Saturday, May 9, 2015

“The Things Which my Father Saw”: The Chiastic Inclusio of 1 Nephi 11–14

A less common image of the tree of life that I thought was really cool looking.
When recording his sweeping vision found in 1 Nephi 11–14, Nephi appears to have framed it with an inclusio. According to Wikipidia, “In biblical studies, inclusio is a literary device based on a concentric principle, also known as bracketing or an envelope structure, which consists of creating a frame by placing similar material at the beginning and end of a section.” Wikipidia goes on to explain:

While this may not be evident to many of the Bible's modern lay readers, the Hebrew Bible is actually full of literary devices, some of which, having fallen out of favor over the years, are lost on most modern readers. Inclusio, of which many instances can be found in the Bible, is one of these, although many instances of its usage are not apparent to those reading translations of the Bible rather than the Hebrew source. 
I’ll confess to generally being a poor reader when it comes to recognizing literary divices, etc. I notice them after they are pointed out to me, and enjoy the insights that others have shared through books and articles. But, I’ve never been very good at finding them and interpreting them myself.

But here, it seems, I may have noticed something that others have missed (at least I have not seen anyone else mention it). Nephi closes his sweeping vision with a formal summary of the contents which harks back to the opening verses of his visionary experience.

And I bear record that I saw the things which my father saw, and the angel of the Lord did make them known unto me. And now I make an end of speaking concerning the things which I saw while I was carried away in the Spirit; and if all the things which I saw are not written, the things which I have written are true. And thus it is. Amen (1 Nephi 14:29–30).
Compare this to the opening statements of 1 Nephi11.

For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I 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. And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou? And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw (1 Nephi 11:1–3).
These similar opening and closing statements serve to set off Nephi’s vision as an independent literary unit.[1] John A. Tvedtnes has noted that these types of statements exist in “intricate relations … with each other,”[2] and such is true here. The three related statements are chiasticly arranged:[3]

(11a) I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord
(11b) the Spirit said unto me
(11c) I desire to behold the things which my father saw
(14c) I saw the things which my father saw
(14b) the angel of the Lord did make them known unto me
(14a) I saw while I was carried away in the Spirit
Hence, Nephi artfully introduces and closes his vision in a manner that emphasizes the link between his vision and his father’s. While this no doubt serves a number of purposes, one objective is likely to reinforce for the reader the connection between Nephi and Lehi, and his role as the spiritual and political successor to Lehi.




[1] See John A. Tvedtnes, “Colophons in the Book of Mormon,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne, eds. (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1991), 32–37 for discussion of these sorts of prefaces and summaries and the role that play in the text. On p. 32 Tvedtnes notes the closing summary of 1 Nephi 14, but fails to mention the opening preface of 1 Nephi 11.
[2] Tvedtnes, “Colophons in the Book of Mormon,” 37.
[3] Chiastic arrangement here is my own. The numbering serves to identify which chapter the statement is from (11 vs. 14) while the lower case letters indicate the matching pairs (a-b-c-c-b-a), as is standard in chiastic arrangements.

2 comments:

  1. Just wanted to say that I appreciated this post. Very interesting

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