reperiendi

Euphraneid

Posted in Borges by Mike Stay on 2011 June 2

(4/5 stars) The Euphraneid is a collection of Book of Mormon pseudepigrapha. They were ostensibly written by Moroni, the son of Mormon, during and after his work on the Nephite record. The title is Greek: euphrano means “to shout for joy”; it seems to be asserting that the name Moroni derives from the Hebrew ranan רנן, “to shout or rejoice”.

The stories are short; they contradict one another and the Book of Mormon account itself—but taken together, they make a satisfying whole. If you don’t want spoilers, stop reading here; I summarize my favorites below.

Some stories don’t seem to have a point. In one, Moroni has barely survived a plague—perhaps diphtheria—and returns to his home late in the spring. He’s told in a dream that he has to get gold to make plates, but knows he needs to plow and plant his fields. Trusting in a miracle, he goes up into the mountains to gather gold from alluvial streambeds using fleece to trap the flakes. He spends several weeks setting up traps; when he fears he can’t wait any longer to plant, he returns to find his fields plowed and planted, but also finds his thatch hut occupied by a Lamanite scouting party. That night, he creeps up to the hut, shouts a Lamanite insult and stabs a man through one of the gaps in the wall. In the confusion, the Lamanites kill each other. After burying the men, he returns to the mountain and hangs out the gold-laden fleece to dry. It’s never made clear who plowed the field; I like to think it was the Three Nephites.

There’s an amusing chapter in the Book of Mormon where Mormon repeats his own name twelve times in a single chapter, and five times in a single verse, all without mentioning himself once. Nephi, son of Helaman, writes about how his father named him after the titan-hero Nephi that came out of Jerusalem. In the Euphraneid, Moroni keeps up the tradition, playing the role of a bard singing war stories about Captain Moroni and his men.

My favorite was the retelling of the king-men plot. In this version, Amalickiah is almost vampiric: a landed lord of old blood, meting out extraordinarily harsh punishments in his jurisdiction. Both amputation and impaling were not uncommon, though any punishment could be avoided by paying a large enough fine; by paying a regular tribute, a wealthy man could be immune to the law. Amalickiah’s oath to drink Moroni’s blood was not unusual; he’d done the same to many other enemies, though where he did not have power he sought to gain it by intrigue rather than by force. Like Rasputin, he miraculously survived multiple assassination attempts. I thought it particularly fitting that Teancum played Van Helsing to Amalickiah’s Dracula, killing him with a stake through his heart.

The last story details how, after sixteen years of wandering, Moroni returns to Cumorah. He describes the lay of the land he spent so many months scouting, the remnants of the great battle he fought. He sees the bowl-shaped depression where Cumenihah’s battalion allowed themselves to be drawn out by the Lamanites using a feinted retreat. He comes to the stones of Cumorah’s fortifications and sights along them to the hidden mouth of the cave where he has stored the records; when he arrives, he finds the door open, the room empty and dark, the treasures gone. Moroni feels as though he is drowning, unable to breathe. Then a calm comes over him as he sees that this is not his Cumorah, but another; he is on a different continent, among the ruins of a different civilization that collapsed in a different great battle, their historian’s treasures plundered. His book yet lies hidden and safe, somewhere among the hills.

I said it was the last story, but here even the pseudepigrapha has dubious appendices. The first is told in third person, with no indication of who the narrator is. As it begins, Moroni is carrying the plates, struggling to reach the cave. Six men are in pursuit; they slip on scree. Moroni throws aside the vegetation masking the entrance and makes his way down long narrow passage into a room. He strides past implements, vestments, precious metals and stones, drops the plates on a table, grabs Laban’s sword from the wall. He meets the pursuers halfway down the hall; they measure swords, then attack. Moroni smites him and he falls dead; another advances and contends with him. This one also falls by his sword; a third then steps forth and meets the same fate; a fourth afterwards contends with him, but in the struggle with the fourth, Moroni, being exhausted, is killed. The remaining two tread on Moroni as they enter the cave; they slip on blood bathing the smooth rock. The cave is empty; they curse and rage. When they turn to leave, even Moroni’s sword is gone.

The final appendix is an alternate account of Joseph Smith getting plates from Moroni. It’s all wrong, but very familiar at the same time.

Joseph has recently acquired a seerstone made of polished quartz; to get some time alone, he takes a deer-trail through the woods. He reaches a widening of the trail where the canopy does not block the sunlight and he takes the stone from his pocket; it is late afternoon, and he starts a small fire by focusing the light with the lens. He’s alarmed to find that he’s unable to extinguish it and fears that he’ll start the forest on fire, but it doesn’t spread. He notices that the wood is not consumed, so immediately bends down to remove his shoes.

At this point, he’s seized from behind; despite Joseph’s fame as a grappler, his assailant was better, or at least good enough to keep Joseph from escaping. “Put out the fire!” the man commands. Joseph replies “I have tried; I cannot.” The assailant mutters some words in a language Joseph does not speak but recognizes, and he calls Moroni by name and tells Moroni to release him. Moroni refuses, citing his fear of seers. Joseph tells Moroni that he knows Moroni carries the second sign and that he should hand it over. At that, Moroni releases him.  Joseph, knowing Moroni is still skittish, doesn’t move.

“I have the first sign already,” says Joseph, and tells Moroni to check his pocket. Moroni puts his hand in to touch the stone but quickly pulls his hand back as though burned. Moroni says of the plates, “They are so heavy.”

Only now does Joseph turn and looks at Moroni. He’s about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches tall and heavy set; his face is as large and hawk-like. He is dressed in a suit of brown woolen clothes, his hair and beard white, and has on his back a sort of knapsack with something in it, shaped like a book. He is miserable and worn. Joseph summons himself and commands Moroni to give it to him immediately, or “this very moment either you or I shall die.”

At this, Moroni hands over the plates; he is ecstatic to be rid of them. As Joseph receives them, the fire goes out, and then a woman steps out of the darkness and calls Joseph by name.

It is Sallie Chase, sister to Willard, and a seer. She casts a hex on them with her green glass, then takes the plates. Mocking Joseph, she takes the seerstone from his pocket and places it into silver frames next to her green one.

At this, a column of light appears from heaven and a personage appears; walls of fire spring up on either side of the trail and force her off it. She is forced to leave the plates and stones behind. Joseph is scolded, but allowed to keep the items. Moroni fades from view and the personage ascends to heaven.

I didn’t give the book five stars because there were parts that tended to drag on a bit, but there were plenty of fun tales, too. Overall well worth the read.