Evidence #328 | April 11, 2022

Lehi’s Calling (Ascension)

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Lehi’s ascent into heaven fits the genre of prophetic call narratives found in pseudepigraphic literature.

In Nephi’s summary of his father’s record, Lehi is introduced to a council of divine beings and receives a prophetic commission (1 Nephi 1). In several ways, the details of Lehi’s heavenly encounter follow the pattern of prophetic call narratives found in biblical and pseudepigraphic literature.1 One aspect of this pattern is known as the ascension, which involves the prophet being lifted or carried in some manner to a heavenly realm. In Nephi’s account, Lehi is “carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open” (v. 8; emphasis added). Similar descriptions featuring various forms of divine transportation—such as being lifted up by wings, a whirlwind, or a chariot—can be found in the pseudepigrapha.2

According to 1 Enoch, “In those days, whirlwinds carried me [Enoch] off from the earth and set me down in the ultimate ends of the heavens. There I saw other dwelling places of the holy ones” (39:3).3 Alternately, Enoch describes himself as “having been carried off in a wind vehicle” (52:1).4 In another passage, he explains that his angelic escort “carried off my spirit, and I Enoch, was in the heaven of heavens” (71:5).5 In 2 Enoch this imagery is more immediately connected to Enoch’s prophetic call. Concerning his angelic escorts, Enoch reports, “they took me up onto their wings, and carried me up to the first heaven” (3:1).6 Similar verbiage is used throughout the text to describe Enoch’s ascensions.7

Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the highest Heaven, from Dante's Paradise. Illustration by Gustave Dore. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

In the Apocalypse of Abraham, Abraham says that he rode upon a pigeon while his angelic escort rode upon a turtledove, and “we ascended as if (carried) by many winds to the heaven that is fixed on the expanses.”8 As recounted in the Testament of Abraham, “the archangel Michael went down and took Abraham on a chariot of cherubim and lifted him up into the air of heaven” (10:1).9 In Levi’s heavenly ascent, recorded in the Testament of Levi, he explains how “the angel opened for me the gates of heaven and I saw the Holy Most High sitting on the throne” (5:1).10

The prophet Isaiah, according to the Ascension of Isaiah, was visited by an angel who “took me up above the firmament; this is the [first] heaven. There I saw a throne in the middle, and on the right and on the left of it there were angels. … and they all sang praises with one voice.”11 While Ezekiel doesn’t describe being lifted or taken up into heaven, he does mention (in wording very similar to Lehi’s) that “the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God” (Ezekiel 1:1).

Ezekiel's Vision. Image via blog.logos.com.

In the Vision of the Blessed Ezra, “there were granted to [Ezra] seven angels of hell who carried him beyond the seventieth grade in the infernal regions,” in which he saw righteous individuals “passing through the fire, and it did not touch them.”12 Another passage describes Ezra as being “lifted up into heaven” where he encountered “a multitude of angels.”13 In Baruch’s prophetic calling, found in 3 Baruch, he reports that “the angel of hosts took me and carried me where the firmament of heaven is” (2:1).14

Conclusion

Accounts of heavenly ascents can be found in the Bible, such as Elijah being carried up into heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11), but they aren’t explicitly found there as part of any prophetic call narratives.15 Yet, as seen in a number of examples above, a heavenly ascent is present in or near prophetic call narratives found in pseudepigraphic accounts. Not only does the ascension motif in 1 Nephi fit the ancient genre, it does so in a way that wouldn’t have been obvious from reading the Bible alone. As Blake Ostler concluded, “what are the chances that [Joseph Smith] could have … included in his version elements that were present only in the yet unknown pseudepigrapha?”16

Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180.

John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo: FARMS, 2004), 421–448.

Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.

BibleEzekiel 1:12 Kings 2:11Book of Mormon1 Nephi 1:8

Bible

Ezekiel 1:1

2 Kings 2:11

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1:8

Footnotes
  • 1 See Stephen O. Smoot, “The Divine Council in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 155–180; John W. Welch, “The Calling of Lehi as a Prophet in the World of Jerusalem,” in Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem, ed. John W. Welch, David Rolph Seely, and Jo Ann H. Seely (Provo: FARMS, 2004), 421–448; an earlier version was published as “The Calling of a Prophet,” in First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., Book of Mormon Symposium Series, Volume 2 (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1988), 35–54; Stephen D. Ricks, “Heavenly Visions and Prophetic Calls in Isaiah 6 (2 Nephi 16), the Book of Mormon, and the Revelation of John,” in Isaiah in the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry and John W. Welch; (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998), 171–190; Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi: A Form Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies Quarterly 26, no. 4 (1986): 67–95.
  • 2 The pseudepigrapha are a body of primarily Jewish and Christian writings which were composed approximately between 200 BC–AD 200 and attributed to prominent figures in Israelite history. While the earliest of these writings date to several centuries after Lehi’s day, many of them reflect and perpetuate cultural traditions and genres of earlier Jewish writings, including the prophetic call pattern and its intercessory prayer. See James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), xxv.
  • 3 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 30.
  • 4 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 37.
  • 5 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 49.
  • 6 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 110.
  • 7 See Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1: “And the men carried me away from there” (10:1), p. 119; “And they carried me up to the fourth heaven” (11:1), p. 120; “And the men carried me away to the east of heaven” (13:1), p. 123; “those men carried me away to the west of the heaven” (14:1), p. 124; “And the men picked me up from there and carried me away to the fifth heaven” (18:1), p. 131; “And those men took me from there, and they carried me up to the 6th heaven” (19:1), p. 132; “And those men lifted me up from there, and they carried me up to the 7th heaven” (20:1), p. 134; “And Gabriel carried me up, like a leaf carried up by the wind” (21:5), p. 136; “And the angels hurried and grasped Enoch and carried him up to the highest heaven, where the Lord received him and made him stand in front of his face for eternity” (67:2), p. 194.
  • 8 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 696.
  • 9 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 887.
  • 10 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 789.
  • 11 James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985), 166.
  • 12 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 587.
  • 13 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 590.
  • 14 Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, 664.
  • 15 See Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi,” 77: “The ascension of the prophet is absent in the biblical call accounts but may be represented fragmentarily by the Spirit’s setting Ezekiel on his feet after he falls to the earth (Ezek. 2:1).’”  
  • 16 Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi,” 87.
Literary Features
Lehi's Calling
Lehi's Calling (Ascension)
Book of Mormon

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