Friday, June 26, 2009

Lehi and the Throne Theophany in 1 Nephi

Blake Ostler has authored an important work on Lehi's throne theophany in the beginning chapters of 1 Nephi.[1] In his work, Ostler identifies 8 characteristics of the throne theophany found in ancient Near Eastern literature (including both biblical and pseudepigraphal texts) and compares them to Lehi's throne theophany.[2] These elements or characteristics are:

1. Historical Introduction
2. Divine Confrontation
3. Reaction
4. Throne Theophany
5. Commission
6. Protest
7. Reassurance
8. Conclusion

Ostler then disects each of these elements within in the Book of Mormon and explains their historical/contextual meaning.

1. Historical Introduction

Ostler points out the obvious introduction of the current events going on in Jerusalem by Nephi in 1 Nephi 1:4, 6. In these verses, Nephi gives a quick chronology and then informs his reader of the political and religious upheaval going on in Jerusalem at the time, and of the fact that multiple prophets have been declaring different messages to the people.[3] 

2. Divine Confrontation

Ostler next points out how it is later recorded by Nephi that his father encountered a "pillar of fire" and that he later was "overcome with the spirit"(1 Nephi 1:6-7). Of course, Lehi then experiences a divine vision in which he is shown God "sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels" (1 Nephi 1:8), but not before Lehi's reaction to the vision.

3. Reaction 

The reader is informed that upon receiving this vision, Lehi "did quake and tremble exceedingly" and was "overcome with the Spirit" (1 Nephi 1:6-7). This reaction, interestingly enough, is similar to both Moses' as well as the Prophet Joseph Smith's own experiences with deity.[4] Thus it seems that Lehi's reaction to his vision was not unique.

4. Throne Theophany

Then we come to the climax of the vision. Lehi sees God on his throne surrounded by the hosts of heaven. This part of the vision clearly fits with other apocalyptical literature of the ancient Near East that discuss the Council of the Gods or the Divine Council.[5]

Interestingly enough, Ostler notes that there is another element in the Book of Mormon account, namely, the Descensus, which is also right at home in other ancient Near Eastern texts. In 1 Nephi 1:9-10, we read of how Lehi beheld the Savior, who is likened to the sun, and 12 other figures, who are clearly the Apostles of Christ, who are likened to the firmament of the stars. Ostler, quoting Frank Moore Cross notes that "kokebe boker 'the morning stars' in Job 38:7 may be considered in parallel with bene elohim 'sons of God' (compare Isa. 14:12; Ps. 148:2-3), and the terms saba' or sebot apply equally to the heavenly bodies and the angelic host."[6] Ostler, continuing with this idea and after providing some examples of this motif in the biblical texts, explains that it "is a logical extension of the throne-theophany and evidence of the Hebrew influence on Lehi's account."[7]

5. Commission 

1 Nephi 1:18-19, notes Ostler, is the "commission element of Lehi's call" and "the motif is evident from Lehi's actions following the vision, such as preaching to his people of the contents of the vision and the book[8], and from the subsequent revelation given to him."[9]

6. Protest

Ostler notes that this element seems to be missing from the Book of Mormon account, but that such is to be expected since "this element is usually absent when the reaction element in present, as in the call of Ezekiel."[10]

7. Reassurance

Ostler notes that this element of the throne theophany is usually accompanied with rejection of the Prophet by the people, as in the obvious case with Lehi. Notwithstanding, notes Ostler, God reassures his Prophet that said Prophet has indeed received his call from Deity and must press on in the work.

8. Conclusion

Ostler notes that in this element of the throne theophany, "the commission form usually concludes in a formal way, most often with a statement that the Prophet has begun to carry out his commission."[11] This we see in the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi 1:20, 2:1.

After expanding upon these elements, Ostler then discusses 19th century visions and those in the Book of Mormon. Ostler correctly notes that in the wake of the "revival fever" of the 2nd Great Awakening visions were common claims by religious individuals in the early 19th century. And while Joseph Smith himself patterned his accounts of his visionary experiences following established 19th century norms, which we can only expect considering this was the Prophet's immediate cultural and environmental understanding, Ostler notes that the Book of Mormon does not. 

The Book of Mormon is unique in detailing Lehi's vision, and is alien to 19th century conventions. However, as was demonstrated, Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi is right at home in the literature of the ancient Near East. Ostler therefore concludes that "the possibility that the Book of Mormon derives from and ancient source... must be considered in light of some features better explained in terms of ancient Israel than nineteenth-century America."[12]

David Bokovoy, that indefatigable sleuth, has continued Ostler's studies in a series of Podcasts posted on Youtube.

Part 1

Part 2


[1]: Blake Ostler, "The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form-Critical Analysis", BYU Studies (26/4): 67-95

[2]: Ostler (p. 70) identifies Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6, the Merkaba texts, 1-2 Enoch, the Testament of Levi, 4 Ezra, 3 Baruch, the Ascension of Isaiah and the Apocalypse of Abraham as texts that powerfully display the throne theophany motif.

[3]: Hugh Nibley has shed further light on the political, social and religious situation in Lehi's day. See Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Deseret/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 1988), 3-19.

[4]: See Moses 1:9-10 and Joseph Smith-History 1:20.

[5]: For an LDS perspective on the Council of the Gods or the Divine Council, see Daniel C. Peterson in "Ye Are Gods: Psalm 82 and John 10 as Witnesses to the Divine Nature of Humankind". Available online here. Also see the numerous but enlightening videos produced by Kerry Shirts on his Youtube webpage. For a thoroughly scholarly and enjoyable back and forth on the topic of the Council of the Gods between a Latter-day Saint and an Evangelical, see David Bokovoy and Michael Heiser in the FARMS Review 19/1. Available online here.

[6]: Ostler, 79.

[7]: Ibid.

[8]: Ostler (p. 79-80) notes the importance of the receiving of a heavenly book by the Prophet in his commission, a phenomenon seen clearly with Lehi in 1 Nephi 1: 11-13. John Tvedtnes has written extensively on this subject. See John Tvedtnes in The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness, Unto Light, (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies. 2000). Likewise, consult Michael Ash in Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Springville, Utah: CFI Books. 2008), 75.

[9]: Ostler, 79.

[10]: Ostler, 70.

[11]: Ibid.

[12]: Ostler, 87.


  1. Since the BoM is an ancient text, where are the carvings, engravings, texts, manuscripts, etc. found that contain the writings in the BoM?

  2. You can find phrases and even whole verses of BoM texts in various Old World texts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and others that come from Mesoamerican times and places. None of these were known to the world at large at the time Joseph Smith was alive and translating the Book of Mormon to English, which is further evidence of its authenticity as a book given by divine inspiration from God for purposes of testifying of Him through faith in what was written in the book, with evidences to come later.

    For further readings, see:

    The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record -

    What Does Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon Prove? -

    Category: Records (Book of Mormon » Records) -

    The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Mormon -

  3. Hi anonymous poster!

    The problem lies mainly in the fact that we lack texts from Mesoamerica that date contemporary to the Book of Mormon. Most of the texts were destroyed by the Spanish and other European conquerers, and the few texts that survive date from after Book of Mormon times.

    That said, as Rob pointed out, a number of texts from the Old World have survived that offer some interesting parallels to the Book of Mormon.

  4. Rob, would the texts found in the DSS be unique to the BoM, or would they be the texts found in the Bible that also appear in the BoM (i.e. Isaiah, etc.)?

    Steve, just to confirm, despite the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Assyrians, Bablyonians... I mean, the Spaniards and Europenas destroying everything BoM related (not sure how Inca, Myan, Aztec, Native Indian artifacts were spared?) we have no ancient BoM texts preserved in any fashion that independently confirms millions cherished the texts as holy scripture?

  5. Great questions, Rob. I would say that it's not so much a word-for-word comparison (literal) as it is a cultural and conceptual comparison. For brevity's sake, I will refer you to another link. This one has info by two great BoM scholars: Kerry Shirts and Robert Cloward. I don't know Kerry Shirts, except for what I've read of his and his excellent YouTube videos, but Robert Cloward was my institute teacher (sort of a seminary school for adults) and he was brilliant with his understanding of Dead Sea Scroll texts. Cloward traveled to the Holy Land several times and did a lot of the research that brought their meaning to light both literally and contextually. I highly recommend you read anything he has written.

    I might have something to add to what Steve says, given that I served my mission in Central America, but I'll let him answer your question first and will follow up if there's anything I can add.

  6. Hi Rob, I read the link. Not sure how the Qumran communities cultural similaries to a people separated by by the Atlantic addresses my question that we have ancient text in the Americas that directly attribute to the BoM. The one similarity as pointed out in point #2 of the link states "BoM people like the Qumran community have a passion for writing, making records for everything." Which lends weight that we should have ancient records from the millions who regarded the BoM as holy scripture as the text purports. Concerning #6 I would be curious to know what texts outside of the modern BoM canon were regarded by the BoM peoples, and what variances of canon and the process by which the modern BoM canon was chosen. I would also like to know what we have from ancient historians and writers independant of the BoM who observed, documented and quoted from BoM scripture that are contemporaries like Irenaeus, Martyr, Josephus, Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement, etc. We could reconstruct all but 11 versus of the NT from their quotes alone (dating before 325 AD). Would be curious how much we can reconstruct of the BoM (which last page dates it to 421 AD). Concerning #25, what desert in the Americas is this referring to? And #27, where is this temple and its ruins today? Thanks, Rob

  7. Rob,

    Before I continue, let me see if I fully understand what you're asking. I don't mean this as hurling your questions back at you, but just a means of clarification so I can give you the most direct answer I can. Please correct me if I'm in error on these points, but the premise of your questions seems to focus on the following assumptions:

    1. That Mormons believe that there was regular cultural interchange between the Old and New world during the period of the Book of Mormon and that our claim of similarities between Qumran and BoM peoples is based on this regular interchange.

    2. That Mormons believe the proliferation and regular study/transmission of written scripture, especially among the lay-populous of BoM people, was done to the same degree and in the same manner as is believed by non-Mormon scholars to have existed among Middle Eastern people during the same time period.

    3. That Mormons believe there were American contemporaries to Iranaeus, Martyr, Josephus, Polycarp, etc. who left behind writings, in the Americas, similar to those of the aforementioned individuals across the Atlantic.

    4. That #25 shows a Mormon claim that such a desert was in the Americas and not in the Middle East (particularly the Arabian Peninsula).

    5. That #27 shows Mormons believe that the exact location of such a structure is specifically and undoubtedly known.

  8. Hi Rob... let me clarify...

    #1 I'm not too concerned with cultural interchanges, as I doubt that was practicle given travel across the Atlantic. My point concerning the Qumran is that I don't see how their cultural similarities addresses my original question about ancient fragments of text found that are unique to the BoM.

    #2 Yes. If millions of passionate record keeping people cherished the BoM as scripture, and even entertained apocryphal texts (as your link indicates) then what were those texts, what were the various canons throughout the ages, and what copies of ancient texts or even fragments thereof do we have that belong to the BoM.

    #3 Yes, what independent ancient writings found in the Americas observe and mention the BoM peoples and their own distinct Judeo/Christian culture. What extra curicullar writings of church members, historians, leaders, critics, etc., from the New World collaborate and quote from BoM scripture.

    #4 The link compared the Qumran and BoM people as having headquarters in the desert, what desert in the Americas are we referring to?

    #5 I don't know if "what Mormons believe" is how I would phrase it, as that is subject to ones faith. Rather, as a matter of observation, where are the ruins of the Solomon Temple Replica in the Americas?


  9. Hi Rob!

    Excellent questions.

    As Brant Gardner has pointed out, in order to give us any information on archaeological remains we rely primarily on two things 1) texts and 2) inscriptions. Why do we know that all that rubble in Israel is such and such ancient city? Because we have texts that date to that time period that confirm it is such and such city and we have readable inscriptions that tell us the name of the city.

    Unfortunately, when we come to the New World, we have a different picture. As I mentioned before, the Spanish destroyed literally thousands of texts in the conquest of "New Spain". Why? Because they were all evil pagan blasphemy! We can't allow them to corrupt these poor people anymore. We need to bring them Christinaity, so let's start by destroy the vestiges of their religious identity.

    As I mentioned, we currently have only a handful of texts from Mesoamerica today and those texts post-date any Book of Mormon events. Then we come to the inscriptions part of the problem. Just now are scholars beginning to fully understand Mesoamerican inscriptions. The problem is that many cities used what are called "emblem glyphs" to detail the name of the city. Hence, the names of many cities are unknown and they simply use Spanish names like Santa Rosa, El Mirador, etc.

    So the question becomes not so much where are those Nephite cities and artifacts but how do we identify them. Without texts to compare and without inscriptions to read we are left in the dark. As John Clark once observed, we in all likeliness have found Nephite and Jaredite artifacts but they languish in Museums with archaeological masks such as "Mayan" and "Olmec" because scholars have no other way to identify them. How do you tell the difference between a Nephite and a non-Nephite bowl, for example? Or Nephite clothing compared to non-Nephite clothing. These are all very crucial questions. However, progress in both Mesoamerican and Book of Mormon studies are steadily progressing in this area. I recommend pursuing the following link for more information. It is a review of that dreadful movie "The Bible vs. the Book of Mormon" by Gardner:

    Also, if you have the money, you will want to purchase Gardner's new commentary series "Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon". It is a bit pricy, but it is worth every penny. The FAIR bookstore sells it at a discount.

    Hope that helps!

  10. Hello again Rob!

    As I have mentioned earlier, it is a case of apples to oranges when comparing the Old World and New World archaeological record. In the Old World, things are preserved in the sand and the texts have survived. In the New World, the rich soil and humidity destroy artifacts much faster and we have little to no texts. Therein lies the problem.

    However, we must also remember that the Book of Mormon begins in the Near East, in Jerusalem, and throughout the Arabian peninsula. Thus, affinities to ancient Near Eastern culture and texts are to be expected, as has been pointed out primarily in the writings of Hugh Nibley.

    Hope this helps!

  11. I'm pretty sure Steve has answered your questions regarding engravings/inscriptions/texts. If not, please specify.

    As for the desert mentioned in the BoM, the only desert that figures in any prominence in the book is where Nephi and his family traveled for 8 years BEFORE they began their journey to the New World.

    Also, they likely crossed the Indian Ocean, then caught natural currents along the Pacific Rim that took them across the northern end of the Pacific then down along the coast of North America and further South to Central America.

    The ruins that dot Central America alone number in the thousands and only a tiny fraction of those have been excavated to date. The main factor in the non-discovery of the rest is cost. It takes a LOT of manpower and money and expertise to preserve a site while unearthing its history, especially when most of it is in jungle that has been left undisturbed for centuries. Just surviving the snakes and other critters is enough to keep away all but the most determined and experienced of archaeologists. Having lived there, I can attest it is truly the kind of place you would find Indiana Jones...or maybe not because of the snakes.

    At any rate, the Solomon's Temple replica, if it wasn't destroyed by centuries of conflict since the time it was built, or was not covered over by other structures as was common practice, is likely among those we haven't uncovered yet. Nephi says that it was a replica only insofar as he was able to make it such with the materials and manpower available to him at the time. So, I don't think we would expect to find stunning columns and high archways covered with gold. I don't even think it would be very big to have been built in Nephi's waning lifetime in the Americas. He probably meant that it resembled the temple of Solomon in its general architecture, with an outer court containing the altar for offerings, an inner court, and a Holy of Holies.

    Can I ask you a question, though? Some of the questions you ask seem like they could be answered with a relatively cursory reading of the first 1/3 and perhaps the last 2 sub-books of the Book of Mormon. Have you read it yet? If you do, you'll find that a lot of the assumptions you have about it are clarified. For example, you'll know by 2 Nephi that it wasn't intended to be a comprehensive history of all the Nephites and Lamanites. Although that history was kept on other plates, it was not included in the Book of Mormon we have today because its purpose was to cover spiritual topics and doctrines. Where those more secular histories are is not yet known, but it is likely they were hidden in a similar manner to what was done with the Dead Sea Scrolls and meant to come out at some future time as corroboration of the spiritual record...that is, when we've had sufficient faith to believe the BoM and are ready to receive it.

  12. Happy 4th... recap: no temple replica found; no text or fragments we can trace to the BoM; no contemporary writings/inscriptions found to date the authenticate the BoM, it's peoples and cultures; no known apocryphal texts (not sure how the link can make this comparison to the Qumran peoples given we can't confirm this as fact); and no evidence of a Judeo/Christian culture observed by millions.

    Follow up questions:
    As for reading the BoM to validate itself, I'm not so interested in it being an exhaustive history, rather history validating the BoM. As for 2 Nephi, was there only 1 set of plates? Otherwise how did millions read the scriptures?

    Natives who learned European languages have recreated destroyed codices (i.e. Hymns of Pachacutec, Flower Songs of Hungry Coyote, Songs of Dzitbalche) are there any reconstructed texts or oral history passed down that validates BoM text?

    If we did not have the BoM today, is there any independent evidence that we would even know of the "Nephites"? What does "Nephi" mean anyhow? Thanks


We are happy to discuss any and every topic and question. We will give wide berth to a variety of opinions and ideas. The only thing we ask is that you return the favor by respecting our right to believe as we do and by not issuing lengthy, inflammatory diatribes meant to shock and confuse anyone not familiar with LDS teachings. They can certainly get that elsewhere. :)