We’ve ended up with a rather rich discussion of the opening of 2 Nephi 2. Let me see if I can’t distill from it a few of the most salient points.
The first point of discussion concerned the place of 2 Nephi 2 in 2 Nephi 1-4. There seems to be a difference between Lehi’s words to those born in Jerusalem (addressed first in 2 Nephi 1) and his words to those not born in Jerusalem (addressed next in 2 Nephi 2-3), a difference Lehi seems to emphasize given that he organizes his final exhortations by birthplace rather than biological relation. The difference, at least in part, is that between conditional and unconditional blessings—comparing the if-then structure of what appears in 2 Nephi 1 to the straightforward shall’s of 2 Nephi 2. (All this is complicated by the weaving of conditionality and unconditionality in 2 Nephi 3, but perhaps this complication can be bracketed if one insists just on looking at the respective blessings given to Lehi’s firstborns, Laman and Jacob.) There may be reason to think that this difference between conditionality (associated, it seems, with the foreclosed Old World of destruction) and unconditionality (associated, it seems, with the potentiated New World of promise) marks a shift toward a full realization of (the unconditionality of) grace.
The next point of discussion concerned the relationship between 2 Nephi 2 and King Benjamin’s centuries-later sermon. It appears that there are a few quite remarkable textual connections between the two texts, though there’s reason to think that Benjamin was more intensely focused on what might be gleaned from 2 Nephi 9, Jacob’s own subsequent expansion on Lehi’s words in 2 Nephi 2. These connections are perhaps suggestive of a deeper interest on King Benjamin’s part in the small plates—a record that he, uniquely among Nephite kings to that point, had uninterrupted access. It may be significant, though, that he, like his contemporary Abinadi, was interested chiefly—perhaps exclusively—in 2 Nephi 2 and 2 Nephi 9, ready to leave off the more Isaianic parts of the record to which Nephi gave the most attention. Perhaps these connections suggest more generally that it’s through the sermons of King Benjamin and Abinadi that Lehi’s and Jacob’s teachings regarding the plan of salvation passed into general Nephite knowledge. That may be important for understanding the basic significance of 2 Nephi 2 and 2 Nephi 9 for Nephite thought.
A further point of discussion concerned the matter of consecrating affliction for gain, an issue that raises question of God’s justice. Lehi’s mention of “rudeness” and “afflictions,” as well as of these kinds of things being “consecrate[d],” might suggest that subsequent parts of Lehi’s sermon of sorts be regarded as a theodicy—though there are certain problems with such a view. There are reasons, though, to suggest that Jacob had a longer-term interest in questions of theodicies, something that might be reflected in his interest in the olive-tree allegory he takes over from Zenos. However we might think about Lehi’s and Jacob’s respective investments in constructing a theodicy, though, it seems that Lehi’s focus in the first verses of 2 Nephi 2 is principally on redemption and consecration—themes that proves to be theologically complex. Is the consecration of affliction a matter of providing nasty experiences with a new telos? Of disengaging them from every telos? Of revealing that they’ve had a hidden telos all along? There are reasons to be nervous about each of these possibilities, but there’s also good reason to pursue them.
A final point of discussion concerned the relevance of narrativity to the study of 2 Nephi 2. It’s possible, perhaps, to think the act of consecration in terms of narrativity, though it may prove rather complicated to do so. Speaking more generally, there seems to be much to learn from narratology about the apparent division of 2 Nephi 2 into two halves—a first, more emphatically atemporal-because-doctrinal half, and a second, more ephatically temporal-because-narrative half. What motivates the shift to narrative, and how might such motivations shed light on the apparent shift in audience (from Jacob alone in the first half of the sermon to all of Lehi’s sons—and perhaps Laman and Lemuel in particular—in the second half of the sermon)? It might further be asked how questions of narrativity here might be clarified or complicated by the structures indicating temporal concerns that run through the first four verses of 2 Nephi 2. But these are questions we’ll be asking as the seminar continues.
It was a good week, and I, for one, am eager to see where we go next!