I have decided to continue my textual analysis of the Book of Mormon on a new site which offers better cataloging capabilities of the chapter-by-chapter format I am using. You will find it by clicking on this link or by following the tab at the top of the page "Textual Analysis of the BoM". I may still post the occasional chapter analysis here, but I don't want it to get too cluttered on this site with those posts. At any rate, enjoy!
1 Nephi 8: "The Tree of Awesome-Possum"
This chapter continues the theme that Lehi's dreams are visions from god. Furthermore, Lehi uses the phrase "I have reason to suppose" that X will happen in the future. And what "reason" does he offer for knowing future events? Why, it was revealed in his dream, of course. This is just one more example of the Book of Mormon lending substantial weight to one's seemingly prophetic dreams, without once offering a way to verify the veracity of the claim aside from the similarly tenuous proposition that god answers prayers in what appears to be the same way he inspires dreams. To me, this is not a good reason.
The bulk of the chapter spells out the dream itself. There is a slue of symbols and characters and analogies, which Lehi uses (for no reason, apparent or otherwise) to extrapolate and predict future events. One of the grandest claims in this dream is the very thesis of the Book of Mormon, which is that his son Nephi's genealogical line will be righteous and saved from damnation, while his son Laman's line will not be saved due to wickedness.
Before we get into the specifics of the dream itself, it should be noted that within Mormon culture it is proposed that a sufficiently righteous person can be allowed to witness Lehi's dream. I was taught this while on my mission and other missionaries claimed to know people who had experienced this phenomenon. Such an occurrence is seen as a mark of true discipleship and favor in the eyes of god.
It should also be noted that Joseph Smith's father claimed to have seen a vision quite similar to Lehi's. However, this happened during Joseph's youth--years before the Book of Mormon came to fruition. Now this coincidence does not necessarily mean that Joseph wrote this into the Book of Mormon (as opposed to the view that an angel gave him the book and he translated it through a divine process (i.e. looking at a stone in a hat)), but it certainly offers a possible natural explanation for this section of the book. And if it were shown that there are natural explanations for other parts of the book, why would anyone jump to the supernatural explanation of the book's origin? Natural explanations are always more plausible than unsubstantiated supernatural explanations.
In the vision Lehi sees a tree with fruit which is "desirable to make one happy" (whatever that means). Lehi is led by a man in a white robe to the tree and eats the fruit, which he describes as being "most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen." Quite the sell. And it should be since it represents heaven or god's glory or whatever.
After seeing how awesome-possum the fruit is, Lehi tries to find his family so that they too can taste of its awesomeness. As you might have guessed, Lehi first finds Nephi, Sam, and their mother, Sariah. He calls to them; they come and eat the awesome fruit; everything is awesome.
Lehi tries to find his less obedient sons, Laman and Lemuel, but despite his pleas for them to eat some awesome fruit, they do not. It is not specified what happens to Laman and Lemuel, but there are lots of other people in the dream who do not eat of the awesome fruit and various heinous things happen to them, implying that something similarly heinous happens to Laman and Lemuel for not following their father's advice to eat the awesome fruit.
Some people who do not follow the "iron rod" (i.e. the gospel) to Lehi and the tree of awesome fruit fall into a river and drown (nice...), while others wander endlessly in an open field with mist and "forbidden paths". Others fondle their way to a great and spacious building floating in the air with lots of sarcastic people in nice clothes who scoff at any one who eats the awesome fruit. This shames some who have eaten the fruit of awesomeness and they wander off to the misty fields (hmmm, maybe the fruit of awesomeness isn't as awesome and desirable to make one happy as first reported by Lehi...).
In the end, the analogy is fairly straightforward and a bit predictable as it is read. Heaven is better than hell. Obedience is better than defiance. Fruit is more awesomer than... vegetables? Ok maybe it isn't that obvious. But vague and ambiguous statements are common in prophecies. After all, if a prediction falls short it is easier to avoid accountability if it is sufficiently wishy-washy. Then again, we are talking about a prophecy concerning characters in a book, so there isn't much accountability to begin with.
Lehi rounds out the chapter with yet another admonition to his rebellious and doubting sons, Laman and Lemuel. He tells them to follow god's commandments and makes a few unspecified prophecies. As with all the previous chapters containing extraordinary claims and prophecies with deadly consequences, no reliable method of verification is offered. It is expected that readers, just as Nephi, take everything Lehi says at face value for fear of damnation.