“Overcome with the Spirit”

Brant Gardner

Literature: In contrast to Lehi’s first vision, the record reports at least some details of his second. As Welch notes, all of the elements of this vision fall into a general pattern typical of a prophet’s calling: “In many other texts from the ancient Near East, God is visualized presiding over and working with his council. The council’s most distinctive purpose was to govern the world by delivering the decrees of God. These decrees were typically issued to messengers or prophets who would deliver them to those affected.” The genre of prophetic callings into which Lehi’s falls is a “throne-theophany.” Additionally, it relies heavily on imagery apparently drawn from the pre-reform religion, not Deuteronomic imagery.

Blake Ostler, an attorney with a passion for scriptural study, has analyzed Lehi’s vision in the context of subgenres of throne-theophanies, biblical and pseudepigraphical:

The account of Lehi’s throne-theophany and prophetic commission is very closely related to Ezekiel’s account in the Formgeschichte or historical development of the literary pattern, but because Lehi’s account also exhibits elements of the pattern unique to pseudepigraphic works it must be considered as part of the line of development inherited from the Hebrew theophany-commission pattern quite independent of Ezekiel’s inaugural vision. Both 1 Nephi and Ezekiel manifest a number of similar formal elements. Among these are: (1) a historical introduction (1 Ne. 1:4, Ezek. 1:1–3); (2) a divine confrontation (1 Ne. 1:6, Ezek. 1:4); (3) a throne-theophany (1 Ne. 1:8, Ezek. 1:26–28); (4) a heavenly book (1 Ne. 1:11–12, Ezek. 2:8–10); (5) a Qedussa or angelic songs of praise (1 Ne. 1:14, Ezek. 3:12); (6) a commission of the prophet (1 Ne. 1:18, 2:1; Ezek. 2:2–3); (7) a rejection by his people (1 Ne. 1:19–20, Ezek. 3:8–9); and (8) reassurance and a promise of deliverance (1 Ne. 1:20, Ezek. 3:8–9).
Those elements which are unique to the pseudepigrapha and 1 Nephi include: (1) an intercessory prayer (1 Ne. 1:5); (2) revelation received on the prophet’s bed or couch (1 Ne. 1:7); (3) an ascension into heaven (1 Ne. 1:8); (4) a vision of one descending from the heavenly council followed by twelve others (1 Ne. 1:11–13); and (5) a prophecy of the coming Messiah and redemption of the world (1 Ne. 1:19).

This careful comparison of Lehi’s experience to both canonized and non-canonized literary forms tells us that Lehi’s experience fits unexceptionally into the expectations of the ancient world. It also tells us that the experience could not have resulted from Joseph Smith’s copying Ezekiel. Lehi is authentic in ways that could not have been deduced from a modern reading of the Bible alone. This verse also mentions the heavenly council, a much more important theme in religious writings prior to Josiah’s reform, even though some elements survived the Deuteronomic rewriting of the scriptures. Lehi receives his prophetic calling in a way that replicates culturally expected descriptions for such an event and in terms recalling at least some pre-Josian elements of Israelite religion.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1