1 Nephi 11
Through the Wilderness to the Promised Land
(1 Nephi )
1 Nephi 11-14 (Nephi's Vision -- Prophetic View):
According to John Welch, Nephi's prophetic view foresaw the future in four distinct stages, and each time he quoted a section from Isaiah it was because it contained words relevant to one of those stages. . . . The four stages or phases in the Nephite prophetic view are visible in several texts, but never more clearly than in Nephi's vision in 1 Nephi 11-14, which divides naturally into four sections that correspond to chapters 11, 12, 13, and 14. This influential text seems to have set the basic prophetic frame of reference for the Nephites who followed Nephi. . . .
The four-staged pattern which comprises the Nephite prophetic view are:
1. Christ's coming (chapter 11);
2. his rejection and the scattering of the Jews (chapter 12);
3. the day of the Gentiles (chapter 13); and
4. the restoration of Israel and the ultimate victory of good over evil (chapter 14).
Over and over in the writings on the small plates of Nephi, these four elements provide the outline for Nephite prophecy. [John W. Welch, "Getting through Isaiah with the Help of the Nephite Prophetic View," in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, pp. 19-22]
1 Nephi 11:1 I Was Caught Away . . . into an Exceedingly High Mountain:
Brant Gardner notes that Nephi is caught away in spirit to "an exceedingly high mountain" (1 Nephi 11:1). Why is that? What Nephi wants to see is a vision of a tree of life which was apparently situated near a large and spacious field, not a mountain. Why does the vision begin in a mountain?
Mountains are sacred places in Hebrew cosmology. The form a symbolic world axis (and are therefore symbolically similar to the world tree symbol). The tops of the mountains are conceptually in the havens and are therefore a logical place for meetings with deity (or the Spirit). Moses meets with God on a mountain, which serves as a sacred symbolic place. [Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/ ~nahualli/LDStopics/1 Nephi/1 Nephi11.htm, pp. 1-2]
1 Nephi 11:1 I Was Caught Away . . . into an Exceedingly High Mountain:
Here in 1 Nephi 11:1 Nephi's being caught away "into an exceedingly high mountain" calls to mind Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:1-3). Allen & David Richardson and Anthony Bentley note that Book of Mormon critics have often charged that Joseph Smith was an amateur fraud and that he plagiarized many biblical stories and placed them in the Book of Mormon. For example, they point to similarities between Lehi's journey through the wilderness to the "promised land" of the Americas as reminiscent of Moses's journey through the wilderness to the "promised land" of Palestine (Exodus 12-40; 1 Nephi 1-18). Nephi's calling to rule over his older brothers had precedent in Isaac's birthright over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Joseph over his older brothers (Genesis 21: 12; 27:1-36; 37:3-4; 48:22; 1 Nephi 2:22). Rather than being a sign of weakness, the recurrence of Book of Mormon events that were foreshadowed in biblical history, is yet another witness that the Book of Mormon is a true and accurate history. The practice of drawing parallels between current and ancient history is well documented in Alan Goff's article "Boats, Beginnings, and Repetitions," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Fall 1992, 1/1, pp. 66-84.
Regarding biblical parallels, especially as they might relate to "an exceedingly high mountain" such as Mount Sinai, it is interesting that there are many parallels between Christ and Elijah. Both spent 40 days in the wilderness, both climbed a mountain for spiritual renewal, both performed healings, raised the dead, caused food to be multiplied, the lives of both were threatened. Both ascended into heaven and it was prophesied that both were to make a glorious return. [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson, and Anthony E. Bentley, Voice from the Dust-500 Evidences Supporting the Book of Mormon, p. 101]
Note* Could Christ and Elijah both have gone to the same mountain (Sinai) in their 40-day wanderings in the wilderness? And was this the same mountain that Nephi was caught away to? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 11:1 I Was Caught Away . . . into an Exceedingly High Mountain (Potter):
While living in the valley of Lemuel, Lehi had a dream in which he saw a tree with fruit that was "most sweet, above all that [he] ever before tasted" (1 Nephi 8:10-12). When Nephi desired to know the meaning of the dream his father had received, he "was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot" (1 Nephi 11:1). According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, this raises an interesting question. What was the mountain that Nephi was caught up into. The Valley of Lemuel (proposed Wadi Tayyib al-Ism) is only a little over 30 miles from a proposed candidate for Mount Horeb (Sinai) in Arabia. Self-proclaimed archaeologists Ron Wyatt and David Fasold visited the mountain in 1986 but were arrested shortly after their arrival. In 1988 Wall Street millionaire Larry Williams and ex-police officer Bob Cornuke illegally entered Saudi Arabia to visit the mountain. Their exploits are recorded in The Gold of Exodus by Howard Blum. They all identified Jebal Al Lawz to be Mount Horeb (Sinai). However the archaeological site they all describe is not found on Jebal al Lawz but rather on an unnamed peak lying in the same range but 8 miles to the south. We have visited the site and can verify much of what Williams has described. The Saudi mount Sinai is 7867 feet high and dominates the plane on which it stands. It certainly qualifies as "an exceedingly high mountain." Is it possible that the Lord would have taken Nephi to a mountain where the Lord had previously spoken to his chosen people (Deuteronomy 1:6)? [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, pp. 13-14, Unpublished]
Note* Not only did the Lord visit Moses on Horeb (Exodus 2:15-21; 3:1), the Lord possibly visited a number of ancient prophets, including Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-21) and Paul (2 Corinthians 11:32; Galatians 1:17; 4:24). Moreover, if Moses was a type of Christ, then Jesus possibly visited the site of Sinai during his sojourn in the wilderness. It seems as Sinai was a holy site where holy men prepared to lead covenant Israel to the Promised Land. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [For more information, see the commentary on 1 Nephi 4:2; 10:9; 3 Nephi 25:4]
1 Nephi 11:1 I was caught away . . . into an exceedingly high mountain (Illustration-Potter): Richard and George at Arabian candidate for mount Sinai, eight miles south of Jabel Al-Lawz. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 1, p. 5, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 11:1 I was caught away . . . into an exceedingly high mountain (Illustration-Potter): The location of Jabel al-Lawz in relation to Wadi Tayyib al-Ism. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 1, p. 6, Unpublished]
1 Nephi 11:3 I [Nephi] desire to behold the things which my father saw (Illustration): Nephi's Vision [Clark Kelley Price, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 1]
1 Nephi 11:3 I desire to behold the things which my father saw (Illustration): A Comparison of Lehi's Dream and Nephi's Vision. [John Welch and Morgan Ashton, "A Comparison of Lehi's Dream and Nephi's Vision," in Charting the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., Packet 1. [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 14:29]
1 Nephi 11:3 I [Nephi] desire to behold the things which my father saw (Illustration): Nephi's Vision. While Nephi pondered the words of his father, a vision was opened to him. Artist: Clark Kelley Price. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 34]
1 Nephi 11:5 I Believe All the Words of My Father:
In his first book (1 Nephi), Nephi repeatedly focuses on his relationship with his father Lehi. He repeats the theme that he was not only obedient and "did believe all the words which had been spoken by [his] father" (1 Nephi 2:16, 11:5), but that he sought to know the things which his father knew (1 Nephi 2:16, 10:17; 11:3). Furthermore, he repeatedly parallels his own experiences with those of his father Lehi and testifies that both of them were obedient to all the commandments of the Lord (see 1 Nephi 16:8), and that it was through the Lord's power that they were able to accomplish what they did (see 1 Nephi 5:8). In emphasizing this covenant relationship, Nephi invites parallels not only to Abraham (1 Nephi 15:18) but to all "the fathers" (1 Nephi 3:19, 15:14). (It is worth noting that of Abraham, God said, "I know him, . . . he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord"--Genesis 18:19.) Most especially Nephi invites parallels to Christ himself.
Jeffrey R. Holland writes that the relationship between Christ and His Father is one of the sweetest and most moving themes running through the Savior's ministry. Jesus' entire being, His complete purpose and delight, were centered in pleasing His Father and obeying His will.
In all His mortal ministry Christ seems never to have had a single moment of vanity or self-interest. When one young man tried to call Him "good," He deflected the compliment, saying only one was deserving of such praise, His Father ( Luke 18:19).
In the early days of His ministry He said humbly, "I can of mine own self do nothing: . . . I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30).
Following His teachings, which stunned the audience with their power and authority, He would say: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. . . . I am not come of myself, but he that sent me is true" (John 7:16, 28). Later he would say again, "I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (John 12:49).
To those who wanted to see the Father, to hear from God directly that Jesus was what He said He was, He answered, "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: . . . he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:7, 9). When Jesus wanted to preserve unity among His disciples, He prayed using the example of His own relationship with God: "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are [one]" (John 17:11).
Even as He moved toward the Crucifixion, He restrained His Apostles who would have intervened by saying, "The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). In that most burdensome moment of all human history, with blood appearing at every pore and an anguished cry upon His lips, Christ sought Him whom He had always sought--His Father. "Abba," He cried, "Papa," or from the lips of a younger child, "Daddy" (Mark 14:36). When that unspeakable ordeal was finished, He uttered what must have been the most peaceful and deserved words of His mortal ministry. At the end of His agony, He whispered, "It is finished: . . . Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (John 19:30; Luke 23:46). [Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Hands of the Fathers," in the Ensign, May 1999, pp. 14-16]
1 Nephi 11:6-7 The Son of the Most High God:
Critics of the Book of Mormon view terms like "the Son of the most high God" (1 Nephi 11:6) and "the Son of God" as plagiarisms from the New Testament gospels because they represent later developments peculiar to Christianity. However, according to Matt Roper, both titles have recently turned up in an unpublished Dead Sea Scroll fragment written in Aramaic from before the time of Jesus. Although it is unknown to whom the prophecy refers, the fragment states:
[X] shall be great upon the earth. [O king, all (people) shall] make [peace], and all shall serve [him. He shall be called the son of] the [G]reat [God], and by his name shall be hailed (as) the Son of God, and they shall call him Son of the Most High,"
The writer for Biblical Archaeology Review states,
this is the first time that the term "Son of God" has been found in a Palestinian text outside the Bible. . . . Previously some scholars have insisted that the origin of terms like "Most High" and "Son of the Most High" were to be found in Hellenistic usage outside of Palestine and that therefore they relate to later development of Christian Doctrine. Now we know that these terms were part of Christianity's original Jewish heritage.243
[Matthew Roper, Book Review of Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Covering Up the Black Hole in the Book of Mormon, in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3 1991, pp. 173-174]
1 Nephi 11:7 The Tree . . . It Is the Son of God (Potter):
While living in the valley of Lemuel, Lehi had a dream in which he saw a tree with fruit that was "most sweet, above all that [he] ever before tasted" (1 Nephi 8:10-12). Nephi later desired to know the meaning of the dream his father had received. His wish was granted and he was transported in the Spirit "into an exceedingly high mountain" (1 Nephi 11:1). Here the Spirit instructed Nephi that the tree represented "the Son of God" (1 Nephi 11:7).
According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, since ancient times palm branches have symbolized victory and kingship. The apostle John wrote that the followers of Christ "took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12:13). But would someone in Nephi's time and place have understood the association between a tree, probably a date palm, and the Son of God? The answer is yes!
Since earliest times in the Near East the king had been associated with the image of a sacred tree. Indeed, Lehi's dream of a tree representing the divine king, Jesus Christ, was perfectly in harmony with Near Eastern imagery of the day Simo Parpola wrote:
The heavenly origin of kingship is already attested in the earliest Mesopotamian cultures. In both Sumerian and Babylonian mythology, it is expressed allegorically with the image of a tree planted upon earth by the mother goddess, Inanna/Ishtar. The sacred tree, usually represented in the form of a stylized palm tree growing on a mountain, is the most common decorative motif in Assyrian royal iconography.244
Lehi was living in the mountains when he saw the tree, and Nephi was taken to a high mountain to have the meaning of the dream revealed. Parpola informs us that "the cosmic nature of the tree is implied by its elaborate structure, absolute symmetry and axial balance." Nephi was amazed by the perfection of the tree he saw and said that its "beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow (1 Nephi 11:8; see also 8:11)
In the book of Daniel the king of Babylon dreams of a huge tree growing in the middle of the earth, its top reaching the sky. He is told by the prophet, "that tree, O king, is you" (Daniel 4:10-22). This imagery is ancient. Several Sumerian kings of the Ur III dynasty, about 2000 B.C., are referred to in contemporary texts as "palm trees" or "mes-trees growing along abundant watercourses." If Lehi had seen in his dream the trees that surrounded him, palm trees growing in the watercourse of wadi Tayyib al Ism, located within the high Hijaz mountains it would be hard to think of a location that more closely fit the classic Near Eastern cosmic tree motif.
To more fully understand the full impact of symbolism of the cosmic tree one must be aware that the Assyrians did not consider their king, represented by the tree, to be a mere mortal. The king was considered to be of divine parentage. According to Parpola, "a perfect king was two thirds god and one third man . . . the son of god . . . a celestial savior figure . . . the son of the divine king, [who] sets out from his celestial home to fight the evil forces that threaten his father's kingdom."245
After being shown the tree "which is precious above all" (1 Nephi 11:9), Nephi desired "to know the interpretation thereof" (1 Nephi 11:11) and was shown a virgin "exceedingly fair and white" (1 Nephi 11:13) the same terminology used to describe the tree. The Spirit continued, "Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh" (1 Nephi 11:18). Nephi noted, "And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms" (1 Nephi 11:20). This association of the mother of God with the date palm and the image of the mother nursing the god/king is also one of Near Eastern origin. Parpola once more provides us with insight: "In Assyrian imperial art, the goddess nurses the king as a baby or child . . . the goddess too is identified with the date palm in Assyrian texts."246 Ishtar, the mother of the king, was the wife of the Assyrian supreme god Ashur, who Parpola refers to as the "heavenly father of the king" and the "sum total of gods."247 Ishtar corresponded to Asherah the wife of the supreme Canaanite god El, who was, as Daniel Peterson points out, depicted as a virgin.248 (see the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:21) The Asherah mythology was certainly known to Lehi for her symbol stood in Solomon's temple during his lifetime.249
While this vision was given to Nephi of the supreme King who would not be born for another 600 years, it was not an inappropriate image as Parpola points out: "godlike perfection was an inherent characteristic of kings, granted to them even before their birth. According to Assyrian royal inscriptions, kings were called and predestined to their office from the beginning of time."
For the Assyrians, the palm tree was the earthly representation of the cosmic tree that linked heaven and earth and as such represented a king who did the same. For the inhabitants of ancient Arabia the palm also represented a king who did the same. For the inhabitants of ancient Arabia the palm also represented the Tree of Life.250 Before Islamic times, the palm tree was worshipped by the people of south Arabia251 and was a motif that adorned the large temple252 and the cemetery of Timna.253 The special position of the palm continued in Islamic times. In the Qur'an we can read, "Seest thou how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word as a good tree" (Qur'an 14:29-31).
To someone from the West, a mental picture of the Tree of Life as a palm tree would not be high on the probability list. Moreover, by what coincidence did an upstate New York farm boy choose a symbol of a palm tree (located in the proposed Valley of Lemuel) which represented the Savior more appropriately than any other object could. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, pp. 13-16, Unpublished] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 8:10; 11:21]
1 Nephi 11:11 The Spirit of the Lord:
According to McConkie and Millet, the expression "Spirit of the Lord" is used some forty times in the Book of Mormon, and almost without exception it has reference to the Holy Ghost or to the Light of Christ. If indeed here in 1 Nephi 11:11 the Holy Ghost was Nephi's guide and teacher, this occasion is of tremendous significance, for it is the only scriptural occasion wherein the Holy Ghost makes a personal appearance to man. [Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 77]
1 Nephi 11:11 I Knew That It Was the Spirit of the Lord; and He Spake unto Me as a Man Speaketh with Another:
According to Brant Gardner, there are two opinions about the identity of "the Spirit of the Lord" who introduces the vision to Nephi (1 Nephi 11:11). One opinion is that it is the spirit person of Christ, and the other is that it was the spirit person of the Holy Ghost.
Bruce R. McConkie expresses the first view:
To gain a sound gospel understanding, the truth seeker must determine in each scriptural passage what is meant by such titles as Spirit, Holy Spirit, Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of God, Spirit of Truth. In many instances this is not difficult; in some cases, however, abbreviated scriptural accounts leave so much room for doubt that nothing short of direct revelation can identify precisely what is meant. We know, for instance, that the Spirit personage who appeared to the Brother of Jared was the Spirit Christ, for he so identified himself. (Ether 3) But when we read the account of the appearance of "the Spirit of the Lord" to Nephi (1 Nephi 11), we are left to our own interpretive powers to determine whether the messenger is the Spirit Christ or the Holy Ghost. Presumptively it is the Spirit Christ ministering to Nephi much as he did to the Brother of Jared, for such is in keeping with the principle of advocacy, intercession, and mediation, the principle that all personal appearances of Deity to man since the fall of Adam, excepting appearances of the Father and the Son together, have been appearances of Christ." ("Spirit of the Lord," Mormon Doctrine, p. 752; see also The Mortal Messiah, Vol. 1, pp. 413-414).
The opposite interpretation was espoused by B.H. Roberts and James E. Talmage, among others:
That the Holy Ghost is capable of manifesting himself in the true form and figure of God, after which image man is shaped, is indicated by the wonderful interview between the Spirit and Nephi, in which he revealed himself to the Prophet, questioned him concerning his desires and belief, instructed him in the things of God, speaking face to face with the man. "I spake unto him," says Nephi, "as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man, yet nevertheless I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh to another." (B.H. Roberts, The Seventy's Course in Theology, Fifth Year, p. 60; see also Articles of Faith, Chapter 8, pp. 159-160).
[Brant Gardner, "Brant Gardner's Page, "http://www.highfiber.com/~nahualli/LDStopics/1Nephi/ 1Nephi11.htm, pp. 6-8]
1 Nephi 11:13 In the City of Nazareth I Beheld a Virgin:
Neal A. Maxwell notes that at least two times in Jesus' earthly ministry, the possibility that He was the expected Messiah was discounted by disbelievers, because the scriptures available to the Jews were assumed to be silent concerning a prophet's coming out of Galilee or Nazareth--only Bethlehem was cited. (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:3-6; John 7:41, 52). Concerning this incident, Robert J. Matthews has noted the following:
As recorded in the King James Version, wise men from the East inquired of Herod about the birth of the "King of the Jews." Consequently, Herod asked the scribes "where Christ should be born." He was told that it was written, "And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." (Matthew 2:2-6)
However, as given in the JST, the men from the East asked Herod a more searching question: "Where is the child that is born, the Messiah of the Jews?" (The Prophet's changes here and hereafter are highlighted by italics.) Herod was told by the scribes that the prophets had written, "And thou, Bethlehem, which lieth in the land of Judea, in thee shall be born a prince, which art not the least among the princes of Judea; for out of thee shall come the Messiah, who shall save my people Israel." (JST Matthew 3:6)
As presented in the JST, it is not Bethlehem, but Jesus who is the prince; and he is not simply a Governor come to rule, but the Messiah come to save Israel. Surely it was Jesus (and not Bethlehem) who was the prince, for he (and not the whole village) was to inherit the throne of David and rule Israel "with judgment and with justice . . . for ever,," as recorded in Isaiah 9:6-7. (Robert J. Matthews, "A Greater Portrayal of the Master," Ensign, March 1983, p. 9)
The Book of Mormon, however, makes it clear that Jesus' unfolding life would involve Nazareth:
And it came to pass that I [Nephi] looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. . . . And he [an angel] said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. (1 Nephi 11:13, 18)
Significantly, Matthew made reference to the prophecy concerning Jesus' being a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23), but it is an apparent reference to a lost book of scripture.
"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."
In a bittersweet comment on this loss of scripture, Maxwell writes that one cannot help but wonder what might have happened if, when Herod inquired of the scripturalists of his time concerning Jesus, those advisers had had access to or understood the fulness of the scriptures. [Neal A. Maxwell, Plain and Precious Things, pp. 16-18] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 13:40]
1 Nephi 11:16 The Condescension of God:
Gerald Lund notes that after Lehi recounted to his family his marvelous vision in which he had seen the tree of life, Nephi reported that he was "desirous also that [he] might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (1 Nephi 10:17; emphasis added). Nephi was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain where a grand vision was unfolded before him, and he saw not only what his father had seen but also much more. In the early part of that vision, on two different occasions, the angelic messenger used an unusual phrase--"the condescension of God" (1 Nephi 11:15-16; 11:26). . . . As Nephi obeyed the angel and looked, he saw the Redeemer of the world. He saw his earthly ministry and its culmination in the death of the Savior (see 1 Nephi 11:26-32). . . .
According to Lund, if we are to more fully comprehend the idea of God's condescension, we must first understand who he was before coming to earth. As we look at Christ as the Creator, we are told in latter-day revelation that the extent of his creations is so vast that they cannot be numbered unto man (Moses 1:33, 35, 37). Enoch stated the same idea in a much more dramatic form when he said the following: "And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations" (Moses 7:30).
For much of the world's history, man has had to accept these statements basically on faith, for as we look up in the heavens with the naked eye, we can see approximately six thousand stars. Only in our own century have we begun to sense the vastness of the universe. . . . The vastness of space is such that normal measurements do not suffice to describe the distances between stars and galaxies. So astronomers have come up with a measurement called the "light year" or the distance that light traveling at approximately 186,000 miles-per-second will travel in a year's time. That distance turns out to be approximately six trillion miles. Here is an analogy to help us conceptualize the vastness of the universe. Someone calculated that if we took the distance from the earth to the sun, which is ninety-three million miles, and reduced that in scale down to where it was the thickness of a single sheet of typing paper, the distance from our earth to the nearest star would be a stack of paper seventy-one feet high! On that same scale, the diameter of the Milky Way, our own galaxy, would be a stack of paper three hundred and ten miles high. And if we carried that same scale on to the edge of the known universe, we would have a stack of paper thirty-one million miles high or a stack of paper that would stretch from the earth nearly one third of the way to the sun.254
When we consider the incredible vastness of the numbers of creations, all of which were completed under the direction of the Father by the Only Begotten, we begin to sense the position, the majesty and power that were his before his coming to earth. [Gerald N. Lund, "'Knowest Thou the Condescension of God?'," in Doctrines of the Book of Mormon: The 1991 Sperry Symposium, pp. 80, 82-83] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 4:26]
According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers), the term "condescension" or "condescension of God" is not found in the Bible. The word "condescend" is found but once, in Paul's epistle to the Romans, where Paul lists a number of qualities required for saintly living: "Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate" (Romans 12:16). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
1 Nephi 11:18 The Mother of the Son of God:
The first edition of the Book of Mormon (1830) reads as follows: "Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of God, after the manner of the flesh." According to McConkie and Millet, indeed Christ is God, the God of creation, the God of Israel, and the Father of salvation. Mary is his mother. Joseph Smith changed this phrase to "mother of the Son of God" (1 Nephi 11:18) in the 1837 and 1840 editions of the Book of Mormon, and all subsequent editions have retained the alteration. Joseph Smith exercised his prophetic-editorial right to clarify and explain what had previously been written. [Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 79]
1 Nephi 11:18 The virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God (Illustration): Nephi Sees the Virgin [Robert T. Barrett, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 7]
1 Nephi 11:18 [Son of]:
Terryl L. Givens notes that in the 1837 edition, the words "Son of" were inserted before the Deity title in four verses: 1 Nephi 11:18, 11:21; 11:32, and 13:40. This change is clearly less than revisionist when one considers that in 1 Nephi and elsewhere, "Son of God" was already present as a common Book of Mormon formulation. [Terry L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, p. 300]
1 Nephi 11:18 The Mother of the Son of God:
According to Daniel Peterson, there is a Coptic version of the record called the Apocalypse of Paul. This document probably originated in Egypt in the mid-third century of the Christian era and relates a vision of the great apostle that, in some details at least, strikingly resembles the vision of Nephi: "And he [the angel] showed me the Tree of Life," Paul is reported to have said, "and by it was a revolving red-hot sword. And a Virgin appeared by the tree, and three angels who hymned her, and the angel told me that she was Mary, the Mother of Christ."255 [Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi & His Asherah," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies , FARMS, Vol. 9, Num. 2, 2000, pp. 16-18]
1 Nephi 11:20 The Virgin:
According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, "The Virgin" (1 Nephi 11:20) is the title given to the Mother of Jesus in the prophecy of his birth (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). There is very little information in the New Testament concerning Mary. But from what is written about her, it is evident that she was a woman of the highest mental and spiritual culture. That she was a regular visitor in the temple, well known by the officials in the sacred edifice, is also indicated by the story of the appearance of her divine Son there at the age of twelve years. A boy of obscure parentage would not have had a chance to remain among the learned doctors for several days, as he did.
Early traditions, recorded in the Protevangelium and some other apocrypha, related that Mary was born at Nazareth, the daughter of Joachim and his wife, Anna. The father is said to have been a very wealthy citizen, known for his generosity and observance of the law. For many years the worthy couple lived together childless. But, finally, they promised the Lord that a child of theirs would be dedicated to the Lord, i.e. to the temple service. Then, in due time, the baby girl, to whom they gave the name of Mary, came. She was the answer to their prayers, the reward for their faithfulness.
When the girl was three years old--so the tradition avers--she was taken to the temple and, in accordance with the promise made, dedicated to the service of the Lord. From now on, she was raised and educated under the direction of the authorities of the temple. The summer months, it is said, she spent at Nazareth, the rest of the year she served in the Sanctuary.
Now it seems to have been customary, as regards the young ladies raised for temple service, to give them an opportunity, when they arrived at the marriageable age, to choose for themselves whether they would continue to remain virgins of the Lord for ever, or become wives and mothers. Mary's choice was to continue the temple service, but, guided by a special revelation, the high priest selected Joseph of Nazareth to be her legal guardian and husband. (Protevangelium, Chapter 8) She was then twelve years old.
After the wonderful story of the birth of the Savior of the world the evangelists say little of Mary. She is mentioned in the account of the marriage feast at Cana (John 2), and as one attending a gathering outside a synagogue where Jesus had been preaching (Mark 3:31), and then as standing near the cross, when her crucified Son commended her to the care of John (John 19:25-7). She is, finally, mentioned as one of the women present in the "upper room" in Jerusalem, after the ascension of Jesus from the Mount of Olives. (Acts 1:13,14)
Tradition has it that she died in Jerusalem in the year A.D. 48, and that her body also was taken to heaven. The latter "assumption" is based on the story that the apostles, three days after her interment, found the tomb empty.
All this, except the accounts given by the evangelists, is tradition. That the story has an historic foundation is not denied. But to separate the historic element from what is mere fiction, is not always possible at this late day.
Before leaving this subject, a word should be said of Anna, the prophetess, mentioned by Luke. She, too, must have been one of the virgins of the Lord, dedicated to the temple service. She was of the tribe of Asher. This may be accounted for by the fact that when Hezekiah, king of Judah, sent a call to Israel, as well as Judah, to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the passover, some people of the tribe of Asher, and also of the tribes of Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulon, humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. The forefathers of Anna may have come to Jerusalem at that time. The forebears of Lehi, of the tribe of Manasseh, may also have come at the invitation of Hezekiah. (2 Chronicles 30:1-12,16,19) The Evangelist says of Anna, that she was a prophetess. Like Mary, she had been given to a husband, when grown up. She had lived with him only seven years. Now she was eighty-four years old, a widow but "she departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day." Furthermore, she preached the gospel of the Redeemer "to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:36-38) [George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, pp. 83-84] [See the commentary on Mosiah 3:7, 8]
1 Nephi 11:20 I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms (Illustration): Nephi Sees the Birth of Christ [Robert T. Barrett, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 7]
1 Nephi 11:20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms (Illustration): Nephi's Vision of Mary. Artist: Judith Mehr. [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Ensign, December 1997, inside front cover]
1 Nephi 11:20 I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms (Illustration): "He Shall Bring Forth a Son." Mary holds the baby Jesus Artist: Liz Lemon Swindle. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 30]
1 Nephi 11:21 The Son of the Eternal Father . . . the Tree:
Brant Gardner notes that after the brief introduction of the miracle of Christ's birth, the angel does two important things for Nephi. The first is to identify the baby as the one who would fulfill the Messianic role, and the other is to clearly identify the Eternal Father as the very father of the child: "And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?" . . . The angel then continues to make the clear association of Christ and the tree by immediately tying the vision of the birth of the Savior back to the tree. [Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," 1Nephi/1Nephi11.htm, p. 8]
1 Nephi 11:21 The Lamb of God:
In 1 Nephi 11:21 mention is made of the "Lamb of God." Critics have claimed that this phrase is strictly New Testament language (compare John 1:20), and that this proves that Joseph Smith was plagiarizing the Bible.
According to Charles Pyle, until critics produce the original writings of all of the prophets of the Old Testament age, and prove, beyond all doubt that such is the case, they cannot make this claim! Besides, this term occurs in the context of a vision that Lehi saw (1 Nephi 10:7-10), in which he hears John the Baptist bear record that he had baptized the Lamb of God. In this vision it is an angel of the Lord that commands Nephi to "Behold the Lamb of God." It is also possible, considering the fact that the small plates of Nephi were made some years after this vision, that the term "Lamb of God" became part of Nephi's vocabulary at this time, and was incorporated into his later description of his father's vision. Equally possible, is that Nephi could have drawn upon the imagery of the lamb brought to the slaughter to made an offering for sin, as found at Isaiah 53:7, 10, which would have been part of the plates of brass. At any rate, God can say the same thing twice, if he so chooses, even if critics of the Book of Mormon don't believe so. [E. Charles Pyle, "Review of 'The Book of Mormon Vs. the Bible (or Common Sense),'" http:\\www.linkline.com\personal\dcpyle\reading\bodineco.htm, p. 8]
1 Nephi 11:21 The Lamb of God . . . the Son of the Eternal Father:
Joseph McConkie and Robert Millet note that in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, this verse read as follows: "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Eternal Father." (cf. Isaiah 9:6; Mosiah 15:4; Alma 11:39) [Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. I, p. 80]
1 Nephi 11:21 Knowest Thou the Meaning of the Tree Which Thy Father Saw?
According to Daniel Peterson, Nephi's vision of the tree of life in 1 Nephi 11 expands upon the vision received earlier by his father, Lehi. In that vision Nephi wanted to know the meaning of the tree that his father had seen and that he himself now saw (see 1 Nephi 11:8-11). One would expect "the Spirit" to give a straightforward answer to Nephi's question, but his response is surprising. He allows Nephi a vision of Nazareth and a virgin, "exceedingly fair and white" and then asks: "Knowest thou the condescension of God?" Nephi responds, "I do not know the meaning of all things." Then the Spirit says, "Behold the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh." Nephi then sees that after she was carried away in the Spirit for a time, she once again appears bearing a child in her arms. The angel then says to Nephi: "Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!" (1 Nephi 11:12-21)
Then "the Spirit" asks Nephi the question that Nephi himself had posed only a few verses before: "Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?" (1 Nephi 11:21) Strikingly, though the vision of Mary seems irrelevant to Nephi's original question about the significance of the tree--for the tree is nowhere mentioned in the angelic guide's response--Nephi himself now replies that, yes, he knows the answer to his question. "It is the love of God . . . " (1 Nephi 11:22-23)
Peterson then asks, How has Nephi come to this understanding? Clearly, the answer to his question about the meaning of the tree lies in the virgin mother with her child. It seems, in fact, that the virgin is the tree in some sense. Even the language used to describe her echoes that used for the tree. Just as she was "exceedingly fair and white," "most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," so was the tree's beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." Significantly, though, it was only when she appeared with a baby and was identified as "the mother of the Son of God" that Nephi grasped the tree's meaning.
Why would Nephi see a connection between a tree and the virginal mother of a divine child? Peterson believes that Nephi's vision reflects a meaning of the "sacred tree" that is unique to the ancient Near East, and that, indeed, can only be fully appreciated when the ancient Canaanite and Israelite associations of that tree with the worship of Asherah (the Mother Goddess) are borne in mind. Of course, Mary, the virgin girl of Nazareth seen by Nephi, was not literally Asherah. She was, as Nephi's guide carefully stressed, simply "the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh." (1 Nephi 11:18) But she was the perfect mortal typification of the mother of the Son of God. [Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi & His Asherah," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies , FARMS, Vol. 9, Num. 2, 2000, pp. 16-18, 22]
Note* In order to better understand the concept of Asherah, I will refer to reader to the remarks of another author below. But before I do, I will also note that this vision of Nephi's concerning Mary and the Son of God has many similarities to a vision given to King Benjamin. For that reason I will refer the reader to the commentary on Mosiah 3. As a final note, the reader should be aware that in the first edition, 1 Nephi 11:18 significantly read "mother of God" rather than the "mother of the son of God." This seems to be even a stronger link to the concept of Asherah, the Mother Goddess of all gods.
Now the excerpts which follow are taken from an article by Fred Collier ("The Common Origin of Ancient Hebrew/Pagan Religion and the Demise of the Hebrew Goddess"). Though I do not subscribe to many of his beliefs, nevertheless in reviewing his article I found a number of items worthy of consideration concerning the veneration of Asherah in ancient Israel. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Fred Collier writes:
Archaeological excavations have revealed that although there were many languages and cultures which existed in the ancient Near East, their ideas about God and religion were incredibly alike--and this rule of thumb does not altogether except the Hebrews. The gods of the Pagans went by different names, but for the most part, the roles which they played all seemed to follow a basic pattern256 What is significant here is that anthropomorphic polytheism along with belief in a Father and Mother in Heaven was one of the most fundamental beliefs. Not only so, but it was a belief which prevailed from the time of Adam to Christ, and that too, in both Pagan and Hebrew religion. This is in sharp contrast to the religion of abstract monotheism which, as scholars have discovered, did not come into existence until the time of the Greek philosophers who first invented it.257 In fact abstract monotheism or so called pure monotheism of any kind is entirely foreign to the Bible258 Even in Isaiah there is plenty that remains from the old religion of the Patriarchs.259
To the Patriarchs, the gods were many, but their loyalties centered in the supreme God whose name was El. El was "the father of the gods" and the "father of men," the "creator of created things," the "father of years," He was conceived of "as an old man with a white beard." He was "wise," "benevolent" and "merciful."260 He was also married and His wife's name was Asherah,261 and together they ruled supreme among the gods. The whole pantheon was a patriarchal order, composed of the sons and daughters of two heavenly parents who were thought of as God the Father and God the Mother--El and Asherah. It is significant that El and Asherah were thought of in the same light as Eloheim and wife are in Mormon theology, and as it turns out this is with good reason, for Eloheim is the plural expression of the divine name El, and throughout the Old Testament, El and Eloheim alternate interchangeably as different names for the same great God.
In accordance with Patriarchal religion, the creation of man in the image and likeness of God as described in Genesis was originally understood in terms of procreation. That this is so is still manifest in the fifth chapter of Genesis where the same words, "image" and "likeness" are used to describe the birth of Seth and the resemblance which he bore to his father Adam.262 On two different occasions the New Testament perpetuates this same tradition: first in the book of Luke where it states that Adam was the son of God just as Seth was the son of Adam (Luke 3:38); and then again in Acts where it is declared that "we are the offspring of God." (Acts 17:28-29) All this fits in perfectly with the old patriarchal religion, for not only was El declared to be the Father of all the gods in heaven, He was also believed to be the Father of all mankind on earth.263
In ancient Canaanite texts it is attested that El and Asherah worship was associated with images or idols and the Bible indicates that the Patriarchs made use of these in their cultic rituals. Now before any of you jump out of your skin, you should realize that there was more than one form of idolatry, and the form to which the Patriarchs subscribed was not the worship of a stone or a carved image under the delusion that it was God. They did not worship the image any more than we worship the Christus statue in the visitors center.264 The images used by the Patriarchs and Prophets during the early period of the Old Testament were thought of in the same way . . . that ancient Israel thought of the Ark of the Covenant.265
In the case of the Patriarchs, it was customary to set up a sacred stone pillar near a sacred tree and to consecrate it with oil.266 Often this would be in some high place on a hill or in the mountains. The stone pillar was to symbolize the presence of the Father God, El, and it is believed by many that these sacred stones were the original meaning behind such divine names as "the Stone of israel," or "The Rock of Jacob."267 On the other hand, the sacred tree was to symbolize the presence of El's wife and our Heavenly Mother, Asherah.268 Another method of depicting Asherah was to carve the figure of a woman in a log and plant it upright in the ground like an Indian totem pole.269 Usually it would be planted under a large spreading leafy tree or in a grove of trees, where both the sacred stone and the sacred tree or pole would stand side by side.
It is regrettable that most of the references to sacred trees have been obscured in the King James translation. This is because the Kings James version was based on the Masoretic Text which was tampered with by Jewish interpreters in an effort to remove the implication of Asherah worship. However, other Old Testament manuscripts have survived, and these consistently show that sacred trees formed a part of Patriarchal religion, and this information is now available in some of the newer translations of the Bible. One example of this is found in the beginning of the eighteenth chapter of Genesis. The King James translation says that "the Lord appeared unto [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre." But the Jerusalem Bible translation says that "Yahweh appeared to him at the Oak of Mamre."270
Fortunately, even in the King James translation a vestige of Asherah worship as practiced by the Patriarchs still remains. It is found in the twenty first chapter of Genesis, where it is stated that Abraham planted an grove, and called upon Jehovah the Everlasting El.271
Anciently to a Hebrew woman fertility was considered as the greatest blessing from the Lord, and to be barren was to be cursed. Even in the creation, the first law of heaven as decreed by God was to "multiply and replenish the Earth."272 Bearing this in mind the importance of Asherah worship to the Patriarchs and their wives is easy to understand, for it wa believed among Hebrews that Asherah "promoted fertility in women and facilitated childbirth."273 Asherah was the wife of El and the primordial mother of all gods and men and all this came about through the power of procreation. In the most perfect sense of the word Asherah and El were the Fountain of Life and the ultimate symbol thereof.274
Yet the worship of Asherah became corrupt. What was originally intended to be reserved for the marriage bed began to be passed out indiscriminately in public affairs which were nothing less than a communal sex orgy. Images to Asherah were erected all over the hill country, almost as it were under every green tree, and whole communities would go up to these altars and have an orgy.275
It is in this area that there was a great distinction between the religion of the Patriarchs and that of the Canaanites. The difference was not in the idea that they prayed to a different God, for they did not. Nor was the difference to be found in the practice of their rituals. The great distinction between the religion of the Patriarchs and that of their neighbors was their belief in the basic morality of God. It was a belief in a certain moral code of right and wrong which God had given to His children, but which through varying degrees of degeneration, other cultures had lost sight of.276
Thus, during the 400 years that passed between the Patriarchs and the time of Moses, the land of Canaan went through several significant religious changes. Probably the most important of these is found in the fact that an alien Storm God by the name of Baal Haddu was imported into Canaan and ultimately succeeded in displacing El and becoming the ruling god of the pantheon. There is no reference to Baal in Genesis,277 but by the time of Moses his cult flourished in Canaan. He is first mentioned in the twenty second chapter of the Book of Numbers.278
Originally Baal was the son of Dagon, but once his cult succeeded in becoming strong he was written into the mythologies as though he was one of El's sons.279 . . . Finally El even lost Asherah to Baal, who took her for his wife.280 Thus all over the hill country in Canaan, there were stone pillars erected to Baal with an image of Asherah standing at his side, and all the communities in Canaan would go up to these and in the process of worshiping Asherah and Baal commit whoredom.281
When God first appeared to Moses in the desert He identified Himself as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." In continuing, the Lord instructed Moses to go down into Egypt and tell the children of Israel that "Yahweh the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" had sent him to them.282
It has already been stated that the God El was thought of as an exalted man. Still in both Israelite and Canaanite religion, El's cultic symbol was the bull. even in the Bible God is referred to as the "Bull of Jacob."283 Many scholars have argued that the symbol of a bull was intended to signify El's prolific powers as the great procreator of all gods and men.284 In other words the basic idea was that of a fertility symbol, which took the form of a copulating bull. Still others have thought that the Bull symbolizes power and strength.285 It is significant that Baal also took on this same royal symbol. Sometimes he was portrayed standing on a bull, and at other times he was depicted with a helmet on, which had horns coming out of each side.286
The evidence indicates that a symbol for the presence of Yahweh/El was the intended meaning of the Golden Calf. "The word calf does not preclude the figure of a mature ox (Psalm 106:20)"287 which was constructed by the children of Israel in the desert. The Encyclopedia Judaica makes the following statement: "The rabbis report that the golden calf was made as a replica of the bull in the divine throne. This tradition corresponds to the religious ideas current at that time in the Near East. Reference to the "heavenly bull" is found in very ancient Egyptian sources. The bull was considered to be the seat of different gods in Egypt, Babylonia, and Aram288 In Israelite tradition the bull formed part of the divine throne. The same is also true of he other two calves which were built later in the northern Kingdom by Jeroboam, and set up in Dan and at Bethel.289 In all three cases the scriptures clearly state that in the mind of those who constructed them the image was built to Yahweh/El, the true God of Israel. In speaking with reference to the Golden Calf, it states "Here is your God, Israel" . . . "who brought you out of the land of Egypt!"290
It is [Fred Collier's] opinion that the real cause for offense on this occasion is to be found in the nature of the celebration which they held the following day in honor of Yahweh/El. To be sure it was the image which inspired their transgression, but it was what Moses found them doing when he came down from the mount which was so abhorrent. The scriptures tell us that after they had offered sacrifices, "then all the people sat down to eat and drink, and afterwards got up to amuse themselves."291
It is this terse comment on the end which wants looking into. They "go up to amuse themselves." Another version reads they "got up to indulge in revelry."292 The Septuagint suggests that they were having a sex orgy, and most scholars and commentaries agree that this is the case.293
There was no mention of the presence of Asherah at the festival, but you can bet her image was there, for in the mind of ancient Israel Yahweh/El and Asherah were a pair--they went together--and besides, one without the other just would not do for an orgy.
Moses' response to what he found taking place as he descended the mount is found in the book of Exodus: "Who is for Yahweh? [come] To me!" he called out. "And all the sons of Levi rallied to him. And he said to them, This is the message of Yahweh, the God of Israel, Gird on your sword, every man of you, and quarter the camp from gate to gate, killing one his brother, another his friend, another his neighbor" . . . "and of the people about three thousand men perished that day."294
In other words kill anyone and everyone that comes in your sight, friend or foe, father, brother or son, for the whole camp of Israel were guilty. The old patriarchal religion had become corrupt. Even in the case of Israel their concept of the morality of God had become degenerate.
The result was that the use of nay image or idol as a symbol for God's person was outlawed. From then on, worship would take place completely void of any visual personification of a person. . . . They knew that God was a man, but it was contrary to their law for them to portray Him as such through the use of any drawing, image or idol. They also knew that God was their father, and that of necessity He had a wife who was their mother, but it was against the law of Moses for them to acknowledge her existence in any of their cultic rituals. Hence, the worship of our Mother in Heaven was outlawed all together. The 16th chapter of Deuteronomy proclaims the new law: "Do not set up any wooden Asherah pole beside the altar you build to Yahweh your God, and do not erect a sacred stone, for these Yahweh your God hates."295
And what did the Lord have in store for the Canaanites? The scriptures say that their cup was full to overflowing. "Thou shalt utterly destroy," the Lord said296
But, as the Old Testament record faithfully attests, old ideas as basic to life and human nature as belief in a Mother in Heaven did not die easily! One would suppose from the Lord's devastating edict that Asherah worship would have come to a quick end, but it continued to flourish among the children of Israel for more than 600 years after they entered Canaan297 According to Raphael Patai, for hundreds of years the image of Asherah stood next to the altar of Yahweh/El in the temple and as such both Yahweh/El and Asherah were understood to be Husband and Wife, the supreme God and Goddess of the universe. After rehearsing the whole history, Patai summarized his findings as follows:
We find that the worship of Asherah, which had been popular among the Hebrew tribes for three centuries, was introduced into the Jerusalem Temple by King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, in or about 928 B.C. Her statue was worshiped in the Temple for 35 years, until King Asa removed it in 893 B.C. It was restored to the Temple by King Joash in 825 B.C. and remained there for a full century, until King Hezekiah removed it in 725 B.C. After an absence of 27 years, however, Asherah was back again in the Temple: This time it was King Manasseh who replaced her in 698 B.C. She remained in the Temple for 78 years, until the great reformer King Josiah removed her in 620 B.C. Upon Joshiah's death eleven years alter (609 B.C.), she was again brought back into the Temple where she remained until its destruction 23 years later, in 586 BC. Thus it appears that of the 370 years during which the Solomonic Temple stood in Jerusalem, for no less than 236 years (or almost two-thirds of the time) the statue of Asherah was present in the Temple, and her worship was a part of the legitimate religion approved and led by the king, the court, and the priesthood and opposed by only a few prophetic voices crying out against it at relatively long intervals."298
Reference is made to the male and female Cherubim which were found in the Temple at Jerusalem at the time of its destruction. The Law of Moses forbade the making of any image in the likeness of God, and it would seem that the Jews got around this by making images of Cherubim. These were fifteen-foot tall winged humans who were plated with gold and set in the Holy of Holies. They were portrayed in sexual embrace, and it is thought by many that their purpose was to symbolize what in accordance with their own law, they could not portray through the use of an image of Yahweh/El and Asherah.299 [Fred C. Collier, ""The Common Origin of Ancient Hebrew/Pagan Religion and the Demise of the Hebrew Goddess," in Doctrine of the Priesthood, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 199, pp. 9-11, 21-42]
Daniel Peterson notes that the great reforming king Hezekiah removed Asherah from the Temple, along with the so-called Nehushtan, which 2 Kings 18:4 describes as "the brasen serpent that Moses had made." The Nehustan was not a pagan intrusion, but had been carefully preserved by the Israelites for nearly a millennium until Hezekiah, offended by the idolatrous worship of "the children of Israel [who] did burn incense to it" (2 Kings 18:4), removed it and destroyed it. In other words, the Nehushtan had an illustrious pedigree entirely within the religious world of Israel, and there is no reason to believe that the asherah was any different in this respect. Moreover, what is striking in the long story of Israel's Asherah is the identity of those who did not oppose her. No prophet appears to have denounced Asherah before the eighth century B.C. . . . What was the "asherah" that stood in the temple at Jerusalem and in Samaria? Asherah was associated with trees.300 A 10th-century cultic stand from Ta'anach, near Megiddo, features two representations of Asherah; first in human form and then as a sacred tree. She is the tree.301
Peterson adds that the menorah, the seven branched candelabrum that stood for centuries in the temple of Jerusalem, supplies an interesting parallel to all of this: Leon Yardmen maintains that the menorah represents a stylized almond tree. He points to the notably radiant whiteness of the almond tree at certain points in its life cycle. Yardmen also argues that the archaic Greek name of the almond (amygdala, reflected in its contemporary botanical designation s Amygdalin communis), almost certainly not a native Greek word, is almost likely derived from the Hebrew e gedolah, meaning "Great Mother."302 [Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi & His Asherah," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies , FARMS, Vol. 9, Num. 2, 2000, pp. 19-20, 22] [See the commentary on Alma 7:10; Alma 39:3]
Warning* Readers should be aware that in Peterson's original article which appeared in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World, there is a footnote in which Peterson tries to disassociate himself from any false doctrine that might be implied by his article. The footnote reads as follows:
William J. Hamblin, Paul Y. Hoskisson, Dana M. Pike, Matthew Roper, and John A. Tvedtnes furnished several interesting references and, with Deborah D. Peterson, offered useful comments on earlier drafts of this essay. Of course, the author alone is responsible for the paper's arguments and conclusions.
So that there will be no mistake about my position, let me briefly speak rather more personally: this essay should not be misinterpreted as a brief for theological or ecclesiological innovation within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of that church have long understood and accepted the idea of a divine Mother in Heaven. If further information or instruction relating to her is to be made public, my conviction is that this will come through revelation to the proper authorities, not through agitation nor even, in any significant way, through scholarship. Unless and until revelation dictates otherwise, I believe that we are to stay within the bounds set by our canonical scriptures on this matter. I suspect that the ancient notion of Asherah as the wife of El reflects true doctrine, albeit frequently garbled and corrupted. I suspect, furthermore, that it was such garbling and corruption that impelled the Deuteronomistic reformers, whom I believe to have been inspired, to oppose and suppress the veneration of Asherah, just as they opposed and suppressed the veneration of the Nehushtan of Moses. My suspicions are not, however, essential to the fundamental thesis of this paper, which is simply that the representation, by a tree, of a divine consort bearing a divine child--to us a rather unexpected juxtaposition--was intelligible to Nephi because, whatever his personal opinion of Asherah may have been, such symbolism was familiar to him. (Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah," in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, pp. 218-219)
Readers should also note that Fred Collier was excommunicated from the Church. Furthermore, that the tree represents Christ is apparent from 1 Nephi 11:7: "And behold this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]
Note* The Book of Mormon claims that the ancient Americans were taught the gospel (for example, see 2 Nephi 30:5). Richardson, Richardson and Bentley write that one of the "mysteries" of the gospel is that we have a Mother in Heaven.* This concept was first taught and publicly announced in The Mormon (August 29, 1857, pp. 348-351). It is also mentioned in an early poem by Eliza R. Snow called "O May Father," which was alter set to music and has become a favorite LDS hymn.303
An evidence that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church is the fact that the ancient Americans also believed in a Mother in Heaven. Though this concept is not mentioned in the Book of Mormon, it is an important principle of the eternal gospel that was taught in its fullness in ancient America. According to Laurette Sejourne, the ancient Americans believed in "a place where there are the great God and Goddess."304
Other ancient American documents speak of a heavenly Father and Mother of Life. According to the Popol Vuh, (a modern translation of the ancient history of the Quiche' Maya of Guatemala): "These are the names of the divinity, arranged in pairs of creators in accord with the dual conception of the Quiche': Tzacol and Bitol, Creator and Maker, . . . Mother and Father, they are the Great Father and the Great Mother, so called by the Indians, according to Las Casas; and they were in heaven."305
*The Latter-day Saint concept of a Mother in Heaven is that of a glorified, perfected, and eternal woman who has lived with The Father as His eternal companion from the beginning--She is not Mary the mother of Jesus as taught by a few other religions. Likewise, Latter-day Saints do not worship, nor do they pray to Her. [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, pp. 38-39]
1 Nephi 11:25 The Tree of Life:
Hugh Nibley describes a picture in his possession from the Dura-Europos Synagogue, the oldest Jewish building known in the world. It was discovered a few years ago and excavated at Dura-Europos on the Tigris, well into Asia there. It's a third-century synagogue, the oldest one known. Here is the tree of life, and it's bearing all sorts of fruit. Under it are Isaac [he probably means Jacob] and the twelve tribes of Israel. Here is Joseph blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, or Isaac blessing Jacob and Esau. Here are the Twelve. Here is the Orphic figure who is playing music of beautiful harmony. The tree is full of animals. There are birds and animals. All creatures are being fed on the fruit of the tree. This is the tree of life, and it is right over the main shrine (this is where the Shrine of the Torah was) of this very ancient synagogue--the oldest Jewish church we know of. Right over it is this tree of life with all the symbolism that is brought out by Nephi here. Nobody knew anything about this until 1940 when the Dura-Europos was discovered. It told us all sorts of things about the Jews we didn't know before. But notice what an important position they give to the tree of life. Here are the twelve sons of Israel surrounding Jacob, or Israel. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 1, pp. 171-172]
1 Nephi 11:25 The Fountain of Living Waters, or . . . the Tree of Life:
In Lehi's dream, at the end of the strait and narrow path were both the tree of life and a "fountain of living waters" (1 Nephi 11:25). According to McConkie and Millet, the words of Jehovah through his servant Jeremiah are particularly insightful in identifying Christ himself with this joint symbol. "My people have committed two evils," the Lord said anciently, for "they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13; italics added) [Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 81]
1 Nephi 11:25 The tree of life (Illustration): Torah-shrine and symbolic tree in the ancient synagogue of Dura Europos. [Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah, p. 190]
1 Nephi 11:25 The Word of God:
In 1 Nephi 11:25 we find "the Word of God" being equated with "The Fountain of Living Waters" and "The Tree of Life" and "The Love of God."
According to Michael Griffith, anti-Mormons assert that the Book of Mormon contains almost no Mormonism" (Decker and Hunt 114). By this the critics mean to claim that none or almost none of the more unique doctrines of Mormonism can be found in the Nephite record (Decker and Hunt 114; J.L. Smith 23-30). . . . [One of these allegations involves the preexistence and the doctrine of "the Word"]
In John 1:1-14 we find set forth the doctrine of the divinization of "the Word" (or Logos). In the Ebla tablets, which date to around 2500 B.C., we also find the concept of the divinized Word. Mitchell Dahood says the following:
From the biblical point of view, perhaps the most dramatic place name [in the Ebla tablets] is MEE 1,6523 = TM.76.G.525 rev. VII e-da-bar-ki, Temple of the World," wherein da-bar is equated with the Hebrew (and rarely Phoenician) dabar, "word." In other terms, the Word, the Logos, was already divinized in third-millennium Canaan . . . . (Mitchell Dahood, "The Temple and Other Sacred Places in the Ebla Tablets," in Truman Madsen, editor, The Temple in Antiquity, 1984:86)
[Michael T. Griffith, Refuting the Critics, p. 101] [See the commentary on Alma 5:34; Helaman 5:47]
1 Nephi 11:25 The Tree of Life Was a Representation of the Love of God:
Brant Gardner notes that Nephi had asked to do two things, to see what his father saw, and to understand the meaning of it. The angel proceeds to provide the answer to both requests simultaneously. Nephi beings to be carefully walked through the vision, but the meaning is inextricably woven into the vision itself. Rather than symbol only, Nephi sees precisely how Christ is the meaning of the dream, and the symbols are explicated by their relevance to the life and mission of the Savior: "and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God." [Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary," 1Nephi/1Nephi11.htm, p. 9]
1 Nephi 11:27 I looked and beheld the Redeemer of the world (Illustration): Christ [Gary Kapp, Verse Markers, Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 2]
1 Nephi 11:27 I Also Beheld the Prophet Who Should Prepare the Way before Him:
[See the commentary on 1 Nephi 10:8]
1 Nephi 11:27 In the Form of a Dove:
[See the commentary (Andrew Skinner) on Helaman 8:14]
1 Nephi 11:32-33 I . . . Beheld the Lamb of God . . . Was Lifted up upon the Cross and Slain for the Sins of the World:
Donna Nielsen notes that the last night that Christ spent with his disciples was during Passover, a beautiful feast celebrated by the Jews to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt, slavery, and death. The Passover meal had several elements, the main one being roasted lamb. The lamb was prepared according to very strict specifications. The lamb had to pass an exacting inspection by the priests, so that it was found to have no fault or blemish. It had to be roasted whole in an upright position, and this was done by making a stand with branches from a pomegranate tree lashed together in the shape of the ancient Hebrew letter Tav (+). The lamb was roasted in an especially constructed oven. It was forbidden to break any bones of the roasted sacrificial lamb. [Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom: Finding Christ in Ancient Jewish Marriage and Family Customs, p. 116]
1 Nephi 11:32 The Son of the Everlasting God:
According to McConkie and Millet, the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon reads as follows: "And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people, yea, the everlasting God was judged of the world." Again (like in 1 Nephi 11:18), this change was the case of editorial insertion by Joseph Smith. [Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, p. 83] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 11:18]