This post is part of a series of reflections on I Nephi. If you’re interested, the introduction to the series is here. To peruse earlier entries, click the authors tab at the top of the page and then click on my name. I welcome your own thoughts on these specific verses (or on my reflections) in the comments below.
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The stylized or crafted nature of the narrative is more apparent here. Chronologically, while it reads as a single conversation to us, I believe this was a single conversation only of the kind that we have with those close to us over the course of a stretch of time. It’s the conversation I have over six months with my wife about whether or not we should move—written out one night in my journal as a single passage.
Sometime after Nephi’s last conversation with his brothers, after expounding to them a new worldview concerning the allegory of the olive tree, Nephi’s brothers come again to inquire of him. This is significant and I don’t remember seeing it before. Unlike the wicked priests of King Noah whose initial reaction to having the scriptures expounded was to murder Abinadi, Nephi’s brothers at this point don’t seem to have a hidden agenda—or at least Nephi gives us no hint of one. Instead, it looks as though the brothers are seriously wrestling with the meaning of what their father had presented. Wrestling over an extended period of time. Returning to make further inquiries and learn more. This is not the dismissive, angry, selfish, anti-Lehi Laman (et al) that we see in our cartoons (and too often in our minds). This is a reflective Laman who feels the weight of his father’s dream and exhortation and—like Lehi and Nephi—is seeking after a greater understanding of the meaning. What is this dream? What is the tree? What is the rod? What is the river? What’s the appropriate interpretive framework that we ought to apply here, temporal or spiritual?
I also see two differenet Nephi’s in this passage, and I’m not sure which is more accurate—perhaps they are both accurate. For both readings, there is great significance in Laman’s coming to Nephi and asking the same questions that Nephi asked of the angel—though a different significance in each.
First, I see a Nephi doing exactly what we all do when we live vicariously through a sci-fi film or book with a protagonist who time travels and sees something terrible that will happen in the future—we squirm inside in our attempts to help the protagonist change that future. And of course we do this in our own lives, reliving events and desperately thinking of what we could’ve done differently. Nephi has seen Lehi’s dream and more; he’s determined the interpretation of Laman and Lemuel not coming to the tree, inevitably relating these to the future wars and suffering and ultimate genocide of his people. Now he pleads with his brothers, in parallel fashion to Lehi’s pleading—with all the feeling of a loving parent (for that is what Nephi is: a parent to a future people who will be lost). Hold to the word of the Lord; repent; change the future I’ve seen!
Then there’s also the political Nephi: What is it that’s worth recording in the wake of a long and sustained conversation with Laman, a conversation where Laman appears to conduct himself quite honorably? What ought the narrative to emphasize? First, that Laman appropriately came to me (Nephi) as his teacher. Second, that I like my father Lehi had received revelation and so legitimately inherited his prophetic role. Third, I carried out that role in the same manner as my father, passionately calling Laman to repentance. I did all I could. Whatever Laman’s occasional humility, he ultimately hardened his heart and rejected the revelations of Lehi, my own revelations, the divine narrative that imbued our family’s whole journey with transcendent meaning.
How many of my own actions toward those with whom I have substantive, long-term disagreements follow this same—unfortunate—pattern?