Friday, February 12, 2016

The Book of Mormon's Inner Meanings: 2 Nephi 3

The next entry in my "Inner Meanings" series for the Book of Mormon will be on 2 Nephi 3, the chapter that's infamous for saying the phrase "fruit of thy loins" enough times to make any reader feel a bit awkward. Though, in all seriousness, 2 Nephi 3 might qualify for the chapter in the Book of Mormon which best describes the Book of Mormon's purpose.

The chapter depicts Lehi giving a blessing to his last-born son, Joseph. The Book of Mormon's Joseph is effectively a "type" for Joseph Smith. Both are the "last born:" the Book of Mormon's Joseph is the literal last-born son of Lehi, and Joseph Smith is person sent forth to bring about or "birth" the last dispensation. Both come out of a time of affliction and trial: for Joseph of the Book of Mormon, he was born in the wilderness, while Joseph Smith was born in the wilderness of an apostasy of the Church.

However, they're both types of another Joseph, namely Joseph of the Old Testament. Like both later "Josephs," the Old Testament Joseph was separated from and persecuted by his brothers (the Lamanites for Joseph in the Book of Mormon, and the churches who were lost in apostasy for Joseph Smith). Moreover, all three Josephs would eventually be reunited with their "brothers:" Joseph of Egypt in the famous story involving the Pharaoh's court, Joseph of the Book of Mormon in the latter-day coming forth of that book to the Lamanites, and Joseph Smith with the promise that, eventually, "every knee will bow" as one to Christ.
Moreover, we can find another parallel by pointing out that all three Josephs were somehow lost or buried. Joseph of Egypt was thrown into a pit and lost in Egypt; Joseph of the Book of Mormon's descendants "cry from the dust;" and Joseph Smith was buried in the darkness of the apostasy's falsehoods. Moreover, in each case, they "come forth from obscurity," with Joseph of Egypt reuniting with his brothers, with the Book of Mormon's coming forth, and with Joseph Smith's restoration of the truth.

These massive parallels suggest that all three stories are reflecting some deep, archetypal reality. Master interpreter of the Bible Emanuel Swedenborg gives us a good idea of what that reality is when he declares that the Bible's Joseph is a correspondence of what he calls God's "Divine Human." In other words, Joseph is symbol for humanity's knowledge of God's human nature. Swedenborg repeatedly insisted that God could only appear to human beings in the form of a man, and he also said that the knowledge of this divine humanity had been lost and suppressed in modern Christianity. This is what he says Joseph's sale into slavery symbolizes. More specifically, Swedenborg wrote that God's "Divine Human" was the appearance of God, or rather how God shows Himself to us. We can extend that to mean that, as that which Joseph symbolizes in the Bible, God's Divine Human is any way human beings can come to know God in the "appearances" of things--not just in a human form, but in the everyday, pedestrian ways in which God shows up to the simpleminded but pure in heart (as in, those who don't delve underneath "appearances").

So when the Book of Mormon writes that the seed of the Old-Testament-Joseph will "cry from the dust," we could take it to mean that the wisdom of knowing God in "simple" things will cry from their lack of recognition by the institutionalized church. And that is indeed what happened. From the time the apostasy began, people began to deny God's human, relatable face. They cast that human God into a pit, condemning him to be "trodden under the foot" of man. And the multifaceted ways that this human God informs the fullness of everyday life--symbolized by Joseph's multicolored coat--was torn from Him and made unclean. But Joseph doesn't die. He is hidden--cast into a faraway land where he can come forth triumphant later. This is what the Book of Mormon does, as well. As the record of a relatable, embodied God and the everyday way of worshiping Him in the world, it was buried in the ground of our ignorance only to come forth by way of "a choice seer" who could "see" what had been lost. And eventually the wisdom of that Human God will come forth and reunite with the wisdom of the religion it had been separated from (the Bible, the brothers, etc.) to "grow together" toward a fullness of truth.

The Book of Mormon is a record of God's evidence in the world. The Book of Mormon's God isn't "an ethereal mist or a vague philosophical First Cause or a deistic absentee landlord," but a viscerally embodied human God with a real interest in our lives and concerns--one who can show Himself to us in body, so we can answer His call to "come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth." Through the Book of Mormon, that human God comes out from the dust and into the knowledge of the world. And those who always felt lost in a religion where they felt unloved or out of place can now join those throngs going forth to know Him in person.

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