1 Ne 1:1-4
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- 1 Summary
- 2 Discussion
- 3 Unanswered questions
- 4 Prompts for life application
- 5 Prompts for further study
- 6 Resources
- 7 Notes
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The relationship of verses 1-4 to the rest of Chapter 1 is discussed at Chapter 1.
This section is for detailed discussion such as the meaning of a symbol, how a doctrinal point is developed throughout a passage, or insights that can be further developed in the future. Contributions may range from polished paragraphs down to a single bullet point. The focus, however, should always be on understanding the scriptural text consistent with LDS doctrine. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
1 Ne 1:1
- 1 Ne 1:1: Goodly. According to Webster's 1828, goodly means "Being of a handsome form; beautiful; graceful; as a goodly person; goodly raiment; goodly houses." In this context it may mean "well-off." Goodly is used only once more in the Book of Mormon, Mosiah 18:7: there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon. It is used twice in the Doctrine and Covenants: D&C 97:9 & D&C 99:7. There the meaning is beautiful or fair. It is also used with this same meaning many times in the Old and New Testaments.
- 1 Ne 1:1: On introducing. The "therefore" with which Nephi begins the final phrase of verse 1 marks his introductory verses (verses 1-3) as apologetic: this is why I am writing, all of what I just mentioned justifies taking up this project. The logic of Nephi's apologetic introduction is surprising because though he will later explicitly mention a divine commandment to produce the text (2 Ne 5:31), he makes no such reference here. Instead, he founds his text on the circumstances of his life. Nephi makes cites his experiences as of enough significance to justify writing scripture. Given this, Nephi's brief autobiography in verse 1--what we will see is essentially his reading of those very experiences--should be read with incredible care.
1 Ne 1:1: Possible structures based on Nephi's four "having's"
- The comments here are a condensed version of the more extended discussion of possible structures for 1 Ne 1:1 based on the four clauses in verse 1:1 that each begin with "having ..."
- 1 Ne 1:1: Serial structure. If one looks at Nephi's autobiographical sketch for a textual structure, the repeating word having immediately suggests its own importance: every phrase (except the ungrammatical "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father," which can only be dealt with after some structural clarity is achieved) begins with the term. If having is read as the structural key to the passage, most likely therefore to be read as a progressive series, then it might be rendered thus (with connectives set between phrases):
(1) having been born of goodly parents and (2) having seen many afflictions in the course of my days nevertheless (3) having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days yea (4) having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
- 1 Ne 1:1: Chiastic structure. No sooner is the structure laid out as a series of "having's" than some obvious parallelistic structures suggest themselves. Most visible perhaps is the parallel my days occurring in (2) and (3). Not quite so striking at first is the parallelism formed by (1) and (4) by their use of different manifestations of the word good, goodly and goodness respectively. This double parallel of first with last and second with penultimate suggests the passage be read as a chiasm (perhaps with even the and between (1) and (2) parallel to the yea between (3) and (4)). Rendered chiastically, the autobiographical sketch would look thus:
A having been born of goodly parents B and C having seen many afflictions in the course of my days D nevertheless C' having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days B' yea A' having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
- 1 Ne 1:1: Double parallel structure. The parallel drawn out above as B and B' further suggests another structural reading of the passage. Both and and yea suggest a doubling, a repetition. In other words, A and C might well be read parallelistically, as might A' and C'. The autobiographical sketch would then become a parallel set of parallelisms, mediated by the central nevertheless. In short, the passage might be schematized thus:
A having been born of goodly parents B and A' having seen many afflictions in the course of my days C nevertheless D having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days B' yea D' having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
- The interpretive comments below follow each of the above three structural readings in turn.
1 Ne 1:1: Nephi's four "having's"
- Nephi's first "having"
- Birth and learning. If we read goodly as meaning wealthy (see lexical note above), then Nephi tells us that it was because of his parent's wealth that he was able to be taught "somewhat in all the learning of [his] father."
- Teaching and learning. Whatever Lehi's learning consists of, it is clear from the text that it already consists, that it already stands together, that it is complete enough to be taught, named, or pointed out. And this nominal completion of Lehi's learning stands textually against the apparently incomplete studies of Nephi: "I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father."
- Toward the relation between Nephi and Lehi. The foregoing comments on Nephi's first "having," besides destructuring the father-son teaching situation, work out provisional meanings for three words: "goodly", being "taught", and "learning". The meanings worked out are provisional precisely in that they remain in the above comments extratextual: they have not been read back into the text, but provide a framework for just such a (re)reading. However, before such a reading can proceed, something of the interpersonal dynamics at play in this first having must be worked out, so that there is something to read these words back into. In other words, because "goodly" qualifies "parents", because "taught" qualifies "I", because "learning" qualifies--this last in a very broad sense--"father", the interrelatedness of Nephi ("I"), his "parents" and his "father" must be worked out before the meanings of their qualifying words can be read into the text. It should be noted at the same time that a preliminary working out of the interpersonal dynamics of Nephi's first "having" will also be provisional: like the working out of the meaning of the qualifying words, a working out of these dynamics is an abstraction of text, drawing out the persons without the words that qualify them. Hence, the complex interpersonal dynamics of this first "having" (it is unique among the four "having's") require a second abstraction in addition to the first one worked out above. The two must then be read against and into each other for a more complete reading of the phrase.
- On proper names. The first and most obvious aspect of the interpersonal dynamics of Nephi's first having to be considered is the function of the proper name. Whereas Nephi's first verse opens with the overwhelming announcement of the prophet's own proper name, the remainder of the three-verse preface to Nephi's text is, from then on, void of any other proper names for any (earthly) person ("the Lord" might be a proper name, "YHWH", though it names God; "the Jews" and "the Egyptians" might also be argued to be proper names, but each apparently names a collective--they are both plural). This absence of proper names is most striking in Nephi's first having, where he makes explicit mention of both his "parents" and his "father", but without any proper names. The comments above have overlooked this, drawing the names of Lehi and Sariah, of course, from the actual body of the Nephite text. The point raises two questions, one of which cannot be fully examined until after full consideration of Nephi's autobiographical sketch. This question to be postponed is, indeed, as broad as Nephi's autobiographical sketch: what does Nephi's announcement of his proper name accomplish in the text? The other question, to be dealt with presently, concerns rather the unnamed in the text: what does the lack of proper names for Lehi and Sariah in this first having accomplish?
- The theme of separation. The relation implied between Nephi and his parents/father, then, is ultimately not a question of presence and non-presence. Nephi's first having, precisely because it writes them without names, reads Sariah and Lehi as completely saturating Nephi's experience, not as perpetual presences, but rather as the element of which Nephi is made. Nephi reads himself as a (re)presentation of his parents/father: they live (continually?) in his living.
- The meaning of the tension. Stating the issue this way does not relieve the tension, but releases it from appearing as a contradiction: Nephi is separate just in that he embodies his parents, just in that he is inseparable from them. Hence, a first reading of Nephi's first (self-)reading: Nephi's collective experience is always from the standpoint of his a son who embodies his parents/father. Nephi encounters the world as his parents.
- The teaching situation and separation. Nephi's first having wonderfully puts on display Lehi's profound influence on him: always as himself, Nephi entirely presents his father.
- Goodliness and separation. As pointed at at the very beginning of these comments on Nephi's first having, the first self-reading of this autobiographical sketch (by employing the strong "therefore" at its center) draws upon the relation between the goodliness of Nephi's parents and his own later instruction. That broad relation now suggests that the theme of separation so powerfully embodied in the teaching situation should be read back into the goodliness of Lehi and Sariah. Or better, that goodliness should be read as the source of that eventually perfected tension of separation/inseparability. And it certainly does. If, as mentioned above, "goodly" is best read as marking the wealth or abundance of Nephi's parents, then the description the prophet's birth draws the theme of inheritance to bear powerfully on the present considerations: Nephi's first having casts him as an heir. The power of this insight emerges in the fact that inheritance is itself a perfect embodiment of the same tension of separation/inseparability. The heir is profoundly separate and absolutely inseparable from his or her benefactor. Nephi, as heir, is again marked entirely and always himself, even as he entirely and always (re-)presents his father. Perhaps most vital in all this: it is precisely the term "goodly" that draws this tension into the first half of Nephi's first having.
- Subverted inheritance. However, as soon as Nephi's first having is read through the theme of inheritance, the same theme is called into question: Nephi's relational "therefore" does not draw eventual wealth as the fruition of inheritance, but rather instruction. In other words, Nephi's inheritance is "only" an intellectual inheritance: he is heir to his father's learning. (This first having, then, should probably be read with an eye to the later Lamanite claim to the right of inheritance.)
- Nephi's relation, finally, to his parents. All of the above comments set up the relation between Nephi and his parents/father. In his first self-interpretation, Nephi reads himself fundamentally as heir to his father's learning, and that only through the instrumentality--the goodliness--of his parents. As heir, Nephi covers his parents over, in a sense, and yet manifests them perfectly: he manifests them in himself. Nephi reads himself not so much as drawing upon his parents' goodliness, but as re-working it, as re-presenting, as re-embodying it. Nephi himself is Lehi again, Lehi repeated, but now with the proper name of Nephi. If this first having is Nephi's attempt to read his beginnings, to interpret his origins, what he apparently finds is always only himself ("I, Nephi"), but always only his parents/father, as presented in himself.
- The content of Lehi's learning. With this relation now established, wherein Nephi continually re-presents his father (and that especially in terms of "learning"), the way has been opened up to explore at last the actual content of Lehi's learning. However, the above comments have conclusively pointed away from such a task. It might be best to say that Nephi, precisely because he does not take the space to explicate his father's learning, sees this issue as inessential, perhaps immaterial. The point, as suggested by the above comments, of Nephi's first having is the role Lehi and Sariah play in Nephi's independent/dependent writing.
- Nephi's second "having"
- On the way to "afflictions." Obviously the most important word in Nephi's second having is "afflictions." Curiously, the word does not take the grammatical position of subject in the clause; rather it functions as the direct object. As direct object, it becomes that towards which this second self-interpretation tends: the "many afflictions" of Nephi might best be understood as the horizon of this second autobiographical comment, not as the starting point. This is as much as to say that Nephi removes from himself (in the act of writing) the actual afflictions he suffered (he displaces them to his--and the reader's--horizon). He in fact does so, precisely by clothing them in a double event-ness: the afflictions comes to Nephi spatially (through his body: "having seen") and temporally (in time: "in the course of my days"). (It should be noted very clearly that only Nephi's second having has an undeniable event-ness about it: the static verbs of the other three havings set this second one forth as uniquely event-ual.) In other words, because Nephi characterizes his "many afflictions" as events (spatio-temporal happenings), they become for him and for the reader event-ual, intended but still unreached. A first interpretive point for Nephi's second having: the very key of this having ("afflictions") are the key precisely because they are what the whole phrase aims at, but does not yet reach.
- On the way from "afflictions." Even as the grammatical structure of Nephi's second having sets the prophet's afflictions at a double remove as a spatio-temporal event-uality, another grammatical structure inherent in the same phrase cancels this distantiation. The "having" that marks the seeing (the spatial/bodily happening that is temporalized in the "course of [Nephi's] days") is a verbal that is, by the end of Nephi's first verse, caught up into the present work of writing. However absent or distant Nephi's afflictions are at the time of writing, they are one of his four self-interpretive reasons for writing at all. In other words, even as Nephi's second having marks itself as a way towards the many afflictions Nephi faced, the whole of the first verse unmistakably marks Nephi's entire introduction as a way from afflictions to writing. (As mentioned above, only this second having is explicitly event-ual. While the other three self-interpretations Nephi offers might be read as several groundings of Nephi's task of writing, this one, his second having, seems best read as a sort of path or way towards the task of writing. That this having is temporalized by a "course of... days" seems to underscore this point.) Though Nephi's afflictions appear event-ual and horizonal, they are nonetheless a sort of point of departure for Nephi.
- The meaning of affliction. Though "affliction" seems a simple enough word, its literal meaning is perhaps more nuanced. The verb, "to afflict", comes into English from a Latin compound: ad-fligo, literally "to strike against (towards)". Its primary meaning in usage was to dash something against another (or two things together) or (much the same) to knock down, strike down, or damage. Only metaphorically did the word come to mean to weaken, to discourage. Affliction was originally, then, bodily pain or torture. Before the word is taken in Nephi's text to mean something primarily "spiritual" or "mental," it should be considered in its physical originality. If Nephi means the word in a "spiritual" or "mental" sense, the violence implied in the literal meaning should not be missed. Moreover, the original "physical" meaning of the word always implies at least two "things," marked by the ad-, the towards or against. Too quick a reversion to the "spiritual" or "mental" reading of affliction might reduce affliction to a sort of solitary struggle rather than a literal clash of at least two things. The towards and against of affliction also point toward two parties--one who afflicts, and one who is afflicted. Affliction is more than suffering, it is a suffering caused by one towards another.
- Reanalyzing the parallel between first and second "havings". Nephi's second "having" is now seen as the prophet's confrontation with the fallen nature of the world, as his loving response to the presence of evil--of afflictions, many afflictions--in the world. And here, perhaps, the apparent parallel between this second having and the first falls apart. Whereas in the first having, Nephi interprets himself as a reembodiment of his parents (thus being separate and inseparable from them), here it is clear that Nephi is not reading himself in terms of affliction, but in terms of his response to affliction. In other words, Nephi's entire first verse does not ultimately follow Nephi's journey from afflictions to writing, but from his response to afflictions to the task of writing. If this second having is to be read as privileged above the others for its event-ness, it is now clear that the event(s) Nephi here recounts is (are) not to be understood as experience(s) of affliction, but as response(s) to affliction. The one event Nephi cites on the way to the task of writing is his seeing, his open eyes in response to the wickedness of the world.
- Toward the course of Nephi's days. Given all of the above, Nephi's second having might be summarized thus: the only event Nephi calls upon in interpreting his life is his loving response (his open eyes) to the wickedness of the world. All that remains to be dealt with in this second having is the "course of [Nephi's] days." It is clear that this phrase plays an important role in the text, besides confirming the event-ual character of the second having. A first, but very brief reading suggests that Nephi proscribes his charitable response within a sort of temporal enclosure (which might just be a consequence of the event-ual character of this having). The word "course" is, however, not so perfectly simple. Its many meanings in [] suggest that it should be read quite carefully. Two "concepts" seem to be inevitable: the word implies at least motion and method/order. (Etymology bears this out: "course" derives from Latin "cursus," which means an established track for running a race, hence motion and order.) Whatever Nephi means by the "course" of his days, it seems that it must inevitably be read through the double theme of motion and method.
- One's days and the course of one's days. Nephi here reads his afflictions as punctuating an ordered procession of experiences, of events, a series of events that culminate in death--the event that anounces itself as the foreclosure of all other events, as the cessation of events. In other words, Nephi seems to read his life here as a series of witnessed events, as experiences he entered into bodily (even through his eyes), all tending toward the cessation of events and experiences, and all this punctuated often ("many") by afflictions, by--perhaps--events that suggested the reality of the coming conclusive event. It is, of course, most significant that Nephi reads his own charity as a response to those event-ual forerunners of death.
- Nephi's third "having."
- Nephi's return to "days." After the peculiarities of Nephi's second having, the word "days" immediately stands out in this third having. Whereas before his days were subsumed under the figure of a course, here they are merely collected with the word "all." One immediately gets the sense that this third having breaks the course of the second, that the inevitable movement of Nephi's days toward death is canceled in the favor of the Lord. Broadly speaking, then, this third having already presents itself as something beyond even the implicit charity of the second having. Certainly the clearest initial theme of this having is the theme of God's love, God's favor, a reverse of the charity mentioned above.
- Nephi's four "having's."
- Nephi's life and the plan. Together the clauses beginning with having form a pattern that runs through Nephi's two books: creation ("having been born"), fall ("having seen many afflictions"), atonement ("having been highly favored of the Lord"), and passing through the veil ("having had a great knowledge"). The pattern might broadly be called "the plan of salvation," but it appears to play a more fundamental textual role for Nephi as well. His first eighteen chapters (1 Nephi 1-18) tell a sort of creation story (with constant reference to his goodly parents); his following nine chapters (1 Nephi 19-2 Nephi 5) tell a sort of fall story (marked emphatically by the division between Nephites and Lamanites); his next twenty-five chapters (2 Nephi 6-31) tell a sort of atonement story (how the Lamanites might become again favored and reconnected to broader Israel); and his concluding three chapters (2 Nephi 31-33) dwell on a sort of passing-through-the-veil story (through a discussion of baptism in incredibly "veil-like" terms). Moreover, that the twenty-five chapter atonement stretch of Nephi's two-book record is presented by three messengers who collectively bring to the reader an understanding of how the "veil" of 2 Nephi 31-33 might be passed suggests that there is some connection between Nephi's broader record and the temple drama. If this connection is not unfounded, Nephi's "therefore" toward the end of this verse is powerfully significant: it is because his very life might be read as a sort of "endowment" that he is writing this text.
- Goodness and mysteries. No other prophet in our scriptures pairs these words in a single verse. Nephi is restating an earlier portion of this verse, in which he attributed his "learning" to his "goodly parents." Nephi's life experiences apparently taught him these two things go hand in hand.
- Chiastic interpretation / double parallelism interpretation.
- 'Nevertheless. The term nevertheless means most literally that what is about to be said is not undone by what has been said, that the implications of the foregoing (here, the first half) do not preclude what is about to be said (here, in the second half): Y (what I am about to say) is never to be taken as anything less--is not to be read weakly--because of X (what I have just said). This more literal reading implies a great deal about the meaning of Nephi's autobiographical chiasm. The first half of it (what might be called Nephi's earthly world) does not preclude in any way, nor does it weaken at all, the second half of it (what might be called Nephi's heavenly world). In short, the first half of Nephi's chiastic autobiography at once has something to do with the second half--especially in that it parallels it!--but the relation between the two is neither one of mutual implication, nor one of frustrating contradiction. Perhaps all that can at first be said about the chiasm in question is what has snuck into this discussion through the back door: Nephi sees the earthly and heavenly aspects of his existence as parallel, not contradictory or implicatory.
- having ..., nevertheless, having... Lehi is not disappointed by his experiences. He displays an attitude of gratitude.
1 Ne 1:1: Beyond(?) autobiography
- 1 Ne 1:1: Book of the Dead wording. If the final phrase of this verse is taken in the Egyptian idiom, it is remarkably close to the Egyptian name for what is commonly called the "Book of the Dead" (Egyptian: "The Book of Going Forth by Day"). Nephi might here be making a suggestive allusion: his two-volume record on the small plates is, as it were, his own Book of the Dead (which was, for all intents and purposes, a sort of Egyptian endowment, an Egyptian drama of resurrection). If this reading is justified, this final phrase might ground the temple connections mentioned above. A connection (however distant) to the Book of the Dead would certainly explain the autobiographical "I, Nephi" with which the verse begins: copies of the "canonical" Book of the Dead were always personalized (by name) for the individual who purchased them. This may also provide a better context in which to understand verse 2.
1 Ne 1:2
- 1 Ne 1:2: Double parallelism. Given the comments above on verse 1, there is a double parallelism at play in this verse: Nephi is concerned in verse 1:1 with his father's learning, and in the second verse with his father's language. This is doubled by Nephi's further mention of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians. The full implications of this double parallelism, however, remain to be worked out.
- 1 Ne 1:2: Re-translating verse 1? Besides the tension that already connects the first two verses in an odd way (explained above in the comments on verse 1), Nephi further connects them by mediating their contraposition with the weighty word "Yea." Given that the Book of Mormon broadly takes up the KJV idiom (a presupposition that might well be called into question), the "Yea" here likely should be read with the weight of the Hebrew root knn, to double, to repeat, to confirm. If so, Nephi seems to be drawing his first two verses into a sort of reciprocal or perhaps dialectical relation. If this second verse might be read as a "translation" of the first, it is fascinating that the two verses are drawn together in their pairing of questions of language and learning, especially the explicit mention of Jewish and Egyptian traditions. Through these two verses (explicitly composed of "metalanguage"), Nephi presents his record as fundamentally dual: it is a crossing of Egyptian and Jewish traditions, of Lehi's and Nephi's experiences, of language and learning, of verse 1 and verse 2. It might at least be said that Nephi sees his work as working out these several tensions.
- 1 Ne 1:2: Making a record. A single foundational phrase underlies both verse 1 and verse 2: "I make a record." When each of these verses is stripped of dependent clauses and prepositional phrases, only this four-word sentence is left behind for each of them. The two verses would thus read: "I make a record. Yea, I make a record." This observation not only strengthens the suggestion that verse 2 is a repetition/translation of verse 1, but it also makes clear that Nephi's making a record is of foundational importance to these first few verses. Nephi uses the word "record" three times in this three-verse introduction to his text, doubly marking the importance of the term. The word generally translates the Hebrew zkrwn in the KJV, a word deriving from the root zkr, meaning to actualize, to enact, to remember, to hold in presence. Nephi's choice of this word may imply that his text is to be read as a ritual text, one to be read aloud, even acted out or presented dramatically (cf. Rev 1:3). Such a reading might well ground the endowment themes in verse 1, while at the same time both enriching and making difficult Nephi's statement in verse 3 that the record is "true."
- 1 Ne 1:2: Mention of the Jews. The first mention of the Jews in the whole of Nephi's record--in the whole of the Book of Mormon--is found in this verse, and it sets the tone for all subsequent discussion of the Jews. If there is any starting point for a study of who is meant by the Jews in the Book of Mormon, it is here. And this first mention is quite peculiar. From the very beginning, the national identity of the Jews is in question. "The Jews" are set here quite clearly against "the Egyptians," both emerging under plural nouns that deserve some attention: why does Nephi say "the learning of the Jews" and not "the learning of Judah" or "Jewish learning," and why does Nephi say "the language of the Egyptians" and not "the language of Egypt" or "Egyptian language"? The point is important, because Nephi from the very beginning places an emphasis on individuals who derive their identity from their political situation, rather than on nations as whole individuals (the "Israel" of the OT prophets, so profoundly understood by William Blake in his mythic prophecies). The point is, in fact, more complicated still: specific mention of "the Jews" and "the Egyptians" can only have had for Nephi profound political overtones, because of the particular situation between these nations that obtained at the time he left Jerusalem with his family. These politically defined individuals, set against each other in Nephi's first mention of the Jews, deserves some very close attention.
- 1 Ne 1:2: "of the Jews," "of the Egyptians." Only a decade or so before Zedekiah's enthronement, the Jews and the Egyptians found themselves at war. The political situation was intense: Assyria had crumbled, leaving a power vacuum and three nations trying to fill it. Babylon, the largest and most powerful nation, was the most likely to take its place, but this was undecided, since both Egypt and Judah were also striving for the part. Around 610 B.C., Pharaoh Necho offered to join forces with Babylon against all other powers, working towards a joint empire. While traveling to accomplish this in 609 B.C., Pharaoh was encountered by Israelite forces led by King Josiah, who was attempting to stop the alliance. Josiah had already led his armies to quite a few victories in his struggle to claim greater Judean power. At Megiddo, the armies met, and Israel suffered a terrible defeat, in which Necho himself killed Josiah. The defeat was crushing for Judah (the textual implications of this failure alone for the Bible are incredible), and led quickly to the conquest of Jerusalem within two decades. Babylon quickly asserted its power of Judah, and Judah found itself conquered with a puppet king in place over it (namely, Zedekiah, who was installed by Babylon). This set up a rather difficult situation for Judah, a people with a covenant they understood to mean that they would never be conquered: either they had to submit cheerfully to Babylon (which seemed to imply unfaithfulness to the Davidic covenant), or they had to raise up enough of a force against Babylon to throw off the yoke (which could only be done through an alliance with Egypt). The prophets at the time were advocating the former position (Jeremiah especially), but Zedekiah eventually tried to establish political ties with Egypt, and the result was the obliteration of the kingdom of Judah. All of this, oddly, shows that the Jews and the Egyptians had a rather complex relationship at the time the Book of Mormon begins: those who were in favor of Egypt were those who could forgive the death of Josiah in order to try in some way to restore the situation they believed to be according to the Davidic covenant; those who were not in favor of Egypt were following the prophets even though it seemed as if this were against the wishes of the Lord. More still: the Egyptians and the Jews had so many commercial ties--especially mercenary ties--that the cultures had to some degree or another fused into one. That Nephi writes his record in reformed Egyptian is of some significance: he finds himself in the midst of some major political struggles, all of which bear quite inevitably on the questions of covenant.
- 1 Ne 1:2: Jews, then, and Egyptians. For Nephi here to use "of the Jews" and "of the Egyptians" makes quite a point, then: by drawing on collective individuals, Nephi avoids questions of broader politics. He is not so much concerned in this verse with Judah and Egypt as he is with people from Judah and people from Egypt. He is more concerned with cultures and heritages, with traditions. It should be noted, then, that the very first mention of "the Jews" in the Book of Mormon marks them as a national culture that can be opposed to, set against, that of Egypt. If Egypt is the glory of antiquity, Nephi sees Judah as no less so. The Jews, from the very beginning, are a people, one with a tradition, with a unique history and culture, and with an autonomous take on the world. The Jews, it seems quite clear, are to be understood as the people who come from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, who have inherited the particularities of Judah and Benjamin, as well as the complexities of cross-cultures that came in with the collapse of the Northern Kingdom. The heritage of Judah has a mixed history, perhaps, but Nephi understands it to be unique and separate by this point.
1 Ne 1:3
- 1 Ne 1:3: Chiasm. After the grammatical complexity of Nephi's first two verses, the third verse reads with a striking simplicity. It is made up of three straightforward statements, all beginning with the conjoining "and I". Despite the unbalance between these short, plain statements and the far more difficult phrases of verses 1 and 2, this verse sets up a chiastic structure that runs through the whole of Nephi's first three verses:
A I make a record B I make a record C I know (that the record is true) B' I make it A' I make it
- The importance of this structure goes well beyond "proofs of ancient authorship": the whole of verse 1 is set in parallel with Nephi's rather simple "and I make it according to my knowledge"; and the whole of verse 2 is set in parallel with his (also rather simple) "and I make it with mine own hand." Further, because it marks the chiastic center and has no parallel, the independent statement "And I know that the record which I make is true," with its profound focus on knowledge instead of record-making, separates itself thematically from the rest of what Nephi writes into these first three verses. More still, the doubling already recognized in verses 1 and 2 (here called A and B) is itself doubled by a parallel doubling (B' and A' might be read as a project of translation just as A and B are above). These structural observations are perhaps a collective key to interpreting this third verse.
- 1 Ne 1:3: Record-making and testimony. As mentioned above, the chiastic center of Nephi's first three verses is a grammatical inversion of every other step of the chiasm. In other words, whereas verses 1 and 2 unite with the second and third statements of verse 3 in a project of subordinating (grammatically) knowledge to the record Nephi makes, this central (most important?) statement subordinates (again, grammatically) the record to Nephi's knowledge: "And I know that the record which I make is true." Again, it might be said that the great majority of Nephi's three-verse introduction to his story understands Nephi's "knowledge" (and "learning" and "language") to be sublimated (or at least spoken) in the text is writes. At the same time, however, the most central message of that same three-verse introduction is a reversal of this sublimation: the record gathers itself up in Nephi's testimonial "I know," is sublimated (or, again, at least spoken) in the knowledge he has. In short, the complex structure written into Nephi's first three verses suggests a sort of dialectic of testimony: knowledge is channeled into a text, and a text is channeled into knowledge. Record-making and knowing are undeniably--even if impossibly--interwoven in Nephi's introduction. The LDS theme of "testimony" might well be re-read through these verses, in a reading that appears to adhere carefully to the implied roots of the Hebrew term for testimony, `dwt (from a root that arguably means to carve or engrave in stone).
- 1 Ne 1:3: Record-keeping. It appears Nephi grew up in a culture that recorded, and then passed on, knowledge from God. He is well positioned to carry on this family tradition.
- 1 Ne 1:3: Another structure? If the comments above concerning the semi-independent clause near the beginning of verse 1 are taken into account, an alternate structure for Nephi's first three verses emerges, recasting the function of this third verse. If Nephi's ungrammatical "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father" is taken as an independent clause, then six statements (rather than five) precipitate out of 1 Nephi 1:1-3. Moreover, the sixth component of the surface structure of Nephi's introduction would disassemble the chiasm and replace it with an entirely different structure:
A I was taught somewhat B I make a record C I make a record A' I know (that the record is true) B' I make it C' I make it
- Such a reading would make verse 3 a wholesale doubling of verses 1 and 2. Further, the two parallelisms mentioned in the chiastic reading would be switched ("with mine own hand" would parallel Nephi's fourfold life experience, and "according to my knowledge" would parallel the "language of my father"). Perhaps most important, Nephi's testimony ("I know that the record which I make is true") would here be parallel to his learning ("therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father"). Both of these parallel statements work out Nephi's "knowledge," perhaps strengthening this structural reading of these three verses.
1 Ne 1:1-3
- 1 Ne 1:1-3: Teaching as an impossibility. Nephi's first three verses should be read as a single literary unit (marked separate from and yet tied inextricably to verse 4 by the latter's introductory "For"). However, the comments collected above suggest that this "single literary unit" is bound together by an undeniable tension. At the root of this tension is the ungrammatical interruption early in the first verse: "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father." Not only does this phrase break with the grammatical structure of the first verse, thereby setting up a syntactical tension, it forces a double semantic (better: structural) tension into the whole three verse introduction, as laid out in the comments above. In other words, what might have otherwise been a very straightforward three-verse introduction on how and why Nephi wrote his record is disturbed, unbalanced, perhaps even frustrated, and precisely in Nephi's having been "taught." It is not too much to say that Nephi's introductory text puts on display how the "simple" dialectical process of record-making is grounded on the violent, aporetic, and yet necessary work of "being taught." The implications of Nephi's "ungrammar" are rich, but remain to be worked out at length.
1 Ne 1:4
- 1 Ne 1:4: Zedekiah's reign. Zedekiah's reign marks the historical beginning of the story, but it probably should not be assumed that Nephi's text therefore "legitimizes" him. In fact, the text draws an important parallel that, to some degree, de-legitimizes him: whereas this verse portrays the enthroned Zedekiah as surrounded with prophets speaking disparaging messages, verse 8 will portray a parallel God upon His throne, surrounded with angels who sing and shout praises to Him. The comparison might well betray Nephi's attitude towards the king.
- 1 Ne 1:4: Monarch. Zedekiah may have received less respect than his predecessors, because he was about 21 years old at this time.
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- 1 Ne 1:1: Colophon. Was Hugh Nibley right about these introductory verses being a colophon? Is this literary structure or formula unique to Nephi in the Book of Mormon or did other authors use colophons throughout the Book of Mormon also? Do you agree with John A. Tvedtnes or Brant Gardner on this point?
- 1 Ne 1:1: born of goodly parents. How many people are included in the Nephi's use of the word parents? How many of these parents gave birth to him? Can parents mean more than just mother and father? Does the use of parents in Alma 30:25 provide a possible answer?
- 1 Ne 1:1: in all the learning of my father. How does Nephi's phrase compare with this description of the sons of Mosiah: "And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers" (Mosiah 1:2)? Does this mean the sons of Mosiah received most of their lessons from someone other than their father? If the phrasing of these two passages is so similar, does that suggest that Nephi also received some of his religious training from a teacher who was not his father?
- 1 Ne 1:1: Nature of Nephi's learning. Did anyone in Lehi's family have access to scriptures before Nephi and his brothers obtained the brass plates from Laban? If they did not have access to sacred texts, what was Nephi studying in his youth? How likely is it that Lehi and Nephi were part of an oral tradition? Does 2 Ne 33:1 contain any clues about Nephi's feelings about spoken texts versus written texts?
- 1 Ne 1:1: Afflictions and blessings. How can this verse be used to deepen understanding of the themes of afflictions and blessings throughout 1 Nephi?
- 1 Ne 1:1: having seen many afflictions. Whose afflictions might Nephi have witnessed?
- 1 Ne 1:1: Learning equals language? What is the relationship between the learning of Nephi's father in 1 Ne 1:1 and the language of Nephi's father in 1 Ne 1:2?
- 1 Ne 1:1: Intended introduction? As we know from Words of Mormon, D&C 3, and D&C 10, Mormon did not intend the Book of Mormon to begin as it does now. How does this verse, in its "usurped" position, change the way we might otherwise read the Book of Mormon? How would the Book of Mormon be different if, for example, it began with an introduction to the whole text by Mormon?
- 1 Ne 1:1: therefore I make a record. How might we here understand Nephi's purpose or motivation in writing? How do Nephi's other explanations for this record (as contained in this verse) compare with the purposes listed in 1 Ne 9 and 1 Ne 19? How might we understand this statement while also considering that Nephi later wrote, "the Lord hath commanded me to make these plates for a wise purpose in him, which purpose I know not" in 1 Ne 9:5?
- 1 Ne 1:1: Tense. Nephi uses phrases like "having been" and "make a record" in the same sentence, mixing past tense with present tense. Why might Nephi be doing this? Is this intentional? (ie. are we looking at an instance of enallage?)
- 1 Ne 1:1: Memory. If Nephi is writing this record several years after the fact, how does this affect his memory of past events? If Nephi is writing with the benefit of hindsight, how does that affect Nephi's explanation of how and why things happened?
- 1 Ne 1:1: Autobiography? What did Nephi mean in 1 Ne 1:17 when he said that "after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life?" Does that mean Nephi did not consider this verse autobiographical? Or was this brief introduction something less than an "account"?
- 1 Ne 1:1: Concepts of Time. Why does Nephi shift from the event of one day, to things that happened in the course of days, to things that happened every day, to mysteries that may transcend time? Is this a progression of some sort? Is Nephi making a distinction between different measures of time when he talks about "my days"? Does Jacob 7:26 offer any insights into how Nephi and his contemporaries conceptualized time?
- 1 Ne 1:2: Process of a prophet. To what degree did Joseph Smith see these verses as a foreshadowing of his own work as a prophet?
- 1 Ne 1:2: Double cultures. Nephi here introduces the difficulties of translation into his still untranslated text: his work is a crossing of two cultures? How does this internal theme of translation bear on questions of Joseph's work of translating the Book of Mormon? Does this double culture of Nephi's work affect how it should be read?
- 1 Ne 1:2: Yea. Nephi begins this verse with "Yea," implying that this verse is a validation of the first verse. How does this verse meet up with the first?
- 1 Ne 1:2: the language of my father Is Nephi implying that his father was bi-literate? Did Lehi have experience producing written texts in reformed Egyptian? Or did Nephi primarily pick up this skill from the brass plates?
- 1 Ne 1:2: "which" and "consists." What is the antecedent for "which" in this verse? Is it both "language" and "record"? Is it more likely that Nephi's "record" "consists" of "learning" and "language" or that his "language" "consists" of "learning" and "language"?
- 1 Ne 1:2: Jews and Egyptians. What is Nephi's concept of these two groups at the time he writes this verse? Has Nephi already had the visions of 1 Ne. 13-15 by the time he puts these thoughts to paper? If so, how does his discussion of Jews in those chapters influence what he is saying here? Or is it possible that Nephi held those later understandings of Jews in abeyance while he wrote this verse, in an attempt to recreate the understanding of Jews he started out with?
- 1 Ne 1:2: I make a record. Technically speaking, would it have been more accurate for Nephi to have written, "I have been making a record"? Why might Nephi have used this wording?
- 1 Ne 1:2: learning of the Jews. Is there a qualitative difference between saying "learning of the Jews" and "the Jews' learning"?
- 1 Ne 1:2: the language of the Egyptians. Did Nephi think the Egyptians used only one language? Should the singular word "language" be read as referring to only one language? If Nephi had been aware that the Egyptians were multi-lingual, would he have necessarily used the word "languages" to refer to their spoken abilities?
- 1 Ne 1:2: the language" and "the learning. Is Nephi saying that Lehi's "language" consists of the entirety of these languages and learning? If Nephi's learning was "somewhat" in 1 Ne 1:1, is this contrasted with the completeness of his father's learning? Was Nephi just being humble, or did he really feel that his father's knowledge dwarfed his own?
- 1 Ne 1:3: The record ... is true. What does Nephi mean when he calls this record true? Why does he emphasize that he made it with his own hands?
- 1 Ne 1:3: I make. By this point, Nephi has used the phrase "I make" five times. Why is he repeating himself so much? Where there some that would doubt that he was the maker of the plates? Was he just claiming authorship or did the fact that he was the maker of the plates provide him with another sort of authority?
- 1 Ne 1:3: I know. Did Nephi know in advance that, no matter what, his writings on the plates would always be true? Or is Nephi making this statement after having written enough of his record that he feels confident that everything on the plates will be true?
- 1 Ne 1:3: My knowledge. Is Nephi saying this knowledge belongs to him or that it is in his sole possession? How did Nephi suddenly shift from deferentially talking about "the language of my father" in the previous verse to speaking confidently about his own knowledge? Why did Nephi shift from referring to "a great knowledge . . . of God" (verse 1) to laying claim on what he called "my knowledge"?
- 1 Ne 1:3: make it according to my knowledge. Is Nephi saying he purposely designed the plates so they would correspond to his own knowledge? How would the meaning of this verse be different if Nephi had written "I make it with my knowledge" or "I make it as I am given knowledge"? Is Nephi implying in this verse that he takes responsibility for any mistakes, since the writing was based upon his own knowledge?
- 1 Ne 1:3: Make it with my own hand. Later in this chapter, Nephi referes to "plates which I have made with mine own hands" (1 Ne 1:17). Why did he use the singular word "hand," rather than "hands," in this verse?
- 1 Ne 1:4: For it came to pass. Why did Nephi use a five-word phrase that appears only three other times in the Book of Mormon (1 Ne 11:1, Mosiah 26:6, and Ether 6:2)? Why did he not simply say "And it came to pass"?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Commencement of the first year. Is Nephi being needlessly repetitive? Or is he trying to point to the first day, week, or month of the king's reign, as opposed to referring to the entire year? Was this first year in 600 or 598 B.C.?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Commencement ... of the reign of Zedekiah. With the exception of 1 Ne 5, which also mentions Zedekiah, why is this the only instance of the word commencement in the Book of Mormon until Alma 2:1? Did the authors of the small plates of Nephi assume that "commencement" was a concept that applied to kings in Judah and not to political leaders in the promised land? Or were words and concepts that applied to kings, like "commencement," reserved for the large plates of Nephi?
- 1 Ne 1:4: It. Is there supposed to be an antecedent for this word? Or is Nephi just using a formulaic phrase?
- 1 Ne 1:4: In that same year. Is Nephi saying prophets came throughout the year, even though he opened the verse by presumably referring to the beginning of the year? Does Nephi's reference to the year, once again, indicate he was beginning a new sentence?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days. Is Nephi saying Lehi had never before left Jerusalem? Or is he saying Lehi's residence was at Jerusalem, even if he sometimes went on trips that took him away from the city. Is Nephi implying that Lehi has never called another place home? What clues does the phrase "the land of our forefathers" (Alma 7:10) hold for answering these questions?
- 1 Ne 1:4: All his days. Why does Nephi use days, rather than years, to measure the age of his father? Why does the phrase "his years" never appear in the Book of Mormon? Was Nephi starting a new pattern upon the plates for measuring age? Was he borrowing the practice from an ancient source? Is the frequent use of the phrase "his days" in the Book of Ether the result of Moroni's abridgement?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Parentheses. Is this an example of a parenthetical expression in Nephi's writing, even though this piece of punctuation did not originate with Nephi? How does the phrase about Lehi dwelling in Jerusalem qualify or explain the clause that preceded it?
- 1 Ne 1:4: King of Judah. When Nephi points out that his father has dwelt at Jerusalem his entire life, while in the middle of saying that Zedekiah has been king for less than a year, is he trying to say that Lehi also lived under the previous kings? Who were the kings of Judah during Lehi's lifetime? What age was Lehi under Josiah's reign, which ended only eleven years before Zedekiah became king? How were Lehi's religious views, Laban's possession of the plates, and Nephi's religious training affected by the religious reforms of king Josiah?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Dwelt at Jerusalem. What other indications do we have, besides 1 Chr 9:3, that descendants of Ephraim and Manessah lived in Jerusalem? To what extent were they outnumbered by the descendants of Judah and Benjamin who also lived in Jerusalem? What were relations like between the descendants of these four tribes who all lived in Jerusalem?
- 1 Ne 1:4: In that same year there came many prophets. Why is Nephi noting the presence of these prophets? Was it typical or unusal for Jerusalem to have "many" prophets in its midst? Is Nephi saying several prophets suddenly arrived on the scene when Zedekiah took office? Who else besides Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Ezekiel (who are listed on page 639 of the Bible Dictionary), was on Nephi's list of prophets at the time? Have LDS scholars often overlooked Urijah (see Jer 26:20) as one these prophets? What reasons do we have for assuming that Zenos and Zenock either were or were not among these prophets? What do we know about the lineage of these prophets? How manhy of the prophets were descendants of Ephraim and Manessah? Were prophets with ties to the north, as opposed to those descended from Judah or Benjamin, more likely to antagonize listeners in Jerusalem?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Prophets. What is the connection between these prophets and the religious establishment in Jerusalem? Did the "churches" in Jersualem recognize the administrative authority of these prophets? Do you agree with Brant Gardner's argument that it is "highly unlikely" that these prophets were "part of the officially recognized religions governing bodies"? Did Jerusalem have a long tradition of requiring prophets to live on the outskirts of society?
- 1 Ne 1:4: The people ... must repent. What was it that the people of Jerusalem needed to repent of? Had they abandoned the religious reforms of Josiah after only four decades? Was it their rejection of prophets that had necessitated their repentance? Had they already abandoned and forgotten the law of Moses? Had the only copies of the scriptures fallen into the hands of wicked people? Are these some of the reasons why Nephi later realizes that his descendants would be unable to follow the law of Moses unless he obtained the plates from Laban (see 1 Ne 4)?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Prophesying ... they must repent, or ... be destroyed. Where did Nephi obtain this combination of words? If the words prophesy, repent, and destroy (as well as their variants) do not appear together in any biblical verses, does that mean Nephi was the first to use them jointly? If most of the other appearances in the Book of Mormon of this combination occur in the Book of Ether (Mosiah 12:8, Ether 7:23, and Ether 11:12), does that mean Moroni borrowed Nephi's phraseology while abriding the Jaredite record or that the Jaredite authors and Nephi were both borrowing from a more ancient source?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. Why does Nephi (or the prophets he is paraphrasing) change the repent or be destroyed formula? Why does he/they not follow the much more common example in scripture, in which prophets tell the people they will be destroyed if they do not repent (e.g., Mosiah 12:8, Alma 37:22, and Ether 7:23)? Were the prophets in Jerusalem partially letting their listeners off the hook by telling them it was their city, and not them, that would be destroyed? Or was it the Lord who changed the formula in this instance, because he "had compassion on his people" (2 Chr 36:15)? Or is Lehi's later comment, "had we remained in Jerusalem we should also have perished" (2 Ne 1:4), an indication that it was both the land of Jerusalem and its inhabitants who faced imminent destruction? How closely does this verse in 1 Ne. 1 parallel Hel 7:28, which says "And except ye repent ye shall perish; yea, even your lands shall be taken from you, and ye shall be destroyed from off the face of the earth." At what point did it become inevitable that Jerusalem would be destroyed?
- 1 Ne 1:4: The people. Who exactly was Nephi referring to when he used the phrase "the people"? Did every single inhabitant of Jerusalem have great need to repent? Was the city completely wicked? Was there no one left who followed the law of Moses? How sincere and thorough was the religious reform that happened forty years earlier if everyone was now wicked? Were there any exceptions to this apparently uniform wickedness? If Ishmael's family and Laban's servant Zoram can be considered at least partial exceptions to Nephi's characterization, does that mean there were other, scattered inhabitants of Jerusalem who were at least somewhat righteous? What evidence do we have that some of the people in Jerusalem actually repented? Should we assume that the only people in Jersualem who repented are the ones who joined Lehi in his exodus to the promised land?
- 1 Ne 1:4: Mulekites. Were the ancestors of the people of Zarahemla, who "came out from Jerusalem at the time" of Zedekiah's reign (Omni 1:15), converted when they heard the preaching of the "many prophets" mentioned in this verse? If so, did these prophets realize that the Mulekites were converted by their preaching?
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- 1 Ne 1:1: A great knowledge of the goodness of God. Neal A. Maxwell (GC 1999) contrasts Laman & Lemuel's lack of faith with Nephi's great faith in God's goodness.
- 1 Ne 1:1: Mysteries of God.
- See 1 Ne 2:16 for an explanation by Nephi of how he gained knowledge of the mysteries of God.
- See 1 Ne 10:19 where Nephi teaches that one must diligently seek to find the mysteries of God.
- See Mosiah 1:3 where Mosiah teaches his sons that without the scriptural record they could not know the mysteries of God.
- See Mosiah 2:9 where Mosiah starts his talk to his people with an invitation listen to him and open their ears, hearts and minds they they may learn the mysteries of God.
- See the entry on mysteries of God in the Guide to the Scriptures.
- 1 Ne 1:1. "Nephi and the Mysteries" A discussion of Nephi's interest in the Mysteries of God by the Book of Mormon Groupies.
- Incoming Cross-References Not Listed in The Footnotes for These Verses
- 1 Ne 1:1: Job 1:5, Hel 5:6, GS Father, Mortal, GS Knowledge, GS Mysteries of God, GS Nephi, Son of Lehi, GS Teach, Teacher, TG Born, TG Father, TG Goodly, TG Learn, Learning, TG Marriage, Fatherhood, TG Parent, TG Teaching, Teach, Taught, IN Born, IN Father, IN Favored, IN God, Goodness of, IN Goodly, IN Learning, IN Nephi, IN Parent, IN Record, IN Teach, Taught
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