A consistent feature that distinguishes the Book of Mormon from the Bible is its pan-human focus. Nephi does not strike me as very cosmopolitan—rather the opposite. He cares about his family and posterity, and his overriding focus even there is not love and loyalty but theology; he cares that they’re tied into God’s covenant with the House of Israel, that their history is sacred and thus legitimate. It’s easy to see Nephi as exactly the sort of overzealous man who devotes his time and attention to his calling at the expense of his personal family (which he never mentions outside of confessing that he took a wife; maybe this is, as Hardy speculates, a form of coping with his failures as a husband and father; or maybe this was Nephi’s form of coping with the pain of having lost his family, the way that church service functioned originally for Brigham Young). Nephi is single-mindedly focused on his tribe and their health within the House of Israel.
But the Lord doesn’t let him get away with that, because the Lord isn’t inspiring Nephi to write simply for his family and posterity. Rather, Nephi’s writing for a global audience in a thoroughly cosmopolitan era.
And so once again the angel tells Nephi to “Look!” It’s interesting that in deciding how to structure his narrative for a some-decades-old vision, Nephi breaks it up into discreet “Look!” segments. As I’ve noted, there are rich possibilities for interpreting these various looks and their connections—as here, with the establishment of a local pattern in tribal history, which then transitions into how that pattern plays out in larger history. It’s also fascinating that Nephi doesn’t merely have the vision. At times the angel explains things, but the angel’s main function is not to explain what Nephi sees but to point out those things that Nephi fails to see on his own. It’s almost as if our visionary protagonist can’t be trusted to notice what’s salient on his own (just as Nephi condescendingly makes excuses for his father for not noticing the filthiness of the water at one segment in the vision of the Tree). But it’s not only Nephi’s attention that gets focused with each ‘look.’ It’s our vision too. It’s visceral; I feel a minor jolt and almost jump each time the angel issues that divine imperative.
And I wonder—how much of this vision am I sleeping through? What of the rest of the Book of Mormon? How much do I miss without this heaven sent angel there to direct my gaze?
And now we get to one of the most wrested passages in the whole book: that great and abominable church.