Friday, March 20, 2015

The Importance of Trying to Understand People in the Scriptures as Real People

Too often, I have heard people in our scriptures described almost as caricatures, with little or no thought given to analyzing and understanding the "little details" in the stories about them.  I believe strongly that his tendency is not good - that it covers wonderful lessons that are available through a more thorough examination of the records and even through a willingness to speculate a bit and make educated guesses.

Take Lehi and his family as an example:

I have said in multiple places that I feel for Laman and Lemuel and how they are portrayed by Nephi. I read a lot between the lines in Nephi's account, and I think the situation was way more complicated than most members assume.

First, I think Lehi's sudden conversion has to be factored when dealing with the family dynamic. 

There is no indication he was a religious man (in the classic sense of that term for Jews of his time) before his vision - and there is evidence that he was an absentee father, to some degree, during Laman and Lemuel's early years. I read Nephi's family narrative as describing a situation similar to that involving Jacob and Joseph - the favored younger son and the anger of the older brothers, right down to "birthright / ruler" issues. 

To take the vision situation further, as a prophet-type Lehi was an "outsider" to the people in Jerusalem - much like Samuel, the Lamanite, preaching repentance to the Nephites. Lehi wasn't a Jew, so preaching repentance to the Jews would be a lot like someone from a Mormon offshoot group preaching repentance to the LDS in SLC - or LDS missionaries preaching in the Deep South. It's no wonder he was rejected, from a psycho-social standpoint. They had a hard enough time accepting Jewish prophets calling them to repentance, much less someone who lived in the general area and probably was considered a rich foreigner, to a degree. The condemnation of "the Jews" by Nephi is natural, given his own outsider status and his relative youth and probable lack of age and social maturity. 

As another example, based on the general tone of his writings, and especially 2 Nephi 4, I believe Nephi might have been bi-polar or subject to depression of some kind - and I think, if that is true, that it's an important aspect that influences my reading of his narrative greatly.

I see a very complicated, very dysfunctional situation, and I believe the power of the stories gets lost when the family dynamics are ignored - when "the prophets" are viewed as next to perfect and their narratives are viewed as objective.

For what it's worth, I also think Alma, Jr. was influenced greatly by Alma, Sr. - and the fact that Old Alma had been a bit of a Sith Lord in his earlier days probably had a lot to do with how he worked with Young Alma during his dark force time before his vision and conversion.  I also believe those rebellious years and his guilt for them haunted Little Alma until his death and played a huge role in how he spoke to Corianton when he screwed up on his mission. 


Apache said...

"Lehi wasn't a Jew"??

Papa D said...

Lehi and Ishmael were from Joseph, not Judah. We have no idea what Sariah's lineage was. She might have been Jewish, but I doubt it, given the obvious prejudices toward Jews in Nephi's writing. She might have been Israelite (from a tribe other than Judah), but, given Lehi's obvious ties to Egypt, she might have been from there. She also might have been from anywhere else Lehi visited in his travels, if he was a merchant of some sort, as I believe the record implies.

On that note, if Sariah wasn't Israelite, that simple fact would cloud the whole issue of mitochondrial DNA.