Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fountain of Living Water- 1 Nephi 11

We must continue on with the “tree of life” vision that Nephi saw because there is a lot more symbolism that needs to be addressed.  

If we were to jump ahead in our reading of the Book of Mormon we would see many times where Nephi teaches principles that he learned because of this vision he was shown.   A significant detail is revealed about Jesus Christ in 2 Nephi 25, as Nephi gives commentary on the words of Isaiah from the previous Isaiah chapters contained in that book. I believe he learned this particular detail from what he was shown in this earlier vision.

Look for what Nephi specifically draws our attention to about Christ in the following verse:

2 Nephi 25:12 But, behold, they shall have wars, and rumors of wars; and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks.

An important thing Nephi specifically wants us to know is that Christ is the Only Begotten of the Father.   I repeat, Christ was begotten of The Father. The definition for the word begat, or begotten, is typically that of bringing a child into existence by the process of reproduction; to procreate as the father or sire.  I believe it is literally that. 

In a talk given by President Ezra Taft Benson titled “Five Marks of the Divinity of Jesus Christ”, the same idea is discussed. 

President Benson states:
There are those who would seek to convince you that the divine birth of Christ as proclaimed in the New Testament was not a divine birth at all—nor was Mary, the Virgin girl, a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception. They would have you believe that Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, was His physical father, and that Jesus was, therefore, human in all His attributes and characteristics. They appear generous in their praise of Him when they say that He was a great moral philosopher, perhaps even the greatest. But the intent of their effort is to repudiate the divine sonship of Jesus; for on that doctrine rest all other claims of Christianity.

I am bold to say to you young people tonight: Jesus Christ is the Son of God in the most literal sense. The body in which He performed His mission in the flesh was sired by that same Holy Being we worship as God, our Eternal Father. He was not the son of Joseph, nor was He begotten by the Holy Ghost. He is the Son of the Eternal Father!

It seems very clear to me… but how did Nephi know?  Again, just as Nephi knew the symbolism of the divine feminine was the tree, I believe he also understood the symbolism for “living water”.  

There is something very particular about Nephi’s vision that was lacking in the retelling of Lehi’s vision. In Lehi’s vision we are told that Nephi remembered his father speaking of a fountain of water that flowed into a river.  This fountain was located in the opposite direction of the tree. What either Lehi or Nephi neglected to mention is that this fountain and river were filthy, and that there was another fountain in the vision too.

Look for where the other fountain is.

1 Nephi 11:25 And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.

It is interesting to notice that the water, specifically the fountain or head of the waters, and the tree are in the same place, or are referred to as one thing.  Both become a representation of “the love of God”.   The fountain of living waters and the tree together produce the fruit, which is desirable above all other fruit.  

According to specific Kabbalistic traditions and early oral traditional rabbinical teachings, the “living waters”, and light for that matter, can be equated with “male sexual energy, specifically as semen”.  It is a life force that flows among and animates the world.  (Source: A Guide to the Zohar by Arthur Green) I believe Nephi would have understood very clearly what “living waters” would have represented. 

Conversely, let us consider the other water referred to in the vision, that of the fountain of filthy water.  It did not have a tree connected with it.  It produced nothing.  It became a representation of the depths of hell, or damnation.

1 Nephi 12:16 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea, even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell.

The location of this fountain of filthy water is in the polar opposite direction of the fountain of living waters, and the tree. It has no life giving energy to it at all; in fact it took life as “many were drowned in the depths of the fountain”.

When we look at the symbolism of what living water represents it is no wonder that, according to Jewish tradition, the “font” was a feminine entity, or a receptacle for the living waters.  Guess what…. the tabernacle, or temple itself was also considered a feminine entity.

There is simply so much to ponder…

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Meaning of the Tree- 1 Nephi 11

(Forgive me for the long pause in teaching this particular process… I was bitten by the flu bug.)

In my last post I talked about the three step process of “the sign” which was given to Nephi from the Spirit of the Lord.  He was told he would see a tree, then a man descend out of Heaven, and then witness that this man was literally the Son of the Eternal Father.  

After Nephi witnessed that the Son of God was born of a Virgin, who is “the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh”, the Angel (not the Spirit of the Lord, remember different person…) proposed the following question:

1 Nephi 11: 21…Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?

Why would the Angel be so concerned about the tree?  

Although for us the meaning of the tree might not be very clear, Nephi, when posed with the above question, answered that he did know the meaning of the tree.  How does he know?

Daniel C. Peterson has explored this topic extensively and has explained his findings in the following:

“How has Nephi come to this understanding? Clearly, the answer to his question about the meaning of the tree lies in the virgin mother with her child. It seems, in fact, that the virgin actually is the tree, in some sense. Even the language used to describe her echoes that used for the tree. Just as she was "exceedingly fair and white," "most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," so was the tree's beauty "far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." Significantly, though, only when she appeared with a baby and was identified as "the mother of the Son of God" did Nephi grasp the tree's meaning.

Why would Nephi see a connection between a tree and the virginal mother of a divine child? His vision seems to reflect a meaning of the "sacred tree" that is unique to the ancient Near East and, in Israelite history, specifically to the period before the Babylonian captivity — Nephi's era. This can only be fully appreciated when the ancient Canaanite and Israelite associations of that tree are borne in mind.

Recent scholarship, including archaeological finds, has demonstrated that the goddess Asherah, worshipped among Israel's Canaanite neighbors as the wife of the supreme god, El, was also revered by many Israelites as the consort of El(ohim) and the (in some accounts, virginal) mother of his children. She was symbolized by a tree, and, in fact, a representation of such a tree stood within the temple at Jerusalem during the time of Lehi.”

(For a complete account of Dr. Peterson’s views you may want to read his article written for the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies called, Nephi and His Asherah.

Nephi did not understand the condescension of God.  Because of the perspective he had, looking to a future event, he did not know how God would come to earth, and how the Atonement would actually happen.  It simply had not happened yet.  The Lord answered his request to know how this loving act was to take place.  He showed him in the most simplistic way so he could understand.  We need that simplistic view too.  We simply complicate it too much.  

Go and read Daniel Peterson’s full article… digest this…and we will talk more.