2 Ne 27 13-19
I’ll start with outlining the specific fulfillment of this prophecy through Martin Harris and Charles Anthon. (The specificity of the prophecy, I think, requires an acknowledgment of the historical counterpart. But since we are all quite familiar with it, I want to focus more on other things in the text.)
Vs. 15: “him to whom the Lord shall deliver the book” (Joseph Smith)
Vs. 15: “another” (to whom the above delivers the words=Martin Harris)
Vs. 15: “the learned” (Charles Anthon)
Vs. 13: “a few” who view the book (the three witnesses)
Vs. 14 “as many witnesses” (the eight witnesses)
Several things that I want to discuss topically:
The “book”: The Hebrew here is “sepher” used throughout Isa 29:11-12. Sepher’s meaning is a little more general than just book or scroll. It seems to refer to any official document or record (i.e. anything that was worth writing permanently), a record of the kings, an account of a journey (log), a written order or commission, legal document, certificate of divorce, deed of purchase, law-book, or even book-learning.
It can also be a verb (saphar) in which case is means to recount or relate specifically to count something or take account of, or reckon
As a participle (sopher) it means scribe (i.e. the counter, secretary, or treasurer)
It has a derived noun as well (misephar) that means number or recount or accounting.
I bring this up in such detail because the root meaning of the word seems to be about history as (if I can use an anachronistic term) a discipline (and partially because I was so flattered that H/G would propose an article about the last Hebrew I did that it made playing with the language that much more fun). It is about the recording and preserving of important information. For a modern audience this is an important reminder that writing and documents were used for specific and important things (not just any random blogger saying whatever she wants).
It seems to me that there are two seals discussed. One seal seals the whole of the book vs. 10 “For the book shall be sealed by the power of God.” The other seal seals the specific revelation that gives an account of the world from beginning to end vs 10 “and the revelation which was sealed shall be kept in the book”
The nature of the seals:
If I understand correctly, the seal on a scroll was intended to verify its origin not conceal its contents. Kings used seals to send messages so that the receiver would know the message was authentic. Anyone can break a wax seal if they want to read a scroll (what they can’t do is reseal the document). In the case of the plates, how could a seal be put on them that would physically preclude the holder from having visual access to the material? So while the physical seal is possible unless there were Da Vinci code type seals that would destroy the document if broken incorrectly, I think the seals here must be more than a physical bind on the document.
I bring this up because there is a logical inconsistency in this question of seals to me. Charles Anthon wants to see the book, but Martin Harris says he can’t bring the book because the book is sealed. What? How does having a seal on a book prevent its transportation? (Maybe Harris was just using this as an excuse as to why he couldn’t produce the book, but that seems a little unnecessary to put in a prophecy.) And why would not having the book prevent Anthon from seeing the copied characters? The Lord specifically say to take “these words that are not sealed” to the learned man. (Again, maybe just part of the story that Anthon wanted the book for his own career making or that a learned man couldn’t even read the unsealed words, but again why such specific prophecy about the seal and that even unsealed words were still effectually sealed when given to one without authority?)
It seems to me that the seal has less to do with visual access (seeing the plates by the 3 or 8 witnesses leaf by leaf didn’t break the seal presumably), than with authority to interpret. These seals are intended to withhold accessability because it is authority to read that breaks the seal like the seven seal in the Book of Revelations. In Revelation John can see the writing on the sealed book. 5:1, “And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside sealed with seven seals.” The requirement for breaking these seals is worthiness. 5:2 “And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?”
This for me is a return to the question of language. You have to be righteous not only to articulate your own experiences (and have them preserved in writing) but also to access the record, history of the others who are righteous. Harkening back to George’s astute question last week of “Can we assume that as long as history remains a mystery to us, as long as all we can produce is fragmented knowledge, it is a sign that we remain in this general state of insufficient grace to be able to read the meaning of all things?”
If this is correct and the seals are about authority rather than ability, then the question turns to how are authority and writing related. Throughout the scriptures and particularly in our two chapters, there is an emphasis on language, both spoken and written, as being the property of the righteous. The number one thing God seems to call servant to do is to prophesy and preach (specifically repentance). Although those who are learned consider themselves to be the guardians and masters of language their claim is illegitimate. Like the scribes in the NT who (John 5:39 our favorite scripture to misunderstand) “search the scriptures for in them ye think ye have eternal life” but are wrong because “they are they which testify of me.” The SCRIBES think they have jurisdiction over the text but because they didn’t find Christ in the language of scripture, they actually have nothing at all. So the verses about Charles Anthon seem to me a specific incident that shows a pattern of how language is not the property of the learned, but of the Lord. Since it is the word of the Lord which created all things (either literally that by speaking “Let there be. . .” or through the Word–Jehovah (of course in the Latin alphabet Jehovah begins with an I. . .hee, hee)), the power of God is connected to language and only those with authority from God can exercise the use of language through writing or speaking (cf. The Book of Life).
One last little note. . . I think these verses show a pattern of interaction in addition to being a prophecy of an incident is the out-of-place third person plural in verse 16. “And now, because of the glory of the world and to get gain will THEY say this, and not for the glory of God.” If this referred only to Charles Anthon, we would expect a singular pronoun rather than a plural. Perhaps this is a use of the so-called “singular they” retain from earlier English. However, because it is the only they in the verses about Anthon and it is in the only verse that could easily describe anyone not serving the Lord, I tend to think this shows that the story is one of a pattern. That pattern is: the Lord calls a prophet and gives him words, the prophet feels insufficient, (the Lord calls a helper,) the unlearned prophet can understand the language/message/vision that the learned cannot. Maybe it’s just because this pattern is generic but this seems to fit Moses and Aaron versus Pharoh, Joseph of Egypt and Pharoh’s dreams, Jesus and the scribes,. . .
Finally, this relation of language to power and authority underscores the contrast we’ve mentioned several times between the vital dead and the comatose living. Those who are dead but are still speaking still have power while those who are alive but unrighteous as like zombies.