Evidence #65 | September 19, 2020

Autumn Festival

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Jacob’s sermon ties together details and themes from the ancient Near Eastern covenant/treaty pattern, the ancient Israelite autumn festival, and selected passages from Isaiah in ways that are mutually supportive and authentically ancient.

In 2 Nephi 6–10, Nephi quoted the words of his younger brother Jacob without mentioning anything about the context of Jacob’s message (2 Nephi 6:1–2). “Therefore, in order to determine a setting for Jacob’s speech,” wrote John S. Thompson, “one needs to turn to the sermon itself, hoping that something within it will reveal the context in which the speech was given.”1 

Thompson analyzed Jacob’s writings in 2 Nephi 6–10 using form criticism (a study of textual patterns or structure) and tradition criticism (a study of cultural traditions). He concluded that Jacob’s speech exhibits an ancient covenant/treaty pattern and that it was most likely delivered during an autumn festival celebration modeled after the Israelite Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).

Covenant/Treaty Pattern

As demonstrated in the following chart, Thompson discovered that the six distinguishing features of a covenant/treaty pattern commonly found in ancient Near Eastern texts are also present in Jacob’s sermon:2

Covenant/Treaty Feature

Description

Jacob’s Sermon

Preamble and Titulary

In its preamble, the covenant text names the king, suzerain, or overlord (or his official representative) who is making the covenant or treaty.

 

2 Nephi 6:1–4

 

 

Historical Overview and Covenant Speech Proper

The text then gives a historical overview and the covenant speech proper, usually reciting the ruler’s acts of kind-ness and mercy (or, in the case of Israel, God’s infinite might and power to save) in order to place the people under obligation to enter into the covenant or treaty.

2 Nephi 6:5–9:22

Stipulations of the Covenant or Treaty

The stipulations or requirements of the covenant or treaty are enumerated.

2 Nephi 9:23–26

Cursings and Blessings

Cursings and blessings are promised for those who respectively break or keep the covenant or treaty.

2 Nephi 9:27–43

Witness Formula

Witnesses to the contract are then identified.

2 Nephi 9:44

Recording of the Contract

The agreement is recorded to provide a permanent record for the parties.

2 Nephi 9:52

Thompson concluded,

The presence of the covenant pattern in Jacob’s sermon raises the question, Under what circumstance would Jacob have made such a speech and used this particular pattern to do so? Basing their arguments on covenant/treaty forms found in the biblical text, Gerhard von Rad and others have concluded that the Israelites periodically held a covenant-renewal ceremony during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Hence, the presence of this structure in Jacob’s sermon may also suggest the possibility that he gave his covenant speech during this festival as well.3

Autumn Festival

The celebration of Sukkot involved praying with symbolic plants.

Indeed, Thompson’s further thematic analysis of Jacob’s speech demonstrates that the “topics Jacob chooses to address can be seen to reflect various elements of the ancient Israelite autumn festival tradition.”4 These parallels either come from Jacob’s own words (2 Nephi 6, 9–10)5 or from his selected quotations of Isaiah (2 Nephi 7–8), as demonstrated in the following chart:6

Features of the Autumn Festival

Jacob’s Speech

Judgment

2 Nephi 6:10

2 Nephi 8:4–5

2 Nephi 9:7, 15, 22, 44, 46

Remembrance

2 Nephi 9:39–41, 44, 51–52

2 Nephi 10:20, 23–24

Creation

2 Nephi 6:3

2 Nephi 8:13

2 Nephi 9:5–6

Garments

2 Nephi 8:24

2 Nephi 9:14, 44

The Name of God

2 Nephi 6:4

2 Nephi 8:15

2 Nephi 9:23–24, 41, 49, 52,

2 Nephi 10:3

Sacrifice

2 Nephi 9:4–22, 25–27

Fasting

2 Nephi 9:50–51

Confession and Repentance

2 Nephi 9:45–46

The Law

2 Nephi 8:4, 7,

2 Nephi 9:17, 25, 27

Isaiah and the Autumn Festival

The Feast of Tabernacles commemorates the period of time when the ancient Israelites wandered in the wilderness in tents for 40 years.

In addition to the features outlined in the above chart, Thompson asserted, “Of all the elements associated with the Israelite autumn festivals, kingship figures most prominently. In the ancient Near East, the New Year (including, in Israel, the Feast of Tabernacles) was the time to celebrate, crown, and renew the earthly king.”7 Thompson proposed that Jacob’s quotations of Isaiah were selected, in part, because they prominently feature relevant themes of kingship.

Several non-Latter-day Saint biblical scholars have concluded that Isaiah 40–55 (the span of chapters that Jacob quoted from) constitute “a prophetic imitation of Sukkot liturgy.”8 Based on this analysis, Thompsons proposed “that Nephi instructed Jacob to use Isaiah not only for the prophetic teachings and elevated language, but because Isaiah’s words reflect the very festival in which they, the Nephites, were participating.”9 Thompson’s article explores at length the ways that Jacob’s teachings and his selections of Isaiah evoke the themes of kingship that ancient Israelites would have associated with the autumn festival.10

Conclusion
As Thompson’s analysis demonstrates, Jacob’s sermon ties together details and themes from the ancient Near Eastern covenant/treaty pattern, the ancient Israelite autumn festival, and selected passages from Isaiah in ways that are mutually supportive and authentically ancient.

Book of Mormon Central, “Did Jacob Refer to Ancient Israelite Autumn Festivals? (2 Nephi 6:4),” KnoWhy 32 (February 12, 2016).

John S. Thompson, “Isaiah 50–51, the Israelite Autumn Festivals, and the Covenant Speech of Jacob in 2 Nephi 6–10,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 123–150.

2 Nephi 6–10

2 Nephi 6–10

Culture
Festivals and Holidays
Autumn Festival
Book of Mormon

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