Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

BoM Lesson 3

Posted by BrianJ on January 13, 2008

1 Nephi 8-11; 12:16-18; 15

I’m going to try to highlight some of the online resources for this lesson, as well as add a few thoughts of my own.

Greatest Challenge
Okay, obviously this is just my opinion, but…. I think what will be most difficult for many trachers of this lesson is that they will try to “cover it all.” Certainly that’s a potential problem with every lesson, but the challenge here is that it is actually possible to do it. The result is a lesson where the teacher reads through each symbol, asks the class what it means, and succeeds in getting through the lesson without ever getting to the lesson.

One could argue for taking that kind of approach with small children or very new members, but it really would become an argument (at least from me). I just don’t see how memorization or matching games helps anyone. I don’t care whether my 6-year old knows what the “rod of iron stand for” or not; what I desire is that it means something to her.

The “solution” is obvious: pick one thing to discuss and do it well. I hope that what follows will give you some ideas and resources to do just that.

Commonly Addressed Themes
Obviously, most commentaries focused on the Vision of the Tree of Life—the title of the lesson—and most lesson plans break down the material by Visions and People.
Bill Beardall has a nice collection of related quotes from various church leaders.
James E. Neumann begins with a brief discussion of some other dreams in the scriptures. I like this approach and think it could be developed more fully into a complete (45 min) lesson. Neumann breaks down the lesson by topic: i.e., all verses pertaining to the rod of iron, then all those concerning the people Lehi saw, etc. He concludes with a word exercise on the “4 C’s”:

“Mark the following words in your scriptures: commence (1 Nephi 8:22), caught hold (1 Nephi 8:24), clinging (1 Nephi 8:24), and continually (1 Nephi 8:30). These words help us understand what we must do to reach the tree of life: we must commence in the strait and narrow path, catch hold of the rod of iron and cling to it, and continue moving toward the tree.”

Meridian Magazine has a short article on the meaning of the tree:

“What is this tree that is so irresistibly delicious? Our quick answer is the “love of God,” which is indeed correct, but a more detailed answer is given Nephi in chapter 11…. The tree is the Savior and his atonement that is represented as so inexpressibly beautiful and sweet.”

Brad Constantine inserts sometimes extensive color-coded commentary (often quoting from various other sources) into the full text of the scriptures. The benefit is that it includes commentary on verses outside of Lehi’s dream (e.g., chapter 15), but I hesitate to use it in creating a lesson because the format gives a sort of “this is all there is” feel (though I highly doubt that that was the intent of the author). Rather, I would work on my own lesson and then go there to consult on a particular verse.
Ted Gibbons does a nice job of moving past what the symbols represent to what they mean:

“If someone chooses to leave the rod and the path, what other roads does the dream indicate that they might then walk?” “Why would Satan want our eyes to be blinded? What are the things in the dream he does not want us to see? Why would Satan not want us to see the tree/the rod/the river of filthy water?” “If the tree, the rod and the river are obscured, what are people left to seek in the dream?” “Take some time to identify the four groups of people mentioned in the dream. Compare the characteristics of each of the groups. You will find an interesting comparison between these groups and the four groups in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.”

PonderIt has an introduction to Margaret Barker seminar on the OT meaning of “white fruit” and “rod of iron.” I highly, highly recommend looking into the part about the rod of iron (especially if you will be attending my class; hint, hint).
Brant Gardiner posted extensive notes. Here are a few highlights:

“It is tempting to look only at verse 24 and not the importance of clinging to the iron rod. …. The iron rod is a guide, not an end.”

“The most difficult image is the building standing in the air – “high above the earth.” It appears likely that the building is shown detached from the “world” because the large and spacious field in which Lehi stands is representative of the larger path to celestialization, and the building has no part in that. It is visible to it, it obviously can effect it, but has no true place in the world of the tree.”

“Something about his father’s vision struck Nephi more strongly than any other vision his father had received. Nephi did not request … a replay of the vision which sent the brothers back to Jerusalem for the brass plates. Nevertheless, this vision impresses him tremendously. The reason for that impression is not in the symbology which Nephi has already described, but in the ultimate meaning of those symbols, the meaning of which is the part of the vision which so intrigued him that he would ponder it.”

“In verse 33 Nephi sees Christ lifted up on the cross and slain. This event in the life of Christ had such a profound impact on the Christian community that the cross is the quintessential symbol for Christ throughout much of the world. The imagery of that death, and the language of the cross permeate the New Testament letters. How does this image appear in the Book of Mormon?”

“Neglected” Points
Because most commentaries focus on the dreams, many important and interesting points are often neglected (but not on purpose!). For example, I found only one blog post that even briefly discussed the phrase “one eternal round” in 10:19 and a little bit of discussion on the Feast Wiki (see here and here).

Why is that? Is it because we don’t find the phrase important (I doubt this), don’t notice it (focus entirely on the vision), or just don’t understand it well enough to say anything about it? I’ll confess that I fall a bit into the last category: I really don’t get it.

Other “neglected” points include:
• Discussion of the two waters mentioned in the dreams. See 11:25 and 12:16. Were there more than two bodies of water in the dream? What’s going on in 12:16?
• Not much discussion about the gulf that divides (12:16-18). What is the gulf that divides them? Who does it divide? How? What does “divide” mean? Is the “word of the justice of God” the same as the iron rod, or something else? How is God’s word sometimes represented as something that “divides”?
• A lot (and I mean a ubiquitous lot) of discussion points to the “4 C’s,” but surprisingly little commentary challenges the idea. What are the 4 C’s? “Commence (1 Nephi 8:22), Caught hold (1 Nephi 8:24), Clinging (1 Nephi 8:24), and Continually (1 Nephi 8:30).” Are all of the C’s good things? NathanG on the Feast Blog challenges the idea that clinging to the rod is a good thing, given that those who did so ate the fruit and then fell away. Was their loyalty entirely toward the rod and not the tree? Be sure to read the short discussion that follows.
New Cool Thang has a very nice post on “the way” as used in various scriptures, from OT to BoM. Note also the first comment, which elaborates this theme throughout the BoM. I really liked this as a potential lesson focus.

Study Questions
Mostly, I will highlight some of the questions that I think would be worth developing into mini- or full lessons. The first set come from the Feast Wiki:
• As members of the church, who leads us to the tree?
• Why would Lehi pray for mercy while traveling in the darkness? Was there something more to the dream than just being in the dark?
• Why does this verse echo the phrase “a tree to be desired to make one wise” found in Gen 3:6?
• Why was it necessary for the iron rod to follow the route of the river from its head to the tree?
• What does it mean that the people “fell down”? (8:30)
• Is power the only thing the Lord uses to fulfill his words? (9:6)
• Extensive discussion of 10:1-4 is found on the Feast Wiki. I don’t know how it would work in a Sunday School lesson, but I found it interesting.
• What does it mean to be “led with one accord”? (10:13)
• What is the difference in the faith expressed by someone who believes that the Lord can do something versus one who believes the Lord will do something? When is each appropriate? (11:1)
• Compare Nephi’s ‘formula’ for having the mysteries of God unfolded to Alma’s formula for nourishing a seed of faith in Alma 32:41: (1) have desire, (2) nourish this desire with faith, diligence and patience. (See accompanying exegesis of chapter 11 on the Wiki.)
• What exactly is the condescension of God? Why does the angel ask Nephi about the condescension of God rather than about something else? (11:16)
• “Word of God” can be understood in two ways: (1) as in Hebrews 11:3, where it means simply “God’s words” or (more often) (2) God’s revelations.
• Verse 11:34 tells us that the building is the wisdom of the world. If we compare that to 1 Nephi 8:26-27 we see that the world and its wisdom is derision of those who are outside. What does that mean? 1 Ne 12:18 says that the building is human vain imaginations and pride. How do those three versions of the building fit with one another?
• What did it mean to “hold fast” to the scriptures for a people who had no concept of, or experience with, personal ownership of scriptures? (15:24)
• Very interesting questions about hell, justice, gulf, etc. in 15:26-36.

Jim F. posted notes for chapter 11 on Times and Seasons. Here are some of my favorites (whatever that means):
• Compare the personage who responds to Nephi’s desire with that who responded to Lehi (1 Nephi 1:5-6). Are they the same being?
• Before Lehi saw the tree, he went through a dark and dreary space and a large and spacious field (1 Nephi 8:7-9). Why do you think those things are omitted from Nephi’s experience?
• Why is beauty a representation of good and godliness? What do you make of the fact that verses 13 and 15 describe the virgin in the same language used in verses 8-9 to describe the tree? How is the birth of Christ the interpretation of or explanation of the tree?
• Having seen the birth, Nephi says that the tree is the love of God (verse 22). How does he get that from what he has seen?
• Why does Nephi see a vision of the crucifixion of Jesus, but not of his resurrection?

And a few questions of my own:
• 11:2 – When are we asked a question similar to what Nephi is asked by the Spirit? Is that coincidence or an important insight into Nephi’s experience? Does that relate to Nephi’s admonitions in chapter 15?
• 15:10 – “How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?” Is the comma original? Try reading it with and without.
• 15:20 – Why do Nephi’s brothers respond so well to him here as opposed to how they responded in the past? What is different?
• 15:34-35 – Nephi explains the existence of hell in an interesting way: you have all these souls that cannot go to heaven, so there had to be some place to put them. Why would the devil prepare hell? What does that even mean? Nephi doesn’t even hint at anything like the three degree of glory (i.e., celestial, terrestrial, telestial), but promotes a dichotomous view: heaven or hell. Why?

Other Stuff
I wouldn’t ever want to deal with this in class, but here and here is some information for members of the yet-to-be-organized “Archaeologist Ward”. It’s about a possible (or not) Mesoamerican rendering (Stela 5) of Lehi’s dream.

Here is some info on Joseph Smith Sr.’s dream, which was remarkably similar to Lehi’s.

37 Responses to “BoM Lesson 3”

  1. cherylem said

    Wow, Brian. Thanks! And thanks for posting so early in the week.

  2. Joe Spencer said

    Great notes, Brian.

    Can I recommend Dan Peterson’s article on 1 Nephi 8 as well? http://farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=jbms&id=223

    Also, I think the simplest, most straightforward interpretation of 1 Nephi 8 has to be in terms of the family’s immediate situation: the tree and the river are where they are staying in the desert, the large and spacious building is Jerusalem or even the temple (as Jeremiah would have interpreted it), etc.

    I entirely agree that 1 Nephi 10:17-22 is entirely neglected. In a sense, I think those verses are one of the three or four most important parts of Nephi’s entire two-volume text. Far more attention needs to be given to them.

  3. Robert C. said

    Regarding “one eternal round” (1 Ne 10:19), I stumbled on this interesting summary at wikipedia of Mircea Eliade’s take on “eternal return,” the bit about his The Myth of the Eternal Return looks esp. interesting. That, coupled with Nibley’s chapter on “One Eternal Round” in Temple and Cosmos seems like good starting points for this thinking about “one eternal round,” but I’d be esp. interested in more recent discussions of the this (esp. discussing Eliade’s take on this). I’m going go ahead and past one of the quotes from the Eliade’s book that is on the wikipedia page—I think it shows an interesting way how we might think about Nephi’s words in light of the recent war on terror:

    In our day, when historical pressure no longer allows any escape, how can man tolerate the catastrophes and horrors of history—from collective deportations and massacres to atomic bombings—if beyond them he can glimpse no sign, no transhistorical meaning; if they are only the blind play of economic, social, or political forces, or, even worse, only the result of the ‘liberties’ that a minority takes and exercises directly on the stage of universal history?

    We know how, in the past, humanity has been able to endure the sufferings we have enumerated: they were regarded as a punishment inflicted by God, the syndrome of the decline of the ‘age,’ and so on. And it was possible to accept them precisely because they had a metahistorical meaning […] Every war rehearsed the struggle between good and evil, every fresh social injustice was identified with the sufferings of the Saviour (or, for example, in the pre-Christian world, with the passion of a divine messenger or vegetation god), each new massacre repeated the glorious end of the martyrs. […] By virtue of this view, tens of millions of men were able, for century after century, to endure great historical pressures without despairing, without committing suicide or falling into that spiritual aridity that always brings with it a relativistic or nihilistic view of history. [The Myth of Eternal Return, pp. 151-52]

    Joe, I’m guessing you would end up finding a lot of support and insight for a typological hermeneutic/theology in passage (1 Ne 10:17ff)….

  4. Go Brian, Go!

  5. brianj said

    Joe – Thanks for including the Peterson article. I had that in my notes to post and somehow it escaped.

  6. Jim F. said

    Brianj, you’ve done a great service to anyone trying to prepare a lesson this week by bringing so many things from all over together.



  7. Joe Spencer said

    Robert, thanks for making note of Eliade’s book. It’s on my “buy-this-as-soon-as-I-run-across-a-well-priced-copy-of-it-randomly” list (most of Eliade’s work is on that list, and, though I’ve picked up four or five of his titles for a dollar or less over the past couple of years, I’ve still not stumbled on a well-priced copy of this one). I think that is a good place to start, though I will note that Nibley’s article by that name is not on that idea exactly (it is an assessment of hermeticism from a temple perspective for the most part).

  8. Geoff J said

    Nice post Brian. (And thanks to Robert for that great link the the summary at wikipedia of Mircea Eliade’s take on eternal return — I gotta mention that in my Eternal Round thread over at the Thang).

    I thought I’d also mention that the “one eternal round” verses that show up several times in the LDS canon have been popular over the years with the folks who go for the multiple mortal probations notion of the eternities.

  9. brianj said

    All: I’m happy that you found the notes useful. Thanks for the encouragement!

    Ok, Robert, I was going to try to comment on “eternal return,” but I’m sure I just don’t grasp the idea. But something about Eliade’s idea about “becoming contemporary with the events described in one’s myths” seems interesting to me. I doubt this is Eliade’s argument, but could we read “one eternal round” to mean that God’s course (or purpose) is to make us contemporary with Him—not in the sense that he currently exists and I currently exist and therefore we exist at the same time (i.e., we are “contemporaries”), but rather in the sense that he currently exists outside of the “here-and-now” life that I lead and that I can someday join him in his eternal life and thereby truly be his “contemporary” ??

  10. Robert C. said

    Brian, yes, I think this is what Eliade’s trying to say, though I don’t claim to understand his work—after all, I haven’t read his book!

    By the way, these ideas, esp. the way you’ve articulated them, seem very related to what interests me in Ricoeur (here and here are my previous posts on Ricoeur) and other (mostly Continental) philosophers who think about how and what it means to read and study scripture, how we bring the past into the present by means of our imagination, and this engagement changes us. And I think this is also at the heart of what Joe kept arguing about way back when in terms of what he doesn’t like about simply saying we should apply the scriptures to ourselves; rather, it is hearing the call of scripture that allows us to enter into a different life, a life that is somehow of an eternal nature—not so much that such a life merely lasts forever, but that it is qualitatively eternal, perhaps in that we are eternally bound by what we say, like the way the sealing power of the priesthood works…?

  11. Cherylem said

    Robert #10,
    I think I’ll use what you wrote in next Sunday’s lesson.

  12. NathanG said

    “like about simply saying we should apply the scriptures to ourselves; rather, it is hearing the call of scripture that allows us to enter into a different life”. Something about how you said that really struck me. It’s much clearer to me now. Thanks.

  13. Ben McGuire said

    I have always felt that there is more than just a little irony with this lesson.

    The purpose of the lesson (as given in the manual) is:

    To help class members understand the symbols in the vision of the tree of life and the application of these symbols in their lives.

    The point of the text itself (at least as far as I read it) seems to go in a different direction. Lehi has this vision in which he sees a Tree of Life, a path to it, a wilderness, and so on. He shares this vision with his family. And then his family provides us with two rather different responses. Nephi writes (about himself):

    “And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the awords of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a bvision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the cMessiah who should come—I, Nephi, was ddesirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the eHoly Ghost, which is the fgift of God unto gall those who diligently seek him, as well in times of hold as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.”

    Then we have Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, of whom we read:

    “And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought. … I spake unto my brethren, desiring to know of them the cause of their disputations. And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive-tree, and also concerning the Gentiles. And I said unto them: Have ye ainquired of the Lord? And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us. Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.”

    Nephi wasn’t challenging Lehi, or Lehi’s prophetic calling when he went to the Lord to see the vision which Lehi had described. Revelation is experiential, and Nephi felt the need to experience it – free from the interpretation of his father. It is especially interesting to me to see that because it was experienced, that Nephi’s vision was both the same as his father’s, and different. The same because he saw what his father saw; different because he saw it through different eyes. As Nephi tells us later with regards to the river of water flowing along side the iron rod:

    “And they [his brothers] said unto me: What meaneth the ariver of water which our father saw? And I said unto them that the awater which my father saw was bfilthiness; and so much was his mind swallowed up in other things that he beheld not the filthiness of the water.”

    Soren Kierkegaard gave us the parable of the King’s Decree. He asks us to imagine a country in which a royal decree goes out. Instead of complying with the with the new command, however, the subjects of the kingdom instead begin to interpret it. Every day, new interpretations are provided – and soon, no one can keep track of the various offerings. Kierkegaard tells us everything is interpretation – but no one reads the royal ordinance in such a way that he acts accordingly.

    Our experience of revelation, I have learned, tends to both confirm and alter our understanding of what is given to us. When we speak to God and God reveals to us the things which we desire to know, it becomes personal and significant, and there is no debate over interpretation. And this empowers us to act accordingly. And so it is with Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. The lesson manual spends a great deal of time explaing to us (or encouraging us to explain to one another) the symbolism associated with this vision. But this isn’t the lesson that Nephi is trying to teach us. After all, in having the symbolism explained to us, we aren’t experiencing the revelation. We are merely filtering it. The real lesson of the vision of the Tree of Life is that we should go to God and ask to experience the revelation. Otherwise, as we sit in the Gospel Doctrine class, we are no different from Laman and Lemuel, having the vision explained to us – and not experienced. Not even the explanations of inspired men – prophets of God – can replace this experience. And should we ask and receive, we shouldn’t expect that our experience will be the same. God will speak to us as we need. As Nephi later comments:

    “For the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding”

    Only in experiencing revelation are we really empowered to act accordingly, instead of being lost in an endless stream of interpretation.

    Now a couple of comments on the interpretation itself. There is, I think, a distinct connection being drawn here that Nephi is using to connect this vision to the creation narrative in Genesis 1:1-3. Among other things is the cherubim and a flaming sword – which turns every way to keep the way of the tree of life. So Nephi in Chapter 15 talks about the “justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous; and the brightness thereof was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire, which ascendeth up unto God forever and ever, and hath no end.” Also, there is an error in which the original manuscript in 12:18 read “And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the word of the justice of the Eternal God …” which originally read: “And a great and a terrible gulf divideth them; yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God …” which again takes us back to that imagery of Genesis 3.

    Finally, it has been speculated on that the imagery of the tree struck a chord with Nephi and Lehi who were probably familiar with the notion of the Asherah found in Palestine during the time they were there.

    Anyway, just some thoughts.

  14. Robert C. said

    Ben, AMEN to your thoughts on the point of the story and how symbols call for us to engage and interpret them rather than to be simply dissected and then read prosaically.

    Also, your note on 1 Ne 12:18 reminded me of this very interesting post on Lehi’s vision at the New Cool Thang blog (Jacob actually did a series of 3 posts, see here and here for the other 2 posts which also have a fair bit of discussion of the sword, the rod, and the Word (one of the comments links to this article by John Tvedtnes, “Rod and Sword as the Word of God,” JBMS v. 5 no. 2).

  15. Joe Spencer said

    Thank you, Ben, for putting things so clearly here. I read 1 Nephi 10 with my (four-year-old) daughter yesterday afternoon and asked if she thought Nephi could have the vision his father had had. She said yes, of course. But when I asked her if she thought she could ask Heavenly Father and have the same dream, she wasn’t entirely convinced (this likely had something to do with the fact that she just then remembered her dream from the night before and began to recount it…). But I think this is absolutely vital: we are calling people, not to apply the text to themselves, but to live it.

  16. Doug said


    In reference to your comments on the Neumann Institute a clarification is in order. The lesson materials posted on that site are prepared directly from the Gospel Doctrine manual. They are not original lesson plans, but adhere strictly to the plans provided by the Church. The approach and 3 “c’s” you reference are directly from the Gospel Doctrine manual.

  17. brianj said

    Doug, thanks for the correction. (I guess I have to confess that I did not consult the teacher’s manual here (this year, anyway).)

  18. NathanG said

    I have two thoughts on living this vision.

    First, a bishop of mine (in PEC or something akin to that) talked about members of our ward who needed to repent and who could probably be described as being in the large and spacious building. He talked to us about how we need to be supportive of those trying to make it back to the path because of the journey they had to make. The person in the large and spacious building needed to leave the building and be able to cross the river of filthiness, or they neeeded to cross through hell, to even make it back to the path and the rod. It set me off on thinking of various journeys through the vision that people could potentially make.

    Second, do people tend to think of the journey along the path to the tree as a chronological representation of their life? If so, at what point do we partake of the fruit of the tree (and what happens after that)? Alternatively, can we simultaneously be everywhere in the vision. Should we consider how we are constantly partaking of the tree, but constantly holding fast to the iron rod in the mist of darkness; constantly staying on the path, but simultaneously considering how we feel about being in the great and spacious building? It might be tempting to take the first approach and feel that I’m safely on the path clinging to the rod, unwilling to consider that I’m being overwhelmed by pride and never truly coming to know my savior.

  19. cherylem said

    Nathan #18, I like this very much.

    And following on Nathan’s comments, I’m thinking as I’m preparing my notes that I’d like to ask my class, and myself, to read the vision as if we/I am Lehi or Nephi. That is, let the “I/you” replace the vision narrator. I’d like to throw out all definitions of the symbols, and just let the symbols be, the visuals unfolding before us as the “I/you” makes our way through the vision. What does the vision mean in the personal sense? If you/I were having this vision today, would the symbols mean something in your/my life today? Could the vision be a means or vehicle of personal revelation?

    After reading comments here at FUTW, and doing study to prepare for Sunday, I am inclined to think that naming the symbols separates them from us, makes them less useful, even less than useful. That is, it will be very difficult to understand the symbols as Lehi/Nehi understood them in their Near Eastern 600 B.C. context. So naming them, defining them, having the symbols explained to us, puts us in the position of Laman and Lemuel, like Ben says. This is not a math problem or a dictionary, but a living vision. We want to be a Lehi or a Nephi. I think we want to desire the vision for ourselves.

    What do you think of asking the class, for maybe 30 minutes of the class time, to “live” the vision?

  20. brianj said

    cheryl, I think it’s an intriguing idea, and should be successful even if it only gets people to think anew about the vision. I don’t think, however, that we can completely divorce ourselves from the definition of the symbols. The answer, I think, to your question, “If you/I were having this vision today, would the symbols mean something in your/my life today?” is perhaps that I would have a very different vision with very different symbolism but with the same meaning. So I think to some extent we have to try to see from Nephi/Lehi’s point of view, and that means confining ourselves somewhat. It’s all “through a glass darkly” until you and I take up Nephi’s implicit challenge and demand to receive the vision for ourselves.

  21. Joe Spencer said

    It seems to me that Nephi and Lehi saw very different visions in a sense. They saw the same images… or types. That is, I think it would be a wonderful idea for people to experience the vision itself, to engage the types apart from any particular interpretation… after they see that the images and types are multiply interpretable. For example, it seems clear to me that Lehi understood the entire vision in terms of his immediate call to get out of Jerusalem, while Nephi understood the same images as embodying a history of the covenant in a much broader sense. Piecing together the vision as such might thus be a very helpful exercise, but I think it is helpful to see, from the text, that it is variably interpretable.

  22. cherylem said

    Regarding the Asherah (comment #2’s link and the very end of comment #13), see



    here is a picture (showing Asherah with a trunk bottom and a nursing top)


    Here is something interesting:


    Another picture is here: http://jblstatue.com/pages/asherah.html

    An interesting thing to think about is Joseph Smith seeing his vision in the sacred GROVE – also a symbol of Asherah.

  23. cherylem said

    Regarding female imagery in a patriarchal religion, such as we have today, the temple has always fascinated me with its sense of entering a womb, of being reborn there. The outside of our temples are often all sharp edges and upwardly pointing phallic columns and points, but the insides seem to me to be everything that is feminine regarding sacred space, including even the language that is spoken there, which is all in symbols – a feminine voice.

  24. Robert C. said

    [Cheryl, I edited your #22 a bit to make the links work—the punctuation was throwing things off, so I put your links on their own lines.]

    Great thoughts, all. Cheryl, I esp. appreciate your thoughts on female imagery. I’ve often wondered whether feminine symbols are drawing on cultural norms to teach about eternal things and that they should not therefore be used to reinforce cultural norms, or whether such symbols are in fact teaching us something more transcendent about gender and can therefore be used as a guide for cultural norms (I’m partly wondering this because John Milbank seems—emphasis b/c I’m not very confident that this is a fair reading of him, I simply haven’t read enough of his work on this to know—that he and others in the radical orthodoxy movement are effectively arguing for the latter…).

  25. Jim F said

    Robert C, I think your reading of Milbank is correct: there is something–Christ–that transcends cultural norms and that can direct those norms.

  26. NoCoolName_Tom said

    Just a quick note regarding the second “neglected point”. Royal Skousen’s Critical Text project has uncovered that the original wording was that it was the “Sword” of the justice of the eternal God that divided. However the Sword, as we went over in Revelation, can represent the word of God as well, so it means about the same thing, but it reads a lot better.

  27. brianj said

    NCNTom – If correct, that is a much easier reading. I’m not convinced that the rod and sword are synonymous, so this original (?) reading would make quite a difference. Thanks!

  28. robf said

    Sorry I’m coming late to this, and perhaps this comment will just be buried here (so I’ve posted some of this on the wiki), but in class today I was struck that perhaps the most important verse in 1 Nephi 8 is verse 1–the verse we rush past to get to the vision, the one that seems out of place, but the verse that perhaps puts the whole thing into perspective.

    Why does this chapter start with the comment about gathering seeds?

    Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

    1) Lehi has just sent his sons back to Jerusalem for wives so he can have eternal seed. Chapter 7 ends with the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Lehi’s eternal posterity is on the line. Perhaps this concern about his seed is what sparks this whole vision, where he sees that some of his seed may not make it. Nephi’s vision expands even more on the future of his seed.

    2) This vision can be taken as sharing symbolism with the parable of the sower–with the responses of various participants in this vision being similar to what happens to various seeds. So gathering and sowing seeds may be an important theme here that we don’t always make. Lehi himself sees the world like a vast field in this vision. And the footnote in verse 9 shows that someone has already been down this path before…

    3) We don’t hear about gathering seeds again until 1 Nephi 16–right after they find the liahona. So you’ve got this comment about gathering seeds serving as a marker somehow (it doesn’t seem to fit at first glance, right?). The comment about seeds bookmarks both ends of this extended passage where Lehi has a dream, Nephi shares the dream, Nephi and his brothers discuss the dream, and God gives the family a guide.

    4) We refer to this vision as the vision of the tree of life. Is there a greater connection between seeds and trees here that we’re missing? What of those who “partake of the tree”–do they not become Christ’s seed?

    What else is going on here? At the very least, I think that 1 Nephi 8:1 is not just a misplaced comment, but a marker of something far more significant. Something that ties themes of gathering, eternal posterity, the tree of life, and everything else.

    OK, here’s where Joe can step in with some brilliant commentary about the nature of covenants, temples, The Vision, etc!

  29. Joe Spencer said

    Rob, thanks for your confidence, but since I have only a minute or two, I’ll have to come back to the task of wowing everybody with my superior knowledge. :) More seriously, I really, really like the direction you’ve gone here. I’ve thought a couple of times about this same point you’re mentioning, though I’d only come up your numbers 1 and 3. I like the other possibilities… especially number 4. What more, too?

    NCNTom, thanks for referring to Skousen’s project. For those wondering how justifiable this claim is, here’s the paragraph from Skousen’s analysis: “[Unidentified] Scribe 2’s initial s in the original manuscript looks like an undotted i, so that sword looks like it begins with a four-stroke w (rather than the expected three-stroke w). Yet nearby examples of s-words clearly show that we have sword in the original manuscript and not word. (See, for instance, saw and seed on line 38 of page 19 in O [the original manuscript], five lines below sword.) When Oliver Cowdery copied from O into P [the printer’s manuscript], he misread the strange looking sw as simply a w, thus leading to the current reading [which has appeared in every published edition of the Book of Mormon], word.” (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, 1:257)

    He goes on to point out that while “the word of justice” never appears in the Book of Mormon (except in this text in the current edition), “the sword of justice” appears another six times (Alma 26:19; 60:29; Helaman 13:5; 3 Nephi 20:20; 29:4; and Ether 8:23). Good evidence, it seems to me: it should read sword.

  30. cherylem said

    Robf #28

    Regarding seed, Lehi’s leaving with seeds to plant reminds me of this:

    Psalm 126:6 (New International Version)

    6 He who goes out weeping, _
    carrying seed to sow, _
    will return with songs of joy, _
    carrying sheaves with him.

    or in King James:

    6 He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

    It could be that 8:1 is put there with this concept in mind.

  31. Robert C. said

    Rob #28, fascinating thoughts!

    Might there be a structural relation, a kind of inclusio, marked by 1 Ne 16:11, where “seed of every kind” is mentioned as Nephi’s vision, and several marriages are mentioned in 16:7. I would be more convinced of this if 16:11 were placed after 16:7, but maybe I’m missing reason for putting the beginnings of the Liahona story before this speculated ending part of the 8:1-16:11 inclusio….

  32. Ben McGuire said

    I think that we also can note that both Psalm 126 which Cheryl quotes, and the vision which Lehi and Nephi share in the Book of Mormon seem connected to the creation account of Genesis 3:

    And the LORD God said, Behold the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

    Leaving the Garden of Eden weeping, but sent forth to till the ground, only, eventually, to return with songs of Joy.

  33. tb said

    1 Nephi 11:11-14

    Is Nephi refering to the Son of God or to the Holy Ghost when he states “…it was the Spirit of the Lord…”?

    Why is it noted that this being disappeared (a magician act)?

    The Vision starts back up and he(Nephi)is taken to Nazareth and beholds “…a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.”

    The vision is interupted by an angel who then guides Nephi through the rest of vision.

    a few thoughts/questions:

    -If the “Spirit of the Lord” in v.11 refers to the Holy Ghost, why the interuption (v.12) to the Vision and the dissappearance of said being?

    -Is not the Holy Ghost capable of residing with/in multiple people at different locations all at the same time? [Could not have the Holy Ghost simultaneously resided with Nephi and the Virgin?]

    -If the “Spirit of the Lord” in v.11 was indeed the Son of God, why the interuption (v.12) to the Vision and His dissappearance?

    -Why was the Son of God unable to show Nephi in the Vision His(Christ) mortal life/ministry v.14, 16-36?

    -What does this tell us about the nature of visions?…about the nature of God?

    -“Is there a difference between a dream and a vision? What might qualify a dream as a vision?” Feast Wiki 1 NE 8:2

    thank you for allowing me to post

  34. Rebecca L said

    Re: #23, Cherylem

    I’ve had these & similar thoughts often about the temple. I’m glad to see I’m in good company.

  35. Brad Constantine said

    I read with interest your blog where you mentioned that you use my lesson material as a resource. Thank you very much. You’re right about the fact that I don’t think that my resource is the “end all” but rather a starting point. In fact, my lessons are constantly being updated. The website was just changed a few weeks ago to reflect changes I’ve made to my lessons. They are constantly undergoing revisions as I continue to study and update them with new insights I’ve obtained. Thanks for your interest in my lesson materials. I hope they help others.

  36. brianj said

    Brad: I hope that I was also able to point more people to your useful notes. It’s good to know that you update your notes, since I sometimes save pdf files to go back to them offline.

  37. […] Brant Gardiner: The most difficult image is the building standing in the air – “high above the earth.” It appears likely that the building is shown detached from the “world” because the large and spacious field in which Lehi stands is representative of the larger path to celestialization, and the building has no part in that. It is visible to it, it obviously can effect it, but has no true place in the world of the tree. Citation […]

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