At Study Group on Saturday, we looked at the title page and then the heading for chapter 1 of 1st Nephi. While we were looking at the heading, Joe pointed out that the order of the heading doesn’t quite match up with 1st Nephi. For example, here in the heading it sounds like the trips to get the plates and get wives happened on the same trip. There’s no mention of his vision or his father’s vision. (There were other differences I’m not remembering right now.)
An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah, and his four sons, being called, (beginning at the eldest) Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi.
The Lord warns Lehi to depart out of the land of Jerusalem, because he prophesieth unto the people concerning their iniquity and they seek to destroy his life.
He taketh three days’ journey into the wilderness with his family.
Nephi taketh his brethren and returneth to the land of Jerusalem after the record of the Jews. The account of their sufferings.
They take the daughters of Ishmael to wife.
They take their families and depart into the wilderness. Their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness. The course of their travels.
They come to the large waters. Nephi’s brethren rebel against him. He confoundeth them, and buildeth a ship. They call the name of the place Bountiful.
They cross the large waters into the promised land, and so forth.
This is according to the account of Nephi; or in other words, I, Nephi, wrote this record.
This led us to talk for an hour or more about why that might be. As part of that discussion, we struck on one possibility that I really liked: perhaps this heading is an exact copy of the heading of his book on the Large Plates? He wrote that version years (decades!) earlier. And now he’s writing a second account. Perhaps he copies over the summary from the large plates to 1, give himself a guide of what to cover and/or 2, so that the two records will match, giving each more credence. They would be more useful as two books which simply had different focuses if each covered similar periods and events. Readers could get their bearings quickly as they jumped from one to the other. Or, readers could feel satisfied with reading one instead of the other, if they knew the basic events were covered in both?
If this is true, that the heading was copied from the large plates, then wouldn’t that make perfect sense of the last sentence? “This is according to the account of Nephi [his large plates].” Something like me saying, “Karen did this, Karen did that, and this is according to Karen’s journal, which I myself wrote. I am Karen.”
So, in general, I really like it. We talked for a long time so there’s much more to say, but that was the basic insight. I’ll add below a few other random insights, as they pop into my head:
- The lack of the visions mentioned in the heading is a tricky part, because Nephi does tell us that he covered them in some degree in his other record. But, who knows. Maybe he just didn’t copy that part of the heading because he knew he’d cover those visions differently in his new record.
- Joe has always wondered why it took 8 years to get across an area that only needs to take a few weeks. The language of this heading could open up the possibility that the brothers stayed in Jerusalem for years, wooing wives and coming up with ideas of how to get the plates.
- If the order of events was changed for the small plates, that shouldn’t be too surprising. It is a spiritual record, not the historical one, and we could see Nephi changing around the order slightly so that it matches the exodus story or other scriptural patterns. In fact, this happens all the time in the Bible. We even have different accounts of the same events, told in very different ways. Chronicles & Kings are very different, for example, even when covering the same history. So perhaps Nephi had an example of this already. In fact, maybe this is what he means by, “Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.”
- If the events were slightly rearranged on purpose, then this might explain why Nephi points out that his father dwelt in a tent (just like the children of Israel). It would explain the wandering in the desert even though they were being led by the Liahona. (I think there were other connections I’m forgetting.)
- It’s also possible that Mormon copied over the heading from the large plates to the beginning of the small plates.
Also, if we had the Book of Mormon as Mormon intended us to have it, with both the small plates record and the large plates abridgment, then it seems that the primary difference between Nephi’s two accounts is that one would have a lot of Isaiah in it. We then decided that if the saints had both accounts, how few would even read Nephi’s small plates account? Perhaps there was wisdom in allowing the abridgment to be lost?