Rethinking, “Rethinking Alma 32” — Part A

Introduction & Principal Conclusions

In preparing a Tree of Life lesson for teens (12/6/2020), the principles from Rethinking Alma 32, were repurposed. When opening Nephi’s vision to more fully prepare, there was no expectation that there was anything new or particularly interesting to be discovered. That couldn’t have been more wrong. As with Alma 32, there is far more going on than previously considered. When taken together…. Wow.

The intent here is not to convince you of anything. What is amazing, and sufficient, is to simply explore these two brilliant accounts. Therefore, let me offer my personal conclusions (which are ever changing) so that we can dispense with any impression of building up some kind of proof. My belief is that Alma wasn’t just talking about exercising faith to plant a seed and watch it sprout — which is no less true — he was teaching the fundamentals of eternal lives (aka, multiple mortalities). Nephi wasn’t just explaining the Tree of Life being the Love of God (incarnate as the Savior of mankind) — which is no less true — he was pointing to Mary. Mary is the Tree of Life. And that isn’t even a spoiler to the really…. We’ll get to that later.

Now, all of this isn’t entirely new. In the previously referenced post, it was asked, “who is the tree and who is the fruit,” which intended to imply as much. What is new is how blatantly obvious Nephi appears to make this, without directly saying it (and how witless I feel for not having seen it before). What is new is what then becomes more explicit in Alma when we presume a more sophisticated Nephi record as a foundation.

A Deep Dive Into Nephi’s Tree of Life

We simply have to begin with what appears to be two interrelated, back-to-back chiasmuses. I haven’t seen anything quite like this before. The form is A-B-C-B’-A’ – A”-B”-C’-B”’-A”’. For reference, here it is.

  • [A] 7 And behold this thing shall be given unto thee for a sign, that after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit which thy father tasted, thou shalt also behold a man descending out of heaven, and him shall ye witness; and after ye have witnessed him ye shall bear record that it is the Son of God.
    • [B] 8 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow. 9 And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.
      • [C] 10 And he said unto me: What desirest thou? 11 And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof—for I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord; and he spake unto me as a man speaketh with another. 12 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.
    • [B’] 13 And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. 14 And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? 15 And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
  • [A’] 16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? 17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things. 18 And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. (1 Nephi 11:7–18)

  • [A”] 19 And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
    • [B”]20 And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. 21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!
      • [C’] Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? 22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things. 23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.
    • [B”’] 24 And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.
  • [A”’] 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. (1 Nephi 11:19–25)

The Hinges

Let us begin by looking at the centers of the two chiasmuses, [C] and [C’]. We key in on Nephi’s desire to know the interpretation of the Tree of Life and the latter validation that he got the message.

  • [C.a] know the interpretation of the Tree of Life.
    • [C.b] Spirit of the Lord.
    • [C’.b] Angel
  • [C’.a] “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree…?

If this is a mini-chiasmus inserted within and spanning the two chiasmuses, that would be amazing, right? It would imply the important part of these two chiasmuses is to know the meaning of the Tree of Life, but even more important is the interview with the Lord and then the Angel. Coincidence?

Sequence

Since Nephi knows the answer here at [C’], what follows is either a further elaboration, or a change of topic. The latter seems consistent with [A] (7) Nephi being told that “after thou hast beheld the tree which bore the fruit,” he would then witness the Son of God, and finally bear record of Him. But, most of the vision of the Son of God follows these two chiasmuses. So, what we see here may simply be a continuation and elaboration on the narrative of Mary (my preference based on all that follows, if it isn’t both).

Parallel Structures

These the three key elements in [A] are reflected in the combination of [B”’] [A”’]: the Son, the word/rod-of-iron/record, and the tree. We will return to this.

Parallel Common Descriptive Language

Nephi sees the tree in [B] and then in [C] the Lord asks what he desires. He says, “to know the interpretation” of the tree. He is then shown [B’] Mary. This paring in the chiasmus simultaneously overlaps common descriptions:

  • [B] a TREE… the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.
  • [B’] the interpretation] a VIRGINexceedingly fair and white. …A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

Please juxtapose this with Lehi’s account where the focus is primarily on the fruit (as compared to the Tree; note the common descriptive language).

And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.

(1 Nephi 8:10–12)

If we presume that Nephi was cognizant of his father’s record when he wrote his, then the distinctions become more critical as that would imply that he is attempting to draw our attention to important details missing from his father’s account.

Parallel Metaphor

Similarly, we see the tree referenced in A reflected in A’ as Mary.

  • [A] the tree which bore the fruit
  • [A’] the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God

And Mary referenced in A” reflected in A”’ as the tree.

  • [A”] Mary was carried away in the Spirit
  • [A”’] the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life

Non-Parallel Metaphor

While not part of the expected structure of the chiasmus, we further see [A] (7) the tree bearing fruit reflected in [B”] (20, 21) the virgin (Mary) bearing Their child.

Punting

This might suggest the possibility of a different chiasmus structure than shown here. There are other interesting relationships in that chiasmus, and in different, related chiasmus constructions that have different hinge points. For example, let [A’] and [A’’] be the hinge with an inner focus to a single chiasmus encompassing the two; break up [C] and [C’], and reorganize the rest accordingly. This gives the “condescension of God” a completely different nuance while leaving the primary relationships generally the same. Please understand that many relationships and ideas are left unexplored. While interesting, some require more explanation than warranted. For example, how is [B”’] related to anything going on elsewhere? With many of the important points covered, this is sufficient to the purpose.

The point? This is a work of art. The more you look at it, the more sophisticated, the deeper, and the more beautiful it becomes.

More Knots To Untie

In the past, I thought that the love of God / tree in [C’] (21, 22) was talking about the Savior [B”] (21). That now seems entirely inconsistent with both the tree/fruit — mother/child metaphor pairing and the entire structure of the chiasmus. Now I’m inclined towards the introduction of the Lamb of God in [B”] (21) as part of what defines Mary, the Mother of the Son of God (also 18) and simply part of Her narrative. This does raise a question, is She defined by Him, or is He defined by Her (“Ye shall know them by their fruits;” “…Yea; for every seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness“) or both? We see this hinted at in the descriptive language used to describe the tree (Nephi) and the fruit (Lehi), referenced above.

If She condescended [A’] from a position as the consort of the Father, then is “the Mother of the Son of God” redundant? More importantly, if the first use of the word condescension in this vision includes Mary, then do we believe that both She and Jesus swapped out for telestial or terrestrial (-like?) bodies (see: [A’] v18 and Doctrine and Covenants 76:78 and JST 1 Corinthians 15:40)? That sounds like a serious downgrade (condescension).

Christ’s introduction ([B”] (21), see above) also pairs up with [B”’] (24), which then links Jesus to [A”’] (25) the Word of God and then back to Mary. Lets say that differently. In [A] we have the Tree (Mary), which bears the fruit (Jesus), and then a record (by Nephi). In [B”’ & A”’] we have The Son, (implicitly) bearing The Word which leads to Mary, “the fountain of living waters” (we’ll pick this up in Part B), and “the love of God.” Is one of the meanings of “the love of God” the beloved of God, which is (9) “precious above all?” Precious to Him, to us, to all of creation?

In Lehi’s account we read “…[Lehi] saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree (1 Ne 8:24,30).” Nephi’s focus is different, the rod of iron or the Word of God (presumed from the Son of God) leads us back to… The Mother? “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….” This may be a distinction without much difference if we think of it as a package deal (truly, could we have Him without Her, would we have Her without Him?).

Is this leading back to Mary (and Her consort), or forward to another generation of Gods, or both (as in, could you have the latter without the former and/or vice versa). Maybe there is even more….

Summary

It is interesting that while Nephi never directly says Mary is the Tree of Life, he implies it in four distinct ways:

  • Common descriptive language (e.g., exceedingly white),
  • Sequence (e.g., after thou hast beheld), and
  • Metaphor (e.g., tree/fruit : mother/son), which are all beautifully woven into
  • Parallel chiasmuses (see above).

Why didn’t he just say it? It would have been much easier. Yeah, then there is the obvious follow-on question.

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