- Book of the Law of the Lord
name = The Book of the Law of the Lord
author = Unknown
Latter Day Saint
media_type = Print (Hardback &
isbn = The Book of the Law of the Lord is a book accepted as
scriptureby the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite). It is alleged to be a translation by the Strangite prophet James Strangof the Plates of Laban, originally acquired by Nephi, a leading character in the early portion of The Book of Mormon. [I Nephi, chapters 3-5. http://lds.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fscriptures.lds.org%2F.] Strang claimed to have translated them using the Urim and Thummim, which was used by Joseph Smith to translate The Book of Mormon.
However, the Book of the Law of the Lord bears little resemblance to the material described in The Book of Mormon as being engraved on the Plates of Laban. [I Nephi 5:10-14. All references to the Book of Mormon are to the LDS edition.] Rather, Strang's book comprises a rather elaborate constitution for a Mormon kingdom, in which the Prophet-leader of the Latter Day Saint church equally rules as
kingover God's kingdom on earth. It also contains various other revelations and teachings unique to Strang.
James J. Strang
James J. Strang was a lawyer and newspaper editor from New York who converted to the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saintsin 1844. Shortly after his baptism, Joseph Smith, Jr., founding prophet of the church, was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob. Upon Smith's murder, a number of individuals came forward claiming a divine mandate to lead his church, including Strang. As a recent convert, Strang did not possess the name recognition among rank-and-file Mormons held by Brigham Youngand Sidney Rigdon(two other contenders for LDS leadership). Hence, he faced an "uphill" battle in his quest to be recognized as the heir to Smith's prophetic mantle.
To advance his cause, Strang asserted that unlike Rigdon and Young, "he" had hard evidence of his prophetic calling. In September 1845, he announced the discovery of the Voree Record, the final testament of an ancient Native American engraved on three brass plates dug up near Voree,
Wisconsin, his headquarters at the time. However, Strang's claims to possession of divinely-revealed ancient records, and the ability to correctly translate them, did not end there. In 1851, he proclaimed the publication of the "Book of the Law of the Lord", a far more substantial work.
Alleged provenance of the book
Strang explained that the Book of the Law (as it is often called--not to be confused with Aleister Crowley's book of the same title) was "kept in the ark of the covenant, and was held too sacred to go into the hands of strangers." However, "when the
Septuaginttranslation was made, the Book of the Law was kept back, and...lost to the Jewish nation in the time that they were subject to foreign powers." Thus, "the various books in the Pentateuch, containing abstracts of some of the laws, have been read instead of it, until even the existence of the book has come to be a matter of doubt." ["Book of the Law of the Lord: Being a Translation From the Egyptian of the Law Given to Moses in Sinai." (St. James, 1851), pg. viii. This article uses the expanded Edition of 1856: http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/book_of_the_law.htm. The 1851 edition is at http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm.]
Strangites believe that their Book of the Law is identical to the one mentioned in the
Bible. [For instance, see II Chronicles 34:14-15; Galatians 3:10. http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/book_of_the_law.htm.] They also identify the Book of the Law with the "Stick of Judah" mentioned in Ezekiel 37:19 [See "Book of the Law" main page at http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/book_of_the_law.htm.] This is in marked contrast to other Latter Day Saint sects, which generally view the "Stick of Judah" as the Bible. [LDS Bible Dictionary: "Judah, Stick of," http://scriptures.lds.org/en/bd/j/79. See also http://bomf.org/witness/witness122.pdf for the traditional RLDS/Community of Christ viewpoint; and http://www.churchofchrist-tl.org/latter.html for the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) opinion. ]
The LDS and
Community of Christchurches, the two largest factions of the Latter Day Saint movement, each reject James Strang's claims to prophetic leadership and his "Book of the Law of the Lord."
Seven witnesses testified to having seen and handled the plates that Strang claimed to possess. They described them as being eighteen in number, each measuring approximately seven and three-eighths inches wide, by nine inches long. Their brazen surfaces were "occasionally embellished with beautiful pictures," and all appeared to be of "beautiful antique workmanship, bearing a striking resemblance to the ancient
orientallanguages."Book of the Law, pg. iv.]
The witnesses' names were: Samuel Graham, Samuel P. Bacon, Warren Post, Phineas Wright, Albert N. Hosmer, Ebenezer Page and Jehiel Savage. Wright [Fitzpatrick, Doyle, "The King Strang Story: A Vindication of James J. Strang, the Beaver Island Mormon King" (National Heritage, 1970), pg. 126] and Post ["Strangite Organisaction After James' Martyrdom," http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/Church%20of%20Jesus%20Christ%20of%20Latter%20Day%20Saints%20(Strangite).htm.] served as Apostles under Strang. Warren Post wrote in his journal that the plates weighed approximately six pounds. [Diary entry of Warren Post (date not given), http://www.strangite.org/Iowa.htm, slide 17.] Although some of these witnesses later left Strang's church, none of them is known to have ever denied their testimony as given in the Book of the Law. [Palmer, Grant H., "An Insiders View of Mormon Origins" (Signature Books, 2002), pg. 211.]
The subsequent history of Strang's "Plates of Laban," and their current whereabouts, is a mystery.
Editions of 1851 and 1856
The Book of the Law of the Lord was published in two separate editions during James Strang's lifetime. The first edition of 1851 contained only eighty pages and consisted of material translated directly from the Plates of Laban, with five exceptions: three revelations given to Strang, and two sections written "by inspiration of God." [Book of the Law, 1851 Edition, http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm. See under Table of Contents.]
In contrast, the edition of 1856 comprised 320 pages, including all of the text in the 1851 edition, plus ten new chapters and a series of notes added by Strang to explain the text. [Book of the Law, pg. iii. The 1851 chapter on "Baptism for the Dead" was materially altered for the 1856 edition.] The 1856 edition is the one generally used by Strangites today. It was never bound with a title page or preface; subsequent reprints have used the title page, testimony and preface from the 1851 edition. [Book of the Law, pg. iii.] In fact, the 1856 edition was not bound at all until after Strang's death, as he was assassinated before this was completed. Its uncut sheets had to be rescued from an anti-Mormon mob by Strang's disciples. [See illustration at http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm.]
Both editions of the Book of the Law are dated according to the year of James Strang's reign: the 1851 edition is annotated "A. R. I," while the 1856 edition carries the date "A. R. VI." [http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm.]
Monarchy and priesthood
The most distinctive element of the Book of the Law is its overtly monarchial tone. Also of interest are the singular subdivisions Strang makes within the
Melchizedek Priesthood, which his book refers to as "The Priesthood of an endless life," and the Aaronic Priesthood, referred to as "the Priesthood of life."Book of the Law, pg. 214.]
In the Melchizedek Priesthood, Strang ennumerates two "orders," that of "Apostles," and that of "Priests."
"Apostles" are subdivided into four "degrees:"
*The Prophet/President of the Strangite church is openly referred to throughout the book as a "King," rather than as a "President" (as under Joseph Smith). [Book of the Law, pp. 168-80, 214-19.]
*His Counselors are designated as "Viceroys." Viceroys are referred to as "kings," too, though this does not indicate a share in the unique royal dignity accorded to the President/King. [Book of the Law, pp. 181-82; 219-20. See especially the notes on pg. 182.]
*Strang's Twelve Apostles are named as "Princes in his Kingdom forever." [Book of the Law, pp. 191-92. Capitalization as in original.] The leader of Strang's Apostles is designated as "Prince and Grand Master of the Seventies." [Book of the Law, pg. 195.]
*A quorum of "Evangelists" (not to be confused with the LDS and
Community of Christoffice of Patriarch) is established, to be Apostles to a single "nation, kindred, tongue or people"--unlike the Twelve, who were sent to "all" nations. Seven Evangelists formed a quorum, and Strang noted that such a body had never been organized "in this dispensation." [Book of the Law, pg. 224.] This was a unique priesthood office within the Latter Day Saint movement.
"Priests" are subdivided into two "degrees:"
*High Priests were to include "all inferiour Kings, Patriarchs, or heads of tribes, and Nobles, or heads of clans." [Book of the Law, pg.224.] Furthermore, Strang continued, "They who hold it are called Sons of God."Book of the Law, pg. 193.] From this group, said the Book of the Law, the king was to select "counsellors, judges and rulers."
*The "degree" of Elders included both the offices of Seventy and Elder as generally constituted in Joseph Smith's church. [Book of the Law, pp. 224-25, 194-97.]
In the Aaronic Priesthood, Strang ennumerates three "orders:" [Book of the Law, pg. 225.]
*Priests are subdivided into two "courses:" "Sacrificators" and "Singers." The course of Singers was opened to women [see "Ordination of women," below] . Each temple was to have a Chief Priest, assisted by a first and second High Priest. [Book of the Law, pp. 225-27, 198-99.] Strangite "Sacrificators" were to kill sacrifices in accordance with appropriate provisions of the Book of the Law [see below under "Animal sacrifice"] . Female priests were specifically barred from killing sacrifices.Book of the Law, pg. 199.] The
Doctrine and Covenantsfunctions of preaching and baptizing (but not laying of on hands) were retained, as well.
*Teachers are subdivided into five "degrees:" Rabboni, Rabbi, Doctor, Ruler, and Teacher.Book of the Law, pg. 227.] This office, like that of Priest, was open to women [see below] . These Teachers were not merely to instruct in spiritual matters, but in secular ones as well. [Book of the Law, pp. 200-01.] They were to staff schools throughout Strang's kingdom. [Book of the Law, pg. 201.]
*Deacons were subdivided into three "degrees:" Marshals, Stewards and Ministers. They were to serve as "Stewards and keepers of the King’s prisons, and Stewards of the King’s Courts." [Book of the Law, pg. 202.]
In addition, a "King's Council" and a "King's Court" were established. [Book of the Law, pp. 183-84.] While no direct link is made between the King's Court and the "High Council" established in the Doctrine and Covenants, [See Doctrine & Covenants 102:1-3,5-6,8,12,24-30. All references to the D&C are to the LDS edition.] certain parallels exist, such as requiring all members to hold the High Priesthood, and limiting their number to twelve. [Book of the Law, pg. 185.]
Although Strang briefly enjoyed the services of Apostle William Smith as "Chief Patriarch" of his church, [Zion's Reveille, January 14, 1847. http://www.sidneyrigdon.com/dbroadhu//IA/JStrang1.htm#011447.] he makes no mention of this office anywhere in his book.
Another unique feature of the Book of the Law is its version of the Decalogue, the "
Ten Commandments" allegedly given to Moses on Sinai. [Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21.] Strang's rendering is different from any other Jewish, Catholic, Islamicor Protestantversion, for it offers a commandment none of the others has: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." [Book of the Law, pages 24-25. This commandment is number four in Strang's version of the Decalogue.] In his "Note on the Decalogue," [Book of the Law, pp. 38-46.] Strang asserted that no other version of the Decalogue contains more than nine commandments. He equally speculates that his fourth commandment was lost perhaps as early as Josephus' time (circa 37-100 A.D./C.E.).
Ordination of women
As noted above, the Book of the Law opened two priesthood offices to women: Priest and Teacher. While only the "course" of "Singer" in the office of Priest was open to females, all five "degrees" in the office of Teacher were available. Furthermore, they could serve as "leaders" of the Singers. Strang ordained women to these ministries as early as 1851, and permitted then to lecture in his
School of the Prophetsby 1856. [Hajicek, John, "Intolerance toward Great Lakes Mormons." http://www.mormonism.com/out-2.htm.]
In contrast, the Community of Christ church opened its ministry to females in 1984, [Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 156:9. http://www.centerplace.org/library/study/dc/rdc-156.htm. All offices were opened, not just Priest and Teacher.] while the LDS church still bars women from all of its priesthood offices.
Animal sacrificewas instituted in the Book of the Law, both for forgiveness of sins [Book of the Law, pp. 106-09.] and as a part of Strangite celebration rituals. However, given the prohibition on sacrifices for sin contained in III Nephi 9:19-20, [Book of Mormon.] Strang did not require sin offerings. Rather, he focused on sacrifice as an element of religious celebration, [Book of the Law, pp. 293-97. See also http://www.strangite.org/Offering.htm.] especially the commemoration of his own coronationas king (July 8, 1850). [Book of the Law, pg. 293.] The head of every house, from the king to his lowest subject, was to offer "a heifer, or a lamb, or a dove. Every man a clean beast, or a clean fowl, according to his household." [Book of the Law, pp. 293-94.]
The killing of sacrifices was a prerogative of Strangite Priests, [Book of the Law, pg. 199, note 2.] but female Priests were specifically barred from participating in this aspect of the Priestly office.
"Firstfruits" offerings were also demanded of all Strangite agricultural harvests. [Book of the Law, pp. 295-97.] Animal sacrifices are no longer practiced by the Strangites, though belief in their correctness is still required.
Monotheism and the vocation of Jesus Christ
Some of the teachings in the Book of the Law differed substantially from those held by other Mormon sects. For instance, in his "Note on the Sacrifice of Christ" [Book of the Law, pp. 147-58. This was an essay written by Strang himself, not a translation from the Plates of Laban. It does not appear in the 1851 edition, but is considered an integral part of the 1856 edition and is fully accepted as Scripture by the Strangites.] and "The True God," [Book of the Law, pp. 47-86. This section was "written by the prophet James, by inspiration of God." Book of the Law, page x.] Strang rejected both the traditional Christian doctrine of the
Virgin Birthof Jesus Christ"and" the Mormon doctrine of plurality of gods. He insisted that there was but one eternal God, the Father, and that progression to godhood (a doctrine allegedly taught by Joseph Smith) [King Follett Sermon, http://www.utlm.org/onlineresources/sermons_talks_interviews/kingfolletsermon.htm.] was impossible. God had always been God, said Strang, and He was one Person (not three, as in the traditional Christian Trinity). [Book of the Law, pp. 47-63.]
Jesus Christ, said Strang, was the natural-born son of Mary and Joseph, who was chosen from before all time to be the Savior of mankind, but who had to be born as an ordinary mortal of two human parents (rather than being begotten by the Father or the
Holy Spirit) to be able to truly fulfill his Messianic role. [Book of the Law, pp. 157-58, note 9.] Strang claimed that the earthly Christ was in essence "adopted" as God's son at birth, and fully revealed as such during the Transfiguration. [Book of the Law, pp. 165-66.] After proving himself to God by living a perfectly sinless life, he was enabled to provide an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of men, prior to his resurrection and ascension. [Book of the law, pp. 155-58.]
Furthermore, Strang denied that God could do "all" things, and insisted that some things were as impossible for Him as for us. [Book of the Law, pg. 150.] Thus, he saw no essential conflict between science and religion, and while he never openly championed evolution, he did state that God was limited in His power by both the
matterHe was working with and by the eons of time required to "organize" and shape it. [Book of the Law, pp. 150-51.] He spoke glowingly of a future generation who would "make religion a science," to be "studied by as exact rules as mathematicks." "The mouth of the Seer will be opened," Strang prophesied, "and the whole earth enlightened." [Book of the Law, pg. 85. Spelling of "mathematicks" as in original.]
Musing at length on the nature of
sinand evil, Strang wrote that of all things that God could give to man, He could never give him "experience". [Book of the Law, pp. 152-53.] Thus, if "free agency" were to be real, said Strang, humanity must be given the opportunity to fail and to learn from its own mistakes. The ultimate goal for each human being was to willingly conform oneself to the revealed character of God in every respect, preferring good to evil not out of any fear of punishment or desire for reward, but rather "on account of the innate loveliness of undefiled goodness; of pure unalloyed holiness." [Book of the Law, pg. 155.]
Other distinctive teachings
The Book of the Law taught the seventh-day Sabbath, and commanded it in lieu of Sunday. [Book of the Law, pp.22-23.] It also accredits
baptism for the dead, but on a far more limited scale that currently practiced by the LDS church. [Book of the Law, pp. 136-41. See also http://www.strangite.org/BaptismDead.htm.] Baptisms for the dead are not performed by the Strangites today, although belief in the doctrine is still affirmed.
Eternal marriage is taught in the Book of the Law, though it is not required to be performed in a temple (as in the LDS church). [Book of the Law, pg. 159. See also http://www.strangite.org/Women.htm.] Strangite Priests, Elders, High Priests or Apostles (of all four degrees) may all perform this ceremony. [Book of the Law, pg. 159.] Eternal marriages are still contracted in the Strangite church today.
Oaths are taken very seriously in the Book of the Law, and severe spiritual penalties are forewarned upon all who break their solemn word, once given. [Book of the Law, pp. 87-97.]
The Book of the Law permits not only the blessing of others, but cursing, as well. [Book of the Law, pp. 100-01.] But this is not to be done in anger, nor indiscriminately; rather, it is only to be "invoked on such as, on deliberate and candid thought, are found condemned to them by the Law of God; and then the curse should be invoked as in the presence of God, the searcher of hearts; conscious that whosoever curses in the bitterness of his...corrupt heart, and not in the light of God’s truth, the curse will return upon him." [Book of the law, pg. 101.] "Maledictions" are also to be performed by Strangite leaders upon "hereticks, schismaticks, and those guilty of gross and abominable immoralities, and acts of great cruelty and wickedness." [Book of the Law, pg. 101.] The Strangite practice of "Maledictions" seems comparable to the "
anathemas" pronounced in the New Testament and by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
Conservation of forests and resources is mandated in the Book of the Law. [Book of the Law, pp. 286-87.] Groves of trees were to be maintained upon each farm, and in each village and town. Farms and cities without trees were required to plant them, and to establish parklands so that "the aged and the young may go there to rest and to play." [Book of the Law, pg. 287.]
Strangites are prohibited by the Book of the Law from dressing ostentatiously. Various (today mostly obsolete) styles are banned, [Book of the Law, pp. 288-90.] though allowance is made for those who are "sojourning among Gentiles" to "imitate, to some moderate extent, their foolish and ridiculous styles, to avoid impertinent observations." [Book of the Law, pg. 290.]
The Book of the Law sanctions marriage only between persons who are not impotent, deformed, of reduced stature ("a dwarf"), [Book of the Law, pg. 312.] , or mentally handicapped. The image of
animal husbandryis invoked: "The same means which will improve a breed of cattle," Strang wrote, "will improve a race of men." [Book of the Law, pg. 313.]
Plural marriageis sanctioned, though not expressly commanded, in the Book of the Law. The applicable text reads: "Thou shalt not take unto thee a multitude of wives disproportioned to thy inheritance, and thy substance: nor shalt thou take wives to vex those thou hast; neither shalt thou put away one to take another."Book of the Law, pg. 314.] Any wife already married to the prospective polygamist was given the right to express her opinion, and even to object, but not to veto the marriage. This passage seems to offer any aggrieved wife an appeal to the "Judges," but how this was to be carried out is not made clear.
Strang's defense of polygamy was rather novel. He claimed that, far from enslaving or demeaning women, it liberated and "elevated" them by allowing them to choose the best possible mate based upon any factors deemed important to them--even if that mate were already married to someone else. [Book of the Law, pp. 326-27.] Rather than being forced to wed "corrupt and degraded sires" due to the scarcity of more suitable men, a woman could wed the one she saw as the most compatible to herself, the best candidate to father her children and the man who could give her the best possible life, no matter how many other wives he might have. [Book of the Law, pp. 312-28.]
The practice of plural marriage has never been officially proscribed in the Strangite church, unlike in the LDS church. [http://www.strangite.org/Women.htm. For the LDS ban, see http://lds.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fscriptures.lds.org%2F.] Only twenty-two men entered into polygamy, and most of them only took one additional wife.http://www.strangite.org/Women.htm.] Strang took four additional wives, [Fitzpatrick, pg. 117.] the most of any member in his church.
Polygamy was apparently practiced by a few Strangites up to 1880 or so, to include
Wingfield W. Watson, a Strangite High Priest who knew and served under James Strang personally. However, with federal and state bans on the practice, and a divine injunction to obey "the law of the land," [Doctrine and Covenants 58:21.] plural marriage has been given up in the contemporary Strangite church, though belief in its correctness is still required and affirmed.
Strangites reject Section 132 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, [ [http://lds.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http%3A%2F%2Fscriptures.lds.org%2F. About.com: http://scriptures.lds.org/ ] ] regarding it as a forgery from 1852 that was never received or approved by Joseph Smith.
* [http://www.strangite.org/Law.htm Book of the Law of the Lord, Edition of 1851]
* [http://www.mormonbeliefs.com/book_of_the_law.htm Book of the Law of the Lord, Edition of 1856]
* [http://members.aol.com/strang7222/01.htm Book of the Law of the Lord, another site]
* [http://www.strangite.org/Welcome.htm Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite)]
* [http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/kjv/ch2034.htm The Second Book of the Chronicles, KJV]
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