In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Monday, May 14, 2012

Was Nephi's sermon in Helaman 7-8 an allegorical funeral sermon?

Nephi son of Helaman II
I have a routine of different websites that I search and read on a regular basis when I'm not buried in a book. If you've read anything off of my blog you will have noticed that quite possibly the main website that I research for scriptural insights is the website of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. One of the recent articles that I came across was written by John Welch in regards to the sermon given by Nephi the son of Helaman II in Helaman chapters 7 and 8. If you’re familiar at all with the story Nephi had just returned from proselytizing and doing missionary work in the land northward and had little success. To make matters worse when he returned home to Zerahemla he found the city had become quite apostate. At this point Nephi goes to the top of a tower in his garden near the main highway and prays in such a way that it attracts the attention of passersby. In doing this he seems to have gathered quite a crowd and then proceeds to call the people of Zerahemla to repentance and then tops it all off by prophesying the death of the Chief Judge of Zerahemla and even prophecies who the murder of the Chief Judge is.

Welch points out that it has been a normal practice of many prophets of old to use some sort of an allegorical example to help the people to whom he is preaching better understand the message. Below are a few examples pointed out by John Welch,

"It was not uncommon for early Israelite prophets to use example. When Jeremiah wanted to impress the people of Jerusalem with his prophecy that they would be yoked into bondage by the Babylonians, he

draped himself with thongs and a yoke and thus went forth proclaiming his message of doom (see Jeremiah 27:2-11). Other similar symbolic or parabolic acts performed as prophetic oracles are found in Jeremiah 13:1-11 (hiding a waistcloth), Jeremiah 19:1-13 (smashing a bottle), 1 Kings 11:29-39 (tearing a garment into twelve pieces), 2 Kings 13:15-19 (shooting an arrow), and Isaiah 20:2-6 (walking naked)."

With these examples in mind Welch then proceeds to point out a number of clues that give the impression that Nephi may have been presenting an allegorical funeral for his sermon. The clues include the following.

1. Nephi was "mourning" and "lamenting" and as pointed out by Welch Nephi was from an aristocratic household so this alone would have caused the passersby to wonder who of the household had passed.

2. Nephi's mourning or mock funeral seemed to last quite a long time. It lasted long enough for passersby to leave to get others to come witness this lamentation and return. This would make sense in the setting of a mock funeral mourning.

3. The lamenting of Nephi seemed to have been quite the spectacle because Welch points out that Nephi advised that the people indeed had "great need to marvel".

4. If Nephi was performing an allegorical funeral he also included the word "murder" a few times and this alone would have drawn a crowd. He then proceeded to include the iniquities of people of Zerahemla which would have worked up the crowd even more. Thus completing his purpose of performing the allegory.

5. The tower Nephi was praying and preaching from more than likely would have been some sort of Mesoamerican pyramid. These pyramids were used for numerous things in Mesoamerica during the times of the great Mayan civilization. One of the main purposes for the pyramid towers was to bury their dead, thus his allegory would have been performed at an actual funeral site.

6. The words and phrases used by Nephi in his sermon were used to predict the eventual death of those at Zerahemla. These phrases include such wording as, "why will ye die" and "everlasting misery" and God will turn them into “meat for dogs and wild beasts".

There are more examples but Welch points out that Nephi finishes by prophesying the death of Chief Judge of Zerahemla thus providing a specific corpse for all his woes. This Chief Judge's death represents the people of Zerahemla for whom the prophecies were given. It was also used to validate Nephi's prophetic words. As John Welch points out there is no way for us to be certain that Nephi was indeed performing an allegorical funeral sermon but this does add a rich, plausible and interesting symbolic meaning to the sermon given by Nephi.

I will also inlcude the link to the actual article by John Welch.  See below.

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