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Legal parallels in the Book of Mormon, Bible

PROVO, Utah — For 28 years John Welch, a law professor at the J.

Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, researched ancient

legal systems, discovering parallels with Old Testament law in the Book

of Mormon.Some of the research came from his students and

assistants, and he credited to them the final publishing of his book,

"The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon."Speaking Wednesday at

Olivewood Book Store, which is affiliated with the Neal A. Maxwell

Institute for Religious Scholarship, Welch said his study of Babylonian

law shed light on passages in the Book of Mormon because those ancient

people also knew and lived by those laws, including the Law of Moses.His

findings, coupled with discoveries of other ancient law scholars, were

unknown to Joseph Smith, he said. Smith founded The Church of Jesus

Christ of Latter-day Saints after publishing the Book of Mormon in 1830.Many of those legal discoveries weren't made until the 20th century, Welch said."It helps us understand (Book of Mormon people) as real people," he said. "It's important to know that Alma was a real person."Among

the legal cases in the Book of Mormon Welch details are the accusations

of Sherem, who taught against Jesus Christ in Jacob 7. Sherem accused

Jacob of blasphemy, leading people away from the truth and false

prophesy, all capital crimes in the ancient Old Testament world.Legal issues in the Bible, including the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, apply to the Book of Mormon, Welch said.For

example, under the ancient legal system, if an accuser loses the case,

then the punishment that would have been imposed on the accused is

given to the accuser, which was Sherem's fate, "a perfect legal

outcome," Welch said.The goal in the ancient legal world was

not revenge or restitution but to restore peace, Welch said. At the end

of the Sherem story, the Book of Mormon notes that peace was restored,

which fits the pattern.Other legal cases Welch discusses in his

book include the justification for Nephi to kill Laban for the brass

plates, an important record needed for their journey into the

wilderness, which contained five books of Moses.Nephi's father, Lehi, who led his family and others to what eventually became the Americas, was a wanted man, Welch said.He was accused of false prophesy when he said that Jerusalem would be destroyed.Others

include the destruction of the wicked city of Ammonihah, which had

violated the Law of Moses. Welch called that case a "prophetic

lawsuit," which was like a mock trial in which a prophet, in that case

Alma, warns the people and then ends by saying that if they will repent

God will stay the judgment."The Law of Moses regulated everything," he said.The

longest trial in the Book of Mormon is the case of Abinadi, a prophet

who was burned at the stake because of his teachings. The case takes

six chapters in the Book of Mosiah.Alma, then a young man,

speaks for his defense, which was not unusual, Welch said. The younger

members of a trial were given the opportunity to speak first under the

ancient law.That case was under the reign of a king, while many

others were under the system of judges. To understand how a Nephite

regarded the law of his day "you have to get inside their heads," he

said."Alma never stops thinking like a judge or a lawyer," Welch said. "He talks at length about justice and mercy."Near

the end of the Book of Mormon is an account of Moroni, the last

prophet, who, sealed the book in obedience to Jewish law. The law also

required that once a book was completed, three witnesses testify of it,

Welch said.Moroni was the last Nephite left so he named God,

Christ and the Holy Ghost as his witnesses following legal precedent,

Welch said. That passage is found in Moroni 10: 4.Welch said he

didn't write his book to prove the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon,

but from the standpoint that it is an accepted record and that it has

lessons in judging righteously."The (Book of Mormon people) had a complex legal system that makes sense," he said.


E-mail: rodger@desnews.com