Book of the Law of the Lord

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The Book of the Law of the Lord
Author Alleged to be part of the Law given to Moses at Mt. Sinai
Translator James Strang
Country United States
Genre Latter Day Saint
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

The Book of the Law of the Lord is a book accepted as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). It is alleged to be a translation by the Strangite prophet James Strang of the Plates of Laban, originally acquired by Nephi, a leading character in the early portion of The Book of Mormon.[1] Strang claimed to have translated them using the Urim and Thummim, which was used by Joseph Smith to translate The Book of Mormon.

However, the Book of the Law of the Lord bears little resemblance to the material described in The Book of Mormon as being engraved on the Plates of Laban.[2] Rather, Strang's book comprises a rather elaborate constitution for a Mormon kingdom, in which the Prophet-leader of the Latter Day Saint church equally rules as king over God's kingdom on earth. It also contains various other revelations and teachings unique to Strang.

James J. Strang[edit]

1856 daguerreotype of James Strang, taken on Beaver Island, Lake Michigan, by J. Atkyn, itinerant photographer and later one of Strang's assassins.

James J. Strang was a lawyer and newspaper editor from New York who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1844. Shortly after his baptism, Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the church, was murdered by a mob. Upon Smith's death, a number of individuals came forward claiming a divine mandate to lead his church, including Strang. As a recent convert, Strang did not possess the name recognition among rank-and-file Mormons held by Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon (two other contenders for LDS leadership). Hence, he faced an "uphill" battle in his quest to be recognized as the heir to Smith's prophetic mantle.

To advance his cause, Strang asserted that unlike Rigdon and Young, he had hard evidence of his prophetic calling. In September 1845, he announced the discovery of the Voree Record, the final testament of an ancient Native American engraved on three brass plates dug up near Voree, Wisconsin, his headquarters at the time. However, Strang's claims to possession of divinely-revealed ancient records, and the ability to correctly translate them, did not end there. In 1851, he proclaimed the publication of the Book of the Law of the Lord, a far more substantial work.

Alleged provenance of the book[edit]

Strang explained that the Book of the Law (as it is often called—not to be confused with Aleister Crowley's book of the same title) was "kept in the ark of the covenant, and was held too sacred to go into the hands of strangers." However, "when the Septuagint translation was made, the Book of the Law was kept back, and...lost to the Jewish nation in the time that they were subject to foreign powers." Thus, "the various books in the Pentateuch, containing abstracts of some of the laws, have been read instead of it, until even the existence of the book has come to be a matter of doubt."[3]

Strangites believe that their Book of the Law is identical to the one mentioned in the Bible.[4] They also identify the Book of the Law with the "Stick of Judah" mentioned in Ezekiel 37:19[5] This is in marked contrast to other Latter Day Saint sects, which generally view the "Stick of Judah" as the Bible.[6]

The LDS and Community of Christ churches, the two largest factions of the Latter Day Saint movement, each reject James Strang's claims to prophetic leadership and his Book of the Law of the Lord.

Witnesses[edit]

Seven witnesses testified to having seen and handled the plates that Strang claimed to possess. They described them as being eighteen in number, each measuring approximately seven and three-eighths inches wide, by nine inches long. Their brazen surfaces were "occasionally embellished with beautiful pictures," and all appeared to be of "beautiful antique workmanship, bearing a striking resemblance to the ancient oriental languages."[7]

The witnesses' names were: Samuel Graham, Samuel P. Bacon, Warren Post, Phineas Wright, Albert N. Hosmer, Ebenezer Page and Jehiel Savage.[7] Wright[8] and Post[9] served as Apostles under Strang. Warren Post wrote in his journal that the plates weighed approximately six pounds.[10] Although some of these witnesses later left Strang's church, none of them is known to have ever denied their testimony as given in the Book of the Law.[11]

The subsequent history of Strang's "Plates of Laban," and their current whereabouts, is a mystery.

Editions of 1851 and 1856[edit]

The Book of the Law of the Lord was published in two separate editions during James Strang's lifetime. The first edition of 1851 contained only eighty pages and consisted of material translated directly from the Plates of Laban, with five exceptions: three revelations given to Strang, and two sections written "by inspiration of God."[12]

In contrast, the edition of 1856 comprised 320 pages, including all of the text in the 1851 edition, plus ten new chapters and a series of notes added by Strang to explain the text.[13] The 1856 edition is the one generally used by Strangites today. It was never bound with a title page or preface; subsequent reprints have used the title page, testimony and preface from the 1851 edition.[14] In fact, the 1856 edition was not bound at all until after Strang's death, as he was assassinated before this was completed. Its uncut sheets had to be rescued from an anti-Mormon mob by Strang's disciples.[15]

Both editions of the Book of the Law are dated according to the year of James Strang's reign: the 1851 edition is annotated "A. R. I," while the 1856 edition carries the date "A. R. VI."[16]

Monarchy and priesthood[edit]

The most distinctive element of the Book of the Law is its overtly monarchial tone. Also of interest are the singular subdivisions Strang makes within the Melchizedek Priesthood, which his book refers to as "The Priesthood of an endless life," and the Aaronic Priesthood, referred to as "the Priesthood of life."[17]

In the Melchizedek Priesthood, Strang enumerates two "orders," that of "Apostles," and that of "Priests."[17]

  • "Apostles" are subdivided into four "degrees:"
    • The Prophet/President of the Strangite church is openly referred to throughout the book as a "King," rather than as a "President" (as under Joseph Smith).[18]
    • His Counselors are designated as "Viceroys." Viceroys are referred to as "kings," too, though this does not indicate a share in the unique royal dignity accorded to the President/King.[19]
    • Strang's Twelve Apostles are named as "Princes in his Kingdom forever."[20] The leader of Strang's Apostles is designated as "Prince and Grand Master of the Seventies."[21]
    • A quorum of "Evangelists" (not to be confused with the LDS and Community of Christ office of Patriarch) is established, to be Apostles to a single "nation, kindred, tongue or people"—unlike the Twelve, who were sent to all nations. Seven Evangelists formed a quorum, and Strang noted that such a body had never been organized "in this dispensation."[22] This priesthood office was unique to the Strangite organization, and does not correspond in any way to the office of Evangelist found in some other Latter Day Saint churches.
  • "Priests" are subdivided into two "degrees:"
    • High Priests were to include "all inferiour Kings, Patriarchs, or heads of tribes, and Nobles, or heads of clans." [23] Furthermore, Strang continued, "They who hold it are called Sons of God."[24] From this group, said the Book of the Law, the king was to select "counsellors, judges and rulers."[24]
    • The "degree" of Elders included both the offices of Seventy and Elder as generally constituted in Joseph Smith's church.[25]

In the Aaronic Priesthood, Strang enumerates three "orders:"[26]

  • Priests were to teach, preach and baptize, but not (as in the Doctrine and Covenants) to bless the Sacrament; that was reserved to the High Priests of the Melchizedek Priesthood.[27] They were subdivided into two "courses," one of which (the Singers) was opened to women:
    • "Sacrificators," who were to kill sacrifices in accordance with appropriate provisions of the Book of the Law [see below under "Animal sacrifice"], and
    • "Singers," who were to sing during the various services to be held in Strangite temples (no such temple was ever constructed by the Strangites, nor were its services ever apparently composed).
  • Teachers were not merely to instruct in spiritual matters, but secular ones as well; they were to staff schools throughout Strang's kingdom.[28] This office, like the office of Priest (Singer) was opened to women, and was subdivided into five degrees:[29]
    • Rabboni,
    • Rabbi,
    • Doctor,
    • Ruler, and
    • Teacher.
  • Deacons were to serve as "Stewards and keepers of the King’s prisons, and Stewards of the King’s Courts."[30] They were subdivided into three "degrees:"[29]
    • Marshals,
    • Stewards, and
    • Ministers.

In addition, a "King's Council" and a "King's Court" were established.[31] While no direct link is made between the King's Court and the "High Council" established in the Doctrine and Covenants,[32] certain parallels exist, such as requiring all members to hold the High Priesthood, and limiting their number to twelve.[33]

Although Strang briefly enjoyed the services of Apostle William Smith as "Chief Patriarch" of his church,[34] he makes no mention of this office anywhere in his book.

The Decalogue[edit]

Another unique feature of the Book of the Law is its version of the Decalogue, the "Ten Commandments" allegedly given to Moses on Sinai.[35] Strang's rendering is different from any other Jewish, Catholic, Islamic or Protestant version, for it offers a commandment none of the others has: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."[36] In his "Note on the Decalogue,"[37] Strang asserted that no other version of the Decalogue contains more than nine commandments. He equally speculates that his fourth commandment was lost perhaps as early as Josephus' time (circa 37-100 A.D./C.E.).

Ordination of women[edit]

As noted above, the Book of the Law opened two priesthood offices to women: Priest and Teacher. While only the "course" of "Singer" in the office of Priest was open to females,[27] all five "degrees" in the office of Teacher were available.[29] Furthermore, they could serve as "leaders" of the Singers.[29] Strang ordained women to these ministries as early as 1851, and permitted them to lecture in his School of the Prophets by 1856.[38]

In contrast, the Community of Christ church opened its ministry to females in 1984,[39] while the LDS Church does not ordain women to priesthood offices.

Animal sacrifice[edit]

Animal sacrifice was instituted in the Book of the Law, both for forgiveness of sins[40] and as a part of Strangite celebration rituals. However, given the prohibition on sacrifices for sin contained in III Nephi 9:19-20,[41] Strang did not require sin offerings. Rather, he focused on sacrifice as an element of religious celebration,[42] especially the commemoration of his own coronation as king (July 8, 1850).[43] The head of every house, from the king to his lowest subject, was to offer "a heifer, or a lamb, or a dove. Every man a clean beast, or a clean fowl, according to his household."[44]

The killing of sacrifices was a prerogative of Strangite Priests,[45] but female Priests were specifically barred from participating in this aspect of the Priestly office.[27]

"Firstfruits" offerings were also demanded of all Strangite agricultural harvests.[46] Animal sacrifices are no longer practiced by the Strangites, though belief in their correctness is still required.

Monotheism and the vocation of Jesus Christ[edit]

Some of the teachings in the Book of the Law differed substantially from those held by other Mormon sects. For instance, in his "Note on the Sacrifice of Christ"[47] and "The True God,"[48] Strang rejected both the traditional Christian doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ and the Mormon doctrine of plurality of gods. He insisted that there was but one eternal God, the Father, and that progression to godhood (a doctrine allegedly taught by Joseph Smith)[49] was impossible. God had always been God, said Strang, and He was one Person (not three, as in the traditional Christian Trinity).[50]

Jesus Christ, said Strang, was the natural-born son of Mary and Joseph, who was chosen from before all time to be the Savior of mankind, but who had to be born as an ordinary mortal of two human parents (rather than being begotten by the Father or the Holy Spirit) to be able to truly fulfill his Messianic role.[51] Strang claimed that the earthly Christ was in essence "adopted" as God's son at birth, and fully revealed as such during the Transfiguration.[52] After proving himself to God by living a perfectly sinless life, he was enabled to provide an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of men, prior to his resurrection and ascension.[53]

Furthermore, Strang denied that God could do all things, and insisted that some things were as impossible for Him as for us.[54] Thus, he saw no essential conflict between science and religion, and while he never openly championed evolution, he did state that God was limited in His power by both the matter He was working with and by the eons of time required to "organize" and shape it.[55] He spoke glowingly of a future generation who would "make religion a science," to be "studied by as exact rules as mathematicks." "The mouth of the Seer will be opened," Strang prophesied, "and the whole earth enlightened."[56]

Musing at length on the nature of sin and evil, Strang wrote that of all things that God could give to man, He could never give him experience.[57] Thus, if "free agency" were to be real, said Strang, humanity must be given the opportunity to fail and to learn from its own mistakes. The ultimate goal for each human being was to willingly conform oneself to the revealed character of God in every respect, preferring good to evil not out of any fear of punishment or desire for reward, but rather "on account of the innate loveliness of undefiled goodness; of pure unalloyed holiness."[58]

Other distinctive teachings[edit]

The Book of the Law taught the seventh-day Sabbath, and commanded it in lieu of Sunday.[59] It also accredits baptism for the dead, but on a far more limited scale than that currently practiced by the LDS church.[60] Baptisms for the dead are not performed by the Strangites today, although belief in the doctrine is still affirmed.

Eternal marriage is taught in the Book of the Law, though it is not required to be performed in a temple (as in the LDS church).[61] Strangite Priests, Elders, High Priests or Apostles (of all four degrees) may all perform this ceremony.[62] Eternal marriages are still contracted in the Strangite church today.

Oaths are taken very seriously in the Book of the Law, and severe spiritual penalties are forewarned upon all who break their solemn word, once given.[63]

The Book of the Law permits not only the blessing of others, but cursing, as well.[64] But this is not to be done in anger, nor indiscriminately; rather, it is only to be "invoked on such as, on deliberate and candid thought, are found condemned to them by the Law of God; and then the curse should be invoked as in the presence of God, the searcher of hearts; conscious that whosoever curses in the bitterness of his...corrupt heart, and not in the light of God’s truth, the curse will return upon him."[65] "Maledictions" are also to be performed by Strangite leaders upon "hereticks, schismaticks, and those guilty of gross and abominable immoralities, and acts of great cruelty and wickedness." [sic][66] The Strangite practice of "Maledictions" seems comparable to the "anathemas" pronounced in the New Testament and by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

Conservation of forests and resources is mandated in the Book of the Law.[67] Groves of trees were to be maintained upon each farm, and in each village and town. Farms and cities without trees were required to plant them, and to establish parklands so that "the aged and the young may go there to rest and to play."[68]

Strangites are prohibited by the Book of the Law from dressing ostentatiously. Various (today mostly obsolete) styles are banned,[69] though allowance is made for those who are "sojourning among Gentiles" to "imitate, to some moderate extent, their foolish and ridiculous styles, to avoid impertinent observations."[70]

The Book of the Law sanctions marriage only between persons who are not impotent, deformed, of reduced stature ("a dwarf"),[71] or mentally handicapped. The image of animal husbandry is invoked: "The same means which will improve a breed of cattle," Strang wrote, "will improve a race of men."[72]

Polygamy[edit]

Plural marriage is sanctioned, though not expressly commanded, in the Book of the Law. The applicable text reads: "Thou shalt not take unto thee a multitude of wives disproportioned to thy inheritance, and thy substance: nor shalt thou take wives to vex those thou hast; neither shalt thou put away one to take another."[73] Any wife already married to the prospective polygamist was given the right to express her opinion, and even to object, but not to veto the marriage.[73] This passage seems to offer any aggrieved wife an appeal to the "Judges," but how this was to be carried out is not made clear.

Strang's defense of polygamy was rather novel. He claimed that, far from enslaving or demeaning women, it liberated and "elevated" them by allowing them to choose the best possible mate based upon any factors deemed important to them—even if that mate were already married to someone else.[74] Rather than being forced to wed "corrupt and degraded sires" due to the scarcity of more suitable men, a woman could wed the one she saw as the most compatible to herself, the best candidate to father her children and the man who could give her the best possible life, no matter how many other wives he might have.[75]

The practice of plural marriage has never been officially proscribed in the Strangite church, unlike in the LDS church.[76] Only twenty-two men entered into polygamy, and most of them only took one additional wife.[77] Strang took four additional wives,[78] the most of any member in his church.

Polygamy was apparently practiced by a few Strangites up to 1880 or so, to include Wingfield W. Watson, a Strangite High Priest who knew and served under James Strang personally.[77] However, with federal and state bans on the practice, and a divine injunction to obey "the law of the land,"[79] plural marriage has been given up in the contemporary Strangite church, though belief in its correctness is still required and affirmed.[77]

Strangites reject Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants,[80] regarding it as a forgery from 1852 that was never received or approved by Joseph Smith.[77]

References[edit]

  1. ^ I Nephi, chapters 3-5. http://lds.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fscriptures.lds.org%2F.
  2. ^ I Nephi 5:10-14. All references to the Book of Mormon are to the LDS edition.
  3. ^ Book of the Law of the Lord: Being a Translation From the Egyptian of the Law Given to Moses in Sinai. (St. James, 1851), pg. viii. This article uses the expanded Edition of 1856: http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/book_of_the_law.htm. The 1851 edition is at http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm.
  4. ^ For instance, see II Chronicles 34:14-15; Galatians 3:10. http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/book_of_the_law.htm.
  5. ^ See "Book of the Law" main page at http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/book_of_the_law.htm.
  6. ^ LDS Bible Dictionary: "Judah, Stick of," http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/j/79. See also http://bomf.org/witness/witness122.pdf for the traditional RLDS/Community of Christ viewpoint; and http://www.churchofchrist-tl.org/latter.html for the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) opinion.
  7. ^ a b Book of the Law, pg. iv.
  8. ^ Fitzpatrick, Doyle, The King Strang Story: A Vindication of James J. Strang, the Beaver Island Mormon King (National Heritage, 1970), pg. 126
  9. ^ "Strangite Organisaction After James' Martyrdom," http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/Church%20of%20Jesus%20Christ%20of%20Latter%20Day%20Saints%20(Strangite).htm.
  10. ^ Diary entry of Warren Post (date not given), http://www.strangite.org/Iowa.htm, slide 17.
  11. ^ Palmer, Grant H., An Insiders View of Mormon Origins (Signature Books, 2002), pg. 211.
  12. ^ Book of the Law, 1851 Edition, http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm. See under Table of Contents.
  13. ^ Book of the Law, pg. iii. The 1851 chapter on "Baptism for the Dead" was materially altered for the 1856 edition.
  14. ^ Book of the Law, pg. iii.
  15. ^ See illustration at http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm.
  16. ^ "Book of the Law of the Lord". Strangite.org. 2004-01-01. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  17. ^ a b Book of the Law, pg. 214.
  18. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 168-80, 214-19.
  19. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 181-82; 219-20. See especially the notes on pg. 182.
  20. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 191-92. Capitalization as in original.
  21. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 195.
  22. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 224.
  23. ^ Book of the Law, pg.224.
  24. ^ a b Book of the Law, pg. 193.
  25. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 224-25, 194-97.
  26. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 225.
  27. ^ a b c Book of the Law, pg. 199.
  28. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 200-01.
  29. ^ a b c d Book of the Law, pg. 227.
  30. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 202.
  31. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 183-84.
  32. ^ See Doctrine & Covenants 102:1-3,5-6,8,12,24-30. All references to the D&C are to the LDS edition.
  33. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 185.
  34. ^ Zion's Reveille, January 14, 1847. http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu//IA/JStrang1.htm#011447.
  35. ^ Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
  36. ^ Book of the Law, pages 24-25. This commandment is number four in Strang's version of the Decalogue.
  37. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 38-46.
  38. ^ Hajicek, John, Intolerance toward Great Lakes Mormons. http://www.mormonism.com/out-2.htm.
  39. ^ Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 156:9. http://www.centerplace.org/library/study/dc/rdc-156.htm. All offices were opened, not just Priest and Teacher.
  40. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 106-09.
  41. ^ Book of Mormon.
  42. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 293-97. See also http://www.strangite.org/Offering.htm.
  43. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 293.
  44. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 293-94.
  45. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 199, note 2.
  46. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 295-97.
  47. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 147-58. This was an essay written by Strang himself, not a translation from the Plates of Laban. It does not appear in the 1851 edition, but is considered an integral part of the 1856 edition and is fully accepted as Scripture by the Strangites.
  48. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 47-86. This section was "written by the prophet James, by inspiration of God." Book of the Law, page x.
  49. ^ King Follett Sermon, http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/sermons_talks_interviews/kingfolletsermon.htm.
  50. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 47-63.
  51. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 157-58, note 9.
  52. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 165-66.
  53. ^ Book of the law, pp. 155-58.
  54. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 150.
  55. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 150-51.
  56. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 85. Spelling of "mathematicks" as in original.
  57. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 152-53.
  58. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 155.
  59. ^ Book of the Law, pp.22-23.
  60. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 136-41. See also http://www.strangite.org/BaptismDead.htm.
  61. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 159. See also http://www.strangite.org/Women.htm.
  62. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 159.
  63. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 87-97.
  64. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 100-01.
  65. ^ Book of the law, pg. 101.
  66. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 101.
  67. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 286-87.
  68. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 287.
  69. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 288-90.
  70. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 290.
  71. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 312.
  72. ^ Book of the Law, pg. 313.
  73. ^ a b Book of the Law, pg. 314.
  74. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 326-27.
  75. ^ Book of the Law, pp. 312-28.
  76. ^ http://www.strangite.org/Women.htm. For the LDS ban, see http://lds.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fscriptures.lds.org%2F.
  77. ^ a b c d "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - Mormons - LDS Women in the Priesthood". Strangite.org. 2004-01-01. Retrieved 2012-02-09. 
  78. ^ Fitzpatrick, pg. 117.
  79. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 58:21.
  80. ^ "About.com: http://scriptures.lds.org/". Lds.about.com. 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 

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