“A Dream of a Night Vision”

Brant Gardner

Literary: Nephi is reworking 29:7-8:

7 ¶ And the multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel, even all that fight against her and her munition, and that distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision.

8 It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion.

Nephi first restructures the introduction to apply specifically to Zion rather than to Ariel. He leave the “dream of a night vision” because it fits in well with his restructuring of the “voice from the dust” into a message from those who “slumber” in death. This is a complex thematic reworking of Isaiah. It is not a simple alteration of words such as we have seen in other instances of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. This does not come under the aegis of a difference in translation, because it is a complete reworking. It is well-crafted, however, taking literary themes and tying them together into a new cloth.

What Nephi is doing corresponds to the later practice that received the name of “pesher.” “A pesher is a commentary - at Qumran, a commentary on a well-known biblical passage, usually from the Prophets, but also from Psalms and sometimes even other biblical books like Genesis, Leviticus, or Deuteronomy. The important thing is that the underlying biblical passage being interpreted should be seen a fraught with significance in relation to the ideology or history of the Scroll Community. Often this takes the form of citing a biblical passage or quotation our of context or even sometimes slightly altered, followed by the words, ”peshero“ or ”pesher ha-davar“, meaning ‘its interpretation’ or ‘the interpretation of the passage is’. The text then proceeds to give an idiosyncratic interpretation having to do with the history or ideology of the group, with particular reference to contemporary events.” (Eisenman, Robert. James the Brother of Jesus. Penguin Books, 1997, p. 81.)

The general description of this literary type at Qumran is absolutely parallel to what Nephi is doing with Isaiah. Unlike the sections where Nephi is citing Isaiah, he is here using Isaiah as an interpretation of his own vision for the future. As we examine these texts, we will note that Nephi is shifting contexts and meaning so that Isaiah’s prophecy refers to the events of Nephi’s prophetic dream of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon.

Scriptural: Nephi describes the spiritual state of this world in apostasy. His metaphor is the “dream of a night vision.” Nephi is using a concept that is familiar - a dream that seems real, but is not. For the apostate world, they will find themselves as one who is dreaming one of these “real-but-not-real” dreams. All of their actions against Israel will be the result of this false reality. To what does Nephi refer?

The apostate world that will receive the Book of Mormon is not one that considered itself apostate. It was not a world that considered itself having left the ways of their God. For the world, they were quite religious, and in their religious fervor, they become as those who fight against Zion. It is like dream because it seems so real, it appears to be so true, and yet there is no truth in it. The religion in which they passionately believe is like a man who eats his fill during the dream. and wakes to find himself hungry. The world dreams that it has the gospel of the Lord, but will find that it is lacking the true substance. It is a world in need of awakening and of being fed with power.

It is a world that will need the words of the Book that Nephi and his descendants will write.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon