Category Archives: Scriptures

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..

A brief thought on Matthew 11:28-30

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. — Matthew 11:28-30

Our stake president quoted this verse during the adult session of our stake conference last night. I had my iPad out to take notes (using the Index Card app), so on a whim, I flipped over to the Kindle app, where I have an interlinear Greek New Testament (full disclosure: I had exactly one semester of New Testament Greek some 35 years ago at BYU, but I keep poking at it) and tapped on a few of the key Greek words to see if there were any insights to gain.

As it turns out, the Greek word that is translated as “rest” in verses 28 and 29 is anapauo, which does not necessarily mean to cease from all labor from that point on. Instead, the primary meaning is “to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labour in order to recover and collect his strength” (Strong’s 373). In other words, one could interpret this to mean that the Savior isn’t saying that we will cease to labor under His yoke; instead, He is promising to give us the periodic rest breaks we need to be able to continue our labors.

Sort of like my current calling as High Priests Group secretary. Hmm.  ..bruce..