2 Nephi 4 tweet: L blesses L&L’s children. L&L R angry w/ N. N is conflicted and he sorrows. He recognises God’s mercy, prays and praises Him.

When I started reading the Book of Mormon this time I mentioned that it was my intention to give Laman and Lemuel a fairer hearing than perhaps we typically do (or than I typically have). I said that throughout his record, Nephi paints himself and Laman and Lemuel in black and white terms with very little nuance. I have always thought that this was because Nephi saw the world in black and white terms. But this time through, I have wondered if in reality Nephi wrote in the way that he did because at least one of the purposes of his record was to unify his own people and persuade them to stay together.

I have always had a fairly simplistic view of the initial division of the Lamanites and Nephites, i.e. the Lamanites were bad, the Nephites were good and the two groups never communicated or mixed with each other and didn’t want to either. But this time reading I have started to think that after the initial separation there would still have been interaction between the two groups. The fight was essentially between Nephi and Laman and Lemuel. But for the rest of the colony, the separation may well have been extremely distressing, especially for the Nephites – think what it must have been like to be cut off from half of your own family and the land you have become accustomed to and the homes you have built.

In reality, I think that many of the Nephites would have wanted to keep open the channels of communication with their Lamanite brothers and sisters. I think the divisions between the groups would have grown and hardened over time, but initially I think there would have been a longing for the family they left behind, at least on the part of some Nephites. And as they thought about the Lamanites, perhaps some Nephites may have felt that they were hasty in breaking with them, and perhaps they felt that the Lamanites were hard done by. And so I think in part Nephi may have been writing to persuade his own people of the rightness of their course of action and the need to maintain a division with the Lamanites. And to do so, I think he will have needed to emphasise the faithlessness and murmurings and ultimately murderous intent of Laman and Lemuel, and in contrast his own faith and righteousness (hence the comparisons with Joseph, Moses, and David). That is, I think in 1 Nephi 1–2 Nephi 5, Nephi is in part writing a political text, and political texts can by their nature be polarising.

This is all discussed in more detail in an earlier post, which I’d encourage you to read in order to think about some of the overarching purposes of Nephi’s writings and why he ordered them in the way that he did.

All of this is to say that actually, perhaps Nephi didn’t see the world in such stark terms, rather he had to write that way to persuade his people to take seriously the sacred things that follow in 2 Nephi 6 onwards. And probably the best piece of evidence to suggest that Nephi was actually more nuanced than he first appears is what is typically referred to as the Psalm of Nephi in 2 Nephi 4:15–35. This is one of my favourite passages of scripture in all of the Book of Mormon. I think its power stems from its sharp contrast with the rest of Nephi’s narrative, which paints Nephi in such a favourable light. Here we see his inner turmoil, and we can relate because we feel the same way, as did Paul who said:

For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (Romans 7:19)

There are some nice pieces available that show the structure of Nephi’s psalm and how it may have been influenced by the Book of Psalms.1,2 But I’ll close this post with Nephi’s words set to music. In 2007, the BYU Men’s Chorus closed a Priesthood Session with one of the more memorable hymns of recent General Conferences:

*As in Moby’s masterpiece

Next week’s reading: 2 Nephi 5

  1. https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/is-nephis-psalm-really-a-psalm
  2. https://www.lds.org/church/news/book-of-psalms-may-have-influenced-psalm-of-nephi?lang=eng&_r=1