Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Opposition, 7 – Structures in 2 Nephi 2:11

Posted by joespencer on October 30, 2012

My apologies for the length and detail of the preceding four posts. I wanted to work through all the various translations possible, largely to uproot any sense we might have that there’s a straightforwardly obvious way of interpreting 2 Nephi 2:11, as well as to bring out a number of textual issues that the not-entirely-textually-focused interpretive tradition among English-speaking commentators ignores entirely. I think that has been productive, though I have my worries about how many people will have stopped reading by this point!

But I’d like to get on, now, to bringing out a few structural issues with the text—something I promised to do quite a while ago now. Some preliminary work has already been done in this regard as we’ve considered the translations. But there’s more to do, so let’s get to work!

First, let me remind readers of the text as we’ve fixed it. (We’ve had to leave that behind while looking at translations, note.) Here it is:

. . . —for it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my first born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass—neither wickedness: neither happiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one. Wherefore, if it should be one body, it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

That’s the text we’re working with. Now what structures are at work in it?

First, it’s easy enough to note that there is a kind of parallel between the second and fourth sentences here:

* If not so, my first born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass—neither wickedness: neither happiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.
* Wherefore, if it should be one body, it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Note the clear parallels: “if not so” and “if it should be one body,” of course, but then the parallel strings of opposites (ethical in the first place, existential in the second). Both of these sentences explore the way in which an absence of ontological opposition (opposition in all things) would disallow other sorts of opposition, and each does so by posing a hypothetical situation (“if”). There’s little question that the two sentences should be seen in relation to one another.

But what, then, of the other two sentences? Might they also be parallel to one another?

* —for it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.
* Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.

Note a few clear indications of parallel construction: “for” and “wherefore”; “must needs be” appears in both cases; “all things” plays a role in both.” It seems inescapable that there is meant to be a certain sort of relationship between these two phrases. The interpretive question—one that has been posed to us quite profoundly in the course of our work on the translations of this passage—is whether this parallel is to be understood as antithetical or not. Is it meant to set up a kind of antithesis between “an opposition in all things” and “all things [being] a compound in one,” or is there a kind of equivalence between these two sentences? But that’s a question we’ll leave for another, more interpretive post. For the moment, structure is what matters to us.

So we’ve got, so far, something like the following:

for it must needs be that there is an opposition in all things.
___If not so, my first born in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to passneither wickedness: neither happiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.
Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one.
___Wherefore, if it should be one body, it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.

Now, can a bit more can be said about the structures of the second and fourth sentences? How significant is it that the one discusses three sets of opposites while the other discusses four? We’ve already discussed—however briefly—the possibility that one of the four sets of opposites in the fourth sentence actually shouldn’t be there, since it replicates in the midst of the existential opposites one of the ethical opposites from the other series. If we wanted to play a hard line on parallel structures, we might suggest that the structure we’re already uncovering adds evidence to the case for removing the “happiness nor misery” bit from the last sentence of the verse. I’m still skittish about doing that, but it’s certainly worth noting.

But what’s to be said about the asymmetry if we don’t remove the apparently excessive ethical opposition in the fourth sentence? We have:

(2) If not so: (a) righteousness/wickedness; (b) happiness/misery; (c) good/bad.
(4) If one body: (a) life/death; (b) corruption/incorruption; (c) happiness/misery; (d) sense/insensibility.

There’s no real discernible structure at the more detailed level, it seems. Even if the happiness/misery coupling is removed from the fourth sentence, setting up a kind of symmetry, there’s no further structure revealed. I think, for the moment, we can simply leave the structure as we’ve got it.

So let’s let this suffice, for now, for the structure of verse 11. We’ll have to decide further along what all of this says about the meaning of the passage. And now, beginning with the next post, we can begin to ask interpretive questions—not at the descriptive or historical level, but at the prescriptive or theological level.

4 Responses to “Opposition, 7 – Structures in 2 Nephi 2:11”

  1. [...] Teaching the Gospel in the Savior’s Way Opposition, 7 – Structures in 2 Nephi 2:11 [...]

  2. [...] Opposition, 6.4 – 2 Nephi 2:11 in Spanish Translation « Feast upon the Word Blog on Opposition, 7 – Structures in 2 Nephi 2:11 [...]

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  4. Robert C. said

    FYI, Joe — I at least am still reading (though it took me a bit to get this post…). :-)

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