Sociological: We are now presented with more specifics about Sherem. First, Sherem comes preaching. Since Sherem is coming from the outside, it appears that he has come for the purpose of this preaching. We therefore are faced with a stranger who comes into the midst of the Nephites for the specific purpose of contradicting one of the ostensibly main teachings of the Nephites, that there should be a Messiah, a Christ.
This tells us that Sherem knows of the teachings of the people of Nephi. He would be unable to preach against them if he did not know of them, and therefore he has learned of Christ prior to coming amongst the Nephites. Where did he learn of the teaching of Christ?
There are only two possible sources for this information according to the Book of Mormon, the Nephites or the Lamanites. While there is some possibility that Sherem might have learned of such things through the Jaredites, the change of language and culture highly suggests that he would have considered them somewhat different however similar. Because Sherem comes to the people of Nephi to preach against a teaching of Nephi, we must suppose that he learns of it through the Lamanites or the Nephites. But which of the two?
The first probability is the Lamanites, because they would have had the information, but have rejected it as a teaching. Their enmity with the Nephites suggests that they would have a motive for destroying Nephite faith. The most damning evidence against this hypothesis is verse 10 where Jacob asks Sherem if he believes the scriptures, and Sherem answers affirmatively. The only scriptures so termed in the New World are the brass plates. There is no indication that Laman and Lemuel had much interest in them, nor any greater than a passing interest in the religious history of the Jews. The physical plates are certainly with the Nephites, as they make an explicit presence during the coronation ritual for Mosiah. If Sherem were Lamanite, how would he know the scriptures to be able to answer yes?
The second alternative is that Sherem gets his religion from the Nephites. Doing so gives him access to the scriptures so that he may both quote them and indicate a belief in them. If, however, Sherem is a Nephite, why is he almost certainly described as a non-Nephite?
The answer to the conundrum must come in the extensive trade relations between Nephi and the surrounding communities. it appears that religion has been one of the exports, along with the scriptures to back it up. However, in the hands of the community separated from the body of the Nephites, the religion has undergone reinterpretation, an interpretation that does not read in the coming Messiah, but concentrates on the brass plates version of religion, the same basis upon which Israel built a religion which also misinterpreted the Messianic meanings of the texts.
It is in the hands of a convert to brass plate religion, but one missing the living oracles in the midst of the community of Nephi, that we find one with the ability to discuss scripture with Jacob, but one who would deny the teachings upon which Nephi and Jacob dwelt so fervently.
The hypothesis about Sherem is. then, that he is neither Nephite nor Lamanite, but one converted to the brass plate religion transmitted by trading Nephites who apparently exported their sacred documents (in copies, of course) as well as trade goods. In the separated community, Sherem comes to believe in the brass plate scriptures, but mixes his understanding with the culture and intellectual climate of his own city, and his separation from the Nephite community has deprived him of the newer Messianic teachings of Nephi and Jacob. Nevertheless, he is aware of these newer teachings, but does not have them through written scripture. He is therefore in contact with Nephites who are able to verbally pass on these newer teachings.
The only other hypothesis fitting the facts would have Sherem as an apostate Nephite who left the community and returned to challenge Jacob. He would have had to have been exiled during Jacob's lifetime, and the relatively small community of Nephites (as well as the likely dramatic circumstance of a voluntary or involuntary exile) virtually guarantees that Jacob would have known him were he a Nephite. Because Jacob clearly does not know him, nor he Jacob, it is abundantly clear that Sherem is a foreigner.
The next interesting piece of information about Sherem is that he preaches "flattering things" to the Nephites. what are these flattering things? Of course we don't have a record of them, but the fascinating anomaly of Sherem requires us to mine the available evidence. First, whatever he taught was "flattering." To be flattering, Sherem had to tell the people pleasant things, and probably had to praise them. One is flattered if one is told that they are good, or respected, or important. It isn't that hard to see that a man from a trading community, who has seen enough value in the cultural artifacts of the Nephites, and even in their religion, could find things to praise about the Nephites.
Jacob has previously preached against the pride of the Nephites, it is quite likely that Sherem preached to it, using their own opinions of their prosperity as evidence of their blessedness before God. The fact that Sherem enters preaching from their own scriptures is also not only flattering, but a point on which the people may accept the flattery, and believe that they maintain their scriptural heritage. The preaching of flattering things is precisely what one would expect of a Sherem with the hypothetical background here ascribed to him. It places him in a position to be believed.
Now Sherem has come specifically to preach against the Jacob/ Nephite Christ. Why would he do that? Of course one may presume that this is a true contest between religions, but it seems rather strange that this missionary would come to preach the Law of Moses to the Nephites. Indeed he does not, but preaches rather against the specific newer teachings of Nephi and Jacob. Again, why would he do so?
Once again the likely scenario lies in the history of Jacob's sermons. the temple sermon recorded at the beginning of the book of Jacob has Jacob in direct conflict with influential traders in Nephi. Jacob preaches against them directly, and condemns their practices. It would be these very men who would have been the source of the exported copies of the brass plate texts which Sherem has learned. Thus there is a very high likelihood that Sherem's understanding of this adopted religion comes through a perspective skewed by the interests of the traders who introduced it to him, and who were in social conflict with Jacob.
As we will see, Sherem specifically searches out Jacob. The implications are that Sherem's mission is to discredit Jacob's teaching and thereby decrease the internal opposition (internal to the community of Nephi) to the practices of the prideful traders.
As noted at the end of chapter 6, Jacob appears to have given a final speech as formal preacher to the people. Following this scenario of social intrigue, the rich and influential traders would have had Jacob removed from office. However, his continued preaching in unofficial capacities would have still influenced some of the members of the community, such as the more numerous part of the population that was not sharing in the wealth of the traders. As a further move to decrease the influence of Jacob, Sherem shows up. It is very tempting to see the trader's behind Sherem and his mission - in more ways than one.