Category Archives: Book of Mormon

Parsing Nephi: First Nephi IV (1 Nephi 15)

Here’s the introduction to this series, and here is the previous entry.

Book of Mormon quotes here, as for the entire series, is taken from The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Royal Skousen, ed.).

This is the first (though far from the last) time that Orson Pratt’s chapter division matches that found in the 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon (and, as explained in the first post, apparent chapter divisions indicated as Joseph dictated the contents of the Book of Mormon). This is also quite a bit shorter than Nephi’s first three chapters, which suggest that there may be thematic reasons this chapter stands alone.

Nephi Starts His Ministry

Nephi has at the start of his first three chapters referred either explicitly or implicitly to his “ministry”. His own subtitle for this book, found in the introduction just before Chapter I, is “His reign and ministry”. At the start of Chapter II (1 Nephi 6), Nephi states that “the fullness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob and be saved.” And at the start of Chapter III (1 Nephi 10), he writes “And now I Nephi proceed to give an account on these plates of my proceedings and my reign and ministry” — but then goes own largely to describe his father’s prophesies of the Messiah and his own ascension vision.

With that vision, Nephi now appears confident in instructing his brothers in a prophetic manner — not just bearing testimony or asking why they don’t listen to Lehi, but offering his own prophetic interpretations and directions. In fact, that’s what the entire chapter is about: Nephi explaining not just Lehi’s vision and prophecies, but his own vision and prophecies as well, as well as his interpretations of the scriptures. He is ministering in a prophetic fashion to his brothers, and they (by his account) accept that prophetic ministry, however briefly. As Nephi notes near the start of this chapter:

And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren,
and they were disputing one with another
concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them.
For he truly spake many great things unto them
which was hard to be understood
save a man should inquire of the Lord.
And they being hard in their hearts,
therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they had ought.

Nephi steps in, asks what they are arguing about, asks if they have “inquired of the Lord”, rebukes them for “the hardness of [their] hearts”, and then proceeds to explain Lehi’s vision and prophecies to them. He notes that he has success where his father did not:

And it came to pass that I did speak so many words unto my brethren
that they were pacified and did humble themselves before the Lord.

He also urges them to personal obedience and righteousness:

Wherefore I Nephi did exhort them to give heed unto the word of the Lord.
Yea, I did exhort them with all the energies of my soul
and with all the faculty which I possessed
that they would give heed to the word of God
and remember to keep his commandments always in all things.

Now his brothers start asking more questions, not just interpreting Lehi’s vision but expounding on details that Lehi missed:

And they said unto me:
What meaneth the river of water which our father saw?
And I said unto them that the water which my father saw was filthiness.
And so much was his mind swallowed up in other things
that he beheld not the filthiness of the water.

This continues on for a while; then Nephi wraps up with a Q&A session that presages Alma2‘s discourse to his son Corianton about the afterlife, judgment, and eternity, tying at the end of the chapter the whole discussion back to his and his father’s visions:

Wherefore the wicked are separated from the righteous
and also from that tree of life
whose fruit is most precious and most desirable of all other fruits;
yea, and it is the greatest of all the gifts of God.

And thus I spake unto my brethren.

Through these first four chapters of the Book of Nephi, Nephi has been tracing his own arc. He starts as the youngest (and therefore least important) of four sons, one who cries unto the Lord to have his own heart softened so that he does not “rebel against” his father Lehi. He now stands as a prophet who has great visions and who — with temporary success — calls his older brothers to repentance and from whom his brothers seek spiritual and scriptural explanations. Keep in mind that Nephi is writing all this some 30+ years later, after arriving in the promised land, and after the great family split — that is, Nephi and those who would follow them fleeing for their lives from Laman and Lemuel. He writes these chapters, I believe, to bear testimony to the descendants of Laman and Lemuel as to how things really were.

Next post: First Nephi V (1 Nephi 16 – 19:21).


Parsing Nephi: First Nephi III (1 Nephi 10-14)

Here’s the introduction to this series, and here is the previous entry.

I’ll now talk about the third chapter of the first “Book of Nephi” from the original Book of Mormon manuscript.

Lehi’s Prophecy

In Chapter III of First Nephi, Nephi gives us his third introduction in as many chapters, and again finds himself taking a detour from covering his “reign and ministry” to cover something more important (all quotes are from Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text):

And now I Nephi proceed to give an account upon these plates
of my proceedings and my reign and ministry.
Wherefore to proceed with mine account,
I must speak somewhat of the things of my father and also my brethren.

Nephi covers exactly two things in Chapter III. The first is his father Lehi’s prophecy of a future Messiah and the forerunner Prophet who should go before Him. This is a more detailed followup to Lehi’s prophecies in the streets of Jerusalem:

And he testified that the things which he saw and heard,
and also the things which he read in the book [in his vision],
manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah
and also the redemption of the world. (First Nephi I; 1 Nephi 1:19)

But here in Chapter III, Lehi is giving the same prophecies and warnings, in apparently greater detail, to Nephi’s brothers, as a follow-up to his concerns about Laman and Lemuel as a result of his dream. He ties it into the scattering of Israel and then ties that into their own flight from Jerusalem and towards “the land of promise.” The account is brief –less that two pages in the Skousen edition — and Nephi defers the rest of the details to his “other book”.

Nephi’s Ascension Vision

The rest of Chapter III — roughly 14 pages in Skousen — is devoted to Nephi’s ascension vision, which blends together elements of both Lehi’s dream and Lehi’s prophecies, but covers much more than Nephi has reported from his father. Nephi was frank about what he wanted:

And it came to pass that after I Nephi having heard all the words of my father…
…that I Nephi was desirous also
that I might see and hear and know of these things by the power of the Holy Ghost…

He then digresses momentarily to issue a short but stern “blessing/warning” sermon, promising that God will answer those who “diligently seek” but will “cast off forever” those who are “found unclean before the judgment seat of God.” He then adds, for the first time, his own prophetic imprimatur:

And the Holy Ghost giveth authority
that I should speak these things and deny them not.

The modern edition of the Book of Mormon places this statement at the end of 1 Nephi 10, wrapping up his sermonette, but I think Nephi meant it as much for all that would follow in the rest of Chapter III: his ascension vision:

And the Holy Ghost giveth authority
that I should speak these things and deny them not.
For it came to pass that after I had desired
to know the things that my father had seen,
and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me,
wherefore as I sat pondering in mine heart,
I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord,
yea, into an exceeding high mountain,
a mountain which I never had before seen
and upon which I never had before sat my foot.

Nephi then records an expansive and detailed vision of future (to Nephi) history, all centered around the coming of Jesus Christ and the restoration of His gospel in the last days. Much has been written about this vision, and a discussion of it doesn’t really fit within the premise of these posts except to note this: Nephi is serving notice, both to his own posterity and that of his brothers, that he was by that point every bit as much a prophet and seer as his father Lehi. He closes up his chapter with that testimony:

And behold, I Nephi am forbidden
that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw.
Wherefore the things which I have written sufficeth me,
and I have not written but a small part of the things which I saw.
And I bear record that I saw the things which my father saw,
and the angel of the Lord did make them known unto me.
And now I make an end of speaking concerning the things
which I saw while I was carried away in the spirit.
And if all the things which I saw are not written,
the things which I have written are true.
And thus it is.

The first chapter set forth Nephi being dutiful and obedient. The second chapter set forth Nephi being believing and on the right path (as per Lehi’s dream). This third chapter establishes Nephi as a prophet in his own right. The next chapter shows the start of Nephi’s ministry.

Next post: First Nephi IV (1 Nephi 15).

Parsing Nephi: First Nephi II (1 Nephi 6-9)

Here’s the introduction to this series, and here is the previous entry.

Nephi has written the first chapter of his “reign and ministry” record on what we refer to as “the small plates”. As noted, Nephi touches on almost every major point of contention between him and his brothers: primogeniture leadership, the brass plates, the sword of Laban, divine calling, being led by God out of Jerusalem, and so on.

Nephi’s second chapter (which maps to 1 Nephi 6-9 in modern editions) is shorter and covers just three major themes:

  • how Nephi’s reign-and-ministry record (the small plates) fits in with all the other plates (the brass plates and Nephi’s other plates)
  • the second trip back to Jerusalem for Ishmael and his family
  • Lehi’s vision of the tree of life

Let’s look at each of these.

Nephi’s second set of plates

Chapter II starts and ends with this topic, in which Nephi further clarifies what will and will not be on his reign-and-ministry (“small”) plates.

  • His father’s genealogy (descending from Joseph), which is on the brass plates, will not be on these plates (but will be on the other plates).
  • His father’s full record will be on the other (“large”) plates, but not on these.
  • His goal for the small plates is to “write of the things of God. For the fullness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob and be saved.”
  • These small plates “are not the plates upon which I make a full account of the history of my people.”
  • “These plates are for the more part of the ministry, and the other plates are for the more part of the reign of the kings and the wars and contentions of my people.”
  • Finally, “the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I knoweth not.”

Remember that Nephi is working on these plates some 30 to 40 years after he and his family left Jerusalem. He’s already fled “with those who would follow me” and set up a city and culture center distinct from that of Laman and Lemuel. As a literate student of the (then-extant) Hebrew scriptures, Nephi is familiar with the contents of the brass plates, which he describes at the end of First Nephi I as containing (among other things):

a record of the Jews from the beginning,
even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah,

and also the prophecies of the holy prophets from the beginning,
even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah,
and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.

Nephi most likely sees his large and small plates as a direct and unbroken continuation of these two portions of the brass plates (history and prophecy, respectively), since he starts his small plates (and likely his large plates as well) “in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah.” In other words, he sees himself as a prophet/king with the responsibility for keeping the scriptures going forward. As such, he would therefore have the divine claim to the brass plates, as opposed to having stolen them from his older brothers (as the Lamanites would later claim).

Return for Ishmael’s Family

The second major topic for First Nephi II is the return trip to Jerusalem for Ishmael’s family. There are numerous parallels with the earlier trip to get the brass plates:

  • It is done by divine commandment via Lehi for the salvation of his seed.
  • Laman and Lemuel rebel (along with two of Ishmael’s sons).
  • Nephi rebukes his brothers for their lack of faith and obedience.
  • Laman and Lemuel threaten Nephi’s life.
  • Nephi is saved via apparent divine intervention (though Nephi’s bonds are merely “loosed” instead of Nephi being able to “burst” them).
  • Laman, Lemuel repent and ask Nephi’s forgiveness.
  • They all journey to Lehi’s camp, where thanks are given to God, along with sacrifices and burnt offerings (possibly for forgiveness of Laman and Lemuel’s sins, as per S. Kent Brown).

Nephi’s account in Chapter I of the first trip back to Jerusalem, among other things, legitimized his claim to both Laban’s sword and the brass plates. This account shows the divine commandment that brought Ishmael’s family out of Jerusalem and to the Americas. This was likely a sore point with Ishmael’s sons, who pretty much threw in their lot with Laman and Lemuel. Again, Nephi is most probably trying preemptively to set the record straight as to how Ishmael’s family ended up in the Americas.

The Tree of Life Vision

The third major topic for First Nephi II is Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. Unlike Nephi’s own vision (found in First Nephi III), which is focused on the coming of a Messiah, Lehi’s vision (as recounted by Nephi) is focused almost entirely on his family and emphasizes once again the differences between Laman and Lemuel and the rest of Nephi’s family (including Nephi). As Lehi puts it:

And behold, because of the thing which I have seen,
I have reason to rejoice in the Lord because of Nephi and also of Sam.
For I have reason to suppose
that they and also many of their seed will be saved.
But behold, Laman and Lemuel, I fear exceedingly because of you.

The rest of Lehi’s account of his vision pretty much focuses on individual choice, including falling away even after partaking of the fruit of the tree of life. And he ties it twice more to Laman and Lemuel:

And it came to pass that I was desirous
that Laman and Lemuel should come and partake of the fruit also.
Wherefore I cast mine eyes toward the head of the river
that perhaps I might see them.
And it came to pass that I saw them,
but they would not come unto me and partake of the fruit.
. . .
Thus is the words of my father,
for as many as heeded them had fallen away.
And Laman and Lemuel partook not of the fruit, saith my father.

Nephi then says that Lehi “exceedingly feared for Laman and Lemuel . . . lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord.” So, once again, Nephi shows why he is the favored one, the one to inherit Lehi’s authority and his prophetic mantle, while Laman and Lemuel have been rejected of the Lord.

So far, in his first two chapters, Nephi has been setting forth his version of events surrounding Lehi’s and Ishmael’s families coming out of Jerusalem into the wilderness. At the same time, he has been demonstrating repeatedly God’s (and Lehi’s) acceptance of him and rejection of Laman and Lemuel, as well as Nephi’s legitimate claims to the brass plates and Laban’s sword. The next two chapters will focus largely on prophecy and revelation rather than history — but that won’t let Laman and Lemuel off the hook.

Next post: First Nephi III (1 Nephi 10-14)

Parsing Nephi: First Nephi I (1 Nephi 1-5)

Here’s the introduction to this series, and here’s the first entry.

Nephi is now starting his second historical record on plates, the first being his transcription/abridgment of his father’s record along with his own historical additions: the “Book of Lehi”, lost with the first 116 pages of manuscript, along with the first few chapters of Mosiah. He’s trying to set the record straight, as he sees it, because his brothers are determined to kill him and take over (or wipe out) his people.

In doing so, he touches upon almost every major issues between him and his older brothers all within the space of his first chapter.

His own qualifications

First, Nephi establishes his parentage, education, standing before God, and personal witness of the record — in short, his bona fides. In fact, I am struck by the parallels with what Nephi does at the start of his first chapter and what I do as an expert witness in my written reports, laying out my qualifications for being accepted as an expert and for trusting in what I am about to write.

Also, Laman and Lemuel may well be illiterate or, at least, unable to read the language of the brass plates (cf. Mosiah 1:3-4) . Literacy was not common in 600 BC, and while Lehi and Nephi can both read the brass plates, Nephi has to read the brass plates out loud for his brothers. Hence, Nephi touts his education and literacy at the start of his first chapter.

In short, Nephi is saying, “Here’s why you should trust what I have to say over what Laman and Lemuel are saying.”

Lehi’s calling as a true prophet of God

Laman and Lemuel thought their father was a loon: preaching in the streets, dragging his family out into the wilderness, leaving their riches and property behind, putting them through eight years of desert travels and travails, and then doing this trans-oceanic voyage that moved them irrevocably far away from their homeland. They went so far as to suggest killing Lehi (and Nephi) and heading back to Jerusalem at one point, a rather shocking deed in a patriarchal society.

Nephi, by contrast, portrays his father as a true prophet in Mosaic (pillar of fire, exodus into the desert), Enochian (ascension vision with book), and Jeremaic (preaching in the streets of Jerusalem) terms, all in a short space.  The threat of potential martyrdom merely adds to Lehi’s credibility.

Nephi, the believing and obedient son, to receive the primogeniture leadership birthright

Nephi gains his own personal testimony of his father’s calling, and helps Sam to believe as well, even as Laman and Lemuel being their long history of rebellion against Lehi. As a result, God bears witness to Nephi (later confirmed in this same chapter by an angel) that Nephi will receive the rights of patriarchal leadership rather than Laman or Lemuel, his older brothers. However, Nephi does record the accompanying warning that Laman and Lemuel’s seed will “be a scourge unto thy seed” if his seed is not obedient to God, a prophecy that Nephi recounts as beginning to be fulfilled even before he starts this record.

Nephi as the rightful heir of the brass plates and Laban’s sword; the beginning of his prophetic role

Nephi recounts the trek back to Jerusalem for the brass plates at length, showing that he (unlike his brethren) is willing to follow God’s instructions through Lehi (His prophet). He then goes on to show that — after his brothers failed — he was the one who succeeded in gaining both the brass plates and Laban’s sword. Likewise, Nephi is saved by an angel and guided by the Spirit in accomplishing that, demonstrating the start of his own role as a prophet.

Repeated confirmation of Lehi’s status as a prophet (and Nephi’s status as the obedient son and future prophet)

Nephi ends his first chapter by showing that Lehi was truly inspired and acting under God’s direction in sending his sons back for the brass plates, while Laman and Lemuel were wrong for murmuring and rebelling. Even Sariah, who had murmured while her sons were gone, repents and confirms Lehi’s prophetic status. Nephi gives a brief summary of the plates’ contents, indicating all the prophesies, history, and commandments that he (at the time of his writing) now has but his brothers don’t. He then ends his chapter as he began it (post-introduction) — with Lehi prophesying — but with this pointed comment:

And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.

So, Nephi is just one chapter into his “reign and ministry” personal history, and he has already touched upon just about every major difference between him and his older brothers, including why he deserves to have the brass plates and Laban’s sword, and why he is his father’s heir, both temporally and spiritually.

It’s important to remember in all this that Nephi has already had visions of the eventual fall and destruction of his own seed, so he is certainly writing this with that in mind. But I think he has a more personal rationale in mind as well (recognizing that the Lord commanded him to do these other plates in the first place).  As I’ll note towards the end of this series, Nephi’s self-justification ultimately turns into self-recrimination, and his history abruptly ends.

Next post: First Nephi II (1 Nephi 6-9).

Parsing Nephi: First Nephi, title and introduction (1830 edition)

Here’s the introduction to this series; briefly put, it is looking at the original ‘chapter’ divisions in the Book of Mormon manuscripts (original and printer’s, resulting in the 1830 first edition). As noted in the introduction, it appears from original manuscript evidence that these chapter divisions were somehow indicated on the plates themselves and thus would represent editorial decisions by the author, in this case, Nephi1 (whom I’ll just refer to as “Nephi” hereafter). All my chapter-and-verse citations will use the modern edition, and I’ll link to the LDS Church’s on-line edition; however, when I quote text directly, I will quote from The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Royal Skousen, editor, Yale University Press, 2009), following Skousen’s layout.

For reference, here is a chart comparing the 1830 chapters to the modern edition chapters.

First Nephi (modern edition: 1 Nephi)

First, a bit of context. Nephi started working on what we now refer to as “the small plates of Nephi” (First and Second Nephi; the plates would eventually contain Jacob, Enos, and Omni as well) thirty or more years after leaving Jerusalem and finished his historical portion sometime within a ten-year period (2 Nephi 5:28-34). By the time he started the plates, he and his followers had fled from Laman and Lemuel, leaving the original Lehite settlement and relocating to what would become known as “the land of Nephi”. When he left, Nephi took with him the brass plates, the director ( “liahona”, though that name is only used once in the Book of Mormon itself and then only several centuries after the time of Nephi), and the sword of Laban (2 Nephi 5:12-14). I suspect it was the theft of these key items — the only tangible links back to Jerusalem as well as objects with substantial religious/totemic value — that infuriated Laman and Lemuel enough to lead them to track down and attack Nephi and his people, though they may also have seen Nephi as a lingering threat to their own legitimacy as rulers over their own people. (Centuries later, we still see Lamanites bitterly complaining about how Nephi robbed Laman and Lemuel not just of physical items but also of “their right to the government“.)

The flight into the wilderness and the initial wars with Laman and his people all happen (2 Nephi 5:1-27) before Nephi creates and starts writing the small plates, the ones that contain “the things of my soul“. Up until now, he has been adding to his father’s record (the lost “Book of Lehi“), but under divine direction he creates a record entirely of his own. He gives it the title, “The Book of Nephi, His Reign and Ministry” (hereafter “First Nephi”), which indicates what he thinks he will be writing about, at least eventually; as it turns out, he writes very little about his ‘reign’, and all that will be saved for the second “Book of Nephi”. And unless you include his (truly remarkable) visions and prophecies, this book doesn’t have much in the way of ‘ministry’ either — mostly just lectures to and arguments with his brothers.

Nephi also lays out what he intends to cover in this book; in essence, an outline or table of contents, but one clearly devised ahead of time, not just because of its location on the plates (at the start of First Nephi), but because of all that it leaves out. While this introduction does clearly sketch out the historical sequence covered by First Nephi and in that order, it completely leaves out those remarkable visions and prophecies alluded to earlier, and the structure of what Nephi actually wrote doesn’t mesh exactly with his planned contents. Here is Nephi’s introduction (after Skousen) as aligned with the actual chapters in First Nephi:

An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah and his four sons,
being called, beginning at the eldest,
Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi.

[Chapter I]

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.

[Chapter II]

They take the daughters of Ishmael to wife.

[Chapter III]

[Chapter IV]

[Chapter V]

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 etc.

[Chapter VI]

[Chapter VII]

This is according to the account of Nephi,
or in other words, I, Nephi, wrote this record.

In short, it is clear I think that Nephi started out with an(other) historical record in mind — his “reign and ministry”, with the events that led him to that point. As is often the case for writers, however, what he started out to write is not what he wrote at the end. Likewise, a record that starts on a rather triumphal note (again, “reign and ministry”) diverts into harsh self-recrimination (2 Nephi 4:17-35) just before a very short recounting of his actual reign and ministry (2 Nephi 5:1-28) and an abrupt end to his historical record (the rest of Second Nephi is prophecy and scripture).

Next post: First Nephi I (1 Nephi 1-5). ..bruce..

Parsing Nephi: the earliest Book of Mormon text

Most of you are probably aware that the earliest editions of the Book of Mormon (starting with the 1830 first edition) had different chapter divisions than the current LDS editions. The chapter-and-verse divisions that we are used to were devised by Orson Pratt in 1879 for what was the ninth published edition (chronologically speaking); in so doing, he chopped up the original chapters, which were for the most part longer than the ones we have now. For example, First Nephi chapter I in the 1830 edition maps to 1 Nephi chapters 1-5 in the current LDS edition.

What you may be less aware of is that Royal Skousen, as part of his critical text analysis of the Book of Mormon, believes that the (original) chapter divisions existed on the plates themselves:

It appears that Joseph Smith himself specified the placement of the original chapter breaks. In the translation process, Joseph seems to have seen some visual indication at the end of a section that the section was ending; perhaps the last words of the section were followed by blankness. Recognizing that the section was ending, Joseph then told the scrip to write the word chapter, with the understanding that the appropriate number would be added later. Scribal evidence from the original and printer’s manuscripts supports this interpretation. Oliver Cowdery’s Chapter is always written rapidly and with the same ink flow as the surrounding text. But his chapter numbers are almost always written with heavier ink flow and more carefully. In many cases, Oliver took time to add serifs to his roman numerals. And in one case, the chapter number was written in blue ink while all the surrounding words (including the word Chapter) were written using the normal black ink.

The use of the word chapter and he corresponding numbers is not part of the original text and can therefore be considered noncanonical. But the breaks that Joseph Smith apparently saw can be considered a part of the original text and should be indicated in the [critical] text, perhaps by placing white spaces between sections. (Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part One: 1 Nephi 1 – 2 Nephi 20, Royal Skousen, FARMS, 2004, p. 44).

Note that, by contrast, the paragraph breaks in the 1830 edition are not extant in the original and printer’s manuscripts and instead were added by the typesetter; ibid., p. 45.

If we assume that Skousen is correct and that the 1830 chapter breaks represented compositional divisions on the Book of Mormon plates themselves, then it is fair to consider that Nephi may have had conscious reasons for how each division (‘chapter’) was structured. Nephi wrote all of 1 Nephi, as well as 2 Nephi 1-5 (Second Nephi I-IV in the 1830 edition) between 30 and 40 years after leaving Jerusalem (cf. 2 Nephi 5:28-34). Nephi had already been keeping his “other history” on the “other plates” (cf. 1 Nephi 6, 2 Nephi 5:29-30), so this represented a new writing venture for him, and one that took many years to complete. As has been pointed out by many, many commentators over the decades, Nephi almost certainly wrote his “small plates” record, among other reasons, to defend himself against Laman and Lemuel’s claims (which became a lasting Lamanite tradition) that he was a liar and a thief, not to mention a usurper of Laman’s leadership rights under primogeniture. Finally, given the apparent difficulty of engraving upon the metal plates, it is likely that Nephi did some degree of composing, outlining, or otherwise structuring what he was going to engrave in each division before starting it.

Putting all that together, it is fair I think to hypothesize that Nephi may have had a deliberate structure to each of the chapters in First Nephi, as well as Second Nephi I-IV (2 Nephi 1-5), which together make up the totality of Nephi’s historical record on the small plates; the rest of Second Nephi comprises Jacob’s sermon, excerpts from Isaiah, and Nephi’s own prophecies, preaching and testimony, all without any other historical information or setting (contemporary to Nephi, that is).

This is a long lead-in to what will be a series of posts looking at First Nephi I-VII and Second Nephi I-IV (using Skousen’s The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, Yale University Press, 2009) to see what themes or structures can be derived from the presentation and contents of each chapter.

The next post covers First Nephi’s title and introduction. ..bruce..

Five Nephite restorations

As Latter-day Saints, we tend to be locked into the narrative of our own history, namely: Christ’s mortal ministry in Palestine; the eventual apostasy of the Christian churches; and the restoration of the Church in the early 19th century, some 1500 years later. On top of that, our overall view of human history tends to be dispensationalist: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and so forth. Finally, we tend to think of restorations as “all at once” (again, looking at the model of our own restoration). For those three reasons, I think it is easy for us to overlook shorter, more subtle cycles of apostasy and restoration.

While we commonly talk about the up-and-down cycle of the Nephites, we usually assume that there was nevertheless an unbroken line of prophetic leadership, priesthood authority and church organization from Nephi through Moroni. From a careful reading of the Book of Mormon, I am not sure that was the case at all. I think there are at least five (5) places where a restoration occurs in the Book of Mormon. Each restoration involves a divine intervention to restore doctrine, authority, ordinances and/or church organization. In each case, some remnant of the previous ‘church’ and its doctrine still existed, but that shouldn’t surprise us: our own Restoration took place in a world filled with Christian churches following the Bible, practicing ordinances and preaching doctrines that the Restored Church practices and preaches as well.

More after the jump.

Continue reading Five Nephite restorations

The Second Quorum of the Twelve

The Nephite Apostles

[Note: this is a follow-up to the discussion in the comments to this post some months back (from the date of the original post in 2009). Also, I’ve made minor edits over time as I have re-read this post.]

We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church . . . .
— 6th Article of Faith

Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem. And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem.
— Mormon 3:18-19

“[The Book of Mormon] tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection; that He planted the Gospel here in all its fulness, and richness, and power, and blessing; that they had Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists, the same order, the same priesthood, the same ordinances, gifts, powers, and blessings, as were enjoyed on the eastern continent . . . ”
— Joseph Smith (from the Wentworth Letter, 1842; cf. History of the Church 4:538).

Back during the ‘Primitive Church’ era, it appears that there were 24 apostles on the earth, organized into two separate quorums: the Twelve in the Old World (led by Peter) and the Twelve in the New World (led by Nephi3). While it is true that the New World Twelve were never specifically called apostles within the Book of Mormon (though see Mormon 9:19 and Ether 12:41, either or both of which could be referring to the New World Twelve as ‘apostles’) , Joseph Smith referred to them as such (as noted above), and Joseph Fielding Smith cautiously agreed.

Mormon’s comments, cited above, indicate that the New World Twelve were subordinate to the Old World Twelve. In modern-day LDS parlance, we could refer to the Old World Apostles as the First Quorum of the Twelve, and to the New World Apostles as the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

Nowadays, however, we only have the (one) Quorum of the Twelve. Given the 6th Article of Faith, the question comes up: what are the chances of the Church setting up a Second Quorum of the Twelve, as existed in the Primitive Church? And if the Church did so, how would it work, particularly given the tradition of succession in the modern Church?

First, let’s see why the Church might organize the Second Quorum of the Twelve.

When I joined the Church in 1967, Church membership was around 2.6 million, with about 450 stakes and 4,200 wards and branches. The large majority of that membership was in the Western United States, Western Canada, and northeastern Mexico. Apostles and even First Presidency members would visit stake conferences on a regular basis; I got to shake hands with Pres. Hugh B. Brown and Elder LeGrand Richards as a teenager that way. Back then, each bishop was set apart by an Apostle.

Today, Church membership is approaching 14 million, with 2,800 stakes and nearly 25,000 wards and branches (roughly a 5x growth in all three categories). Over half of the Church membership lives outside of the United States. And we still have just twelve Apostles.

The gap has been filled by the Presidents and Quorums of the Seventy (not to mention stake presidents). They really are the eyes and ears and legs and hands of the Apostles throughout the world. But the collective Seventy still have to feed into just twelve Apostles. I suspect that the members of the Quorum of the Twelve carry tremendous administrative, spiritual, and ministering burdens — and yet in all that, it is the core of their calling to be special witnesses of Christ.

Imagine, then, how that burden would be lifted if there were a Second Quorum of the Twelve, another set of 12 Apostles among whom to share the load at that level of Church administration.

How might this work?

Let’s follow the model in the meridian of time and assume that the Second Quorum of the Twelve is subordinate to the First Quorum of the Twelve. Seniority in the Second Quorum would work just like, but be independent of, the seniority in the First Quorum. There would be no automatic succession from the Second Quorum to the First; instead Apostles in the Second Quorum would be put on emeritus status when they reached 70 years of age. However, the Second Quorum would provide a fertile ground for candidates to fill vacancies in the First Quorum upon the death of an Apostle.

In other words, it would work pretty much just like the Presidency of the Seventy works right now. In fact, I could argue that the Presidency of the Seventy fills the function of the Second Quorum of the Twelve, except that there’s only seven of them and they don’t have Apostolic authority (i.e., being sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators).

Now, what if that were to change? What if the Church dissolved the Presidency of the Seventy, organized the Second Quorum of the Twelve, and then organized the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Quorums of the Seventy, with an Apostle over each Quorum? Church government and organization is flexible as the times require; I was once a Seventy myself, and was even a President of Seventy (it was a stake position some 25 years ago — there were seven Presidents of Seventy in each stake). So it wouldn’t bother me in the least if the Church were to do this kind of reorganization. (I will admit being startled for a second when the Church organized the Eighth Quorum of the Seventy, though I believe a careful reading of D&C 107:95-96 allows that interpretation.)

As an alternative approach, what if the Church left the Presidency and Quorums of the Seventy just as they are now, but called an entirely new Second Quorum of the Twelve? This second Quorum could truly act as a “traveling presiding high council” throughout the Church, going as a quorum, in pairs or individually, to various parts of the world to help strengthen the church. In fact much as Elders Oaks and Holland did for a year in the Philippines and South America, respectively, members of the Second Quorum could live outside of the United States on a permanent or near-permanent basis, providing resident Apostolic authority throughout the world, while traveling back to Salt Lake on a regular basis to meet with the First Presidency and the First Quorum of the Twelve (though I suspect the Church would use two-way, satellite-based videoconferencing to reduce actual travel).

Given this second approach, I suspect that the Second Quorum would largely comprise Apostles whose native language is something other than English and/or whose native country is outside of the United States and Canada.

This approach would allow Church members throughout the world to hear in person from Apostles speaking their native tongues on a regular basis. At the same time, these worldwide Apostles could work more actively and directly with the governments of the countries over which they preside to help see to the Church’s interests in those countries.

This approach would, I believe, tremendously strengthen the Church worldwide, especially in those areas (Latin America, Africa, the Philippines) where Church growth frequently outstrips the leadership pool. And for those keeping an eye on the Last Days, it would also ensure Apostolic authority distributed throughout the world in the event of major war and/or natural catastrophes.

Any thoughts?  ..bruce..

Early thoughts on “The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text”

FedEx showed up about a few hours ago with my pre-ordered copy of Royal Skousen’s magnum opus, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text (Yale University Press, 2009, 848 pages). This volume represents over 20 years of work on Skousen’s part to produce a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon.  I’ve been buried in the volume — starting at the front and working my way through — since it appeared. Having made it as far as 1 Nephi 10 (First Book of Nephi, chapter III, in the 1830 edition), I thought I’d come up for air long enough to log a few comments.

First, the physical production of the volume is outstanding (as one would expect from Yale University Press). High quality paper and binding, outstanding layout and typography. The book is large and heavy (as per Amazon, 9.3 x 7.6 x 2.3 inches and 3.6 lbs) but manages to stay open even near the front and back. The heft of the book makes it a bit hard (though not impossible) to read while stretched out on the couch.

Grant Hardy’s introduction lays out the case for accepting the Book of Mormon as a serious work worthy of study in the context of world religions — all the more so because we have so much definite historical and even forensic information regarding its creation and transmission (cf. Terryl Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon).

Skousen’s editorial preface in turn provides a brief overview of his methodology in producing the critical text, laying out his overall approach as well as some of his criteria in making critical text decisions. However, he rightly points readers to his multi-volume series on the Book of Mormon Critical Text project for detailed explanations as to item-by-item decisions regarding recovery or conjecture of the critical text.

Skousen also explains his presentation of the critical text: sense lines, (mostly) modern spelling, de novo punctuation, blank lines to indicate paragraph breaks, and a typographic insertion to mark Joseph Smith’s original chapter indications. Modern (LDS 1981 edition) chapter and verse indications are given in the left margin.

Note that the punctuation, sense line breaks, and paragraph breaks are Skousen’s; the original manuscript had none, and the printer’s manuscript didn’t have much more. Skousen describes his process thus:

As I prepared each section of The Earliest Text, I started with one long string of unpunctuated words. I first broke the text into sense-lines (described below); I then added the accidentals (punctuation and capitalization) as needed in order to make the syntax clear. (p. xlii)

Skousen then spends several paragraphs outlining his approach to sense-lines and paragraphs. While most paragraphs comprise some number of modern verses, Skousen is willing to break across modern verse or even chapter divisions, though he only does so occasionally. I suspect that what criticism Skousen receives on this volume will come here, since he is in effect inserting himself to the text. On the other hand, I frankly think he’s done a better job than Orson Pratt did back in 1879, and as I got into the text itself, I found myself wishing for an edition that left out the modern chapter and verse numbers (though I could simply use a bookmark to cover up the left margin). And since even the printer’s manuscript was (in the words of the 1830 typesetter, John Gilbert) “one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end” (cited on p. xlii), I much prefer Skousen’s approach to wading through a single mass of undifferentiated and unpunctuated text.

And the text is wonderful. Layout and typography make it very easy to read, and the presentation brings a fresh look to a very familiar text. I’ve worked my way through most of the five “Textual Variants” volumes published by Skousen to date, so I’m not reading this to pick up on those modifications per se (though Skousen lists in an appendix what he considers to be significant textual changes). Instead, I am imagining myself in a small room as Joseph dictates and someone transcribes. It is a powerful experience, one which I’m about to go back to.

Highly recommended.  ..bruce..

The Enos problem in the Book of Mormon

Enos is the third author in the Book of Mormon (after Nephi1 and Jacob). He is best known for his lengthy prayer while hunting in the wilderness, wherein he first asks for personal forgiveness, then for God’s blessings upon the Nephites, then His blessings upon the Lamanites, then that a record of the Nephites will be preserved and brought into the Lamantes “at some future day” should the Nephites be destroyed.  So far, so good.

But at the very end of the book of Enos, we find the following:

Enos 1:25: And it came to pass that I began to be old, and an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.

Enos is apparently identified in Jacob 7:27 as the son of Jacob:

And I, Jacob, saw that I must soon go down to my grave; wherefore, I said unto my son Enos: Take these plates. And I told him the things which my brother Nephi had commanded me, and he promised obedience unto the commands. And I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu.

Now, Jacob was Lehi’s “first born in the wilderness” (2 Nephi 2:2), and Jacob was already born when Lehi & company set sail from Bountiful to the New World (cf. 1 Nephi 18:7), and furthermore was born before Joseph, who was also born before embarking. This means that Jacob was born, at the latest, about seven years after Lehi left Jerusalem, and probably a few years before that. Let’s split the difference and say that Jacob was born 4 years after Lehi left Jerusalem.

This means that the lives of Jacob and Enos spanned 175 years. This is not impossible, but it is highly unusual. So let’s look at some possible explanations.

Continue reading The Enos problem in the Book of Mormon