Journal of Book of Mormon Studies


Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, Tree of Life, Language, Book of Mormon as Literature, Lehi, Teaching


One of the more striking and significant passages in the Book of Mormon is Lehi’s vision of the tree of life. It is often studied in terms of its content alone, with clarifying details illuminated by Nephi’s similar vision. However, exploring this vision against the backdrop of ancient visionary literature can lead to greater appreciation of its literary richness while affording insights into its interpretation. Many narrative components of Lehi’s vision match the characteristic elements of visionary literature identified by biblical scholar Leland Ryken, including otherness, reversal of ordinary reality, transcendental realms, kaleidoscopic structure, and symbolism. The relationship between symbolic aspects of Lehi’s vision and specific historical events more clearly recognized in Nephi’s account (e.g., Christ’s mortal ministry, the apostasy, Nephite history) is discussed. In addition, identifying the man in the white robe in Lehi’s vision as John the Revelator provides a natural narrative and structural link to Nephi’s vision that emphasizes the relatedness of the two accounts. Most elements of the vision point to Jesus Christ. Lehi’s vision comports well with the genre of ancient visionary literature, a form that biblical scholarship has shown to be worthy of serious scholarly attention.