There are some interesting parallels between the first family of the Book of Mormon and the first family of the Restoration (the Smiths). Coincidence? Or was Joseph Smith writing about his own family (vs. translating the story of another family)?
- Both had visionary fathers. In fact, according to Lucy Mack Smith’s account, both fathers had a vision that was nearly identical–the vision of the tree of life. Is this a coincidence? Is Lehi’s dream an archetypal religious dream that many have to illustrate the same concept (similar to dreams of your name being written in the Book of Life)? Was Lucy Mack a little confused in attributing this dream to her husband?
- Both families were “of goodly parents.” In both cases, the mother and father were both very committed and focused on their families also.
- Both families went on a journey to fulfill a religious destiny. Both families left their personal belongings behind; they made a temporal sacrifice for a religious purpose.
- Nephi and Joseph are both middle children who inherit the prophetic mantle from their father. Both are emotionally supported by their parents.
- Nephi and Joseph both feel deeply. Both have low moments recorded in scripture (the “psalms of Nephi” and D&C 121).
- Joseph’s family was supportive of his prophetic calling. There was no Laman or Lemuel in the Smith family, including in Father Smith’s vision of the tree of life.
- Joseph and Nephi have very different personalities from one another. Joseph is boisterous and laughs too much, while Nephi is basically a kill-joy.
- Lehi’s family left wealth behind in Jerusalem. Joseph’s family had always been very poor and had to work hard to earn a living.
- City slickers vs. townies. Lehi’s family were originally city dwellers, and Joseph’s family always lived in smaller agricultural communities.
- Sariah’s role is not nearly as prominent in the BOM record as Lucy Mack’s role is in the restoration. Lucy Mack Smith is very clearly an assertive, intelligent woman who is at the helm of decision-making. Sariah is portrayed as mostly a supporter to her husband.
- Joseph Sr. was by some accounts a broken man who had repeatedly failed to succeed economically but had the unwavering support of his family. Is the portrait of Lehi Joseph’s attempt to repaint his father in a more idealized image?
Would the lost book of Lehi reveal more parallels or differences? This is one of the arguments against BOM historicity put forward in An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer, although the coincidences had occurred to me independently.
Personally, I find the comparison interesting from a literary perspective (I have made more tenuous connections than this work in some of my English papers back in the day), but ultimately unconvincing to me personally due to my own spiritual experiences with the book and the equally persuasive differences. The Book of Mormon (to quote Richard Bushman) seems to me to be “greater than the sum of its parts.”
What do you think? Coincidence or autobiography? Discuss.