D. John Butler received his law degree from New York University and currently practices law in Idaho. He is also a fiction writer and the author of The Goodness and the Mysteries: On the Path of the Book of Mormon’s Visionary Men. In Plain and Precious Things, Butler casts the beginning of the Book of Mormon in a specific light: Lehi and Nephi as spiritual outsiders looking in on a corrupt Jerusalem. According to Butler, Nephi and Lehi’s teachings contradict many of the Jewish doctrines in Jerusalem that are described in the latter part of 2 Kings.
Josiah was the king of Judah and a contemporary to Lehi, and although the Old Testament generally implies in its history that Josiah’s reforms are positive, Butler shows, through the lives and visions of Nephi and Lehi, that many of those reforms were corrupt and contributed to Jerusalem’s destruction.
Butler takes Nephi at his word about his writings: they were written to restore the “plain and precious things” that had been removed from Hebrew scripture and temple practices. In particular, Lehi’s dream and Nephi’s vision can be seen as temple visions that corrected and transcended the practices found in Jerusalem’s temple. Scholars in biblical studies, particularly Margaret Barker in The Older Testament, have taken a critical look at Josiah’s influence and the changes he made to the Jewish temple and religion. Butler’s argument is similar, except it is taken from the Book of Mormon and shows 1 Nephi’s tree of life visions in the context of the temple—a perspective most readers may not have considered.
Those interested in temple studies will find Plain and Precious Things particularly interesting, but any Latter-day Saint will enjoy this book because of its straightforward style and singular interpretation. Butler guides readers through some complex reasoning in a way that is friendly both to lay readers and those who study the temple from a scholarly perspective. This book encourages readers to think deeply and discover new layers of meaning about the temple and tree of life, along with considering the inexhaustible richness of the Book of Mormon.