Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Let us go up": Nephi's Literary Allusion to the Exodus and the Temple

Several LDS authors have pointed out the prevalent usage of the Exodus motif in Book of Mormon texts. S. Kent Brown, for example, observed that "The memory of Israel's exodus from Egypt runs so deeply and clearly in the Book of Mormon that it has naturally drawn the attention of modern students."1 Joseph Spencer, citing George Tate, points out that the importance of this theme stands out, for example, when, "Alma draws not on the texts of Exodus, but on the tradition of the exodus--a tradition present in the Nephite consciousness long before Alma."2 This consciousness must have been inherited from their Israelite forebears, or possibly developed culturally through focused attention upon specific scriptures in the brass plates; or conversely, both factors could have affected this tradition to varying degrees at different periods in Nephite history. The fact that this emphasis exists, however, is worthy of noting. Jo Bailey Wells comments on the importance of this motif within the Hebrew Bible itself, which could speak to an inherited Nephite tradition:
"With regard to the rest of the Old Testament, the motifs of the book--of the exodus, the wilderness, of Sinai--are repeatedly echoed. In particular the escape from Egypt is viewed as the event of supreme religious significance. Even elsewhere in the Pentateuch it is no mere historical event of the past, but a permanent symbol that constantly imposes itself afresh on the collective memory. In the Psalms, in the historical books, and in the Prophets, the experience of the exodus is declared again and again--so that Amos, for example, can voice God saying to a generation at least five hundred years later, "I brought you up out of the land of Egypt" (Amos 2:10).3
With the exodus motif being so prevalent in Israelite history and culture, at least through Amos' day, it shouldn't be surprising to find the continuation of this observance in Nephite culture. While this theme is obvious in certain portions of the Book of Mormon, and LDS writings have explored this motif throughout its varied appearances and allusions within the Book of Mormon, I'd like to touch upon one instance of Nephi's usage in particular. Speaking to Laman and Lemuel (and Sam) regarding their efforts in obtaining the brass plates, Nephi uses the exodus motif in his peroration as a motivational factor for achieving this seemingly impossible objective. The motif serves as Nephi's illustration of the Lord's might and the deliverance of His people.4 Nephi intends for his brothers to be strengthened from this example since they had already failed in obtaining the plates from Laban twice. In this instance, Nephi references the exodus explicitly, but also utilizes specific verbiage that further draws upon the motif (1 Nephi 3-4):
31 And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?  1 And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands? 2 Therefore, let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea. 3 Now behold, ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians. 
Aside from the obvious references to the exodus, Nephi's repetition of the phrase "let us go up" clearly intends to emphasize a certain point. The first instance could be ignored as simply a natural description of the literal direction that they need to go to return to Jerusalem, after all, they returned to Jerusalem from the south. The second iteration could similarly refer to going "up" or north, to Jerusalem; however, this instance is situated in the context of the Lord's might, and being strong "like unto Moses." The third instance could similarly be referencing the cardinal direction of north in returning to Jerusalem. Similar to the second instance, however, this final iteration is situated in the context of overcoming doubt through faith, as bolstered by the administering of an angel, as well as the example of the Lord delivering the Israelites from the Egyptians. Overall this repeated phrase could be overlooked as relatively insignificant, but Biblical scholar Jean-Louis Ska pointed out that a variant of this phrase is used elsewhere in the Bible as an allusion to the exodus. Ska notes that 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 concludes the Hebrew Bible with the phrase, "Let him go up." This invitation to 'go up' (wӗyā ͑al), is a verb that "may contain an allusion to the Exodus, given that the expression used to describe the departure from Egypt contains this same verb, "go up" (͑ lh, Hiphil; cf. Exod 3:8)."5 Nephi's admonition, when isolated with its accompanying rationale, can be summarized as follows: 

1) Let us go up - to be faithful in keeping the commandments
2) Let us go up - to be strong like Moses
3) Let us go up - and the Lord will deliver us just as "our fathers" were delivered from the Egyptians

Clearly Nephi intended to use this particular phrase in context of the exodus/deliverance motif. Accordingly, the focus upon the specific verbiage employed within his narrative is hardly a case of earth-shattering profundity considering the theme is also explicit; nonetheless, it does add a measure of insight into Nephi's emphasis upon the motif, and perhaps his use of this verbiage is intended to serve a dual purpose: 1) reference the direction that they need to go to Jerusalem, equating "up" with north; while, 2) simultaneously strengthening the power of his discourse by implicitly employing characteristic verbiage that emphasizes the exodus/deliverance motif that he discusses explicitly. This presumption, of course, takes for granted that Nephi intentionally used this specific language to emphasize the motif. Considering that the repetition of the phrase is a component within the context of his exodus/deliverance discourse seems to justify the assertion that this was deliberate on Nephi's part.

One other point of possible implication, and possible third purpose for employing this specific verbiage, is the connection that this phrase has to Isaiah (and Micah) regarding the oft-repeated scripture relating to the temple: "And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2). This is one of the first scriptures from Isaiah's writings that Nephi copies on to his plates (2 Nephi 12:3). The emphasis on 'going up' was to visit the temple where the participant would be taught "his ways" so that they could walk in "his paths." The scripture emphasizes that the "law" would come from Zion, and the "word of the LORD" from Jerusalem. Both Jerusalem and Zion are mentioned in the context of "the mountain of the LORD," and the "house of the God of Jacob," which we presume to be equivalents. In other words, the law (tôrâh), and the Lord's mouthpiece (the prophet, priest, and king) would deliver the "word of the Lord" in order for the Israelite to know how to walk in "his paths." In our day we would simplify this as Latter-day Saints giving heed to the scriptures and the living prophets, while recognizing the temple as the pinnacle of this instruction.

The torah has reference to the five books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). In addition to the living prophet, the "word of the Lord" could possibly have reference to the prophetic (nevi'im) writings. Jeremiah 1:4 reads that "the word of the Lord came unto me;" which is a phrase also repeated in Ezekiel 6:1, and Isaiah similarly declares the "word of the Lord" beginning in Isaiah 1:10. Nephi said that the brass plates contained the "five books of Moses," as well as "the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah" (1 Nephi 5:11-13).6 Thus, the persuasion to "go up" to get the plates may have had some reference to Isaiah 2:3 in obtaining the law from Zion and the words of the Lord from Jerusalem. Nephi had previously employed the admonition to "go up to the land of Jerusalem" (1 Nephi 3:9) for the purpose of obtaining the "words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets" (1 Nephi 3:20). Building up to his exhortation he adds the request to "let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord" (1 Nephi 3:16). In his narrative, Nephi explains that it was "after this manner of language" that he persuaded his brethren to be faithful (1 Nephi 3:21), which speaks to his deliberateness in framing the exodus/deliverance motif, and the charge to go up to obtain the plates. Further, an angel repeats these same words to Laman and Lemuel: "Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again..." (1 Nephi 3:29). The missing component in this allusion is the temple. The brass plates weren't kept at the temple, rather, they were housed in the "treasury of Laban" (1 Nephi 4:20). For purposes of Nephi's literary allusion, however, the brass plates did contain the law and the word of the Lord, which they obtained from Zion / Jerusalem (Psalm 76:2).

1 S. Kent Brown, "The Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon," BYU Studies 30/3 (Summer 1990):111; reprinted and revised in S. Kent Brown, From Jerusalem to Zarahemla: Literary and Historical Studies of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1998), 75-98; refer to Brown's article for a small bibliography on this topic.
2 Joseph Spencer, An Other Testament: On Typology (Salem, OR: Salt Press, 2012), 8; Spencer cites George Tate, "The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon," Literature of Belief: Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, ed. Neal [E.] Lambert (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center, 1981), 254
3 Jo Bailey Wells, "The Book of Exodus," in A Theological Introduction to the Pentateuch: Interpreting the Torah as Christian Scripture, ed. Richard S. Briggs and Joel N. Lohr (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 53
4 As part of the Exodus motif, 'deliverance' is Nephi's primary emphasis. Considering that he forged and engraved the small plates a number of years after this event occurred (2 Nephi 5:29-33), he was able to cast his narrative within a framework that encouraged interpretation through focusing upon his stated objective: "But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance" (1 Nephi 1:20). Nephi's usage of the phrase "tender mercies" seems to draw from the Psalms where this phrase is used ten times, and seems to have some correlation with the exodus/deliverance theme: Exodus 15:13, Psalm 25:6, 10; 79:8-9; 119:77.
5 Jean-Louis Ska, Introduction to Reading the Pentateuch, trans. Sr. Pascale Dominique (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 13
6 Biblical scholars generally believe that the torah, or the pentateuch, was completed in its final form around the 5th century BC, thus Nephi could not have had the "five books of Moses" that we have today. Leviticus, in particular (as well as large portions of Exodus and Numbers) were believed to have been written by a priestly school, traditionally assumed to have been exilic and post-exilic, which would render the "five books of Moses" as nonsensical, or even anachronistic. Much work has been done by scholars such as Menahem Haran, Richard Elliot Friedman, and others to redate the beginning of the priestly contributions of the torah to Hezekiah's day (roughly one hundred years before Lehi's departure). Similarly, the "Deuteronomic school" is believed to be responsible for Deuteronomy and other portions of the Bible (much of Joshua through 2 Kings). However, this "school" is presumed to have begun around Josiah's day (the generation before, and slightly overlapping, Lehi's day). It is well beyond the scope of this article to delve into this particular topic any further, but it is sufficient to acknowledge that the brass plates could very well have had the torah, although it would certainly have been different from the form of the torah as we have it today.

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