Digging in Cumorah
by Mark D. Thomas

Chapter 2
Warning Prophets and Lehi’s
Migration Narrative

 [p.33]I, Jacob, [son of Lehi] … conclude this record, declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge, by saying, That the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away, like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers cast out from Jerusalem: born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days.

Jacob 7:26

 The Book of Mormon begins with the story of a family. Lehi and Sariah were the parents of six sons and an unspecified number of daughters who, after the father’s death, formed themselves into two hostile groups whose history dominates the Book of Mormon: the Nephites and the Lamanites. After being warned of God in a dream, Lehi departed from Jerusalem with his family and traveled eight years in the wilderness. They crossed the ocean and finally arrived in the new world of the Americas. Early Mormons believed that Lehi’s group constituted the ancestors of contemporary Native Americans.l This narrative of Lehi thus has an etiological function: It explains the origin of a people.

The title page states that the Book of Mormon is “written to the Lamanites [which Joseph Smith‘s audience would have interpreted as meaning their Native Americans descendants], which are a remnant of the House of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile … which is to shew unto [p.34]the remnant of the House of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers.” Nephi also calls latter-day Native Americans the “remnant” of “the seed” of his father and the remnant of the seed of his brothers (1 Ne. 13:33-34, 38, 14:2, 22:7-9). Both Mormon and Moroni, the book’s main narrators, directly address latter-day Native Americans as descendants of the Lamanites (Mormon 7:1-10; Moro. 10:1-23), while the Doctrine and Covenants refers to Native Americans in North America as “Lamanites” (28:8, 32:2, 54:8). These are just a few examples of how the Book of Mormon answers the question of the origins of Native Americans. The initial narratives describe the journey to the Americas of this people. I will now tum to several other functions of these initial narratives.

In this chapter, I will examine the three major narrative forms in 1 Nephi to determine their functions: (1) Nephi’s autobiography, (2) the “warning prophet” form recounting Lehi’s experiences in Jerusalem, and (3) the migration narrative of the journey from Jerusalem through the desert and across the ocean to the promised land. In the course of this journey, the migration narrative theme is repeated in seven subplots, each of which replicates the same series of events. I will examine how these seven subplots function as myth to create a world for the reader. The chapter concludes with an excursus that describes in greater detail the phenomenon of visionary language in the early nineteenth century. Joseph Smith grew up surrounded by a prophetic tradition that preceded him. The excursus examines the use of visionary language in the Book of Mormon that originates in the nineteenth-century prophetic tradition.

Nephi’s Autobiography

 The first element in the Book of Mormon, introducing not only the book itself but also the story of Lehi, is an autobiography of Nephi, Lehi’s and Sariah’s third son:

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; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days;
Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians (1 Ne. 1:1-2).

[p.35]The autobiographical form is found in several places in the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi 1:1-3, Enos 1:1, Mosiah 9:1, Mormon 1:1-2. There are numerous additional examples of this form in both the ancient world and the world of the original 1830 reader. The nineteenth-century autobiographical form is recognizable because it begins with the formula of one’s birth and parentage.2 Unlike many literary forms in the Book of Mormon, this one is still clearly recognizable to us today.

The original readers of the Book of Mormon expected religious autobiography and religious biography to be filled with “instruction and example.” 3 In that respect, 1 Nephi would not have disappointed its audience. Its narratives are filled with both proclamations of doctrine and exemplary tales. What is striking about Nephi’s autobiographical introduction is that he uses this form to defend the truthfulness of what is to follow: “And I know that the record which I make, to be true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge” (l Ne. 1:3).

The form, by appealing to first-hand experience, is therefore a direct claim of historical reliability and authority. I have read dozens of religious autobiographies from the early nineteenth century. None was as controversial as the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon regularly anticipates and defends itself against the enormous animosity that its historical and authority claims would generate, and Nephi’s claim that his record has the certainty of an eyewitness is part of this pattern. (See, e.g., 1 Ne. 6:5-6, 11:1-3, 14:10-12,30, 16:1-3, 22:23-31; 2 Ne. 3:12-15, 33:1-15; Mosiah 1:6; Alma 10:9-10; Ether 4:4-15, 5:1-6; 12:23-28; Moro. 10:1-7.) In the excursus at the end of this chapter, I will discuss why various eighteenth- and nineteenth-century prophets claimed to have discovered ancient documents. But Joseph Smith presented enough witnesses and evidence to quickly convince a sizable group of followers that he had found a real ancient document containing the true, uncontaminated gospel of Jesus Christ.

The autobiographical form introduces the book, not just to defend its claims of history and authority, but also to defend its teachings. One of those doctrines is summarized in the story of finding the Liahona, a compass that mysteriously appeared outside Lehi’s desert tent one morning. It provided not only geographical direction but also instruct-[p.36]tions about faith and attentiveness. Nephi’s commentary spiritualizes the meaning of the Liahona, telling the reader where to find God’s guides in the wilderness: “And thus we see, that by small means, the Lord can bring about great things” (1 Ne. 16:29).4

The focus of the narratives describing Lehi’s journey and the Jaredite wilderness journey is not on the arrival, which is hardly discussed at all, but on the means of deliverance and guidance in the journey. The guidance in migration narratives may be by a pillar of smoke as it was for the children of Israel led by Moses, by the Liahona, or by shining stones to provide illumination during the Jaredite voyage, or by the prophets-all of these are “small means.”

In describing the stones made luminous by the finger of God at the request of the brother of Jared, the book of Ether refers to God’s actions as small to human understanding (Ether 3:5). Alma emphasized the simplicity of the way to escape from a spiritual wilderness (Alma 37:46//1 Ne. 17:41). The description of the seer stone in the book of Mosiah makes a similar statement about simple means as a source of great results (1 Ne. 16:29/ /Mosiah 8:18) The wilderness narratives focus on the guides because they are specifically addressed to those seeking guidance to their own new world. What and who guides them? Not the powerful. Not the religious establishment. But small means.

Besides the Liahona story, the small things exemplified in the 1 Nephi narratives include the righteous younger brother who is victorious over his wicked older brothers; Nephi who, without any weapons of his own, obtains the brass plates from powerful Laban and his guards; the inexperienced shipbuilder who constructs an ocean-worthy vessel despite the ridicule of his skeptical brothers; and the founding of a nation by a lone prophet who escapes death at the hands of the citizens of Jerusalem. The symbolism of small things reverses the readers’ expectations and provokes thought for those seeking a guide to a new world. It is after this fashion that the Book of Mormon invites the reader to enter a new world by exercising faith in small things.

The narrative introduced by the 1 Nephi autobiography was designed to replace the Book of Lehi, lost through the carelessness of Martin Harris, one of Joseph Smith’s scribes. Hence, after the initial autobiographical introduction, 1 Nephi turns into a biography of Lehi, the father-prophet of the group.

[p.37]The Warning Prophet Form

Lehi’s story begins when God calls him in a vision to preach to the wayward citizens of Jerusalem. He predicts the coming of a messiah and warns the people that, because of their iniquities, the city of Jerusalem will be destroyed. The citizens in Jerusalem are angry and seek to kill Lehi, “yea, even as the prophets of old” (l Ne. 1:20). Here the Book of Mormon places the story of Lehi in a set pattern established by the stories of previous prophets. In this section on Lehi occurs the second major narrative form in 1 Nephi-the warning prophet form. The Book of Mormon describes the uniform role of such warning prophets among the Jews in 2 Nephi 25:9: “And as one generation hath been destroyed among the Jews, because of iniquity, even so have they been destroyed, from generation to generation, according to their iniquities; and never hath any of them been destroyed, save it were foretold them by the Prophets of the Lord.” This explanation of the role of prophets goes beyond Jewish history to establish the prophetic function as a universal part of providential history. When a nation eventually turns wicked through pride, God sends prophets to call the people to repent. If they persist in evil, they are punished. If they continue to increase in iniquity, they will eventually be destroyed. If they do repent, God blesses them spiritually and temporally. With such great blessings, the people become proud, and the piety/prosperity cycle begins again. This piety/prosperity cycle is driven by two forces: God’s power as governor of history and the constant human inclination to evil.

God calls prophets to deliver a message of impending judgment during the moments of spiritual decline in the cycle, thus filling a specific historic function in the life of a society.5 Lehi is the first of these warning prophets. The narratives of prophetic warning are presented in formulaic plots that contain four plot elements appearing in the same sequence: a heavenly call, a prophetic message of repentance and Christ, violent reaction from the people, and the prophet’s divine deliverance.

1. The Call. A prophet is called by God to warn a particular people that they face divine judgment. For some, this call comes from the voice or a vision of the Lord (Lehi, Abinadi, Nephi son of Helaman, Samuel the Lamanite’s second visit, and Ether) (1 Ne. 1:8-15; Mosiah 11:20, 12:1- 2, 12; Hel. 7:29, 9:36, 10:3-11, 13:3; Ether 13:20-21). Others are called to [p.38]prophesy by an angel (Alma, Amulek, and Samuel the Lamanite’s first visit) (Alma 8:14-17,20-29; Hel. 13:1-2, 7).

2. The Proclamation of the Message. The prophet delivers his message, predicting God’s approaching judgment and commanding the people to repent. The predicted judgment may include pestilence, bondage, famine, war, and eventually (if wickedness becomes great enough) extermination. This message is accompanied by predictions about the coming and mission of Christ. The Book of Mormon constantly reminds us that no prophet has spoken or written without including Christ in the message (2 Ne. 25:18; Jac. 4:4,7:11; Mosiah 13:33, 15:11; Hel. 8:14-20; 3 Ne. 5:1-2,20:24; Ether 12:41; Moro. 7:23). The actual Nephite and Jaredite narratives confirm the prophets’ universal proclamation of Christ in their warning message, thus combining predictive warning with proclamation. The language of the warning prophet is often graphic and intensely confrontational.

3. Violent Reaction from the People. Prophets such as Lehi, Abinadi, Alma and Amulek, Nephi son of Helaman, and Samuel are moral warriors who offend their audience and provoke the very crisis from which God must deliver them. As Nephi said to his brothers, “I knew that I had spoken hard things against the wicked … for it cutteth them to the very centre” (1 Ne. 16:2). The audience is often described as being “angry” or “wroth” (1 Ne. 1:20; Mosiah 11:26-27, 12:9; Alma 9:31, 10:24, 14:1-3; Hel. 8:4, 16:2). They may call the prophet a liar and/or mad (Abinadi) (Mosiah 12:14, 13:1; Alma 10:28, 14:2), of the devil (Alma, Amulek, and Samuel, and unnamed prophets) (Alma 10:28; Hel. 13:26, 16:6), or a reviler of their laws or leaders (Alma, Amulek, Nephi son of Helaman, and Abinadi) (Mosiah 12:9-10, 17:12; Alma 10:24, 28-29, 14:2; Hel. 8:2). They may attempt to catch the prophet in a contradiction (Abinadi, Alma, Amulek, Nephi son of Helaman) (Mosiah 12:17-24; Alma 10:13-16; Hel. 9:19-20). The prophets may be mocked and reviled (Lehi, Alma, Amulek, and other unnamed prophets) (1 Ne. 1:19; Alma 14:22; Hel. 13:24; Ether 7:24), or bribed to recant (Nephi son of Helaman and Amulek). The people seek to “lay their hands upon him” (Abinadi, Alma, Nephi son of Helaman, and Samuel the Lamanite) (Mosiah 13:2-5; Alma 9:7; Hel. 10: 15, 16:7). This last phrase echoes the reaction of the chief priests and Pharisees who sought to “lay hands on” Jesus when he [p.39]rebuked them; they did not lay their hands upon him because the multitude “took him for a prophet” (Matt. 21:4546; Luke 20:19).

At times the reaction against the Book of Mormon prophets is so strong that the prophet must flee (or is cast out) and must return a second time to complete his mission as Abinadi, Alma, Samuel, and Ether do (Alma 8:7-18; Mosiah 11:20-12:1; Hel. 13:14; Ether 12:1-3, 13:13-15).  After the prophet delivers his message, the audience may attempt to kill or imprison him, as they do in the cases of Lehi, Abinadi, Alma, Amulek, Nephi son of Helaman, and Samuel the Lamanite (1 Ne. 1:20; Mosiah 10:28, 12:17, 17:1-20; Alma 14:17; Hel. 9:19, 10:15, 16:2). This hostile reaction to the prophets is explicitly presented as a convention; Helaman 13:24-29 summarizes the violence typically inflicted on the warning prophets by their Nephite audiences: they “cast out the prophets,” “mock them,” “cast stones at them,” “slay” them, call them sinner[s] and of the devil,” and inflict other iniquities on them” even as they did [to the prophets] of old time” (//1 Ne. 1:20;Jacob 4:4-5). Ether 8:25 tells us that this typically violent reaction to the prophets is due to the devil, who hardens the hearts of the listeners so that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning.”

4. Deliverance of the Prophet. Despite the violent reaction of his hearers, the warning prophet usually escapes because he has received special powers of deliverance from God. Nephi son of Helaman had the power to move by the Spirit from place to place when a violent audience sought to take him (He!. 10:14-17). Lehi is warned in a dream to depart from Jerusalem, thus escaping death (1 Ne. 2:1-2). Stones and arrows cast at Samuel the Lamanite cannot hit him (Hel. 16:2). Alma and Amulek have the power to read minds and are delivered when prison walls fall upon their enemies (Alma 10:14-17, 12:1-7). Abinadi was preserved from the wrath of King Noah and his wicked priests until he delivered his message, though he was eventually martyred (Mosiah 13:1-6).

This four-part warning prophet form repeats itself many times in the Book of Mormon (it appears in truncated form in the Jaredite portion, which contains only the proclamation of message and the people’s violent reaction). These elements in the formulaic plot of the warning prophet reveal three important characteristics of the function and interpretation of this form: (1) a defense of the institution of prophecy, (2) a countercultu-[p.40]ral critique of social elites, and (3) the presentation of each prophet as a type of Christ.

The defense of prophecy is made against the background of various enemies of prophecy in the narratives and the narrators’ understanding that prophecy would be disdained by many of its latter-day readers (see, e.g., 2 Ne. 28:1-32; Morm. 9:7-10). Nineteenth-century “prophets” who preceded Joseph Smith were also born in a social wilderness and mourned out their days in emotional exile. Lehi is described as “visionary” (1 Ne. 2:11, 5:2-4), a term used derogatorily in the early nineteenth century to describe a religious social fringe that derived its doctrines from visions. These visionaries were attacked by more conventional Protestants and by those who espoused a liberal Enlightenment doctrine of reason in religion. Thus “visionary” links prophets in the Book of Mormon and Bible to the dying and largely despised prophetic tradition known to the original readers of the Book of Mormon. (See Excursus below.)

In contrast to this cultural norm, Book of Mormon visionaries are heroes. The Enlightenment figures are the villains. This defense of prophecy is made explicit in other ways in various warning prophet narratives. The first and fourth parts (the divine call and deliverance) are defenses of the institution of prophecy. In addition to defending prophets, the divine call also functions as an example of Mormonism’s independent and powerful epistemology, which is based on direct revelation. The infallibility of the written word of God has been replaced by the infallibility of the inner word of God. By revelation, we are told, we can know the truth of all things (Moro. 10:4-5).

Abinadi’s prophecies disclose that one of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to reveal “the abominations of this people to other nations” (Mosiah 12:8). In the warning prophet form, those abominations are committed by the social elite who, along with those sympathetic to them, are the source of the violent reaction to the warning prophet. Hence the second function of the warning prophet form is to act as a countercultural critique of social elites.

While the warning prophet form follows a set series of events, each example in the Book of Mormon denounces a unique social elite. Abinadi delivers his warning message to social elites who live in sinful luxury, do not work with their hands, and tax the people for exorbitant building projects (Mosiah 11:1-17). It is both an antiaristocratic and an [p.41]antimonarchical narrative. (See chap. 7.) Alma and Amulek preach against the leadership of Ammonihah which consists of lawyers, judges, and the city’s corrupt religious leaders (Alma 8:7-16:11). The warning prophet Nephi son of Helaman attacks the corruption of the Nephite leadership controlled by secret combinations (Hel. 7:1-11:38).

The natural consequence of the prophet’s attack on social stratification and privileged groups is a hostile reaction from those being attacked which, in turn, naturally produces the need for divine intervention to deliver the prophet. This form-being called, speaking the truth, being attacked, and being delivered-anticipates Mormonism’s visionary beginning, persecution, multiple deliverances, and eventual deliverance to a promised land.

A third function of the warning prophet form is to present each prophet as a type of Christ. The form thus serves simultaneously as an apologue for Christ and for the prophets. The Book of Mormon prefigures Christ in the events that unfold within the warning prophet form. Religious leaders in the Book of Mormon are all explicitly and implicitly portrayed as types of Christ (Alma 13:1-16).Jeffrey R. Holland analyzes numerous parallels between the trials of Abinadi andJesus.6 An even more detailed prefiguring of Christ can be found in the narratives of Amulek and Alma as they preach in the wicked city of Ammonihah.7 Christ in the Book of Mormon is not only the historic Jesus of Nazareth but is also the countercultural prophet who figures in each warning prophet form.

Lehi in Jerusalem is the first of the warning prophets. Lehi receives his commission as a warning prophet from a vision (1 Ne. 1:4-15). Like the commissions of biblical prophets-Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John of Patmos-Lehi sees heavenly beings and is handed a book (Isa. 6:1-13; Ezek. 1:1-3, 3: 14; Rev. 10:1-11). In this book he reads about the future destruction of Jerusalem and of the Babylonian captivity, a doom inevitable because of the people’s abominations. He also sees “the power, and goodness, and mercy” of God.8 Lehi then prophesies of the things which “he had both seen and heard”—a record of the Jews’ wickedness and abominations. As a result, “they were angry with him: yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out and stoned and slain; and they also sought his life that they might take it away.”

At this climax when the inhabitants of Jerusalem are ready to kill Lehi, the narrator, Nephi, interrupts with important commentary: “But [p.42]behold, I, Nephi, will shew unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord is over all them whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Ne. 1:20).9 Nephi universalizes Lehi’s deliverance to “all them whom he hath chosen.” In the Book of Mormon on a literal (temporal) level, the word chosen is not applied to all believers, but almost exclusively to the twelve disciples or to prophets-the highest spiritual leaders. In only two instances does the Book of Mormon refer to people in general as “chosen,” while in sixteen other instances “chosen” describes religious leaders.10  Thus 1 Nephi 1concerns itself solely with a warning prophet form which contains the divine call, the preaching, the rejection, and the divine deliverance of one prophet—Lehi. However, this promise of deliverance for Lehi, explained in Nephi’s narrator commentary, prepares the reader to understand the entire narrative of the journey to the promised land as a series of divine deliverances.

Lehi in the Wilderness: The Migration Narrative Form

The journey to the promised land consists of a formulaic plot of deliverance repeated seven times, each repetition representing a violent confrontation between the righteous and the wicked and each ending with divine deliverance. This formulaic plot is a variant of the warning prophet form. The chief difference between these seven sub-narratives and the warning prophet form itself is that there is no separate divine call in the seven subplots; a second difference is that, while most of the group reacts violently, Nephi, a prophet in his own right, counters with a faithful, exemplary reaction. The repeated episodes of divine deliverance from each of the seven crises build cumulative vindication of both the prophet and his followers.

Each of the seven subplots begins with a divine command or event that Nephi accepts with faith while the two elder sons, Laman and Lemuel, react with disobedience and skepticism. Their lack of faith leads to conflict and danger within the group and for the group as a whole, but God delivers those who are threatened. Thus the mantle of deliverance is not only thrown about the prophet but also about those who believe in him and even those who follow him grudgingly. Table 2.1 summarizes this pattern in the seven subplots. The deliverance episodes are grouped in two parts, separated by Lehi’s dream and Nephi’s visions, which will be considered in chapter 5.

[p.43]Table 2.1
Seven Subplots:
Deliverances During the Wilderness Journey and Ocean Voyage

Divine Command/Event Laman/Lemuel’s Faithless Reaction Nephi’s Exemplary Reaction Threat of Violence/Disaster Deliverance by Divine Aid
Leave Jerusalem (1Ne. 2:1-24) Murmur against Lehi Prays, believes Lehi Laman/Lemuel seek to kill Lehi Laman/Lemuel shaken by divine power
Obtain Laban’s brass plates (1 Ne. 3:1-6:6) Murmur, give up Believes, exhorts brothers Laman/Lemuel beat Nephi/Sam; Laban attempts to kill brothers Angel delivers Nephi/Sam
Persuade Ishmael and family to join them (1Ne. 7-8:1) Rebel, desire to return to Jerusalem Believes, exhorts brothers Laman/Lemuel bind Nephi to kill him Nephi breaks bonds with divine strength
Journey begins; Nephi’s bow breaks (1 Ne. 16:9-32) Murmur Makes new bow, asks Lehi for instruction, preaches faith Threat of starvation Liahona tells where to hunt
Death of Ishmael (1 Ne. 16:33-39) Murmur, denounce “visionaries” Not reported Starvation; Laman/Lemuel seek to kill Lehi, Nephi God’s voice chastens, food provided after repentance
Build ship (1 Ne. 17:7-18:4) Ridicule Nephi’s claim to revelation, ability Begins to build; exhorts brother to believe Laman/Lemuel seek to throw Nephi into sea Power of God shakes Laman/Lemuel, delivers Nephi
Begin ocean voyage (1 Ne. 18:5-25a) Sing, dance, act rudely Sober and preaches to brothers Laman/Lemuel tie up Nephi; storm threatens disaster God’s storm frightens Laman/Lemuel into releasing Nephi

[p.44]Table 2.1 illustrates the features of the formulaic plot, but recognizing the form is only the first interpretive step. A good story rarely follows a form mechanically, and a storyteller will often modify a narrative form to accomplish a particular end. Otherwise, the form becomes so predictable that it ceases to hold the audience’s attention.11 Exactly these kinds of subtle variations appear in the repeated narrative form of deliverance. 1 Nephi 2, the first of these, is straightforward: It simply introduces the form and the main characters. Lehi is the righteous prophet, Laman and Lemuel are rebellious sons, while Nephi and Sam are believing sons. Laman

and Lemuel threaten the life of their father as they reject his prophetic role. This subplot also introduces the first biblical parallels, comparing Lehi and Nephi to Moses, and Laman and Lemuel to the murmuring children of Israel who yearn for Egypt’s slavery and fleshpots.12

Other biblical parallels compare Nephi and Lehi to various biblical deliverers (such as Judith, Samson, and Jesus) and Laman and Lemuel to various skeptics and villains (such as the Pharisees and the doubting apostle).13 These parallels bridge the gap between the Bible and the 1830s readers’ personal histories, between ancient respected prophets and despised modern visionaries. The Book of Mormon describes the day when it will come forth—the very milieu of the 1830s audience—as a day of evil and skepticism, negative qualities which Laman and Lemuel exemplify (2 Ne. 28:3-4, 3 Ne. 29:6).

For Laman and Lemuel, Lehi’s visions are either “foolish imaginations” or deceit through “cunning arts.” Later descriptions characterize the visionaries as combative and power-hungry tricksters or as people who live in a fantasy world (1 Ne. 2:11, 16:38, 17:20; 2 Ne. 1). God must deliver Lehi from his rebellious sons by shaking their frames. The subplot also introduces the major themes that continue in the book: Nephi’s leadership over his brothers, the arrival at a promised land, God’s blessing of the righteous, and God’s cursing of the wicked. This particular subplot gives a straightforward introduction of the form, characters, and themes to follow.

The second subplot is the sons’ return to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates containing the Hebrew scriptures. The theme of prophetic deliverance is also found in this second subplot, but it is a different kind of deliverance. This narrative ends with Sariah’s complaint against Lehi’s visionary nature and Lehi’s self-defense. Nephi narrates the event:

[p.45]For she had supposed that we [her sons] had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying, behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness. And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father.

And it came to pass that my father spake unto her saying: I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision, I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem and had perished with my brethren.

But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which thing I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness (1 Ne. 5:2-5).

When Sariah sees the safe return of her sons, she states, “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness” (1 Ne. 5:8). This quotation identifies two types of deliverance in this second subplot: deliverance of her sons from Laban and “deliverance” of the visionary from the skepticism of those around him. This episode thus forms an envelope of prophetic deliverance that contains within it the deliverance of the sons. Unlike the prior subplot, it is the prophet’s credibility, not his life, that is at stake. This and other subplots give voice to the readers’ doubts through the “murmurings” of skeptical characters, then provide both actions and explanations that constitute vindicating evidence.

Lehi’s prophetic calling in the first subplot and the envelope story of Sariah’s skepticism in the second focus on the deliverance of the prophet. Laban’s story depicts a new expanded theme of deliverance divine protection for those who attempt to keep God’s commandments. After receiving the prophetic command to return for the brass plates, Nephi universalizes the meaning of the narrative that is to follow: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father, I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7).

This second subplot is much more elaborate than the first, encapsulating an even more complex story, since the encapsulated story of obtain-[p.46]ing the plates is built on repetitions of three. There are three attempts to obtain the plates, three commands to kill Laban, three mental responses by Nephi, three levels of appeal to Zoram, and three laments by Sariah.14 The repetition of three gives emphasis and overall dramatic balance to the tale. Each attempt increases in violence, thus heightening the dramatic tension of the story. At the climax of the hostilities, Nephi enters the city unarmed and without a plan. Since his opponent was a mighty man, he could “command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty, then why not us?” as his brothers remind him. Nephi’s willingness stresses his faithfulness and his belief that God will deliver them from Laban, as he delivered the children of Israel from the Egyptians (1 Ne. 4:1-3). So the repetition of three does more than build drama and add aesthetic interest. It builds a scene in which the weakness and growing vulnerability of those commanded by God are contrasted to the apparently invulnerable strength of an increasingly violent opponent. The narrative establishes an impossible task that will test Nephi’s optimism that God will deliver the obedient.

That deliverance comes in a surprising form. At the point when deliverance seems impossible, Nephi, alone in Jerusalem with no idea how to proceed, comes across a drunken Laban. In these surprising circumstances, God commands Nephi to kill the unconscious man. The book anticipates the readers’ shock at this order, not only in the incident’s narrative but also in the narrator commentary that follows. Nephi reminds the reader that “the things which are pleasing unto the world, I do not write but the things which are pleasing unto God” (1 Ne. 6:5). This commentary defends the shocking murder that precedes it. The Laban narrative itself also arranges itself for persuasion by walking through Nephi’s thought process-from horror to acceptance. This persuasion is accomplished in an arrangement of three commands paired with Nephi’s reaction to each. Nephi puts on the dead Laban’s clothes, deceives Laban’s servant, and obtains the brass plates that contain the Hebrew scriptures.

These narratives are clearly exemplary tales. They point to the moral connection between obedience and deliverance, thus establishing as central in Mormon thought the importance of works and rejecting the classical Protestant insistence on salvation by grace alone.15 Yet they are more than exemplary tales, and this subplot does more than exemplify Nephi’s theological point about deliverance. The hero must keep God’s com-[p.47]mandments by murder and deception. We do a disservice to the Book of Mormon’s narrative power if we avoid the shock of its initial narratives, for they announce the revolutionary nature of what is to follow.

I have examined the first two subplots to demonstrate that, even though we find the same series of events in each subplot, each has its own perspective and variation on the theme of deliverance.

World Building in 1 Nephi

Recent biblical scholarship has concluded that biblical genealogies are political instruments. For example, the author of Chronicles gives the long history of the family of Aaron to preserve the priestly privileges of that family (1 Chr. 23:32-24: 19). Mormonism uses the power of genealogy by tracing the power claims of the Mormon priesthood back to God (D&C 84:1-22, 33-39).

The Book of Mormon is an example of the genealogy of power. The title page states that the book was “written to the Lamanites,” meaning their Native American descendants. It announces that it will explain where they came from and also “shew unto the remnant of the House of Israel how great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever.” America is to be the gathering place of the righteous, led by the Native Americans. In fact, in 3 Nephi 21 the reader learns that the fortunes of the Native Americans will be reversed; they will “be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them, as a lion among the beasts of the forest . . . who, if he go through, both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver” (3 Ne. 21:12/ / Micah 5:8). This view of America’s future contradicts the popular doctrine of Manifest Destiny and the myth of inevitable progress. Mormonism contains the implicit understanding that possibilities in the future depend on our memory of the past. By providing a spiritual and temporal past for Native Americans, the Book of Mormon created a more hopeful future for them, based on prophecy and ancient promises to their ancestors.

But the world created is not solely for Native Americans. The Book of Mormon creates a new world by leaving the old one. In 1 Nephi visionaries are deliverers. Outcasts are nation builders. Wilderness is a passage to life, and the city is a place of death. Weak things overcome strong things, and murder is a means of obtaining God’s word. This is a book [p.48] that replaces religious expectation with perceived heresy and shocking contradiction.

But not all is radical in the Book of Mormon. Its spiritualizing of its exodus is rather conventional for the early nineteenth century. In Alma 37:4347, Alma interprets Lehi’s journey as a spiritualized allegory. In allegory, a popular method of revealing a world, each element in the story represents an element outside of the story. In Alma’s case, the Liahona, the spiritual “compass” for Lehi’s group, represents the word of Christ, the wilderness is this life, and the promised land is heaven. Alma reinforces these elements by exhorting the reader to heed the words of Christ which act like the Liahona. This spiritual level of meaning has similarities to Lehi’s dream where an iron rod acts as a guide through the dark journey to the tree of life.

This spiritualizing of the journey to the promised land in heaven has a long history in Christianity and Judaism, based on the biblical exodus. The narrative of Lehi’s journey, like other spiritual interpretations of the exodus, expresses symbolically the alienated nature of human existence and the drama of salvation in light of the holy. The symbolism of wandering in the wilderness expresses an understanding of life as a dangerous test in a hostile and unfamiliar place. While spiritualizing the Israelite exodus has been particularly attractive to socially marginal groups, this metaphor was widespread in early nineteenth-century America.16 The wilderness represents a world in which we are not at home, representing existential alienation and the peculiarly Mormon social symbol of apostasy. The journey begins in pessimism but looks ahead with hope to the promised land.

Our chief discovery in these 1 Nephi narratives of deliverance is their complexity. They cannot be reduced to a single discursive statement. In summary, the text functions on several levels-etiological text, apologue for prophets and Christ, historical myth, and spiritualized allegory.

Excursus 2.1
Visionary Language in the Early Nineteenth Century

This chapter has examined how the warning prophet form and its narrative plots in 1 Nephi defend the institution of prophecy. This defense had particular importance for the Book of Mormon’s original audience in 1830. A strong prophetic tradition preceded Joseph Smith [p.49]in America; but nineteenth-century visionaries, who generally sprang from the lower social class, were under attack. Yet Smith had a rare opportunity for gaining a foothold due to fortunate timing.

It is unlikely that Smith would have succeeded in convincing people of his legitimate role in restoring ancient Christianity had there been no prophetic figures before him. They prepared the nineteenth-century audience to receive the Book of Mormon and other elements of the Mormon restoration, and Joseph Smith spoke at the perfect moment. In the early nineteenth century, the old class structures of the eighteenth century were breaking down in America, and the new evangelicals, such as Methodists and Baptists, had not yet achieved the dominance that was theirs by the end of the nineteenth century.17 In this relative vacuum of power and amid the questioning of religious authority, various prophets and visionaries flourished, giving Mormonism a fighting chance that it would have lacked fifty years earlier or fifty years later. This excursus examines these prophetic movements and their vocabulary.

I have pointed out that the Book of Mormon uses the vocabulary of the early nineteenth-century visionary tradition, thus linking the readers’ world with the biblical world of prophets. This same visionary vocabulary can be found in early Mormonism, including sections of Joseph Smith’s revelations, although I will confine my remarks here to the Book of Mormon. The visionary tradition that prepared the world for the Book of Mormon included the prophetic discovery of other ancient texts in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The general outline was the same: The texts were supposedly ancient records buried in the ground that prophets found, then translating their divine mandates, warnings, and answers.18 By pointing out such historical

parallels, I do not intend to imply that the Book of Mormon is unoriginal. Quite the contrary. It would be difficult to find a more original religious text. What these parallels do demonstrate, however, is that the Book of Mormon, like many preceding texts, appeals to a common human hope of finding lost, ultimate answers in lost, authoritative texts. But there are very good reasons why the Book of Mormon was more credible and enduring than many preceding texts claiming antiquity and divine authority. None of these texts had witnesses to physical plates and angelic messengers. Joseph Smith did not need physical [p.50]plates for the translation, since the translation appeared word for word in his seerstones. Rather, the plates’ main function was to convince people that Joseph Smith was more than a mere stone-gazing visionary. Few prophetic figures have had the level of social support Joseph Smith enjoyed. Simply put, he had a more convincing story and better skills at organizing and gathering believers than other contemporary prophets. More recently, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Codex Sinaiticus at St. Catherine’s Mt. Sinai monastery are unforgettable stories appealing to the same fascination with buried records.19

Even the Book of Mormon’s statement that it is written in reformed Egyptian (Morm. 9:32) would have piqued the already lively interest of 1830s readers. The translation of the Rosetta Stone had occurred in 1822, enabling scholars to begin deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, which had fascinated and baffled them for hundreds of years. The idea that a cryptic language would yield its secrets to the “right” individual would therefore have been a familiar idea as well.

In the 1830s, opinions in America about revelation and visions divided into three camps with many variations. The first believed that revelation existed in every age. A second group believed that visions were confined to biblical times; hence, reports of new revelation could not be valid. A third position rejected revealed religion altogether. Among those who accepted the concept of revelation throughout the ages, the most radical claim was that one could receive doctrinal revelations of authority equal to that of the Bible. This view, held by a loosely connected group of reformers including Anabaptists and spiritualists, is a remnant of what George Williams called the Radical Reformation.20 These believers rejected the classical Protestant position of salvation by grace alone, believed in a restoration of the apostolic church, and rejected a trained ministry in favor of inspiration. Some leaders of the Radical Reformation believed that revelation was more important than scripture, that society should be organized around religious communitarian principles, and that the end of the world was fast approaching. After the sixteenth century, the Radical Reformation settled down into isolated sects. Quakers, Baptists, and others were indirectly influenced by this movement down into the nineteenth century.

A prophet in this tradition contemporary with Joseph Smith was [p.51]Robert Matthews of Albany, New York, known as “Matthias the prophet.”21 In the 1820s a group of radical visionaries from three churches formed the Holy Club. They believed in miracles, and some had daily revelations. In Rochester, New York, in 1829, a group of women formed a similar visionary society. These groups were the predecessors of Matthews’s movement, which was formally organized in 183l. Matthews and some of his followers had frequent visions that denounced corruptions of Christianity, condemned salaried clergy, practiced communitarianism, abstained from meat and “strong drinks,” located the New Jerusalem in western New York, hunted for Captain Kidd’s buried treasure, and claimed that God always sent prophetic messengers to earth to enlighten the people. Matthews, an announced anti-Mason, also claimed authority from God to establish a theocracy on earth and dated this event, which fulfilled Revelation 14, as 1830 in Albany. Matthews was an extreme visionary by the standards of the times. At least two scholars of the period identity him as a forerunner to Joseph Smith.22

Certain members of evangelical churches such as Methodists and Baptists also believed that personal revelation and visions had authority equal to the Bible. But they would not likely have been allowed to stay in their churches if their doctrines were as unorthodox as Matthews’s. At the turn of the nineteenth century, evangelicals were often considered fanatics; as the century progressed, these groups gradually became the mainstream of American Protestantism. As I read through decades of their writing, it became apparent that, as they gained respectability, visions began to disappear in the larger process of secularization that smothered dreams, mystery, and magic in many religions. Visions became an embarrassment because they were a manifestation of the non-rational. Such early nineteenth-century prophetic claimants were few and were often unpublished because their views were heretical.

Most published evangelical visions were relatively noncontroversial conversion experiences. In Charles Giles’s 1800 conversion vision, “a strait gate appeared” and a “narrow way opened” ascending to the throne of God. On each side of the path was a desert within which many persons wandered in darkness. All of this passed before. Giles while awake. An angel then appeared and pronounced that his sins were forgiven. George Peck commented on his vision: “This is a fair [p.52]specimen of what occurred in many places during this interesting period. The Spirit was poured out from on high upon multitudes, and men and women, old and young, dreamed dreams, saw visions, and were filled with the spirit of prophecy.”23 Blake Ostler has compared both biblical prophetic calls and nineteenth-century visions with Lehi’s call in the Book of Mormon;24 unfortunately, his sample is drawn from conversion visions rather than from prophetic visions. Lehi would be more appropriately compared with prophetic figures such as Robert Matthews or the Shakers.25 Because Ostler compared dissimilar visions, he concludes that there is no prophetic commission, and therefore no formulaic conclusion to a prophetic commission, in his sample of nineteenth-century conversion visions. A second problem is that Ostler claims that none of his examples of nineteenth-century visions contain the descensus (the descent of one from the heavenly sphere) and the Qedussa (songs sung by the heavenly council), typical of biblical visions. But other examples of nineteenth-century visions not cited by Ostler do contain these elements. For example, both elements are in the 1825 vision of Reverend Benjamin Abbott.26 Despite these errors, Ostler’s work remains a contribution to understanding the form of 1 Nephi 1. He points out that Lehi’s vision follows Hebrew prophetic call forms and that the ubiquitous conversion stories of the early nineteenth century are a distinct, though related, genre. Certainly, biblical visions served as models in the early nineteenth-century visions.

Conversion visions typically occurred when evangelical sermons roused extreme emotions. Both Peter Cartwright, a circuit rider originally from Virginia who attended the famous Cain Ridge revivals in Kentucky, and Jacob Young, also a circuit rider who preached along the western frontier, were Methodists who experienced conversion visions around 1801. Yet they ridiculed those who, like Robert Matthews, received doctrinal visions and revelations, denouncing them as “visionaries” and “visionists.”27 For Cartwright, Young, and others, visions could be nothing more than a status ‘report of one’s spirituality, since the Bible was the ultimate source of doctrine. Another Methodist, Freeborn Garrettson, who preached in western New York, cautiously endorsed dreams and visions but advised testing them against the infallible standard of the Bible to avoid spiritual deception.28

In a typical conversion vision, one or more beings would appear and [p.53]pronounce the sinner forgiven. These beings might be an angel, Christ, Christ on the right hand of the Father, or God on his throne. The vision might occur during a revival or camp meeting, often during the “falling exercise” (overcome by extreme emotion, the believer would fall unconscious or in convulsions), during the sermon or, after hearing a sermon, while praying or agonizing over sin in a cave, a room, or a forest. Joseph Smith initially described his first vision in the form of a conversion vision and uses the language typical of revival conversion visions in his 1832 account—he was “convicted of my sins,” cried to God for mercy, and received a personal visitation in which the Lord said that “thy sins are forgiven thee.”29 The extreme anxiety of conviction, seeking forgiveness of sins, and having a heavenly being pronounce forgiveness were typical of conversion visions. Later Mormons interpreted this vision as a prophetic call and the foundation of the Mormon restoration of Christ’s ancient gospel.30

The journal of Methodist preacher Lorenzo Dow, originally of Connecticut but widely traveled in Europe and America, describes an 1804 conversion vision that demonstrates the preacher’s role in evoking visions. During Dow’s sermons, several in the audience fell to the ground. Observers initially thought that they were dying or had been overcome by evil powers. Through the course of the night, all of those who fell awoke happy, except for one girl who “continued shrieking for mercy for eight hours, sometimes on the borders of despair until near sunrise, when I exhorted her if she had a view of her Saviour, to receive him as appearing to her; her hope revived … . Soon she testified the reality of her mental sensation, and the peace she had found.”31 Note the term “mental sensation.” Freeborn Garrettson refers to visions in which “Christ was exhibited to my mind,” visions “set forth in my inmost mind,” and “exhibited in my imagination.”32 A Mr. Pierson, one of the leaders in Robert Matthews’s movement, described one of many visions as follows: “These things appeared real, except bodily presence.”33 Early nineteenth-century Mormon sources, like their counterparts in other religions, state that they saw visions by their “spiritual eyes.” These visionary formulas indicate that there was a qualitative difference between normal perception and a vision.

The 1818 biography of Andrew Fuller, a British Baptist whose [p.54] works were influential in America, states that he saw the Saviour in “the eye of the mind.”34 Benjamin Abbott experienced a vision in which he:

saw, by faith, the Lord Jesus Christ standing by me, with his arms extended wide, saying to me, “I died for you.” I then looked up and by faith I saw the Ancient of Days . . . Then by faith I saw the Lord Jesus come to me with a cup in his hand, and he gave it to me. … I was now able to interpret the [previous] dream or vision to my own satisfaction.35

Eleazer Sherman referred to his vision as “my mental view [of] the dear Saviour,” while Jabez Swan saw a vision “spread before my mind,” and George Peck records a conversion vision as “my wakeful, ideal vision which passed before the eye of my mind.”36 These expressions are distinctions, in the words of George Shadford, between “the eye of faith [and] my bodily eyes.”37 As the language here demonstrates, recipients understood their perceptions to be mental only, but nevertheless as actual sense data before their minds. In contrast, Nathan Barlow makes it clear that his vision was not “imagination, delusion, or merely a dream.”38 In his vision a man with a glorious countenance appeared to him; his soul then left his body and visited heaven and hell.

In other instances it is difficult to distinguish between descriptions of mental images, a physical presence, and metaphors. Daniel Shea argues that the “vision” of the theologian Samuel Hopkins had no visual content; he describes seeing “the character of Jesus Christ” as being wise, plain, and desirable.39 Shea’s conclusion is not an obvious one in the case of Hopkins, yet the basic point is correct. In some cases, especially among intellectuals, the language is metaphorical. For Jonathan Edwards, a “vision” was renewed sight, in which one saw the divine in the concrete elements of all nature.40 Levi Parsons describes his conversion vision: “Jesus revealed himself in his glory … heaven opened to my ravished eye, and the divine Redeemer took up his abode in my heart.”41 Parsons frequently uses metaphors of sight to describe spiritual insight, an inner awakening, and the experience of spiritual fulfillment. It is doubtful that he identified heavenly sense data before his mind; but like Edwards, his language leaned toward the metaphorical: “My soul panteth after God. When shall I see him … ? Were my eyes enlightened by the Holy Spirit, I should see him in his works, in storms, rain, snow, heat and cold. I should see him in his Word unfolding the perfections of his [p.55]character; I should see him in the countenance of his children, and in the disposal of sinners.”42

But Parsons’s visionary metaphors go beyond intellectual insight and include the experience of religious realities typical of revivalists. After a discouraging Sabbath, Parsons confessed, “[I] have not had that unction of the Spirit, which alone seals the instruction. The eye of faith is dim; the view of heaven indistinct.”43 “Eye of faith” is an obvious metaphor, one used elsewhere in exactly the same sense in western New York.44

Thus the vision language in early Mormonism is not confined to mental visions. Rather, it is quite subtle and very diverse, covering metaphors, mental data, and visitations from physical beings. Joseph Smith’s scribe Oliver Cowdery, in describing the visit of John the Baptist to Smith and him in 1829 in Pennsylvania, is an example of the latter.45

This verbal ambiguity enriches the interpretive possibilities when these phrases appear in the Book of Mormon. Most of the visionary phrases in the Book of Mormon point to a distinction between visionary sight and normal mundane sight. For example, Lehi told the inhabitants of Jerusalem of “the things which he saw and heard” in vision; the message he read in the book he saw in vision testified plainly of the coming of a Messiah and of the redemption of the world. The narrator uses “seen and heard” or some variation repeatedly throughout 1 Nephi 1. This phrase is used throughout the Book of Mormon in reference to prophetic visions and other signs and marvelous works of God, appears frequently in the narrative of Christ’s visit to the Nephites, and is even inserted into the passages quoted from Isaiah. It is also used when natural historical events are seen as divine manifestations (1 Ne. 14:28, 20:6; 2 Ne. 4:16; Jac. 7:12; Mosiah 27:32; Hel. 2:9, 5:49-50; 3 Ne. 2:1, 15:24, 17:16-17, 20:9, 26:16-18, 27:1, 23; 28:13-16; Morm. 1:1, 3:16-21; Ether 3:21). The phrase appears as well in New Testament passages to refer to witnesses of spiritual truths (Luke 2:20; John 3:32; Acts 4:20; 1 John 1:3; Rev. 22:8).

American prophet Samuel Clarke in a 1776 vision was instructed to declare “what you have seen and heard” to all people.46 Another American prophet, Nathan Barlow, published his vision of heaven and hell in 1802, testifying that his sole purpose was to witness “what I have seen and [p.56]heard, which I certify by signing my name with my own hand.”47 The examples of this phrase in Samuel Clarke’s and Nathan Barlow’s visions suggest that “seen and heard” may have been a formula used by American prophets as authentication of a vision, assuring nineteenth-century readers of the vision’s empirical nature.

In the Book of Mormon, this phrase likewise functions to authenticate the reality and truthfulness of the message. For example, Jacob declares that he knows that, if there is no atonement, all will perish”—it hath been made manifest unto me, for I have heard and seen”—presumably in a vision (Jac. 7:12).

The formula “seen and heard” is used four times in Lehi’s prophetic calling. For the reader of Joseph Smith’s day, the biblical phrase, “seen and heard,” and the nature of Lehi’s call substantiate his prophetic claim even before it is questioned. Prophets stand on the border between the mundane and the spiritual world. Their words are portrayed as reliable because they are based on a direct divine experience, as witnessed by these forms and formulas.

A vision experienced as a kind of second sight is also expressed in a nineteenth-century formula that appears several times to introduce Lehi’s visions and dreams: “Methought I saw” or “he thought he saw.” My reading of nineteenth-century materials indicates to me that the phrase was nearly obsolete in Joseph Smith’s day; and according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it meant “it seemed to me.” Since I have encountered the word rarely out of a visionary context, the more current phrasing, “I thought that I saw,” should be interpreted as an equivalent. Benjamin Abbott uses this phrase to introduce his various visions.48  Other variants include “it appeared to me that I saw” and “it seemed that I saw…49 These phrases all express a distinction between spiritual sight and natural sight, between seeing mundane objects and “look[ing] into the invisible world …50 For example:

thus I see we must all die—Oh, the solemn thought—but when I cast a
look beyond the bounds of time and space, I see, methinks, a beautiful
place where saints immortal dwell.51

Methinks I hear my Saviour call;
his pleasant voice doth say,
“From tentes of ease, and sin, and thrall,
My fair one, come away …52

 [p.57]And now my dear young friends who think you have lately experienced the love of God in your hearts and who once like your unworthy cousen was pursuing the follys and vanitys of this vain world, let me ask you if you ever found any thing to be compared with the joy and satisfaction you now experence[.] no methinks i hear you say i never knew what real happiness was before.53

Methinks I see the heavens opened, the Judge sitting on his throne.54

At times the formula “I thought I saw” is combined with the “eyes of faith” as in the case of the vision of Steven Bradley: “I thought I saw the Saviour by faith.”55

 Joseph Smith in dictating the Book of Mormon renders this visionary formula as:

… and being thus overcome with the spirit, he [Lehi] was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the Heavens open; and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne (1 Ne. 1:8).

. . . for, behold, me thought I saw a dark and dreary wilderness … (1 Ne.8:4).

Yea, and me thought I saw even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne … (Alma 36:22).

By using these phrases, Smith was making a familiar distinction between natural sight and spiritual sight in vision. In the Book of Mormon, the symbolic “eyes of faith” are contrasted with natural sight, although some visions are seen with the natural eyes (Ether 12:19; Alma 5:15). Further, although “methinks” appears to be tentative, it is actually a formulaic way of expressing a different way of seeing. This distinction is more than verbal. It is theological as well and, hence, not trivial. The visionary’s formulaic phrases provide the easiest access to the phenomenon of the vision; they are prior to theoretical speculation and catches by surprise the prophetic experience as it is freshly and spontaneously uttered. The formulaic phrases act as representations, even symbolic expressions, of both the categories of visionary sight and universal modes of sight. Yet these symbols are themselves expressed in conventional literary and historical forms. So the visionary phrases in the Book of Mormon are both conventional and universal. The most revealing of these phrases is the nineteenth-century visionary formula “eyes of faith”:

[p.58]Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God, to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?

I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day, Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

Or do you imagine to yourselves that ye can lie unto the Lord in that day, and say, Lord, Our works have been righteous works upon the face of the earth, and that he will save you?

Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves before the tribunal of God, with your souls filled with guilt and remorse … (Alma 5:15-18; emphasis mine).

Note how the “eye of faith” is in parallel with “imagination.” In Alma 32:4041 it is used in a similar fashion and in parallel to “looking forward” to the future fruits of faith: “And thus if ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life.” Thus this phrase maintains and evokes the distinction between spiritual sight as imaginary or mental versus physical sight. The use of the same phrase in Ether 12: 19-20 is just as revealing in another way:

And there were many whose faith was so exceeding strong even before Christ came, which could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad. And behold, we have seen in this record, that one of these was the brother of Jared: for so great was his faith in God, that when God put forth his finger, he could not hide it from the sight of the brother of Jared, because of his word which he had spoken unto him, which word he had obtained by faith. (Emphasis mine.)

The importance of this passage is that it distinguishes between the eye of faith and sight in a vision. The eye of faith is associated with faith and imagination, and the sight in a vision is associated with knowledge. Thus imaginary sight in the mind of faith is distinguished from another form of visionary sight. Yet even that visionary sight is distinguished from mundane sight in the Book of Mormon. One must enter the spiritual world of a vision by extending the human boundaries of normal experience. Hence we find the phrase “so-and-so was carried away in a vi-[p.59]sion” as an introductory formula to the vision (1 Ne. 1:8, 14:30; Alma 19:6, 12-13). We also find formulas in the introduction of the vision that expresses expanded sight: that of the veil being removed from the eyes or mind.56 In short, the Book of Mormon makes a distinction between mundane vision, sight within a vision, the symbolic use of sight as understanding, and imaginary spiritual sight through faith. In this context the use of the “me thinks I saw” visionary formula connotes in the Book of Mormon both a mental vision (in the case of Lehi’s dream) and Lehi’s extended sight into heaven in his prophetic commission. One cannot easily determine what kind of sight is represented. The Book of Mormon uses the nineteenth-century visionary form “enlighten the understanding” to refer to spiritual enlightenment (2 Ne. 31:3, Alma 32:28-34). Visionary formulas used in the Book of Mormon are not symbolic representations approximating Deity but refer to a qualitatively different state of vision. In practice, mundane vision, visionary vision, imaginary vision, and metaphorical vision are each present and tend to blend together in the Book of Mormon.

In the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith uses the formulaic language at his disposal, evoking a nineteenth-century understanding of visions as a kind of second sight, sometimes expansionary, sometimes physical, sometimes mental, and sometimes purely symbolic. (By symbolic, I refer to those instances where one “sees” God in nature or the Bible.) But even with its occasional symbolic phrases, it is clear that the descriptions of visions in the Book of Mormon are descriptions of the hidden, spiritual world. These nineteenth-century phrases, along with the biblical parallels, evoke a universal social history which is exemplified in the Book of Mormon. In other words, prophets are represented as the spiritual leaders in every age, and all people can find spiritual truth directly through their own spiritual experience, including spiritual sight.

Many of the early nineteenth-century visions that I have cited above are conversion visions. Aside from doctrinal and conversion visions, one also frequently encounters evangelical visions calling someone to the ministry or pronouncing them sanctified. Others received visions on their death beds. (See chap 8.) Sometimes preachers would receive visions while they were preaching. For instance, as Methodist Glezen Fillmore preached in Palmyra, New York, in 1826, a vision opened to his view. He declared its contents to the audience. Some wept. All were [p.60]spellbound.57 At the same Palmyra conference, Freeborn Garrettson, near the end of his preaching career, commented that in dreams and visions his “faith gives me a glimpse of that sweet world above.” He tried to experience a vision while preaching but could not. He confessed: “Before I leave you, I wanted to look into the invisible world; but I am lost!  Could we see the angelic host, and listen to the songs of the redeemed! … But one glimpse of our Lord Jesus Christ would outshine them all.”58

Up to this point, we have been examining various forms of visions in the early nineteenth century. A second common belief was that visions were confined to the biblical age and’ that the Bible was the only revelation of God’s word. The Book of Mormon prophesied that many of the people among whom it would appear would hold this belief “and deny the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance … And they say … the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and hath given his power unto men” (2 Ne. 28:45-6). For that reason the Book of Mormon energetically and frequently defends its own existence. Similarly, Freeborn Garrettson related a vision and then defended it against such disbelievers: “Some suppose that we ought not to put any dependence in dreams and visions. We should lay the same stress on them in this our day, as wise and good men have done in all ages.”59

Many of the opponents of visions were also evangelicals. Benjamin Abbott’s acquaintances expressed skepticism about his vision. Some thought he was mad. One minister said his vision was of the devil.60 Joseph Smith reportedly received a similar reception when he related his first vision to acquaintances and to a minister.61 Liberal Protestants also rejected the extreme emotionalism of the entire evangelical movement, including visions, stressing instead a rational religion. William Ellery Channing, a famous Unitarian leader, saw reason as essential to religion. In a widely distributed sermon given in 1819, Channing contrasts his view of religion with the visionary view:

The timid and dejected discover [in the Bible] a gloomy system and the mystical and fanatical a visionary theology … We lay no stress on such excitements. We esteem him and him only, a pious man, who practically conforms to God’s moral perfections and government. In all things else men may deceive themselves. Disordered nerves may give them strange sights, and sounds, and impressions. Texts of Scripture may come to them from Heaven. Their whole soul may be moved, and [p.61]their confidence in God’s favor be undoubting. But in all this there is no religion.62

In an 1858 sketch of his life, Solomon Chamberlin, an early Mormon convert, describes his own visions in a pamphlet published prior to meeting Joseph Smith. An angel or spirit appeared to him in 1816 and told him that

there was no people on the earth that was right and that faith was gone from the earth excepting a few and that all churches were corrupt. I further saw in the vision, that he would soon raise up a church, that would be after the Apostolic Order, that there would be in it the same powers, and gifts that were in the days of Christ, and that I would live to see the day, and that there would [be] a book come forth, like unto the Bible, and the people would be guided by it, as well as the Bible.

Chamberlin “was persecuted and called deluded” for his beliefs. On a visit to Palmyra, New York, he met Hyrum Smith and promptly asked, “Is there anyone here that believes in visions or revelations? He said Yes, we are a visionary house, I said then I will give you one of my pamphlets, which was visionary.”63

Chamberlin uses “visionary” much as Channing did—referring to the experience of sense data versus a metaphorical description. Channing and others used the term as a derogatory reference to those who received doctrinal visions. Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines “visionary” in several ways: one who has “impractical schemes,” a “disturbed person,” and, as an adjective, “existing in imagination only; not real.”64 The last definition coincides with Laman’s and Lemuel’s charge that Lehi was full of “foolish imaginations” (1 Ne. 2:11, 17:20). Since the negative connotation is the only one allowed in the dictionary, I assume that the term was generally understood negatively by readers in the 1830s, even though Lehi, Chamberlin, and nineteenth-century visionaries continued to claim the term positively.

Channing’s 1819 sermon equates the visionary tradition with “excitements” or emotionalism. Another liberal Unitarian, Jason Whitman, rejected the charismatic emotionalism of evangelical religion and the Book of Mormon for his own “rational views” of religion.65 Channing and Whitman are correct. If visions are nothing more than excess emotion, they certainly ought to be rejected. If visions are signs of a disturbed [p.62]mind and “not real,” they ought to be ignored. However, visions are often a symbolic projection upon the canvas of ultimate concern. As such, they can represent a genuine religious experience—something more than mere emotion or mental disturbance. In fact, the history of religion and anthropology has taught us that, in any given society, it is common to find a specialist who stands between the mundane and the spiritual world, who enters the spiritual world through psychic means to solve a crisis.66 Similarly, the Book of Mormon teaches that every nation has its own prophets and scriptures (2 Ne. 29). Today we are less likely to be judgmental about visions than were Enlightenment writers. For example, in a 1995 paper delivered at the Jesus Seminar, Stacy Davids summarized recent psychiatric literature on death, reporting that 50-80 percent of bereaved people see or feel the “presence” or “spirit” of the lost person. The American Psychiatric Association has officially written that it considers auditory messages or appearances from the dead as nonpathological. Liberal scholar John Dominic Crossan, commenting on this finding, observed that “dreams and visions are something common to our humanity, something hard-wired into our brains.”67 The evidence, even for atheists, is tipping in favor of the Book of Mormon’s position regarding the universality of revelation from the spiritual world—however one may wish to define that world.

The third major position regarding visions in the early nineteenth century was represented by deists who rejected revealed religion altogether and replaced it with their own “natural religion.” Deists believed in one God who could be understood by examining the creation and by using the power of reason. Thomas Paine spoke for many when he asserted, “My own mind is my own church.” They believed that the Bible was a combination of hearsay and superstition, that any religion based on revelation in any age was superstitious and unacceptable in an enlightened age, and that reason, evidence, and ethical concerns were the real base of true religion. Deists represented Enlightenment principles based on the independence of reason. The Enlightenment had its impact on those like Channing and Whitman who believed in biblical revelation. As Robert Hullinger has pointed out, the Book of Mormon addresses certain issues raised by the Enlightenment.68 However, the Book of Mormon’s interests and messages are much broader than Hullinger’s thesis suggests.


l. A large body of recent Mormon literature claims that the people of the Book of Mormon represent only a small portion of the people of ancient America. See, for example, John L. Sorenson, “When Lehi’s Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1 (Fall 1992): 1-35; and his An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 74-95, 116-37; Hugh W. Nibley, Since Cumorah: The Book of Mormon in the Modern World (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), 243-51; and his Lehi in the Deseret and the World for the Jaredites (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1952), 222-66. This belief solves the historical problem that arises when the Book of Mormon claims a semitic origin for its people while Asiatic features (eyefold, a pigmented spot at the base of the infant spine, and tooth shape) are commonly present among Native Americans today.

To defend their thesis of multiple nations surrounding the Nephites, these authors deny the complete annihilation of the Jaredites and give idiosyncratic interpretations of some prophecies. For example, Lehi predicts (1 Ne. 12:22, 13:2, 33-35) that his descendants will exclusively inherit the Americas until they “dwindle in unbelief,” a clear description of the spiritual decline of the Lamanites after the annihilation of the Nephites. Then God will lead “other nations” to the Americas to smite and scatter the Lamanites, an equally clear reference to the arrival of latter-day Europeans. Both Nibley and Sorensen interpret the arrival of these other nations to mean any time period after the arrival of Lehi in the Americas. I find this interpretation, as well as the national survival of the Jaredites, to be inconsistent with the text of the Book of Mormon itself. Lehi’s sermon is part of a set of sermons and prophecies by Lehi and Nephi about the last days that are commentaries on Isaiah 48-49 (1 Ne. 20-2 Ne. 1). Lehi’s language echoes eschatological phrases and events used in this and other sections of the Book of Mormon. For example, a similar promise of exclusive possession of the land of promise to the Jaredites appears in Ether 2:8-12, while the “other nations” language echoes the eschatological promises of the coming of European Gentiles as a fulfillment ofIsaiah 4849 (1 Ne. 13:2042, 22:6-7; 2 Ne. 10:8-12; 3 Ne. 16:8-20). Once we recognize the eschatological nature of the genre of Lehi’s prophecy and its Nephite context, Sorensen’s and Nibley’s interpretations become untenable. Rather than misinterpreting Lehi’s message, apologists could simply state that Lehi’s message is historically inaccurate.

2. For an example of this form in the early nineteenth century, see “A Narraitve [sic] of the Life of Solomon Mack, containing an Account of the Many Severe Accidents He Met with During a Long Series of years, together with the Extraordinary Manner in which He Was Converted to the Christian Faith” (Windsor, VT: Author, n.d.), also in Richard L. Anderson, Joseph Smith’s New [p.64]England Heritage (Salt Lake City: Deseret Books, 1971), 33-61. Mack was Joseph Smith’s maternal grandfather. For a second and third example, see Joseph Smith’s autobiography in 1832 in Dean C. Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 4-14; and Devereux Jarratt, The Life of Reverend Devereux Jarratt (Baltimore: Warner & Hanna, 1806), 12. Jarratt indicates the conventional features of his autobiography: “I begin, as is usual in works of this sort, with my birth and parentage … “Thus the original readers of the Book of Mormon would have been familiar with Nephi’s autobiographical formula since it was still being used by writers in their day.

3. Andrew Fuller, The Christian Library: A Reprint of Popular Religious Works (New York: Thomas George, Jr., 1836), 403.

4. This instrument is called a “compass” (1 Ne. 18:12, 21; 2 Ne. 5:12); Benjamin calls it a “director” or “ball” (Mosiah 1:16); Alma refers to it as “the Liahona” (Alma 37:38). Means had a particular theological connotation ubiquitous in the early nineteenth century. The term was often used to summarize the various ways in which God saved or converted people: preaching, revivals, reading scripture, and so forth. The nineteenth-century debate contrasted the view that God converted the wayward heart directly with the idea that “means” helped in God’s work of conversion and sanctification. Related questions were whether and when it was appropriate to use “means.” It is thus actually a discussion on the place of grace and works in salvation. Calvinists who believed in the doctrine of inability thought that only God could convert the sinner; to overstress means was to exalt human pride. By selecting the word means, Joseph Smith was affirming the appropriateness of a broad range of indirect avenues leading to conversion and salvation. The specification of small means to accomplish great things was axiomatic in the early nineteenth century. For example, the pacifist David Low Dodge encourages everyone, even those of feeble powers, to denounce war “for God is able from small means to produce great effects.” For other examples, see Ebenezer Porter, Great Effects Result from Little Causes (Andover, MA: Flagg & Gould, 1815); Fenelon, On Faithfulness in Little Things (Philadelphia: Joseph Rakestraw, 1815); David Low Dodge, War Inconsistent with the Religion of Jesus Christ (New York: Dodge & Sayre, 1815),  87. These works are encouragements to do good. But the intention of the Book of Mormon goes well beyond what many in the early nineteenth century would have considered appropriate means, such as visions. The Book of Mormon thus stretches the axiomatic language of its original nineteenth-century audience to defend the generally unacceptable spirituality of prophetic figures. An axiomatic phrase becomes, in part, a countercultural challenge.

The writings discussing appropriate uses of “means” in general are extensive, from the sermons of Dwight Timothy, president of Yale University, to the [p.65]lectures on revivals by Charles Finney, a famous Presbyterian revivalist, from the theology of Nathan Bangs, a Methodist theologian, to various New England theologians. Many secondary summary works on theology and on revivalism discuss the debate over “means.” These include, among many others: Whitney Cross, The Burned-Over District (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1950); Bernard A. Weisberger, They Gathered at the River: The Story of the Great Revivalists and Their Impact upon Religion in America (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1958); Frank R. Hugh Foster, A Genetic History of New England Theology (New York: Russell & Russell, 1963).

5. Book of Mormon history recounts the interactions of God in judging the wicked and blessing the righteous. Prophets, the central human characters in the Book of Mormon, stand between God and the society. In contrast to other religious leaders, one of prophets’ distinguishing characteristics is that they predict the future (e.g., see 1 Ne. 5:13; 2 Ne. 25:7; Jacob 6:1; 3 Ne. 1:26). Because of their divine commission and inspiration, they are the central human authority for God. Alma therefore instructed the Nephite priests to teach nothing but what had been taught by the “holy prophets” (Mosiah 18: 19).

6. Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 135-77.

7. Mark D. Thomas, “The Art of Nephite Narrative,” AML Annual 1998 (Salt Lake City: Association for Mormon Letters), 30-40. There are numerous images of martyrdom in the death of Christ in these narratives. Even though the story promises divine deliverance (Alma 8:30-31), the possibility of martyrdom remains in the minds of Arnulek and his enemy Zeezrom (Alma 14: 12-13, 15:3). For other parallels, see discussion on p. 11-12.

8. Lehi’s call is unique in the Book of Mormon for its close match with the form of the throne theophany, a vision of the heavenly host and God seated upon his throne, constituting the prophetic commission. This type of divine commission is recorded in Ezekiel, Isaiah, and other Jewish and Christian prophetic literature. Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form-Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies 26 (Fall 1986): 67-85. Von Rad, a prominent scholar of the Hebrew Bible, has argued that writing down the prophetic commission served as “vindication and legitimation of the prophet in his office.” Qtd. in ibid., 68. So the prophetic call as a written document constitutes a stylized form that authorizes and justifies the prophetic actions. Lehi’s call takes the identical form and function.

9. A similar narrative commentary appears after the miraculous deliverance of Alma and Amulek from bonds and prison: “And Alma and Arnulek came forth out of prison, and they were not hurt; for the Lord had granted unto them power, according to their faith which was in Christ” (Alma 14:28).

[p.66]10. For the application of chosen to spiritual leaders, see 1 Ne. 3:29, 12:7-8; Mosiah 1:26; Alma 7:10, 10:7; Hel. 9:16; 3 Ne. 12:1, 13:25, 15:11, 18:26-36, 19:4-28, 26:17, 28:34-36; 4 Ne. 1:14; Moro. 2:1, 7:31. For the application of chosen to a people, see Alma 31:18-28 (refers to Zoramites, a wicked elite); Hel. 15:3.

11. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, 47-62.

12. Terrance L. Szink, “Nephi and the Exodus,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 38-51, 92-99.

13. Nephi as narrator repeats the theme among Hebrew patriarchs of the younger brother surpassing the elder as part of its counter-cultural theme. Alan Goff, “Mourning, Consolation, and Repentance at Nahom,” in Sorenson and Thorne, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 97-98. But this echo of a biblical story and most of the biblical parallels in this footnote are not made explicit. The Book of Mormon simply echoes a biblical phrase or character. The killing of Laban mirrors the story of Judith in the Apocrypha. Descriptions of Nephi being bound and praying for deliverance echo the story of Samson (1 Ne. 7:17-18/ /Judg. 15:14, 16:28). Like Jesus in the wilderness, Nephi is “led by the Spirit” to obtain the plates (1 Ne. 4:6/ /Luke 4:1). These biblical echoes evoke images of Lehi and Nephi as exemplary character types, as deliverers like Moses, Judith, Jesus, and Samson. Laman and Lemuel are also paralleled with the wicked skeptics and the worldly of the Bible. Like the unbelieving Pharisees, they do not believe in the miraculous, and Nephi, like Jesus, is “grieved for the hardness of their hearts” (Mark 3:51/1 Ne. 7:8). Laman and Lemuel, like the unbelieving, doubt the deliverance of God (1 Ne. 4:3/ /Matt. 14:31).

14. Richard Dilworth Rust, “Recurrence in Book of Mormon Narratives,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 3 (Spring 1994): 39-52.

15. Salvation by grace alone, though still dominant in the early nineteenth century, generated an enormous variety of opinions on the issue, even among evangelicals. For a position on grace and works similar to that of the Book of Mormon, see John Fletcher, Checks to Antinomianisrn, 2 vols. (New York: Phillips & Hunt, n.d.). This Methodist work was influential in the early nineteenth century, often cited in both primary and secondary sources and often mentioned by nineteenth-century writers as among the works they read. Its impact on early American Methodism is well known. Relevant to the point here is that it propounds a view of works and faith similar to that in the Book of Mormon. “Salvation by works,” according to Fletcher, means that works are a condition, though salvation is not merited by works. Only “the merits of Christ” can bring salvation. Fletcher is seeking a middle ground between groups such as Quakers and antinomians.

16. Based on my reading of nineteenth-century texts, there are certainly [p.67]dozens, perhaps hundreds, of examples that could be cited. I will limit myself to three representative examples to demonstrate the typical nature of spiritualizing of the exodus. The first is from Thomas Scott, Holy Bible. Containing the Old and New Testaments, with Original Notes and Practical Observations (Boston: Samuel Armstrong, 1918), Vol. l. Scott was English, but this biblical commentary was published more frequently than all others combined in the United States between 1800 and 1830. In his introduction to Exodus, Scott claims that the exodus has more types than in any book of scripture and refers to them often in his “Practical Observations,” scattered throughout the work. He sees the Egyptian captivity as a type of the bondage of sin and the journey to the promised land as a journey to heaven. He draws many parallels between the journey to the promised land and the soul’s search for salvation. Other commentaries frequently quote Scott.

The second example is John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream (Brattleborough, VT: John Holbrook, 1815). Bunyan was a seventeenth-century British preacher whose work was popular in the nineteenth century. Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegorical journey taken by “Christian” to the Celestial City. Bunyan makes frequent allusions to the journey to heaven as an exodus to a promised land.

The third example demonstrating a typical spiritualization of the exodus is a nineteenth-century American hymnal: Thomas Hinde, The Pilgrim’s Songster; or; A Choise Collection of Spiritual Songs from the Best Authors, with Many Original Pieces, Never Before in Print (Chillicothe, OH: Fredonian Press, 1815). These hymns frequently refer to the journey to heaven in telms of the exodus to the promised land. One reads: “Ye weary, heavy laden’d souls,/ Who are oppressed sore; Ye travellers thro’ the wilderness/ To Canaan’s peaceful shore …/ Methinks I now begin to see/ The borders of the land,/ The trees of life with Heav’nly fruit,/ In beauteous order stand” (52-53).

17. Gordon S. Wood, “Evangelical America and Early Mormonism,” New York History 61 (Oct. 1980): 359-86.

18. For examples, see the excursus following chapter 5 herein. Also see Ruth Bloch, Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 1756-1800 (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 23-28, 162; and [no author], A Copy of a Letter Written by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and Found Under a Stone Sixty-Five Years After His Crucifiction (Boston: Nathaniel Coverly, 1815). The Copy was printed a second time in 1815 in Charleston by the printer P. W. Johnston. This work was published six times between 1800 and 1820. E. D. Howe, one of Mormonism’s severest critics, mistakenly claimed that one such document, purportedly found in the ground under a large, flat stone and translated from Latin by Solomon Spalding, was the source of the [p.68]Book of Mormon. For a summary of this claim, see Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 126-27.

19. Count Constantin von Tischendorf discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, an important, early text of the Bible, at St. Catherine’s Mt. Sinai monastery in 1844 when he noticed that the monks were burning manuscripts for fuel. Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 2d ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 42-45.

20. George Hunston Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961).

21. Margaret Wright Matthews, Matthias: By His Wife (New York: n.p., 1835); Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilenz, The Kingdom of Matthias (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 1994); William Stone, Matthias and His Imposters (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1835); G. Vale, Fanaticism: Its Source and Influence … A Reply to W. L. Stone (New York: G. Vale, 1835).

22. Cross, The Burned-Over District, 38-39; John L. Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 57-61, 95-104, 129-46, 184.

23. George Peck, Early Methodism Within the Bounds of the Old Genesee Conference from 1788 to 1828 (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1860), 185-87.

24. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission.”

25. For a summary of some of these movements, see Cross, The Burned-Over District, 30-51.

26. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission,” 85; compare Benjamin Abbott, The Experience and Gospel Labours of the Rev. Benjamin Abbott (Philadelphia: D. S. Neall, 1825), 7.

27. Peter Cartwright, Autobiography of Peter Cartwright (1856; reprinted New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), 36-38, 47, 76-77, 289; Jacob Young, Autobiography of a Pioneer (Cincinnati: L. Swormstedt & A. Poe, 1857), 47, 126-27.

28. Nathan Bangs, The Life of Freeborn Garrettson (New York: J. Emory & B. Waugh, 1829), 123.

29. In Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 4-7.

30. James B. Allen, “Emergence of a Fundamental: The Expanding Role of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Mormon Religious Thought,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1976): 43-62; Neal E. Lambert and Richard H. Cracroft, “Literary Form and Historical Understanding: Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Journal of Mormon History 7 (1980): 31-42.

31. Lorenzo Dow, The Dealings of God, Man and the Devil (Norwich, CT: Wm. Faulkner, 1833), 176-77; see also the 1854 ed., pp. 96-98. Freeborn Gar-[p.69]rettson reported a similar example of a deathbed vision evoked by a preacher. Bangs, The Life of Freeborn Garrettson, 143.

32. Bangs, The Life of Freeborn Garrettson, 29, 33, 48.

33. Stone, Matthias and His Imposters, 113.

34. John Ryland, The Work of Faith, the Labour of Love, and the Patience of Hope, illustrated; in the Life and Death of the Rev. Andrew Fuller (Charlestown CT: Samuel Etheridge, 1818), 4.

35. Abbott, The Experience and Gospel Labours, 14.

36. Eleazer Sherman, The Narrative of Eleazer Sherman (Providence, RI: H. H. Brown, 1830), 15; Frederic Denison, ed., The Evangelist: or, Life of Rev. Jabez S. Swan (Waterford, CT: William L. Peckham, 1873); Peck, Early Methodism, 186.

37. Methodist Magazine, Jan. 1818, 56. For other samples of seeing with the “eye of faith,” see Bangs, The Life of Freeborn Garrettson, 142, 202; Cross, The Burned-Over District, 201; Dow, The Dealings of God, Man and the Devil, 121; John N. Maffit, Tears of Contrition; or Sketches of the Life of John N. Maffit (New London, CT: Samuel Green, 1821), 50; Daniel B. Shea, Jr., Spiritual Autobiography in Early America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), 216-17.

38. Nathan Barlow, A Vision Seen by Nathan Barlow (Greenfield, MA, 1802), 3, 7.

39. Shea, Spiritual Autobiography in Early America, 228.

40. Ibid., 199-204.

41. David O. Morton, Memoir of Rev. Levi Parsons (Poultney, VT: Smith & Shute, 1824), 18.

42. Ibid., 197.

43. Ibid., 114.

44. Cross, The Burned-Over District, 201.

45. Messenger and Advocate 1 (Oct. 1834): 14-16.

46. Robert Girouard, “A Survey of Apocryphal Visions in Late Eighteenth-Century America,” in Sibley’s Heir: A Volume in Memory of Clifford Kenyon Shipton (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1982), 204.

47. Barlow, A Vision Seen by Nathan Barlow, 6.

48. Abbott, The Experience and Gospel Labours, 10, 18-19, 52.

49. See, e.g., Cartwright, Autobiography, 37.

50. Bangs, The Life of Freeborn Garrettson, 312.

51. Dow, The Dealings of God, Man and the Devil, 72.

52. William and Emmanuel Northrup, Divine Hymns, or Spiritual Songs; for the Use of Religious Assemblies and Private Christians: Being Formerly a Collection by Joshua Smith, and Others. With Additions, and Alterations (Utica, NY: Ira Merrell, 1809), 14-15.

[p.70]53. Betsey Searl, 1831, North Lansing, New York, in possession of Rick Grunder, quoted by permission.

54. George Whitefield, as quoted in The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture, edited by Dan Vogel (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1990), 217.

55. Steven H. Bradley, A Sketch on the Life of Steven H. Bradley (Madison, CT, 1830), 7-8.

56. Ether 3:6, 19, 12:19-21; Alma 19:6, 12-13; and the heavens being opened (1 Ne. 1:8, 11:14, 27, 30, 12:6; Hel. 5:48, 3 Ne. 28:13; Ether 4:9/ /Ezek. 1:1; Acts 7:56). For a nineteenth-century example, see Morton, Memoir of Rev. Levi Parsons, 18.

57. Reverend Z. Paddock, Memoir of Rev. Benjamin G. Paddock (Cincinnati, OH, 1875), 180-181; Peck, Early Methodism, 509-10.

58. Bangs, The Life of Freeborn Garrettson, 307-12.

59. Ibid., 122.

60. Abbott, The Experience and Gospel Labours, 16-17.

61. JS-H 1:21-22; also in Jessee, The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, 6.

62. William Ellery Channing, The Complete Works of William Ellery Channing (London, 1884), 280, 286-87.

63. Solomon Chamberlin, “A Short Sketch of the Life of Solomon Chamberlin,” 4. To my knowledge, no copy of Chamberlin’s pamphlet has survived. See Letter to “Brother Carrington,” 11 July 1858, Beaver City, Utah, holograph; Historical Department Archives, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

64. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828).

65. Jason Whitman, “The Book of Mormon,” The Unitarian 1 (Jan. 1834).

66. Robert R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980).

67. John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998), xvi-xviii.

68. Robert N. Hullinger, Joseph Smith’s Response to Skepticism (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1992).