There are 19 thoughts on “Lehi’s Dream and the Garden of Eden”.

  1. Pingback: Why We Still Have to Cling to the Iron Rod Even Though the Path is Strait | Meridian Magazine

  2. I Ran across a comment in Margret Barkers “the Great Angel” where she claims that “the Word of God” was an ancient name for YHWH and it makes me wonder if the Iron Rod is as much a symbol of Christ as the tree. We know that the Rod”of Jesse” is a person (possibly Joseph Smith). So the rod of iron referring to a person is just as possible as it applying to a thing.
    D&C 113
    1 Who is the Stem of Jesse spoken of in the 1st, 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th verses of the 11th chapter of Isaiah?

    2 Verily thus saith the Lord: It is Christ.

    3 What is the rod spoken of in the first verse of the 11th chapter of Isaiah, that should come of the Stem of Jesse?

    4 Behold, thus saith the Lord: It is a servant in the hands of Christ, who is partly a descendant of Jesse as well as of Ephraim, or of the house of Joseph, on whom there is laid much power.

    5 What is the root of Jesse spoken of in the 10th verse of the 11th chapter?

    6 Behold, thus saith the Lord, it is a descendant of Jesse, as well as of Joseph, unto whom rightly belongs the priesthood, and the keys of the kingdom, for an ensign, and for the gathering of my people in the last days.

  3. Well said. I”m struggling with several of the speculative links. Why not simply that the creation/garden story and Lehi”s dream both symbolically teach about God”s plan of happiness, or man’s journey back to His presence? The Tree of Life in Eden, or in Lehi”s dream, or in the Temple, is the same.

  4. so, in reading this article , by David M, Calabro, relating to the problem of the dropping of the ‘s’ from sword to ] end with ‘word’ as the currently preferred interpretation . Have any of you considered the 1842 editing of The Book of Mormon by the Prophet Joseph , or is it not equally honored / valid ?

  5. Perhaps a divining rod makes more sense than a staff. For example, the earlier Book of Commandments version of Doctrine and Covenants 8 tell Oliver Cowdery: “Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod [BCR: “sprout”]: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod [BCR: “thing”] of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God.”

    Some points of interest: 1) Cowdery’s gift with rods is connected to guiding people through challenging locations (D&C 8:3-4). 2) Divining rods are typically held at the end. 3) Folk stories discuss rods needing to be held tightly to avoid them shooting away toward the treasure. 4) Both the rod of iron and divining rods led to water sources. 5) Use of rods usually included “extending” them outward.

  6. Great article.

    I guess I’ve always struggled with the interpretation of the iron rod as merely a staff. I have assumed that iron rod was indeed some sort of railing, and that the “end of the rod” marked the beginning of the “strai[gh]t and narrow” path toward eternal live and metaphorically corresponds to the gate that Nephi discusses in 2 Nephi 31:17-18, which is repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. In the dream imagery, you can’t just grasp the rod at any old place; rather, it seems you have to start at its beginning (which is at the “end of the rod” that is not near the tree but at the beginning of the path).

    As far as I can tell, the only reason the iron rod couldn’t be some sort of railing is because it seems anachronistic. All of the symbolism of the staff would actually remain quite intact, even if the rod is very long and somehow fixed or anchored to the path.

    On the other hand, I’m not really sure what to make of the idea that concourses of people are meant to grasp hold of the “end of the rod” of a single walking staff. In Nephi’s imagery, there are countless individuals grasping this rod. In his vision, did they each get to the trail and then pick up the “end” of their own walking staff and then proceed forward? How many walking staffs are there at this entry point? Is it like a video game where you pick an item up and another one miraculously appears in its place? And if Nephi really saw multiple rods, why does he only speak of the rod in the singular? Why didn’t he note that everyone gets their own, or a least speak of it as “a” rod of iron instead of “the” rod of iron.

    To me, the most sound interpretation is to simply assume that the rod of iron really was some sort of railing that was somehow fixed and extended along the path. Whether or not ancient people’s had “iron” railings or not, I find it hard to believe that they didn’t understand the concept of a railing. Didn’t they have railings (or at least wooden partitions) on ships that helped ensure that passengers didn’t fall into the water? Didn’t some of their towers at least have crenelated walkways that, while protecting them from arrows from below, also helped ensure that their watchmen didn’t fall off? I’m guessing that they at least had some architectural features, whether domestic or civic, that approximated the function and purpose of a railing. Even if if they didn’t, the purpose of an iron railing would be intuitively obvious if the path were narrow and somehow dangerous if one were to let go.

    If Nephi truly saw a singular iron railing that extended along the path, then this feature makes both practical and symbolic sense. An extended railing really would function well as a typological walking staff, since both are a “rod” in shape and form and both help their travelers with added stability and guidance on their journey toward a destination. However if each traveler gets his or her own rod, then Nephi’s description makes symbolic sense while struggling quite a bit on the practical side. Such an interpretation fails to adequately explain (1) why the “end of the rod” was an important place to grasp hold of, (2) why Nephi speaks of a single rod instead of multiple rods, and (3) why the English translation says that the rod “extended along the bank” instead of something like “guided travelers on the path.”

  7. Thank you, David, for this insightful piece. I think we all saw Eden imagery in Lehi’s dream but the idea that it’s actually the Eden is so totally different but exciting.

    Discussing the rod of iron being “extended” along the river, you mention that “the current translation could arise from an assumption that the ‘rod’ was a railing.” However, Skousen’s work has greatly suggested that the words used are very intentional. If “guided” was meant, it would have been used. While the word play was probably meant, the word “extended” is correct and proper.

    So how do we reconcile having the rod extend along the river? I think the hints were already given. As mentioned in the text, people only ever clinged to the end of the rod. I propose that the rod/staff was floating parallel with the ground. It was effectively extended out along the way of the river, always pointing towards the tree. As long as people cling to the end, they would be directed, like following a compass (the Liahona is liken to the Holy Ghost). This even has allusions to Aaron’s budding staff and Oliver Cowdery’s rod of Aaron.

    Just a thought.

    • Carrying the Liahona idea further, notice that the “ball of curious workmanship” shows up right after Nephi’s vision. Within the ball “were two spindles; and the one pointed the way whither we should go into the wilderness.” The 1828 dictionary describes spindles as pivots, not the things that spin around. So “the one” could have allusions to the rod of iron (brass?) that Nephi and Lehi just saw. It pointed the way through the lonely wilderness of darkness towards the Promised Land.

  8. The Book of Mormon is a richly layered text with multiple levels of meaning. Convergent with the Garden of Eden setting proposed in this article is a Jerusalem setting. As dreams often do, Lehi’s dream seems to have reflected an important element of his daily life: the topography of Jerusalem. Other than the king’s palace, the greatest and most spacious building known to Lehi was Solomon’s temple, which was located on Mount Moriah, the highest point in Jerusalem. On the east, the temple mount declined steeply into the Kidron valley. On the other side of the narrow valley was the Mount of Olives, where the Garden of Gethsemane would later be located. Water flowed into the Kidron from dangerous and dirty flash floods and from the Gihon spring (also known as the Virgin spring) which produced pure water. Gihon makes the Eden connection discussed in this article more explicit, being one of the four rivers that flowed out of Eden. The spring is connected not just with Eden but also with the Virgin Nephi sees holding the Christ child.

    As D. John Butler has noted, hekal was the most obvious word for Lehi to use to describe the great and spacious building. Hekal refers specifically to the large middle room in the temple, but it was also used for the temple as a whole and for any large building. If Lehi said hekal, “great building” and “temple” were alternative translations of what he said. The mocking people in the great and spacious building are clearly connected with the Jews who mocked Lehi as he prophesied (1 Nephi 1: 19). They wore the kind of fine clothing mandated for temple priests. And among the mockers, the Bible tells us, were “the chief of the priests” who would be found in the temple (2 Chronicles 36: 14-16). The priest’s great and spacious temple, like Lehi’s great and spacious building, is on the verge of an exceedingly great fall (2 Chronicles 36: 19; 1 Nephi 11: 35-36).

    The dream suggests that, though the Jerusalem temple is about to be destroyed, temple worship will be restored by Lehi and Nephi and again have its proper focus: to bring us back to the tree of life, to Gethsemane where the delicious fruit we eat is the atonement of Jesus Christ.

    I more fully develop this reading in Hidden in Plain View:

  9. Brigham Young in his Discourses describes the temple endowment as learning the names, signs and tokens needed to enable us to be allowed by guarding angels to move forward on each stage of the path toward the presence of God. These angels seem to correspond to the cherubim who guard the way toward the tree of life. These passwords are given us by other angels, and are thus “words of God”.

    Could this concept correspond to the iron rod as “the word of God” which each person must grasp in order to advance on the true path to the tree of life in Lehi’s dream, and avoid being diverted? Though the guarding angels are not described, their function of sorting out those who are worthy of eating from the tree is carried out in the dream by the combination of the mist of darkness (like the veil that blocks our vision of our premortal life) and the guiding word of God which each must choose, or not choose, to grasp onto as the only means of pressing forward on the right path.

    In this image of the iron rod in Lehi’s dream, the words of the Book of Mormon itself are included, as Moroni also says, and thus the readers are warned up front that they must grasp firmly the Book of Mormon they are holding and reading. This is part of the testing function of the Book of Mormon which Moroni describes. We are not really judging the validity and truth of the book. The book is sorting us out, and only those who grasp it firmly can reach the tree of eternal life. Rather than not being descriptive of modern temples, as critics claim, the Book of Mormon and the angel Moroni are a crucial part of the endowment system that sorts out those admitted to the presence of God.

  10. David,

    Here is a crazy Nephi comment for you. In Sumerian, NE: a designation of trees; e (e3-bi): to leave, go out; hang on a string; hi: alloy. Could be taking the iron rod to the tree? Or at least describes Nephi (metalsmith, leaves Jerusalem). Also the reformed Egyptian glyph (actually pretty much identical to the standard hieratic) for nfr is the same as the cross used to ritualistically represent the Mesoamerican World Tree.

  11. Another point you might be interested in is D. John Butler’s proposal of Lehi’s dream showing a temple scene taken over by darkness and evil, like the corrupt religious leaders of his day. I also discuss this in “The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game.” There may be a word play between the ulam, the first part of the temple, and “olam” meaning world, followed by a relationship between the second part of the temple, the hekal, or main middle room, which literally means “building” or “great building.” A word play between ulam and olam may help clarify the puzzling phrase “as if it had been a world” in 1 Nephi 8:20.

    • There is another obsolete English word that fits better: “wold,” or “weald,” which means “heath,” or “moor.” A “wold” was a desolate, uninhabited, and usually uninhabitable, region of rolling hills. “As if it had been a wold.”

  12. Wonderful and timely article, thanks! Excellent scholarship and keen insights regarding the richness of Lehi’s dream and related imagery, thoroughly tied to Old World concepts. This work also adds helpful information relevant well to several recent publications here at the Interpreter.

    Some critics have argued that an iron rod (reading it as a modern iron railing) is anachronistic and is best explained by Joseph seeing the iron railing along the Eerie Canal where it crosses a river in Rochester, new York. In my response (see the section “Weighing the Iron Rod: Modern Architectural Element or Ancient Symbol?” in “The Great and Spacious Book of Mormon Arcade Game: More Curious Works from Book of Mormon Critics“), I also point out that in light of how the word “rod” is used in the Book of Mormon, the iron rod in the dream not be an iron railing but could be a staff that actively guides, leads, or pulls those who cling fast to it. In addition to the points you make, I think we can also add Helaman 3:29-30 to the supporting evidence, since those who “lay hold upon the word” are in contact with an active element that is “quick and powerful” and like the sword, can “divide asunder … the wiles of the devil”. As they “lay hold” they will be guided by it so they can “land their souls” in the kingdom of heaven.

    Also possibly relevant to the discussion of both the rod and the strait and narrow path is 1 Nephi 17:41, where we read that Moses “straitened” the house of Israel in the wilderness “with his rod.” Here the primary meaning is that he afflicted or chastised them, putting a rebellious people in straits, but the English and possibly the Hebrew (e.g., yatsar, Strong’s H3334) can refer to being distressed but also to being narrow. In this sense perhaps the rod helps move people back onto the narrow path from which they had departed.

    The role of the rod as a symbol of authority is also evident in the Book of Mormon and the OT (e.g., the 1 Nephi 3:28-29 scene where a rod is an implicit symbol of authority as well as a tool for smiting), and thus clinging to the rod can also be understood as accepting divine authority in order to be led by God (including being led via the inspired, authoritative words of both past and present prophets).

    Your recognition and analysis of the many clues linking Lehi’s dream to the Garden of Eden does much to help us better understand this dream and its numerous intricate allusions to ancient Jewish concepts. Fabulous, work, thank you!

    • Thanks for referring me to your “Arcade Game” article with the discussion of the rod. I’m sorry I didn’t know about this before to cite it!

  13. Imaginative, careful, and balanced. Thanks for this very helpful treatment of Lehi’s vision.

    Did you consider linking Nephi’s interpretation of the iron rod as “the word of God” to his later clarification (after a further extended treatment of the same great vision) that “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” and that this in turn means that “the Holy Ghost . . . will shew unto you all things what ye should do?” (2 Nephi 32:4, 6) This linkage of the iron rod to the individual guidance provided by the Holy Ghost would seem to fit well with the rest of your analysis and might even strengthen and enrich your interpretation of other related imagery.

    It also might suggest that the great and spacious building is more precisely a counter-type for the iron rod. Is that possible?

    You repeatedly suggest a possible connection between the Book of Moses and the brass plates version of Genesis. Would you find my old paper on this connection supportive of that hypothesis? See

    • Thanks very much. I hadn’t thought of linking this with 2 Nephi 32; you’re right that the word of God as the Holy Ghost fits better with the image of a supernatural staff than it does with the image of a fixed railing.

      “It also might suggest that the great and spacious building is more precisely a counter-type for the iron rod. Is that possible?” – Can you explain more about this? I think it is possible, but there’s a natural opposition between the built, huge, enclosing, floating building on the one hand and the naturally-growing, relatively small, central, rooted tree on the other.

      Actually, your paper has influenced my thinking on this. But I don’t think the Book of Moses can explain all the aspects of Lehi’s conception of the garden. The matter of scale is the same between the book of Moses and Genesis, these being (seemingly) different from the huge scale of Lehi’s dream; and the devil and the serpent seem identical for Lehi but separate in the Book of Moses.

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