Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 1:1 (In part)

AVmarlin(For this project I’m using, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text1).

1 Nephi 1:1

I Nephi

lectio

Nephi opens the first chapter of The Book of Mormon identifying himself as the author of what follows, establishing who it is that writes and credentials the books of Nephi. The ‘I’ signals a first person account and confirms that an ‘I,’ a single individual, a unique self, will provide the viewpoint from which the text will be positioned. This account will be from Nephi’s perspective.

meditatio

Nephi calls to us, “I Nephi,” a yawp that signals to us his existence in the world. He pulls himself out of the background and presents himself. He stands forth. As messenger. As writer. I Nephi. I. Am. Nephi. Like a robin singing in the spring, he is marking a boundary of exclusion (This is my territory/No one else is responsible for these my writings) and offers an invitation (come join with me to make a nest, I am strong/I call to you to give you of my self, of my learning, of things I learned from God). I Nephi. The establishment of an ‘I‘ is one of the requisite moves that life made to kickstart its evolutionary trajectory on Earth. To evolve, there must be individuals that survive. That survival is conditioned on selection among variants of those traits that best equip an organism to deal with the messiness of life. It also must be possible to pass these winning traits to its descendants. To get off the ground (to come forth out of the ground?), life needed to protect its metabolic machinery and its genetic resources for building that machinery. Once protected evolution could begin with a vengeance. That is why the cell wall was a game-changing innovation. Its arrival created an inside (where the stuff that makes it work could be protected) and an outside. A ‘me’ and a ‘not me.’ There were brought into the world individuals, not a soup or a foam of some sort. (Let me forestall you from invoking the ‘God of the Gaps’ here. True, this step is not clearly understood fully by science, yet inroads are being made, and there are currently multiple theories of how life could get started, and I expect progress will continue to be made until solutions become apparent. I’m wagering that the question of how life got started will not be a problem for your grandchildren’s generation.) Passing information (and material like food, nutrients, and other useful chemicals) from outside the ‘I‘ into the inside of ‘myself’ has been one of the great innovations of life. All of the senses evolved to take advantage of this inside/outside distinction as a way to get useful information about the outside world inside, so that mechanisms within the individual have a way to react to the representations they receive in survival-enhancing ways. If you see a delicious fruit, pick it and eat it. Within the ‘I’ are mechanisms to keep out those things that don’t belong. The entire immune system is designed to recognize self from non-self2. Keeping the ‘I‘ an ‘I,‘ takes tremendous metabolic resources because much wants to dissolve it. But maintaining the self is critical if things like traits, modes, information, etc. are to be passed to the next generation. Evolution requires the individual. Making the individual possible is how life got off the ground. When Nephi says ‘I.’ He is drawing on a long evolutionary history that makes this possible.

In understanding what life will be like in the Antropocene and how The Book of Mormon informs that, we need to know something about life and its individuated nature. This individuality is vital. Despite a self’s complex and multiple contents and internal ecosystems, it is still one thing in the world. Still individual.

Well, we are not off to a very rapid start on our reading, but two words is a beginning–A journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step and all that.

 

 

1. Skousen, R. (2009). The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text: Yale University Press.

2. Pradeu, T. (2012). The Limits of the Self: Immunology and Biological Identity: Oxford University Press, USA.

Comments

  1. Steve, this is awesome. I can’t wait for your next post on “born of.”

  2. AussieMormon says:

    Well the conception, gestation, and birthing process is pretty awesome from a biological perspective Michael. The fact that what is essentially a parasitic organism grows within the parent, and at the same time being protected by the parent (it’s not at all symbiotic), for 9 months or so as it matures before the host body decides to expel it through a hole which is specifically designed to allow conception and birth, is the way that the human species propogates is pretty amazing. Mitosis or meiosis it ain’t. None of the fancy, put it somewhere and it will grow on its own like sunflowers. No facehugger->chest burster xenomorph life cycle (though this would make life a lot more difficult for midwives).
    Assuming Nephi wasn’t an accident, it would mean that two people had willingly come together, one of which was willing to host a maturing child for 9 months (which would have been more dangerous in those days), the of signifies that the “I” comes from them, not to them (no storks in this story). etc etc.
    Actually, I wonder what the ancient Hebrew birthing rituals were…

  3. Really fascinating how the author has delved do deeply into such a short section. It shows how much material we really have to work with in Scripture.

    On a tangential note connected to a comment about birth and parasites…
    The perspective of the creation of children of God as parasites, even as a passing example, misses the mark and underlies much that is wrong in our discussions of creation, morality and the plan of salvation.

    Procreation is an intentional act of mutual love with a child of God being the result. It’s willing commitment towards a greater existence involving life long, personal sacrifice on behalf of another within the context of a relationship patterned after God.

    The creation of and responsibility for human life is the most sacred experience we have and it’s easy to forget that because it’s so ‘commonplace’. So is the grace of God for that matter and I wouldn’t describe our premortal relationship with the Father and post mortal relationship through the Son’s atonement as parasitic.

  4. I love this. Even the fact of its existence is exciting. But if I continue in the same vein I will sound like a fan and that will not do.
    For myself, I have imagined taking up “I, Nephi” in its echo of “I Am” with the then interesting question whether an individuated personified God is a feature of the Anthropocene, or, Zen-like, what is the sense of such a God without an I (Nephi) to know Him?
    Clearly “born of” has rich potential. So does “goodly parents.” Don’t rush it.

  5. Jason K. says:

    Great stuff, Steve. I’m excited to see where it leads.

  6. AussieMormon says:

    Gouda:
    It wasn’t my intent to trivialise anything abou birth or creation. My second to last paragraph would have become longer had I not decided that I was way off topic about the meaning of “I”.
    You’re completely write, we were created in God’s image which includes the potential to tap into a very small part of the power of creation. We may not have they keys of creation needed to organise entire worlds, but we can create new life.
    My parasite comments weren’t meant to trivialise having children or the love between parents that is usually associated with it either. Quite the opposite. There are ultimately two purposes for sexual intercourse, strengthening the bond between two people, and “replenishing the earth”.
    Apart from the psychological benefits of the first, compared to other things we as humans do, carrying a child is one of the most loving and dedicatory things we can do. There is no direct biological benefit of carrying a child (unlike eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising), it can be quite dangerous, and it takes a lot of the energy and nutrients from the mother. During the gestation period, the child gives nothing back. It’s essentially living off the mother. That’s why I kept talking about the willingness to come together for it, said the body was designed that way, and compared it to methods of reproduction found in other species (and even our own at a cellular level).

    Summary:
    The body was created in the image of God.
    The body’s ability to protect and care for a foreign body (different DNA) for reproductive purposes is amazing.
    Two people coming together can tap into the powers of creation.
    A mother’s willingness to provide sustinance of protection of the child is awesome.
    Parent’s coming together to raise the resulting child is ultimately one of the experiences that we are here for.

    Linking it back to Nephi, and expanding my previous point, Lehi and Sariah already had at least three children, the fact they were willing to have more, especially when childbirth was so dangerous shows how dedicated they were, both to each other, and to the commandments of God.

  7. It’s not different DNA, though. Or rather, about half of it’s not different. Which means in a biological sense, it’s not at all a parasite–it’s a necessary part of passing down DNA, which is the only way the DNA continues to survive past the parent’s death. On the genetic level, as well as on the population level and species level, the “foreign body” allows for the continuance of genes, population, and species. Without the “foreign body,” extinction.

  8. Aussie Mormon says:

    Ok, I’ll admit that it’s not a parasite, and apologise for any offence caused by using it.
    Any mod can feel free to delete my posts.

  9. I feel compelled to note that Lehi and Sariah had little or no reliable birth control, so the fact that they had a lot of children doesn’t really say much about their dedication to each other or to the commandments of God. I suppose they could have just stopped having sex, but that’s not likely to have been a possibility, at least not for Sariah. They may well have desired to fulfill the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth, but whether they did or not, they had few choices about when and how many pregnancies/births occurred.

  10. At this rate, you’ll get through the entire BoM in only 134,082 more blog posts. And I’m sure I’ll enjoy each of them!

  11. Very briefly venturing off-topic: if the only people who are children of God are those whose biological parents lovingly and intentionally joined together to create them, there are an awful lot of people walking around who aren’t children of God. Just saying.

    On-topic: this is really excellent. I feel like I’ve read about this method of scripture study, with lectio and meditatio, and seeing the fruits of yours here, Steve, makes me want to take up the practice today. It also reminds me that scripture study is all about connections and comparisons, and drawing in things that we have studied from many domains can bring a depth and richness not possible when we shut the rest of the world out from our reading.

    Thank you so much!