Book of Mormon/Anachronisms/Biblical/Firstling sacrifices

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Nephite burnt offerings and their consistency with Jewish law and practice

Summary: It is claimed that the Book of Mormon report that Nephites offered burnt offerings of the firstlings of their flocks is not consistent with Jewish law or practice. While firstlings were not used for every sacrifice, they certainly did have a role in the sacrificial practices of Israel. The critics have misunderstood the Bible on this point.

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Question: Is the statement in the Book of Mormon that Nephites offered burnt offerings of the firstlings of their flocks not consistent with ancient Jewish law or practice?

Firstlings were not used for every sacrifice, but they did have a role in the sacrificial practices of Israel

Critics claim that the Book of Mormon report that Nephites offered burnt offerings of the firstlings of their flocks is not consistent with Jewish law or practice. However, while firstlings were not used for every sacrifice, they certainly did have a role in the sacrificial practices of Israel. The critics have misunderstood the Bible on this point.


Maxwell Institute: "It is true that firstlings...were not used for the normal burnt offering. However it is a mistake to think that they were not sacrificed at all"

Journal of Book of Mormon Studies Vol 8, No 1:

It is true that firstlings (the first lambs or calves born to their mothers) were not used for the normal burnt offering. However it is a mistake to think that they were not sacrificed at all. Under Mosaic law as given in Exodus 13:12 and 15 the firstborn of flocks and herds were dedicated to the Lord and were to be given to the Levites for their use. Other Israelites were forbidden to use them for work or economic gain (see Deuteronomy 15:19–20). On appointed occasions, the people were to take those firstlings to the temple where they would be slain as sacrifices. Deuteronomy 12:5–6 commanded that to the designated sacrificial altar "ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes . . . and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks." Their blood was to be sprinkled on the altar and their fat burned (see Deuteronomy 18:17–18). What was left of the meat then was given to the individual making the offering for him and his family to eat in a specified place (see Deuteronomy 15:19–20). Thus we see that the statement in the book of Mosiah that firstling animals were brought to the temple in Zarahemla and sacrificed is not contrary to the commandments given to Moses.[1]


Matthew Roper: "While apparently not used for the burnt offering, firstlings could and frequently were used along with other animals in the sacrificial peace offering"

Matthew Roper:

First, while firstlings, as we currently understand their use in ancient Israel, were probably not offered as the olah or burnt offering in ancient Israel, as Anderson notes, "It would not be accurate to say that the requirements for the burnt offering, peace offering, and reparation offering were rigidly fixed; there was room for variability"; "for the burnt offering one had to offer a male animal from the herd or flock. . . . The peace offering could be either a male or a female from the herd or flock."29 There is no question, however, that the firstlings of clean domesticated animals were sacrificed in the peace offering, as were other animals. "In early Palestinian experience the firstlings of the flock and herd were sacrificed at the local sanctuary."30 In fact, "Any domesticated animal from the herd or flock, male or female (Leviticus 3:1, 6, 12), was permissible" for the peace offering.31 Under Mosaic law the firstlings (i.e. firstborn animals) of flocks and herds were dedicated to the Lord (Exodus 13:12, 15) and were given to the Levites. The Israelites were forbidden from using them for work or gain (Deuteronomy 15:19-20) and were required to bring them to the temple during their pilgrimage festivals, where they would be sacrificed (Deuteronomy 12:5-6). Their blood was sprinkled upon the altar and their fat was burned (Numbers 18:17-18). What was left then was given to the individual and his family to eat that same day (Deuteronomy 15:19-20). Thus Lamb and the Tanners grossly misunderstand the sacrificial role of firstlings when they claim that the firstlings were not sacrificed. While apparently not used for the burnt offering, firstlings could and frequently were used along with other animals in the sacrificial peace offering. The Book of Mormon correctly states that the Nephites brought their firstlings to the temple to be sacrificed, for firstlings clearly were sacrificed at the temple.[2]

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. "Authority to sacrifice among the Nephites? Did the Nephites sacrifice first-born animals contrary to the law of Moses?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies Vol 8, No 1, Neal A. Maxwell Institute (1999)
  2. Matthew Roper, "A Black Hole That's Not So Black," Review of Books on the Book of Mormon Vol. 6, No. 1 (1994)