1st Nephi 1

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The first chapter of first Nephi begins with Nephi himself stroking his own ego and telling you how great he is.



1 I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Right out of the gate we have Nephi putting himself up on a pedestal. At this point he supposedly knows that his writings are going to be read by millions the world over, so his writings will presumably be widely seen. The parallels between this and the Rameumptom in Alma 31:21 are quite surprising, Nephi is one of the early heroes of the Book of Mormon and yet he's showing the same pride that characters later are rebuked for. Is it only bad to stroke your own ego when God didn't tell you to?

2 Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

Nephi is claiming that he kept his record in the language of the Egyptians. The explanation I heard for this during my time at BYU was that Lehi and his family could have been merchants, which would explain how they knew Egyptian (they may have done business with the Egyptians) and how they became so wealthy. This brings up a few other questions which I will get to later, but the biggest stumbling block on this verse is the fact that Hebrew is and always has been one of the most compact languages around. Hebrew is a purely syllabic language with no vowels, whereas Egyptian languages are pictographic and clumsy. On a purely practical standpoint, Nephi's native language made perfect sense for record keeping.

Further, even if "Reformed Egyptian" was more compact than Hebrew—and there's no evidence it exists so we can't verify that it was—having the word "Egyptian" in the name implies that the writing style originated in Egypt. To the Israelites, anything to do with Egypt would have been considered highly offensive. To write religious scripture in an Egyptian language, or anything other than Hebrew for that matter, would have been nothing short of heresy. This aspect of Middle Eastern culture can still be seen today with the insistence that the Koran is only holy when presented in its native Arabic, and the Torah is only holy when presented in Hebrew. To Nephi's people, his writing would have been considered trash simply because it's written in the wrong language.

In the 19th century in the area Joseph Smith lived in there was a heightened fascination with anything to do with Egypt, so the claim that this was written in an Egyptian language makes sense if the goal was to produce a book that would draw the attention of Smith's contemporaries.

3 And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

Three verses in and Nephi is already including redundant and useless information. Why would he bother including irrelevant information if he's going through the time consuming process of engraving this text into golden plates, and further, since he's insisting that what he's writing is true should we assume that there's a legitimate reason to doubt what he's saying?

4 For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.

The footnotes claim that this was in 600BCE but Zedekiah wasn't put into power until 597BCE. Since it only claims to be an approximation and was added later we can give that one a pass, but if Zedekiah is in his first year then that means the Babylonians have already occupied Jerusalem. Lehi may have been able to escape if he was sneaky, but preaching that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed at this time would be like standing on a rooftop in Manhattan a week after the September 11, 2001 attacks claiming that the city might get hit by a terrorist attack and somehow failing to notice that it already has.

5 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.
6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

Apparently Joseph Smith thought that if you said "it came to pass" and "exceedingly" enough times then that's enough to convince his reader that this is 17th century English. If Joseph were translating a genuine document, it's far more likely that he would have translated it into his own contemporary version of English, just like bible translators do today. Using the language of the most widely available bible translation of his day does make more sense if he's trying to pass fiction for scripture, however.

A 21st century reader looking at this text might not catch the 19th century vibe so easily. After all, to us, even this appears archaic. It would be interesting to know how this book looked to one of Smith's own contemporaries to whom it would have read like a high school essay with a few archaic words thrown in for good measure.

7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.

In other words, he laid down and took a nap.

8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.

When this part of the Book of Mormon was written, Joseph Smith had not yet introduced the Freemason idea of the multi-tiered heaven. Think about what the christian idea of heaven is like, then it makes perfect sense what Smith was trying to portray here. also note the extremely 19th century wording here.

9 And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.
10 And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.

Did the twelve include Judas Iscariot? The guy that betrayed Christ? Did his brightness exceed the stars?

11 And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.[1]

The codex was invented by the Romans and would not have existed here, so if Lehi was given a book it was almost certainly a scroll. Interesting, however, that a book that so far seems to be obsessed with convincing you that it's factual seems to introduce a meta element of a book that Lehi responds very positively to. Is this an attempt at the power of suggestion? (for more on gold plates, see below)

12 And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

[immature comment redacted]

13 And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem -- that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth, and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!

Is Nephi quoting from Revelation 15:3? That wouldn't be written for another 700 years. Verse 13 also has a quote from Revelation.

Notice that Lehi is getting excited about all the "marvelous" things that he has seen, right after we're told that he witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem. Is Lehi a sociopath?

15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him.
16 And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.
17 But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.

Nephi calls this record an abridgment, yet it would be rather trivial to sum up everything he's said already into a few short paragraphs. (see the Modern English section below) Perhaps Nephi is equating the idea of an "abridgment" to "leaving out details?"

18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.
19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of the Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.

At first blush it would make sense that Lehi would be mocked for claiming that Jerusalem is going to get destroyed in much the same way Harold Camping is mocked today for his rapture predictions. But remember, Nephi already mentioned that Zedekiah was in power. Zedekiah was put into power by the Babylonians, so by this time they were already conquered and quite well aware of the possibility that they'll be taken captive. You could argue that they were already captive. Why would they be mocking Lehi for stating the obvious? Lehi wasn't even prophesying here so much as reporting yesterday's news.

20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

Today we are no stranger to crazy Christians accusing people of being sinners and preaching with obnoxious loud speakers and handing out silly pamphlets. But the only Christian group that I've seen that can incite anger is the Westboro Baptist Church. We could give them a pass on this one claiming that this was a different time and culture, but even then we must take into account the fact that the city had already been invaded. Why wouldn't Lehi have given these prophecies two years earlier?

Concerning the gold plates

It was a common belief among Joseph Smith's contemporaries, at least among the religious revivalists, to assume that ancient records would be recorded on metal plates.

So, was anything ever recorded on gold plates by an ancient civilization? If you don't limit your search to ancient Hebrews or scripture, then yes, there is at least one example from around the time Nephi lived. Unfortunately for Joseph Smith, these gold tablets were unknown in his day; for had he known about them he may have taken a great deal more care in his supposed translation. There are six tablets there in all and they are linked through bindings on the top, like a flip book (like Nephi, these predate the codex). Together they are almost the size of the plates Joseph Smith claimed to have had, but with only six sheets. Gold is a very poor material for record keeping because it is such a soft and malleable metal. Gold is very nonreactive, true, but anything written on them would have been quickly rubbed away just by being handled. To combat this these Etruscan plates were made rather thick and the messages written on them rather large.

So we are left with Nephi writing scripture using a writing material that was never used for scripture, never used for writing at all in his location and time period, is a very poor material for record keeping to begin with, and in a language that is very offensive and devilish to his culture. Small wonder the book isn't taken seriously by scholars.

Modern English version

My name is Nephi, and I was born to a good family who taught me as much as they knew. I saw many difficult things in my life, but I was blessed and because I know a lot about God I am going to write a journal. I’m writing in a mix of Hebrew and Egyptian. I will not write anything that I don’t know is true from my own experience.

When Zedekiah was king of Judah (my dad had always lived in Jerusalem), a lot of prophets were saying that the people had to repent or Jerusalem would be destroyed. My father went and prayed for his people and a pillar of fire came down on a rock in front of him and he saw visions that terrified him.

He came home to bed very tired and when he slept he had a vision of God in heaven and the angels, and a very bright being and twelve other bright beings came out and they went down to earth and came to my dad and gave him a book to read.

The book prophesied the fall of Jerusalem in a battle and said the Jews would be taken as slaves to Babylon. My dad praised god because he was really happy about what he had seen. He wrote a lot of things about his visions which I won’t write here, because I want to concentrate on my own life.

My dad went into the city to prophesy about the fall of Jerusalem but the people made fun of him and were angry and tried to kill him.

Additional notes

  1. On a lighter note, according to Mormon theology, a celestial being has the power to witness any time in the past, present and future, is capable of traveling at the speed of thought and a host of other interesting ways that they could communicate with Lehi, and yet they give him a book. Lehi totally got shafted.

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