(November 8, 2014)
I had a trio of thoughts as I read through this chapter. The first was on the scale of the conversion as opposed to the scale of the military battles that were experienced. Nephi and Lehi were successful missionaries, having going into a former Nephite stronghold and converted ~8,000 people. We know from the battles that took place that a routine battle would include far more deaths than this – 8,000 is not insubstantial, but neither it is conclusive.
This is another indication in the text that the accepted surface reading (that there were two homogenous groups) was not accurate. There were people who were devoutly religious in service of Christ, and others who were members of the cult of war (or other indigenous religions) and still others that fluctuated based upon who held the current political power. Understanding this makes so many more aspects of the text clearer. It builds my testimony, at least, to see how consistently ideas are used that are simply not indicated in the surface text – they are the unconscious sub-text that I cannot see an author consistently controlling for accuracy the way they are controlled in the Book of Mormon.
The second thought was just upon what an amazing situation this was. As I read through the Book of Mormon, I come across certain events that make me reconsider people in the narrative. As I read through their stories, it dawns on me just how amazing these people are. They become actual people, rather than characters or archetypes, and I grow to appreciate them more and more. This happen today as I read this event from the history of Nephi and Lehi – it illuminated just what amazing people they were and how powerful they became thanks to their faith.
The final thought was on the reaction of people condemning Nephi and Lehi. These dissidents (likely apostate Nephites and remnant Zoramites, according to the text) were completely lost. And yet, as unrighteous as they were and as plainly surrounded by darkness (a symbolic situation, if ever there was one) as they had allowed their lives to be, all they needed to do was to cry out to the Lord to apply the Atonement and they found themselves no longer amid the darkness but embraced by the light.