Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Nephi and the Kabbalistic “Four Worlds” of Human Consciousness

In the opening verses of the Book of Mormon, Nephi gives an intriguing four-fold reference:

  •        I make a record of my proceedings in my days
  •        I make a record in the language of my father
  •        I make it with mine own hand
  •        I make it according to my knowledge

These descriptions of Nephi’s record are reminiscent of the Kabbalistic “Four Worlds,” exhibited in Isaiah 43:7, "Every one that is called by My name and for My glory (atziluth "emanation/nearness"), I have created (beriah "creation"), I have formed (yetzirah "formation"), even I have made (asiyah "action"). This describes the creative power of God, which descends through the four Kabbalistic worlds. As well as the functional role each World has in the process of Creation, they also embody dimensions of consciousness within human experience.

Let us compare each step in the process of creation in ascending order, the order it is found in Nephi. The lowest and final step in the Kabbalistic process of creation is temporal, concrete and specific. This realm is that of effects, the causes remaining hidden in the mind of God. It is associated with the Hebrew word asiyah, human action or endeavor in the manifest world. In Isaiah 43 it is translated “I have made.” Nephi has made a record of his proceedings, or the actions which have taken place in his days.

The next of the “Four Worlds” is that of formation. Using language, God “spoke” the world into existence. Nephi’s record was formulated in the language of his father, consisting of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. To the Kabbalists, the yetzirah world is half good and half evil. Likewise, the language Nephi uses is a dual one, the Jewish representing holiness and revelation, and the Egyptian representing worldliness. Hieroglyphics were understood to have been developed by Egyptian priests to conceal mysteries. The idea of concealing and revealing is conveyed in the language used to form Nephi’s record.

Nephi’s engraving on gold plates emulates the yetziratic creation as well. In the fundamental Kabbalistic text Sefer Yetzirah, God not only speaks the universe into being, he engraves it, using the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew word for engrave is chakak. Derived from this root are words meaning “rule” and “decree.” Nephi’s record is a book of law, containing rules and decrees of God, which properly govern human behavior. They are written on plates of gold, symbolic of divine perfection.

The world of beriah can be described as God extending his hand through the veil in his first creative act. It is the disclosure of absolute Truth through revelation. Nephi claims that direct encounter, beginning with a testimony that it is “true,” and that he records it with his own hand. In Kabbalah, the hand alludes to God’s divine power and spirit. When Nephi says that he is writing with his hand, Kabbalists might understand it to mean he is writing with the Holy Spirit, by the gift and power of God.

Atziluth is the transcendent world of pure divinity, beyond word, speech, or form. When Nephi says that he is making the record according to his “knowledge,” this is gnostic, or secret knowledge, the hidden wisdom of God. It is the work of a Kabbalist to discover the innate holy nature of our earthly existence by entering into the pavilion of God’s hiding place at divine invitation.

Nephi’s placement of the four “I Make” statements in ascending order indicates celestial ascent. As initiates ascend the tree of life, they move from immanence to transcendence. This is the path of return. As Nephi wrote, he experienced the process, beginning by describing temporal events, progressing through recognizing truth and experiencing the Holy Ghost, and culminating in personal and intimate knowledge of the Divine. A reader of Nephi’s record is invited to participate in the same process of purification and renewing of the mind that Kabbalists aspire to, through their ascending stages of consciousness.

Like the Book of Mormon itself, this four-step composition by Nephi is written to be plain and easily understood. But each phrase contains a latent mystery, giving the account a complex and rich potential. Applying a Kabbalistic hermeneutic to 1 Nephi significantly broadens its theological implications.