1 Ne 1:1/Nephi's four having's
1 Ne 1:1-4 > Extended discussion: Nephi's four having's in 1 Ne 1:1
This page contains an extended discussion of ways to interpret 1 Ne 1:1 that take as their starting point the four clauses in verse 1:1 that each begin "having ..." This page would ideally always be under construction. You are invited to contribute.
Possible structures for 1 Ne 1:1 based on "having ..."
- Serial structure. If one looks at Nephi's autobiographical sketch for a textual structure, the repeating word having immediately suggests its own importance: every phrase (except the ungrammatical "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father," which can only be dealt with after some structural clarity is achieved) begins with the term. If having is read as the structural key to the passage, most likely therefore to be read as a progressive series, then it might be rendered thus (with connectives set between phrases):
(1) having been born of goodly parents and (2) having seen many afflictions in the course of my days nevertheless (3) having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days yea (4) having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
- Chiastic structure. No sooner is the structure laid out as a series of having's than some obvious parallelistic structures suggest themselves. Most visible perhaps is the parallel my days occurring in (2) and (3). Not quite so striking at first is the parallelism formed by (1) and (4) by their use of different manifestations of the word good, goodly and goodness respectively. This double parallel of first with last and second with penultimate suggests the passage be read as a chiasm (perhaps with even the and between (1) and (2) parallel to the yea between (3) and (4)). Rendered chiastically, the autobiographical sketch would look thus:
A having been born of goodly parents B and C having seen many afflictions in the course of my days D nevertheless C' having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days B' yea A' having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
- Double parallel structure. The parallel drawn out above as B and B' further suggests another structural reading of the passage. Both and and yea suggest a doubling, a repetition. In other words, A and C might well be read parallelistically, as might A' and C'. The autobiographical sketch would then become a parallel set of parallelisms, mediated by the central nevertheless. In short, the passage might be schematized thus:
A having been born of goodly parents B and A' having seen many afflictions in the course of my days C nevertheless D having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days B' yea D' having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
The interpretive comments below follow each of the above three structural readings in turn.
Nephi's first "having"
- Birth and learning. Nephi's first having, taken in its full and ungrammatical rendering, ties together two vital clues to Nephi's record: his birth and his learning. He immediately qualifies his birth with mention of his "goodly parents." Goodly here is often read as though its meaning is the same as good. But if we read goodly as meaning wealthy (see lexical note above), we see Nephi recognizing that it was because of his parent's wealth that he was able to be taught "somewhat in all the learning of [his] father" (emphasis added).
- Teaching and learning. Nephi calls upon two important if oddly balanced terms to describe his early education: taught and learning. While a sort of opposition between teaching and learning might at first be read into the text, a careful reading reveals that this opposition is far too simplistic: the learning Nephi mentions is not his own, but his father's, and even as Nephi is the one taught, the verb is used passively ("I was taught somewhat") so that the teacher is cloaked and the act of teaching is therefore uprooted when set into the text. No simplistic scheme of Lehi teaching and Nephi learning is suggested at all in the text. The tie between the two terms, moreover, is prepositional: Nephi's being taught is "in" the learning of Lehi. This emphasizes an important fact: the term, "learning," in the text is a noun, a thing. Whatever Lehi's learning consists of, it is clear from the text that it already consists, that it already stands together, that it is complete enough to be taught, named, or pointed out. And this nominal completion of Lehi's learning stands textually against the apparently incomplete studies of Nephi: "I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father." While all of this sets up some possibilities for interpreting Nephi's brief report of his education, some more detailed consideration of the terms involved is warranted.
- Lehi's learning. While Nephi later (in verse 2) speaks of the "language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians," it is not yet clear how that should be read against the more simple "learning of my father" of verse 1. More fruitful for getting started, perhaps, is a brief consideration of the term, learning. The English word, "learning," derives from an Indo-European root, leis, meaning a track or a furrow. To learn is etymologically to follow a track, a pathway already (and not recently) cut out, already trod for some time. The pre-existence of whatever is trod, bound up in the word "to learn," is also not unfamiliar to the Hebrew root lqch, the root behind the word most commonly translated in KJV as "learning": lqch means to take, to seize, even to steal, always implying the pre-existence of whatever is taken, seized, stolen. Certainly Lehi's learning implies that he takes up a way that has been trod for a long while before him. But the English and the Hebrew both imply still more: both "to learn" and lqch emphasize a sort of solitude. While teaching implies an instructor and an instructed, the learner comes upon a pathway that has been trod, but that might now be completely empty, and most likely is without a guide. That lqch can mean to steal certainly reinforces the lonely character of Lehi's learning: it might well be suggested that Lehi's learning, in which Nephi was taught, was a very solitary project.
- Nephi's being taught. If Lehi's learning is a work of solitude, the lonely work of following the long-since-left-behind, Nephi's being taught is imbued with the spirit of a face to face encounter, perhaps even characterized by a sort of violence as well. The English word, "teach," is etymologically related to "touch," as is "didactic" to "tactile." To teach is to point out, to put one's finger onto something. Whereas Lehi seems to come upon something abandoned, which he must attempt to bring back to life in self-disciplined learning, Nephi has a living someone who stands before him, who points out what is to be learned, who gives tasks to the student. This "being taught" on Nephi's part well reflects the broad meaning of the Hebrew term for teaching, lmd, to train, to develop skills in oneself or another. Nephi learns through another, through an actual engagement. The ambiguity of such an engagement (one engages the enemy, and one is engaged to a future spouse) is suggestive: Nephi learns through a work of desire both to submit and to overpower, wraps his arms about his teach both to embrace and to wrestle ("touching" in being "taught"). Lehi's learning is the work of an archaeologist; Nephi's being taught is the work of a disciple.
- Toward the relation between Nephi and Lehi. The foregoing comments on Nephi's first having, besides destructuring the father-son teaching situation, work out provisional meanings for three words: "goodly", being "taught", and "learning". The meanings worked out are provisional precisely in that they remain in the above comments extratextual: they have not been read back into the text, but provide a framework for just such a (re)reading. However, before such a reading can proceed, something of the interpersonal dynamics at play in this first having must be worked out, so that there is something to read these words back into. In other words, because "goodly" qualifies "parents", because "taught" qualifies "I", because "learning" qualifies--this last in a very broad sense--"father", the interrelatedness of Nephi ("I"), his "parents" and his "father" must be worked out before the meanings of their qualifying words can be read into the text. It should be noted at the same time that a preliminary working out of the interpersonal dynamics of Nephi's first having will also be provisional: like the working out of the meaning of the qualifying words, a working out of these dynamics is an abstraction of text, drawing out the persons without the words that qualify them. Hence, the complex interpersonal dynamics of this first having (it is unique among the four having's) require a second abstraction in addition to the first one worked out above. The two must then be read against and into each other for a more complete reading of the phrase.
- On proper names. The first and most obvious aspect of the interpersonal dynamics of Nephi's first having to be considered is the function of the proper name. Whereas Nephi's first verse opens with the overwhelming announcement of the prophet's own proper name, the remainder of the three-verse preface to Nephi's text is, from then on, void of any other proper names for any (earthly) person ("the Lord" might be a proper name, "YHWH", though it names God; "the Jews" and "the Egyptians" might also be argued to be proper names, but each apparently names a collective--they are both plural). This absence of proper names is most striking in Nephi's first having, where he makes explicit mention of both his "parents" and his "father", but without any proper names. The comments above have overlooked this, drawing the names of Lehi and Sariah, of course, from the actual body of the Nephite text. The point raises two questions, one of which cannot be fully examined until after full consideration of Nephi's autobiographical sketch. This question to be postponed is, indeed, as broad as Nephi's autobiographical sketch: what does Nephi's announcement of his proper name accomplish in the text? The other question, to be dealt with presently, concerns rather the unnamed in the text: what does the lack of proper names for Lehi and Sariah in this first having accomplish?
- On the lack of proper names. Lehi and Sariah pass into Nephi's first having unnamed. Perhaps Lehi and Sariah, just for that reason, pass out of Nephi's first having. At any rate, the weight of this lack--the lack of the weight--of proper names in this first autobiographical reading is most significant, is a sign that marks something important at play in the text. A first consequence of the unnamedness of Nephi's "parents" and "father" is a sort of delay, a sort of suspension: Lehi and Sariah are kept out of the preface, though they are mentioned--and hence present--in the same. They are, oddly enough, both included and excluded from Nephi's autobiography. But this duplicity--presence and yet non-presence--is precisely what is in question in Nephi's first having: this first autobiographical reading is the prophet's exploration of the borders between himself and his parents, that strange no man's land where Nephi ends and his parents and father begin. As has been mentioned above, this first having is an exploration of influence, of the "in-flowing" of Sariah and Lehi. And Nephi's text reads this influence as an unnamed presence. In other words, Nephi's text embodies the complex influence of parents and father on son: thoroughly, unquestioningly, overwhelmingly, perhaps suffocatingly present, and yet unnamed, unrecognized, unrealized, perhaps entirely unthought. More: parents and father are so absolutely present, in and through all things, that they are not only unnamed but unnamable, not only unrecognized but unrecognizable, etc.
- The theme of separation. The relation implied between Nephi and his parents/father, then, is ultimately not a question of presence and non-presence. Nephi's first having, precisely because it writes them without names, reads Sariah and Lehi as completely saturating Nephi's experience, not as perpetual presences, but rather as the element of which Nephi is made. Nephi reads himself as a (re)presentation of his parents/father: they live (continually?) in his living. Hence it would appear that there is no separation between Nephi and his parents/father in the first having. However, the very first verb this having employs is one of separation. Nephi in fact opens this first self-reading with mention of the most primordial act of separation possible: the umbilical cord is cut with his "having been born." As a result, a complex tension enters into the very first phrase of Nephi's text: Nephi is, according to the text, at once inseparable from his parents/father and entirely separated from his parents/father. The first interpersonal dynamic, the first written relation between Nephi and his parents/father, is a double separation/inseparability between them.
- A progressive inseparability/separation. The situation is made more complex by the fact that the theme of separation is taken up again in the second half of the first having: "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father." As mentioned above, though a teacher is implied, his or her identity is cloaked, so that the phrase draws upon an implied distance between Nephi and Lehi. As separate as they might have become through Nephi's birth, the teaching situation later in life suggests that this separation only grew. The inferential character of the connecting "therefore" seems to confirm this growing distance. However, at the same time, Nephi's teaching is precisely "in" his father's learning: even as the separation between son and parents/father grows, so does the inseparability between them. The tension introduced in the first part of Nephi's first having is doubled, strengthened, and confirmed in the second part. The relation between Nephi and his parents/father is remarkably difficult.
- The meaning of the tension. The textual rhythm of Nephi's first having may characterize this tension, may draw out its meaning. In both the first part (before the "therefore") and the second part (after the "therefore") of this first self-reading, the theme of separation comes first, so that it is, in each instance, countered by the theme of inseparability: "having been born [separation] of goodly parents [inseparability], therefore I was taught somewhat [separation] in all the learning of my father [inseparability]." The passage "feels" as if every attempt of Nephi to draw apart from his parents is countered by their overwhelming saturation of all that he does. In other words, in every attempt to live, Nephi lives his (still unnamed) parents. Stating the issue this way does not relieve the tension, but releases it from appearing as a contradiction: Nephi is separate just in that he embodies his parents, just in that he is inseparable from them. Hence, a first reading of Nephi's first (self-)reading: Nephi's collective experience is always from the standpoint of his a son who embodies his parents/father. Nephi encounters the world as his parents.
- The teaching situation and separation. The interpersonal dynamics of Nephi's first having might now be read preliminarily, at last, in and against the meaningful words explored above. And, in fact, the important difference examined between Nephi's "being taught" and Lehi's "learning" bears powerfully on the theme of separation. In that that difference marks a difference between Nephi and Lehi, the separation between father and son might easily be read there. However, the question of separation grounds that same difference still more profoundly: the distinction between "being taught" (always face-to-face) and "learning" (always in solitude) was precisely a question of separation. In other words, the two terms bear their meaning precisely by taking up opposite ends of the tension between separation/inseparability. As a result, Nephi's teaching situation is in and of itself a double embodiment of that vital tension. First, Nephi's being taught--in face-to-face instruction--is a work of inseparability, fundamentally frustrated by the grammatical cloaking of the instructor, which marks Nephi's being taught with an undeniable character of separation. Second, because the content of the teaching is the learning of Lehi, Nephi's instruction at once marks him inseparable from his father (studying precisely the same things) and entirely separate (if he truly learns his father's learning, what is profoundly a work of solitude, of separation). Nephi's first having wonderfully puts on display Lehi's profound influence on him: always as himself, Nephi entirely presents his father.
- Goodliness and separation. As pointed at at the very beginning of these comments on Nephi's first having, the first self-reading of this autobiographical sketch (by employing the strong "therefore" at its center) draws upon the relation between the goodliness of Nephi's parents and his own later instruction. That broad relation now suggests that the theme of separation so powerfully embodied in the teaching situation should be read back into the goodliness of Lehi and Sariah. Or better, that goodliness should be read as the source of that eventually perfected tension of separation/inseparability. And it certainly does. If, as mentioned above, "goodly" is best read as marking the wealth or abundance of Nephi's parents, then the description the prophet's birth draws the theme of inheritance to bear powerfully on the present considerations: Nephi's first having casts him as an heir. The power of this insight emerges in the fact that inheritance is itself a perfect embodiment of the same tension of separation/inseparability. The heir is profoundly separate and absolutely inseparable from his or her benefactor. Nephi, as heir, is again marked entirely and always himself, even as he entirely and always (re-)presents his father. Perhaps most vital in all this: it is precisely the term "goodly" that draws this tension into the first half of Nephi's first having.
- Subverted inheritance. However, as soon as Nephi's first having is read through the theme of inheritance, the same theme is called into question: Nephi's relational "therefore" does not draw eventual wealth as the fruition of inheritance, but rather instruction. In other words, Nephi's inheritance is "only" an intellectual inheritance: he is heir to his father's learning. (This first having, then, should probably be read with an eye to the later Lamanite claim to the right of inheritance.) Perhaps most important of all, this subversion of the traditional theme of inheritance further subverts the meaning of the term "goodly." The goodliness Nephi is concerned with might ultimately be the goodliness commonly read into this first verse of the Book of Mormon: Lehi and Sariah were folk of abundant faith, obedience, goodness, etc.
- Nephi's relation, finally, to his parents. All of the above comments set up the relation between Nephi and his parents/father. In his first self-interpretation, Nephi reads himself fundamentally as heir to his father's learning, and that only through the instrumentality--the goodliness--of his parents. As heir, Nephi covers his parents over, in a sense, and yet manifests them perfectly: he manifests them in himself. Nephi reads himself not so much as drawing upon his parents' goodliness, but as re-working it, as re-presenting, as re-embodying it. Nephi himself is Lehi again, Lehi repeated, but now with the proper name of Nephi. If this first having is Nephi's attempt to read his beginnings, to interpret his origins, what he apparently finds is always only himself ("I, Nephi"), but always only his parents/father, as presented in himself.
- The content of Lehi's learning. With this relation now established, wherein Nephi continually re-presents his father (and that especially in terms of "learning"), the way has been opened up to explore at last the actual content of Lehi's learning. However, the above comments have conclusively pointed away from such a task. It might be best to say that Nephi, precisely because he does not take the space to explicate his father's learning, sees this issue as inessential, perhaps immaterial. The point, as suggested by the above comments, of Nephi's first having is the role Lehi and Sariah play in Nephi's independent/dependent writing.
Nephi's second "having"
- On the way to "afflictions." Obviously the most important word in Nephi's second having is "afflictions." Curiously, the word does not take the grammatical position of subject in the clause; rather it functions as the direct object. As direct object, it becomes that towards which this second self-interpretation tends: the "many afflictions" of Nephi might best be understood as the horizon of this second autobiographical comment, not as the starting point. This is as much as to say that Nephi removes from himself (in the act of writing) the actual afflictions he suffered (he displaces them to his--and the reader's--horizon). He in fact does so, precisely by clothing them in a double event-ness: the afflictions comes to Nephi spatially (through his body: "having seen") and temporally (in time: "in the course of my days"). (It should be noted very clearly that only Nephi's second having has an undeniable event-ness about it: the static verbs of the other three havings set this second one forth as uniquely event-ual.) In other words, because Nephi characterizes his "many afflictions" as events (spatio-temporal happenings), they become for him and for the reader event-ual, intended but still unreached. A first interpretive point for Nephi's second having: the very key of this having ("afflictions") are the key precisely because they are what the whole phrase aims at, but does not yet reach.
- On the way from "afflictions." Even as the grammatical structure of Nephi's second having sets the prophet's afflictions at a double remove as a spatio-temporal event-uality, another grammatical structure inherent in the same phrase cancels this distantiation. The "having" that marks the seeing (the spatial/bodily happening that is temporalized in the "course of [Nephi's] days") is a verbal that is, by the end of Nephi's first verse, caught up into the present work of writing. However absent or distant Nephi's afflictions are at the time of writing, they are one of his four self-interpretive reasons for writing at all. In other words, even as Nephi's second having marks itself as a way towards the many afflictions Nephi faced, the whole of the first verse unmistakably marks Nephi's entire introduction as a way from afflictions to writing. (As mentioned above, only this second having is explicitly event-ual. While the other three self-interpretations Nephi offers might be read as several groundings of Nephi's task of writing, this one, his second having, seems best read as a sort of path or way towards the task of writing. That this having is temporalized by a "course of... days" seems to underscore this point.) Though Nephi's afflictions appear event-ual and horizonal, they are nonetheless a sort of point of departure for Nephi.
- On the (double) way of "afflictions." This duplicity of way, caught up into the double, tense grammatical structure of Nephi's second having, suggests a sort of parallel between Nephi's first and second havings. Even as this second having suggests a distance or a separation, the same is cancelled by a broader inseparability: the event-ual afflictions are the point of departure for Nephi's task of writing. This is not unlike the separation/inseparability theme of Nephi's first having. The absolution of afflictions accomplished by the role of direct object is cancelled in that Nephi himself takes his departure from his bodily/temporal experience of afflictions. Again--as before--Nephi reads himself as a sort of re-embodiment (perhaps particularly in the task of writing) of afflictions he has seen, has witnessed (were they never his own afflictions?). At least this much is clear: there is a parallel structure to be read into Nephi's first two havings.
- "Seeing" afflictions. Nephi takes up his afflictions with a verb that might well be read as confirming the separation/inseparability theme already doubled with this second having. Vision opens, quite singularly, the very possibility for the distinction between separation and inseparability (it might be precisely because the two opposites arise out of a singular that the tension explored in these comments is possible). Sight at once sets before the seer a world spectacle from which he or she might retire and at the same time locates the seer immediately in the world, most explicitly through the sheer physicality of the eyes with which one sees. Sight--or rather all the senses, perhaps corporeal existence itself and hence every verb (such as "having seen") that summons the body--then plays an important role in Nephi's second having, important precisely because it--as a bodily verb--draws out this same tension of separation/inseparability. Whereas Nephi might have discussed afflictions he had once "had" or "experienced" or "gone through," his use of "having seen" suggests something more of his relation to his afflictions: Nephi's afflictions were at once something separate and remote from him ("seen") and something that might be called his very setting or vantage point (from which he sees himself autobiographically).
- The meaning of affliction. Though "affliction" seems a simple enough word, its literal meaning is perhaps more nuanced. The verb, "to afflict", comes into English from a Latin compound: ad-fligo, literally "to strike against (towards)". Its primary meaning in usage was to dash something against another (or two things together) or (much the same) to knock down, strike down, or damage. Only metaphorically did the word come to mean to weaken, to discourage. Affliction was originally, then, bodily pain or torture. Before the word is taken in Nephi's text to mean something primarily "spiritual" or "mental," it should be considered in its physical originality. If Nephi means the word in a "spiritual" or "mental" sense, the violence implied in the literal meaning should not be missed. Moreover, the original "physical" meaning of the word always implies at least two "things," marked by the ad-, the towards or against. Too quick a reversion to the "spiritual" or "mental" reading of affliction might reduce affliction to a sort of solitary struggle rather than a literal clash of at least two things. The towards and against of affliction also point toward two parties--one who afflicts, and one who is afflicted. Affliction is more than suffering, it is a suffering caused by one towards another.
- The corporeality of seeing and the physicality of afflictions. The corporeality of Nephi's "having seen" and the radical physicality of his mentioned "afflictions" come up against each other in an odd manner. While afflictions retreat into mental/spiritual meaning only metaphorically, sight and the eyes have a natural means of retreat (unlike the other four bodily senses) in one's ability to blink, to close off sight from bodily experience. And this means of visual escape is unique and significant. It is sight, for example, that makes sleep so bizarre a human state: the sleeper is open to the reality of the world in four ways, and what he or she hears, smells, tastes, or touches readily enters into the surreality of the dream. But the sleeper closes him- or herself off entirely from the world of sight. The eye's ability to retreat, to shut off the visual realm of the world, sets the corporeality of Nephi's principal verb in this second having against the radical physicality of the afflictions Nephi deals with: because he sees the afflictions, Nephi has some recourse to distance from them, has some means of retreat from the harsh reality of the bodily danger implicit in those afflictions. At least on the grammatical level, Nephi's second having at once presents a very real danger and an ability to flee the same.
- The ambiguous nature of visual escape. Here an ambiguity in Nephi's language might well be considered: because the afflictions Nephi mentions in his second having are completely unqualified grammatically, it remains unclear whether the afflictions were things Nephi himself suffered, or whether the afflictions Nephi saw were afflictions others passed through to which the prophet was "merely" witness. The importance of this ambiguity arises most clearly in the light of Nephi's means of escape, because his ability as seer to shut his eyes is ultimately ambiguous as well. On the one hand, Nephi's visual escape might be read as a very real escape: if he closes his eyes to violence inflicted on himself, he holds out to some degree a sort of mastery over his enemies. His closed eyes would mark his willing martyrdom, a sort of absolute denial on his part to become involved (perhaps thereby doing damage to the meaning of afflictions as two things striking one another). On the other hand, Nephi's visual escape might be read as a sort of false escape: if he closes his eyes to violence inflicted on others, he marks himself a slave to his own weakness. His closed eyes would here mark him as one completely lacking the virtue of charity: he allows others to suffer while he closes his eyes. Two very different meanings of visual "escape", based on two very different meanings of the afflictions mentioned in the passage.
- Nephi's apparently open eyes. The above two comments, however, work from an assumption that is unjustified based on Nephi's second having: that Nephi closed his eyes. However, the fact that Nephi saw the afflictions marks with great importance the fact that Nephi could very easily and at any time have closed them: that he didn't is what should be emphasized here. As such, Nephi's open eyes (open to the ambiguous afflictions he mentions) require interpretation. Just as Nephi's grammar invites a double reading of visual escape, a double reading of Nephi's open eyes is warranted. If, on the one hand, the afflictions in question were Nephi's own, then his meeting them with open eyes would suggest his self-transcending courage, his unwillingness to take the escape of selfish retreat that would immortalize him as an innocent martyr. Apparently unconcerned with himself, Nephi--taking the afflictions, again, to be his own--was willing to engage (to love?) even his enemies, to wrestle with them, to crash against them in a very real sense, in a radical work of opening himself--his eyes--to them. If, on the other hand, the afflictions in question were not Nephi's, but those of others to which Nephi stood witness, then his open eyes mark his unquestionable charity. Unwilling, on this reading, to turn from the difficulties others faced, Nephi presents himself as one willing to engage (again, to love?) the innocent who suffer all about him.
- Nephi's eyes as the double figure of love. Fortunately, the reader of Nephi's text is not forced to choose between these two possible readings of Nephi's open eyes. The two are allowed to work against and through each other. In fact, the two carry a very similar meaning in the end: love. Nephi's open eyes mark his unconcernedness with himself, his willingness to engage (on the one hand) his enemies and/or (on the other hand) his friends. In both cases, his self-transcendence is marked by his open eyes, but his regard or gaze that takes up both friend and enemy by the hand (hand to hand, whether in combat or in salutation). In fact, that Nephi leaves the afflictions he mentions in this second having ambiguous suggests that he wants his readers to feel the tension between both possible readings. The charity with which Nephi marks himself in this second self-interpretation is supposed to be felt as all-embracing, as touching both friends and enemies. On that account, Nephi's "having seen" imbues the figure of Nephi with love. It might, moreover, be noted that it is precisely afflictions that open Nephi's eyes (on either reading). Love itself might here be read as affliction: love is the inevitable drama of striking two things, two people, together. Love is the site of affliction, afflictions are the sight of love: in Nephi's seeing afflictions--in his seeing to afflictions--he encounters love.
- Nephi's love as response. But as soon as one reads love into Nephi's second having, the objection arises that Nephi never explicitly mentions love, that he only sets it forth negatively, under the figure of seeing afflictions. In other words, that Nephi here interprets himself in terms of afflictions, apparently in an attempt to interpret himself in terms of charity, is oddly ironic. It might, on the one hand, mark Nephi's humility: he only suggests his charity negatively, through afflictions. On the other hand, this detail might set a sort of limit for the reading above: Nephi's love is not an absolute virtue, but one drawn out of him by the threat of the other, by afflictions. In a sense, then, that Nephi addresses his own charity through affliction serves to proscribe Nephi's love, to render it a response rather than a call. Nephi's eyes do not intend so much as they are intended and seeingly respond. In other words and in short, Nephi's second having might be read as a figure of responsive--even responsible--charity: Nephi's open eyes figure his response to the visible world, a world, apparently, of affliction.
- Reanalyzing the parallel between first and second "havings". Nephi's second having is now seen as the prophet's confrontation with the fallen nature of the world, as his loving response to the presence of evil--of afflictions, many afflictions--in the world. And here, perhaps, the apparent parallel between this second having and the first falls apart. Whereas in the first having, Nephi interprets himself as a reembodiment of his parents (thus being separate and inseparable from them), here it is clear that Nephi is not reading himself in terms of affliction, but in terms of his response to affliction. In other words, Nephi's entire first verse does not ultimately follow Nephi's journey from afflictions to writing, but from his response to afflictions to the task of writing. If this second having is to be read as privileged above the others for its event-ness, it is now clear that the event(s) Nephi here recounts is (are) not to be understood as experience(s) of affliction, but as response(s) to affliction. The one event Nephi cites on the way to the task of writing is his seeing, his open eyes in response to the wickedness of the world.
- Toward the course of Nephi's days. Given all of the above, Nephi's second having might be summarized thus: the only event Nephi calls upon in interpreting his life is his loving response (his open eyes) to the wickedness of the world. All that remains to be dealt with in this second having is the "course of [Nephi's] days." It is clear that this phrase plays an important role in the text, besides confirming the event-ual character of the second having. A first, but very brief reading suggests that Nephi proscribes his charitable response within a sort of temporal enclosure (which might just be a consequence of the event-ual character of this having). The word "course" is, however, not so perfectly simple. Its many meanings in [] suggest that it should be read quite carefully. Two "concepts" seem to be inevitable: the word implies at least motion and method/order. (Etymology bears this out: "course" derives from Latin cursus, which means an established track for running a race, hence motion and order.) Whatever Nephi means by the "course" of his days, it seems that it must inevitably be read through the double theme of motion and method.
- Course and death. But perhaps this double theme of motion and method already suggests a meaning. If Nephi's days are, as a course, understood to be a methodical procession towards an already decided end, then at least one very real possible meaning is clear: the "course" of Nephi's days ends with death. That Nephi may here be thinking of death is not to be thrown out because of the reality of the resurrection: passages throughout the Old Testament--especially in Ecclesiastes--see life as a working out of days on the way to death. (To say that the race ends with death is not at all to claim that there is nothing after the race.) If Nephi is indeed concerned with death here, then Nephi's reads his loving response, his interlocuted charity as an event at once opened up and foreclosed by the reality of death. In other words, that the event-ual having is the one tied specifically to the theme of death (a theme that rings well with the theme of affliction) suggests that event-ness itself arises out of death, that the event of charity is a response to the evil of death (even death through affliction). In short, Nephi in his second having seems to characterize himself as having lived toward his own death.
- One's days and the course of one's days. If the course Nephi describes is the procedural movement of his days toward death, it might be well to consider more exactly the word "days." That the word should not be understood here in any objective sense (e.g., to mean "twenty-four hour periods") is clear: Nephi marks the days as his, as belonging to him. In other words, Nephi does not read "days" as some objective thing he passes through, but rather understands "days" to be a sort of aspect of his experience: as his days, these days are the what through which Nephi experiences the events of affliction. Each day--lit by the light of day as opposed to night--is the light in which a certain afflicting event appeared (was seen). In fact, Nephi's seeing might well be extended to every event that came before his eyes in his "days." If this is what Nephi means by mentioning these days as his, then the meaning of the "course" of his "days" might become clearer. Nephi here reads his afflictions as punctuating an ordered procession of experiences, of events, a series of events that culminate in death--the event that anounces itself as the foreclosure of all other events, as the cessation of events. In other words, Nephi seems to read his life here as a series of witnessed events, as experiences he entered into bodily (even through his eyes), all tending toward the cessation of events and experiences, and all this punctuated often ("many") by afflictions, by--perhaps--events that suggested the reality of the coming conclusive event. It is, of course, most significant that Nephi reads his own charity as a response to those event-ual forerunners of death.
- The overarching tension of Nephi's second having. All of the above suggests the following general reading of Nephi's second having. Whereas the first having explored the possibility of Nephi's escape, as it were, from his parents, this second having explores the possibility of Nephi's ability to rebridge the gap of interpersonal separation. Taking as its theme the gift of charity, Nephi seems to read through the ever-present reality of death (ever-present through the constant experience of affliction) a sort of call to love, to which Nephi responds.
Nephi's third "having"
- Nephi's return to "days." After the peculiarities of Nephi's second having, the word "days" immediately stands out in this third having. Whereas before his days were subsumed under the figure of a course, here they are merely collected with the word "all." One immediately gets the sense that this third having breaks the course of the second, that the inevitable movement of Nephi's days toward death is canceled in the favor of the Lord. Broadly speaking, then, this third having already presents itself as something beyond even the implicit charity of the second having. Certainly the clearest initial theme of this having is the theme of God's love, God's favor, a reverse of the charity mentioned above.
- The meaning of favor.
Nephi's four "having's"
- Nephi's life and the plan. Together the clauses beginning with having form a pattern that runs through Nephi's two books: creation ("having been born"), fall ("having seen many afflictions"), atonement ("having been highly favored of the Lord"), and passing through the veil ("having had a great knowledge"). The pattern might broadly be called "the plan of salvation," but it appears to play a more fundamental textual role for Nephi as well. His first eighteen chapters (1 Nephi 1-18) tell a sort of creation story (with constant reference to his goodly parents); his following nine chapters (1 Nephi 19-2 Nephi 5) tell a sort of fall story (marked emphatically by the division between Nephites and Lamanites); his next twenty-five chapters (2 Nephi 6-31) tell a sort of atonement story (how the Lamanites might become again favored and reconnected to broader Israel); and his concluding three chapters (2 Nephi 31-33) dwell on a sort of passing-through-the-veil story (through a discussion of baptism in incredibly "veil-like" terms). Moreover, that the twenty-five chapter atonement stretch of Nephi's two-book record is presented by three messengers who collectively bring to the reader an understanding of how the "veil" of 2 Nephi 31-33 might be passed suggests that there is some connection between Nephi's broader record and the temple drama. If this connection is not unfounded, Nephi's "therefore" toward the end of this verse is powerfully significant: it is because his very life might be read as a sort of "endowment" that he is writing this text.
- goodness and mysteries. No other prophet in our scriptures pairs these words in a single verse. Nephi is restating an earlier portion of this verse, in which he attributed his "learning" to his "goodly parents." Nephi's life experiences apparently taught him these two things go hand in hand.
Double parallelism interpretation
- Nevertheless. The center of the chiastic structural reading is peculiar, but textually important. D mediates the two "halves" of the passage. In other words, it is the single word nevertheless that decides how the relation between the first half (A, B, and C) and the second half (A', B', and C') should be read. The implication: this single, perhaps "intuitive" word must be read with care. An all-too-quick reading of the word might suggest that it draws the two halves of the chiasm together in a sort of antithesis: by bringing them to stand side by side, nevertheless markedly puts on display the distinction between the events of the first half and the events of the second half, precisely because nevertheless means however, or but. However, more careful thought reveals that nevertheless does not at all set up a facile anthithesis. The term rather means most literally that what is about to be said is not undone by what has been said, that the implications of the foregoing (here, the first half) do not preclude what is about to be said (here, in the second half): Y (what I am about to say) is never to be taken as anything less--is not to be read weakly--because of X (what I have just said). This more literal reading implies a great deal about the meaning of Nephi's autobiographical chiasm. The first half of it (what might be called Nephi's earthly world) does not preclude in any way, nor does it weaken at all, the second half of it (what might be called Nephi's heavenly world). In short, the first half of Nephi's chiastic autobiography at once has something to do with the second half--especially in that it parallels it!--but the relation between the two is neither one of mutual implication, nor one of frustrating contradiction. Perhaps all that can at first be said about the chiasm in question is what has snuck into this discussion through the back door: Nephi sees the earthly and heavenly aspects of his existence as parallel, not contradictory or implicatory.
- having .., nevertheless, having... Lehi is not disappointed by his experiences. He displays an attitude of gratitude.
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