Evidence #196 | May 28, 2021

Sherem’s Accusations against Jacob

Post contributed by

 

Scripture Central

Abstract

Sherem’s accusations against Jacob can each be traced to specific provisions in pre-exilic Israelite law and were all punishable by death. This suggests that they were not merely vague rhetorical criticisms but constituted a carefully designed legal argument.

In his confrontation with Jacob, Sherem brought forward three accusations that “can be traced to specific provisions in pre-exilic Israelite law,” all of which were “punishable by death”:1

And ye have [1] led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence. And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is [2] blasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things; for he [3] cannot tell of things to come. And after this manner did Sherem contend against me. (Jacob 7:7)

Leading the People into Apostasy

In his first allegation, Sherem claimed Jacob had “led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses which is the right way” (Jacob 7:7; emphasis added). In other words, he was accusing Jacob of apostasy. Sherem’s allegation seems to be based on Deuteronomy 13:5, which warns against those who would “turn you away from the Lord” and “thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in” (emphasis added).2

Sherem contending with Jacob. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

In addition, Sherem accused Jacob of converting “the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence” (Jacob 7:7). This correlates well with the warning in Deuteronomy 13:2 to not “go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them.” Apparently, Jesus was considered by Sherem to be a false god whom the people had not known.3

Blasphemy

Sherem described preaching of Christ’s future condescension as “blasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things” (Jacob 7:7). According to Welch,

Sherem’s accusation is the earliest known application of the term blasphemy to the specific idea of redirecting the law into the worship of a future messiah, but his complaint fits easily under the ancient legal notion of insolent, contemptuous, or sacrilegious speech, which was broadly understood.4

Welch further suggested that Sherem’s explanation of why Jacob had committed blasphemy (“for no man knoweth of such things”) is in keeping with the ambiguity of the term. Sherem “apparently needed to make it applicable to Jacob” and therefore “took responsibility for giving [it] an innovative—if not expansive and reaching—meaning.”5

False Prophesy

In reference to the doctrine of Christ taught by Jacob, Sherem said that a man “cannot tell of things to come” (Jacob 7:7). Sherem seemed to be insinuating here that Jacob was somehow guilty of spreading a false prophecy among the people, perhaps based on the premise “that Jacob had spoken of things too far distant in the future,” making it impossible to test them.6 Deuteronomy 18 stipulates that if a prophecy doesn’t “come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken” (v. 22) and that a false prophet “shall die” (v. 20).

Sherem Contending with Jacob. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Conclusion

As summarized by Welch,

Sherem’s allegations were not merely vague rhetorical criticisms; they were well-formulated accusations, logically derived from specific provisions of the ancient law. Sherem’s words put Jacob’s life in jeopardy. If allowed to stand, these accusations would have justified Jacob’s execution. … Not only does this show that Sherem was deeply committed to his views and dead serious about the charges he raised against his “brother Jacob” (Jacob 7:6), it also explains the sense of legal justice that exists in the fact that, in the end, Sherem was smitten by God and he himself soon died.7

John W. Welch, The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008), 107–138.

John W. Welch, “Sherem’s Accusations against Jacob,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 84–87.

Jacob 7:7Jacob 7:20

Jacob 7:7

Jacob 7:20

  • 1 John W. Welch, “Sherem’s Accusations Against Jacob,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 84.
  • 2 As noted by Welch, “In Deuteronomic theology and in the Psalms, ‘the way of God’ referred to the Torah, or the commandments and statutes that defined the full state or condition coming from God’s covenant with his people, and the highway of salvation that freed Israel from bondage. Turning people away from the right way entailed perversion of the entire law and covenant.” John W. Welch, “The Case of Sherem,” in The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008), 118.
  • 3 See Welch, “The Case of Sherem,” 120: “Perhaps to avoid such accusations, the prophets of the Book of Mormon insisted emphatically that God and his Son are ‘but one God’ (Alma 11:28–29, 35; emphasis added) and that ‘the doctrine of Christ’ is one with ‘the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God’ (2 Nephi 31:21; emphasis added). Beyond teaching true doctrine, these declarations may have served an important legal function—to affirm that speaking ‘in the name of’ Christ was not to be construed as speaking ‘in the name of other gods.’”
  • 4 Welch, “The Case of Sherem,” 119.
  • 5 Welch, “The Case of Sherem,” 119.
  • 6 Welch, “Sherem’s Accusations Against Jacob,” 86.
  • 7 Welch, “Sherem’s Accusations Against Jacob,” 86. See also, Welch, “The Case of Sherem,” 133–136; Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Sherem Die? (Jacob 7:7),” KnoWhy 73 (April 7, 2016).
Law
Book of Mormon

© 2024 Scripture Central: A Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved. Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-5294264