As I said in the original post, I want to take up this week’s summary by sorting out what we’ve done in terms of the four key questions we’re trying to ask. One by one, then.
(1) How does Nephi adapt Isaiah’s text, and what do his methods tell us about what it means to read a scriptural text?
Emerging from this week’s discussion was a re-emphasis, I think, on the materiality of the letter. Nephi is less concerned about the immaterial spirit of Isaiah than he is about its material letter. His model is thus one of allowing the material shape of Isaiah’s text to give form and meaning to the “spirit of prophecy” that inhabits him. This, it seems, is what Nephi means by “likening”: it seems to be less a question of finding “eternal principles” or “spiritual truths” in the text to be likened that then can be reapplied in one’s own experience than it is a question of taking the material letter of the text as a kind of template for making sense of one’s own experience.
Nephi’s method of reading scripture might thus be said to be something somewhat different from both exegesis and hermeneutics: whereas the former of these disciplines is inherently uninterested in anything like “likening,” and the latter is interested in grasping the spirit of a text as it takes shape in its confrontation with a modern reader, Nephi is interested rather in taking the material letter of the text as a guide for faithfully recasting the present entirely. To take up Nephi’s example in one’s own scripture study would thus seem to be to ask one’s own questions and to seek revelation and the spirit of prophecy from within one’s own situation, but always at the same time to be attentive to the letter of the scripture so as to allow it to shape and recast one’s own spiritual experiences.
Or something along those lines, anyway.
(2) What does 2 Nephi 26-27 tell us about the nature of prophecy, typology, and scriptural application?
Building on the model worked out above, one might say that prophecy is, for Nephi, something that is always worked out in the present, perhaps primarily because it is something spiritual. The materiality of the text might thus be opposed to the spirituality (the eventality?) of prophecy (is this something like the opposition between the written and the spoken?). Typology would then be a kind of precipitate of the process of recasting one’s spiritual experiences through the material letter of the scriptural text: what one does to the text while recasting one’s own prophetic experience might be what Nephi would call typology. Typology might then be said to be completely intertwined with “scriptural application,” but can nonetheless be distinguished from it: scriptural application is the recasting of one’s own prophecy through the materiality of the text, while typology is what one does, through the process of that recasting, with the text itself.
(3) How do these chapters provide a clearer understanding of what Nephi is trying to accomplish in his small plates?
It has begun to become clear that Nephi is slowly coming to understand his small plates project to be a part of the book he is prophesying about. At first, though, it would seem that Nephi’s intentions with the small plates were more preparatory to the writing of that book. This is something we will be expanding on much as we move along.
(4) What does 2 Nephi 26-27 teach us about the nature, role, and place of the Book of Mormon itself?
These verses, if we liken them after Nephi’s manner, can be taken to provide an understanding of the Book of Mormon as the suddenly emergent nomination of voided Israel in the midst of a totality dialectically setting the Jews and the Gentiles at odds. That nomination, it would seem, is preparatory to the eschatological events that inevitably follow from such dichotomies, preparatory in the sense that it provides a way out of the climactic disasters to come. The Book of Mormon would thus function to begin assembling a generic people, Israel, who will have been fully subtracted from the dialectical play of the Jews and Gentiles. In the verses following this week’s passage, this genericity will appear even to subtract Israel from the dead.