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The relationship of verses 1-4 to the rest of Chapter 1 is discussed at Chapter 1.
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- Verse 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.
- Verse 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.
Verse 1:1: Possible structures
- 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
(2) having seen many afflictions in the course of my days
(3) having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days
(4) having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
- 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
C having seen many afflictions in the course of my days
C' having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days
A' having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God
- 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
A' having seen many afflictions in the course of my days
D having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days
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.
Verse 1:1: Nephi's four "having's"
- Birth and learning. Nephi's first having, taken in its full and ungrammatical rendering, ties together two vital clues to Nephi's record: his birth and his learning. He immediately qualifies his birth with mention of his "goodly parents." Goodly here is often read as though its meaning is the same as good. But if we read goodly as meaning wealthy (see lexical note above), we see Nephi recognizing that it was because of his parent's wealth that he was able to be taught "somewhat in all the learning of [his] father" (emphasis added).
- Teaching and learning. Nephi calls upon two important if oddly balanced terms to describe his early education: taught and learning. While a sort of opposition between teaching and learning might at first be read into the text, a careful reading reveals that this opposition is far too simplistic: the learning Nephi mentions is not his own, but his father's, and even as Nephi is the one taught, the verb is used passively ("I was taught somewhat") so that the teacher is cloaked and the act of teaching is therefore uprooted when set into the text. No simplistic scheme of Lehi teaching and Nephi learning is suggested at all in the text. The tie between the two terms, moreover, is prepositional: Nephi's being taught is "in" the learning of Lehi. This emphasizes an important fact: the term, "learning," in the text is a noun, a thing. 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." While all of this sets up some possibilities for interpreting Nephi's brief report of his education, some more detailed consideration of the terms involved is warranted.
- Lehi's learning. While Nephi later (in verse 2) speaks of the "language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians," it is not yet clear how that should be read against the more simple "learning of my father" of verse 1. More fruitful for getting started, perhaps, is a brief consideration of the term, learning. The English word, "learning," derives from an Indo-European root, leis, meaning a track or a furrow. To learn is etymologically to follow a track, a pathway already (and not recently) cut out, already trod for some time. The pre-existence of whatever is trod, bound up in the word "to learn," is also not unfamiliar to the Hebrew root lqch, the root behind the word most commonly translated in KJV as "learning": lqch means to take, to seize, even to steal, always implying the pre-existence of whatever is taken, seized, stolen. Certainly Lehi's learning implies that he takes up a way that has been trod for a long while before him. But the English and the Hebrew both imply still more: both "to learn" and lqch emphasize a sort of solitude. While teaching implies an instructor and an instructed, the learner comes upon a pathway that has been trod, but that might now be completely empty, and most likely is without a guide. That lqch can mean to steal certainly reinforces the lonely character of Lehi's learning: it might well be suggested that Lehi's learning, in which Nephi was taught, was a very solitary project.
- Nephi's being taught. If Lehi's learning is a work of solitude, the lonely work of following the long-since-left-behind, Nephi's being taught is imbued with the spirit of a face to face encounter, perhaps even characterized by a sort of violence as well. The English word, "teach," is etymologically related to "touch," as is "didactic" to "tactile." To teach is to point out, to put one's finger onto something. Whereas Lehi seems to come upon something abandoned, which he must attempt to bring back to life in self-disciplined learning, Nephi has a living someone who stands before him, who points out what is to be learned, who gives tasks to the student. This "being taught" on Nephi's part well reflects the broad meaning of the Hebrew term for teaching, lmd, to train, to develop skills in oneself or another. Nephi learns through another, through an actual engagement. The ambiguity of such an engagement (one engages the enemy, and one is engaged to a future spouse) is suggestive: Nephi learns through a work of desire both to submit and to overpower, wraps his arms about his teach both to embrace and to wrestle ("touching" in being "taught"). Lehi's learning is the work of an archaeologist; Nephi's being taught is the work of a disciple.
- 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?
- On the lack of proper names. Lehi and Sariah pass into Nephi's first having unnamed. Perhaps Lehi and Sariah, just for that reason, pass out of Nephi's first having. At any rate, the weight of this lack--the lack of the weight--of proper names in this first autobiographical reading is most significant, is a sign that marks something important at play in the text. A first consequence of the unnamedness of Nephi's "parents" and "father" is a sort of delay, a sort of suspension: Lehi and Sariah are kept out of the preface, though they are mentioned--and hence present--in the same. They are, oddly enough, both included and excluded from Nephi's autobiography. But this duplicity--presence and yet non-presence--is precisely what is in question in Nephi's first having: this first autobiographical reading is the prophet's exploration of the borders between himself and his parents, that strange no man's land where Nephi ends and his parents and father begin. As has been mentioned above, this first having is an exploration of influence, of the "in-flowing" of Sariah and Lehi. And Nephi's text reads this influence as an unnamed presence. In other words, Nephi's text embodies the complex influence of parents and father on son: thoroughly, unquestioningly, overwhelmingly, perhaps suffocatingly present, and yet unnamed, unrecognized, unrealized, perhaps entirely unthought. More: parents and father are so absolutely present, in and through all things, that they are not only unnamed but unnamable, not only unrecognized but unrecognizable, etc.
- 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. Hence it would appear that there is no separation between Nephi and his parents/father in the first having. However, the very first verb this having employs is one of separation. Nephi in fact opens this first self-reading with mention of the most primordial act of separation possible: the umbilical cord is cut with his "having been born." As a result, a complex tension enters into the very first phrase of Nephi's text: Nephi is, according to the text, at once inseparable from his parents/father and entirely separated from his parents/father. The first interpersonal dynamic, the first written relation between Nephi and his parents/father, is a double separation/inseparability between them.
- A progressive inseparability/separation. The situation is made more complex by the fact that the theme of separation is taken up again in the second half of the first having: "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father." As mentioned above, though a teacher is implied, his or her identity is cloaked, so that the phrase draws upon an implied distance between Nephi and Lehi. As separate as they might have become through Nephi's birth, the teaching situation later in life suggests that this separation only grew. The inferential character of the connecting "therefore" seems to confirm this growing distance. However, at the same time, Nephi's teaching is precisely "in" his father's learning: even as the separation between son and parents/father grows, so does the inseparability between them. The tension introduced in the first part of Nephi's first having is doubled, strengthened, and confirmed in the second part. The relation between Nephi and his parents/father is remarkably difficult.
- The meaning of the tension. The textual rhythm of Nephi's first having may characterize this tension, may draw out its meaning. In both the first part (before the "therefore") and the second part (after the "therefore") of this first self-reading, the theme of separation comes first, so that it is, in each instance, countered by the theme of inseparability: "having been born [separation] of goodly parents [inseparability], therefore I was taught somewhat [separation] in all the learning of my father [inseparability]." The passage "feels" as if every attempt of Nephi to draw apart from his parents is countered by their overwhelming saturation of all that he does. In other words, in every attempt to live, Nephi lives his (still unnamed) parents. 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. The interpersonal dynamics of Nephi's first having might now be read preliminarily, at last, in and against the meaningful words explored above. And, in fact, the important difference examined between Nephi's "being taught" and Lehi's "learning" bears powerfully on the theme of separation. In that that difference marks a difference between Nephi and Lehi, the separation between father and son might easily be read there. However, the question of separation grounds that same difference still more profoundly: the distinction between "being taught" (always face-to-face) and "learning" (always in solitude) was precisely a question of separation. In other words, the two terms bear their meaning precisely by taking up opposite ends of the tension between separation/inseparability. As a result, Nephi's teaching situation is in and of itself a double embodiment of that vital tension. First, Nephi's being taught--in face-to-face instruction--is a work of inseparability, fundamentally frustrated by the grammatical cloaking of the instructor, which marks Nephi's being taught with an undeniable character of separation. Second, because the content of the teaching is the learning of Lehi, Nephi's instruction at once marks him inseparable from his father (studying precisely the same things) and entirely separate (if he truly learns his father's learning, what is profoundly a work of solitude, of 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.) Perhaps most important of all, this subversion of the traditional theme of inheritance further subverts the meaning of the term "goodly." The goodliness Nephi is concerned with might ultimately be the goodliness commonly read into this first verse of the Book of Mormon: Lehi and Sariah were folk of abundant faith, obedience, goodness, etc.
- 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.
- 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.
- On the (double) way of "afflictions." This duplicity of way, caught up into the double, tense grammatical structure of Nephi's second having, suggests a sort of parallel between Nephi's first and second havings. Even as this second having suggests a distance or a separation, the same is cancelled by a broader inseparability: the event-ual afflictions are the point of departure for Nephi's task of writing. This is not unlike the separation/inseparability theme of Nephi's first having. The absolution of afflictions accomplished by the role of direct object is cancelled in that Nephi himself takes his departure from his bodily/temporal experience of afflictions. Again--as before--Nephi reads himself as a sort of re-embodiment (perhaps particularly in the task of writing) of afflictions he has seen, has witnessed (were they never his own afflictions?). At least this much is clear: there is a parallel structure to be read into Nephi's first two havings.
- "Seeing" afflictions. Nephi takes up his afflictions with a verb that might well be read as confirming the separation/inseparability theme already doubled with this second having. Vision opens, quite singularly, the very possibility for the distinction between separation and inseparability (it might be precisely because the two opposites arise out of a singular that the tension explored in these comments is possible). Sight at once sets before the seer a world spectacle from which he or she might retire and at the same time locates the seer immediately in the world, most explicitly through the sheer physicality of the eyes with which one sees. Sight--or rather all the senses, perhaps corporeal existence itself and hence every verb (such as "having seen") that summons the body--then plays an important role in Nephi's second having, important precisely because it--as a bodily verb--draws out this same tension of separation/inseparability. Whereas Nephi might have discussed afflictions he had once "had" or "experienced" or "gone through," his use of "having seen" suggests something more of his relation to his afflictions: Nephi's afflictions were at once something separate and remote from him ("seen") and something that might be called his very setting or vantage point (from which he sees himself autobiographically).
- 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.
- The corporeality of seeing and the physicality of afflictions. The corporeality of Nephi's "having seen" and the radical physicality of his mentioned "afflictions" come up against each other in an odd manner. While afflictions retreat into mental/spiritual meaning only metaphorically, sight and the eyes have a natural means of retreat (unlike the other four bodily senses) in one's ability to blink, to close off sight from bodily experience. And this means of visual escape is unique and significant. It is sight, for example, that makes sleep so bizarre a human state: the sleeper is open to the reality of the world in four ways, and what he or she hears, smells, tastes, or touches readily enters into the surreality of the dream. But the sleeper closes him- or herself off entirely from the world of sight. The eye's ability to retreat, to shut off the visual realm of the world, sets the corporeality of Nephi's principal verb in this second having against the radical physicality of the afflictions Nephi deals with: because he sees the afflictions, Nephi has some recourse to distance from them, has some means of retreat from the harsh reality of the bodily danger implicit in those afflictions. At least on the grammatical level, Nephi's second having at once presents a very real danger and an ability to flee the same.
- The ambiguous nature of visual escape. Here an ambiguity in Nephi's language might well be considered: because the afflictions Nephi mentions in his second having are completely unqualified grammatically, it remains unclear whether the afflictions were things Nephi himself suffered, or whether the afflictions Nephi saw were afflictions others passed through to which the prophet was "merely" witness. The importance of this ambiguity arises most clearly in the light of Nephi's means of escape, because his ability as seer to shut his eyes is ultimately ambiguous as well. On the one hand, Nephi's visual escape might be read as a very real escape: if he closes his eyes to violence inflicted on himself, he holds out to some degree a sort of mastery over his enemies. His closed eyes would mark his willing martyrdom, a sort of absolute denial on his part to become involved (perhaps thereby doing damage to the meaning of afflictions as two things striking one another). On the other hand, Nephi's visual escape might be read as a sort of false escape: if he closes his eyes to violence inflicted on others, he marks himself a slave to his own weakness. His closed eyes would here mark him as one completely lacking the virtue of charity: he allows others to suffer while he closes his eyes. Two very different meanings of visual "escape", based on two very different meanings of the afflictions mentioned in the passage.
- Nephi's apparently open eyes. The above two comments, however, work from an assumption that is unjustified based on Nephi's second having: that Nephi closed his eyes. However, the fact that Nephi saw the afflictions marks with great importance the fact that Nephi could very easily and at any time have closed them: that he didn't is what should be emphasized here. As such, Nephi's open eyes (open to the ambiguous afflictions he mentions) require interpretation. Just as Nephi's grammar invites a double reading of visual escape, a double reading of Nephi's open eyes is warranted. If, on the one hand, the afflictions in question were Nephi's own, then his meeting them with open eyes would suggest his self-transcending courage, his unwillingness to take the escape of selfish retreat that would immortalize him as an innocent martyr. Apparently unconcerned with himself, Nephi--taking the afflictions, again, to be his own--was willing to engage (to love?) even his enemies, to wrestle with them, to crash against them in a very real sense, in a radical work of opening himself--his eyes--to them. If, on the other hand, the afflictions in question were not Nephi's, but those of others to which Nephi stood witness, then his open eyes mark his unquestionable charity. Unwilling, on this reading, to turn from the difficulties others faced, Nephi presents himself as one willing to engage (again, to love?) the innocent who suffer all about him.
- Nephi's eyes as the double figure of love. Fortunately, the reader of Nephi's text is not forced to choose between these two possible readings of Nephi's open eyes. The two are allowed to work against and through each other. In fact, the two carry a very similar meaning in the end: love. Nephi's open eyes mark his unconcernedness with himself, his willingness to engage (on the one hand) his enemies and/or (on the other hand) his friends. In both cases, his self-transcendence is marked by his open eyes, but his regard or gaze that takes up both friend and enemy by the hand (hand to hand, whether in combat or in salutation). In fact, that Nephi leaves the afflictions he mentions in this second having ambiguous suggests that he wants his readers to feel the tension between both possible readings. The charity with which Nephi marks himself in this second self-interpretation is supposed to be felt as all-embracing, as touching both friends and enemies. On that account, Nephi's "having seen" imbues the figure of Nephi with love. It might, moreover, be noted that it is precisely afflictions that open Nephi's eyes (on either reading). Love itself might here be read as affliction: love is the inevitable drama of striking two things, two people, together. Love is the site of affliction, afflictions are the sight of love: in Nephi's seeing afflictions--in his seeing to afflictions--he encounters love.
- Nephi's love as response. But as soon as one reads love into Nephi's second having, the objection arises that Nephi never explicitly mentions love, that he only sets it forth negatively, under the figure of seeing afflictions. In other words, that Nephi here interprets himself in terms of afflictions, apparently in an attempt to interpret himself in terms of charity, is oddly ironic. It might, on the one hand, mark Nephi's humility: he only suggests his charity negatively, through afflictions. On the other hand, this detail might set a sort of limit for the reading above: Nephi's love is not an absolute virtue, but one drawn out of him by the threat of the other, by afflictions. In a sense, then, that Nephi addresses his own charity through affliction serves to proscribe Nephi's love, to render it a response rather than a call. Nephi's eyes do not intend so much as they are intended and seeingly respond. In other words and in short, Nephi's second having might be read as a figure of responsive--even responsible--charity: Nephi's open eyes figure his response to the visible world, a world, apparently, of affliction.
- 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.
- Course and death. But perhaps this double theme of motion and method already suggests a meaning. If Nephi's days are, as a course, understood to be a methodical procession towards an already decided end, then at least one very real possible meaning is clear: the "course" of Nephi's days ends with death. That Nephi may here be thinking of death is not to be thrown out because of the reality of the resurrection: passages throughout the Old Testament--especially in Ecclesiastes--see life as a working out of days on the way to death. (To say that the race ends with death is not at all to claim that there is nothing after the race.) If Nephi is indeed concerned with death here, then Nephi's reads his loving response, his interlocuted charity as an event at once opened up and foreclosed by the reality of death. In other words, that the event-ual having is the one tied specifically to the theme of death (a theme that rings well with the theme of affliction) suggests that event-ness itself arises out of death, that the event of charity is a response to the evil of death (even death through affliction). In short, Nephi in his second having seems to characterize himself as having lived toward his own death.
- One's days and the course of one's days. If the course Nephi describes is the procedural movement of his days toward death, it might be well to consider more exactly the word "days." That the word should not be understood here in any objective sense (e.g., to mean "twenty-four hour periods") is clear: Nephi marks the days as his, as belonging to him. In other words, Nephi does not read "days" as some objective thing he passes through, but rather understands "days" to be a sort of aspect of his experience: as his days, these days are the what through which Nephi experiences the events of affliction. Each day--lit by the light of day as opposed to night--is the light in which a certain afflicting event appeared (was seen). In fact, Nephi's seeing might well be extended to every event that came before his eyes in his "days." If this is what Nephi means by mentioning these days as his, then the meaning of the "course" of his "days" might become clearer. 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.
- The overarching tension of Nephi's second "having." All of the above suggests the following general reading of Nephi's second having. Whereas the first having explored the possibility of Nephi's escape, as it were, from his parents, this second having explores the possibility of Nephi's ability to rebridge the gap of interpersonal separation. Taking as its theme the gift of charity, Nephi seems to read through the ever-present reality of death (ever-present through the constant experience of affliction) a sort of call to love, to which Nephi responds.
- 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 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 center of the chiastic structural reading is peculiar, but textually important. D mediates the two "halves" of the passage. In other words, it is the single word nevertheless that decides how the relation between the first half (A, B, and C) and the second half (A', B', and C') should be read. The implication: this single, perhaps "intuitive" word must be read with care. An all-too-quick reading of the word might suggest that it draws the two halves of the chiasm together in a sort of antithesis: by bringing them to stand side by side, nevertheless markedly puts on display the distinction between the events of the first half and the events of the second half, precisely because nevertheless means however, or but. However, more careful thought reveals that nevertheless does not at all set up a facile anthithesis. The term rather 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.
Verse 1:1: Beyond(?) autobiography
- 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.
- Dependent/independent clauses. The rather extended series of dependent clauses (the four "havings") that makes up the first half of this verse is interrupted along its course by the strikingly ungrammatical "therefore I was taught...." (This instance of "therefore" is the first of two in 1 Nephi 1:1, and should not here be confused with the summary "therefore" with which Nephi begins the final phrase of the verse.) The phrase, abstracted from its surroundings, is clearly an independent clause, though it is (because of the "therefore") subjected to the series of dependent clauses. The phrase therefore sets up a tension in the first half of this verse: there is an independent clause that is, so to speak, dependent on a series of dependent clauses. The tension accomplishes two things at once: on the one hand, it allows Nephi to draw the conclusion implicated by his "therefore," that his having been taught has something to do with his father's wealth, etc.; on the other hand, it frees the phrase from its confines in the first verse so that it can form a parallelism with the "language of my father" mentioned in verse 2. The tension is therefore structural: the phrase, "therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father," is drawn into tension by the first two verses, suspended, as it were, between them. The "Yea" of verse 2, discussed below, is therefore all the more significant.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- 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.
- "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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Monarch. Zedekiah may have received less respect than his predecessors, because he was about 21 years old at this time.
Points to ponder
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- Verse 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?
- "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?
- "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?
- 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?
- Afflictions and blessings. How can this verse be used to deepen understanding of the themes of afflictions and blessings throughout 1 Nephi?
- "having seen many afflictions." Whose afflictions might Nephi have witnessed?
- 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?
- 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?
- "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?
- 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?)
- 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?
- 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"?
- 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?
- Verse 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?
- 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?
- "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?
- "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?
- "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"?
- 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?
- "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?
- "learning of the Jews." Is there a qualitative difference between saying "learning of the Jews" and "the Jews' learning"?
- "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?
- ""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?
- Verse 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?
- "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?
- "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?
- "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"?
- "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?
- "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?
- Verse 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"?
- "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.?
- "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?
- "it." Is there supposed to be an antecedent for this word? Or is Nephi just using a formulaic phrase?
- "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?
- "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?
- "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?
- 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?
- "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?
- "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?
- "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?
- "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?
- "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)?
- "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?
- "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?
- "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?
- 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?
This heading is for listing links and print resources, including those cited in the notes. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
- Verse 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
- Verse 4: 2 Kgs 23:27, Ps 79:3, Jer 13:14, Jer 21:7, 1 Ne 2:13, 1 Ne 17:22, Hel 5:6, GS Jerusalem, GS Nebuchadnezzar, GS Nephi, Son of Lehi, GS Zedekiah, BD Zedekiah, TG Destroy, TG Reign, IN Destruction, Destroy, IN Jerusalem, IN Judah, IN Repentance, Repent, IN Zedekiah, Photograph: Jerusalem
- 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.
- 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.
- "Nephi and the Mysteries" A discussion of Nephi's interest in the Mysteries of God by the Book of Mormon Groupies.
- Podcast of Joe Spencer exploring 1 Nephi 1:1 with a local Relief Society.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves, such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word. In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources are preferable to footnotes.
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