A few thoughts on “Anti-Nephi-Lehi”

[Updated 03/26/08 -- made some additions and changes]

Bruce Nielson had a post over at Mormon Matters earlier this month on the use of the name “Anti-Nephi-Lehi” in the Book of Mormon and what it could mean. I posted a few comments in response, but wanted to pull them together here with a few other things I’ve run across just in the last day or so to lay out my own arguments a bit more concisely and coherently.

The name first shows up in Alma 23:16-17. It is a name that the Lamanites who have converted to the ‘church of God’ take upon themselves as a replacement for the name ‘Lamanites':

And now it came to pass that the king and those who were converted were desirous that they might have a name, that thereby they might be distinguished from their brethren; therefore the king consulted with Aaron and many of their priests, concerning the name that they should take upon them, that they might be distinguished. And it came to pass that they called their names Anti-Nephi-Lehies; and they were called by this name and were no more called Lamanites.

When the king of over all the Lamanites (who remains unnamed in the record) confers his kingdom upon his son (also unnamed; this is the brother of King Lamoni), that son’s name changes to “Anti-Nephi-Lehi”; it’s unclear if he chose that name or if his father conferred it upon him:

Now the king conferred the kingdom upon his son, and he called his name Anti-Nephi-Lehi. (Alma 24:3)

Of course, these names tend to be a bit confusing to us as English speakers, since we interpret “anti” as meaning “in opposition of” — and, indeed, the Book of Mormon has a word or phrase that is translated into English as “antichrist” and is used to describe Korihor. So for us it makes no apparent sense to have a righteous people somehow describe themselves as being “in opposition to” Nephi and Lehi. Indeed, the entire point of Bruce Nielsen’s post was to give an explanation of just how that phrase might be interpreted.

Royal Skousen devotes three and a half pages of discussion on this name in Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part Four, Alma 21-55 (FARMS, 2007), pp. 2092-2095. The last part of his discussion considers three possibilities:

  • Does “anti” have the Greek meaning of “anti”, viz., meaning “against” or “in opposition to”?
  • Should this have actually been “ante”, meaning as per Latin, “before” or “preceding”?
  • Or is “anti” simply an untranslated Nephite/Lamanite morpheme?

Skousen concludes that it is the third, citing a long string of Nephite and Lamanite proper names that also use Anti:

Instead, Anti appears to be a proper noun in the Nephite-Lamanite language. Consider how many uses there are in the text of the morpheme Anti in Nephite and Lamanite proper nouns: Ani-Anti, Antiomno, Antionah, Antionum, Antiparah, Antipas, and Antipus; perhaps the Nephite monetary unit antion could also be added to this list. (p. 2095)

I would also suggest that the name “Manti” could be added to that list.

There are three other things that add support to Skousen’s conclusion (which I agree with), but which he does not specifically cite.

First, a very minor point: there are no hyphens in either the original Book of Mormon manuscript or the printer’s manuscript prepared from the original manuscript by Oliver Cowdery. In both cases, the name as given in Alma 23:17 is “AntiNephiLehies”. I only mention this because some of the discussion over at Mormon Matters dealt with the significance of the hyphenation.

Second, and more significant, all of the individuals whose names start with Anti* are rulers or leaders of some kind:

  • Antiomno – Lamanite king over the land of Middoni
  • Antionah – a ‘chief ruler’ of the city of Ammonihah
  • Antionum – a military leader among the Nephite (one of Mormon2‘s leaders of 10,000)
  • Antipus – a Nephite leader over the city of Judea and ‘that part of the land'; also leads a Nephite army
  • AntiNephiLehi – king over all the Lamanites (for a while, at least)

Manti, on the other hand, does show up as a non-ruler name (Alma 2:22). All other uses of *Anti* names (including Manti, Antionum and Antipas) are place names, with the exception of antion (a measure of gold) and, of course, AntiNephiLehies for the converts themselves.

Finally, and I believe most compelling, all of the *anti* names listed above — with a single exception — appear exclusively in the book of Alma. To wit:

Even the one *anti* name that appears (once) outside of the book of Alma — Antionum – appears first in the Book of Alma as a place name, then (like Mormon itself) appears as the name of a military leader in the last days of the Nephite civilization.

Note further that the book of Alma itself covers less than 40 years (90 BC to 52 BC), only a small fraction of the entire Nephite history. Yet all of the *anti* names appear in the Book of Mormon record only during that 40 years (again, except for the late and solitary reappearance of Antionum some 400 years later).

In short, within the Book of Mormon, *anti* was used only within a very brief (<40 years) period of time — with the late exception of Antionum, the borrowing of a place name from that 40-year periodand Anti* is only used at the start of a personal name when that person is a civil and/or military leader. I believe this provides very strong evidence that, as Skousen concluded, Anti* is a Nephite/Lamanite morpheme — and one that appears to have something to do with leadership, at least when used as a proper name.

One potential, if minor, complication with the “Anti*= ruler” hypothesis is that the collective name AntiNephiLehies shows up in the Book of Mormon text a few verses (and some implied duration of time) before the son of the Lamanite king is given the name AntiNephiLehi. However, I would argue that the same text hints that the old king — Lamoni’s father — may have taken upon himself the name AntiNephiLehi and did so before the Lamanite converts under his rule took upon themselves the collective name AntiNephiLehies. I base this on Alma 24:1-3:

And it came to pass that the Amalekites and the Amulonites and the Lamanites who were in the land of Amulon, and also in the land of Helam, and who were in the land of Jerusalem, and in fine, in all the land round about, who had not been converted and had not taken upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, were stirred up by the Amalekites and by the Amulonites to anger against their brethren. And their hatred became exceedingly sore against them, even insomuch that they began to rebel against their king, insomuch that they would not that he should be their king; therefore, they took up arms against the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

Now the king conferred the kingdom upon his son, and he called his name Anti-Nephi-Lehi. (emphasis added)

It’s dangerous to put too much weight upon the chronological sequence of three verses, particularly since the text itself represents Mormon2‘s abridgment of the record of Alma2. But I would suggest that the Lamanite converts had actually followed well-established Nephite/Lamanite tradition of taking upon themselves the name of their founding leader (cf. Alma 2:9-11; Alma 21:2-3; etc.); that the father of King Lamoni had taken the name AntiNephiLehi upon himself (in consultation with Aaron et al.), and that the converts then naturally chose to call themselves AntiNephiLehies or the people of AntiNephiLehi in response to that. When the old king stepped down from the throne, his son took upon himself (or was given by his father) that same name.

OK, now for a really speculative interpretation. The first appearance of *anti* in the entire Book of Mormon is found in the very first chapter of Alma:

And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death. (Alma 1:15)

Manti is specifically identified here as a hill (though the name is later used — in typical Nephite/Lamanite fashion — for both a city and the land around it). Furthermore, it is a hill that appears to have some strong ritualistic or symbolic meaning, since it is used for Nehor’s confession and execution “between the heavens and the earth”. It may well be that anti in the Nephite/Lamanite language has a meaning somewhat parallel with arche in Greek, that is, the senses of beginning, first, highest, ruler, or even heavenly. This meaning could predate (and help explain) the place name Manti for this particular hill (“between the heavens and the earth”), or the meaning could derive from the name of the hill Manti itself.

Note that Antipas is likewise a “mount“. There is no direct indication of the terrain around the other Anti* place names.

Anyway, as I said, a few thoughts. ..bruce..

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7 thoughts on “A few thoughts on “Anti-Nephi-Lehi”

  1. Hmm…interesting.

    And here I always thought the name was meant for those who, while they had been converted to the gospel, couldn’t really be called Nephites because they never followed Nephi. So, they were, at least at one time, against Nephi and Lehi, but saw the truth of the gospel, and had a hard time reconciling those two parts of themselves.

    I could imagine that, even in Alma’s time, there were still a lot of negativity among Lamanites – not necessarily for the church (although there was some of that as well) but for the way Lehi and Nephi acted “against” Laman and Lemuel. Maybe it is to easy to imagine in todays world that the things that happened to the two older brothers were enough to be the source of true enmity, especially as the stories were told over generations and grew in the telling. The fact that they also had the gospel was just another way expressing the differences between the peoples.

    So, my question back to you is this: Could there be followers of Christ who, although they believed and subscribed wholeheartedly to the doctrines of the church, still held negative feelings for Nephi and Lehi?

    Coming forward for today, this is a huge stumbling block for many investigators. Many look at the gospel, and see it for what it is – the works that are done by it, the ideas, the concepts – all of it is wonderfully simple to understand and to prove by the Holy Ghost. If only it wasn’t for the fact of that Joseph Smith character who had so many wives, and was a treasure hunter, and acted in many ways contrary to what some people’s idea of a prophet should act. Some still join the church, despite their feelings for Joesph – and probably have a hard time reconciling those two ideas – perhaps much like the Anti-Nephi-Lehies.

  2. Interesting and valid points, all.

    Still, there’s no indication in the Book of Mormon itself that these folks “still held negative feelings for Nephi and Lehi”. Indeed, much of the preaching that Ammon and Aaron do is specifically to correct the ‘traditions of their fathers’, which those Lamanites who convert do abandon in favor of ‘the traditions of the Nephites’ (cf. Alma 18:38-40; 21:17; 23:3-5)

    Also, there is no other example in the Book of Mormon of part or all of a personal name being translated into English, with the possible exceptions of those that Joseph Smith rendered to match what we have in the Bible (‘Jesus’, ‘Mary’, ‘John’, etc.).

    Finally, the last two points above — that every person whose name begins with “Anti” is a ruler of some sort, and that the *anti* personal and place names show up only in the book of Alma (with the sole noted exception) — in my mind are pretty convincing evidence that *anti* is a Nephite/Lamanite morpheme, including in the name “AntiNephiLehi”. ..bruce..

  3. Thanks for the thoughts on the topic. The biggest reason I’m replying to an old post is that this will be relevant to the next lesson in Gospel Doctrine.

    I noticed, thumbing through the index, that there is a land called “Lehi-Nephi”. (See http://scriptures.lds.org/en/in/l/64 and http://scriptures.lds.org/en/search?search=lehi-nephi&do=Search ). The entry for land of Nephi (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/in/n/35) gives us this: “Land of Lehites’ first inheritance, also a smaller part of that land, sometimes called land of Lehi-Nephi”. This is the very land that Zeniff was overzealous to obtain.

    Given that, it appears to me that the King of the Lamanites, who was willing to forsake his entire kingdom to know God, forsook the name of his ancestors and decided to name himself after the land he dwelt in. Thus, “Anti-Lehi-Nephi” would mean, “The ruler of the land of Lehi-Nephi”. In that light, that name makes much more sense to me. The only barrier to this is that the name he took on him was “Anti-Nephi-Lehi”, which transposes the name of the land which which we are familiar.

  4. Excellent observation — I hadn’t put together the “Anti” = leader concept with the “Lehi-Nephi” place name. Of course, none of what I say proves anything, but it is interesting. :-) ..bruce..

  5. Interesting thoughts, but sadly all wrong.

    The word “anti” came about from there not being a more appropriate word to render in the translation.

    Had it been translated today, it would have likely been “A-Nephi-Lehies”

    Remember that all of the non-Nephites were Lamanites, Lemulites, etc, that were all mixed.

    But instead they wanted to be Lehites, but instead to honor the recognition that they were not Nephites, they chose the name Anit-Nephi-Lehies to indicate that they were Lehites, but not Nephites.

    “Have you inquired of the Lord”?

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