Tag Archives: 1 Nephi

Heading of 1st Nephi may have come from the Large Plates


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?


Study Group Notes: 1 Nephi 22:1-3

(1) Is the question in verse 1 an honest question? Is Nephi showing us one of the times when Laman and Lemuel were being humble? Or is their question sarcastic? (What are you getting at this time Nephi?)

(2) Who are “my brethren” in verse 1? We always assume Laman and Lemuel — but could it have been Jacob & Joseph, or nephews, etc.? However, 2 Ne 5:19 might contest that.

(3) Is there a difference between “meaneth” and “understood”? Does meaneth refer to a direct referent/what it means in its original text, and “to be understood” refer to an interpretation/what Nephi is hoping to get out of it?

(4) Nephi’s response in verse 2 doesn’t seem to follow from their questions. But perhaps this is on purpose, and he’s trying to suggest to them that they have the wrong worldview.

(5) The last verse of Chapter 22 and the first of 2 Nephi 1 show that Nephi and Lehi were the two teachers at the time (not Jacob or Joseph yet).

1 Nephi, Chapter 20 “out of the waters of baptism”

 1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear not in truth nor in righteousness.

I have understood for some time that Joseph clearly and unworrisomely added the words “or out of the waters of baptism.” The early documents are all there and clear that it was added in 1840. That doesn’t bother me at all that he did that — he was a prophet too! — but the question is: Why?

The original sense of the verse seems to me to be to narrow House of Jacob, name of Israel, to those specifically of Judah. But why “waters”? I did a little research and it’s possible to read this as “loins.” So the idea would be those literally descended from Judah. But since through Nephi’s eyes, Isaiah has a lot to say to the remnant of Joseph as an important redeemer of the whole house of Israel.

So that makes me rethink this idea of water and baptism. At baptism you receive a new name. In our case, we take on ourselves the name of Christ. I am wondering if it is possible to think that by the time that Isaiah is writing these words, anyone who has been baptized (not that I know even a smiggin of what that meant in the Biblical world) was then considered part of Judah. By the time that the Northern Kingdom had been scattered, was anyone still associated with the covenant, the prophets, the temple, and so forth, considered Judah? Something like those in the Book of Mormon being grouped into “Nephites” and “Lamanites” even though they weren’t all literally Nephi’s or Laman’s descendants. Whether or not Isaiah meant that, it seems to me to be the sense of what Joseph Smith is saying. There is something that has caused them to be called Judah when they weren’t all originally Judah. The entire House of Israel has been reduced to Judah, but not because that is all that remains; those that remain have been renamed, or baptized, as part of Judah. Thus we get the idea that there are only “Jews and Gentiles” and the word “Jews” remains today as the only real group the world associates with the Old Testament. The rest of Israel has been either “lost” or simply “dissolved” into Judah.

I think Nephi would have understood this verse in this sort of way, even if he didn’t need to think of it in terms of baptism. And whether or not baptism has anything to do with it, Joseph’s addition made me rethink this verse in terms of names, titles, rituals, etc. rather than literal descent.

Isaiah & the Redeemer

I’ve noticed before in 1 Nephi, Chapter 19 that Nephi says that he reads Isaiah specifically to convince his family to believe in the Redeemer. Is he saying that they already believed in a God, in the God of Israel specifically, but not necessarily in His role as Messiah and Redeemer? Lehi preaches about a Messiah that will save the world, and he almost gets killed. A Messiah simply for Israel is good news, however. The different titles that God receives are accepted or rejected based on what that person thinks about God.

So Nephi wants his people to believe in God as a Redeemer. Well, what if they don’t understand that there is a need to redeem anyone or any people? Isaiah makes it clear that Israel has been divided and scattered and needs to be brought back together. Is this why he reads Isaiah?

I did a search this morning for “Redeemer” in the Old Testament. It turns out that of the 18 times that word shows up, 13 of them are in Isaiah! (Here is a link to the search results.) The others are one in Job, two in the Psalms, one in Proverbs, and one in Jeremiah. And the earliest it shows up in Isaiah is chapter 41.

Anyway, I find this interesting and productive to think about!

Another thought on 1 Nephi Chapter 18 (Looking for the Abrahamic Covenant)

It dawned on me this morning that if this were written in third person, it would probably be easier to see how it’s similar to Exodus. Or, vice versa, what if Moses’s story of wandering the wilderness with the children of Israel had been written in first person? (Presumably there was first-person account written originally…) but what if our account were written in first person? I see and understand the criticism that Nephi is glorifying his own righteousness over that of his brothers. But he does it so frankly and bluntly that it has a strange feel to it. It’s too matter-of-fact at points. So, I wonder, if what happens is that Nephi sees in their story a straightforward parallel to the children of Israel and Moses, and finds it almost crucial to point out those similarities so that his people can see themselves as covenant Israel — literally, really, covenant Israel — so he is willing to put into his very, very short narrative of their 8 years those moments that show their similarities such as rebellion and lack of faith, leadership calling to repentance, repentance and forgiveness, and then how God mercifully led them towards the promised land when they repented. If that’s Nephi’s goal, then he does a good job of it; but why does it sound awkward sometimes? I think it is because Moses’s story, as we have it, is third person. We read it and think, “Of course Moses is glorified in some ways by the story; he was Moses!” 🙂 It is easy to see the pettiness of the Israelites and we don’t assume Moses is embellishing the story. But with Nephi, we have an account written in first person, which means those moments were Nephi is the hero and his brothers are petty sound a bit suspicious. I don’t distrust Nephi myself, but I can see how the literary approach would lend itself to finding Nephi a bit self-serving. However, even there I think there is an awkwardness and frankness about the story that calls me to be suspicious about the suspicious reading. 🙂 He always shows when his brothers repent, he shows his father’s humbleness and prophetic power alongside his moment of murmuring, and he always attributes his power to God and not himself. Even the moment when he slays Laban, he shows how he was a weak person who didn’t want to listen. Imagine again all of this in third person — how would it sound? Very different.

Anyway, just a thought I hope was worth sharing/recording this morning. 🙂