“A Man Descending Out of Heaven”

Brant Gardner

These people had been talking. Now they were silent—in fact, “durst not open their mouths.” What more human reaction could they have made to this spectacular event? They had been speaking about the Messiah, and here he was. Their world had inexorably changed in that instant, and their silence marks this incredible change.

Nephi heightens the drama of the situation by noting that, even with the annunciation of the Son of God by the Father himself, some did not yet understand that it really was the Son. It might have been an angel representing the Son.

Vocabulary: The word “wist” is an obsolete verb form in English, undoubtedly used here in imitation of the King James Version although it also appears in the 1828 edition of Webster’s dictionary. The meaning is to “to be or become aware (of); learn; know.” The present form of the verb was “wit.”

Culture: Christ descends dressed in white. The modern reader immediately understands that the whiteness represents the Savior’s purity, but Mesoamericans would have associated whiteness with death. Thus, they would understand the whiteclad personage as announcing that he had died. This is an important part of the message. (See commentary accompanying v. 14.)

The Savior’s appearance to the Nephites must have been such a watershed event that we would expect to find it echoed in local mythology. Indeed, many have seen legends of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl as good candidates for a garbled remembrance of this event. Unfortunately, the evidence that makes these legends appear to be related to Jesus Christ are themselves distortions of the native material, and that native material does not support the suggestion that Quetzalcoatl or any other feathered serpent symbol was correlated to Jesus Christ. (See “Excursus: Quetzalcoatl: A Malleable Mythology,” following 3 Nephi 11.)

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5