FAIR Study Aids/Gospel Doctrine/Book of Mormon/Lesson Three



A FairMormon Analysis of: Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual

Lesson 3: "The Vision of the Tree of Life"

LDS Lesson Manual

Lesson 3: The Vision of the Tree of Life: off-site

1. The Symbols in the Vision of the Tree of Life

Helpful Insights


Concept related to the lesson topic:
The religion of Israel was significantly reformed approximately 50 years before Lehi's ministry by King Josiah. Josiah cleared the temple of all the symbols of other divine figures besides Yahweh (Jehovah). One of the symbols that had a common presence in the temple before this reformation was an idealized carving of a tree on a wooden pole that represented the goddess "Asherah". Asherah was believed to be the consort or companion of Yahweh.

Additional information

  • Margaret Barker, "What Did King Josiah Reform?," in Glimpses of Lehi's Jerusalem, edited by John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely, (Covenant Communications, 2004). ISBN 0934893748. ISBN 978-0934893749. off-site
  • Kevin Christensen, "The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament," FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 59–90. off-site
  • Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, "Does God Have a Wife? Review of Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 81–118. off-site wiki

Concept related to the lesson topic:
When Nephi asked his guide what the tree in his dream represented the answer was associated with "the mother of the Son of God" (1 Nephi 11:18) (See Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23," in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, edited by Davis Bitton, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998). [191-243] direct off-site A shorter version of this article is also available in Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 16–25. off-site wiki .) This may be connected the symbolism of Asherah.



Concept related to the lesson topic:
The symbol of Asherah, a pole carved in the shape of a tree, was a part of worship in Solomon's temple for almost 2/3 of the temple's existence.

Additional information


Concept related to the lesson topic:
1 Nephi 9:2-6 discusses how Nephi created two separate records, both of which he refers to as the "plates of Nephi". The two sets of plates differed in their size, the larger being a more secular account of Nephi's reign, and the smaller being a more spiritual account of Nephi's reign and ministry. The record we have in the Book of Mormon is the smaller of the two. [Brant Gardner, "Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon," vol. 1, Kofford Books, 2007, pp 185.]

Additional information

Potential Criticisms and Faithful Information


Common criticisms related to this lesson topic
Lehi's dream has some similarities to a dream that Joseph Smith Sr. (Joseph's father) had ~1815, as described by Lucy Mack Smith (Joseph's mother) in ~1844. It is claimed that Joseph used his father's dream as a template for inventing Lehi's dream.

Response
Because Lucy Smith described her husband's dream about 30 years after the fact, and because she described it 15 years after the publication of the Book of Mormon, it is more likely that her telling of her husband's dream was more influenced by Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon, and not vice versa.
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Common criticisms related to this lesson topic
An ancient Mesoamerican "stela" (large stone carving), Izapa Stela 5, depicts a scene that many LDS have interpreted as a representation of Lehi's dream.

Response
As LDS scientists have learned more about Mesoamerican culture and artwork they have come to realize that Izapa Stela 5 is not a representation of Lehi's dream. Latter-day Saints should be discouraged from promoting the stela as evidence for the Book of Mormon.
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Common criticisms related to this lesson topic
Nephi speaks explicitly of a coming Messiah who will redeem mankind, including using the term "the Lamb of God" (1 Nephi 10:10). Some critics charge that this Christian belief did not exist among the Jews before Christ.

Response
Recent scholarship has shown that such beliefs did in fact exist.
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Faith Affirmations

  • An ancient Hebrew document called "The Narrative of Zosimus", dating to before the time of Christ, contains a story with remarkable similarities to Lehi's dream. Points of correspondence include a righteous man entering a desolate area, a spiritual guide, and images of a tree and a river. [1]
  • Some ancient middle eastern documents describe the Tree of Life as having white fruit. This corresponds to Lehi's vision of the tree. [2]
  • 1 Nephi 8:3 contains a Hebraism called "cognate accusative" in which a direct object noun shares the same root as the preceding verb, such as "I have dreamed a dream". [3]
  • There are many similarities between Lehi's dream-landscape and the Arabian Peninsula, the area that Lehi's family was traveling through.
    • "Lehi's dream, perhaps more than any other segment of Nephi's narrative, takes us into the ancient Near East. For as soon as we focus on certain aspects of Lehi's dream, we find ourselves staring into the world of ancient Arabia. Lehi's dream is not at home in Joseph Smith's world but is at home in a world preserved both by archaeological remains and in the customs and manners of Arabia's inhabitants. Moreover, from all appearances, the dream was prophetic—and I emphasize this aspect—for what the family would yet experience in Arabia. To be sure, the dream was highly symbolic. Yet it also corresponds in some of its prophetic dimensions to historical and geographical realities." (S. Kent Brown, "New Light from Arabia on Lehi's Trail," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002).
  • 1 Nephi 11:1 describes Nephi being swept away by the Spirit unto a high mountain. In ancient Hebrew cosmology mountains were sacred places that reach the heavens and symbolically bring one closer to God. Temples were often referred to as the "mountain of the Lord." [4]

2. The People in the Vision of the Tree of Life

Helpful Insights


Concept related to the lesson topic:
he four groups of people described in Lehi's dream are comparable to the types of "seeds" in Christ's parable of the sower in Matthew 13.

Additional information

  • See Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1997), 161-162.

Potential Criticisms and Faithful Information

Faith Affirmations

Additional Information Related to 1 Nephi 8-11

  • 1 Nephi 8:20 refers to a "strait and narrow path". Recent scholarship suggests that the word "strait" is a mistranscription and should instead be the word "straight". [See: Noel B. Reynolds and Royal Skousen, "Was the Path Nephi Saw "Strait and Narrow" or "Straight and Narrow"," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 10/2 (2001): 30–33. off-site wiki]
  • Nephi makes frequent reference to the "Lamb of God" when speaking of the Messiah, a phrase some believe is anachronistic in this pre-Christian context. The second century BC Jewish text "Testament of Joseph" also use this term also in reference to a future Messiah. (See: "'The Lamb of God' in Pre-Christian Texts," in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999). off-site)
  • 1 Nephi 10:4 says that Lehi prophesied the coming of the Messiah 600 years from the time he left Jerusalem. This is a problem because King Zedekiah took the throne in 597 BC, and the birth of Christ is generally believed to have occurred in between 6 BC - 4 BC. Ancient groups did not necessarily use the same calendar system we do. It is possible that the Nephites were using a lunar calandar. (See: Randall P. Spackman, "The Jewish/Nephite Lunar Calendar," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7/1 (1998): 48–59. off-site wiki)

Chiasms and Other Poetic Parallelisms in 1 Nephi 8-11; 12:16-18;15

The Book of Mormon contains a number of literary structures called poetic parallelisms, chiasmus being the best known. While these are frequently used as evidence for the Book of Mormon’s authenticity, their real value is in helping shed light on the meaning and message in the text. The following passages contain examples of these structures from chapters being covered in this lesson. If you are planning on using any of these passages in your lesson, it may be worthwhile to check these structures to see if they help emphasize or focus attention on the message you hope to convey, or if they provide an alternative perspective you had not considered before which may enhance your lesson. For the sake of space, the references can only be listed here. To look at these structures, see Donald W. Perry, Poetic Parallelisms: The Complete Text Reformatted, which is graciously provided online for no charge (you have to go to the PDF file) by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute.

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