Unique Language of the Prophet Zenos

The prophet Nephi recounts the prophecies of several prophets whose words are said to be written on the plates of brass but are not contained in the Bible. Such prophets mentioned in the Book of Mormon but not found in the Bible include Zenock, Neum, and Zenos (1 Nephi 19:10). The prophet Zenos is the most quoted of all the prophets whose words are contained exclusively on the plates of brass. It is unknown when the prophet Zenos was supposed to have existed, except that we know he existed before 600 A.D., when Lehi and his family departed from the land of Jerusalem.

If the prophet Zenos existed before Lehi left Jerusalem, and his words were written according to the traditions and language of the Jews, then it would make sense for his language to be somewhat unique compared to the rest of the Book of Mormon. For instance, a casual reader will notice a stark difference in the style of Isaiah’s prophecies quoted in the Book of Mormon compared to the words of Nephi, Jacob, or Mormon. These differences may be the result of the Nephites writing in a language other than Hebrew (assuming Zenos wrote in Hebrew), the natural change of language over the progression of time, or simply the difference in style between authors. Differences in the language used by the prophet Zenos compared to other Book of Mormon prophets are almost as apparent as the differences as between Isaiah and Book of Mormon Prophets.

A phrase used liberally throughout the Book of Mormon refers to people “hardening their hearts” against God and his commandments. This phrase is used consistently and with more frequency in the Book of Mormon compared to the rest of the Bible (this was discovered by searching “hard heart(s),” “harden(ing) heart(s)” in the scriptures section of lds.org/scriptures, which revealed 62 instances of the phrase in the Book of Mormon, 28 instances in the Old Testament, and 6 in the New Testament. It should be noted that these results are dependent upon the accuracy of the websites search engine). Below are some examples of the phrase in the Book of Mormon:

  • “Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned” (Alma 12:10).
  • “Therefore, wo be unto the Gentiles if it so be that they harden their hearts against the Lamb of God.” (1 Nephi 14:6).
  • “And I did cry unto this people, but it was in vain; and they did not realize that it was the Lord that had spared them, and granted unto them a chance for repentance. And behold they did harden their hearts against the Lord their God.” (Mormon 3:3)

The phrase is also common in the Bible, with the phrase appearing in both the Old and New Testaments, as found in the following examples:

  • “And the Lord said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.” (Exodus 7:14)
  • “And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the Lord had said.” (Exodus 7:22)
  • “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.” (Exodus 10:20)
  • “Wherefore then do ye harden your hearts, as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? when he had wrought wonderfully among them, did they not let the people go, and they departed?” (1 Samuel 6:6)

What is interesting is that when Nephi quotes Zenos prophesying about the gathering of Israel and the crucifixion of Christ, Zenos does not use the phrase “harden their hearts” when describing the wickedness of the House of Israel (1 Nephi 19:13-15). Instead, he uses the phrase “turn their hearts aside” or “turn aside their hearts against.” Below are examples of the writings of Zenos taken from 1 Nephi 19:

  • “they crucify the God of Israel, and turn their hearts aside, rejecting signs and wonders, and the power and glory of the God of Israel.” (1 Nephi 19:13)
  • “And because they turn their hearts aside, saith the prophet, and have despised the Holy One of Israel, they shall wander in the flesh, and perish…” (1 Nephi 19:14)
  • “Nevertheless, when that day cometh, saith the prophet, that they no more turn aside their hearts against the Holy One of Israel, then will he remember the covenants which he made to their fathers.” (1 Nephi 19:15).

This phrase is unique to this particular section of the Book of Mormon. According to a “lds.org/scripture” search and my personal reading, never is the phrase “turn their hearts aside” or similar renditions used in the Book of Mormon. It should also be noted that Nephi uses the phrase “harden their hearts” two chapters before quoting Zenos (1 Nephi 17:42), and three chapters afterward (1 Nephi 22:5). Similar renditions of the phrase “turn their hearts aside“, however, are found in the Old Testament (but not the New Testament, with exception of the phrase “have turned aside unto vain jangling” in 1 Timothy 1:6 and “for some are already turned aside after Satan” in 1 Timothy 5:15), such as in the following examples:

  • “Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them” (Deuteronomy 11:16)
  • “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (Isaiah 44:20)
  • “And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart…” (1 Samuel 12:20)
  • “That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:20)
  • “And the Lord said unto me, Arise, get thee down quickly from hence; for thy people which thou hast brought forth out of Egypt have corrupted themselves; they are quickly turned aside out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten image.” (Deuteronomy 9:12)

If Zenos existed before 600 A.D., then it would make sense he would use language similar to those who wrote in the Old Testament. It also makes sense that if Zenos did exist, that his language would differ somewhat from the language of other Book of Mormon prophets. What makes this information significant is that it is entirely unique to Zenos in the Book of Mormon, and accurately reflects the language used in the times in which he would have written his prophecies.

(SIDE NOTE) While I am not sure of its significance, here is some additional information on the phrase “turn aside to the right hand or to the left.” The following is a common phrase used in the Old Testament which is not found in the New Testament nor anywhere else in the Book of Mormon, except in Alma 24 (please remember that all of this information is based on the accuracy of the “lds.org/scripture” search engine):

  • “Now when the Lamanites saw that their brethren would not flee from the sword, neither would they turn aside to the right hand or to the left, but that they would lie down and perish, and praised God even in the very act of perishing under the sword” (Alma 24:23)
  • “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2)
  • “And Abner said to him, Turn thee aside to thy right hand or to thy left, and lay thee hold on one of the young men, and take thee his armour. But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him.” (2 Samuel 2:21)
  • “Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left” (Joshua 23:6)
  • “And the kine took the straight way to the way of Beth-shemesh, and went along the highway, lowing as they went, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left; and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Beth-shemesh.” (1 Samuel 6:12)
  • “That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:20)

King Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s use of the phrase “Great God”

The Use of the Phrase “Great God” by the Lamanite King, Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

Some have tried to support the authenticity of the Book of Mormon by using word-print analysis to show that multiple authors were involved in the writing of the Book of Mormon. This can be analyzed statistically by identifying patterns in word choice that are unique to individual characters in the Book of Mormon. While I do not have the capacity to reproduce such studies and the methods of examining word patterns can vary (which produce contradicting results), I would still like to provide an example of unique phrasing in a certain section of the Book of Mormon that may provide some little support to the idea that characters in the Book of Mormon have their own unique word choice that would be difficult to fake.

When Ammon and the other sons of Mosiah go to serve as missionaries to the Lamanites, they meet with two kings: King Lamoni, and the father of King Lamoni. When Ammon and Aaron teach these kings about the gospel, they ask the kings if they believe in God. They do not know exactly what it means to believe in God, but they respond that they know what it means to believe in the “Great Spirit.”

Here are some examples of King Lamoni, a Lamanite, using the phrase “Great Spirit”:

a. “Behold, is not this the Great Spirit who doth send such great punishments upon this people?” (Alma 18:2)

b. “Now I know that it is the Great Spirit; and he has come down at this time to preserve your lives…Now this is the Great Spirit of whom our fathers have spoken.” (Alma 18:4).

c. “Now this was the tradition of Lamoni, which he had received from his father, that there was a Great Spirit.” (Alma 18:5).

1. The Lamanites clearly refer to their creator as “The Great Spirit.” The Nephites, however, do not identify their creator as “The Great God.” The following is taken from an exchange between Ammon and King Lamoni:

  • “Believest thou that there is a God?” (Alma 18:24)
  • “And he answered, and said unto him: I do not know what that meaneth.” (Alma 18:25)
  • “And then Ammon said: Believest thou that there is a Great Spirit?” (Alma 18:26)

2. This phrase is also used by the father of King Lamoni, who is the king over all the Lamanites:

  • “And Aaron answered him and said unto him: Believest thou that there is a God? And the king said: I know that the Amalekites say that there is a God…” (Alma 22:7)
  • “And the king said: Is God that Great Spirit that brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem?” (Alma 22:9)
  • “And Aaron said unto him: Yea, he is that Great Spirit, and he created all things…” (Alma 22:10)

3. It is unusual for the Nephites to refer to God the Father as “The Great God.” It is used, however, by King Anti-Nephi-Lehi: The Nephites have many names for God the Father, but rarely do they ever refer to him as “The Great God.” However, the King Anti-Nephi-Lehi, the brother of King Lamoni and heir to his father’s kingdom, when suggesting the people make a covenant to never again take up their weapons of war, addresses the people while combining what seems to be their understanding of “The Great Spirit” and “God” by referring to their creator as “The Great God.” This is a fairly unique phrase in the Book of Mormon (though it is used on several occasions in the Bible) that is most likely used because of the Lamanite’s linguistic and cultural history of referring to their creator as “The Great Spirit”. The following are portions of King Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s address to his people, with the phrase “great God” highlighted for emphasis. To avoid being selective in the information I am presenting in my observation, I have also highlighted where in Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s address he simply says “my God” instead of “great God.” The following is taken from Alma 24:7-16:

  • “I thank my God, my beloved people, that our great God has in goodness sent these our brethren…” (7)
  • “And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit…” (8)
  • “And behold, I also thank my God, that by opening this correspondence we have been convinced of our sins.” (9)
  • “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these tings…”
  • “and to get God to take them away from our hearts…to repent sufficiently before God…” (11)
  • “my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains…” (12)
  • “they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God…” (13)
  • “And the great God has had mercy on us, and made these things known unto us…” (14)
  • “Oh, how merciful is our God!” (15)
  • “Let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God…” (15)
  • “behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.” (16)

4. Some issues with my analysis

There are some issues with my analysis. First and foremost, the King Anti-Nephi-Lehi does not use “great God” exclusively, but uses “our God” many times in his address, which is a common phrase in all scriptures.

Second, the phrase “great God” is found in both the Old and New Testament. For example: “For the Lord is a great God…” (Psalms 95:3)/ “For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God…” (Deuteronomy 10:17)/ “The great God that formed all things…” (Proverbs 26:10)/ “and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13)/ “gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God…” (Revelation 19:17). However, what does not make these verses problematic is that in the Book of Mormon specifically there is little use of the phrase with the exception of Helaman 12:8 (“at the command of our great and everlasting God“), Helaman 13:18 (“saith the Lord of Hosts, yea, our great and true God“), and Moroni 10:34 (“the pleasing bar of the great Jehovah…”), which examples are significantly different stylistically from the address of Anti-Nephi-Lehi. In addition, it may be worth noting that Mormon uses “great and everlasting God” in the chapter directly preceding the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite, who states “our great and true God.” It is possible that Mormon was motivated to use the relatively unique phrase of “great and everlasting God” after reading the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite, who may have described God as “great” in prophecies that were not included in the Book of Mormon (since Mormon states he did not include many prophecies from Samuel).

The fact that “great God” is found in several passages of the Bible but is only found in King Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s address shortly after the Lamanite’s conversion strongly suggests that the author did not simply pick and choose the names of God from the Bible at random, but that characters in the Book of Mormon have historical and cultural bases for using specific names of God.