Abstract: Modern readers too often misunderstand ancient narrative. Typical of this incomprehension has been the inclination of modern biblical critics to view repetitions as narrative failures. Whether you call such repetitions types, narrative analogies, type scenes, midrashic recurrences, or numerous other names, this view of repeated elements has dominated modern readings of Hebraic narratives for at least 200 years. Robert Alter, who introduced a new yet antique understanding of repetitions in the Hebrew Bible in the 1980s, began to reverse this trend. Such repeated elements aren’t failures or shortcomings but are themselves artistic clues to narrative meaning that call readers to appreciate the depth of the story understood against the background of allusion and tradition. Richard Hays has brought similar insights to Christian scripture. The Book of Mormon incorporates the same narrative features as are present in other Hebraic narrative. The ancient rabbis highlighted the repeating elements in biblical narrative, noting that “what happens to the fathers, happens to the sons.” The story of Moroni’s raising the standard of liberty in Alma 46 illustrates the repetitive expectation by seeing the events of the biblical Joseph’s life repeated in the lives of these Nephite descendants of Joseph. Such recurrence in narratives can, considering the insights of Alter and Hays, reveal richness and depth in the narrative without detracting from the historical qualities of the text.
Hagar is twice expelled from Abraham’s household (Genesis 16:4–14; 21:9–19), thrice a patriarch endangers his wife in a foreign country by passing her off as his sister (Genesis 12:10–19; 20:1–16; 26:6–11), and multiple times a patriarch or prophet travels to a foreign country to meet a nubile girl at a well to secure a wife (Genesis 24:10–60; 29:1–16; Exodus 2:15–21). Pharaoh slaughters the infants as does Herod the Great (Exodus 1:15– 22; Matthew 2:16–18), and a prophetic figure — whether Moses or Jesus [Page 264]— miraculously provides food in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4–16; Matthew 15:32–38). I could cite many more examples of repeated biblical stories: conflicts as the younger brother supersedes the older (Joseph and his brothers, Genesis 37, 42–45; Esau and Jacob, Genesis 27; Laman and Lemuel against Nephi, 1 Nephi 3:28–31 and elsewhere), threats against out- of-towners appealing for hospitality (Genesis 19; Judges 19); twice Nephites send their attractive young women out to charm marauding Lamanites so the vulnerable group isn’t killed (Mosiah 19:12–15; Mosiah 23:33–34). Such doublets, as they are frequently called, are fundamental to the working of Hebraic narrative: two creation stories, two instances of animals boarding the ark (seven of each kind once and two of each animal the second time), two narratives of water provided in the wilderness during the exodus. To the modern mind these examples are historical problems in the text — duplications, narrative inconsistencies, failures, plagiarisms; biblical critics have in the past few decades rehabilitated these recurrences, noting their sophistication, revealing modern incapacities in scorning them. Sternberg notes of biblical repetitions that “the dismissal of its redundancies in terms of ‘noise’ is the reader’s last resort rather than first resort”1 and more likely the result of readerly failure than writerly shortcoming. Since the advent of modern historical criticism of the Bible (starting with, say, Spinoza in the seventeenth century) the presence of such recurrent stories was used to denigrate the Bible as a historical source and narrative exemplar. “One of the unfortunate features of many source-oriented analyses [of the Hebrew Bible] is the typical and premature consideration of repetition, on whatever level of the text, as dysfunctional.”2 Only recently has the biblical narrative rebounded from these criticisms. Indeed, only recently have these repeated stories (whether within the Hebrew Bible, between the New and the Old Testaments, between the Book of Mormon and the Bible, or internal to any of those sources) been elevated as instances of narrative art and a particular historical approach we had forgotten how to read and valorize.
Types of Repetition
I take repetition to be the larger category under which the subdivisions listed below fall. Repetitions are not just one element in the biblical writing style, but an essential, foundational building block that makes biblical plot and characterization possible. “Repetition is not an absence [Page 265]of style but a style in itself. The Bible frequently appoints and repeats a particular ‘guiding word,’ or leitwort, to use Martin Buber’s term, by means of which it conveys its perspectives in subtle ways, ‘making a meaning available without articulating it explicitly.’”3 What readers make of such repetitions depends as much on the reader’s historical context as on the indications in the text. I haven’t quite stated the claim in the previous sentence with sufficient clarity: the reader, the text, and the community of interpreters make various contributions to the resulting interpretation — sometimes with greater weight provided by one of the triad, sometimes another. I want to emphasize the reader’s part in producing the end result because that element is too commonly neglected by critics who think textual interpretations are immaculately derived and then handed over to passive readers.
Various communities of readers have classified inner-biblical allusions differently. Eslinger notes three such communities: (1) Jews view such repetitions as evidence of the richness of the scripture that reflects the fullness of God’s creation, (2) Christians read the recurrences as reflecting the God of history guiding events in patterns pointing toward the ultimate redemptive event in Christ’s life and death, and (3) historical-critical readers view the reverberations as clues to the origins and development of the text over time.4 As we have become less open to readings that assert divine activity in history, the assumptions of historicism and historical development have become more dominant.5 While historical-critical readings were at their highest tide, such readers viewed rabbinic, typological, and allegorical readings “as violent eisegesis violating the plain authorial meaning of any given text at issue. Modern interpreters … could not accept the polyvalence of language” because they acceded to the Reformation notion about the plain and singular meaning of the text.6 Neither the Reformers nor their historicist descendants realized “that the New Testament writers were engaging in spiritual interpretations like their Jewish forebears and contemporaries and their Christian descendants.”7 No sharp break occurred between Jewish and early Christian readings of biblical repetitions with gradual [Page 266]ramifying divergence after the New Testament period: “Israelite thinkers, like those of Judaism and Christianity, looked back to existing texts and constructed new works in relation to those earlier ones. This exegetical and revisionary activity among biblical authors illuminates the parallel activity that was to become central in classical Judaism and Christianity — an activity, indeed, that produced classical Judaism and Christianity.”8 Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity shared not only the same Bible and approaches to interpreting it, but also “both groups received, along with the written texts that make up the Hebrew Bible, the same set of attitudes about how the Bible ought to be read and explained, what it was meant for and how it was to be used.”9 An even broader distance has emerged between modern source-critical readings and those of the faith communities just mentioned, but understanding the common patterns of repetition in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Book of Mormon is essential to understanding the texts.
In contrast to the modern notion taken up by historicist biblical scholars that repetitions are narrative failures, defects, or even malfunctions, is the stance of Robert Alter. Coming from the world of modern fiction literary criticism — decidedly apart from the guild of biblical critics — Alter has contributed his rediscovery of biblical type scenes and other patterns of repetition which has altered approaches to biblical repetition, revivified respect and appreciation of biblical narrative. “There are many kinds of ambiguity and contradiction, and abundant varieties of repetition, that are entirely purposeful,” notes Alter, “and that are essential features of the distinctive vehicle of literary experience.”10 One of the great transformations in biblical criticism over the past four decades is the appreciation of biblical repetitions as sophisticated narrative devices, rather than problems biblical historians need to correct by uncovering the Bible’s original form. In other words, these repetitions are part of the message rather than a failure of message. The biblical authors (with varying degrees of talent and success) compose their narratives using various techniques that look like fiction to the modern reader only because we moderns mistakenly believe in a broad and sharp distinction between historical and fictional narrative.
[Page 267]The biblical composers and editors used duplicate narrative devices to shape their narratives and provide meaning. Those approaches were built into the text from the beginnings and became a dominant feature of the collection of documents that became the Bible. The textual history is firmly marked by the feature. Two answers are commonly given when tracing reading methodologies from the beginning of the Christian era: (1) the Pharisaic assertion is that the tradition is inherited in a direct line from Moses at Sinai, and (2) the Hellenistic cataloging and exegesis of Homeric texts at Alexandria triggered a similar collection and elucidation of biblical texts. Fishbane suggests a third possibility with the acknowledgement that insufficient evidence exists to decide among the alternatives: “Is it possible that the origins of the Jewish exegetical tradition are native and ancient, that they developed diversely in ancient Israel, in many centres and, at many times, and that these many tributaries met in the exile and its aftermath to set a new stage for biblical culture which was redirected, rationalized, and systematized in the lively environment of the Graeco- Roman world?”11 To extend Fishbane’s metaphor of a river, we must be able to read divergent pre- exilic tributaries converging in the exilic period and diverging again into various ramifying rivers again at various historical junctures, including the downriver effects on the way we read in the twenty-first century. We ought also to remind ourselves that the Nephites writers, as the restoration tradition maintains, were also exiles from Judah and Israel, and therefore heirs to that pre-exilic tradition while suffering some of the same traumas as post-exilic Jews experienced.
These streams of historical and textual thought have broad and often surprising similarities and dissimilarities yet to be productively explored. Terminology used to describe biblical repetitions developed out of the heritage of the Hebrew Bible differently in various religious and sectarian traditions, but the origins of such vocabulary shouldn’t be gainsaid: “The beginnings of scriptural interpretation are to be looked for within the Scriptures themselves.”12 From the possible interpretive approaches embodied in the Hebrew Bible, Jews in the Hellenistic period developed several strands: (1) Philo used allegorical readings similar to those developed in Greek philosophical schools to demonstrate that Moses and the Pentateuch had anticipated those Greek developments, [Page 268](2) the pharisaic/rabbinic readers used exegetical features to update the tradition and maintain its contemporary relevance, and (3) the Qumran community used typological and other readings to show that the Hebrew Bible predicted events that were being fulfilled by their leader and community.13 The Dead Sea community’s typology is called pesher exegesis, which assumes a secret meaning in scripture is finally revealed in the lifetime and events of the contemporary interpreter;14 many New Testament fulfillment formulas look broadly similar to such pesher readings.15 Of course, Christian figural readings of the Old Testament were another of the ramifying possibilities enabled by the Hebrew Bible. The rabbinic/pharisaic developments emerged out of Hebraic exegetical potential in what would eventually be canonized as the Hebrew Bible: “It is now a commonplace that the early Christian exegetes inherited and adapted forms of Jewish Scripture study. Early rabbinic scholarship attempted to ‘contemporize’ the Scriptures to make them relevant to the concerns of the first century.”16 Midrashic commentary was one such approach that focused on hidden elements that hadn’t been accounted for. Christian authors developed typological readings similar to these midrashic techniques; Jesus’s citation of Psalms 78:24 in “John 6 has been read as an extended midrash” about bread from heaven.17 Modern readers are tempted to premature conclusions that such resort to midrashic or typecast narrative constructions results in a fictional text rather than a historical one. But the writer appeals to such literary conventions “not to fabricate history but in order to understand it.”18 Our modern inclination to consider wrought narrative fictional leads us astray, but ancient writers and readers would have considered (much like postmodern interpreters today) all writing — historical writing included — as highly constructed and manipulated.
The contemporary reader should see the various forms of repetition resorted to in various religious, hermeneutical, and ideological traditions [Page 269]as belonging to a family of close textual relations. Boyarin doesn’t see much difference between poetic allusion and midrashic quotation, even eliding intertextuality with the other two. “While midrash is exegesis of an authoritative text, a specific type of interpretation, poetic allusion is allusion which is not exegesis. At least the text being read is always explicitly marked in midrash by being quoted at its outset, even though the cotexts being cited are not always so. This is ultimately the difference between the intertextuality encoded in Scripture itself and the intertextuality of the rabbis as well.”19 New Testament typological reading is often seen as a Christian innovation,20 but repetitive interpretation found in the New Testament was “clearly derived from Jewish habits of thought and reflects Jewish rhetorical modes, some of great antiquity.”21 Paul reads the scriptures as a Christian much the same way he did as a Pharisee, but his conversion from one to the other imposes a new hinge point in history — the life and resurrection of Jesus. “Paul finds numerous prefigurations of this revelatory event — which nevertheless came as a total surprise to Israel and continues to function as a stumbling block for those who do not believe. Once the Scriptures are grasped in light of this hermeneutical key, their pervasively eschatological character comes into focus.”22
[Page 270]Typological readings of the biblical text stand in a long line of developments that extends to the beginning of the Old Testament tradition. Medieval readers, the church fathers, the apostles, and the gospels’ Jesus stand firmly within this interpretive convention. “Allegory (which in the West looks like what is nowadays often called typology) bridged the Testaments: under divine inspiration of both text and interpreter.”23 Christian theologians often talk about “the rule of faith” which developed in the early church. “Some believe it was a sort of credal deposit or précis of the apostolic faith … that guided Christian interpreters toward ascertaining when scripture’s word was being heard and applied in a proportional way.”24 Seitz notes that this rule of faith is taken to extract from proto-rabbinic and inner-biblical reading approaches elements which helped the earliest Christians read scripture aright. Continuity between Jewish and Christian readings is taken to be the norm. The way Christians made sense of biblical repetitions is broadly similar to pesher and midrashic approaches. In other words, when the rabbis say that what happens to the fathers happens to the sons (Zakovitch calls this rabbinic truism the “like father like son” principle),25 and when Christians see typological reverberations both in the Old Testament and between the testaments, I take that to be the consequence of a genealogical identity between the two traditions; in other words, such repetitive narrative was a feature of both the Jewish and the Christian traditions before they split into separate trajectories, so it is characteristic of both. Both heritages attempt both to make sense of repetitions recurring over generations and update the tradition to ensure relevance in the present and future.
Quite different vocabulary is used to categorize stories with similar features: “allusion, homology, parallelism, narrative analogy, or allegory” are some of the terms used by literary and biblical critics to make distinctions. “The difference in terminology by which this is expressed says more about the critic’s preference in literary theory than about biblical narrative,” asserts Adele Berlin.26 Biblical critics tend to part [Page 271]from literary critics, preferring to use the terminology of allusion, which carries a connotation that the text alluding is chronologically later than the text being alluded to, and it can be demonstrated that the belated writer who alludes had access to the source being alluded to. Literary critics are more likely to use the term intertextuality, which commonly doesn’t entail such historical concerns, and literary critics are much more comfortable suggesting that the chronologically earlier text might allude to the later passage (note that biblical and Book of Mormon texts are also content to assert prophetic projections at minimum putatively uttered before, say, Cyrus is born or the extinction of the Nephite people). Here, Berlin isn’t asserting a form of reader-response criticism by pointing out that the choice of descriptive terminology depends more on the reader who comes historically later than the composer of the text and therefore might be seen to impose a meaning on the first text whose author couldn’t have foreseen. Rather, she compares the difference between the reader and composer to the rabbinic interpretive tool of gezerah šawah, a reasoning by analogy. Here, though, the connection isn’t provided by the writer but rather by the reader;27 the biblical writer — especially of the motif the first time it is used — would be unaware of the connection, but the reader is still authorized to see the elements as connected by the celestial author, if not by the terrestrial authors, as some form of allusion. Some readers may insist on creating rigid distinctions between these various types of repetitions, but the recurrences have broad family resemblances and often few differences. During the Patristic and Medieval periods, Christian exegetes built typological reading into a more structured and watertight system, but that inelasticity (the four senses of scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical meanings) wasn’t part of the early phases of interpretive development. “The forms of exegesis that will eventually be articulated as regulative modes of Scripture reading — typology, allegory, tropology, and anagogy — are less technical tools, at least among most readers in the early church, as they are attitudes of perception and reading that assume the ontology/ historical relationships noted above and engage [Page 272]them practically.”28 Medieval exegetes couldn’t help but shape New Testament and Patristic typological interpretation into a system, but one ought not to mistake the muddled experimentation and practice out of which the system eventually emerges for an Athena- birthed origin.
Of course, composing analogous narratives is also a hermeneutical act, something Berlin doesn’t state in this passage, and her emphasis on the reader’s hermeneutical intervention is indeed similar to reader- response literary theory. Sternberg emphasizes the point that all such figures of speech to describe repetitions depend on analogy: “Biblical narrative certainly abounds in patterns of similarity, all based on the principle of analogy.”29 Typology (and the various other ways of describing repetitions) in a Christian context asserts an ontological connection between a God whose course is one eternal round, who repeats foundational events in such a way that recurrences are built into creation and history. But typological connections are also built into human consciousness and are affected by worldviews, domain assumptions, and mental paradigms (however one wants to frame the issue). Repetitions are also expressed, argued, and passed on through language. As such they are rhetorical and metaphorical. “Typology is before all else a trope, an act of imaginative correlation,”30 whether that imagination is divine or human. We contemporary readers must [Page 273]not insist that typological figuration bend to the categories we impose on the figures in order to make sense of them. “The texts of Scripture must ‘all’ be given to our apprehension in their challenging multiplicity, something grasped via juxtaposition, one text laid beside another and another. This fact constitutes the Scripture’s own initiating character, which finally supervenes our own human usage of its texts, and imposes its own divine creative and comprehensive order on our world.”31 Specific to Book of Mormon studies, when Michael Austin takes up repetitive elements in the Bible and Book of Mormon, he conflates type scenes and typology;32 the vocabulary and conceptual structure of “type scenes” comes from Robert Alter and his Jewish background, while “typology” is clearly a Christian inheritance. The scripture is much fuller and more abundant than our comprehension of it. We should never assert that we have boxed it, wrapped it, ribboned it, and contained it. “Figural reading is the temporal explication, through juxtaposition of her multiple texts, of Scripture’s divine ‘allness.’”33 The categories we use to understand biblical repetitions will always be limited and explain the text only partially, leaving room for vocabularies and readings different from those a particular reader or group promotes.
We express understanding of historical relations in language, and if, as the linguistic turn has asserted, all understanding is fundamentally metaphorical, then we must deal with the figurative elements of such recurrence. Hays elsewhere designates typology as metalepsis, which “is a rhetorical and poetic device in which one text alludes to an earlier text in a way that evokes resonances of the earlier text beyond those explicitly cited.”34 Keep in mind that the ordinary connotations of the word rhetoric must be jettisoned here. Rhetoric isn’t, as commonly conceived, overblown language used to deceive and appeal to emotion, sophistry. Rhetoric is persuasion. Scripture presents God as a rhetorician: the gospels, Isaiah, Nephi, and others all do their prophetic work rhetorically. “If the gospel is hidden in Scripture, Scripture must be understood as richly allusive in character, hinting the kerygma, prefiguring it metaphorically. The biblical text must be read as a vast texture of latent promise, and the promise must be recovered through interpretive strategies that allow the [Page 274]hidden word to become manifest.”35 But one should never see rhetoric as “mere rhetoric” and thus fall into Platonic fallacies that themselves maintain their power in modern society through an anti-rhetorical rhetoric. Likewise, to call repetitions “merely” metaphorical is to misunderstand both scripture and metaphor.
Metaphors also shape the world, taking the meaning of the word shape quite literally (as well as metaphorically). The Greek etymology of typos (“type”) emerges from the indentation left, say, by a hammer in wood. The hammer is a type and the impression in wood an antitype. The type makes the impression, and the mark in the wood matches the hammer head; a seal and the imprint left by the seal are another metaphor for the type and antitype36 as is the object and the shadow made by the object in direct light. The Greek word skia is translated “shadow” in Colossians 2:17 (and sometimes used as a synonym of typos), and in Hebrews 8:5 the synonyms typon and upodeigmati are used in conjunction with skia to convey this fit between type and antitype: Old Testament priests “who serve unto the example [upodeigmati] and shadow [skia] of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern [typon] shewed to thee in the mount.” The Latin figura is the word most commonly used to translate the Greek typos. The secondary pattern matches the original. For the believer in the scripture and its ontology “a scriptural figure, in Christian theology, is not a literary metaphor that brings to the intellect some deeper meaning when attached to another image. A figure is a form that God actually makes historical experience fit, like some providential mold.”37 This scriptural view of time and history should never be condescended to by the modern reader who sees time in a fundamentally different, linear way. The type establishes a model that later events are going to repeat, which gives us recurrence in time and history; the analogous relationship may or may not be perceived by the reader of any given epoch, but the pattern is nevertheless manifest in the divine creative act. The modern reader needs to grasp and concede the sophistication of this view even if modern temporal notions obstruct adhering to it. “What modern historicists unthinkingly assume, early Christians understood from the start as inherently problematical; that is, the ‘time’ that we experience as human beings and the ‘time’ the Bible [Page 275]presents in story and exhortation are mysterious categories. It is simply wrong to assert that early Christian exegetes approached the Bible naively, and hence drew out their ‘fanciful’ figural readings from a kind of primitive ignorance about how the world functioned.”38 Modern condescension toward ancient worldviews is too often framed after only a cursory (if that) examination of antiquity. If that modern condescension of the Bible’s textual assumptions slips over to the Book of Mormon, one can hardly be surprised if either book is read in a superficial way.
Paul’s typological interpretations, the gospel writers’, Abinadi’s, and Nephi’s aren’t merely rhetorical; rather, they reflect the language and the world we have inherited from tradition and from the created order. Readings based on the ideological predilections of modernity, and therefore that abhor repetition, need to account for the epistemological and ontological views of ancients at the minimum when reading ancient texts. “Reading is always anachronistic. The reading of any text, even the most ancient ones, is always a contemporary reading”39 because the contemporary reader reads from within a contemporary historical context. The text from the past and the reader from the present jointly create meaning through a reading. “The reader always reads from one socio-historical intertextual position or another, and every reading affects the reader’s thinking and behavior.”40 Typology isn’t merely an interpretation of history (although it is that) but also an interpretation of history that mirrors the unfolding of God’s historical pattern; that is what the ancient writer believed. Typology “is, rather, a framework [Page 276]of literary-historical sensibility that creates the hermeneutical conditions necessary for the metaphorical linkage of scriptural text and contemporary situation.”41 The modern (or postmodern) reader must be sufficiently open to let the ancient text assert its own view of the world. At the same time, the contemporary reader must also be aware that he or she brings epistemological and ontological assumptions (ideological assumptions ought also to be emphasized) about how we know and how the world works. The hermeneutical circle rolls the ancient text, modern predilections, and the views of the world by both into a mangle of meaning. “If we maintain, as I do, that the meaning of a text must be continually negotiated and renegotiated by its reader, between that text and other texts, then that meaning is not an invisible substance inside the text. Meaning does not lie ‘in’ the text at all.”42
Analogous Writings, Analogous Readings
The analogous element can be embedded in plot, character, word sound, word meaning, or theme.43 The repetitive component just needs to remind the reader of the earlier type. The literature on biblical repetitions uses various vocabulary to articulate the feature:
- Mirror-image stories: Adele Berlin cites Yair Zakovitch’s description of one type of biblical repetition. In mirror-image stories the story lines are similar with an analogous reversal. The narratives of David/Bathsheba and Judah/ Tamar are the examples provided. Berlin notes that the stories of Michal and Rachel would also fit the pattern of a powerful man who appropriates women and then sometimes discards them.44
- Rabbinic midrash: Robert Alter notes that midrashic approaches to biblical exegesis were continuous with the typological readings provided by Christians when the latter developed in antiquity.45
- The catalog of vocabulary to describe biblical repetitions, primary of which is repetition: mirror-image stories, narrative analogies, type-scenes, types and antitypes, allusions, parallelism, allegories, paradigms, citations, [Page 277]quotations, echoes, formulaic narrative, redundancy, intertextuality, figurations, motif, leitwort, borrowings, plagiarism, influence, and narrative tracking. Alter notes two kinds of repetitions: “What we find, then, in biblical narrative is an elaborately integrated system of repetitions, some dependent on the actual recurrence of individual phonemes, words, or short phrases, other linked instead to actions, images, and ideas that are part of the world of the narrative we ‘reconstruct’ as readers but that are not necessarily woven into the verbal texture of the narrative.” The verbal and action-oriented kinds of repetition are often interwoven in biblical narrative to enhance the impact of the recurrent elements.46
- Allusion: The Bible uses several techniques to connect repetitions to each other. Allusions are most prominent, but similar phrasing, persistent motifs, or narrative developments also do such work.47 The infant Moses tucked away in an ark requires just one word (the Hebrew tevah) to remind the reader of Noah’s ark as a water-borne vessel laden with salvation and liberation.
- A three-decade surge in interest in intertextuality has given us quite a few catalogues of quotations, allusions, and echoes of OT passages in the NT. I take the following list from G. K. Beale: (1) quotations are easy to recognize because of the verbal similarity and are often introduced with a formula such as “it is written.” Beale cites 295 OT quotations in the NT or about one quotation every 22.5 verses. Allusions are much more difficult to define and count and surely amount to many more allusions than there are quotations. (2) “An ‘allusion’ may simply be defined as a brief expression consciously intended by an author to be dependent on an OT passage” but is more indirect than quotations. Beale notes that counts range from as few as 600 such allusions to 4,100. Echoes are subtler than allusions with criteria for finding them much more difficult to define. Beale refers to Richard Hays’s seven criteria but notes that echoes can be so elusive that they must [Page 278]be taken up on a case-by-case basis rather than using generalizable rules.48
- Echoes: Discerning echoes can be difficult, as can making sharp distinctions along the continuum from quotations to echoes. “As we near the vanishing point of the echo, it inevitably becomes difficult to decide whether we are really hearing an echo at all, or whether we are only conjuring things out of the murmurings of our own imaginations.”49 Hays notes that the echo might occur in Paul’s (the writer of the letters to the Corinthians) mind, in the minds of the Christian congregants in Corinth, in the space between texts because we don’t have access to Paul or the readers at Corinth, in my act of reading the letter in 2021, or the echo might exist in the community of interpreters.50 We might feel uncomfortable with these options as mutually exclusive possibilities. Hays wants to keep each option in tension with the others in his interpretive work.51 Such friction can be seen more clearly if we realize that intertextuality is a cluster of similar features that encompass “literary phenomena, including genre, motif, formulae, type-scenes and parallel accounts, allusion, quotation and hypertextual commentary.”52 The literary elements that generate intertextual connections include the following: (1) shared motifs such as the Old Testament theme of the success of the younger brother over the older, (2) formulaic language where a conventional string of words used in a consistent narrative situation such as “he looked up and saw,” (3) type scenes, a “combination of motifs within a set sequence” such as a hospitality scene with the reception of visitors, (4) genres defined by conventional narratives that can be used over and over as a template, (5) parallel accounts presenting a common storyline with parallel sequences of events, such as stories about an ancestress endangered in a foreign country, (6) inner- biblical interpretation happening when one passage comments on or [Page 279]expands on another event or passage, (7) allusion when one text covertly refers to another, such as when the violation of visitors in Judges 19 plays upon a similar violation of visitors at Sodom (Genesis 19), (8) quotation, similar to allusion, involving verbatim citation of a previous text, and (9) implicit citation occurring when one text repeats the wording of the previous text without formal signs of the connection such as when Jonah (4:2) cites Exodus 34:6–7.53
If biblical readers are to do justice to allusive Hebraic narrative, two elements must be present according to Leonard: (1) we must be sure that the allusion is built into the text and not a result of the contemporary reader’s imagination connecting the texts, and (2) we must be confident about the direction of influence. “In the case of a quotation or explicit citation these elements are often easily determined,” but not so easy with examples of allusion and echo.54 Shared, distinctive terminology is the most certain way to determine influence directionality. The more uncommon the shared terminology, the more likely the connection.55 When shared vocabulary isn’t definitive, Leonard proposes “narrative tracking” as a secondary way to ascertain the presence of allusion and direction of influence. “By narrative tracking, I refer to the process by which one text alludes to another by mimicking its narrative structure.”56 Leonard’s example is the similarity in storyline between Jesus’s life and Moses’s.
Hays’s list is the standard (sometimes modified by other writers) for measuring the presence of allusions in the NT and distinguishing allusions from echoes. And, of course, for Hays the Old Testament is the citation source and the letters of Paul the terminal location with the allusion or echo: (1) availability: was the source available to the NT writer and audience (this criterion requires a known diachronic/chronological ordering)? (2) volume: how much overlapping verbal repetition is present between the putative source and the echo? (3) recurrence: does the author of the echo or allusion refer to that same source passage elsewhere? (4) thematic occurrence: how well does the reference fit into the context of the echo or allusion (and does the material from the source clarify or illuminate the echo’s argument?)? (5) historical plausibility: could the [Page 280]echo or allusion author have intended the connection and the audience understood it (Hays mentions that anachronisms such as Lutheran understanding or a deconstructionist reading were not possibilities for Paul and his readers)? (6) history of interpretation: have other readers throughout the history of reading the successor text discerned the same echo or allusion in the passage? And (7) satisfaction: does the allusion to or echo of the source illuminate the metaleptic passage and bring an “aha!” moment with the satisfaction that a puzzling passage has finally been elucidated?57 Benjamin Sommer adds an eighth criterion for the procedure determining allusions: the contemporary reader must ensure that the two passages in an allusive relationship not belong to an ancient genre such as lament or national oracle, or the assertion of an allusion is undermined by the common nature of the topos.58 Some biblical specialists criticize Hays for using the terminology loosely, deploying allusion and intertextuality interchangeably to “encompass quotation, allusion, and echo as in a spectrum of reference, from the obvious to the elusive, respectively.”59 For many biblical critics, use of the word intertextuality is to be avoided because it carries too much weight from postmodernism60 and sometimes lacks the diachronic element that historical critics insist be present when discussing allusion.
Historical Questions versus Literary Questions
The question about availability is much less problematical for New Testament writers citing the Old Testament than for the Book of Mormon. The gospel authors, Paul, and the writers of the catholic letters and the Revelation had access to the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and some may have known Hebrew and had access to some version of the Masoretic Text. Much more problematical is the question about the direction of influence within the New Testament: did Paul allude to the gospels, or does the influence [Page 281]run the other direction?61 But the Book of Mormon brings out all sorts of historical questions: could Nephi have had both First and Second Isaiah? How could New Testament wording such as from the Sermon on the Mount have been available to the writer of Third Nephi? Were the Psalms incorporated into the plates of brass, providing a correlation between Nephi’s psalm and some psalms in the Old Testament? While New Testament allusion to the Old Testament is relatively unproblematic, determining the accessibility and direction of influence among Old Testament texts is more difficult to determine.62
An example of a historical question bearing on allusion and quotation emerges from Book of Mormon composition. Brent Metcalfe asserts that the Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith in antebellum America instead of by ancient Nephite recordkeepers. Since he believes no ancient metal plates existed but that Smith merely invented the story as one would a novel (but based on Smith’s own life experience and antebellum American culture and history), Metcalfe asserts that when Smith had to abort the writing process after Martin Harris lost the first portion of manuscript, Smith could overcome his writer’s block only by starting where he left off, at the book of Mosiah instead of at First Nephi. Metcalfe asserts that order of composition points to the “real” author: Joseph Smith. “Intrinsically woven into the Book of Mormon’s fabric are not only remnants of the peculiar dictation sequence but threads of authorship. The composite of those elements explored in this essay point to Smith as the narrative’s chief designer.”63 The line of argumentation goes like this: with the loss of the Book of Lehi portion, Smith composed from Mosiah to Moroni starting from where he previously left off but had no idea how the first part of the book would be replaced. So even though we read from front cover to back and take First and Second Nephi to have chronological and compositional priority, Mosiah and Alma are in reality first. Therefore, Metcalfe and those who share this thesis assert that characters in Mosiah and Alma don’t know what Nephi and Lehi knew because the latter were written after the former. Smith didn’t know [Page 282]where his narrative would eventually lead when he was writing Mosiah and Alma. Vogel, also a skeptic that the book has any ancient origins, asserts Smith’s dictation was spontaneous,64 with the author having no time to revise or review the result65 with little-to-no clue as to what would come next in the story.66 Consequently, according to this theory of composition, Smith didn’t have any idea what would come in First and Second Nephi when he composed the material from Mosiah to Moroni.67 If one believes Joseph Smith translated from real ancient plates, order of translation doesn’t matter. He could have started from Mosiah, or he could have started from First Nephi. The important chronological order is the one regarding composition of the gold plates instead by Nephites from Nephi to Moroni.
When a passage from First Nephi appears almost verbatim in Alma, we commonly take Alma’s quotation to be referring to Lehi’s statement because according to Book of Mormon chronology, Alma lived a few hundred years after Lehi. But Metcalfe’s argument questions that direction of influence. “Alma’s declaration, ‘methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God’ (Alma 36:22; emphasis added), parallels almost verbatim the account of Lehi’s vision in the small plates, ‘[Lehi] saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God’ (1 Nephi 1:8 emphasis added). A case can be made from a traditionalist perspective that Alma is quoting the small plates. From a critical viewpoint it can be maintained that 1 Nephi 1:8 quotes Alma 36:22.”68 When the Book of Mormon emerged in 1830, concourse meant among other things a gathering or a council.69
[Page 283]Metcalfe doesn’t fully take responsibility for this argument and for good reason — he doesn’t believe there were small plates, large plates and Nephite writers but only a village scryer in western New York fabricating a fanciful story. Hypothetically, though, let’s take up his argument that the direction of influence might have the Lehi narrative citing the Alma story, the latter chronologically precedent. The question Metcalfe raises is this: Can allusions and citations serve as historical evidence of chronological priority? To be more specific, Metcalfe is not really arguing for the chronological priority of the account in Alma 36 over that in First Nephi; he is instead merely trying to raise doubt in the contemporary reader’s mind about priority in order to question the historical standing of particular readings of the evidence. So here I merely take up Metcalfe’s question: If allusion and citation can provide historical evidence of textual priority, how might it do so? The secondary follow-up question would then need examination: How does an exploration of textual priority using allusion and citation illuminate Metcalfe’s ideological presupposition that there were no ancient writings for Smith to work from but merely his fertile imagination? Metcalfe’s questioning of historical priority should be viewed less as a historical question (because he has built into his presuppositions that no Nephite recordkeepers existed outside Joseph Smith’s head to allude to or cite Lehi, earlier Nephite writers, or biblical writers) and more of a thought experiment. I consider it a thought experiment worth addressing more fully because, as Metcalfe and his ideological compatriots assert, it has historical implications about authorship and answers to the question reveal ideological commitments (not just Metcalfe’s but also mine and every other readers’).
For one thing, the Alma text refers to Lehi by name. Lehi never uses Alma’s name. One would think that when a text refers by name to a previous author, that is a clue to priority and influence that ought to be taken seriously. In addition, the specificity in the text would point [Page 284]to evidence that Alma was later than Lehi and the direction of textual influence must have Alma citing Lehi’s passage, not the other way around. That is, when Alma cites Lehi (through Nephi’s mediation in the small plates and/or the large-plates content never published in the Book of Mormon, Alma — and Mormon — would potentially have access to a more complete account than modern readers have), Alma evokes an entire narrative about Lehi’s calling as a prophet and the divine council he witnesses (and not only Lehi’s but a rich vein of references to biblical prophetic commissions and divine councils). If Lehi were quoting Alma, all of the reverberations from one small element of the story that evoke the larger narrative would be lost. Again, Alma gains some authoritative status by citing Lehi’s experience and portraying his as a repeat of the first Book of Mormon prophet. Lehi, in his vision of the divine council and pronouncement of his prophetic calling places himself in the mainstream of prophetic tradition; Alma by citing Lehi’s commission makes the claim for similar authority. Lehi would gain no such stature by citing his descendant to bolster his prophetic role. Alma’s brief citation of Lehi’s council vision rubs off some of the divine investiture on Alma; that is why Alma refers to Lehi by name. Lehi’s vision of God and the angels singing and praising doesn’t overflow into the larger Alma story the way the Alma reference does into the Lehi prophetic-calling narrative.
Those who also assert Joseph Smith is the book’s author believe Smith engaged in stream-of-consciousness dictation that didn’t permit revision and didn’t know what would be in the last part composed (the Nephi books through Words of Mormon).70 Richard Hays notes the standard definition of metalepsis: a mere reference to another text that reverberates with much stronger connection to the earlier text’s context by referring to only one small part but obliquely invoking the entire previous story.71 Notice that the Alma passage not only refers specifically to Lehi’s name that he wouldn’t yet know because that part of the book hadn’t yet been created or even conceived (that is, the small plates of Nephi), but Alma’s verse is nonspecific about the vision in which Lehi saw God on his throne in a heavenly council. [Page 285]Lehi’s vision has all the specificity on its side. Not only does Alma gain clout by comparing his prophetic calling to Lehi’s narrative, but he also conveys the larger context of the divine council weighing in his side in any future controversy over divine backing; Lehi’s appeal to Alma’s theophany would immediately be viewed as a historical anachronism or prophetic foretelling by either ancients or moderns. Such a position unnecessarily complicates the explanation. One would think the cotext with the specific content is more likely to be the prior text and the one with a minimal reference is the one alluding or quoting. After all, that is how metaleptic allusion (or, in this case, citation) commonly works: just by using a key word or citing a phrase, the later writer can evoke the larger context and storyline of the earlier text.
For example, take Helaman 6. The narrator refers obliquely to earlier Book of Mormon and biblical events and people: Alma and the record of Jaredite secret oaths (Helaman 6:25), the conflict between Cain and Abel (Helaman 6:27), the Tower of Babel story and the Jaredite exodus from Babylon (Helaman 6:28). In Helaman 7:7 the narrator cites first Nephi’s day, alluding to a specific verse in 2 Nephi 5:27, when times were happier. All the specificity is on the side of earlier in the story: Nephi has separated his group from Laman and Lemuel’s camp, established laws and a government, and lived after the manner of happiness. We don’t take the Cain and Abel story to refer to Helaman 6. We don’t take the story in Genesis about the Tower of Babel to be influenced by Helaman 6. We don’t take the Nephi in Second Nephi to be citing the Nephi in Helaman 7. These narrative connections involve allusions by the later story to the earlier Nephi. Mormon refers to Adam and Eve in the garden rather than the opposite; in all these cases, the biblical events came first and Mormon’s citations later, and it would take a good deal of logic twisting to assert the opposite direction of impact. That Metcalfe asserts the actual chronological direction of influence is from Joseph Smith to the Old Testament or potentially is from Alma back to Lehi undergirded by the assumption that Smith is merely referring from the book of Alma to First Nephi begs a host of questions that Metcalfe ought to defend. All the specificity is on the side of the text we normally take to be earlier and the narrative asserts is chronologically prior; the narrator Mormon can merely refer to one detail or name to conjure up the earlier events in their fulness: Lehi’s prophetic calling, the danger from Jerusalem residents, the departure of the Lehi group from Jerusalem. The same is true of Alma’s citation of Lehi’s divine council vision (since Alma is doing first person narration in Alma 36–37 [Page 286]which is incorporated wholesale into Mormon’s account). Alma can refer to one detail to invoke the entire event of Lehi’s dream and his own journey through repentance and calling as a prophet. It would be an odd assertion to claim that the reference to one detail was written first, and the larger narrative was later developed out of that citation when all the evidence stands against the possibility of consulting earlier portions of the Book of Mormon text but instead supports straight line, staccato dictation to scribes.
Biblical critics tend to be obsessively concerned about using the terms intertextuality and allusion interchangeably. Since biblical critics are so concerned to establish historical origins, they focus on allusion, which must establish which text came first and which alludes later. “Students of inner-biblical exegesis not only maintain that various passages are related to each other; they must assert — or assume — that one is older than the other.”72 Analysis referring to intertextuality, contrary to asserting allusion, is unconcerned with problems of history and precedence. “What matters for intertextual theories is the ‘network of traces,’ not their origin or direction of influence.”73
The connection (whether quotation or allusion) will be stronger the more specific the parallels.74 What happens when one of the cotexts is more specific than the other? An example of biblical metalepsis is the use of the single word exodus at the Mount of Transfiguration which evokes a much larger context of liberation from slavery and departure from Egypt,75 the receipt of the law of Moses, the wilderness wandering, and entry into the promised land. Metalepsis is Richard Hays’s common term for what often refers to as recurrence. As a term examining historical [Page 287]precedence, metaleptic reading would posit the slight invocation as historically later and the detail-rich narrative as historically prior.
Does such a relationship contribute to determining priority? Take for example a biblical instance: does Jonah 4:2 cite Exodus 34:16–17, or is it the other way around? When Jonah angrily denounces God for not being a nationalist, extending mercy to the people of Nineveh (Israel’s enemy, and therefore Jonah’s), Jonah cites scripture: “O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.” This passage seems so similar to Exodus 34:6–7 with both selections emphasizing the graciousness, mercy, and forgiving nature of God (with the Jonah’s citation asserting these characteristics as divine faults with regard to the Assyrians rather than praising them) that one is likely dependent on the other: “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” This passage has all the specificity on the side of Exodus being the predecessor text. By citing just one detail from God’s previous mercy, grace, and longsuffering in the foundational event of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and receipt of the law of Moses, the Jonah passage evokes God’s previous works of salvation for Israel, extending mercy for thousands and forgiving Israel’s sins. God granted Israel mercy, grace, and longsuffering by sending Moses down the mountain with the tablets of the law after 40 days to find the children of Israel engaging in idolatry at the base of the mountain. The irony is that God is willing to extend the same mercy, grace, and longsuffering to the people of Nineveh that Jonah wants reserved only for Israel with the Israelite ancestors knowingly idolatrous while the Ninevites don’t know their moral right hands from their left (Jonah 4:11). The reader needs to know the larger story of granting the law of Moses to see what the book of Jonah is doing in the allusion, whereas one doesn’t have to know the book of Jonah to get the message from Exodus 34.
The Jonah narrative fits into the larger context of Moses receiving the tablets of the law. The law of Moses is viewed as an example of God’s grace and mercy toward the children of Israel; the author of Jonah cites the passage to assert that God doesn’t jealously ration that grace and mercy only to Israel but also abundantly doles out such compassion to the enemies of Israel. The Mosaic covenant embodied by the tablets of the law (the tablets containing [Page 288]the 10 commandments, a synecdoche of the law), the book of Jonah asserts (but not Jonah himself), isn’t reserved only for the children of Israel, and Christians further maintain that when a greater than Jonah comes, that mercy will be expanded to Jews and Gentiles alike when the men of Nineveh will stand in judgment of the generation in Jesus’s day, for the Ninevites repented when extended that mercy and grace while the audience Jesus addresses doesn’t (Matthew 12:41). If one extends Metcalfe’s hypothetical argument to its reductio ad absurdum, perhaps he wants to suggest Moses is citing Jonah.76 If Exodus were citing Jonah, the reader wouldn’t get the extra tone and the full background of the text being alluded to; if Jonah were citing Exodus, the reader would be able to detect that extra resonance of grace originally conceived to be confined within the law of Moses but now being reconceived as expanding universally to all of God’s children. The Jonah passage depends on the reader’s realizing the allusive connection and the direction of influence; one can read the Exodus passage without any clue regarding the connection to Jonah. In this case, the nearly unanimous biblical critical consensus is that Moses is chronologically and canonically earlier, thus making Jonah dependent on the Pentateuch.
One reason Hebrew prophets allude to earlier prophets is to bolster their own credentials (granted, Metcalfe’s ideological position would assert that for a young man on the American frontier the same would be true). Repeating the oracles and words of a canonical and established prophet sustains the claims of the belated prophet yet with or without honor in his own country, among his own kin, and in his own house. Sommer notes that Deutero-Isaiah alludes to Jeremiah (again, the predecessor version of Jeremiah rather than the one we read) in order to “situate himself in a broad stream of prophetic tradition.”77 If there were Nephites, Lehi would gain little by citing Alma: Alma would profit considerably in his later controversies with Nehor, the leaders of Ammonihah, Korihor, the Zoramites, etc. by appropriating the prophetic tradition that preceded him and would likely already be taken as authoritative by Alma’s interlocutors. “Writers often bolster the authority of a new work by demonstrating their dependence on texts that are already respected; an attempt to reinforce one’s legitimacy within a tradition constitutes one of the most commonly cited reasons [Page 289]for allusion.”78 With some of Lehi’s sons doubting his prophetic status and dismissing him as a mere dreamer, Lehi would need some rhetorical support from the prophetic tradition. Lehi would naturally allude to extant texts, rather than texts yet to be written. This is the prophetic commissioning type scene common in the Hebrew Bible. Of course, since Metcalfe and Vogel build into their presuppositions that the Book of Mormon has no connection to the Hebraic prophetic tradition and the inducements to cite within that tradition, their Lehi has no incentive to cite Alma but are both figments of Smith’s imagination; no broad stream of Hebraic prophetic tradition connects a nonexistent Lehi or Alma to any tradition except to the antebellum Christian context of frontier America prior to and during the Jacksonian period. By excluding the possibility that the Book of Mormon exudes Hebraic textuality and builds Hebraic narrative conventions into the scripture, these revisionists deny or ignore the richness and depth of Book of Mormon narrative. They read the scripture down to their own level of potentiality and impose modern notions such as plagiarism on texts that are ancient or make claims to antiquity.79
It is much easier to show that a relationship exists between two texts than to prove which one came first. Granted, Metcalfe acknowledges that “direction of literary dependence is always difficult to establish,”80 but some cases are easier than others, and the Lehi/Alma direction seems in the simpler range on the continuum of difficulty. David Wright cites William Morrow to lay out a methodology in determining direction of literary dependence. The later text drawing on an earlier one should possess the following elements: (1) parallels in terminology between the later and earlier text should be evident, (2) similarity in textual or narrative order makes for a stronger case of reliance, (3) density of correspondence with multiple features converging makes for a stronger argument for dependence, and (4) unique and distinctive elements of similarity make for a stronger case of [Page 290]reliance.81 Quite frankly, I don’t see how these four criteria help determine the direction of reliance, just that dependence exists.
Preparing the Way, A Prolegomenon to Exegesis
If only we could read the Book of Mormon in the original text! This would allow us not only to see the direction of influence but also to examine the unique but antique way the Nephite scripture updates the words of Isaiah and other ancient prophets. Unfortunately, we don’t have access to any original manuscript before the one produced through Joseph Smith. We must be satisfied with comparing the English of the Book of Mormon and that of the King James Version (or other modern translations) instead of resorting to Hebrew or Greek versions of texts like Isaiah. Take this passage: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:3–4). Since nobody would question the direction of influence when the Book of Mormon uses this wording of preparing the way (again, Nephi and Jacob state the text they are using, just as Alma cited Lehi’s passage), what is left is to look at how the Mormon scripture makes use of the Isaiah passage. The passage relates a prophetic commissioning and may allude to the earlier commissioning scene in Isaiah 6. The earlier portions of Isaiah emphasize God’s judgment on Israel for forsaking the covenant, mingled with some promises of renewal and return. This middle portion of Isaiah reverses the emphasis, highlighting return from exile for the remnant. God will bring the Jews back to Jerusalem as a highway by preparing a way for the return of the chosen people: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” Deutero-Isaiah often discusses preparing that highway for the return of the Jews to the promised land, and the messianic figure Cyrus the Persian will free the Jews from bondage to return to Canaan (Isaiah 45:1): “I will go before thee [Cyrus], and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron” (Isaiah 45:2). The God of Israel will be the forerunner in [Page 291]this passage preparing the way before Cyrus the Great to subdue nations (particularly Babylon) and break down gates so the God of Israel can be known to all the world and Cyrus can be the shepherd of the Jews (Isaiah 44:28) and the Lord’s anointed (Isaiah 45:1, to be “the anointed one” is to be a messiah): “I have raised him [Cyrus] up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 45:13). In this verse the KJV translation does a disservice to what should be continuity from verse 2. Most translations make the connection to the verse earlier in the chapter by using similar English words. Here is the NIV: “I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight.” New and Old Testament writers believed the God of Israel was in charge of history and creation, and even a heathen such as Cyrus can be a messianic figure, one who, acting under divine direction, assists in “redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
In summarizing Lehi’s dream in First Nephi 10, Nephi interrupts his recording of the two visions of the tree of life to explicate the meaning of his own version of the dream. The tree represents Christ. Note the context of Lehi’s allusion to the discussion of preparing a way in Isaiah. Lehi refers to the exact context Isaiah is addressing, the Babylonian captivity of the Jews and their return to their homeland: “after they should be destroyed, even that great city Jerusalem, and many be carried away captive into Babylon, according to the own due time of the Lord, they should return again, yea, even be brought back out of captivity; and after they should be brought back out of captivity they should possess again the land of their inheritance” (1 Nephi 10:3). Here, neither Lehi nor Nephi explicitly marks the allusion to Isaiah 40. However, the author here does refer to the exact same historical context Deutero-Isaiah is addressing when using the trope of preparing the way. Stripping away symbolism, Lehi provides a straightforward prophecy of the coming of the Messiah: “even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews — even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world … And he spake also concerning a prophet who should come before the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord — Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. And much spake my father concerning this thing” (1 Nephi 10:5, 7–8). Joseph Spencer [Page 292]notes that Lehi’s wording seems mediated by similar New Testament references to the Baptist preparing the way before Christ.82
The very notion of repetitions (regardless if one calls them types, type scenes, narrative analogies, midrashic expansions, inner-biblical exegesis, etc.) runs against the historicist assertion that a text means only what the original author intended. Repetitions by nature imply the existence of multiple meanings and symphonic reverberations within a single text, even when read in different historical contexts. Take, for example, Matthew’s citation of that passage from Isaiah 40, applying it to Jesus and John the Baptist: “For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Matthew 3:3). Not John but Jesus is the messianic figure here: “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11–12). The significance isn’t limited to just the historical context of the original but reverberates with larger meaning, with both harmony and polyphony in later contexts — and this precisely because it is the word of God, because the divine isn’t limited by our small modern notions of time, history, and meaning. The God of the Old Testament can be the preparer before Cyrus the anointed one, or John can be the one who prepares the highway before Jesus the messiah.
From Spencer’s reading, we understand the extremely close connection between the visions of the tree of life and Lehi’s prophecy of Christ: “The visions of Lehi and Nephi and Jacob serve as interpretive keys to reading Isaiah. And, in turn, Isaiah’s writings serve as interpretive keys to understanding the stakes of the visions of Lehi and his sons.”83 Lehi, much as the gospel writers, uses the Isaiah passage about preparing the road for the messiah because his vision of the tree of life is also about the coming of the messiah.
We would expect Nephi (and subsequent Nephite record keepers) to follow Nephi’s injunction: three times in three verses in a chapter about writing records Nephi refers to “prophets of old” (1 Nephi 19:20–22) while directing his word “unto my people” (that is, Nephites) and “all the house of Israel” (1 Nephi 19:18–19), specifically mentioning “the books [Page 293]of Moses” and “the prophet Isaiah” (1 Nephi 19:23) when Nephi “did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23). We wouldn’t be surprised to read Nephi adapting Isaiah or any scripture to the contemporary needs of his readers. Adaptation and repetition are what Hebraic prophecy and narrative are about. This likening principle is in a passage just preceding Nephi’s quotation of two chapters from Isaiah (48 and 49).
Nephi himself likens in this very passage where he states his likening principle. Let me quote the entire verse: “Wherefore I spake unto them, saying: Hear ye the words of the prophet, ye who are a remnant of the house of Israel, a branch who have been broken off; hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves, that ye may have hope as well as your brethren from whom ye have been broken off; for after this manner has the prophet written” (1 Nephi 19:24). Nephi asserts not only his imperative to liken the scriptures to contemporary circumstances, but he also maintains that Isaiah wrote them to be likened (if we want to take Nephi’s statement about authorial intention seriously). This passage about a branch broken off, separated from the main body of Israelites who bear the burden of the Abrahamic covenant, shows Nephi alluding to Isaiah and therefore likening the scriptures. Here is the passage from Nephi’s appropriation of Isaiah just two chapters later: “And again: Hearken, O ye house of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O house of Israel. Listen, O isles, unto me, and hearken ye people from far; the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name” (1 Nephi 21:1). Notice that Nephi has likened by adding the prefatory material. In the KJV Isaiah, this verse looks like this: “Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name” (Isaiah 49:1). Nephi is contemporizing the prophets of old, making them relevant to his own audience by adapting them to the Lehites’ situation, for those Israelites are not only now on an isle of the sea but have been driven there — scattered abroad — by the wicked pastors in Jerusalem.
Nephi in summing up his brother Jacob’s discussion and quotation of Isaiah makes several important points about repetitions and the two brothers’ relationship (through quotation, allusion, and echo) to Isaiah. After Jacob, at Nephi’s request, speaks about Isaiah’s message while [Page 294]citing the Judean prophet, Nephi states that he “delights in [Isaiah’s] words” (2 Nephi 11:2); that delight doesn’t prevent him from altering and recontextualizing Isaiah. Nephi bolsters both his and Jacob’s prophetic credentials by stating that both had seen the Redeemer (2 Nephi 11:1–2), much as Lehi established his credibility by witnessing the Lord in a vision of the divine council, as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6. The law of Moses testifies of Christ, “for all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him” (2 Nephi 11:4). Using typological language to show patterns of repetition that point forward to the crux of human history, Nephi employs vocabulary indicating his own way of using repetitions to make the tradition relevant to his own people, since Nephi is about to launch into 13 chapters where he quotes Isaiah (making adaptations of his inherited material much as Isaiah feels free to adapt the content he is heir to).84
[Page 295]What happens when we run through Richard Hays’s matrix the passage about preparing “the way of the Lord” from 1 Nephi 10 to what seems to be the text it alludes to in Isaiah 40? Whether you assert the existence of Nephite writers or that Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, either writer had access to Isaiah 40 and could refer to it. This answers Hays’s first criteria about availability; Nephi asserts that the plates of brass contain “the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah” (1 Nephi 5:13) and even singles Isaiah out when he talks about likening the scriptures (1 Nephi 19:23). If you believe Joseph Smith is the author of these words, then demonstrating that he had access to Isaiah is fairly easy.
Hays’s second criterion is volume: how much of the vocabulary in both texts overlaps? Lehi says “Yea, even he should go forth and cry in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make his paths straight; for there standeth one among you whom ye know not; and he is mightier than I, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (1 Nephi 10:7– 8) while the Isaiah passage has so many of the same words in similar order: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain” (Isaiah 40:3–4). Regarding word order, Sommer asserts that “identical order almost certainly results from borrowing. Indeed, the later author’s decision to mimic the order of the marked items may constitute an attempt to signal the borrowing in a particularly clear fashion.”85 Of course, with the additional clauses at the end of Lehi’s version about the preparer not being worthy to be compared to the messiah, one might be tempted to identify the Matthew passage as the original or the mediator text between Lehi and Isaiah.
Hays’s third criterion is recurrence: does the author refer to the predecessor passage elsewhere? Lehi doesn’t, but as I will demonstrate, other Book of Mormon authors do: Alma at Gideon (Alma 7:9, 10) and Ammonihah (Alma 9:28). The Isaiah passage seems a favorite for the Book of Mormon authors, and Nephi goes out of his way to recommend Isaiah more generally (2 Nephi 25:1–6).
[Page 296]Hays’s fourth criterion is thematic occurrence: how well does the original text fit into the context of the later allusive text? This is a measurement by which the Book of Mormon shines, for the Nephite recordkeepers were constantly likening ancient scripture to their own circumstances, making ancient scripture relevant for the contemporary audience. When Alma preaches to the people of Gideon, he takes the messianic context of Isaiah 40 and applies it to his audience: “But behold, the Spirit hath said this much unto me, saying: Cry unto this people, saying — Repent ye, and prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight; for behold, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and the Son of God cometh upon the face of the earth” (Alma 7:9). Of course, he had just two verses previously referred to that messianic context in which a redeemer would “come among his people,” and this event “is of more importance than they all” (Alma 7:7). These Nephites in Gideon must be those preparing the way for the coming of that redeemer. Alma expresses gratitude that the Gideonites, unlike Nephites in other cities, are following the path of righteousness: “For I perceive that ye are in the paths of righteousness; I perceive that ye are in the path which leads to the kingdom of God; yea, I perceive that ye are making his paths straight” (Alma 7:19). This reference qualifies as allusion because no explicit marker notifies the reader of the connection to Isaiah (or perhaps to Lehi’s comments in First Nephi 10). In this passage the Nephites at Gideon are those preparing the way for the Lord: Alma was commanded in verse 9 to declare that the people must “prepare the way of the Lord, and walk in his paths, which are straight,” and in verse 19 Alma notes that that his audience is doing just that by clearing the road of obstacles. To those at Gideon the audience members are the forerunners preparing the way before the Lord who soon “cometh among his people” (Alma 7:7) and not only are they preparing the way but are themselves traveling the path.
In the original Isaiah passage, the God of Israel is the one preparing the road; in Nephi and in Matthew the authors see and foresee John the Baptist as the great road preparer, and for Alma, the people at Gideon are those preparing the way for the Lord. The allusion to the familiar verbiage in Isaiah is adapted to each audience and updates to contemporary circumstances while making ongoing conditions pertinent to the tradition.
Alma also uses the same Isaiah allusion just two chapters later when he preaches at Ammonihah. Unlike the Gideonites, those at Ammonihah are wicked and the majority will reject Alma’s message. Alma’s declaration is similar to his use of the Isaiah passage at Gideon: God has sent an angel to declare — similar to the Baptist’s preaching [Page 297]— that the people must “repent … for the kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand” (Alma 9:25). Also, as the herald and preparer, the messenger delivers the message that “not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory” (Alma 9:26). Those who repent and are baptized will be redeemed. Alma inserts an inclusio, referring to the words of the angel in verse 25 and again in verse 30. This repetition allows emphasis on the words of the angel described in verse 28: “Therefore, prepare ye the way of the Lord, for the time is at hand that all men shall reap a reward of their works” (Alma 9:28). The angel, through Alma, commands the people to be those who prepare the road for the Lord by repenting, although “seeing that your hearts have been grossly hardened against the word of God, and seeing that ye are a lost and a fallen people” (Alma 9:30), the prospect of repentance seems remote.
Alma isn’t restricting his allusions to Isaiah when he preaches at Ammonihah. Sandwiched between the angel’s reporting the need to cry repentance unto the people (Alma 9:25) and reporting that such crying had been done (Alma 9:29), the passage introduces wording we are familiar with by now: “go forth and cry mightily unto this people, saying: Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is nigh at hand” (Alma 9:25). The following is the angel speaking, and Alma conveying that angelic message: note that the Lord is declared to be coming in glory. The angel is alluding to Exodus 34 (much as we have seen Jonah also do) where the context is the Lord descending in a cloud to give the 10 commandments representing the law.
Jonah’s isn’t the only oracle in the minor biblical prophets against Nineveh. Nahum also pronounces judgment against the wicked city (as Alma does against Ammonihah) but to quite different effect than Jonah. Jonah, Nahum, and Alma also call upon the creedal formula from Exodus 34 in predicting the destruction of the two cities. Here is Nahum’s use of the Exodus passage:
The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nahum 1:3)
|[Page 298]Exodus 34:5–7||Alma 9:26||Jonah 4:1–2|
|And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, the Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.||And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers.||But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry. And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.|
Both the Alma passage and the Jonah passage emphasize the possibility that the cities’ residents could repent and indulge the grace and mercy of God. The Nahum passage strikes a different tone emphasizing the judgment and justice of God. “Nahum, like Jonah, is tasked with proclaiming an oracle against Nineveh. He too makes use of Exodus 34:6–7. Yet, he seems unaware of the first part of God’s statement. He writes, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty’ (Nahum 1:3).”86 Alma takes the middle path in his preaching to the people of Ammonihah, proclaiming the justice and destruction but holding out the possibility of forgiveness for those who repent. Nahum cites Exodus 34 to emphasize God’s judgment; Jonah cites the same passage in order to pass judgment on God for being too forgiving, too merciful. The allusive markers are more abundant in the Alma passage than in the Jonah verses. As commentators often comment, the Jonah citation of Exodus 34 ends before the crucial part of the creedal formula that is Nahum’s main emphasis: “Jonah’s quotation of Exodus stops in a peculiar place. He only mentions the compassionate part of God’s statement.”87 When quoting Exodus 34 Jonah omits the wickedness and depravity of Nineveh. Nahum focuses attention on those characteristics in citing the traditional formula God speaks to Moses: “A more subtle connection that readers make between the two books is their use of Exodus 34:6–7. In this passage, God reveals himself as merciful, compassionate, loving, willing to forgive, [Page 299]but will also punish the guilty.”88 Mera Flaumenhaft also notes the oddity that Jonah throws back into the face of God from the citation of Exodus 34, but referring only to the part about mercy, not the later element about justice and judgment.
But Jonah says he knew all along that God was “gracious, compassionate, long-suffering and abundant in mercy [chesed],” the very quality he said was lacking in idol worshippers. Jonah here cites with contempt the so-called attributes of God enumerated to Moses in Exodus 34. These explain, Jonah says, why he “fled beforehand to Tarshish.” But, once again, he fails to tell the whole truth. He remembers four of the first twelve “attributes” about God’s compassion, patience, and mercy. But he omits the last and longest of the thirteen. It speaks emphatically of God’s justice: “He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the children’s unto the third and unto the fourth generation.” Prayers for forgiveness often omit this last “attribute,” and commentators sometimes even interpret the limitation on the number of generations as yet another affirmation of mercy. But the Exodus passage suggests that God’s care/mercy “by no means” precludes justice. They are not simply distinguishable and opposed alternatives, as Jonah the divider seems to think, but complementary parts of a whole. Even in tension, might they not imply each other?89
Nahum and Jonah cite the same passage from Exodus 34:6, but the effect of the quotation is dramatically different, with the Jonah passage ironically criticizing God for outreach (and successful outreach) to Israel’s enemies.
The prophets quite commonly cite this creedal passage from Exodus 34, whether proclaiming that the Ninevites, the Israelites, or the Ammonihites must repent; here is Joel: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:13). Ackerman notes that Jonah’s citation of Exodus 34 that the Pentateuch and its successor texts never record a prophet/ preacher/ missionary who has such success as Jonah; Ackerman analyzes the Hebrew syntax of the passage alluding to Exodus 34.
[Page 300]He speaks five words in Nineveh, and whole city instantly turns away from its “evil.” But as God repents of the “evil” that has been planned for the city, this “evils” Jonah “a great evil” (4:1) [AT]. In the context of a petition prayer (the same word used for his activity in the belly of the fish in 2:1) we finally learn why Jonah has fled his divine commission. For the third time he proclaims a statement of faith from Israel’s religious traditions (4:2; see Exod. 34:6, Joel 2:13). The first two, taken out of context, may initially be understood as positive affirmations. The narrative does not permit such a reading this time: I attempted to flee your realm because I knew that, ultimately, you are a merciful God.90
The divine attributes listed in Alma 9 aren’t in the same order as the Exodus passage, but it is clear that the Book of Mormon verse is alluding not only to the tradition about crying repentance and making roads straight but also interweaving an allusion to Moses hewing the tablets in order to receive the 10 commandments.
As far as thematic recurrence goes, the original passage in Isaiah is messianic, with the Lord preparing for the Jews’ return from exile through a pagan, kingly, messianic figure such as Cyrus.91 The Matthew and Lehi passages project a preparing prophet who straightens the road for the messiah to use. Alma also forecasts a messiah to come, but the people themselves are the preparing agents who clear the road and smooth out its crookedness. Each of the belated Hebraic writers adapts the Isaianic passage (Isaiah 40:3–4), beginning from the same elements: a messiah, a preparer of the road, a return.
Hays’s fifth criterion is historical plausibility. Could the alluder have intended the connection and the targeted audience have linked the Isaiah text with the allusion? Matthew’s gospel is so steeped in fulfillment formulas that doubtless his audience and he himself as a writer were constantly resorting to such allusions, quotations, and echoes,92 indicating a powerful expectation that both the writer and [Page 301]the audience would understand the allusions as such. Similarly, the Book of Mormon authors (here Alma — mediated through Mormon — and Nephi) constantly allude to the Old Testament, although we are just now beginning to plumb those Book of Mormon depths. Could Joseph Smith and his antebellum audience have made these allusive connections? Doubtless, Americans in that Early Republic period were steeped in the Bible, but we are asking more of Joseph Smith here than just having read the Bible; we are requiring him to have intuited the contours and characteristics of Hebraic narrative 150 years before they were articulated in contemporary biblical criticism. And the historical record brings into question whether Joseph Smith possessed any appreciable biblical knowledge. “Although Joseph’s own reading of the scriptures had been sporadic at best, Emma knew the Bible well and read it often. Once, as he translated, the narrative mentioned the walls of Jerusalem. Joseph stopped. ‘Emma,’ he asked, ‘did Jerusalem have walls surrounding it?’ Emma told him it did. ‘O, I thought I was deceived,’ was his reply.”93 A close Smith associate, David Whitmer (the bulk of Book of Mormon translation occurred in the Whitmer home), asserted that “‘in translating the characters Smith, who was illiterate and but little versed in Biblical lore” didn’t know the Bible well enough to write such a work.94 Smith’s own mother claimed that Joseph was little aware of the contents of the Bible at 18 when he was first contacted by Moroni; Joseph Smith “had never read the Bible through in his life.”95 Attributing sophisticated citations and allusions to Smith is a problem that those who assert his authorship have never adequately addressed because their ideological commitments don’t permit them to acknowledge the text’s [Page 302]complexity, requiring more than simplistic analysis. Perhaps it is more plausible to posit ancient Hebraic writers using such ancient Hebraic compositional conventions. In any case, the Book of Mormon writers note that the records the Lehi group brought from Jerusalem contained “the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah” (1 Nephi 5:13) and Nephi asserts often his love for the writings of Isaiah (see 2 Nephi 25).
The sixth of Hays’s criteria for judging the presence of allusion is history of interpretation: have previous readers found the allusive connection? Joseph Spencer notes the similarities between Lehi’s use of “preparing the way” terminology and holds out a few possibilities: (1) the borrowing is unintentional on Lehi’s part but just part of the furniture of his mind, (2) the wording might be based more on vocabulary and syntax from the gospels rather than a direct allusion, (3) the connection might be what Lehi intended as a direct fulfillment by John and Jesus of what he thought Isaiah intended, or (4) that Lehi saw the baptism of Jesus in vision and found in Isaiah’s terminology the best way to express the status of John.96 Spencer also takes up the connection between 1 Nephi 10:7–8 and Isaiah 40:397 noting not just that Lehi weaves a reference to Isaiah but other sources into these verses. Frank Judd makes the connection between Lehi’s use of Isaiah 40 and his own prophecy of Christ.98
Allusion studies in the Book of Mormon are nowhere near advanced as those regarding the Bible, so we shouldn’t expect to find as many precursor readings making the connections as we would in the tradition of biblical interpretation. We will need centuries more work to get to the point where we can aggregate the work done by thousands of forerunner Book of Mormon readers as we have with New Testament writers, Patristic readers, medieval exegetes, and the excavation of modern readers working under historical critical paradigms. My searches have not found readers connecting Alma 7 and Alma 9 to Isaiah 40.
Seven is satisfaction. Does knowing that the trailing passage echoes or alludes to the leading passage illuminate the meaning of the secondary text? In the case of First Nephi 10, Alma 7, and Alma 9 when one combines [Page 303]the allusions with Nephi’s principle of likening the scriptures, one gains abundant insight into Nephite exegetical practice. Jacob articulates the principle specifically in the context of citing Isaiah (2 Nephi 6:4): the words of Isaiah are intended for all the house of Israel, and “they may be likened unto you, for ye are of the house of Israel” (2 Nephi 6:5). We begin to understand that Lehi and Alma (just to cite the examples I have worked with so far in this essay) take a messianic passage that poses Cyrus as a pagan messiah with the Lord preparing the way so the Persian ruler can release the Jews from Babylonian bondage to return to Canaan, and Matthew transforms the agents so that John is the preparer for Jesus, the Nephites of Gideon are cast as the preparers for the Christ-Messiah, and the Ammonihahites (Alma 9:28) are commanded to be the ones to prepare the road for Christ to come just as John the Baptist appropriates Isaiah to command the Jews to prepare the way of the Lord (Matthew 3:3).
An Adequate Framework for
Understanding Hebraic Repetitions
I have censured in this essay a few critics who assert the Book of Mormon is best understood as a novel written by Joseph Smith: Brent Metcalfe, Edwin Firmage, and Dan Vogel. I could have singled out more. The spadework for such claims was performed by Fawn Brodie. When Brodie read repetitions in the Book of Mormon, she argued the typical but superficial modern claim that such recurrences are plagiarisms stolen from the Bible: “Many stories [Joseph Smith] borrowed from the Bible. The daughter of Jared, like Salome, danced before a king and a decapitation followed. Aminadi, like Daniel, deciphered handwriting on a wall, and Alma was converted after the exact fashion of St. Paul. The daughters of the Lamanites were abducted like the dancing daughters of Shiloh; and Ammon, the American counterpart of David, for want of a Goliath slew six sheep-rustlers with his sling.”99 Brodie is one who prepares the way for quite a few Book of Mormon critics who still have no better grasp of Hebraic narrative conventions (after all, she first published her biography of Joseph Smith in 1945, and we have experienced a conceptual revolution in approaches to Hebraic narrative starting forty years later, but an upheaval she could have anticipated — even triggered — by providing adequate readings of repetitions herself) than she did. Unfortunately, she prepared the way by making the road more crooked and debris strewn. Historical criticism of the New Testament itself has [Page 304]gone to rehab since retooling its view of repetitions. Such narratives in Mark as duplicate stories of feeding large crowds were crucial to historical-critical theories about the gospels. The conventional view was that the stories were evidence of variant traditions of the same event; the explanation later evolved into the position that multiple oral and written sources (such as the Q source) predated Mark and eventually theories of the evolution from such early sources to a primitive gospel of Mark to the synoptic gospels as we know them.100 This theory of gospel development that viewed doublets as stupidities in the text began to change in 1972 with the publication of Frans Neirynck’s Duality in Mark. With Neirynck’s cataloging of extensive repetition in the second gospel, instead of problems the repetitions began to be viewed as a feature of Mark’s writing style. Not only were the doublets considered intentional and artful, but Neirynck showed that they weren’t duplicates at all, but often featured intensification: “the second half of these dual constructions typically takes the reader a step beyond the first half.”101 Consequently, the disciplinary conventional wisdom started changing attitudes about repetitions: what used to be viewed as a difficulty in the text is more likely now acknowledged to be the reader’s shortcoming if a fault is posited. Predicaments “such as the problem of the two feeding stories in Mark, are not problems in the text per se, but problems in our own experience of reading the text”102 because the modern reader doesn’t understand what the text is up to.
The typical modern readers are willing to sweep away such ancient narrative approaches as we read in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon, dismissing them as failures of the texts, crude thefts, unoriginal repeats. Fishbane conflates rabbinic and Christian exegetical terminology, demonstrating how similar the reading tactics are to each other. Joshua’s crossing of the Jordan, for example, is a recurrence of the crossing of the Red Sea: it “was a remanifestation of divine redemptive power. The typological description of the ‘events’ is thus, at once, a reordering of the facts at hand and an aggadic reinterpretation of them.”103 These are typological interpretations of history embodied [Page 305]early in the biblical text itself, not imposed by post-biblical readers on the text. Our modern readers can share with the Pentateuchal writer the idea that both water crossings are connected to each other: “Typologies serve, therefore, as the means whereby the deeper dimensions perceived to be latent in historical events are rendered manifest and explicit to the cultural imagination.” These repetitions aren’t evidence of the text’s poverty, but rather its opulence: “by means of retrojective typologies, events are removed from the neutral cascade of historical occurrences and embellished as modalities of foundational moments in Israelite history.”104 So many exoduses occur in the biblical tradition, each repeating paradigmatic elements of the first, the very fact of repetition brings with the secondary event some heightening or fulfilling element that redefines the primary episode.
Readers of Hebraic scriptural productions such as the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, Qumranic texts, and even the Book of Mormon must acknowledge the intertextual nature of the text even to just begin the exegetical process.105 This feature goes under many names such as allusion, echo, quotation, and influence — all of which Carroll notes are broadly similar — but we often today use the term “intertextuality” because it covers a broader range of repeated phenomena than the other terms.106 The term “allusion” is useful as a general term for a relationship less explicit than quotation, but not helpful when trying to be more specific about the affiliation between the two texts.107 “Because allusion lacks the concise, diamond sparkle of clarity, echo has been introduced into discussions of these phenomena[.] … [E]cho is used to refer to any close phonological parallel and, by semantic extension, to any repetition of imitation or evocation of a stylistic feature or motif or theme of one text in a later text, be they connected or not.”108 What Borgman says about repetitions in Genesis should also be applied to the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and the Book of Mormon for that matter. Borgman’s exegetical context is the seven visits divinity makes to Abraham. “Overlooking such patterns of repetition that run through Genesis contributes to its being a story we haven’t heard, a story whose God [Page 306]gets shaped by our own projections and biases rather than by the text.”109 Seven similar visits from God or God’s messenger is a pretty obvious form of repetition, but Borgman also notes persistent word plays and repeated episodes, such as Abraham risking his wife in a foreign land.110 An adequate understanding of repetitions is necessary for understanding Genesis. “Miss the repetition, miss the story — and any chance of objectivity. From echoing word sounds to parallelisms and doubled episodes, Genesis plays very seriously with the possibilities of repetition.”111
By ignoring the worldview ancient Hebraic writers wrote into the texts and imposing a modern notion instead, the contemporary reader can dismiss the scriptural stories without having to grapple with them from within their own conceptual understandings, without even attempting to apprehend that way of narrating. “In the Bible, however, the matrix for allusion is often a sense of absolute historical continuity and recurrence, or an assumption that earlier events and figures are timeless ideological models by which all that follows can be measured. Since many of the biblical writers saw history as a pattern of cyclical repetition of events, there are abundant instances of this first category of allusion.”112 The writers’ conceptual schemes and textual habits can’t but be accounted for and not merely be dismissed by anyone who aspires to understanding Hebraic narrative.
Biblical repetitions should be read as intentional and meaningful aspects of the text, not storyline errors or primitive narration. The reader must also acknowledge the premises built into the narrative pattern, which include that God is omnipotent and teaches humans through repetition.113 This ontology and epistemology is matched by a view of history asserting that when God sends forth his word to prophets who repeat it, the divine is manifesting in history.114 Through words and narratives both the divine and human advance, for “the impression of repetition or even periodicity in history is created to teach that the world is not governed by chance but by a well defined plan, discernable in patterns set by divine providence.”115 Rowe emphasizes a point made by Karl Barth. God is the foundation of all creation, and when reading the New Testament, the ontological assumption must be granted that [Page 307]the writers are committed to even if the modern reader doesn’t share the belief. “The hermeneutical corollary of Barth’s insight is of momentous consequence and can be stated simply: what we think about God will determine what we think about everything else. To speak of ‘God’ is to invoke the context for all understanding.”116
Matthew, like the other gospel writers, viewed God as not only the author of history, but he also believed God to intervene in history. God’s prophets are the mouthpieces by which God plots “the script of history.”117 God hammers the type to fashion the antitype, intertextual fixed points, initial iterations, and their repetitions. For Matthew, fulfillment of Old Testament types operated under the notion “that nearly everything in the story of Jesus will turn out to be the fulfillment of something pre-scripted by God through the prophets. Israel’s sacred history is presented by Matthew as an elaborate figurative tapestry designed to point forward to Jesus and his activity.”118 While the modern attitude toward repetitions is disdainful, viewing repetitions in the Bible and Book of Mormon as defects, all one has to do is shift to different foundational presuppositions, and the view of repetitions radically transforms. Typology, midrash, allusion: all these approaches to Hebraic textuality respond differently but within a tight family resemblance to such recurrences: “If God is the implied author of the Bible, then the gaps, repetitions, contradictions, and heterogeneity of the biblical text must be read, as a central part of the system of meaning production of that text. In midrash the rabbis respond to this invitation and challenge.”119 The scorn too many moderns have for repetition needs to give way to an understanding that ancient narrative is far more advanced than most modern readers are. “We should give Paul and his readers credit for being at least as sophisticated and nuanced in their reading of Scripture as we are. Everything about Paul’s use of OT texts suggests [Page 308]that his ‘implied reader’ not only knows Scripture but also appreciates its allusive subtlety.”120 But the contemporary reader must recognize that to keep up with Paul, with Isaiah, with Luke, with Nephi, with Mormon, one must be a reader to match their texts — no easy task and one requiring hard work, in-depth knowledge of the Bible and Book of Mormon, and an intelligent theory of reading. Not only has Robert Alter prepared the path for us to understand narrative in the Hebrew Bible adequately, but Richard Hays has done similar clearing of the road’s debris for us to understand the allusive connections between the gospels and Paul’s letters with the Old Testament. And by understanding repetition in the Bible better, we smooth out the road for better comprehension of the Book of Mormon.
Mark’s gospel is more indirect and therefore more allusive than the other gospels. “These Christological implications can be discerned only when we attend to the poetics of allusion imbedded in Mark’s distinctive narrative strategy.”121 Like the parables in Mark, the gospel’s Christocentric implications are often hidden, a mystery, concealed in the connection between Christ and the history of Israel.122 Keep in mind that covert allusion is often more effective than explicit allusion, for “allusions are often most powerful when least explicit.”123 The story of Jesus and the story of Israel are overlaid, and the allusions between one and the other reveal the mystery in that gospel. “As Mark superimposes the two stories on one another, remarkable new patterns emerge, patterns that lead us into a truth too overwhelming to be approached in any other way.”124 The reader of Mark who doesn’t see the allusions to the Hebrew Bible in the gospel are readers without eyes to see and without ears to hear; they are listeners to the parables who don’t understand the Jesus narrative until they begin assembling the hints and allusions from one to the other.125
Like Mark, the gospel of John attempts to bring the reader to the understanding that Jesus is also Yahweh of the Old Testament (a point also insistently made by Heiser in his reading of the Christian Bible). “John summons the reader to recognize the way in which Israel’s Scripture has always been mysteriously suffused with the presence of Jesus, the figure who steps clearly into the light in the Gospel narrative.”126 By constantly [Page 309]alluding to the First Testament, connecting word and action from the life of Christ to that antecedent scripture, John suggests that all of the Hebrew Bible illuminates the Christian salvation story.127 Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, and David are all superseded by Jesus but yet still point toward that model, witnessing of the soteriological significance of the one greater to come.128 At the same time, Jesus can only begin to be understood when read backwards, in light of the end-point of the atonement and resurrection, to see how the Hebrew scriptures illuminate the Christian redemption in advance only to be understood in retrospect:
John tells us the disciples’ understanding came only later, only as they read backwards to interpret his actions and words in light of the paradigm-shattering event of his resurrection. That is the point made emphatically in John 2:22: “his disciples remembered … and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.”’129
The typological configuration, the allusive connection, can be understood only after the antitype is revealed and read backward with the antitype becoming the type and vice versa. The gospels must be read retrospectively and figurally to grasp their meaning. Jesus in the gospel of John (and John in regard to his readers) is teaching the disciples how to read the Hebrew scriptures, to read them backwards to see how Christ’s story unveils the scriptures being alluded to.130 The Old Testament prefigures the New and the story of Jesus completes the allusion figurally. “John is once again teaching his readers how to reread Israel’s Scripture; by reading backwards, Jesus reinterprets the manna story as prefiguring himself.”131 The theology of the gospels is a narrative theology that only through allusive connection to the Old Testament is completed. For a Christian audience who knew the Hebrew Bible intricately and specifically, the “[s]cripture provided the ‘encyclopedia of production’ for the Evangelists’ narration of the story of Jesus. Their way of pursuing what we call ‘doing theology’ was to produce richly intertextual narrative accounts of the significance of Jesus.”132
[Page 310]John’s gospel has relatively few direct Old Testament citations: 27, compared with 124 in Matthew, 70 in Mark, and 109 in Luke.133 John, unlike the other evangelists, tends not to quote or use the direct wording of OT passages. Instead, he invokes images and metaphors from the Hebrew scriptures. Moses’s raising of the serpent in the wilderness, for example, to heal the people uses only the words Moses and serpent as allusive markers. The intertextual connection is carried by the image of the serpent being raised up and the people looking to it.134 John is even more insistent than the other evangelists that the scriptures must be read backwards from the atonement and resurrection. In John 2 “when John tells us that Jesus ‘was speaking of the Temple of his body,’ a light goes on: the Evangelist, here in the opening chapters of his story, is teaching his readers how to read. He is training us to read figurally, teaching us to read Scripture retrospectively, in light of the resurrection. Only on such a reading does it make sense to see the Jerusalem Temple as prefiguring the truth now definitively embodied in the crucified and risen Jesus.”135 Things like the manna from heaven and the waters of life take on new significance once the reader learns that “John understands the Old Testament as a vast matrix of symbols pointing to Jesus[.]”136 To understand this, however, the reader needs to learn how to read with the proper orientation, backwards or reverse chronologically.
Hays notes that Luke’s resurrected Jesus tells the travelers on the road to Emmaus how to read that gospel. “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he thoroughly interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27); let me emphasize that Luke asserts Jesus is to be found in all the scriptures. The gospel sends the reader back to reread the evangelist’s entire gospel at the same time a rereading of the Old Testament is in order to see how the two fit so tightly together with connections between the two illuminated by the resurrection. “We will be reading backwards, seeking to find previously hidden figural correspondences between ‘Moses and the prophets’ and the mysterious stranger who chastises us as ‘slow of heart’ for failing to discover such correspondences on our first reading.”137 Old Testament echoes in Luke are more nuanced than in the other gospels. They often don’t represent direct typological correspondences, nor do they function [Page 311]as prooftexts. “Rather, they create a broader and subtler effect: they create a narrative world thick with scriptural memory.” The kinds of events that happen in Genesis (old folks getting pregnant, angelic annunciations to maidens) are repeated in the gospels so that the reader expects the patriarchal events to be repeated in the Christian period.138
All four gospels attempt to teach the reader not only how to read the evangelists but also how to read the Old Testament. Again, a reminder: figuration (and its inflections) is the Latin translation for the Greek word that gives us in English type and typology (typical, archetype, typify, prototype, typography, typist, typecast, typeface, typesetter, typewriter): typos. “The hermeneutical key to this intertextual dialectic is the practice of figural reading: the discernment of unexpected patterns of correspondence between earlier and later events or persons within a continuous temporal stream. In figural interpretation, the intertextual semantic effects can flow both directions: an earlier text can illuminate a later one, and vice versa.”139 Hays insists that understanding the intertextual connection must come retrospectively. Our language of printing is littered with the language of typology because biblical typological thought assumes a copy. A type with, say, Adam as the first man or Joshua leading the children of Israel into the promised land and a comparable figure — an antitype — Jesus as a second Adam or a repeat Joshua (the Hebrew Joshua could be translated into the Greek as Jesus) leading the children of Israel to a far better land of promise.140 A printing press has the original type put in place by the printer and that type impresses a copy on the paper: a type and an antitype. For the writer of the book of Hebrews the Old Testament high priests are a shadow of the more substantial high priest Christ: “Who serve unto the example [upodeigmati, a synonym for typos in which the reader might see the root of our English word paradigm] and shadow [skia] of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern [typon] shewed to thee in the mount” (Hebrews 8:5).
I have deliberately over the past few pages of this article shifted from using terminology about “allusion” to deploying variations of the word “intertextuality.” Intertextuality often thumbs its nose at historical [Page 312]concerns wanting to read the texts synchronically, and in a way so does biblical prophecy. Book of Mormon prophets often cite events and phrasing before the historical occurrence to convince of their writings’ prophetic power; they give us pre-tellings and prefigurations of the life of Christ or the destruction of Nephite civilization, often using repetitions of Christian writers’ wording such as Matthew or Paul. In other words, if pre-Christian Nephite writers use New Testament wording, they are doing so not as postmodern critics who might refer to Chaucer alluding to Shakespeare but as writers and prophets who claim to foretell events.141 Richard Hays notes that the New Testament must be read backwards; we sometimes get forward readings from the Book of Mormon more explicit than we get in the Bible — figural foretellings that work the way Hays’s backwards readings should. Hays asserts we have to read the end of the story, the culmination of atonement and resurrection to understand what went before; the notion that a later text can influence our reading of an earlier text stands in confrontation to our modern notions of time and history, but such modern ideas need to be challenged by older and perhaps better concepts of time that permit such time to “flow both directions.”142 The law and the prophets, according to Hays, don’t predict events in the life of Jesus but do foretell by foreshadowing the life of Jesus;143 Nephi tells us that one key to reading and understanding Isaiah is for the reader to have the spirit of prophecy also (2 Nephi 25:4), not just the writer. We need to think of time having more than just forward gears and more than just one reverse gear. The Book of Mormon as much as the Bible wants to turn the readers’ world upside down, to effect a conversion of the imagination as much as of the heart, to be transformed by a renewal in heart and mind to make us better readers. The result is a way of reading that turns time backward and makes of linear modern history a strand tied into knots, tangles, reversals, shortcuts, longcuts, and kinks that may appear a confused skein to humans but follows a divine plan.
Recognizing the importance of biblical intertextuality has meant this current generation of Christians has a much better understanding of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Previously, Christians thought the New clarifies and explains the Old. Lacking was the understanding we now have that typology is another version of [Page 313]intertextuality and doesn’t seem so alien once the reader acknowledges that authors live in time also, as do readers. Historians may deride the practice as anachronistic, but all readers read prior texts “in the light of later texts and events.”144 Typology is just an appreciation of this reverse temporality. Intertextuality sometimes feels odd because the intertextual reader might be reluctant to read the influence of a later text on an earlier Nephi, but such texts ask that we read with a different temporality in mind, to read the influence of the death of Christ at Calvary on the Akedah of Isaac on Mount Moriah which posits that “the New Testament itself can be understood only in light of a profound theological reading of the Old Testament.”145 The Book of Mormon makes no lesser claim and demands no less sophistication on the part of the reader.
Like Father, Like Son
I have yet performed little Book of Mormon exegesis in this article, and to so finish this reading would continue neglecting an underappreciated and rich text. I’ll demonstrate the repetitive quality of the Mormon scripture stripped of modern assumptions (as much as I can) about recurrence that denigrate Hebraic narrative. I have noted that Hebraic narrative asserts recurrence of foundational events over generations. The Israelites witness multiple exoduses; the covenants granted to Abraham are fulfilled in multiple ways in various generations even down to Jesus and Paul. I referred to the rabbinic principle that what happens to the fathers happens to the sons. Jon Levenson translates the aphorism slightly differently: “The patriarchs are the archetype; their descendants, the antitype.”146 Events that happened to the biblical patriarchs were expected to echo like a reprise throughout history eventually to resolve into a crescendo at the end of the play. “It cannot be underscored enough that the man of whom this story is told is the eponymous ancestor of the nation, Jacob/Israel. At its deepest level the Jacob narrative is more than biography: it is the national story and speaks, therefore, of the self-conception of the people Israel and not merely of the pranks of the trickster from whom they are descended. In its [Page 314]most important features, the pattern of Jacob’s life will be reproduced in the story of his son Joseph — another younger son beloved of his parent, exalted above his brothers, and condemned to exile and slavery because of their fratricidal jealousy.”147 The characteristics noted in Genesis of Jacob/ Israel are also manifest in his posterity.
Jacob is often described as a trickster, but we should be more blunt: he was a deceiver. Not only did Jacob grapple in the womb to have priority in birth, he also struggled with Esau through much of their lives for parental preference and priority in inheritance. He even wrestled with an angel for blessings. He conned his brother Esau out of the birthright (Genesis 25:29–34), and with his mother deceived his father (Genesis 27), causing his distraught brother to assert “Is not he rightly named Jacob [Supplanter]? For he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing” (Genesis 27:36). The writer of Genesis is doubtless aware of the irony that Isaac as father is deceived by his son into giving the blessing to the one he didn’t intend, but Jacob receives his just desserts a generation later when his sons deceive him about the fate of his son Joseph, he who hoodwinks his father using clothing to deceive (“Rebekah took goodly raiment of her eldest son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son: And she put the skins of the kids of the goats upon his hands, and upon the smooth of his neck” [Genesis 27:15– 16]), gets hoodwinked by his sons who let deceptive and torn clothing speak for silent brothers (“they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no” [Genesis 37:32]). The prophet Hosea notes that Jacob’s characteristics distinguish his offspring also, many generations later. “The Lord hath also a controversy with Judah, and will punish Jacob according to his ways; according to his doings will he recompense him. He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him: he found him in Beth-el, and there he spake with us” (Hosea 12:2–3). Grappling with brother and angel is one thing, but fraternal and paternal deception is quite a higher level of duplicity. The Israelites of Hosea’s day are given to deception much like their ancestor: “He is a merchant, the balances of deceit are in his hand: he loveth to oppress. And Ephraim said, Yet I am become rich, I have found me out substance: in all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me that were sin” (Hosea 12:7–8). Just as Jacob fled [Page 315]for his life to Haran and served in bondage to his uncle, Israel served in slavery to the Egyptians. “And Jacob fled into the country of Syria, and Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep. And by a prophet the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, and by a prophet was he preserved” (Hosea 12:12–13). Ephraim, the Northern Kingdom of Israel, like the Israelites in Egypt and Jacob in bondage to Laban, is already experiencing servitude: “He shall not return into the land of Egypt, but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to return” (Hosea 11:5).
We read in the Book of Mormon a similar updating of the tradition, a recurrence of what happened to the patriarchs. The Nephites are descendants of Joseph, the biblical patriarch, son of Jacob, sold into Egypt. When the Nephites experience rebellion and treason, Moroni tears his coat, converts it into a flag on a pole, and writes a slogan on the title of liberty. But he sees in this action a repetition of events from his ancestor Joseph’s life. The loyal Nephites rally around and also engage in symbolic action by rending their coats and covenanting to be faithful, tying their actions to those from generations before, “Now this was the covenant which they made, and they cast their garments at the feet of Moroni, saying: We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression” (Alma 46:22). Moroni takes the contemporary action and transforms it paradigmatically. The Nephites become the biblical Joseph and the Lamanites Joseph’s brothers: “Behold, we are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces; yea, and now behold, let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain” (Alma 46:23). Their ancestor Joseph also had his coat rent by his brothers, was thrust into prison, and was sold into slavery; Moroni proposes that what happened to Joseph might happen to the contemporary Nephites. Joseph’s coat was torn and bloodied by his brothers, who let Jacob come to his own conclusions about the fate of Joseph, which he does when he laments “surely he is torn in pieces; and I saw him not since” (Genesis 44:28). Joseph’s rent coat is only one of many stories in Genesis and First and Second Samuel to take up this motif of rent garments signifying the loss of divine favor along with the slightly larger theme of clothes making and torn clothes unmaking the man. I won’t explore that theme here, but I’ll at least point to Saul’s [Page 316]torn mantle symbolizing lost divine favor, David’s tearing of Saul’s skirt hem in the cave, Jeroboam’s garment torn into twelve parts, along with Joseph’s rent coat among others as the larger backdrop to Moroni’s shredded raiment. The Book of Mormon is tapping into a persistent Old Testament refrain about people and leaders chosen and rejected by God symbolized by whole and tattered clothing.
Moroni then cites a version of the story available to him but not in the Bible, all the time likening what happened to the patriarch to what might happen to the sons. “Yea, let us preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph; yea, let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death, for behold, he saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. And he said — Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself, while the remainder of the seed of Joseph shall perish, even as the remnant of his garment” (Alma 46:24). Part of Moroni’s coat converted into a rallying standard, Moroni hypothesizes, will be preserved just as patriotic and faithful Nephites will be preserved from being killed by their brothers, the Lamanites, just as both Joseph and part of Joseph’s distinctive coat were preserved. But just as a remnant of Joseph’s coat was lost in the rending and bloodying, Moroni likens that event also to those Nephites who have rebelled: “And now who knoweth but what the remnant of the seed of Joseph, which shall perish as his garment, are those who have dissented from us? Yea, and even it shall be ourselves if we do not stand fast in the faith of Christ” (Alma 46:27).
The Nephites — just as the biblical Israelites, the biblical Jews, and the New Testament Christians — perceived God as working in patterns, repetitions. The rabbinic principle that what happens to the fathers happens to the sons was not only repeated in the multiple descents of the patriarchs into Egypt. Of Abraham’s descent into Egypt one rabbi noted that “everything written in connection with Abraham is written in connection with his children.”148 In the Hellenistic period as Pharisaic Judaism evolved and later developed into rabbinic Judaism, the continuity of historical interpretation from the era during which the Hebrew Bible was composed and edited endured. This heritage was also bequeathed to early Christianity. “For the rabbis the Bible was not only a repository of past history, but a revealed pattern of the whole of history, and they had learned their scriptures well. They knew that history has a purpose, the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, and that [Page 317]the Jewish people has a central role to play in that process. … Above all, they had learned from the Bible that the true pulse of history often beat beneath its manifest surfaces, an invisible history that was more real than what the world, deceived by the more strident outward rhythms of power, could recognize.”149 What was repeated was more real than what happened in quotidian life, and the major events of history were only key as far as God was directing those events to divine ends. “It is important to realize that there is also no real desire to find novelty in passing events. Quite to the contrary, there is a pronounced tendency to subsume even major new events to familiar archetypes.”150
The Book of Mormon with its repetitions, types and shadows, narrative analogies, type scenes, allusions, and echoes is treading the textual path prepared by other Hebraic narrative and prophetic texts: the Hebrew and Christian Bibles in particular. The book is insufficiently appreciated for its narrative strategies, and its narrative strategies are often the message itself; in fact, the scripture is too often denigrated for the very features that should make us value its depths and sophistication. The book deserves better reading approaches than we have granted it and better readers. The Book of Mormon is insistent that we read it alongside and intertwined with that other stick of scripture, the Bible (2 Nephi 3:12; 1 Nephi 13:40; 2 Nephi 29:8; Mormon 7:8–9) as branches and roots stretching out from neighboring and interrelated trunks, generated from the same seed pods while tangling boughs and rhizomes. By doing so we can redeem the times that not only call out for straightened ways and prepared paths but also cry out for us to straighten and prepare those roads as saviors traveling to Mount Zion where there will be deliverance and holiness.
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