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1 Nephi 1

1 Ne 1:1 Nephi's introductory statement

Nephi's introduction is typical of Egyptian writings.

Hugh Nibley

"The first three verses of 1 Nephi, sharply set off from the rest of the text, are a typical colophon, a literary device that is highly characteristic of Egyptian compositions. Typical is the famous Bremer-Rhind Papyrus, which opens with a colophon containing

  1. the date,
  2. the titles of Nasim, the author,
  3. the names of his parents and a word in praise of their virtues, with special mention of his father's prophetic calling,
  4. a curse against anyone who might 'take the book away,' probably 'due to fear lest a sacred book should get into impure hands.'

Compare this with Nephi's colophon:

  1. his name,
  2. the merits of his parents, with special attention to the learning of his father,
  3. a solemn avowal (corresponding to Nasim's curse) that the record is true, and the assertion, 'I make it with mine own hand' (1 Nephi 1:3)--an indispensable condition of every true colophon, since the purpose of a colophon is to establish the identity of the actual writer-down (not merely the ultimate author) of the text.

Egyptian literary writings regularly close with the formula iw-f-pw 'thus it is,' 'and so it is.' Nephi ends the main sections of his book with the phrase, 'And thus it is, Amen' (1 Nephi 9:6; 14:30; 22:31)." (Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites, p. 15.)

1 Ne 1:1  I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents

Neil L. Andersen

The Book of Mormon begins with a family, a father and mother, sons and daughters heeding the revelation of their prophet-father to leave their worldly goods behind and follow the counsel of the Lord.  The book's accounts are replete with parents seeking to instill in their children the promise and hope of Jesus Christ.  On one occasion I pulled from its pages specific counsel from fathers to sons-it totaled 52 typed pages. In the Book of Mormon, we see how parents taught faith in Christ and obedience to God's commandments both to children who were obedient from their childhood and to children  who had to find their way-sometimes in the very same family.  It is a lesson for our day, for our children, for our families.  (Ensign, Oct. 2011, 43)

Joseph F. Smith

"After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all man-kind, is the truest greatness.  To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman. One is universal and eternal greatness, the other is ephemeral....Let us not be trying to substitute an artificial life for the true one." (Gospel Doctrine, p. 358, taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon, compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p.2)

Heber J. Grant

"We have heard gratitude expressed by many of the speakers because they, like Nephi of old, have been born of goodly parents. I feel that I would be unworthy the wonderful teachings and the magnificent and splendid example of a widowed mother who reared me, if I too did not lift my voice here today and thank God for a mother who loved Him, who loved the religion of Jesus Christ, whose life was an example above reproach, than whom I knew no more loyal, patriotic and true Woman among the Latter-day Saints. I thank the Lord for my father, although I never knew him. I have had love lavished upon me by the leaders of this Church and by influential men from one end of this country to the other, because of the love and respect which they felt for my father... It is indeed a wonderful and a splendid thing to be born of goodly parents; and it is one of the saddest of all sad things where the sons and the daughters of goodly parents are recreant to the faith of their parents, when they are careless and indifferent, where they fail to honor their fathers and their mothers, and thereby fail to honor their God, where they follow after the things of this world, and allow the ideas of men to blind them." (Conference Report, April 1913, p. 112 - 113.)

Carlos E. Asay

"I'm convinced that special blessings await the youth who reverence their parents through the good times and the bad times-when honest mistakes are made and when the wise suggestions prove to be right. Most of us, like Nephi, were born of 'goodly parents,' and the best we can offer in return is to strive to be goodly children."(The Road to Somewhere: A Guide for Young Men and Women, p. 94.)

1 Ne 1:1  I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father

Lehi was known to be wealthy, and some have speculated that he was a merchant who had frequent trade with Egyptian merchants.  There was considerable cultural influence from Egypt in Jerusalem at this time and Lehi certainly knew the Egyptian language.  Lehi was also well versed in the things of the Spirit.  Therefore, Nephi was likely 'taught somewhat' in the secular and ecclesiastical learning of his father.

Hugh Nibley

"In the brief compass of Nephi's account, which is an abridgment of his father's own journal, whose type it imitates and continues (1 Nephi 1:2, 15-16), we are given an amazing amount of information, both general and particular, regarding conditions in Lehi's day. From this it can be shown that Lehi has an excellent claim to being a thoroughly representative man of his time and place. First consider what the Book of Mormon says.

"Lehi was a man possessed of exceeding great wealth in the form of 'gold and silver, and all manner of riches' (1 Nephi 3:16; 2:4). He had 'his own house at Jerusalem' (1 Nephi 1:7); yet he was accustomed to 'go forth' from the city from time to time (1 Nephi 1:5-7), and his paternal estate, the land of his inheritance, where the bulk of his fortune reposed, was some distance from the town (1 Nephi 3:16, 22; 2:4). He came of an old, distinguished, and cultured family (1 Nephi 5:14-16)." (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd ed., p. 46.)

1 Ne 1:1  having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days... therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Nephi is making this record long after his arrival in the land of promise.  His writings are more like his personal memoirs than a daily journal.  Apparently, Nephi began writing on the large plates of Nephi not long after arriving in the Americas (1 Ne 19:1-5).  However, he did not begin to record on the small plates of Nephi until 30 years after their departure from Jerusalem (2 Ne 5:28-33).  This is significant because his record is colored by the wisdom and perspective of his age; unnecessary details of daily affairs are not included.  Nonetheless, Nephi is able to describe the spiritual experiences and revelations with remarkable detail.

1 Ne 1:2  a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

This passage has engendered quite a bit of controversy among Book of Mormon scholars who are trying to determine the language Nephi used to record his history.  The traditional teaching is that the Book of Mormon was written in "reformed Egyptian," a script which used symbols capable of conveying entire concepts in much less space than Hebrew.  The term, "reformed Egyptian," comes from Moroni's description in Mormon 9:32.  There is speculation, however, that the language of Moroni's day was considerably different than that of Nephi's day.  Moroni admits in that verse that it had been handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech.  Any linguist knows that languages can transform quickly, especially over hundreds or thousands of years.  Nephi doesn't name the language he used; he says it was the language of my father.  Lehi was a Jew of the tribe of Manasseh.  Hebrew would have been his primary language.  However, scholars have noted Lehi's wealth and the obvious influence of Egyptian culture on Book of Mormon writings and practices.  These suggest that Lehi was a prosperous merchant who would have had much trade with Egyptian merchants.  He undoubtedly knew their business language.  Nephi suggests that this language was part of the learning of my father and the learning of the Jews.  This would have included learning how to speak and write the Egyptian language of Lehi's day.  No scholar is as qualified to teach on this subject as is Hugh Nibley, who said:

"'We now realize that the ancient Jews could write quickly and boldly (in Hebrew), in an artistic flowing hand, with the loving penmanship of those who enjoy writing.' And the Nephites got rid of this to learn in its place the most awkward, difficult, and impractical system of writing ever devised by man! Why all the trouble? Simply to save space. What space? Space on valuable plates. When did the custom begin? With Lehi. Where and when did he learn 'the language of the Egyptians'? In Palestine, of course, before he ever thought of himself as a record-keeper. Did the wealthy Lehi learn Egyptian characters so that he could sit in his house in the land of Jerusalem and by writing Hebrew with demotic (a form of Egyptian writing which differed from classical Egyptian hieroglyphics; it was used for recording deeds, books, etc.) symbols save a few cents a month on writing materials? And did he command his sons to learn Egyptian so they could save space when they kept records? Of course not: when they learned the language, neither Lehi nor his sons had any idea that some day it would be useful to keepers of records on metal plates. They had no other reason for learning Egyptian characters than to read and write Egyptian. It was only later when historians became cramped for space that they saw the advantage of continuing to write in Egyptian. And the Egyptian characters can only have been preserved for their use because the language was also preserved..."

"The fact remains that the abridging and editing of the Book of Mormon was in a language known to no other people on earth but the Nephites." (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert and The World of the Jaredites, pp. 16-17)

In conclusion, what was the language used by the writers of the Book of Mormon?  The short answer, "reformed Egyptian," is probably more helpful and accurate than the long answer discussed above.

1 Ne 1:4  the first year of the reign of Zedekiah

Daniel Ludlow writes, "Lehi and his family apparently fled from Jerusalem in 'the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah' (1 Nephi 1:4, 2:1-4). According to the Bible (2 Chronicles 36:11), Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he was made king over the kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar, the leader of the Babylonian empire. However, the exact date of Zedekiah's ascension to the throne is not mentioned in the Bible, although nearly all of the scholars agree it must have been within a few years of 600 B.C." (A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 89)

Although Lehi and his family left Jerusalem not long after this, Jerusalem was not besieged by the Babylonians for another nine years, And it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, in the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army against Jerusalem, and pitched against it, and built forts against it round about.  So the city was besieged unto the eleventh year of king Zedekiah. (Jer 52:4-5)  Later in chapter 52, Jeremiah describes the unfortunate fate of Zedekiah; his sons (all except for one who would later travel with his people, the Mulekites, to the promised land) were killed before his eyes, and then he had his eyes 'put out.' (Jer 52:8-11)

1 Ne 1:4  Lehi is a biblical name.

Judges 15 records that the Philistines came to a place called "Lehi" to battle the men of Judah.  Lehi was within the area given to the tribe of Judah after the Israelites had settled in Canaan.  The name Lehi means "jawbone" or "cheekbone".  Interestingly, this was the place where the mighty Samson killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass (see Judges 15:9-17).

1 Ne 1:4  Why was there more than one prophet in the days of Lehi?

Some students of the gospel identify so strongly with the president of the church as "the Prophet" that they are bothered by the presence of multiple prophets in Old Testament times.  Who was the President of the Church in Lehi's day? Was there one predominant prophet?

First of all, there is almost always more than one prophet on the earth at one time.  Currently, there are 15 men on the earth set apart as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.  What makes the President of the Church unique is that he is the only man on earth who has authority to exercise all the keys of the priesthood, even though those keys were given to him when he was first ordained an apostle.  Today's organization of prophets is much different than in Lehi's day. 

In the Old Testament, there was no "President of the Church." The presiding priesthood authority under the Mosaic Law was the high priest of the Aaronic Priesthood (2 Kgs. 22:8; Neh. 3:1). Since the ecclesiastical institution of the time was governed by the Aaronic Priesthood, these prophets (most of whom had obtained the Melchizedek priesthood through personal righteousness) were not ecclesiastical administrators in the same sense that they are today. Rather, they received mandates from the Lord to perform specific prophetic functions.  The prophet Jonah is a good example; he was commanded of the Lord to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.  Lehi was commanded to prophecy to the Jews regarding their impending destruction and to call them to repentance.  Other Old Testament prophets were given special callings to counsel the king in conjunction with their responsibility to cry repentance to the people, e.g. Samuel, Nathan, Isaiah, and Jeremiah.  They may have been the major prophets of their day but they were not the administrative leaders of the religious organization under Mosaic Law.

1 Ne 1:4  there came many prophets

The justice of God requires that he warn the people before they are destroyed.  2 Kings 17:13 says Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways.  In the case of the Babylonian captivity, the Lord sent several prophets to warn the people.  Lehi, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, Nahum, Urijah (Jer 26:20-23), Zephanaiah and Obadiah were probably all contemporaries, and all but Obadiah and Nahum are known to have prophesied specifically about the destruction of Jerusalem.

1 Ne1:5  Lehi...prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people

It is noteworthy that Lehi's answer to prayer came after he prayed even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.  Enos received an answer to his prayer because of his diligence and humility.  This is a good example of a tiny pearl of truth often found in the Book of Mormon.  One secret to getting your prayers answered is to pray, even with all your heart.

1 Ne 1:6 And it came to pass

This is the first use of this phrase commonly found in the Book of Mormon. Mark Twain joked that if the phrase, 'And it came to pass,' were removed from the Book of Mormon, it would be just a pamphlet. However, the phrase is very typical of ancient texts.

Hugh Nibley

"Nothing delighted the critics more than the monotonous repetition of 'it came to pass' at the beginning of thousands of sentences in the Book of Mormon. Here again is something that Western tradition found completely unfamiliar. Instead of punctuation, the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon divides up its phrases by introducing each by an 'and,' 'behold,' 'now,' or 'It came to pass . . . .' Simply outrageous--as English literature, but it is standard Egyptian practice. Egyptian historical texts, Grapow points out, 'begin in monotonous fashion' always with the same stock words; at some periods every speech is introduced with the unnecessary 'I opened my mouth.' Dramatic texts are held together by the constant repetition of Khpr-n, 'It happened that' or 'It came to pass.' In Egyptian these expressions were not merely adornments, as Grapow points out, they are a grammatical necessity and may not be omitted. Paul Humbert has traced the origin of prophetic biblical expressions to archaic oracular formulas. At any rate they are much commoner in Egyptian than in the Bible, just as they are much commoner in the Book of Mormon. However bad they are in English, they are nothing to be laughed at as Egyptian." (Since Cumorah, p. 29)

1 Ne1:7  Lehi is overcome with the Spirit

Intense spiritual experiences often have the effect of draining one's physical strength.  This seems to be the case with Lehi.  Three other examples of this phenomenon are as follows,

  1. Daniel sees the Lord in a glorious vision, then remarks, and there remained no strength in me (Dan 10:8),
  2. king Lamoni had been overcome by the Spirit for two days, when he awoke he announced, I have seen my Redeemer.... Now, when he had said these words, his heart was swollen within him, and he sunk again with joy; and the queen also sunk down, being overpowered by the Spirit (Alma 19:13), and
  3. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon saw the vision of the three degrees of glory together while at the Johnson farm in Hiram, Ohio.  There were other men in the room who witnessed their countenances as they received D&C section 76.  One of these men, Philo Dibble recorded the scene as follows, "Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, 'Sidney is not as used to it as I am.'" (Juvenile Instructor, May 1892, pp. 303-4) See also 1 Ne 17:47.

1 Ne 1:8 he thought he saw God sitting on his throne

For some reason, a variation of this phrase was also used by Alma in describing his vision of the throne of the Almighty.  Alma records, Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne (Alma 36:22). Certainly, both were transfigured to witness what they thought they saw.

1 Ne 1:8 numberless concourses of angels

"This expression reminds us, perhaps, of Daniel who saw 'the Ancient of Days' on his throne: 'Thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousands stood before him.' [Daniel 7:9-11] All ready to carry out his commandments. Daniel says, 'the judgment was set and the books were opened.' Or, as we should say, the court was in session. Judgment was about to be pronounced upon the 'four beasts,' that is, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Macedonian and the Roman Empires."

"The vision of Lehi was analogous to this. But the impending judgment in his vision was upon Judah and Jerusalem, and not upon pagan empires." (Commentary on the Book of Mormon, ed by George Reynolds, Janne Sjodahl, and Phillip Reynolds, chap. 1, p. 9)

1 Ne 1:9  Who was the One descending out of the midst of heaven?

The Savior was the One.  This is consistent with the next verse as there were twelve (apostles) others who were following him.

"I love the Book of Mormon most of all because it has led me to a fuller understanding of the life and mission of Jesus Christ and has opened my heart wider to experience His love. The Book of Mormon testifies of Christ from the very first chapter, where Lehi sees 'One descending out of the midst of heaven [whose] luster was above that of the sun at noon-day' (1 Nephi 1:9), to the very last chapter, where Moroni says, 'If ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot' (Moroni 10:33). Through the many testimonies of Book of Mormon prophets and through Christ's own words to the Nephites, I have come to exclaim, as does Nephi, 'I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.' (2 Nephi 33:6; italics added.)

"I love the Book of Mormon. And I love the Lord for sending it to bless our lives." (Robert A. Rees, Converted to Christ through the Book of Mormon, edited by Eugene England, p. 198)

1 Ne 1:11 the first came....and gave unto him a book

Books shown to prophets in vision usually have messages of doom for the wicked.  Lehi was fortunate that he only had to read the book.  Ezekiel and John the revelator were both required to eat the books shown to them in vision. (see Ezek 2:9-3:3 and Revelation 10) The content of the book included the wickedness of the Jews, their impending destruction including death by the sword, the Babylonian Captivity, the coming of the Messiah, and the redemption of the world (see v. 19).

1 Ne 1:16  he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams

The next verse makes it clear that Nephi is abridging the record of his father.  Many of the visions and prophecies of Lehi would likely have been recorded in the book of Lehi which was lost with the 116 pages (see D&C 10).  Nephi doesn't have room on his plates to rewrite them all. This also helps us to distinguish between 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi. The former was an abridgement of the record of Lehi (with a lot of personal additions from Nephi). The latter was Nephi's own record.

1 Ne 1:20  the Jews... were angry with him... and they also sought his life

Lehi was just one of myriad of prophets who were rejected in Jerusalem.  The Savior himself was no different.  The Jewish history of rejecting the prophets prompted the familiar statement from the Savior, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.  (Matt 23:37) See also 2 Chron 36:15-16 and Jer 35:15-17. 

"In order to understand why the people threatened the life of Lehi when he prophesied concerning the impending destruction of Jerusalem, it might be necessary to review briefly the historical situation in the Near East about 600 B.C. When the Book of Mormon record begins in Jerusalem about 600 B.C., the kingdom of Judah is a vassal state of Babylonia and is ruled by a twenty-one-year-old puppet king, Zedekiah. The great military and economic powers in the Near East at this time are:

  1. Babylonia, which just a few years before had defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Carchemish and had thus 'earned' the right to control the small kingdom of Judah ('southern' kingdom), which is located between these two great powers;
  2. Egypt, which had passed the peak of her military power but still had great cultural and economic influence; and
  3. Assyria, which had conquered the kingdom of Israel ('northern' kingdom) about 722 B.C. and was awaiting further opportunities for conquest.

"Zedekiah does not want his kingdom to be under the control of Babylonia, however, and he and some of his advisers are considering forming an alliance with Egypt in an attempt to throw off the Babylonian yoke. Jeremiah and the other prophets of the Lord are warning against such an alliance. The position of the prophets is not a popular one with the political and economic leaders of Judah, however. Hence the prophet Jeremiah is persecuted and frequently thrown into prison (the references in the Bible that refer to this period are 2 Kings 23-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 26-39). Lehi, another prophet, is warned by the Lord to flee from Jerusalem to escape the destruction that the prophets state will surely result from an alliance with Egypt (1 Nephi 1:12; 2 Nephi 2:1-4)." (Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, pp. 90-91)

1 Ne 1:20 the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen

Neal A. Maxwell

"'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.' (1 Nephi 1:20; italics added.)

"The Lord teaches us much about Himself through His 'tender mercies.' He also teaches us much about that which we may become, as we confront, on our scale, the individual curricula of our lives. His most apt pupils, of course, are the men and women of God. In those instances of record, the Lord has displayed much gentleness and tenderness in His tutoring of such individuals. The pattern usually involves His disclosing more about Himself and about His work, thus expanding the horizons of the person being tutored. He is likewise reassuring and assigns that favored individual a portion of His work, including declaring the gospel, while making special promises. The pattern, though mercifully scaled, is there in the lives of all true disciples." (Meek and Lowly, p.115.)