corinthians 10:14).

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah recorded Jehovah's pronouncement that "I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior" (Isaiah 43:3) . In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is closely identified as the Savior of all mankind. For instance, the angels told the shepherds about Christ's birth with the joyful message, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

The Old Testament cites the LORD as saying, "there is no Savior beside me" (Hosea 13:4). The New Testament says of Jesus Christ, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:10-12).

In the Old Testament, the LORD says, "I am the first, and I am the last" (Isaiah 44:6). In the New Testament, Jesus Christ says "I am the first and the last" (Revelation 1:17).

In the Old Testament the LORD asserts, "I have made the earth, and created man upon it; I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded" (Isaiah 45:11-12). The New Testament depicts Christ as "the Word," and says that "all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3; see 1:1-14).

In the Old Testament the LORD says that "I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear" (Isaiah 45:23). In the New Testament Paul proclaims that "At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth" (Philippians 2:10) .

A future coming of the LORD is prophesied in the Old Testament: "The LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with thee" (Zechariah 14:5). The same future coming, Christ's second coming at the beginning of his millennial reign, is prophesied in the New Testament, and Jesus is identified as he who will come: " . . . at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, with all his saints" (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

The Old Testament describes the millennial kingship of the LORD: "And the LORD shall be king over all the earth; in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one" (Zechariah 14:9). In the New Testament an angel from heaven announces that "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15).

These and many other comparisons clearly indicate that Jesus Christ of the New Testament and Jehovah, the LORD of the Old Testament, is the same individual. The message of the scriptures is abundantly clear on this doctrinal principle, and it is generally accepted by orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Therefore, if Christ was and is Yahweh, and is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8; Malachi 3:6), then how can it be said that the destruction of the wicked Nephites and Lamanites is justification for Decker's ill-founded assertion that "the Biblical Jesus" and "the Book of Mormon Jesus" are different individuals? How can one separate the acts of "the Biblical Jesus" from those of Yahweh? Quite simply, one can't.

Fair Warning?

Decker refers to those who were killed in the great destruction as "innocent inhabitants" and as "people who knew nothing of Calvary" (13). This is simply not the case. Decker, whose criticisms of the Book of Mormon show that he has in-depth knowledge of its contents, ignores the clear-cut message of numerous passages when he makes this fallacious assertion.

The Book of Mormon records the terrible state of wickedness these people were in just before they suffered divine punishment. Furthermore, prior to the Savior's appearance in the New World, the Nephites and Lamanites were taught about Christ and were warned of the awful calamities that would befall them if they did not repent.

The prophet Mormon reported on the condition of the Book of Mormon peoples shortly before the great destruction occurred:

The more righteous part of the people had nearly all become wicked; yea, there were but few righteous men among them. And thus six years had not passed away since the more part of the people had turned from their righteousness, like the dog to his vomit, or like the sow to her wallowing in the mire. (3 Nephi 7:7-8)

Specifically, the Nephites and Lamanites "were in a state of awful wickedness" (3 Nephi 6:17). They put to death "many of those who testified of the things pertaining to Christ" (3 Nephi 6:23). The wicked "did combine against the people of the Lord" (3 Nephi 6:29) . Most of the inhabitants were "carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them" (3 Nephi 6:17) . They did "all manner of iniquity" (3 Nephi 6:16) . Furthermore, they "did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them" (3 Nephi 6:18).

This is not surprising, since many prophets were sent among the people to preach of Christ and to cry repentance unto them. There were "men inspired from heaven and sent forth, standing among the people in all the land, preaching and testifying boldly of the sins and iniquities of the people, and testifying unto them concerning the redemption which the Lord would make for his people" (3 Nephi 6:20). The inhabitants were also aware of the prophecies given four decades earlier by Samuel the Lamanite, who had warned that terrible destruction would come upon the wicked if they did not repent (3 Nephi 8:3-4, 23-25; Helaman 14:14-31).

Much more could be said on this matter. Suffice it to say that the Nephites and Lamanites were in an awful state of wickedness prior to the resurrected Savior's visit, and they were given more than a fair warning of what was to come if they did not turn to the Lord (cf. Sperry 1968:384-398).

Unequal Punishment?

Says Decker:

The question must be asked again, why would Jesus inflict so horrifying a punishment upon his "other sheep" when the folks who nailed Him to the cross only got a tremor and a gloomy afternoon [cf. Matthew 27:50-54; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:44-47]? (14)

This is a key argument of Decker's attack on the morality of the great destruction, i.e., that the Jews "only got a tremor and a gloomy afternoon" while the Nephites and Lamanites were subjected to "so horrifying a punishment."

Unfortunately for Decker, this argument totally collapses upon further investigation. Although the Jews did not receive their punishment immediately after the crucifixion, they suffered a terrible fate at the hands of the Romans about forty years later. This was accomplished by the Roman general Titus' subjugation of the Holy Land from A.D. 68-70. In fact, the atrocities suffered by the Jews were much worse than the punishment received by the Nephites and Lamanites. In addition, the early Christians viewed the Roman devastation of Israel as God's punishment of the Jews for their rejection of the Savior.

The inhabitants of Jerusalem met an especially cruel end . Even before Titus' army arrived and besieged the city, Jerusalem had been torn by civil war, with various Jewish factions fighting each other for control. According to Chaim Potok, when the Romans did arrive, "The city became a horror of famine and death .... The city was leveled house by house" (293-294). In describing what happened after the Romans burned the gates of the Temple, Solomon Grayzel relates that "the slaughter which then commenced is beyond description" (167) . The Roman historian Tacitus estimated that 600,000 Jewish civilians were slain just in the aftermath of the siege alone. Jerusalem's fate was truly pitiful:

Titus completely sealed off Jerusalem from the rest of the world with a wall of earth as high as the stone wall around Jerusalem itself. Anyone not a Roman soldier caught anywhere in this vast dry moat was crucified on the top of the earthen wall in sight of the Jews inside the city. It was not uncommon for as many as five hundred people a day to be so executed. The air was redolent with the stench of rotting flesh and rent by the cries of agony of the crucified ....

The end was inevitable. With battering rams and portable bridges, the Romans stormed the walls of Jerusalem. Like termites they spilled into the city, slaughtering a populace reduced to helplessness by starvation .... The temple was put to the torch, infants thrown into flames, women raped, priests massacred, Zealots thrown from the wall. Survivors of the carnage were earmarked for the triumphal procession to be held in Rome, sold as slaves, held for the wild beasts in the arenas, or saved to be thrown off the Tarpeian Rock in Rome for amusement. (Dimont 105-106)

Apparently anti-LDS critics like Decker are unaware that Christians down through the centuries have regarded the destruction of Jerusalem not only as divine punishment of the Jews for rejecting Christ but as a fulfillment of certain prophecies in the Gospels. Jewish author Max Dimont laments the fact that, as he puts it, "Christians vaguely remember the destruction of Jerusalem as something come true according to prophecy in the Gospels...." (104).

Here is what the ancient Christian historian Eusebius (ca. A.D. 260-339) had to say about the fate that befell Jerusalem and the Holy Land in general:

He [the Roman emperor Vespasian] at once set out for Rome, entrusting the war against the Jews to his son Titus.

[The] . . . members of the Jerusalem church, by means of an oracle given by revelation to acceptable persons there, were ordered to leave the city before the war began and to settle in a town in Peraea called Pella. To Pella those who believed in Christ migrated from Jerusalem; and as if holy men had utterly abandoned the royal metropolis of the Jews and the entire Jewish land, the judgements of God at last overtook them for their abominable crimes against Christ and his apostles, completely blotting out that wicked generation from among men.

The calamities which at that time overwhelmed the whole [Jewish] nation in every part of the world; the process by which the inhabitants of Judea were driven to the limits of disaster; the thousands and thousands of men of every age who together with women and children perished by the sword, by starvation, and by countless other forms of death; the number of Jewish cities besieged and the horrors they endured-especially the terrible sights that met the eyes of those who sought refuge in Jerusalem itself . . .; the character of the whole war and detailed events at all its stages--all this anyone who wishes can gather in precise detail from the pages of Josephus's history. I must draw particular attention to his statement that the people who flocked together from all Judea at the time of the Passover Feast and-to use his own words-were shut up in Jerusalem as if in a prison, totalled nearly three million. it was indeed proper that in the very week in which they had brought the savior and benefactor of mankind, God's Christ, to his passion [death], they should be shut up as if in a prison and suffer the destruction that came upon them by the judgements of God.

Passing over the details of the successive disasters that befell them [the Jews] from the sword and in other ways, I think it necessary to mention only the miseries they suffered from starvation, so that readers of this book may have some knowledge at least of how their [the Jews’ crime against the Christ of God a very little time later brought on them God's vengeance. (111-112, emphasis added)

The ancient saints saw no inconsistency between "the biblical Jesus" and the divine punishments which were subsequently brought down upon the Jewish people by the Romans.

The Vapor of Darkness

The Book of Mormon records that after the destruction of the wicked Nephites and Lamanites, an impenetrable vapor of darkness hung over the land for three days:

And it came to pass that there was a thick darkness upon all the face of the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof who had not fallen could feel the vapor of darkness; And there could be no light, because of the darkness; neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceedingly dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all. . . . [Some people] were overpowered by the vapor of smoke and darkness. (3 Nephi 8:20-21, 23; 10:13)

Decker and other anti-Mormons see all of this as more proof of falsehood. I quote Decker:

Another comparison the Bible offers us is the astronomical occurrence at the death of Jesus . . .. Luke's gospel says that there was a darkness over all the earth (23 :44-45). Matthew 27:45 says, "Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour," and Mark 15 :33 concurs almost exactly. Now the word used in the Greek for "earth" almost always means the earth as a whole, or the entire inhabited earth. (Vine's Expository, pp. 352-353.) Therefore, we can assume that the 3 evangelists meant that the darkness would include the Book of Mormon lands.

However, again we have a substantial difference between the two accounts. It seems clear from the Bible that there is nothing unusual about the darkness. Jesus' disciples and the Romans about the cross got about without difficulty and saw the Lord die. John, an eye-witness, even makes a special point of saying that he SAW Jesus pierced (John 19:34-35)

The Book of Mormon darkness seems to have started at the time the Biblical darkness ended (3 Nephi 8:19).... [Decker then cites the above-quoted verses from 3 Nephi 8.]

Now that's quite a different type of darkness. It seems to be a tangible thing which allowed no light at all. Not only that, but it lasted for 3 days instead of three hours. This is utterly different from the Bible. When the Bible says gloom covered the entire earth during the crucifixion, the Book of Mormon teaches that a mysterious "vapor of darkness" started right after the crucifixion and lasted for three days.

How can both be true, especially when you consider how this darkness would violate the laws of physics? No darkness can stop light, because it is the absence of light. (13, emphasis in original)

I will deal with these arguments in the order in which they are presented.

Decker's assertion that the biblical darkness covered the entire planet is open to serious debate. Most modern Bible scholars believe the darkness covered only the land of Palestine, not the entire globe.

It is interesting to note that the parallel passages from Mark and Matthew in the King James Version (KJV), which is the translation Decker seems to be using here, state that the darkness merely covered "the whole land." The Greek word for "earth" in Luke 23:44-45 is GE, which can mean "region," "soil," "land," "country," or "earth" (Strong 20; Newman 37).

Here is how Luke 23:44 is translated in some of the better modern translations:

THE ANCHOR BIBLE: "It was already about noon, and darkness began to hang over the whole land until three in the afternoon."

THE NEW ENGLISH BIBLE: "By now it was midday and there came a darkness over the whole land, which lasted until three in the afternoon."

THE REVISED STANDARD VERSION (RSV): "It was now about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour."

THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV): "It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over THE WHOLE LAND until the ninth hour."

TODAY'S ENGLISH VERSION: "It was about twelve o'clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered THE WHOLE COUNTRY until three o'clock."

Catholic scholar Joseph A. Fitzmyer has said the following about Luke's statement:

His [Jesus'] death is attended by darkness over the whole land .... Literally, "and darkness began to be over the whole land," i.e. Palestine .... Cf. Gospel of Peter 5:15, "Now it was midday and darkness covered all Judea." (1985: 1512, 1517)

Some might assert that the darkness described by Luke was caused by a solar eclipse and therefore that it would have covered the entire globe. However, in addition to the scriptural evidence against Luke's darkness being planetwide, there is also the fact that the crucifixion took place during the Jewish festival of Passover, which occurs when the moon is full. An eclipse of the sun, ". . . of course, would be impossible at full moon" (Eiselen, Lewis, and Downey 1058).

The darkness lasted from about noon to 3 p.m.; for it there is no known scientific explanation. That it was not a solar eclipse is shown by the fact that the Passover occurs when the moon is full; indeed, the first full moon after the Spring equinox is what determines the time of the Passover. (B. McConkie 1965:827)

Decker makes much of the fact that the darkness described in 3 Nephi began after the Biblical one and that it lasted for three days instead of three hours. But where is it written that the two periods of darkness had to occur simultaneously and last for the same amount of time? The two periods of darkness were obviously separate and distinct events; therefore, the differences in their times of occurrence and duration prove nothing.

Likewise, since we are dealing with two different events, the fact that the Book of Mormon darkness was more severe and harmful than the Biblical one is equally meaningless.

The claim that the darkness described in the Nephite record is an impossibility has long been advanced by anti-Mormon writers. However, it has been answered by a number of LDS scholars. There is very good evidence that the Book of Mormon darkness not only could have occurred but that it did in fact take place.

The most knowledgeable LDS scholars on the geography of the Book of Mormon agree that the book's land area was located in what we now call Mesoamerica, i.e., northern Central America and southern Mexico. This region is known for its intense earthquake and volcanic activity, which is significant because the account in 3 Nephi suggests that much of the great destruction was caused by mighty earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Such activity could have caused the darkness described in the Nephite text. I quote Nibley:

Today it is possible to check step-by-step every phenomenon described in the account of the great destruction in 3 Nephi 8-9 and to discover that what passed for many years as the most lurid, extravagant, and . . . impossible part of the Book of Mormon is actually a very sober and factual account of a first-class earthquake. . . .

This [the description of the vapor of darkness in 3 Nephi], like so much else in the account . . . suggests nearby volcanic activity. And indeed, in many cases "earthquakes are the preparation for the volcano that follows," as in the Chilean 1960 quake, which triggered the activity of long-dormant volcanoes in the area [Hodgson 41]. Most of the victims of the great catastrophes of Pompeii, St. Pierre (Martinque, 1902), and Mt. Pelee (1906) died of suffocation when earthquake dust, volcanic ash, steam, and hot gasses (mostly sulfureted hydrogen gas) took the place of air. In some areas, the Book of Mormon reports, people were "overpowered by the vapor of smoke and darkness," and so lost their lives. (3 Nephi 10:13.) Even without volcanic accompaniments, however, major earthquakes kick up a terrible dust and, according to Sieberg, are accompanied by "phenomenal vapors and astonishingly thick air." (Down to the present generation "old Indians still fix their ages and other events in relation to 'La Oscuridad Grande' 'The Great Darkness' that accompanied a great eruption and earthquake in Nicaragua in 1835" [Spinden 211] .) In the Assam earthquake such contamination [i.e., vapors and smoke, etc.] "reduced visibility to a few feet and made breathing a nightmare" [Knop 25].

According to 3 Nephi 8:20-21 the "vapor of darkness" was not only tangible to the survivors, but defeated every attempt to light candles or torches for illumination . At present, intensive studies are being made of the destruction of the Greek island of Thera (today Santorini) in 1400 B.C. This catastrophe, well within historic times, is thought to have been eight times as violent as Krakatoa and is described in terms exactly paralleling the account in 3 Nephi. Among other things it is pointed out that the overpowering thickness of the air must have extinguished all lamps (see the article by John Lear, in Saturday Review, Nov. 5, 1966, pp. 57-66. He mentions the quenching of all lamps on p. 63). (1967:262, 266-267)

John Sorenson, a professor emeritus of anthropology at Brigham Young University and a leading Book of Mormon scholar, has also discussed this subject:

A description of the eruption of the Conseguina volcano in Nicaragua in 1835 hints at the terror and destruction that resulted from the powerful disaster [in the Book of Mormon area] at the time of Christ. A dense cloud first rose above the cone, and within a couple of hours "it enveloped everything in the greatest darkness, so that the nearest objects were imperceptible." Fear-struck wild animals blundered into settlements, adding to the terror. Then came quakes, "a perpetual undulation." Volcanic ash began to fall, like "fine powder-like flour." The thunder and lightning "continued the whole night and the following day." Dust thrown up into the atmosphere combined with heat from the volcano to trigger the storms. Still later the worst tremor of all hit, strong enough to throw people to the ground. Darkness again came on and this time lasted for forty-three hours.

These conditions, multiplied in both intensity and territory covered, sound much like 3 Nephi. (1985:321)

Sorenson goes on to point out that there is evidence of this kind of activity in Mesoamerica during the time period called for in the Book of Mormon:

In chapter 3, citations were made of scientific literature reporting evidence of volcanism right around the time of Christ. Probably the most spectacular was in El Salvador. Archaeologist and geologist Payson Sheets has worked to clarify the date and extent of the eruption there at "about the time of Christ." One volcano apparently devastated a 3,000-square mile area; ash falls up to 40 feet deep buried settlement after settlement. (1985:321)

Bruce Warren has done a great deal of research on this subject. He, too, has found evidence of the great destruction. Since time only permits me to quote some of his more summarized statements on the matter, I would urge the reader to examine all of the detailed evidence Warren presents in his book, The Messiah in Ancient America. Warren sums up the evidence he has documented:

There is particularly clear and abundant archaeological evidence of widespread destruction in Mesoamerica dating from the period of Christ's crucifixion....

The very nature of earthquake and volcanic activity typical of the Mesoamerican area is consistent with this whole set of phenomena [earthquakes, volcanism, etc.] ....

Mesoamerica . . . is known for its seismic activity. One text on the archaeology of Mesoamerica is called The Sons of the Shaking Earth, taking its title from a common characteristic of the whole area....

The evidences are striking of huge volcanic eruptions, mud slides, and destructions in several areas of Mesoamerica which date to about A.D. 30. These archaeological discoveries parallel the natural destruction described in the Book of Mormon at the time of the crucifixion of the Savior. (Warren and Ferguson 39-40, 45-46)

Ancient Mesoamerican sources actually mention a great destruction which occurred at the same time the Book of Mormon's great destruction took place (Jakeman 1968a:2).

Christ's Appearance to the Nephites

At first I debated whether or not to deal with Decker's statements on Christ's appearance to the Nephites because they are not directly related to the great destruction. However, since his comments do constitute further objections to the "Book of Mormon Jesus" and since they do touch on the events which followed the great destruction, I elected to address them herein. According to Decker:

The LDS Jesus then does another rather un-Biblical thing. After descending to earth, he orders the surviving Nephites to "thrust your hands into my side . . . [and] feel the prints of the nails in my hands and feet . . . "- 3 Nephi 11:14.

Then, what most LDS experts estimate to be about a half-million people troop forward and stick their hands in his wounds! Figuring 30 seconds per person, it would have taken almost 3 DAYS for the LDS Jesus to stand there and let people poke him. (14, emphasis in original)

Why could not the resurrected Savior of the world have shown Himself in such an awesome and sacred manner to a people who had never seen Him before? After all, the risen Lord spent forty days with His apostles in Israel (Acts 1:1-3), even though He had already lived and ministered among them for years. So why could He not have taken some time to allow the Nephites and Lamanites to gain a special witness that He was the risen Messiah?

In addition, it should be noted that there is nothing in the account in 3 Nephi to suggest there were half a million people present at the Savior's initial visit. If anything, the text seems to indicate that the group in Bountiful to whom Christ appeared was a relatively small one. In fact, it was only later-after it was "noised abroad" throughout the land that Jesus would return the next day and people then came to Bountiful from other areas--that the multitude became "so great" that the Savior's twelve New World disciples found it necessary to divide the people into twelve groups (3 Nephi 19:1-6).

Decker continues his attack:

Now remember, these are the Nephite "true believers"; the ones who were counted worthy enough to escape having their cities fall on them. These are the cream of the crop!

Does the Biblical Jesus ever do anything like this? Well, of course, there is Thomas. But Thomas is not presented as any kind of paragon! Jesus told him, "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed ." -John 20:29. The Biblical Jesus valued faith, and gave a special blessing to those who did not need such administrations. Thomas never did actually touch Him!

Earlier, in John 20:17, Jesus discouraged Mary Magdalene from touching Him at all. Yet we are asked to believe that this same Jesus allowed "a multitude" to spend days doing it. It seems like another odd way to celebrate the first Easter! Can this be the same Jesus of the Bible? (14, emphasis in original)

Several points need to be made in response:

1. Taking Decker's interpretation of John 20:29 to its logical conclusion, we should wonder why Jesus even bothered to appear to the disciples at all. Why weren't they simply left to get by on Mary Magdalene's testimony that she had seen the risen Lord? Or, for that matter, why did the Savior even bother to appear to Mary to begin with? Why wasn't she required to rely solely on the angel's assurance that the Messiah had been resurrected?

2. The idea that Jesus discouraged Mary Magdalene from touching Him at all is based on the mistaken KJV translation of the phrase in John 20:17, "Touch me not ...." The correct translation of the Greek here (me mou haptou) should be "do not keep on holding me," or "stop touching me," or even "stop clinging to me" (Skousen 14; Lewis 46; see also the RSV and the NIV). Mary had to let go of the Savior because He needed to ascend to His Father, as Jesus Himself explained: ". . . for I am not yet ascended to my Father ...." (John 20:17).

3. Although Decker seems certain that Thomas did not touch the risen Christ, this is by no means clear from the text in John. It does not seem unreasonable to believe that Thomas did as the Lord had just instructed: " . . . Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side . . . ." (John 20:27). One of the best modern commentaries on the Bible takes the position that Thomas did in fact touch the Savior on this occasion (Laymon 727).

4. Strangely absent from Decker's attack is any mention of Luke 24:3940, wherein the resurrected Christ says to the disciples, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet." The logical conclusion is that the Savior presented His hands and feet to His apostles so they could do what He had invited them to do, "Handle me and see."

5. Also absent from Decker's attack is any reference to Matthew 28:9, where we read that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, upon seeing the risen Lord, "Came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him."

6. The Nephites had not seen Jesus before He appeared to them as a resurrected being. On the other hand, Christ's Old World disciples had been fortunate enough to have Him live and preach among them for years, and yet they were still given "many infallible proofs" of His resurrection (Acts 1:1-3). Therefore, is it so hard to believe that the Savior would give to the Nephites dramatic, tangible proof that He was indeed the risen Messiah?

7. Unlike Thomas, the Nephites did not ask to touch the Lord before they would believe in His resurrection. In fact, they said nothing about touching Him. He invited them to do so as a special and sacred witness that He was the risen Christ.

Jesus and Salvation in Mormonism

Decker does not even mention the Book of Mormon for the remainder of his article. Rather, he repeats a number of familiar anti-Mormon criticisms of the role of Jesus in LDS theology (14-15). These attacks, though easily answered, are beyond the scope of this chapter.

However, I would invite the reader to compare Decker's criticisms of the Savior's position in Mormon theology with what has been written on this subject by Bruce R. McConkie, James E. Talmage, and Richard Lloyd Anderson (B. McConkie 1966:60-66; Talmage 74-95; Anderson 177-195 272-276. 355-362).

Conclusion

The great destruction recounted in 3 Nephi was in harmony with the principles and precedents of divine justice. The Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus of the Book of Mormon. They are one and the same person, the Savior of the world. The Book of Mormon is indeed "Another Testament of Jesus Christ."

----------------------------

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical History from American Military University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Excelsior College, and two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force.  He also holds an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College.  He is a graduate in Arabic and Hebrew of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas.  In addition, he has completed an Advanced Hebrew program at Haifa University in Israel.  He is the author of five books on Mormonism and ancient texts, including How Firm A Foundation, A Ready Reply, and One Lord, One Faith.