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1 and 2 Nephi as a Temple Text

Nephi says his people built a temple "like unto" the temple of Solomon,
though he confessed that his was not as spectacular (see 2 Nephi 5:16)  
A common criticism I used to hear on my mission was that, as one counter-cult ministry put it in 2009, “there is NO evidence to suggest that the peoples in the Book of Mormon practiced ANY of the temple ceremonies that modern day Mormons practice.”[1] Personally, I always thought this criticism was pretty silly. The Book of Mormon mentions the presence of temples in virtually every major city, and of course they don’t describe the ceremonies—like us, they would have held them too scared to share in a text they knew would be public!

Nonetheless, this kind of criticism persists, at least in some corners of the anti-Mormon world. I thus find the intersection of Book of Mormon studies and temple studies that has emerged and gotten quite popular over the last few years rather fascinating. Turns out the temple really permeates the Book of Mormon record in ways few of us ever could have guessed. And, for those who have been to the LDS temple, the patterns found in the text are suspiciously familiar. This starts with the very first writer in the book—Nephi, son of Lehi.

Donald W. Parry has identified a chiasm right at the beginning of 1 Nephi,[2] as Nephi is introducing himself:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days;
A
yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God,

B
therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.


C
Yea, I make a record in the language of my father,



D
which consists of the learning of the Jews


C’
and the language of the Egyptians.

B’
And I know that the record which I make is true: and I make it with mine own hand:
A’
and I make it according to my knowledge. (1 Nephi 1:1–3)

There is a lot of interesting things that can be commented on in this chiasm, but for my present purposes I want to point out what he does with “knowledge” in lines A and A’. By arranging the passage chiasticly, Nephi connects his “knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God,” with the “knowledge” he is basing his record on. As Andrew Miller explains in a recent publication from FairMormon, the Greek μύστηριον (mystērion), or plural μύστηρια (mystēria) originally referred to esoteric rituals connected with temple worship.[3] That Nephi connects his making a record with his knowledge of the mysteries merges with a common ancient practice that,
At the end of the mysteries, you were required to record this before you could leave the cave, or the temple or whatever it was. You would leave a record of your experiences in the mysteries—whatever visions it was you had.[4]
So we see that it starts to become pretty interesting that Nephi connects his knowledge of the mysteries with his making a record. But we are really only getting to the tip of the ice-burg here (and, regrettably, we won’t be able to explore too much in  this little blog post). Joseph Spencer, in his volume An Other Testament (a must read, seriously—it will completely change the way you read the Book of Mormon, I promise!), notices a structural pattern that bridges across 1 and 2 Nephi:
These structural divisions order Nephi’s record as a four-part progression, from (1) the journey to the New World (1 Nephi 1–18) through (2) a series of theological sermons (1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5) to (3) the culminating, commanded heart of Nephi’s record (2 Nephi 6–30) and (4) a brief conclusion (2 Nephi 31–33).[5]
Having identified the four-part progression, Spencer then identifies the theological pattern embedded within this structure. 
The basic theological pattern at work is relatively straightforward: (1) 1 Nephi 1–18 recounts the founding of the Lehite colony in the New World; (2) 1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5 relates the breaking up of this colony into two rival factions, one of which is cut off from the presence of the Lord; (3) 2 Nephi 6–30 consists of prophecies and sermons focused on the eventual return of that cut-off faction to the Lord’s favor; and (4) 2 Nephi 31–33 offers summary reflections on baptism as a crossing of a limit.[6]
From here, Spencer categorizes the four sections as Foundation (1 Nephi 1–18); Division (1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5); Redemption (2 Nephi 6–30); and Conclusion (2 Nephi 31–33).[7] Using only a little imagination, Spencer quickly recasts these categories into a pattern readily identifiable with the temple:

·         Creation (1 Nephi 1–18)
·         Fall (1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5)
·         Atonement (2 Nephi 6–30)
·         Veil (2 Nephi 31–33)[8]

This dovetails nicely with the theological pattern that Margaret Barker has sketched out for the pre-exilic temple: (1) creation; (2) covenant; (3) atonement; and (4) wisdom.[9] Though (2) and (4) might seem different at first, they are quite connected. Covenant and fall go hand-in-hand. The fall can only come through the breaking of the covenant (no covenant, nothing to “fall” from), and it is the breaking of the covenant that necessitates the third stage, atonement. And in the mysteries, wisdom is what is imparted to the initiate at the veil.

Thus, we see that Nephi really does craft his record in accordance with his knowledge of the mysteries, even embedding them into the very structure of his narrative. Really, though, since Nephi states that he had his people build a temple around the same time he started crafting his text (see 2 Nephi 5:16, 28–32), it should come as no surprise that temple theology permeates the text.[10] It is perhaps even possible that Nephi made this record as a temple text—that is, as the liturgy to used during the performance of the mysteries at his newly built temple. Regardless of whether that is the case, though (and I am not sure it is, though it is interesting to contemplate), it certainly puts to rest the assertion that there is “no evidence” for anything like the temple ceremonies in the text. The book is literally littered with allusions to the temple drama, it just requires astute reading, and awareness of what you are looking for, to notice.



[1] “The Bible and LDS Temple Ceremonies,” online article from concernedchristians.com, no longer available; screenshot in my possession.
[2] See Donald W. Parry, ed., Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2007), 1.
[3] Andrew I. Miller, “‘Able to Know Heavenly Things’: The Anti-Nicene Mysteries and their New Tesament Sources,” FairMormon Papers and Reviews 2 (2015), online at http://blog.fairmormon.org/2015/03/23/able-to-know-heavenly-things-the-ante-nicene-mysteries-and-their-new-testament-sources/ (accessed March 23, 2015).
[4] Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon: Transcripts of Lectures Presented to an Honors Book of Mormon Class at Brigham Young University, 1988–1990, 4 vols. (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications and FARMS, 2004), 1:13.
[5] Joseph M. Spencer, An Other Testament (Salem, Oregon: Salt Press, 2012),  36.
[6] Spencer, An Other Testament, 41–42.
[7] Spencer, An Other Testament, 42.
[8] Spencer, An Other Testament, 42.
[9] See Margaret Barker, Temple Theology: An Introduction (London, Eng.: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004).
[10] See John W. Welch, “When Did Nephi Write the Small Plates?” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1999), 75–77.

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