Lehi’s Dream and the Garden of Eden

Abstract: Lehi’s dream in 1 Nephi 8 and Nephi’s related vision in 1 Nephi 11–14 contain many features related to the biblical garden of Eden, including most prominently the tree of life. A close reading of the features of Lehi’s dream in light of the earliest Book of Mormon text shows further similarities to the biblical garden, suggesting that the setting of Lehi’s dream is actually the garden of Eden. But the differences are also informative. These include both substantive features absent from the biblical Eden and differences in the language used to describe the features. Many of the variant features are also found in other ancient creation accounts. In view of these observations, it is likely the Book of Mormon presupposes a variant account of the garden of Eden. This variant account forms the backdrop for Lehi’s dream and for other references to the garden in the Book of Mormon. Continue reading

The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics

Abstract: A novel theory for the origins of Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life has been offered by Rick Grunder, who argues that the story was inspired by a June 1829 visit to Rochester where Joseph could have seen a “great and spacious building,” a river, an iron railing, and even fruit trees. The purported source for the great and spacious building, the Reynolds Arcade, has even been suggested by one critic as a place where Joseph might have found “rare maps,” such as a map of Arabia that could have guided his fabrication of Lehi’s trail. As beautiful as such theories may be to their champions, they utterly fail to account for Nephi’s text.

Among the shortcomings of Grunder’s theory and creative extensions of it, the timing is problematic, for Joseph’s visit to Rochester likely occurred well after 1 Nephi was dictated. The proposed parallels offer little explanatory power for Book of Mormon creation. (For comparison, two online appendices for this article have been provided to illustrate how interesting random parallels can be found that may be more compelling than those Grunder offers.1) Further, any inspiration from a visit to Rochester as the plates of Nephi were being translated fails to account for the influence of Lehi’s vision and Nephi’s text on other portions of the Book of Mormon that were translated long before Joseph’s trip to Rochester. Finally, Nephi’s account of the vision of the Tree of Life and surrounding text cannot be reasonably explained by Grunder’s theory of last-minute fabrication inspired by Rochester or by any other theory of modern fabrication, as it is far too rooted in the ancient world and far too artfully crafted to have come from Joseph Smith and his environment. Continue reading

“Zion” and “Jerusalem” as Lady Wisdom in Moses 7 and Nephi’s Tree of Life Vision

Editor’s Note: This article is drawn from a chapter in Samuel Zinner’s new book entitled Textual and Comparative Explorations in 1 and 2 Enoch (Provo, UT: The Interpreter Foundation/Eborn Books, 2014). The book is now available online for purchase (e.g., Amazon, FairMormon Bookstore) and will be available in selected bookstores in October 2014. The other new temple books from Interpreter are also now available for purchase. Click here for more details.

The essay traces lines of continuity between ancient middle eastern traditions of Asherah in her various later Jewish, Christian, and Mormon forms. Especially relevant in Jewish texts are Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 8; Sirach 24; Baruch 3-4), Daughter of Zion (Lamentations; Isaiah); Lady Zion and Mother Jerusalem (4 Ezra), Binah in kabbalah etc. The divine feminine in the Jewish-Christian texts Odes of Solomon 19 and Shepherd of Hermas is examined, as well as in Pauline Christian texts, namely, the Letter to the Galatians and the writings of Irenaeus (Against Heresies and Apostolic Preaching). Dependence of Hermas on the Parables of Enoch is documented. The essay identifies parallels between some of the above ancient sources and traditions about Zion and other forms of the feminine divine in 19th century America, specifically in the Mormon scriptures (Moses 7 and Nephi 11). While recognizing the corporate nature of the Enochic city of Zion in Moses 7, the essay argues that this Zion also parallels the hypostatic Lady Zion of Jewish canonical and extracanonical scriptures, especially 4 Ezra. The essay also points how the indigenous trope of Mother Earth [Page 282]parallels forms of the divine feminine stretching from the ancient middle eastern Asherah, the Jewish Lady Wisdom and Shekhinah, the Christian Holy Spirit, to the Mormon Enochic Zion. Continue reading