1 Nephi 1 tweet: Lh preaches repentance & sees visions. Reads book, prophesies destruction of Jrsm & coming of Messiah. Jews mock Lh and seek his life.
For many members, the stories from 1 Nephi are the ones we are most familiar with – they are probably the ones we have read most often. This does create a challenge. That is, we think we know them well and we perhaps bring with us some assumptions that the text does not necessarily support. Additionally, Nephi is writing his account many years after the events of 1 Nephi took place. So Nephi’s recounting of these events is coloured by the history of the intervening years – namely his estrangement from Laman and Lemuel.
Therefore, over the course of 1 Nephi, I’ll try to look carefully at what the text actually says (and doesn’t say) and also try to keep in mind that 1 Nephi is told from the point of view of just one man, many years after the described events took place.
A lot of the thoughts in this post are shaped by the work of Joe Spencer1 and Grant Hardy2.
Spencer suggests that there is a fourfold structure to 1 and 2 Nephi:
- 1 Nephi 1–18, the story of the establishment of the Lehite people in the New World. CREATION
- 1 Nephi 19–2 Nephi 5, the story of the breaking up of that people into two rival factions. FALL
- 2 Nephi 6–30, the sermons, quotations, and prophecies that make up the sacred heart of the record, and in particular, how the Lamanites will be redeemed in the latter days. ATONEMENT
- 2 Nephi 31–33, a concluding word concerning the doctrine of Christ and how to approach the VEIL
That positions the writings of Nephi as a temple text. Spencer goes on to suggest that this same structure can be seen in the very first verse of Nephi’s writings as a sort of prelude:
- having been born of goodly parents – CREATION
- having seen many afflictions – FALL
- having been highly favored of the Lord – ATONEMENT
- having had a great knowledge of … the mysteries of God – VEIL
What do you think of Spencer’s suggested structure of both 1 and 2 Nephi and 1 Nephi 1:1?
What do you think goodly means? The ‘therefore’ makes it a condition of Nephi having been taught in the learning of his father. Goodly may well refer to his parents’ prosperity. Prosperity would have allowed for Nephi to receive a formal education in an age when few would have had such opportunities.
Moving on, the current chapter divisions are somewhat artificial. In the original publication of the Book of Mormon, chapters 1–5 constituted a single chapter. This is worth bearing in mind as we read these opening chapters. For example, in 1 Nephi 1, Lehi reads a book shown to him in a vision that allows him to prophesy. In 1 Nephi 5, Lehi searches another book (the brass plates) and prophesies concerning his seed. Therefore, the story arc of the original chapter begins and ends with two accounts of Lehi reading and then prophesying. Do you think that is significant?
In an article nearly 40 years old now, Elder Holland highlighted similarities between Lehi’s visions in 1 Nephi 1 and Joseph Smith’s first vision and the subsequent visitation by Moroni3, e.g. pillar of fire, exhaustion, given a book to read by an angel. What additional parallels do you see? There are also similarities between Lehi’s experience and Isaiah’s call (see Isaiah 6/2 Nephi 16). How do Lehi’s and Isaiah’s experiences compare and contrast?
There seems to have been two major themes to Lehi’s visions: 1. the destruction of Jerusalem; 2. the coming of a Messiah. That would explain why Lehi can shift from crying wo in v13 to exclaiming God’s goodness and mercy in v14. Do you think these are broad themes common to all prophets, i.e. a worldly warning and a witness of Christ?
Interestingly, when Lehi prophesied concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and of the people’s wickedness, he was mocked (v19). But when he testified of the coming of the Messiah, the people were angry and sought his life (v20). Why would the people respond differently to prophecies concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and prophecies concerning the Messiah?
Finally, I just wanted to flag a new Book of Mormon study resource available at http://www.bookofmormoncentral.org/
Here’s an example of some of the material available that might help you make sense of all the different plates and records spoken of:
Next week’s reading: 1 Nephi 2
- Joseph Spencer. An Other Testament, pp. 41–43
- Grant Hardy. Understanding the Book of Mormon