Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Significance of the Number 4 in the Book of Mormon

by Sariah S. Wilson

The number 4 is a big deal in Central American culture. While in our Protestant American culture we find significance in numbers like 7 or 13 (and in our LDS culture we find significance in numbers like 3 and 12), the Book of Mormon peoples seemed to base a lot of activity and spiritual significance to the number 4.

It represents a wholeness, a completeness, a finish. It would feel "right" to a Nephite. It's gone a whole cycle from start to end. Even their numbering system uses a base 20, a multiple of 4, rather than our base 10.

There are so many instances in the Book of Mormon where things are done in fours. When Alma went to teach the Zoramites, (wherein he assembled the Justice League of Uber Missionaries), he brings seven companions, making himself the eighth. When Zeniff went to go check out the old Nephite territory, there were 16 total travelers. You'll also find this 4 gets played on to make other statements - like when Zeniff goes to see the Lamanite king he brings four companions, making himself the fifth member, or the focal point and of the most significance, in order to draw the king's attention to himself.

The number of dead or wounded or soldier counts often play off as multiples of 4. When Christ came, he prophesied that it would be the fourth generation that would fall, and the prophets knew that 400 years after the coming of Christ the Nephite nation would be no more.

Both Mormon and Coriantumr spent four years preparing for what would be the final battles of their respective peoples.

This is part of the reason why I argue that it is so important to understand the culture of the Book of Mormon in order to more properly appreciate the spiritual significance. The number 4 had a high cultural/spiritual significance for the Nephite and Lamanite peoples, so when you see it mentioned it has a higher level of meaning than we would attribute to it through a cursory reading.

Then, as I taught my final lesson to my 16-year-old Sunday School class, we realized as a group that Joseph Smith had to wait four years to get the golden plates. Moroni was the one who forbade Joseph from taking them and then gave the okay when it was time. Of course it took four years. It would have had a significance to Moroni that indicated that Joseph had studied and prepared and that it became a time of completion and readiness.

So why bring this up? Well, this is the sort of thing I loved teaching my Sunday School class.

But now, as the year turns, we have entered unchartered territory. I have a new group of kids that I will have to keep in line (my brother suggested killing one in order to keep the rest of the group compliant), and they are a group that likes to TALK. I know some teachers probably don't care if their kids talk in class - I find it to be totally disrespectful. If I spend hours preparing a lesson that I hope is both interesting and insightful, I would hope they would show me the respect of at least pretending to listen by not carrying on a conversation. I think if I respect them enough to do the best job I can, they should return the favor and respect me as their teacher who does not do well with gabbing.

And I've got gabbers coming.

Problem is, we're moving into an era that I'm not all that familiar with. Doctrine and Covenants and Church history is not the time period that I've devoted myself to.

So I'm coming to you and asking for suggestions on reading material. I would love a book that goes chapter by chapter or verse by verse with commentary (my favorite kind of scripture resource). Rather than trying to find something myself, I figured somebody out there would know of a really good resource book that I could teach from.

I find it harder to teach when I don't really know what I'm talking about, and when I'm unsure I have a harder time keeping the kids' attention.

Suggest a book and save a kid from bum-bum-bum -- certain death! (Five points for knowing where the certain death line comes from.)


At 1/04/2009 12:32 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Maybe the D&C student manual from BYU? I use it for reference quite often. I actually have 2 of them for some reason.

At 1/04/2009 12:44 AM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

I actually prefer having kids that like to talk. My feeling is that if they are just sitting there listening (or at least not talking) for an hour, I don't really know what they are getting out of the lesson. On the other hand, if you have talkers it's all about channeling their conversation into discussion.

It takes a little more work, and you have to teach them that off topic conversations are a no go. But I love when I get a class that everyone tells me are to talkative. It means I won't be talking to myself.

At 1/04/2009 10:09 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

I agree with Jeff. Talkers are great; just channel all that chatter to the subject matter at hand. There are some great Church History and Doctrine and Covenants books on the market, including the Gospel Doctrine teacher's Supplement put out in 1984, but I find myself using my son's old seminary manual, Church History in the Fullness of Times, more than any other book.

At 1/04/2009 5:24 PM, Blogger Just_Me said...

That's fascinating.... and (how appropriate) most people are in seminary for 4 years :o)

I love tidbits like this.

At 1/04/2009 7:36 PM, Blogger Janice said...

Church History in the Fulness of Times can be found at the distribution center for $14.00.

At 1/05/2009 2:17 PM, Blogger Worldbuilder Robin said...

What about Doctrine and Covenants for Latter-Day Families (or something like that)?

And the quote (which I thought was "certain doom" if I'm thinking of the right one) is from "Labyrinth." I think.

At 1/06/2009 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Knowing Sariah pretty well, I'm assuming that by "talk", she doesn't mean "particpate in the discussion". She means that she doesn't like it when the kids talk to each other, and ignore the teacher.


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