Saturday, March 10, 2007

Lehi's tent

I'm having a lot of fun mulling over Lehi's tent with a group of people at a new blog called BoM Groupies. I thought I would include some of my thoughts here that I included in a couple of comments there. (This will help me keep better track of what I'm thinking about and studying, too.) ;) (I don't want to distract from comments over there, though, so you can join in over at the BoM blog if you want to comment....)

Short summary: I read something from a BYU Studies on a CD I have about what has been called the axis mundi. Think "center" and "symbolic (and maybe literal) connection with heaven and earth" -- a place in a city (or a city) that was the center of religious, social, political and economic life. I'm particularly interested in the spiritual center, which often included a temple/place for religious ritual. Part of this was to suggest that Lehi's tent was actually like a temple. What I have studied is convincing me that this may very well be the case.

So here are some of my thoughts:

It struck me that this concept of axis mundi and the tent and what we are discussing relates directly to core (”central”) doctrines (many of which are covered by Isaiah):

-a standard (In Bedouin life, “A white flag,” we are told, “is sometimes hoisted above his tent to guide strangers and visitors. All visitors are led directly to the tent of the [sheikh].” (Thanks, Hugh Nibley (anyone opposed to Hugh Nibley around here?)
- gathering … the tent was a gathering place, a hub, especially for family but also for those invited to be with (to “have place” with) the family (this will be fun to discuss when we get to Zoram)
- councils, talking, teaching — this is a place where a lot of discussion and decision takes place
- Family — closely related to the previous two elements
- revelation (this was discussed in that quote I included above, as well as in other comments already made)
- temple-related elements (altars, sacrifice, teaching, ….that whole bridging the gap between heaven and earth)
— and, of course, the purpose of temples is two-fold 1) to gather us to Christ and to teach of the Atonement and bring the saving and cleansing power of the Atonement into our lives and 2) to gather us as families, and as the family of God
- refuge — the tent provided protection and refuge. Lots of potential symbolism there.

“And my father dwelt in a tent.” I’m beginning to think there is MUCH to learn from that little phrase. (I also think this all ties into the comment about the three things Lehi brought with him…family, tents, provisions (gotta live in this mortal sphere even as we are on a spiritual journey, right?)) Lots to learn, methinks. So fun to mull over.

Fleshing out a bit more about what happened in scriptures around the concept of the tent.

1 Nephi 2:6-7 -- sacrifices mentioned right after the tent is mentioned.

[Note also that teaching is mentioned in vs. 9 and 10. Although we don't know if time passed between the offering and the teaching, I like to see the combination of ritual and teaching together. Teaching can go with revelation above, perhaps.]

1 Nephi 3:1-2
Nephi returns to the tent after receiving revelation (he returns to the tent prepared?), and a discussion ensues about the revelation Lehi just received. I would assert that because of Nephi's preparation, he can accept the word of his father/the prophet as revealed with a soft heart, whereas the pattern of Laman and Lemuel's rebellion continues.

I see family, gathering, council/counsel and even temple application here (we should come to the temple with soft hearts, prepared to receive instruction (hard though it may be sometimes...and it will be less hard if our hearts are softened).

1 Nephi 5:7

The first thing he mentions about returning with the scriptures is that he goes to the tent. Again, family, gathering, revelation. (Sariah finally gets her testimony of her husband's prophetic calling at this time.) Comfort is also mentioned. Love that.

And, again, they offer sacrifices:
1 Nephi 5:9

1 Nephi 7:5 (also v. 21)

Ishmael and his family join the family of Lehi, and where do are they headed? To the tent! (Note that this happens after Ismael's heart was softened! Pattern there of a softened heart and going to the tent?) The tent was the focus, the destination, as they journeyed. It was what was on Nephi's mind. Interesting. (Temple, center of our thoughts? Our destination? Our focus?)

And look at 1 Nephi 7:22

There it is again!!!...gospel rituals right after the tent is mentioned.

1 Nephi 9:1

Revelation -- this comes after Lehi's vision. So a key vision that we still cling to today was received "as he dwelt in a tent." (Wish we knew what else he saw!)

1 Nephi 10:15-16

More prophecy and revelation!

v. 17 also is interesting to me...Nephi again seeks revelation. Ch. 2 and 3 shows Nephi receiving his revelation and softened heart, and then he goes to the tent. This chapter takes Nephi from the tent of teaching, and seeking revelation. So, I see going prepared to the tent and being ready to receive more, and coming away from the tent ready to seek confirmation and revelation.

And here he is again...receiving revelation and returning to the tent of his father immediately after. I sense a tight connection between Nephi and the tent and his father/the prophet.
1 Nephi 15:1
1 AND it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been carried away in the spirit, and seen all these things, I returned to the tent of my father.

I wonder if this is significant:
1 Nephi 16:6-7
Tent and marriage right next to each other? Hmmmmm.....

And then Lehi receives the Liahona in v. 10. Does the temple help us receive our guiding Liahona, that gives us guidance according to our heed, faith and diligence?

Well, I'm very intrigued by the patterns I'm seeing. I think my thought is that the tent is significant. :)

(And here is some of that info from the BYU Studies article.)

This is a fun discussion! (Thanks again for letting me know about this blog, Isaiahsfan! I do hope that I’m not intruding in discussions among longtime friends.)

This discussion about Lehi’s tent brought to mind some things I had read a couple of years ago about the “axis mundi.” This reference will be long, but I hope it’s interesting to you as it was to me. (If this is too cumbersome, please let me know how it might be better to share information in the future.)

I included more than just what relates to Lehi’s tent because I think it can possibly shed light on patterns in the OT as well (and also the ancient elements of the BoM). Might it also shed light on the importance of “centers” and temples in the latter days. ?? Food for thought, anyway.

Ancient world civilizations believed that the perceived order of territorial environment, in its “natural” and built-up features, revealed the structure of a sacred universe. The epitome of this symbolic order was a capital city or ceremonial center. “In those religions which held that human order was brought into being at the creation of the world there was a pervasive tendency to dramatize the cosmogony by constructing on earth a reduced version of the cosmos, usually in the form of a state capital.”

The specific features of this model of spatial organization vary from culture to culture but can be generally expressed in terms of three principles: centripetality, cardinality, and inductance. Centripetality is the notion that terrestrial space was created from and ordered by an “existentially centered point.” This center or “navel of the earth” was considered to be the point of contact between heaven and earth [this is a point that I find very interesting to this discussion], the most elevated place on earth and the point at which the creation of the earth began. The construction of a temple or other holy sanctuary celebrated the sacredness of the axis mundi. Rituals and other observances were performed in those holy places to preserve the parallelism of the macrocosmos (heaven) and the microcosmos (earth). Natural, political or social catastrophe often succeeded in dislocating the axis mundi. When this occurred, the holy of holies was likely relocated to another site declared auspicious by the ritual leader of the group.

[This gives some historical background; the author’s purpose was largely to show the ancient roots of the BoM. Following is the connection with Lehi’s tent.]

One of the recurring themes in the Book of Mormon is the establishment and maintenance of a centralized social and territorial order. The Book of Mormon narrative opens in Old Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah with the minor prophet Lehi preaching that the city of the Jews is about to be destroyed because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. The citizens respond by trying to kill Lehi; consequently, he flees with his family into the wilderness. They do not leave, however, without first receiving the promise of being guided by God to another land of promise, “a land choice above all other lands,” to establish another axis mundi.

Having abandoned their traditional, though profaned, sanctuary, Lehi’s company constructs a temporary axis in the wilderness: Lehi’s tent. That Lehi “dwelt in a tent” is mentioned fourteen times in the desert narrative and appears at critical events in the historical sequence: after Lehi reported his “dream of the tree of life” and after Nephi reported his vision of the promised land (1 Ne. 8:11-14); after Lehi’s sons acquired the Hebrew scriptures from a corrupt religious leader in Jerusalem and after additional refugees from Jerusalem joined Lehi’s company (1 Ne. 4; 7:1-5); and on the occasion of essential observances of the Mosaic law (1 Ne. 2:6-7; 6:7-9; 7:22). Lehi’s tent thus secured contact with the heavens, despite the nomadic existence of his following, and allowed him and his people to continue in confidence toward the promised land.
Steven L. Olsen; BYU Studies Vol. 23, No. 1, pg.82

Since we are in ch. 2, note what happened right after he pitched the tent:
6 And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water.
7 And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.

A bit more on this as we look forward toward more readings in the BoM (from the same source, a couple of pages further on) :

The image of the center as a holy mountain was also established early in and maintained throughout the Book of Mormon. In relation to the wilderness Jerusalem was always “up,” while the wilderness in relation to Jerusalem was either “down” or “into” (1 Ne. 3-7, passim). Once in the promised land, the people always went “up” to the temple and to the “lands of our first inheritance” (Jacob 2:11; Mosiah 1:18; 2:1-11; 7:2-4; 20:7; 28:1; 29:3; Alma 17:8; 20:2; 24:20; 26:23). Finally, the elevated status of the kingdom of God was emphasized in millennial imagery and ecstatic experiences, such as Nephi’s vision of the promised land (1 Ne. 11:21; 17:7). In the nearly thousand-year period that this civilization occupied the promised land, four successive centers were established–Lehi, Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful. Except for the land of Lehi, in which Lehi’s tent served as the axis mundi, a temple was established at each center. Ritual officials were appointed to perform the prescriptions of the Mosaic law, with major observances, such as renewal ceremonies, occurring at the temple. Important sermons were also delivered to the community from the temple (2 Ne. 5:10, 16; Mosiah 2:5; Jacob 2-5; 3 Nephi. 12-17).

He goes on to talk about how the development and growth of cities (surrounding the center) corresponded to righteousness, and how destruction of cities (and ultimately no more civilization) was tied to wickedness. I think keeping an eye on this concept of “centers” and the role they played in Nephite civilization might be interesting as we move forward.


  1. Wow, this is fascinating! I learned a great deal, especially this:

    "The specific features of this model of spatial organization vary from culture to culture but can be generally expressed in terms of three principles: centripetality, cardinality, and inductance."

    Thanks for so much food for thought.

    Also, fwiw, though I never comment, I'm pretty much always 100% in agreement with your comments all over the 'nacle, especially at FMH. Thanks for all you contribute.

  2. s.l.
    Thank you for stopping by and for your comment. I am glad you were able to learn something from that quote. It's all been quite fun to mull over. :)

  3. Very nice. Unable to post on blogs lately, but will try again.

  4. Love the insight of a friend that reminded that the tent was temporary because they needed to keep moving through their wilderness. Carry on! Keep moving forward!