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TitleChurches in the Wilderness
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsNibley, Hugh W.
Book TitleNibley on the Timely and the Timeless
PublisherReligious Studies Center, Brigham Young University
CityProvo, UT
KeywordsChurch; Dead Sea Scrolls; Enoch (Prophet); Lehi (Prophet); Organization; Scripture; Smith, Joseph, Jr.; Tradition; Wilderness

Long before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, Robert Eisler called attention to the existence of societies of ancient sectaries, including the early Christians, who fled to the desert and formed pious communities there, after the manner of the order of Rekhabites (Jeremiah 35). More re­cently, E. Kdsemann and U. W. Mauser have taken up the theme, and the pope himself has referred to his followers as "the Wayfaring Church," of all things. No aspect of the gospel is more fundamental than that which calls the Saints out of the world; it has recently been recognized as fundamental to the universal apocalyptic pattern, and is now recog­nized as a basic teaching of the prophets of Israel, including the Lord Him­self. It is the central theme of the Book of Mormon, and Lehi's people faithfully follow the correct routine of flights to the desert as their stories now merge with new manuscript finds from the Dead Sea and elsewhere. And while many Christian communities have consciously sought to imi­tate the dramatic flight into the wilderness, from monastic orders to Pil­grim fathers, only the followers of Joseph Smith can claim the distinction of a wholesale, involuntary, and total expulsion into a most authentic wilderness.

Now, the Book of Mormon is not only a typical product of a reli­gious people driven to the wilds—surprisingly we have learned since 1950 that such people had a veritable passion for writing books and keep­ing records —but it actually contains passages that match some of the Dead Sea Scrolls almost word for word. Isn't that going a bit too far? How, one may ask, would Alma be able to quote from a book written on the other side of the world among people with whom his own had lost all contact for five hundred years? Joseph Smith must have possessed supernatural cunning to have foreseen such an impasse, yet his Book of Mormon explains it easily: Alma informs us that the passages in ques­tion are not his, but he is quoting them directly from an ancient source, the work of an early prophet of Israel named Zenos. Alma and the author of the Thanksgiving Scroll are drawing from the same ancient source. No wonder they sound alike.