Lehi's Vision. by mesinjah on DeviantArt

The straightforward reading of Lehi’s vision is that it is an allegory for himself and his descendants.  We don’t notice it only because we learn the spiritual interpretation of it right when we learn the dream, and because the spiritual interpretation is the one that Nephi first gives.

But look at it from the standpoint of an allegory.  Lehi is led by an angel into a wilderness.  After prayer, he is finally led to a desirable destination, the tree.  Think the promised land.

Lehi’s family members who would eventually become the Nephites join him there, but Laman and Lemuel, who are in the vicinity, still refuse to join the Nephites.  This family drama then widens out to a larger scale.  Masses of people also come to the tree or are lost along the way.  Other masses, like Laman and Lemuel, refuse to join.  There is an alternate location that we discover, the great and spacious building, and many head for that instead.  Finally, a number of people at the tree of life bleed off towards the great and spacious building.  The natural reading of all this is that the split in Lehi’s family between his older sons and the rest would widen into a civilizational split, and that the Nephite part of that split would have continual problems with defection.  Which is exactly what happened.

Allegorical readings of their future history was obviously a concern of the Nephites.  See Jacob 5.  Further, although the first interpretations that Nephi gives of the vision are the spiritual, universally applicable ones, Lehi’s own preaching immediately after he finished telling people about the dream was to talk about the role of Israel and specifically of the little break-offs from Isreal like the Nephites–Lehi even mentions an olive tree.  Neither Nephi nor Lehi say in so many words that this preaching is inspired by Lehi’s dream, but it obviously is.

What is more, Nephi’s own vision interpreting the dream starts off with the spiritual, universally applicable stuff but ends with a detailed prophecy of the future of his seed and his brothers’ see in the Promised Land (see 1 Nephi 12-14).  In all the controversy about whether Nephi was really prophesying about Columbus and the American Revolution and such, we lose sight of the fact that Nephi’s prophesy is the tale end of his vision explaining the meaning of Lehi’s dream.  (Even more interesting: after Nephi’s vision is over and he returns to his family, he also starts talking about the grafting in of olive trees as an allegory).

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