Nephi’s Good Inclusio

Abstract: As John Gee noted two decades ago, Nephi is best explained as a form of the Egyptian word nfr, which by Lehi’s time was pronounced neh-fee, nay-fee, or nou-fee. Since this word means “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” or “fair,” I subsequently posited several possible examples of wordplay on the name Nephi in the Book of Mormon, including Nephi’s own autobiographical introduction (1 Nephi 1:1: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents … having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God”). It should be further pointed out, however, that Nephi also concludes his personal writings on the small plates using the terms “good” and “goodness of God.” This terminological bracketing constitutes a literary device, used anciently, called inclusio or an envelope figure. Nephi’s literary emphasis on “good” and “goodness” not only befits his personal name, but fulfills the Lord’s commandment, “thou shalt engraven many things … which are good in my sight” (2 Nephi 5:30), a command which also plays on the name Nephi. Nephi’s autobiographical introduction and conclusion proved enormously influential on subsequent writers who modeled autobiographical and narrative biographical introductions on 1 Nephi 1:1-2 and based sermons — especially concluding sermons — on Nephi’s “good” conclusion in 2 Nephi 33. An emphasis in all these sermons is that all “good”/“goodness” ultimately has its source in God and Christ. Continue reading

“He Is a Good Man”: The Fulfillment of Helaman 5:6-7 in Helaman 8:7 and 11:18-19

Abstract: Mormon, as an author and editor, was concerned to show the fulfillment of earlier Nephite prophecy when such fulfillment occurred. Mormon took care to show that Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman, fulfilled their father’s prophetic and paranetic expectations regarding them as enshrined in their given names — the names of their “first parents.” It had been “said and also written” (Helaman 5:6-7) that Nephi’s and Lehi’s namesakes were “good” in 1 Nephi 1:1. Using onomastic play on the meaning of “Nephi,” Mormon demonstrates in Helaman 8:7 that it also came to be said and written of Nephi the son of Helaman that he was “good.” Moreover, Mormon shows Nephi that his brother Lehi was “not a whit behind him” in this regard (Helaman 11:19). During their lifetimes — i.e., during the time of the fulfillment of Mosiah’s forewarning regarding societal and political corruption (see Mosiah 29:27) that especially included secret combinations — Nephi and Lehi stood firm against increasingly popular organized evil. Continue reading

Was Joseph Smith Smarter Than the Average Fourth Year Hebrew Student? Finding a Restoration-Significant Hebraism in Book of Mormon Isaiah

Abstract: The brass plates version of Isaiah 2:2, as contained in 2 Nephi 12:2, contains a small difference, not attested in any other pre-1830 Isaiah witness, that not only helps clarify the meaning but also ties the verse to events of the Restoration. The change does so by introducing a Hebraism that would have been impossible for Joseph Smith, the Prophet, to have produced on his own. Continue reading

The Temple: A Multi-Faceted Center and Its Problems

Editor’s Note: At the request of BYU Law Professor John W. Welch, Dr. Berman graciously provided this article for publication as an introduction to a series of lectures he will be giving in Utah on October 7 and 8, 2015. The first lecture will focus on the differences between the Tabernacle and the Temple, the second lecture will discuss recent findings linking inscriptions from Ramesses II to the sea account in Exodus, and the third lecture will touch on issues in biblical law. These lectures are co-sponsored by the Academy for Temple Studies, BYU Studies, the Ancient Near Eastern Studies Department in the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, the J. Reuben Clark Law School, and The Interpreter Foundation, and details can be found online. This article is adapted from The Temple: Its Symbolism and Meaning Then and Now (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, first ed., 1995).

Abstract: One of the primary identities of the Temple is that it is the place of hashra’at ha-shekhinah, the site at which God’s presence is most manifest. It is no surprise then, that the Temple is the focal point of prayer. Yet, as the site at which God’s presence is most intimately manifest, the Temple is also the center of the nation in several major spheres of collective life. This centrality is exhibited in the structure of the Book of Deuteronomy. Chapters 12-26 depict commandments that are to be the social and religious frame of life in the land of Israel. Within this section the central shrine, “the place in which God shall establish His name,” is mentioned nearly twenty times. The Temple is cast as the center for sacrifices (ch. 12), the consumption of tithes (14:23-25), the celebration of the festivals (ch. 16), and the center of the judicial system (ch. 17). In this chapter we will explore how the Temple constitutes the national center for social unity, education, and justice. The concentration of activity and jurisdiction at the Temple, however, renders it prone to abuse, and in the second half of this chapter, we will probe the social and religious ills that emerged as an endemic part of the Temple’s existence.

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Zarahemla Revisited: Neville’s Newest Novel

Abstract: This article is the third in a series of three articles responding to the recent assertion by Jonathan Neville that Benjamin Winchester was the anonymous author of three unsigned editorials published in Nauvoo in 1842 in the Times and Seasons. The topic of the unsigned editorials was the possible relationship of archeological discoveries in Central America to places described in the Book of Mormon narrative. The first article shows that, contrary to Neville’s claims, Winchester was not a proponent of a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon, but rather a hemispheric one. Since this was a view commonly held by early Mormons, his ideas did not warrant any anonymity for their dissemination. The second article shows that, also contrary to Neville’s claims, Joseph Smith was not opposed to considering Central American geographic parallels to the Book of Mormon. The Prophet even seemed to find such possibilities interesting and supportive of the Book of Mormon. This third article shows that despite Neville’s circumstantial speculations, the historical and stylometric evidence is overwhelmingly against Winchester as the author of the Central America editorials. Continue reading