“Their Anger Did Increase Against Me”: Nephi’s Autobiographical Permutation of a Biblical Wordplay on the Name Joseph

Abstract: Nephi’s record on the small plates includes seven distinct scenes in which Nephi depicts the anger of his brethren against him. Each of these scenes includes language that recalls Genesis 37:5‒10, 20, the biblical scene in which Joseph’s brothers “hate him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd] for his dreams and for his words” because they fear that he intends to “reign” and to “have dominion” or rule over them (Genesis 37:8). Later, they plot to kill him (Genesis 37:20). Two of these “anger” scenes culminate in Nephi’s brothers’ bowing down before him in the same way that Joseph’s brothers bowed down in obeisance before him. Nephi permutes the expression wayyôsipû ʿôd in terms of his brothers’ “continuing” and “increasing” anger, which eventually ripens into a hatred that permanently divides the family. Nephi uses language that represents other yāsap/yôsîp + verbal-complement constructions in these “anger” scenes, usage that recalls the name Joseph in such a way as to link Nephi with his ancestor. The most surprising iteration of Nephi’s permuted “Joseph” wordplay occurs in his own psalm (2 Nephi 4:16‒35). Continue reading

Nephi’s Use of Inverted Parallels

Abstract: Did Nephi intentionally use chiasmus in his writings? An analysis of fifteen multi-level chiasm candidates in Nephi’s writings demonstrates a high statistical probability (99%+) that the poetic form was used intentionally by Nephi but only during two specific writing periods. This finding is buttressed by further analysis, which reveals a clear and unexpected literary pattern for which Nephi seems to have reserved his usage of chiasmus. The nature of obedience is a major theme in Nephi’s writings, and he regularly employed chiasms to explore the topic early in his writings. After a period during which he discontinued use of the technique, he returned to the poetic device toward the end of his life to signal a significant shift in his thoughts on the topic of obedience. Continue reading

“O Ye Fair Ones” — Revisited

Abstract: The best explanation for the name “Nephi” is that it derives from the Egyptian word nfr, “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” “fair,” “beautiful.” Nephi’s autobiographical wordplay on his own name in his self-introduction (and elsewhere throughout his writings) revolves around the evident meaning of his name. This has important implications for how the derived gentilic term “Nephites” was understood over time, especially among the Nephites themselves. Nephi’s early ethno-cultural descriptions of his people describe them as “fair” and “beautiful” (vis-à-vis the Lamanites). These early descriptions subsequently become the basis for Nephite ethno-cultural self-perceptions. The Nephites’ supposition that they were the “good” or “fair ones” was all too frequently at odds with reality, especially when Nephite “chosenness” was understood as inherent or innate. In the end the “good” or “fair ones” fell (Mormon 6:17‒20), because they came to “delight in everything save that which is good” (Moroni 9:19). The Book of Mormon thus constitutes a warning against our own contemporary cultural and religious tendency toward exceptionalism. Mormon and Moroni, like Nephi their ancestor through his writings on the small plates, endeavor through their own writing and editorial work to show how the “unbelieving” descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites can again become the “good” and the “fair ones” by choosing to come unto Christ, partaking of his “goodness,” and doing the “good” stipulated by the doctrine of Christ.
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Nephi’s Change of Heart

Abstract: How long did it take Nephi to compose his portions of the “small account?” Careful text analysis and data mining suggest that “Nephi’s” texts may have been composed across periods as great as forty years apart. I propose a timeline with four distinct periods of composition. The merits of this timeline are weighed, and some thoughts are explored as to how this timeline alters the reader’s perceptions of Nephi. The net effect is that Nephi becomes more sympathetic, more personable, and more relatable as his record progresses and that the totality of Nephi’s writings are best understood and interpreted when the factor of time is considered. Continue reading

The “Fiery Darts of the Adversary” in 1 Nephi 15:24

After receiving a revelation (1 Nephi 11–14) that clarified the meaning of his father Lehi’s dream (1 Nephi 8), Nephi explained to his rebellious brothers the significance of the various symbols of that dream. Concerning the “rod of iron,” which led to the tree of life, Nephi recorded, Continue reading