Musings on the Making of Mormon’s Book: 1 Nephi 2

1 Nephi 2:1-2

There is no original chapter break at this point, though there is a clear shift in the narration. Nephi apparently saw the insertion of his editorial comment in 1 Nephi 1:20 (second sentence) as an aside rather than a complete separate separation. What we see in the sentence in the second half of 1 Nephi 1:20 is Nephi interacting with his text. He has a text that deals with the past, but a purpose that deals with the future. He makes a quick slip from past to future in his indication of what would be coming. In the very next sentence he has returned to the story.

This suggests that it is Nephi’s didactic intent that inserted that one sentence and  it was not related to any significant break in the record he was consulting.

1 Nephi 2: 3-6

At this point Nephi mentions the three day span that had been indicated in the headnote. The way that the three days is mentioned make it difficult to know from which point the days are to be counted. They might be counted from when he first left Jerusalem and departed into the wilderness. However, Nephi indicates that they came to the Red Sea “and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea.” Only after that do we hear of the three days. That is ambiguous.

It is possible that he is not interested in accurate travel information, but rather in the idea that there were religious injunctions that shifted once they were three days from Jerusalem. If that is the case, the three days is not there to tell us about the journey, but rather about their religious distance from Jerusalem.

1 Nephi 2: 7-10

These three verses appear to be summaries of material from his father’s record. The next sentence is Nephi’s insertion.

1 Nephi 2: 11-14

11 Now this he spake because of the stiffneckedness of Laman and Lemuel; for behold they did murmur in many things against their father, because he was a visionary man, and had led them out of the land of Jerusalem, to leave the land of their inheritance, and their gold, and their silver, and their precious things, to perish in the wilderness. And this they said he had done because of the foolish imaginations of his heart.

12 And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.

13 Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.

14 And it came to pass that my father did speak unto them in the valley of Lemuel, with power, being filled with the Spirit, until their frames did shake before him. And he did confound them, that they durst not utter against him; wherefore, they did as he commanded them.

Verses 11-13 are clearly Nephi’s insertion and interpretation. Perhaps there is something in 14 that came from Lehi’s record, but it is couched in Nephi’s characterization of  Laman and Lemuel, which does not appear to have been the way that Lehi saw his oldest two sons. We are seeing Laman and Lemuel through Nephi’s literary reconstruction of them into the ancestral enemy required of the ethnogenetic story. It is very likely that the almost unrelentingly negative depiction Nephi gives of Laman and Lemuel are part of literary necessity much more than historical accuracy.

1 Nephi 2:15

The verse is not a chapter division, but rather a literary ending point, marking the end of the flight episode and culminating their abandoning their city, inheritance, and wealth. “Dwelt in a tent” is a simple phrase that occurs three times in 1 Nephi, a repeated theme suggesting more than mere information about where Lehi lived (1 Ne. 2:15, 10:16, 16:6). The events associated with the phrase all take place in the valley of Lemuel, but the phrase marks something more important than an event or a place. This phrase separates textual units that are important turning points in Nephi’s narrative: it has a structural function.

This first unit is the departure from Jerusalem, including Lehi’s vision and calling. The family flees from Jerusalem and stops in the valley of Lemuel. “And my father dwelt in a tent” marks the end of this conceptual unit. The next repetition is at 1 Nephi 10:16: “And all these things, of which I have spoken, were done as my father dwelt in a tent, in the valley of Lemuel.” Again, it ends a narrative unit containing the retrieval of the brass plates and Lehi’s vision and following exhortation. Next comes Nephi’s dream and exhortation, which concludes with the third mention of the “tent” (1 Ne. 16:6).

Each narrative unit consists of a prophetic experience and a result of that experience: (1) As a result of Lehi’s visions, the family leaves Jerusalem. (2) Lehi receives Yahweh’s command that Nephi and his brothers should return to Jerusalem for the brass plates. Nephi has a vision and acts upon it. Upon Nephi’s return, Lehi has a vision of the tree of life and preaches to his family about the meaning of the dream. (3) Nephi has a vision and expounds its meaning to his brothers.

Units 1 and 3 are fairly straightforward. The second unit is more complicated, including visions and actions by both Lehi and Nephi. In this second unit, the narrative focus shifts from Lehi to Nephi. The phrase therefore not only marks the units, but it also marks a shifting focus in the narration. We begin with Lehi, move to a unit including Lehi and Nephi, and continue to the third unit that focuses on Nephi alone. All of these things happened as Lehi “dwelt in a tent.”

1 Nephi 2:16

This is a shift into Nephi’s personal account and not taken from Lehi’s record.

1 Nephi 2:17-18

Nephi establishes the basic dynamics for the brothers. Sam believes, Laman and Lemuel do not.  This allows Nephi to concentrate his tale on the conflict with Laman and Lemuel and not deal much with Sam.

1 Nephi 2:19-24

19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.

20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands.

21 And inasmuch as thy brethren shall rebel against thee, they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.

22 And inasmuch as thou shalt keep my commandments, thou shalt be made a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.

23 For behold, in that day that they shall rebel against me, I will curse them even with a sore curse, and they shall have no power over thy seed except they shall rebel against me also.

24 And if it so be that they rebel against me, they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance.

At this point in the narrative, Nephi is making the transition from his father’s record to his own experiences. His father’s story begins with a revelation, and Nephi’s also begins with a revelation. In this case, the revelation is specific in setting up both the future dynamic between Nephi and Laman and Lemuel as well as between Nephites and Lamanites. It also provides for prophetic designation of Nephi’s position as the leader. With this beginning, the rest of 1 Nephi will be the supporting history to demonstrate the accuracy of this prophecy.

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About Brant A. Gardner

Brant A. Gardner (M.A. State University of New York Albany) is the author of Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon and The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon, both published through Greg Kofford Books. He has contributed articles to Estudios de Cultura Nahuatl and Symbol and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community. He has presented papers at the FairMormon conference as well as at Sunstone.

3 thoughts on “Musings on the Making of Mormon’s Book: 1 Nephi 2

  1. You are certainly correct about those “tent” phrases being significant: Kent Brown noted the use five times in 1 Nephi of such a phrase. For example, “my father . . . dwelt in a tent in the Valley of Lemuel” (9:1 // 10:16) seems to enclose two discrete sections of text attributed to Nephi (9:2-6) and Lehi (10:1-16), perhaps in ABBA fashion. Grant Hardy suggests another instance, enclosing a flashback, in 1 Nephi 4 – 5 (“unto the tent of our father” 4:38 // 5:7 “to the tent of my father”).
    I don’t see the three days travel as all that ambiguous. Based on a plain reading, the travel time only begins once they reach the Red Sea (1 Ne 2:5-6). Aside from that, the three days is also considered figurative in the Bible, and we may want to compare the three days the Israelites wanted to travel into the wilderness as they left Egypt (Exodus 3:18, 15:22), since the Clan Lehi clearly reenacts the main motifs of the Exodus.

    • I think you are correct that a literary reference to three days is behind the specific mention. Nephi doesn’t seem to care about being precise about days travel for the rest of the journey. He gives us a span of 8 years where we have no idea what kind of travel progress was made. If he is that specific rarely, and when he is specific he uses a number that has a literary allusion, it is probable that there is more to the number than simple description.

  2. 3 days to me relates to father, son and holy ghost all of which nephi interacted with always., all things bear witness of them, so did nephi. Also 3 days relate to the body of our Lord Jesus Christ as it should to ourselves, becomeing one inwardly with Heavenly Father through our Saviour, because of the word., which john the beloved relates loving that came down from heaven. Which nephi tried to bless his family with the words of life eternal, amen, amen and amen.

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