19 May 2008

Distinguishing Nephite Anti-Christs

If the argument that one “cannot tell of things to come” (Jacob 7:7) rings familiar to Book of Mormon readers as similar passages in Alma are read, it is probably because Sherem, like Korihor and other anti-Christs, denies not only the ability of God to give revelation, but many other foundational doctrines of the gospel. Anti-Christs have been evident for thousands of years. Their tactics are often similar or related, but their underlying beliefs sometimes differ. Such is the case among several of the Book of Mormon anti-Christs. While they are very alike in things such as strategy and outcome, their foundational and fundamental reasons for disbelief diverge. President Ezra Taft Benson has instructed us to “constantly ask ourselves, ‘Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?’” (Benson, “The Keystone of Our Religion” 5). Thus, further studies of the similarities and differences among Book of Mormon anti-Christs--like Sherem, Nehor, Zeezrom, and Korihor--are necessary and should prove to be beneficial. Such a study, including both scriptural analysis and analysis and statements from others, will help to accomplish one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon--to expose the enemies of Christ and to strengthen His followers (Benson, A Witness and a Warning 3), and it may also lead to helpful insights in discerning truth.
In studying anti-Christs, one should first establish, at least to some extent, what defines an anti-Christ. Elder Bruce R. McConkie defined an anti-Christ as “an opponent of Christ,” “one who is in opposition to the true Gospel, the true Church, and the true Plan of Salvation,” and “one who offers salvation to men on some other terms than those laid down by Christ” (McConkie 39). The four Book of Mormon characters mentioned above can all fit under this definition of an anti-Christ. Melvin A. and Melvin G. Cook, LDS scientists, described an anti-Christ as “one coming falsely in the name of religion” (Cook 279). Using these as a working definition, we can begin to analyze similarities and differences among anti-Christs.

Many striking resemblances among Book of Mormon anti-Christs are recognized by members of the Church. Robert Millet describes several of these similarities among anti-Christs. He uses Sherem as a pattern for anti-Christs, saying that they tend to deny the need for Jesus Christ, use flattery to win disciples, accuse the brethren of teaching false doctrine, have a limited view of reality because they refuse to exercise faith, have a disposition to misread and thereby misrepresent the scriptures, and ask for signs (See Nyman 175-190). Although the many similarities are usually recognized, the unique fundamental reasons for disbelief in each anti-Christ are often neglected. Through a more careful examination of Sherem, Nehor, Zeezrom, and Korihor, both the similarities among and the differences between them will become more evident. By comparing and contrasting these “enemies of Christ” (Benson 2 p. 3), one can be more aware of the buffetings of Satan and be better able to remain firm in his or her testimony of Christ. Distinguishing among anti-Christs may also allow for improved relations with those of other faiths who disagree with our beliefs as we strive to engage in religious dialogue.

In addition to original analysis of the scriptural record concerning these Nephite apostates, many other LDS scholars have commented regarding these anti-Christs. In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, R. M. Frandsen remarks, “the Book of Mormon profiles many subtle and sophisticated aspects of antichrist characters, though the text refers to only one of them as antichrist” (Ludlow 17). Commentary from various sources will be interspersed with analysis of scripture.


Careful analysis of Jacob 7, recounting Sherem's confrontation with Jacob, leads one to believe that Sherem’s primary objection to the prophet, Jacob, is his argument that Jacob taught the people to “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” (v. 7). Sherem is adept in the language of the people. He “preached...things which were flattering unto the people” (v. 2). Sherem’s fundamentalist attitude is the primary cause of his disbelief. He questions the prophet’s interpretation of the law, seeing his own as superior. Sherem’s reasoning in believing the law but not the Being is shaky at best. He protests Jacob’s testimony of Christ in saying that all men, including Jacob, “cannot tell of things to come” (v. 7); yet later, Sherem says that he knows “that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be,” (v. 9). His own flawed argument could be used against that statement. This circular reasoning demonstrates Sherem’s warped sense of logic. Sherem asks for a sign to prove the reality of the power of the Holy Ghost. Upon reception of an afflicting personal sign, he admits that he taught wrongly and confesses the Christ (v. 17) before dying as recorded in verse twenty. This fate of admitting error and recognizing Christ is typical among Nephite anti-Christs.

In describing a unique quality of Sherem, Hugh Nibley said that “the interesting thing about Sherem is his convincing performance as a devout and active churchman who is not attacking the gospel but defending it” (Nibley 1, An Approach to the Book of Mormon 365). Sherem becomes adept at playing the part of a concerned church member when his intentions are not to save the Church, but to build his own church (i. e. the church of Sherem)--even to the extent of addressing the prophet as "Brother Jacob" (Jac. 7:6). His own (mis)informed opinions are pitted against God’s will as revealed through the prophet, reflecting his individualistic approach to doctrine. Rather than embracing the role of a prophet, Sherem prefers to lean on his own understanding. Sherem is distinguished by his opposition to the prophet Jacob’s interpretation of scripture. He disputes the validity of the prophet’s statements, and he disrupts the balance between personal and collective revelation. We will be able to compare this reason for dissension with that of the other anti-Christs after examining each of them more closely.


Nehor, another anti-Christ, mentioned in Alma 1, is described as “a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength” (v. 2). He preaches his own interpretation of the gospel, saying that “all mankind should be saved” (v. 4). He teaches a laissez faire version of the gospel often adopted by those who don’t want to expend the effort required by more stringent religious beliefs. He suggests that priests should become popular and be supported by their congregations. A major reason for Nehor’s dissent is his pride. He wants to be popular and acceptable in the sight of his peers, disregarding God’s judgement of his actions. He wants an easy religion and teaches for the purpose of gaining money and prestige (priestcraft). Since such a religion works (people support him in it), he wants to facilitate it. Nehor murders Gideon and is sentenced to die. Like Sherem, before dying, Nehor admits to teaching false doctrine (v. 15), continuing the pattern of “deathbed” repentance among anti-Christs. Clearly, Nehor is, despite resemblances to Sherem’s story, another breed of anti-Christ distinct from Sherem.

Nehor sounds much like the other anti-Christs, especially Korihor, in preaching “that all mankind should be saved at the last day” (Alma 1:4, compare to Alma 30:17). Nibley describes Nehor as “ great orator, a powerful personality, a very persuasive speaker...a real evangelist,” showing Nehor’s qualifications to be a leader. Unfortunately, Nehor’s pride destroyed his potential to be a good leader. Nehor preached “a more relaxed religion” which attracted people to it. He wanted to find a message that would make himself popular and rich. He opted for a doctrine requiring few, if any, morals. Nibley describes the growth of a standard-less Church, saying that “everybody was willing to join because they didn’t have any standards at all,” thereby requiring nothing of believers and, in return, guaranteeing their salvation. This philosophy is much different than the other anti-Christs although their questions and fates are similar (Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Sem. 2 p. 216-220).

In Cook’s Science and Mormonism , they present four types of religion. Nehor’s teachings seem to fit their description of "liberalism" (Cook 217-218). "Liberalism" in this context teaches that things are now good and that they always will be so, and could perhaps be more accurately described as "All is Well in Zion." Such a philosophy makes everything acceptable. This philosophy attracts followers because unfavorable conditions are removed and no changes in behavior are necessary or required. Nehor’s arguments can be found similar to other anti-Christs by applying the need for opposition as seen in Second Nephi. If everything that men did was good, then no bad exists, meaning that no law is in effect. By following this line of reasoning (see 2 Ne. 2:13), we can conclude that there would then be neither Creator nor creation. Nehor denies God by denying His Plan of Salvation. Nibley refers to him as “Nehor, the Great Liberal” (Nibley 1365-366). Nehor’s all-is-well-in-Zion approach to religion distinguish him from the other anti-Christs.


Zeezrom, whose story is found in Alma chapters 10 through 12 (especially Alma 11), is a third anti-Christ. Since Zeezrom is later converted, some may question my inclusion of him in this discussion of anti-Christs. To briefly explain, he is included here because of his anti-Church arguments. Zeezrom is a lawyer skilled in the language of the people and learned in arts and cunning (Alma 10:15). He questioned Amulek endeavoring to make Amulek “cross his words” (Alma 10:16) or contradict himself. By his line of questioning, one can assume that Zeezrom is familiar with the Church and its teachings. Zeezrom is chosen to represent a group of lawyers opposing Alma and Amulek. He is described as being “expert in the devices of the devil” (Alma 11:21). His conflict with Alma and Amulek is not one of genuine concern over Church doctrine, as Nehor professed, but is a blatant yet fruitless effort to find fault with either the Church or its leaders. Zeezrom bluntly shows such intentions when, in Alma 11:22, he tries to bribe Amulek to deny God’s existence. Zeezrom is a man appointed to seek out and to arouse contention. His anti-Church arguments and questions are not those of an apprehensive or genuine investigator; rather, they are the futile efforts of those in opposition to find fault with an organization and with a people.

Zeezrom likes to twist words and questions against people and to contort others’ statements in his own favor. His logical mind constantly searches for a contradiction or logical fallacy as a target for his oppositions. His questions in Alma 11 are specific and target doctrines which tend to be controversial or easily misunderstood: “Is there more than one God?” (v. 28); “Shall he save his people in their sins?” (v. 34, emphasis added); “Is the Son of God the very Eternal Father?” (v. 38). Although Amulek is able to answer each of these questions, Zeezrom’s intentions are to disprove Church doctrine by a series of lawyer-like questions designed to produce improper reasoning in Amulek’s answers. When these questions fail to confound Amulek, we see Zeezrom’s heart change. In Alma 12:8 his questions take a new direction, showing his change of heart. Zeezrom’s heart is softened at least partly because, in addition to being true, the gospel is logical. This change of the heart leads to Zeezrom’s eventual conversion to the Church and wholehearted acceptance of Christ. Zeezrom was anti-Church and therefore anti-Christ by Elder McConkie’s definition, but is not of the same conviction as Sherem or Korihor, since he did undergo a complete reversal of course similar to Alma the Younger and Paul.


Korihor, described in Alma 30 and referred to textually as an anti-Christ (v. 12), displays both an atheistic and an agnostic approach as an anti-Christ. While resembling Sherem in arguing that “no man can know of anything which is to come” (v. 13), Korihor argues in a different direction by trying to discredit primary doctrines of the gospel. Korihor denies prophesy and revelation by discrediting the scriptures, calling them “foolish traditions of your fathers” (v. 14). He then takes an empirical approach in denying Christ, saying: “ye cannot know of things which ye do not see” (v. 15). He proceeds to tell the people that hoping for a remission of sins, which comes only through the atonement, “is the effect of a frenzied mind” (v. 16) and “that there could be no atonement made” (v. 17). He uses these arguments to teach that mankind “fared...according to the management of the creature” (v. 17) and that men succeed according to their own strength. All of these foundations and subsequent conclusions leads Korihor to teach that a person can commit no crime. He denies God, revelation, scripture, the atonement and the resurrection. Korihor wants all truth to be derived from his personal experience. Not only does he not believe, but he cannot comprehend anyone else’s belief because he does not personally have experiences supporting others’ beliefs. Korihor uses these arguments, similar to Sherem’s, to be not only anti-prophets, but anti-religion; proving Korihor to be a more extreme type of anti-Christ than was Sherem, despite their similar fates and tactics.

Korihor is probably the anti-Christ most analyzed by LDS scholars. His
arguments appear modern although they were prominent anciently as well. C. C. Riddle, in his article, “Korihor: The Arguments of Apostasy” said that “Korihor took what might be called a philosophical approach to destroying faith in our Savior” (Ensign, Sept. 1977, p. 18). Riddle proceeded to characterize Korihor’s arguments. Korihor argues empiricism, suggesting that all knowledge comes from experience (Riddle 18). This empirical approach appeals because it calls for no faith, requiring tangible evidence. While this “sign-seeking” is common to anti-Christs, Korihor relies upon it most heavily. As Nibley said, “His method was to subject all the claims of prophetic religion to a rigorous examination based upon his own experience” (Nibley 1 367-369). This statement seems to sum up Korihor’s argument for empiricism. According to Riddle, Korihor also presents humanist reasoning, believing that all success must come from human performance (Riddle 18-20). Such humanist perspectives appeal because they engender a sense (although a false one) of self-worth--pride. Korihor’s last major method for argument presented by Riddle is relativism. He claims that all actions of mankind are acceptable and justified (Riddle 20-21). Such arguments and propositions were popular then as they are now.

The Anti-Christs Classified

In classifying the anti-Christs, one must again rely on both scriptural analysis and the statements of other authorities. Brother Millet, although pointing out many similarities among the anti-Christs, refers to Nehor as “a different type of anti-Christ” (Nyman 189, emphasis added), recognizing their differences between them as well. Gerald Lund wrote an article in the July 1992 Ensign (pp. 16-21) entitled, “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy.” This article dealt with Korihor’ anti-religious arguments similar to the article by Riddle. Lund divided these arguments according to philosophical terms: metaphysics, axiology, and several types of epistemology. Metaphysics deals with the nature of reality, axiology with ethics and values, and epistemology with how to find truth. Although Lund uses the types of epistemology to specifically discuss Korihor’s systems of teaching, this paper is an attempt to fit those systems which he mentioned to the several anti-Christs, showing their distinguishing characteristics through their arguments. Lund outlines several epistemological systems including authoritarianism, rationalism, pragmatism, and empiricism as recognized means of learning and discerning truth.

Although the other anti-Christs do rely upon this method of finding truth, Korihor relies upon it most heavily and seems to be a good character to associate with the term empiricism. Korihor’s arguments can be identified under all of the above four recognized classifications; however, his distinguishing characteristic is his empiricism. As Lund says, “Korihor will consider only evidence that can be gathered through the senses” (Lund 21). As we have seen, Korihor is a “sign-seeker” desiring tangible evidence to support any claim before he will believe it to be true. Korihor desires to ascertain truth only through his own experience. He denies others’ beliefs because he hasn't personally had experiences to confirm their beliefs. Certainly these attributes of Korihor fit Lund’s description of empiricism--truth which is gathered from observations and personal experiences.

Similarly, Zeezrom epitomizes rationalism. He asks many questions to Amulek, trying to logically force Amulek into contradicting his own words. Zeezrom is a lawyer who feels that the truth must be proven. His series of questions not only shows his own familiarity with the doctrines taught by God’s prophets, but also shows that his primary concern and objection is that several doctrines unique to Alma and Amulek’s religion be logically resolved. Although Zeezrom asked these questions in a confrontational manner, he endeavored to try the Church according to the test of reason. When Zeezrom found his questions answered logically and completely, he began to doubt his own arguments. Once the gospel was justified by reason in Zeezrom’s logical mind, his heart could begin to feel the Spirit testifying of its truth. Zeezrom became a believer and staunch supporter of the religion which he had previously attacked so vehemently upon the resolution of his major concern--its reasonability. The change produced in Zeezrom once his rational mind was appeased suggests that his major method of finding truth was rationalism.

The philosophy of Nehor, too, resembles a major epistemological system; namely that of pragmatism--finding truth by what works (if something works, it must be true). Nehor’s appeal to public demand, doing whatever was popular, reveals much about his epistemology. He sees that teaching lower and lower standards was popular. Nehor does what would work for everyone. He finds a set of beliefs to coincide with any lifestyle, including his own. This effort to please everyone is evident in Nehor’s teaching that all men will eventually be saved. He tries to find ways to justify this claim, but later recanted his teachings. Nehor’s pragmatic approach to religion was and is popular, but neglects the stability found in truth. Instead of finding a religion and then living in accordance with it, Nehor tried to create a religion to apply to any lifestyle. For this reason, Nehor can be classified under the epistemological system of pragmatism.

Sherem, the final anti-Christ presented, fits under the heading of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism is explained as “the system by which truth is learned from those who are authorities or experts” (Lund 16). Sherem’s disagreement with Jacob is definitely attacking Jacob’s expertise and authority. Sherem claims that the people have been led astray because of Jacob’s incorrect interpretation of the law. Thus, a major part of Sherem’s dispute is not the doctrine as much as it is the discrepancy between his and Jacob’s interpretations of the doctrine. Sherem wants a “real” authority to support Jacob’s words before he will believe the Lord’s doctrine as taught by His inspired prophet, Jacob. Clearly, Sherem relies upon authoritarianism to find (or dispute) the truth.

Such a method of classification helps to differentiate within the broad spectrum of anti-Christs. As the differences between them are seen, each prophet’s response to these epistemological arguments opposing the gospel becomes more readily examinable. Such analysis may aid Latter-day Saints in confronting the many philosophies of man in opposition to their religious beliefs. Moreover, such an examination allows for an improved ability to recognize the balance between epistemological systems in individual belief choices. By seeing the patterns, similarities and differences in Nephite anti-Christs, we can more accurately see where those patterns are or could be reflected in our own lives and determine how these narratives should shape our response to them.
It is also important to note that no amount of reasoning can lead one who has chosen to oppose to the gospel to believe. As Lund recognizes, divine revelation is as necessary as any other epistemological system in discerning truth (Lund 16-17). Since man is fallen, one cannot expect mankind, unaided, to come to a perfect understanding of truth. “In spite of the abundance of knowledge and learning available to man, no man will be able to utilize it for the purposes of coming ‘to a knowledge of the truth’ without the assistance of divine revelation” (Cook 279). While members of the Church should not exclude other systems of epistemology, divine revelation assumes top priority in the restored gospel. Authoritarianism, rationalism, pragmatism, and empiricism play crucial roles in aiding all men in their quests for truth. However, only when these and other systems of learning are combined with divine revelation will mankind be able to seek for and accurately discern truth: “knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24).
Works Cited
Benson, Ezra Taft. “The Keystone of Our Religion.” Ensign (January 1992) 2-7.
-- . A Witness and a Warning. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988.
Cook, Melvin Alonzo, and Cook, Melvin Garfield. Science and Mormonism. U. S. A.: Deseret News Press, 1967.
Ludlow, Daniel H. , Ed. Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Jesus Christ and His Gospel. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1992.
Lund, Gerald N. “Countering Korihor’s Philosophy.” Ensign (July 1992) 16-21.
McConkie, Bruce R. Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Ind., 1976.
Nibley, Hugh W. An Approach to the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.; Provo: F. A. R. M. S., 1988.
-- . Teachings of the Book of Mormon. Transcript of lectures presented in a Book of Mormon class at B. Y. U. Provo: F. A. R. M. S., 1993.
Nyman, Monte S., and Tate, Charles D. Jr. The Book of Mormon: Jacob Through Words of Mormon. Provo: Religious Studies Center B. Y. U., 1990.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

That is a really interesting idea, categorizing the anti-Christs by their epistemological leanings! I'm working on a chart right now of how the anti-Christ's agreed and disagreed.

I love that article by Gerald Lund and have referred to it many times. You might like some thoughts I've had on this topic:

Weaving Korihor's Philosophy
There Are No One-Ended Sticks
Epistemology: How We Know Things