In a previous post I reviewed Jad Hatem’s Postponing Heaven, recently published in English by BYU’s Maxwell Institute. Hatem sets out to draw parallels between Mormonism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Islam by examining how each tradition expresses what Hatem terms “human messianicity.” In this post I would like to further explore and expand on some of Hatem’s ideas by focussing on the two primary ways human messianicity is expressed in both Mayahana Buddhism and Mormonism.1
Supernatural Human Messianicity in LDS Theology
In Postponing Heaven Hatem focuses on the eschatological and soteriological roles of both the Three Nephites in Mormon theology and Bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism. Hatem discusses the supernatural aspects of the Three Nephites who have had their lives preserved and extended in order to bring Christian salvation to others. Similarly, Bodhisattvas have willfully delayed passing into Nirvana, becoming Buddhas, in order to assist other sentient beings obtain enlightenment or awakening and as such, have become god-like with abilities to both observe and intervene in human affairs. This form of human messianicity has two primary characteristics. First, human beings knowingly and willfully extend their connection to and involvement with this world despite their qualification for transcendence. Second, these human messiahs are either gifted or granted supernatural power or obtain it by virtue of their own merit. They do so in order to act as emissaries of something greater than themselves.
LDS folklore is replete with examples of supernatural intervention by Three Nephites. In these stories the Nephites provide aid and comfort to those in need. For example, a description of one popular story can be found here:
This story usually has sister missionaries knocking on the door of a serial killer not realizing the danger they are in. They speak to the man for a few minutes, trying to convince him to let them in to speak more about the Book of Mormon. He is very short with them and turns them away.
A few days later the authorities capture the serial killer (it is often a well-known killer like Jeffery Dahmer). Somehow the police know that he had the chance to kill the sister missionaries and asks why the serial killer did not allow them into his house. The serial killer says, “I was scared of the three huge Indian warriors that were standing behind them.”
According to the Book of Mormon the Three Nephites will play a role in the events leading up to the millennial reign of Jesus Christ and yet, as we have seen expressed in folklore, they are also involved in meeting earthly human needs. It is this directly earthly involvement in human affairs that sets the Three Nephites apart from Moses, Elijah, and John the Baptist — among others — who have had key roles in the Restoration but whose activities appear to be exclusive to specific theologically significant events involving the Prophet Joseph Smith. Continue reading “Saints and Bodhisattvas: Mortal Human Messianicity in Mormonism and Mahayana Buddhism” »