BMGD #2: 1 Nephi 1-7

January 2, 2012 | 29 comments
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Again, this isn’t a lesson. It is the notes from which I will prepare a lesson.  Sorry it is so long. (The rabbit trail of the week was related to the killing of Laban, but I don’t plan on discussing that with my class.)

Does the headnote give us some indication of what the most important events are in this book? If we use the headnote (as opposed to our own estimation of the ‘highlights’) as a guide, how might we read this book differently?

CHAPTER 1

1 I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Feast Wiki:

“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 Coventants: 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.. . . But if we read goodly as meaning wealthy . . . , 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).” Citation.

More discussion of the idea here.  If the very first words of the BoM say, in effect, “I was able to get an education because my parents were wealthy,” how does that impact our reading of the rest of the book, particularly, perhaps, the killing of Laban to get the plates?

I wonder if the “goodly parents” implies “and don’t even think about blaming Lehi and Sariah for how Laman and Lemuel (hereafter L&L) turned out!” Is that what Nephi is trying to emphasize here?

Feast Wiki: suggests a serial structure to this verse:

“(1) having been born of goodly parents
and
(2) having seen many afflictions in the course of my days
nevertheless
(3) having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days
yea
(4) having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God”

I find the “having” structure interesting, since most of 1 Nephi is about what Nephi has to give up. We would consider (2) a negative; is that how Nephi views it? Have you given much thought to what you “have”?

1 Ne 1:1, Enos 1:1, and Mosiah 1:2 all refer to value of instruction from their fathers, and all make reference to the language of their fathers. Why is this a theme by which BoM writers introduce their narratives?

“therefore I make a record”–cf. 1 Nephi 9:5. What do you conclude?

Cf. this to the majority of OT/NT books where we have no idea who is writing–why did Nephi start here? Why does it matter? What effect does it have on you as a reader?

Jay E. Jensen:

“Events in the lives of Lehi and Joseph Smith parallel each other: Each has a specific need. Lehi’s is to save himself and his family from Jerusalem’s imminent destruction, and Joseph Smith’s is to know which church is true. Each prays. Each has a vision of the Father and the Son. To each is given a book. Both preach. Each receives revelation from the Holy Ghost and by visions or dreams. Finally, wicked people threaten them. Lehi and his people escape and survive. Joseph is martyred. Is it any wonder that missionaries invite sincere seekers of truth to begin their study of the Book of Mormon in 1 Nephi?” Citation: (Oct 2010 GC).

What does this pattern teach you about Lehi? About Joseph Smith? About prophets in general? Does it teach you anything about us?

Verse suggests an obligation to teach children. How do we fulfill that?

2 Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.

What would “Jews” have meant to Nephi? Does he consider himself one? What are the implications of this?

Feast Wiki:

“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?”

3 And I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.

4 For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.

David Rolph Seely and Jo Ann H. Seely:

“Besides Jeremiah and Lehi, from this period we know of the prophetess Huldah and the prophets Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Uriah of Kirjath-jearim (see Jeremiah 26) in Judah, and Ezekiel and Daniel in exile.” Citation.

It is important to remember that the role of prophet in their society was very different from ours: their prophets were outsiders, criticizing the wickedness of the hierarchy. And there was more than one! It is worth thinking about how radically different these prophets’ assignments were, and what an abject failure and waste of time would have ensued if they had all tried to keep up with the Jeremiahs.

5 Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people.

David A. Bednar:

“Please note that the vision came in response to a prayer for others and not as a result of a request for personal edification or guidance.” Citation: Oct 08 GC.

6 And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly.

Pillar of fire: only OT refs to a “pillar of fire” in the KJV are to Moses’ experience with the burning bush. In the NT (Rev 10:1), an angel in Revelation has feet like pillars of fire. In the BoM, Hel 5:24, 43 refer to pillar of fire. D&C 29:12: “mine apostles, the Twelve which were with me in my ministry at Jerusalem, shall stand at my right hand at the day of my coming in a pillar of fire” These are only scripture refs to “pillar of fire.” What do they suggest is symbolized by the idea of a pillar of fire here? What about the rock?

John Welch:

“God appeared to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2) and on a flaming Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18); he also appeared over the tabernacle at night in a fire (Numbers 9:15) and over the door of the tabernacle by day in a similar “pillar of a cloud” (Deuteronomy 31:15). On some occasions in the Old Testament, fire was associated with God’s messengers, especially those emanating from God’s council (discussed further below; see, e.g., Psalm 104:4), whose fiery description can be compared with the appearance of Moroni in Joseph Smith—History 1:30–32; in other ancient accounts, fire was used to combat God’s enemies. Thus, we cannot be certain who or what Lehi saw in the pillar of fire that appeared to him. Lehi could have seen God in this pillar, but since Lehi’s vision of God himself is reported as the next stage of the vision, it seems more likely to me that what he beheld at this time was a messenger of God whose threatening words and presence, perhaps summoning Lehi, caused Lehi to “quake and tremble exceedingly” (1 Nephi 1:6).” Citation.

Why fire here, and not some other manifestation?

What emotions do quaking and trembling imply?

7 And it came to pass that he returned to his own house at Jerusalem; and he cast himself upon his bed, being overcome with the Spirit and the things which he had seen.

The only other scriptural cast/bed combo is Rev 2:22 . . . not exactly parallel. Why would this detail be included?

8 And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.

Jim F.: “Why is that the way that he sees the Celestial Kingdom, as a place of praise rather than a place of celestial work?”

“he thought he saw God” In modern English, this phrasing would imply “but he didn’t” or “ but he wasn’t entirely sure” or something similar. What does it mean here?

Blake Ostler shows that Lehi’s experience here fits the pattern for a divine calling of a prophet very well. See here, especially the chart on the bottom of p72. The pattern is: historical introduction (v4), intercessory prayer (v4-5), divine confrontation (v6-7), reaction (v6-7), ascension (v8), throne-theophany (v8), descensus (v8), heavenly book (v11-13), songs of praise, (v14), comission (v18-19), rejection and reassurance (v19-20). What does this pattern teach us about prophets and about God’s dealings with prophets? Is this pattern relevant to our own lives?

I’d strongly recommend studying Isaiah 6 to better understand this vision.

9 And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.

Mosiah 13:5 is only other BoM reference to “luster.”

Webster’s 1828 #1 definition of luster is about what we would expect, but here’s the #2 definition: “The splendor of birth, of deeds or of fame; renown; distinction.” Does that add anything to your reading of this verse?

Royal Skousen reads “one” instead of “One” as more likely to be original here.

10 And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.

D & C 76:109 is interesting here–not what you would expect but only reference besides Abr 3:13 to stars/firmament.

11 And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.

We’re in the inaugural passage of the BoM and it is a vision–pretty spectacular stuff–but what is privileged in this text is not the visionary experience (despite its grandiose description!), but a book. That’s a nice nod to the audience, no? Note that the first command is to read a book.

What is this book?

Is there a link between this experience and the book that the angel gave to Joseph Smith? Because that would be pretty recursive.

Merrill J. Bateman:

“At the beginning of most dispensations, a book is given to the newly called prophet. Moses received tablets (see Ex. 31:18). Lehi was given a book to read concerning the destruction of Jerusalem (see 1 Ne. 1:11–14). Ezekiel was given “a roll of a book” (Ezek. 2:9–10) containing the Lord’s message for the house of Judah in his day. John the Revelator on the Isle of Patmos was shown a book with seven seals (see Rev. 5; D&C 77:6). Is it any wonder, then, that the Lord would provide a book containing the fulness of the gospel as part of the “restitution of all things”? The Book of Mormon has the power to draw all men and women to Christ. Its references to the Savior’s Atonement are the clearest on record with regard to its purpose and powers.” Citation: Oct 05 GC.

Here’s what I find interesting about this: in other accounts, there is no indication that the people of that prophet’s time were given the book. But the BoM is most definitely not the private possession of Joseph Smith. It is for all people. This seems to fit into the general theme of an expansionist role for ‘average people’ in the work of the Lord.

12 And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

One of the first things that the BoM teaches you is that if you read the book you have been commanded to read, you will be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

13 And he read, saying: Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.

Is he quoting from the book when he reads the “wo”s, or are the “wo”s a response to what he reads?

Why would the Lord give Lehi a book to read that said these things (whatever it is the book said), instead of just telling Lehi these things?

14 And it came to pass that when my father had read and seen many great and marvelous things, he did exclaim many things unto the Lord; such as: Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord God Almighty! Thy throne is high in the heavens, and thy power, and goodness, and mercy are over all the inhabitants of the earth; and, because thou art merciful, thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish!

W1828 ‘great’: “Large in bulk or dimensions”

W1828 ‘marvelous’: “1. Wonderful; strange; exciting wonder or some degree of surprise. 2. Surpassing credit; incredible.3. The marvelous, in writings, is that which exceeds natural power, or is preternatural; opposed to probable.”

In other words, I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean . . . I think most English speakers would probably interpret them to mean something like “really good,” but the biblical and W1828 usage points to something more like “enormous and surprising.” How have you found the works of the Lord to be “enormous and surprising”?

We don’t know all that Lehi read/saw, but from what we do get here (summarized in v18 as ‘the destruction of Jrsm’), “merciful” is probably not the first word that would come to mind. Why does Lehi have this reaction? Do you have any sense of what Lehi experienced that causes him to conclude, “thou wilt not suffer those who come unto thee that they shall perish”?

Grant Hardy:

 

“Let’s return to 1 Nephi, chapter 1, where Skousen . . . observes that, grammatically, there are two ways to interpret this phrase: (1) as “a conjoining of the past perfect had read and the simple past-tense saw,” or (2) “as a conjunction of ‘had read’ and ‘had saw’, with ellipsis of the repeated had.” This second reading is implicit in the change in R (= 1920 edition) to the past participle seen, though Skousen does identify a specific case of the nonstandard usage “had saw” in the printer’s manuscript. What difference does this make? The context makes it clear that Lehi saw a vision of God on his throne and then was handed a heavenly book in which he read of the impending destruction of Jerusalem. The sequence of a past perfect tense followed by simple past suggests that after Lehi had finished reading he saw additional, unspecified events (“many great and marvelous things”) in vision, whereas a conjunction of two past perfect forms makes it sound as if the seeing and reading happened at about the same time; that is to say, the “great and marvelous things” were those that Nephi has just reported were contained in the heavenly book. If you are an average reader of the Book of Mormon (or even a way-above-average reader), I would imagine that you have never given a moment’s thought to how 1 Nephi 1:14 might be construed in different ways, unless perhaps you had translated a pre-1920 edition into a foreign language.”  Citation.

15 And after this manner was the language of my father in the praising of his God; for his soul did rejoice, and his whole heart was filled, because of the things which he had seen, yea, which the Lord had shown unto him.

Really? His soul rejoiced that people would be captured and killed and the base of the Lord’s operations on earth would be destroyed?

16 And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account.

Why tell us this? Isn’t the assumption that no written account is complete made anyway?

17 But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father, upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life.

Nephi’s own account begins in ch10.

Again, there is never this consciousness of the writing process in the Bible. What would have motivated Nephi to include it?

“with my own hands” This is not the first time that Nephi mentions this, and we are only 17 verses in! It is theoretically possible (although perhaps unlikely) that not a single biblical author did his or her own writing. Even if the book was written by the person it has been attributed to, it may have technically been written by a scribe. (This certainly seems to be the case with Paul.) Is this comment (and others like it in the BoM) perhaps a criticism of that practice? How else might we understand this emphasis on who is doing the writing–an emphasis completely missing from the Bible?

18 Therefore, I would that ye should know, that after the Lord had shown so many marvelous things unto my father, Lehi, yea, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, behold he went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard.

19 And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; and he testified that the things which he saw and heard, and also the things which he read in the book, manifested plainly of the coming of a Messiah, and also the redemption of the world.

What does Nephi mean by “Jews”? Does he not consider himself one?

Many prophets are failures if we look at their numbers–neither Noah nor Lehi was able to convince anyone outside of their own families to come along for the ride. How should this fact shape our viewpoint as to what a prophetic mission is? How should it shape how we define “success” and missionary work? What else?

What do you make of the “saw-heard-read” sequence here?

Did the things that he saw-hear-read talk about Messiah and redemption, or is that just his prophesying? And why is the Messiah and redemption stuff sprung on us now–why wasn’t it mentioned before?

David R. Seely and Fred E. Woods:

 

“At least six interrelated factors, which will be discussed in this article, contributed to the Judahite belief that Jerusalem could not be destroyed: (1) The historical traditions of the spiritual heritage of Jerusalem, “that great city,” suggested to many that the Lord would naturally preserve this holy place from destruction and desecration by the enemies of the covenant people. (2) The Jews misunderstood some of the Lord’s promises in connection with the covenants that he had made with them. In particular, they misunderstood the promises made to David in the Davidic covenant. (3) The miraculous preservation of Jerusalem and its inhabitants when the Assyrians besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 18–19) in the days of King Hezekiah (701 BC) further reinforced the belief that the Lord would preserve his temple and holy city from the enemy. (4) The city of Jerusalem was fortified and prepared for siege. Hezekiah had heavily fortified the city against the Assyrian siege in 701 BC with massive walls and towers (2 Chronicles 32:2–8) and had even prepared a water source inside the city for the inhabitants of the city to endure a long siege (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chronicles 32:4, 30). Thus the inhabitants of Jerusalem believed they could endure a long siege brought about by their seemingly impregnable walls. (5) The recent reforms of Josiah (640–609 BC), who had cleansed the temple and led his people in a ceremony of covenant renewal (2 Kings 22–23), had given certain people of Judah an undue sense of self and community righteousness that they believed would surely preserve them from any threatened destruction. (6) Assurances were given by false prophets, who promised Jerusalem and its inhabitants peace, safety, and preservation from the enemy instead of the destruction and exile prophesied by Jeremiah and Lehi. These false assurances were readily accepted by many since they were the words that they wanted to hear.” Citation.

This is enormously important. The real issue is that these people who rejected Lehi were absolutely sure they understood what the scriptures meant, and they were sure that Lehi was interpreting the scriptures incorrectly. This is more interesting and stickier than our usual reading, which is that they were just stupid. What is the control on our own interpretation of scripture so we don’t find ourselves in this position? How much time do you spend questioning your own interpretations of scripture?

20 And when the Jews heard these things they were angry with him; yea, even as with the prophets of old, whom they had cast out, and stoned, and slain; and they also sought his life, that they might take it away. But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

What would have motivated their anger? In what ways might we have a similar reaction today to prophetic speech?

Joe Spencer points out that when Lehi preaches (v18-19) that Jrsm will be destroyed, the response is mocking.  When he preaches that the Messiah will come (v19-20), the response is anger.  He writes, “When Lehi speaks critically of his hearers and threatens them with calamity, they laugh, but when he speaks of a beautiful redemption and the coming of an anointed king, they try to kill him.”  What do you make of this double message and double response?  What does it teach us?  How might it be relevant to us today?

Tender mercies: a phrase that has become enormously popular in the Church since Elder Bednar’s talk (Apr 05 GC). I think it resonated with people and was a useful phrase with which to summarize a common experience. Have you experienced any tender mercies of the Lord?

“Hath chosen, because of their faith,” is a very interesting phrase–it seems to simultaneously affirm and negate the concept of chosenness.

Does this verse imply that the chosen people are doing the deliverance? Does it imply some requirements for deliverance (i.e., faith, mightiness)?

CHAPTER 2

1 For behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life.

Is this ‘dream’ different from the ‘vision’ in 1:8 in some significant way?

2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.

What do we learn from the pattern–revelation, fulfillment, blessing, new revelation?

Compare to other departures in the scriptures?

Note that nothing about a promised land is mentioned at this point.

3 And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.

What is gained from the redundancy in this verse?

4 And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.

Was he commanded to leave everything behind? Was it his own decision? Was it pragmatic or dogmatic?

The “nothing, save” is interesting–reminds me of a time when I picked my young son up from a playdate and asked him if he had eaten anything and he said “nothing . . . except for a hamburger. And a hot dog. And three cookies.” Why did Nephi use this odd formulation here?

5 And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.

First part of verse is very redundant–why?

Sariah could acted as Lot’s wife, but didn’t. By which I mean that she (and, presumably, L&L) could have chosen to stay home.

No sisters? Were they not yet born? Or just not mentioned here and, if so, why? Cf. 1 Nephi 7:6; 16:7, 2 Nephi 5:6

Interesting note on Sariah.

John L. Sorenson examines Sariah’s life in surprising detail here.

6 And it came to pass that when he had traveled three days in the wilderness, he pitched his tent in a valley by the side of a river of water.

The most famous three days in scripture is Jesus’ time in the tomb–is that alluded to here? If so, what should you learn from it?

7 And it came to pass that he built an altar of stones, and made an offering unto the Lord, and gave thanks unto the Lord our God.

Other references to altars of stones: Deut 27:5-6, Ex 20:25, Josh 8:31, 1 Kings 18:32, Isa 27:9, Zech 9:15.

David Rolph Seely:

 

“Deuteronomy 12 appears to strictly forbid the building of altars and the making of sacrifice outside the place the Lord had chosen for that purpose. The place so designated is usually understood to be the temple in Jerusalem. So the question arises, How could these people who observed the Mosaic law justify building altars and offering sacrifices away from the Jerusalem temple?” Citation.

 

He offers three possible explanations: “1. Deuteronomy 12 did not intend to eliminate all sacrifice away from the main sanctuary. 2. Melchizedek Priesthood holders were not bound by the centralization of worship as prescribed by Deuteronomy 12. 3. Deuteronomy 12 may have been interpreted anciently as applying only to the land of Israel.” He goes with the third option, partially based on evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which demarcate “three days journey” as the distance beyond which one could slaughter animals outside of the temple, which would make sense of the reference in v6.

8 And it came to pass that he called the name of the river, Laman, and it emptied into the Red Sea; and the valley was in the borders near the mouth thereof.

Only refs to river/names in the OT is Genesis 2–is that alluded to here?

9 And when my father saw that the waters of the river emptied into the fountain of the Red Sea, he spake unto Laman, saying: O that thou mightest be like unto this river, continually running into the fountain of all righteousness!

What is it about the river emptying into the sea that causes Lehi’s reaction?

The Red Sea is, of course, famous for having been parted by Moses. How does that fact play into this passage?

Don’t rivers run OUT OF fountains, not INTO them?

Delbert L. Stapley:

 

“Many rivers have their beginning from springs of pure, crystal-clear water gushing forth from a mountainside. As the water wends its way to the sea, there are side tributaries that join the main stream. Some of these tributaries are polluted and contaminate the main stream, which started pure at its source. By the time the river reaches the sea, pollution has occurred in the body of the stream. How much like life this symbolic representation is! “ Citation: Oct 1971 GC.

10 And he also spake unto Lemuel: O that thou mightest be like unto this valley, firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord!

I’m fascinated by the fact that both “continually running” AND “firm and steadfast” are applauded here–those seem like opposites to me.

Deiter F. Uchtdorf:

 

“Ultimately, patience means being “firm and steadfast, and immovable in keeping the commandments of the Lord” every hour of every day, even when it is hard to do so.” Citation: Apr 2010 GC.

The naming is a little weird in that none of the other residents of the area will know these names, so they presumably won’t be used again. Why does Lehi name these things?

Is there anything you see in Lehi’s parenting style here that you should model? Is there anything here that causes you to re-approach your own assumptions about parenting? Given how L&L turn out, might we think that Lehi wasn’t engaging in ‘best practices’ here? If so, what else might he have done? (Is it fair to read 1 Nephi looking for how Lehi and Sariah ‘messed up’ as parents?)

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.

But yet they followed him anyway . . . I dunno, but it seems that Lehi would have been incapable of physically dragging L&L along with him if they had tried to stay home or escape en route. So . . . is this a sort of hedging of bets: “I’ll go, but I’ll whine the whole time”? Do you do that? I do.

Only 3 references to “visionary” in the canon are here and 2 Ne 5:2, 4. I am fascinated by the uptake of Sariah and Lehi’s words in their children and vice versa.

Why does Nephi (here and elsewhere) include so much of L&L’s complaint? Are we to read it and see if we see ourselves in it?

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.

What work does “being the eldest” do in this verse?

Nephi points to L&L’s ignorance as the cause of the problem. What should we make of that?

Neal A. Maxwell:

 

“Like Laman and Lemuel, we, too, sometimes fail to understand the dealings of our God in our lives and in our times.” Citation: Oct 1989 GC.

Any personal experiences with this principle?

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.

Does that mean that they wanted to kill their 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.

What emotion does shaking indicate?

Only OTs references to confound are Gen 11:7, 9 (languages at Babel) and Jer 1:17.

W1828 confound: “1. To mingle and blend different things, so that their forms or natures cannot be distinguished; to mix in a mass or crowd, so that individuals cannot be distinguished. 2. To throw into disorder.”

I think something like “confuse” is meant by confound–is that fair? Really–he confused them? Is that the right reaction? Did Lehi do something wrong? (We would consider it a teaching fail to end up with confused students.) But confounding leads to obedience here–is that good?

15 And my father dwelt in a tent.

Feast wiki:

 

“Students of the Book of Mormon have wondered why Nephi so often repeats that “my father dwelt in a tent.” The exact phrase is found four times in 1 Nephi: 1 Ne 2:15, 1 Ne 9:1, 1 Ne 10:16, and 1 Ne 16:6. Several theories have been advanced for why Nephi might find this fact so significant.
1. The phrase is a literary ending point. The words are used to signal a culmination of one thought or story and the beginning of another.
2. Since Lehi was a well-to-do man of some importance in the land of Jerusalem, Nephi was impressed by the fact that he would leave his riches and take nothing into the desert except his family, provisions, and tents. . . .
3. It is a note to indicate that they have adopted a nomadic style of life. This was not simply a temporary situation, but a commitment to leave their permanent home and travel into the unknown.
4. It is an expression of the father’s tent as the hub of everything. It is the official center of all administration and authority, the center of their universe. 1 Ne 3:1; 1 Ne 4:38; 1 Ne 5:7; 1 Ne 7:5; 1 Ne 7:21-22; 1 Ne 15:1 and 1 Ne 16:10 speak of the tent as the headquarters for all activities, discussions, and decisions.
5. Another possibility is that Lehi’s tent might be symbolic of the temple. . . . The temple at the time of Moses’ exodus was the portable tabernacle. The tabernacle was the center place of Israel’s worship activities during the wanderings and until the building of the temple in Solomon’s day.

Nephi mentions specifically that his father (Lehi) dwelt in a tent. The only person who was designated to go into the most sacred places of the Old Testament temple was the High Priest. . . . As a group of the covenant people being led away by the Lord, they would need a Prophet and High Priest to guide them. We will see that after their arrival in the Promised Land they set about building a temple. . . .
The passages in which we find the phrase “my father dwelt in a tent” lend themselves to temple symbolism. In addition, see comments on Abraham dwelling in his tent in Abr 2:16. This comparison likewise links tent and temple, and may also relate Lehi to Abraham as a founding patriarch of a covenant lineage.
However, in 1 Ne 2:7, Lehi builds an altar and offers a sacrifice. Generally sacrifices are associated with the temple, but in 1 & 2 Nephi they tend to be associated with stone altars rather than with Lehi’s tent per se.”

Gerald Smith writes, “Lehi will walk away from the temple, and return to the ways of Abraham in the wilderness: living in a tent, sacrificing on altars, and living the nomadic life.” Citation.  So we might see the tent references as an effort to locate Lehi in the tradition of the Genesis patriarchs. Note that throughout the OT, cities are negative space and the righteous are not in them. The tent focus may be to show that Lehi is rejecting the urban tradition. Cities would have represented some degree of comfort, sociality, safety, wealth, access to cool food and items, etc. So: what do you make of all the references to tents in 1 Nephi?

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

This is a very interesting description of Nephi–age, size, desires. Why include it here?

Joe Spencer wrote that Nephi’s tendency was “to idealize, to simplify, and to prettify his record. As many readers—those perhaps a bit more skeptical in orientation—have noted, Nephi comes off in his record a little too well. He never doubts or hesitates, and his every action exudes righteous zeal.” Citation.
He says that some readers see Nephi as a jerk, and his brothers as at least somewhat justified in their treatment of him. (Sorry, but I can’t help thinking of Mr. No Skinny Jeans here.) Joe suggests that we could read it as “an indication that Nephi was naively baffled at others’ lack of zeal. I think Orson Scott Card in his Homecoming series (a sci-fi series the first four volumes of which are drawn from the story of Nephi in the Book of Mormon) has more or less nailed Nephi’s character: he was someone who just couldn’t see why the will of God didn’t immediately draw uncompromised obedience from others.” (Which still means that he is naive.) He sees Nephi as “a Nephi who eventually saw that his earliest manifestations of zeal were manifestations of zeal without knowledge that had caused irreparable damage to the relationship he hoped to have with his brothers.” It is good to remember that Nephi doesn’t write the record until much later in life–he isn’t writing as he goes along but reflecting with hindsight, including of the terrible division between his people and his brothers’ people.

Eugene England writes that we are justifying victimization if we say “Nephi was a self-righteous prig so no wonder his brothers beat him up.” Citation: p40.

The undercurrent here is that Nephi’s heart needed softening and he perhaps did not yet believe all of Lehi’s words before this event, and that without it, he may in fact have joined his brothers in rebelling. What does that suggest? Is it in any way related to the description Nephi gives of himself?

What do you make of Nephi’s portrayal of himself in this book? Do you trust his viewpoint?

17 And I spake unto Sam, making known unto him the things which the Lord had manifested unto me by his Holy Spirit. And it came to pass that he believed in my words.

Why doesn’t Sam have his own experience?

18 But, behold, Laman and Lemuel would not hearken unto my words; and being grieved because of the hardness of their hearts I cried unto the Lord for them.

Wait–when we last left L&L in v14, they were quiet and obedient. What happened?

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.

What does prosper mean?

This must have been mind-blowing, given that they thought they were leaving the promised land. Application?

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.

Ruler and teacher is an interesting combination.

In what ways are Nephi and Joseph of Egypt similiar? What does this teach you about Nephi? About Joseph?

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.

Does this mean that as of this writing, they hadn’t yet rebelled against the Lord?

Presumably Nephi’s concerns are more immediate–this is a very long-term perspective here.

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.

W1828: scourge: “1. To whip; a lash consisting of a strap or cord; an instrument of punishment or discipline. 2. A punishment; vindictive affliction.”

I assume the first ‘they’ is Nephi’s descendants but the second is L&L’s?

I note that the Lord is telling Nephi at this point that there will be a distinction between the descendants, and that they won’t be one people or living the same way. Why is the Lord announcing his plans to treat the two groups differently? In other words, why isn’t there a promise that if L&L’s kids mess up, Nephi’s kids will whip them into shape?

I’m curious about what global principles we might draw from this verse–does it say anything generally applicable about suffering? Sin? Trials? Enemies? Natural consequences?

CHAPTER 3

1 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, returned from speaking with the Lord, to the tent of my father.

Why was this verse included?

2 And it came to pass that he spake unto me, saying: Behold I have dreamed a dream, in the which the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brethren shall return to Jerusalem.

I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers thought this reflected poor planning on the Lord’s part! What might have been the Lord’s purposes in first taking them out of Jrsm but then having them return?

Why send the kids but not Lehi?

3 For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass.

Again the obsession with details of the mechanics of writing! You’d think this record had been made by a bunch of humanities professors!

4 Wherefore, the Lord hath commanded me that thou and thy brothers should go unto the house of Laban, and seek the records, and bring them down hither into the wilderness.

Nephi just got done speaking with the Lord, but the Lord commanded his father, not him, in this? Why not go to Nephi directly?

Do you kinda think a little less of Lehi since he went off into the wilderness without a copy of the scriptures?

5 And now, behold thy brothers murmur, saying it is a hard thing which I have required of them; but behold I have not required it of them, but it is a commandment of the Lord.

Does this verse mean that Lehi presented the plan to L&L before Nephi? Why would the Lord ask L&L to go, anyway? Why not just send Sam and Nephi?

There’s an entire sermon in this verse about how we kvetch about “what the prophet tells us” when, at its best, it isn’t the prophet telling us anything, but the Lord.

6 Therefore go, my son, and thou shalt be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured.

I can’t help but feel a little squeamish in that this is Nephi making the record and recording this–I can’t think of any other biblical figure who is so self-aggrandizing–even the ones who legitimately could have been, like Jesus, are way more modest than this in their self-portrayal.

7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

Is this really true? We are commanded to marry, to have children, to support our families, to serve missions, and to do any other number of things that are literally impossible for some people to do.

Neal A. Maxwell:

 

“Their sad expectation of ease was evident in their bristling over getting the plates from Laban, enduring the harsh wilderness, building a ship, and crossing a vast ocean (see 1Ne. 3–4). Dulled and desensitized, Laman and Lemuel simply didn’t share Nephi’s confidence that the Lord would never command His children to do difficult things, except the Lord first prepares the way (see 1 Ne. 3:7).” Citation: Oct 1999 GC.

When you think about the number of prophets who were called to preach repentance and did not convert many/any, how do you then read this promise?

8 And it came to pass that when my father had heard these words he was exceedingly glad, for he knew that I had been blessed of the Lord.

Why include Lehi’s reaction?

9 And I, Nephi, and my brethren took our journey in the wilderness, with our tents, to go up to the land of Jerusalem.

Terryl L. Givens:

 

“Why all this redundancy? Why such emphatic insistence on the literal origins of the record, with Nephi’s own hand? Clearly, unlike the impersonal voice with which Genesis opens the biblical account of creation, focusing as it does on cosmic history, epic events, and God’s primal acts of creation, the Book of Mormon’s first named author urgently presses upon his audience the very human, very local, and very historical nature of his narrative. It is as far removed from mythic beginnings and anonymous narratives as he can possibly make it. This is firsthand, eyewitness history of local events (set in 600 BC Jerusalem, we learn shortly). . . In art history, provenance means derivation. More fully, it refers to authenticity that is secured in a particular way, establishing the true origins of an object by verifying its unbroken history of transmission from original owner to the present. In the Book of Mormon, we never lose sight of the links in the chain of transmission. This fact is no coincidence. And it makes sense of the otherwise peculiar series of perfunctory and yet dutiful handoffs that Nephi’s descendents make to each successor. For after Nephi, each inheritor of the plates of ore attests to the unbroken chain of transmission, calling the responsibility to continue the tradition a “commandment” passed on through the generations. The weight of solemn obligation felt by these chroniclers is evident in their clear attestations of a responsibility both executed and then transferred, and explains the curious feature of the Book of Mormon’s structure in which a series of mini-books follows upon the heels of Enos’s record. The accounts of Nephi, Jacob, and Enos are progressively shorter, and that of Enos’s son Jarom is only two pages, making it the shortest of all books named for their authors. (The only exception is the Words of Mormon, but that is more of an explanatory editorial insertion than a chapter proper.) Following Jarom’s brief account, the succeeding chronicles are too short to even constitute books. In one case, that of Chemish, his stewardship takes the form of a single paragraph.
This perfunctory brevity and the self-confessed wickedness of authors like Omni make the whole section seem, somehow, too mechanical—almost pointless. Why do they so dutifully fill their roles when their hearts seem so little invested in record keeping, and why do editors Nephi and Mormon alike leave their portions intact? A terribly important point hinges on those questions. For it is precisely this very brevity, it is the dutiful but soulless nature of some of these entries, that points all the more powerfully to the intimidating magnitude of the obligation the authors have inherited to maintain intact the line of transmission, the authentication of the provenance, of the sacred records. This is the message conveyed loudly and clearly by the economical Chemish: “Now I, Chemish, write what few things I write in the same book with my brother; for behold, I saw the last which he wrote, that he wrote it with his own hand; and he wrote it in the day that he delivered them unto me. And after this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers. And I make an end” (Omni 9).
So, that is the first detail of the Book of Mormon that draws attention: the authorial preoccupation—almost obsessive concern—with authenticating the record’s provenance. We are never permitted to lose sight of a documented genealogy that extends back in time—not to an anonymous author, or an implied Moses or even pseudepigraphal writer—but through a meticulously documented lineage to a historical personage of flesh and blood, who fashioned with his own hands the very materials on which the record was engraven. And from those hands, going forward, through a thousand years to Moroni. And one can now see the bridge from Moroni to Joseph Smith, attested to by the sworn affidavits of eleven men, as following in this same path, of confirming with legalistic documentation the still unbroken history of the record’s provenance. That is why, even though the final form those plates take is a printed volume and is now mass produced, each copy nonetheless inherits the same pedigree, and each volume can therefore function as a sacred artifact, a holy icon, from the moment the first copy came off the Palmyra press. This is the final meaning of the book’s ironclad guarantee of provenance. Aaron’s budding rod was not a horticultural treasure, the pot of manna was not a culinary relic, and the Book of Mormon’s primary function has never been textual. It is oracular. . . . In its own self-portrayal, the Book of Mormon functions as that silk twist let down from heaven.” Citation.

I like all of that, but I also have to wonder if, at the very same time, the attention to provenance and autobiography doesn’t serve precisely the opposite function by grounding the record in human fallibility and limitations.  Nice trick, that.

10 And it came to pass that when we had gone up to the land of Jerusalem, I and my brethren did consult one with another.

11 And we cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman; and Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house.

Apparently the command from the Lord didn’t tell them what to do specifically. Interestingly, casting lots seems in the OT to be an approved method of discerning the will of the Lord.

If the casting of lots does express divine will, what are we to make of the fact that Laman goes? Also, L&L are virtually a Greek chorus in the BoM, usually speaking and acting in unison. Is there something significant about the fact that just Laman is acting here?

This verse is an example of Laman’s obedience. Nephi never calls attention to is–but Lehi told Laman to go back to Jrsm and he went.

L. Tom Perry:

 

“Several decisions faced these young men as they approached Laban to ask for the records. It’s most interesting to me to note the process by which they made those decisions. First, the decision was to leave it to chance. And they cast lots, and the lot fell to Laman. He went to the house of Laban, and as he sat and talked with him, he said he desired the records that were written on the plates of brass. Laban was not too pleased with this request and was angry, and thrust him out of his presence, and would not let him have the record. He said, “Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee” (1 Ne. 3:13). That was enough for Laman; he fled and came back and reported to his brothers that leaving the assignment to chance did not work.” Citation: Oct 1979 GC.

 

Interesting that he interprets the casting of lots as “leaving it to chance.”

12 And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father.

Why repeat all this? We already know. Despite this unnecessary verbiage, what we really need to know–in order to make sense of the next 2 verses–is what Laman said. But that information is not given us, besides “desired,” which is very vague. Why?

Why did Lehi and his family think that they had a right to take the plates of brass from Laban? From the perspective of Laban’s family, this is a simple theft (as the next verse suggests). If you want to posit that there is some backstory that would show that Lehi’s family had a right to the plates and that Laban’s possession was the theft, then why isn’t that story included?

13 And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee.

Why was Laban angry?

Interesting that we get Laban’s direct speech. Did Laman genuinely appear to him to be a robber, or is that an inaccurate statement?

14 But Laman fled out of his presence, and told the things which Laban had done, unto us. And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness.

15 But behold I said unto them that: As the Lord liveth, and as we live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us.

How did Nephi reach this decision? In a similar situation, we might say, “Well, I extended the invitation, but everyone has their moral agency, so I can’t force this situation and I have done the best I can.” And then be done with it.

16 Wherefore, let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; therefore let us go down to the land of our father’s inheritance, for behold he left gold and silver, and all manner of riches. And all this he hath done because of the commandments of the Lord.

Grant Hardy:

 

“Another example of Skousen’s close analysis concerns 1 Nephi 3:16. The printer’s manuscript and all printed editions state that Lehi “left gold and silver and all manner of riches and all this he hath done because of the commandments of the Lord.” However, the original manuscript has the singular commandment. Skousen believes this is what Joseph Smith originally dictated, and he explains that “the language in 1 Nephi 3:16 implies a specific commandment for Lehi to leave his wealth behind.” This shifts our understanding of the narrative a bit because Nephi now appears to be telling his brothers that God had specifically commanded Lehi to leave behind his moveable property because God knew the brothers would need it later when they returned to Laban and tried to buy the brass plates.” Citation.

 

And Skousen also has ‘commandment’ at 4:34.

So does this cause us to re-evaluate Lehi’s decision to leave the wealth at home in the first place?

17 For he knew that Jerusalem must be destroyed, because of the wickedness of the people.

18 For behold, they have rejected the words of the prophets. Wherefore, if my father should dwell in the land after he hath been commanded to flee out of the land, behold, he would also perish. Wherefore, it must needs be that he flee out of the land.

This seems to be a rabbit trail, not immediately relevant to the current situation. Why include it?

19 And behold, it is wisdom in God that we should obtain these records, that we may preserve unto our children the language of our fathers;

Why does it matter if their language changes? And did this work–did their language stay the same? Is there an inverse allusion to the Tower of Babel here?

Elaine S. Dalton:

 

“Nephi was thinking of his future family, even though he had no prospect for marriage. Remember, his family was alone in the wilderness! Nephi not only had a vision of how to return to his heavenly home, but he also had a vision of what he wanted in his earthly home.” Citation: Apr 2003 GC.

20 And also that we may preserve unto them the words which have been spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets, which have been delivered unto them by the Spirit and power of God, since the world began, even down unto this present time.

21 And it came to pass that after this manner of language did I persuade my brethren, that they might be faithful in keeping the commandments of God.

22 And it came to pass that we went down to the land of our inheritance, and we did gather together our gold, and our silver, and our precious things.

23 And after we had gathered these things together, we went up again unto the house of Laban.

24 And it came to pass that we went in unto Laban, and desired him that he would give unto us the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, for which we would give unto him our gold, and our silver, and all our precious things.

No lots this time? Does that mean the initial lots were a bad idea?

25 And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property.

Irony: so now he is the robber, and a murderer, too.

26 And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban.

Oops. Does this negate the grandiosity of Nephi’s plan above? Does it mean he messed up, perhaps because he didn’t cast lots or seek the will of the Lord and instead relied on wealth, hoping that he would manage to use riches to motivate Laban just enough to give him the plates but not enough to rob him? Is this a mistake on Nephi’s part, thinking he can arouse lust and then control it? If he had prayed and/or cast lots above, would the plan have been different?

L. Tom Perry:

 

“Nephi had to make another decision on how to obtain the records. He thought of all the wealth they were leaving in their home, the gold and silver and all manner of riches. He thought he would gather up that gold and silver and trust in the things of the world to purchase the records. So they approached the house of Laban and displayed the gold and silver and offered to trade these precious things for the plates of brass. When Laban saw the property and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it. Looking at the four boys against all of his servants, it was easy to determine that he could retain the plates and have the wealth also. He sent his servants after the boys to slay them, and they had to flee, leaving their property behind. Things of the world did not produce the records.” Citation: Oct 1979 GC.

 

Interesting that he labels this a spiritual fail on Nephi’s part.

27 And it came to pass that we fled into the wilderness, and the servants of Laban did not overtake us, and we hid ourselves in the cavity of a rock.

Only other scripture ref to “cavity of a rock” is Ether 13.

28 And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father; and also was Lemuel, for he hearkened unto the words of Laman. Wherefore Laman and Lemuel did speak many hard words unto us, their younger brothers, and they did smite us even with a rod.

Why is Laman angry at him? Why is Sam getting beaten?

29 And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold ye shall go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands.

In the OT, angels usually appear to Good People to give them an Important Preview of Coming Attractions. In the BoM, angels usually appear to Bad People to tell them to Shape Up. Why the difference? Today, we usually assume that the more spiritual manifestations one has, the more righteous one is. Should the pattern of angelic visitations in the BoM cause us to reconsider that?

30 And after the angel had spoken unto us, he departed.

This verse seems to be another one of those completely unnecessary statements, especially given the beginning of the next verse. Why was it included?

31 And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?

They see an angel and their first response is to begin to murmur. What does this teach us about angels? About human nature? About murmuring?

CHAPTER 4

1 And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?

I think the chapter break is pretty unfortunate here–this is clearly a continuation of the thought from the previous verse.

2 Therefore let us go up; let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground, and the armies of Pharaoh did follow and were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea.

In what way was Moses strong?

Why “hither and tither”?

NB “our fathers.” He’s aiming for common ground with them.

3 Now behold ye know that this is true; and ye also know that an angel hath spoken unto you; wherefore can ye doubt? Let us go up; the Lord is able to deliver us, even as our fathers, and to destroy Laban, even as the Egyptians.

How can they doubt?

What can we glean from the Laban/Egyptian comparison? Is Laban pharoah? Are the records the things the Israelites “borrow” from the Egyptians–and later use to make/decorate their tabernacle?

4 Now when I had spoken these words, they were yet wroth, and did still continue to murmur; nevertheless they did follow me up until we came without the walls of Jerusalem.

Again, this idea of murmuring but still following. I think we want to read L&L as “people out of the church” but I think the text makes clear that L&L are “people in the church who whine a lot.”

Neal A. Maxwell:

 

“This obscure young man apparently paused while translating and dictating to Emma—probably from the fourth chapter of 1 Nephi [1 Ne. 4]—concerning the “wall of Jerusalem”—and said, in effect, “Emma, I didn’t know there was a wall around Jerusalem.”” Citation: Oct 1983 GC.

5 And it was by night; and I caused that they should hide themselves without the walls. And after they had hid themselves, I, Nephi, crept into the city and went forth towards the house of Laban.

Why did he bring them this far to leave them outside the gates? The only similar scriptural situation I can think of is Jesus leaving his disciples farther away at Gethsemane, but I don’t particularly like that parallel.

Only other references to “crept” are Jude 1:4 (bad guys) and Ether 7:18, good guys who creep in by night to kill a bad guy. The result is returning the proper king to the throne.

6 And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.

An entire sermon in here: we usually don’t know beforehand, do we?

Doesn’t v3 imply that Nephi knew that Laban would be destroyed somehow?

7 Nevertheless I went forth, and as I came near unto the house of Laban I beheld a man, and he had fallen to the earth before me, for he was drunken with wine.

8 And when I came to him I found that it was Laban.

9 And I beheld his sword, and I drew it forth from the sheath thereof; and the hilt thereof was of pure gold, and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine, and I saw that the blade thereof was of the most precious steel.

Why all of this description here?

See D&C 17:1.

Brett L. Holbrook:

 

“The sword was revered in Nephite history and preserved until the nineteenth century, which hints at the importance of the blade. . . . The existing theories about the sword of Laban have suggested it as a standard high-quality Near Eastern sword, a sacred implement of war, or a metaphorical symbol for the word of God. As a literary type, some have stated that the sword of Laban was a fixation of the Nephites that took on powerful symbolic importance. That symbolism, though, was of the violent paradigms in the human condition. The sword has also been declared as the only constant in the Book of Mormon: a symbolic reminder and ensign of the Lord’s providence. John Taylor compared the preservation of the sword of Laban and other Nephite artifacts to the memorials found in Israel’s Ark of the Covenant. They were manifestations and types of laws and ordinances belonging to the priesthood and purposes of God.” Citation.

Is the sword symbolic? (consider Genesis 3:24, Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 34:21, 1 Samuel 17:50-51, D & C 27:17)

Assuming the sword is an important relic for the Nephites and, perhaps, for us, why? Is it comparable to the manna and/or tablets saved in the ark? Wouldn’t the appropriate relic have been the plates themselves, not the sword by which they were obtained?

Can you make a parallel between Nephi and David?
1. sword of mighty and bad man (Laban, Goliath)
2. owner decapitated by faithful youth
3. unusual sword in appearance (iron=Philistines, bronze=Israel)
4. sword revered by people, used to lead them
5. symbol of authority and kingship

See here for more.

Probably the most useful insight of this comparison, to me at least, is the sense that it makes of the “it is better for one man to perish” line–it places it in the context of just sending David and Goliath out to battle instead of entire armies. Applying it to this story, it suggests that it is better that Laban and Nephi are the sole strugglers over the plates, than a battle between all of Lehi and all of Laban’s household. But I’m speculating.

10 And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.

Webster’s 1828 ‘constrained’: “In a general sense, to strain; to press; to urge; to drive; to exert force, physical or moral, either in urging to action or in restraining it. Hence, 1. To compel or force; to urge with irresistible power, or with a power sufficient to produce the effect.”

Joe Spencer makes a big point of the repetition of the word “command[ment]” in this narrative and then contrasts it with the word “constrained” here.  Is it significant that the Spirit is speaking by way of constraint and not commandment here?

This is most emphatically NOT how we usually think of the Spirit operating. What does this word mean?

 

11 And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.

Is this just rationalizing?

12 And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;

13 Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.

Does the second phrase mean what we think it means? I’m curious at the repeated use of the word “perish” to describe the fear that Lehi’s group will perish in the wilderness. Maybe those are the passage that need rethinking–maybe that concern is spiritual and not physical. Or maybe here, the idea is that it is better for Nephi to perish for this ‘crime’ than for his people to perish.

I think what is sticky here is that it isn’t “the Lord” slaying–that’s an entirely different ball of wax.  It is “Nephi slaying.”  Is the point of this story somehow wrapped up in Nephi’s required identification with the Lord?

L. Lionel Kendrick:

“He explained: “It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.” (1 Ne. 4:13.) In contrast, the Mulekites, who migrated to the American continent shortly after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, failed to bring with them any sacred scriptures or records. Omni recorded the condition of a nation without scriptures: “They had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator.” (Omni 1:17.) Even more serious than their continuous contentions and wars and the corruption of their language was the tragedy that they did not know the Savior. The pattern is the same for individuals as it is for nations. Without searching the scriptures, they cease to know the Savior.” Citation: Apr 1993 GC.

Compare Alma 30:47 and 2 Samuel 20 for the same principle being applied.

 

Is this verse the Spirit speaking, or Nephi?

I think most commenters on this story seem to think that Nephi has to kill Laban so Laban doesn’t kill Nephi.  But that isn’t what v13 says–it says that the future nation (which, you know, may not exist if Nephi gets killed tomorrow) will dwindle without the records.

John W. Welch and Heidi Harkness Parker:

 

“Based on the New Testament alone, the “one for many” principle in the Book of Mormon might have appeared anachronistic. Yet the fuller picture shows that this principle operated much earlier in Israelite culture, notably in Nephi’s own day. This was something that Joseph Smith would have had no way of knowing, and it is a point that few legal historians are aware of even today.” Citation.

The weird thing about this proverb is that it is the absolute basis of Christianity: it is better that Christ should die than that everyone should. So doesn’t Xianity itself require us to assume that the ends justify the means?

So the entire “Lehite nation” as it were would perish without these records? Was there no other way?

14 And now, when I, Nephi, had heard these words, I remembered the words of the Lord which he spake unto me in the wilderness, saying that: Inasmuch as thy seed shall keep my commandments, they shall prosper in the land of promise.

Is there any significance in the difference between the Spirit’s words in verse 11 and 12-13? (Note how they trigger different responses in Nephi.)

15 Yea, and I also thought that they could not keep the commandments of the Lord according to the law of Moses, save they should have the law.

This doesn’t make sense–there isn’t a single other copy they could have begged, borrowed, copied, memorized, etc.?

This strikes me as quite the condemnation against The Unwritten Order of Things.

16 And I also knew that the law was engraven upon the plates of brass.

17 And again, I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause—that I might obtain the records according to his commandments.

18 Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

Other famous rolling heads: Judges 5:26. 2 Sam 4:7. Ether 15:30.

I think it would be very useful to list Nephi’s rationales in the previous verses.  Is it fair to say that he dismisses some (“he also had taken away our property”) and accepts other (“I knew that the Lord had delivered Laban into my hands for this cause”), or is it more of a cumulative effect?  Or something else entirely?

General comment: I think too often, our approach to troubling scriptures is the interpretational equivalent of “nothing to see here–move along, people!” (Hint:  they only ever say that if there is something really interesting to see, but they want you out of their way.)  But I find that attitude troubling–I don’t think these kinds of things are in the scriptures so we can all put on our best southern belle party faces and say, “Well, bless his heart!” and quickly change the subject (“How’s your momma?”) I think they are there precisely so we will grapple with them. So let’s grapple (more on that idea here).

We might find similarities between this story and others where people “argue” or “question” or “debate” with divine communications in Genesis 18 (Abraham pleads for saving Sodom and Gomorrah), Job 38 (God asks Job by what right he thinks he understands how things work), Luke 1:18 and 34 (Zacharias and then Mary seek to understand the angel–note the different questions and then different responses!), Mark 7:28 (the Syro-Phenician woman pleads for her daughter), and others.  Do these other instances shed any light on Nephi’s conversation with the Spirit here?

What is the difference between Nephi’s opposition to the Spirit and L&L’s?

This statement from Joseph Smith is frequently used in official church sources with regard to this story:

“God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ at another time He said ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation” (History of the Church, 5:135).

From the Institute manual:

“Some people have incorrectly felt that the Spirit of the Lord has prompted them to do something contrary to what the Lord has already commanded, such as was the case with Nephi. Today we need not worry that the Lord might prompt us to do something that runs contrary to current commandments. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) has taught us who the Lord will give such promptings to: “When there is to be anything different from that which the Lord has told us already, He will reveal it to His prophet and no one else” (Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 159).”

I don’t know how to square this with the fact that Nephi was not “the prophet”–his father was.

I’m thinking about 1 Nephi 3:7.  First, I can’t help but think of this story as a big fat cream pie in the face of someone who thought he could blithely speak those words and not have the reality of them cut him to the very core.  I also find it ironic that, in this instance, God is not providing him with a way to keep the “thou shalt not kill” commandment.  I think this story demands that we recite (and we should recite, and sing in Primary) 3:7 with a lump in our throats, not bravado and good cheer (“I will GOOO, I will DOOOO”!)

John Welch:

“The story of Nephi’s unexpected success in 1 Nephi 4 can be viewed today from many perspectives, and obviously it was included in Nephi’s record for several significant reasons. For example, this dramatic account demonstrated the religious importance of the scriptures and the vital role of the law in God’s desires for the Nephite people. If the law was important enough that one man should perish so that an entire nation could have it, the message was clear that the nation should be diligent not to dwindle in unbelief—a lesson that was kept bright in the Nephite memory for many years (1 Nephi 4:13; Omni 1:14; Alma 37:3–10). Moreover, in Nephi’s mind the events that night validated the promises that the Lord had given to him personally about keeping the commandments, prospering in the land, and being a ruler and a teacher over his brothers (1 Nephi 2:20; 4:14, 17). Politically, the account undoubtedly came to play an important part among the founding narratives of Nephite culture and society, for it showed how God miraculously put a copy of their fundamental laws into their hands (1 Nephi 5:8–10). The fact that Nephi alone was able to obtain the plates—while his inept and unfaithful brothers were unable to complete the task their father had assigned them—legitimized Nephi’s claim to possess the plates and to lead the group. Indeed, for several subsequent centuries the Lamanites accused the Nephites of having robbed them of their rightful possession of these plates (Mosiah 10:16), but the recorded facts about the events of that night went a long way toward showing that Nephi was the rightful owner of the plates, was the legitimate successor to his father Lehi, and was able to succeed with God’s help where his brothers not only had failed at the task but had said that it could not be done. Accordingly, for the next six hundred years, one of the most important symbols of authority among the Nephites was possession of the plates of brass (see Mosiah 1:16; 28:20; 3 Nephi 1:2). The story of Laban, therefore, serves several purposes in the Nephite record: religious, political, historical, and personal.” Citation.

That article also explains how “several factors that substantially reduce Nephi’s guilt or culpability under the law of Moses as it was probably understood in Nephi’s day.”

John Welch, same source:

“The implication of the Spirit’s instruction could not have been lost on Nephi: he had not been lying in wait and the Lord had delivered Laban into his hands. Therefore, in order to accomplish the Lord’s purposes, under this unusual and extraordinary circumstance, the killing was on both counts legally justifiable and religiously excusable. It was the kind of killing that would be protected by the mercy of God in a place of refuge within God’s jurisdiction.”

This might make sense to us, but if it made sense to Nephi at the time, why would he have said ‘no’ three times?

Steven Olsen:

While the angel does not reject Nephi’s reasoning, he provides instead a divine justification for such an extreme act. The angel repeats the injunction “Slay him”17 and, in order to reinforce that doing so fulfills the earlier promise of deliverance (1 Nephi 3:29), adds, “for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands” (4:12). The angel next provides Nephi with a divine perspective for following his command: “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring to forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (v. 13). At this point the mission to recover the brass plates is no longer simply about the temporal deliverance of a nuclear family—avoiding death, recovering property, preserving honor. Rather, the proper context for the deed has become the spiritual deliverance of a divinely chosen nation. Citation.

Joe Spencer:

Nephi’s shrinking at the task is itself a manifestation of the wrongness of his relationship to the situation. Now, I know that claim is going to be upsetting to some, but I think it’s clearly at work in the psychology of the situation. Nephi’s unwillingness here shows that something has been amiss in all his zeal, all his obedience, all his fidelity. He’s too emphatic in his denial to himself that he’s ever had murderous desires. It seems to me, in a word, that Nephi’s reticence is the symptom that marks Nephi’s resistance against recognizing that he has had murderous desires all along, particularly toward his brothers. Nephi’s attempt at skirting violence here is an attempt to pretend that there hasn’t been a scapegoating kind of violence at work in his relationship to his brothers. He doesn’t want to believe he’s the sort capable of violence, and so he resists the constraint to be violent here—trying to convince himself that he’s not like that. But his very resistance proves that there’s something violent in his desires already. Citation.

Jeffrey Holland:

“Let me use an example from what is often considered by foes, and even by some friends, as the most unsavory moment in the entire Book of Mormon. I choose it precisely because there is so much in it that has given offense to many. It is pretty much a bitter cup all the way around.
I speak of Nephi’s obligation to slay Laban in order to preserve a record, save a people, and ultimately lead to the restoration of the gospel in the dispensation of the fulness of times. How much is hanging in the balance as Nephi stands over the drunken and adversarial Laban I cannot say, but it is a very great deal indeed. The only problem is that we know this, but Nephi does not. And regardless of how much is at stake, how can. he do this thing? He is a good person, perhaps even a well-educated person. He has been taught from the very summit of Sinai “Thou shalt not kill.” And he has made gospel covenants.”1 was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but . . . I shrunk and would that I might not slay him” (1 Nephi 4:10). A bitter test? A desire to shrink? Sound familiar? We don’t know why those plates could not have been obtained some other way–perhaps accidentally left at the plate polishers one night or maybe falling out the back of Laban’s chariot on a Sabbath afternoon.
For that matter, why didn’t Nephi just leave this story out of the book altogether? Why didn’t he say something like, “And after much effort and anguish of spirit, I did obtain the plates of Laban and did depart into the wilderness unto the tent of my father?” At the very least he might have buried the account somewhere in the Isaiah chapters, thus guaranteeing that it would have gone undiscovered up to this very day.
But there it is, squarely in the beginning of the book–page 8–where even the most casual reader will see it and must deal with it. It is not intended that either Nephi or we be spared the struggle of this account.
I believe that story was placed in the very opening verses of a 531-page book and then told in painfully specific detail in order to focus every reader of that record on the absolutely fundamental gospel issue of obedience and submission to the communicated will of the Lord. If Nephi cannot yield to this terribly painful command, if he cannot bring himself to obey, then it is entirely probable that he can never succeed or survive in the tasks that lie just ahead.
“1 will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). I confess that I wince a little when I hear that promise quoted so casually among us. Jesus knew what that kind of commitment would entail, and so now does Nephi. And so will a host of others before it is over. That vow took Christ to the cross on Calvary, and it remains at the heart of every Christian covenant. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” Well, we shall see.”
Citation.

F. Burton Howard:

“Some seek to justify their actions by quoting scripture. They often cite Nephi’s killing of Laban as an example of the need to violate a law to accomplish a greater good and to prevent a nation from dwindling in unbelief. But they forget that Nephi twice refused to follow the promptings of the Spirit. In the end, he agreed to break the commandment only when he was convinced that “the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes” (1 Ne. 4:13; italics added) and also (I believe) when he knew that the penalty for shedding blood had been lifted, in that one exceptional case, by Him whose right it is to fix and waive penalties. The truth is that we are judged by the means we employ and not by the ends we may hope to obtain. It will do us little good at the last day to respond to the Great Judge, “I know I was not all I could have been, but my heart was in the right place.”” Citation: Apr 1991 GC.

Val Larsen:

“But since, as a practical matter, we can never know for certain whether God has actually commanded someone else to commit murder, we must hold to the rule that individual citizens are never justified in killing passed-out drunks they stumble upon in the course of a nighttime ramble through a city. If Laban is guilty of capital crimes—as Welch convincingly argues—he should be executed by the state, not by an ordinary citizen who meets him in a chance encounter. “ Citation.

Val Larsen:

“The test of Abraham made a profound theological point: more than any other episode in scripture, it makes clear the cost God paid when he sacrificed his son in order to balance justice with mercy. And in the end, Isaac—and more profoundly, Abraham—was spared. Asking Nephi to kill Laban—violating his conscience, judgment, and God’s law—does not have an equally clear theological purpose, and Nephi is not spared the trauma of actually carrying out the killing.” Citation.

Val Larsen then argues that Nephi is acting as a soverign:

“But while any explanation of this episode will be unsatisfactory if Nephi is held to be acting as an individual, a close reading of the text makes it abundantly clear that the killing of Laban was not an individual act, but rather a sovereign act that had a clear political purpose. That Nephi acts as a sovereign is an overdetermined fact in the text. It is demonstrated by multiple layers of implication.” Citation.

John Welch, same source as above:

“Falsely accusing a person of a capital offense was a capital crime under biblical law (Deuteronomy 19:19), as it had been in the ancient Near East since at least the time of Hammurabi (Code of Hammurabi 1). Since Laban had falsely accused Laman of being a “robber” (a serious capital offense) and had sent his soldiers to execute the sons of Lehi on this pretext (1 Nephi 3:13, 25), Laban effectively stood as a false accuser. Such an accusation, coming from a commanding officer of the city, was more than an idle insult; it carried the force of a legal indictment. Since Nephi and his brothers were powerless to rectify that wrong, God was left to discharge justice against Laban.”

John Welch:

“It is significant that Nephi’s brothers never accused him of breaking the law. Laman and Lemuel had ample reason to accuse Nephi. If he had broken the very law that he so scrupulously claimed to observe, Laman and Lemuel would not have let that pass unnoticed. . . . This strongly implies that they accepted Nephi’s explanation of the case as a justifiable killing. . . . Nephi was not the only prophet in scripture to shed a man’s blood. Moses killed an Egyptian when Moses saw the Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave; when he looked around and saw that no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand (Exodus 2:11–12). Fearing that he might get caught, Moses fled to the land of Midian.”

Eugene England:

“”It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief” (1 Ne. 4:13) —a classic statement of the scapegoating rationale. Girard claims that the rationale is the foundation of human violence and is absolutely repudiated by Christ •— a repudiation Girard argues is the chief evidence that the Gospels and Christ are divine (1987, 141-79). But Nephi tells us that that rationale is here expressed by the Spirit of the Lord —
and he claims that Spirit also makes the ethically troubling claim that God not only uses his divine ends to justify violence by God but also as the rationale for
a demand that his children also use violent means: “The Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes” (1 Ne. 4:13).” Citation.

Eugene England, same source:

“This raises the interesting but rather troubling image of Laban as a type forChrist, since the deaths of both figures are described as bringing the salvation
of whole nations: Laban’s death made possible the obtaining of the brass plates, the literal “word” that brought salvation to the Nephites, and Christ’s
death fulfilled his full mission as Logos, the “Word” that saves all peoples, including the Jews.”

Does this passage teach that the ends justify the means, even if the means are violent?

Eugene England, same source:

“First, is it possible that Nephi’s decision —or at least his rationalization — was simply wrong? This very young man, already a victim of scapegoating and life-threatening violence by his own brothers, knew of Laban’s murderous scapegoating of Laman. He had now found Laban temporarily vulnerable but still a threat to himself and his goals, which he was convinced were divinely inspired. He may have very naturally been tempted toward revenge. Thirty years of reflection may have genuinely convinced him that the Lord would have directed him to kill Laban to obtain the plates in this extreme circumstance — and thus make possible the preservation of his people, which he had witnessed. The text lends some support to this possibility: Nephi is still, much later, troubled by the experience and its
moral meaning. His account contains a remarkable combination of unsparing completeness and honesty with what seems like rationalization, even obsessive
focusing on what might be unnecessary but psychologically revealing details (see 1 Nephi 4, especially verses 9, where Nephi notices the sword before anything
else and examines its hilt and blade in detail, and 18, where, after lengthy rationalization, he confesses, in what seem to be unneeded specifics, “[I] took
Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.”). Clearly he had gone over the experience very often and with some ambivalence.”

England ultimately rejects this reading.

England, same source:

“What if God truly did command Nephi to slay Laban, but not for the very questionable reasons most often offered by Latter-day Saints — reasons that
God himself has denied often in other scriptures? What if it was an Abrahamic test, like the command to Abraham to kill Isaac? What if it was designed to push Nephi to the limits of the paradox of obedience and integrity and to teach him and all readers of the Book of Mormon something very troubling but still very true about the universe and the natural requirements of establishing a saving relationship with God? What if it is to teach us that genuine faith ultimately requires us to go beyond the rationally moral — even as it has been defined by God, when God himself requires it directly of us?”

Joe Spencer:

Nephi before brought up the commandments, but in an entirely misguided way. Before, he was trying to justify the action by making Laban guilty: he had not kept the commandments like a zealously obedient person should. Now, though, the Spirit’s words call him back to the original setting in which the word concerning the commandments was given: the encounter with the Lord through which Nephi received the Lehitic covenant. And it is reflection on that that will make all the difference.

Steve Olsen:

A third related connotation of remember in the Book of Mormon is revealed by defining its opposite, which is not “forget” but “dis-member.” From this perspective, when a covenant with God is broken, the rebellious are cut off or cast out from God’s presence or from the covenant community (e.g., Genesis 17:14; Leviticus 18:29; Isaiah 53:8). In this sense, they are then “dis-membered,” or not “re-membered.” That is, they are not eliminated from one’s temporal consciousness but are separated from the covenant and its constituted community that had defined their eternal identity and place in the kingdom of God. From this perspective, for the ancient peoples of God, the sign of a covenant—such as circumcising the foreskin (Genesis 17:10; 34:15), sacrificing an animal (Moses 5:5–7; Abraham 2:7–8), or rending a garment, as in Moroni’s title of liberty (Alma 46:12–21)—often involved cutting, severing, or cleaving, indicative of the consequence of breaking or “dis-membering” the covenant.

Thus God’s directing Nephi to slay a Jewish religious leader by cutting off his head with his own sword symbolically indicates that Jehovah severed his covenant with the people of Israel at Jerusalem because of their wickedness. Lehi and his family were now to be the rightful heirs of the promised blessings of the covenant. From this perspective, Nephi’s preservation of Laban’s sword as one of the Nephites’ sacred artifacts and its later use as a model for Nephite armaments are seen more fundamentally as symbols of the covenant with God that defines and distinguishes their chosen identity and guides their lives in search of the covenantal promises of salvation. Citation.

(He also has some interesting things to say about the concept of ‘delivering’ in this story.)

Eugene England (same source as above) writes of Thomasson’s reading that 1 Nephi re-enacts Lev 16, with Jrsm the destroyed goat and Lehi’s people the goat–the scapegoat–sent into the wilderness. This would explain–see v20 below–the angry reaction toward Lehi:

 

“When Lehi’s sons return for the brass plates, Laman, chosen by lot to approach Laban, the plates’ keeper, is scapegoated by Laban in classic Girardian terms (that is, accused of a crime, robbery, to justify Laban in his envious desire to obtain his treasure), and is cast out and nearly killed. But then Laban himself is made into a scapegoat, and the punishment of death he had decreed for Laman is meted to him by Nephi.”

Those are all of the theories and rationales and explanations that I have been able to locate. I think some aspects of each of them are useful, but I’m still not feeling that anyone has solved the riddle of the killing of Laban.

I’m not nearly as smart at God, and I can think of bunches of ways to move Nephi and Laban and the plates around the chess board without drawing blood: just let Nephi take the sword and the clothing and show up to Zoram demanding the plates. Or, wake up Laban and let them fight it out. Or, have Nephi find Laban already dead. Or, Nephi can take Laban’s sword and then demand his cooperation at sword-point. Or, leave Laban out of it: have Zoram out back sporting with a harlot (or preventing his son from sporting with one, if Zoram–as Orson Scott Card theorized–didn’t go in for that sort of thing) and let Nephi walk in and take the plates. Or have an angel with a drawn sword order Zoram to let Nephi take the plates–who’s gonna refuse that? I read several LDS thinkers who claimed that Nephi had to kill Laban or Laban would have sent out a search party. But won’t someone discover a headless Laban, a missing Zoram, and missing plates the next morning and send one out, anyway? And, again, I can think of several ways to stop a search party from reaching Nephi without shedding blood: a sandstorm, the ever-popular angel and sword combo, or even an intestinal complaint of biblical proportions. So I feel like the theories justifying the killing of Laban might stabilize the patient, but they don’t address the raw, gaping wound that arises from asking the question Pres. Benson wants us to ask: “We should constantly ask ourselves, ‘Why did the Lord inspire [Nephi] to include that in his record?’” Had it been completely omitted, I don’t think most readers would have given the process by which the plates were obtained a second thought; they just would have assumed that Lehi took the plates with him when he left. Or, as Elder Holland suggests above, the story of getting the plates could have been included as a drive-by verse: “And then we went back for the plates and got them from Laban. End of story.” But, no, we get the first detailed story in the BoM: compare Lehi’s preaching, where there is no detail on the mocking (no rotten fruit splattering against Lehi’s forehead, no recounting of the insults [“And your wife smells like a camel!”], no strands of saliva dripping from his cloak) to this story’s abundance of detail: gold, hilt, hair, clothing, etc. We are given a level of detail in this story that grabs our lapels and insists that we pay close attention.

Why is that? We really need to think about this one, and think about it carefully. It doesn’t need to be here, it doesn’t need to be here in such excruciating detail, it doesn’t need to play out the way it does, but it is and it does. It makes enormous demands on the reader. How will we respond to those demands? Why was the killing of Laban justified? Why was it included in the BoM? Why is it recounted in such detail? What implications or moral lessons does the story hold for us?

If we can’t stomach this story, are we robbing God of the authority to command in all things?  Does God have the authority to take a human life?  (A bit of irony:  I presume that the words “thou shalt not kill” were on the plates that Nephi killed for.)

Is the lesson here supposed to be that you don’t agree to a spiritual prompting outside of the standard operating procedure the first or even the second time you get it?

Is the lesson that God has the right and authority to completely disorient you?

How would we read this story if we were to presume that Laban had received and ignored a spiritual witness to give Nephi the plates?

Is the lesson that you can’t have both (1) an all-powerful and all-knowing God and (2) the authority to decide if God’s commands are just?  Is this story Nephi’s forced choice between those two options?

Is the back-and-forth dialogue between Nephi and the Spirit supposed to function as evidence that Nephi isn’t mentally ill?  How do we read this story in a world where mentally ill people claim that a voice in their head told them to kill someone?  What about people of other religions making this claim?

Is the point of this story to explore the definition of sin?  What does this story have to say about what sin is?

Is the point of the story that we are not to follow spiritual impressions unless we are certain of them, and that it is Nephi’s thinking-it-through and logical arguments that ultimately seals the deal, not the spiritual impression?

Did Nephi need to have this experience?  If so, why?  How do you think he changed as a result of it?  Why would God put Nephi through this?

Is the point that if Nephi can choose to obey in this enormous, difficult thing that we should be able to choose to obey in the little things?  Was the point to make everything, including building a boat, seem like a little thing to Nephi from this point forward?

This story contains the only reference to the word “shrunk” in the scriptures.  Is that significant?  Here are all of the verbs that Nephi applies to himself in this story, in order:  shrunk, knew, heard, remembered, thought, knew, knew, obeyed.  Is this significant?

A personal note:  we had a very lively dinner table discussion about this story; it generated the previous 11 questions, none of which had occurred to me during a week of reading everything I could get my hands on about this passage.  I doubt we would have had such a discussion about a “slam-dunk” story.  I feel the same way about the many morally ambiguous stories in Genesis, and wonder if the dilemmas that the story places on the reader are by design, to elicit precisely such conversations, and not to be ‘solved’ per se.  I’d also like to note that any time I come upon a sticky story like this one, I am always slapped with the realization that I can’t figure this out on my own–I always gain insights from others that just would never have occurred to me.  In these stories, there is always the subtext of the necessity for interpretive communities.

Perhaps there is a hint to understanding this story in Nephi’s initial act, which was to take the sword.  If you focus on that as the instigating action, what do you conclude?  Was Nephi’s thought to take the sword (and, perhaps the clothes–perhaps they were removed before the beheading) and go from there, but the Spirit requires him to kill Laban as well?

What do you make of the fact that Nephi was wrestling with the morality of the act, not with the source of the message?

Another thought:  not only was this (unnecessary, graphic) story included, but it is positioned very early on in our account.  This puts a huge demand not only on the old salt bored in Gospel Doctrine, but the investigator.  I’ve heard anecdotally of missionaries who have had investigators freak out over this story.  Is that why it is there? Does it function as a narrative barricade:  if you can’t accept the right of God to command you in all things, you may go no further.  If you cannot accept Nephi as a reliable narrator, you may not proceed.

Note that this is the only story that we have where Nephi questions, even a teeny bit.  What should that teach us?

Would we be right in seeing this story as a model to follow in our own lives when God’s commandments seem to clash with other commandments, or otherwise not make sense?

What is the role of reasoning and rationality in Nephi’s experience here?  Is that normative for us?  How?

Does Eve’s experience in negotiating conflicting commandments have any relationship to Nephi’s similar experience?

Does 1 Nephi 22:13 help us understand the symbolic meaning of Laban’s death better?  (“And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.”)

What does this story have to say about when violence is justified?  How should that apply to us?

Steven L. Olsen writes, “Among other things, the mission to obtain the brass plates is the first instance of Nephi’s exercising leadership over his older brothers.”  How might that fact shape our interpretation of this story?  Is it, perhaps, a sharp pin into the balloon of pride in leadership?

More ideas on this thread.  More thoughts on this post.

Feast wiki: “How can we tell the difference between a spiritual prompting and our own rationalizations?”

 

 

19 And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.

No bloodstains?

Is this symbolic clothing in any way?

20 And after I had done this, I went forth unto the treasury of Laban. And as I went forth towards the treasury of Laban, behold, I saw the servant of Laban who had the keys of the treasury. And I commanded him in the voice of Laban, that he should go with me into the treasury.

21 And he supposed me to be his master, Laban, for he beheld the garments and also the sword girded about my loins.

Is this at all plausible or are we to assume divine intervention?

22 And he spake unto me concerning the elders of the Jews, he knowing that his master, Laban, had been out by night among them.

23 And I spake unto him as if it had been Laban.

Not that we are necessarily keeping a list of Nephi’s divergences from the Law of Moses, but this is a lie.

24 And I also spake unto him that I should carry the engravings, which were upon the plates of brass, to my elder brethren, who were without the walls.

‘Cause everyone wants to read a little scripture after a night on the town–what’s going on here?

25 And I also bade him that he should follow me.

26 And he, supposing that I spake of the brethren of the church, and that I was truly that Laban whom I had slain, wherefore he did
follow me.

Church?

27 And he spake unto me many times concerning the elders of the Jews, as I went forth unto my brethren, who were without the walls.

28 And it came to pass that when Laman saw me he was exceedingly frightened, and also Lemuel and Sam. And they fled from before my presence; for they supposed it was Laban, and that he had slain me and had sought to take away their lives also.

29 And it came to pass that I called after them, and they did hear me; wherefore they did cease to flee from my presence.

30 And it came to pass that when the servant of Laban beheld my brethren he began to tremble, and was about to flee from before me and return to the city of Jerusalem.

This is almost comic . . .

31 And now I, Nephi, being a man large in stature, and also having received much strength of the Lord, therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban, and held him, that he should not flee.

32 And it came to pass that I spake with him, that if he would hearken unto my words, as the Lord liveth, and as I live, even so that if he would hearken unto our words, we would spare his life.

33 And I spake unto him, even with an oath, that he need not fear; that he should be a free man like unto us if he would go down in the wilderness with us.

34 And I also spake unto him, saying: Surely the Lord hath commanded us to do this thing; and shall we not be diligent in keeping the commandments of the Lord? Therefore, if thou wilt go down into the wilderness to my father thou shalt have place with us.

35 And it came to pass that Zoram did take courage at the words which I spake. Now Zoram was the name of the servant; and he promised that he would go down into the wilderness unto our father. Yea, and he also made an oath unto us that he would tarry with us from that time forth.

36 Now we were desirous that he should tarry with us for this cause, that the Jews might not know concerning our flight into the wilderness, lest they should pursue us and destroy us.

Won’t they know anyway, when they find the headless Laban, the missing treasury dude, and the missing plates?

37 And it came to pass that when Zoram had made an oath unto us, our fears did cease concerning him.

38 And it came to pass that we took the plates of brass and the servant of Laban, and departed into the wilderness, and journeyed unto the tent of our father.

David A. Bednar:

 

“The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). Most frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare and is evident in the experiences of Nephi as he tried several different approaches before successfully obtaining the plates of brass from Laban (see 1 Nephi 3–4). Ultimately, he was led by the Spirit to Jerusalem, “not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6).” Citation: Apr 2011 GC.

CHAPTER 5

1 And it came to pass that after we had come down into the wilderness unto our father, behold, he was filled with joy, and also my mother, Sariah, was exceedingly glad, for she truly had mourned because of us.

2 For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.

3 And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father.

4 And it had come to pass that my father spake unto her, saying: I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren.

5 But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness.

He hasn’t obtained any land yet . . .

6 And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah, concerning us, while we journeyed in the wilderness up to the land of Jerusalem, to obtain the record of the Jews.

7 And when we had returned to the tent of my father, behold their joy was full, and my mother was comforted.

8 And she spake, saying: Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them. And after this manner of language did she speak.

She doesn’t really believe Lehi until the boys come back, does she?

Luke is known for writing a gospel filled with “gender pairs”: paried stories with similar events happening to a woman and a man. Is this story of Sariah’s complaining a gender pair with Lehi’s story in 1 Nephi 16:20 (=complaining over the broken bow)? If so, what can you learn from comparing them?

Camille Fronk:

 

“When her sons failed to return, Sariah feared, giving evidence that her present faith, though admirably strong, was not yet strong enough to continue the difficult journey, let alone to establish a God-fearing family in a new land. The content of 1 Nephi 5 is therefore especially significant because it shows how crucial a mother’s preparation is to the Lord. God desired not only that the family possess the brass plates for the journey, but also that both the mother and the father have unshakable faith before they continued. In her fear, Sariah “complained against” her husband, calling him a “visionary man” and blaming him for leading their family to “perish in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:2). Lehi did not argue Sariah’s accusation but validated the force that propelled him to act in total faith. Lehi responded to his wife: “I know that I am a visionary man; for if I had not seen the things of God in a vision I should not have known the goodness of God, but had tarried at Jerusalem, and had perished with my brethren” (1 Nephi 5:4; 19:20). He continued his witness, “I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:5). Nephi relates that “after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah,” suggesting that this type of interchange occurred a number of times during the sons’ absence. But the fact that Sariah desired repeated reassurance indicates that Lehi’s powerful testimony, though comforting, was not enough to deal with the threat of the potential loss of her sons (see 1 Nephi 5:1, 3, 6).

Sariah must have begun to pray more fervently than ever before during her sons’ absence—not only for their safety but also for a confirmation that their journey was of great importance to the Lord. One can imagine Sariah gazing longingly toward the horizon several times a day, hoping for some sign of her sons’ return, all the while pleading with God.

Nephi gives us a glimpse of the emotional reunion with his parents when he and his brothers returned from Jerusalem. “And it came to pass that after we had come down into the wilderness unto our father, behold, he was filled with joy, and also my mother, Sariah, was exceedingly glad, for she truly had mourned because of us” (1 Nephi 5:1). Doughty described a similar return of a son to his mother: Sariah’s reunion with her sons was additionally charged with the spiritual witness and stronger faith she received as a result of her trial. At that moment Sariah gained a deeper testimony than she had previously known. Notice the power and assurance in Sariah as she bore witness to her reunited family: “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them” (1 Nephi 5:8). Sariah’s expressions of faith continued, for Nephi added, “And after this manner of language did she speak” (1 Nephi 5:8). Sometime, either then or later, she or Lehi must have given an account of her crisis, including her fears while the sons were gone and how she complained to their father. Nephi was not personally present to witness Sariah’s fears, but he recorded her experience as among those “things which are pleasing unto God” (1 Nephi 6:5). Obviously Sariah’s witness communicated a vital truth to Nephi, one that carried a message for generations to follow. Furthermore, Sariah’s now firm personal testimony would bless Lehi. When periodic moments of discouragement pulled at his faith, Sariah could reaffirm God’s promises to him as Lehi had done for her during her crisis.

Appreciating Sariah’s epiphany also gives greater meaning to her subsequent act of sacrifice. “And it came to pass that they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel” (1 Nephi 5:9). Notice that Nephi reported that “they” offered the sacrifice. Since Nephi was writing in first person, he tells us that he was not included as a primary participant in the ordinance. The context suggests that Lehi and Sariah together performed this sacred act of worship. One can feel the renewed personal commitment that Sariah reverently placed on the altar alongside the animal sacrifice. And—most important—there is no indication that Sariah ever murmured again.” Citation.

Grant Hardy points out that Sariah is a “dynamic, changing” character. (Citation.) It is important that she isn’t just one dimensional, or a stock character, or a baby factory and cook, but someone capable of insight and growth.

Why are there so few stories of women in the BoM?

Note that there isn’t a narrated reception when Nephi returns with the plates and the tale of killing Laban. Grant Hardy writes, “It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that something is being supressed here.” Citation. He points out that this is the only time that Nephi quotes a woman, so this story does a good job of distracting us from the matter at hand, which is Lehi’s reaction to Nephi showing up with plates, a bloody sword, and a tale of theft and murder. Hardy cites S. Kent Brown in pointing out that “burnt offerings, such as those Lehi sacrificed at 1 Nephi 5:9, were intended to purge sin, so Lehi must have felt somewhat ill at east with how his request to procure the plates had been carried out.” Do you think it is likely that Lehi had a massive coronary event when Nephi explained what had happened and that Nephi is deliberately obscuring this? (How) does Sariah’s story affect our interpretation of the killing of Laban?

Joe Spencer writes, “This is less the story of Sariah’s complaint than it is the story of discovered union, and union discovered in such a way as to give a voice to a woman, something so devastatingly uncommon in the Book of Mormon that this deserves particular merit. It is certainly significant that in verse 9, it is not only Lehi, but “they”—Lehi and Saraiah—who “did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings” and “gave thanks unto the God of Israel.””

9 And it came to pass that they did rejoice exceedingly, and did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto the Lord; and they gave thanks unto the God of Israel.

10 And after they had given thanks unto the God of Israel, my father, Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning.

11 And he beheld that they did contain the five books of Moses, which gave an account of the creation of the world, and also of Adam and Eve, who were our first parents;

Gerald Smith:

 

“Interestingly, according to Kevin Barney, the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon does not state “five books of Moses” (1 Ne 5:11), but just “the book of Moses”, suggesting that the word “five” was added later by Joseph Smith, not as an inspired addition, but simply because in light of his understanding of the Bible he had at the time, it made grammatical sense.” ( But see Joe Spencer’s comment in response as well.) Citation.

12 And also a record of the Jews from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah;

13 And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.

14 And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine.

Presumably, the reason Laban had to be killed was the genealogy–otherwise, they could (again, presumably) gotten a copy of the scriptures from some other source. Why was a written genealogy so dang important?

15 And they were also led out of captivity and out of the land of Egypt, by that same God who had preserved them.

16 And thus my father, Lehi, did discover the genealogy of his fathers. And Laban also was a descendant of Joseph, wherefore he and his fathers had kept the records.

Really “discover”? Does that mean he didn’t know that before?

17 And now when my father saw all these things, he was filled with the Spirit, and began to prophesy concerning his seed—

Joe Spencer writes:

The first five chapters of the Book of Mormon [which was originally the first chapter of the BoM] begin and end with parallel stories. What is now 1 Nephi 1 begins with the story of Lehi’s inaugural visions, at the culmination of which Lehi finds himself with “a book” from heaven that “fill[s him] with the Spirit of the Lord” and thus leads him to “exclaim many things unto the Lord” (1 Nephi 1:11-12, 14). What is now 1 Nephi 5 concludes with the story of the return from Jerusalem of Lehi’s sons, at the culmination of which Lehi finds himself with “the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass” which “fill[s him] with the Spirit” again and thus leads him “to prophesy” with power (1 Nephi 5:10, 17). Citation.

It seems that it would be important, then, to carefully compare the circumstances under which the two records were obtained.  Does this parallel help us understand the killing of Laban any better?

18 That these plates of brass should go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed.

19 Wherefore, he said that these plates of brass should never perish; neither should they be dimmed any more by time. And he prophesied many things concerning his seed.

20 And it came to pass that thus far I and my father had kept the commandments wherewith the Lord had commanded us.

21 And we had obtained the records which the Lord had commanded us, and searched them and found that they were desirable; yea, even of great worth unto us, insomuch that we could preserve the commandments of the Lord unto our children.

All other BoM refs to ‘desireable’ are to the fruit of the tree in Nephi/Lehi’s vision and Alma 32.

This passage is, again, such a strike at the idea of an oral tradition

22 Wherefore, it was wisdom in the Lord that we should carry them with us, as we journeyed in the wilderness towards the land of promise.

CHAPTER 6

1 And now I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record; neither at any time shall I give it after upon these plates which I am writing; for it is given in the record which has been kept by my father; wherefore, I do not write it in this work.

2 For it sufficeth me to say that we are descendants of Joseph.

3 And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God.

NB that this genealogy that he just killed someone over is defined as not being a part of “the things of God.”

4 For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved.

5 Wherefore, the things which are pleasing unto the world I do not write, but the things which are pleasing unto God and unto those who are not of the world.

6 Wherefore, I shall give commandment unto my seed, that they shall not occupy these plates with things which are not of worth unto the children of men.

CHAPTER 7

1 And now I would that ye might know, that after my father, Lehi, had made an end of prophesying concerning his seed, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise.

If this were any other character besides the Lord, we would accuse them of very poor planning to require two return trips, especially now that they are presumably wanted as murderers. Why does the Lord require two return trips instead of taking care of everything at once?

2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness.

Who the heck is Ishmael? Why haven’t we been properly introduced?

3 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did again, with my brethren, go forth into the wilderness to go up to Jerusalem.

4 And it came to pass that we went up unto the house of Ishmael, and we did gain favor in the sight of Ishmael, insomuch that we did speak unto him the words of the Lord.

Is this story a foil for the Laban story? If so, what would you make of the comparisons? How are the women like the plates?

5 And it came to pass that the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael, and also his household, insomuch that they took their journey with us down into the wilderness to the tent of our father.

Royal Skousen:

“What we find in the history of the Book of Mormon text is that conjectures have been quite common, and in many instances they are necessary. Sometimes the original manuscript has such a bad reading that no one is going to accept it. Consider, for instance, the reading of the original manuscript in 1 Nephi 7:5: “the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael and also his hole hole”. That’s the way the original manuscript reads, hole hole. In fact, this is the corrected reading in the original manuscript, which means that that is what that scribe, probably one of the Whitmers, finally decided on. When Oliver Cowdery copied this passage into the printer’s manuscript, he just couldn’t accept the reading of the original manuscript. He decided that hole hole was household, thus writing in the printer’s manuscript “the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael and also his household”. My conjecture, on the other hand, is that the original text here actually read “the Lord did soften the heart of Ishmael and also his whole household”. That would explain why the original manuscript ended up having two instances of hole, one standing for whole, the other for the hold of household.
In support of this reading, consider the rest of the text of the Book of Mormon: whenever a passage refers to a patriarch and his household, the text always refers to his entire household. In corresponding contexts, we have either “all his household” or “his whole household” (the latter reading occurs in Alma 22:23). The ultimate point here is that in 1 Nephi 7:5 one can’t accept the reading of the original manuscript, hole hole. There must be a conjecture here, either household or whole household (or perhaps some other possibility). For that phrase, every text of the Book of Mormon is going to have to read as some kind of conjecture.”  Citation.

6 And it came to pass that as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the daughters of Ishmael, and the two sons of Ishmael and their families, did rebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters.

7 And it came to pass in the which rebellion, they were desirous to return unto the land of Jerusalem.

8 And now I, Nephi, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, therefore I spake unto them, saying, yea, even unto Laman and unto Lemuel: Behold ye are mine elder brethren, and how is it that ye are so hard in your hearts, and so blind in your minds, that ye have need that I, your younger brother, should speak unto you, yea, and set an example for you?

His main interaction with L&L seems to be to ask them “Why?” Is this the best approach? Is it something we should model?

9 How is it that ye have not hearkened unto the word of the Lord?

10 How is it that ye have forgotten that ye have seen an angel of the Lord?

Well, how is it? Do we do this?

11 Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten what great things the Lord hath done for us, in delivering us out of the hands of Laban, and also that we should obtain the record?

12 Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.

13 And if it so be that we are faithful to him, we shall obtain the land of promise; and ye shall know at some future period that the word of the Lord shall be fulfilled concerning the destruction of Jerusalem; for all things which the Lord hath spoken concerning the destruction of Jerusalem must be fulfilled.

L&L won’t know about Jrsm during mortality, will they?

14 For behold, the Spirit of the Lord ceaseth soon to strive with them; for behold, they have rejected the prophets, and Jeremiah have they cast into prison. And they have sought to take away the life of my father, insomuch that they have driven him out of the land.

15 Now behold, I say unto you that if ye will return unto Jerusalem ye shall also perish with them. And now, if ye have choice, go up to the land, and remember the words which I speak unto you, that if ye go ye will also perish; for thus the Spirit of the Lord constraineth me that I should speak.

What does “if ye have choice” mean?

I’m impressed by how many chances L&L get.

16 And it came to pass that when I, Nephi, had spoken these words unto my brethren, they were angry with me. And it came to pass that they did lay their hands upon me, for behold, they were exceedingly wroth, and they did bind me with cords, for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts.

Cf. Judges 15:13 and the Joseph in Egypt story.

NB that Deut 13:6 is clear that the penalty for a false prophet is death, and that Nephi has just prophesied. Joe Spencer has noted that a major theme in the BoM is the proper interpretation of scripture. Instead of just seeing L&L as wicked hotheads, it might be useful to see them as people who are really, really convinced that they are doing exactly what the scriptures say they should do.

17 But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.

Skousen thinks “according to my faith which is in me” is the original reading.

18 And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again.

19 And it came to pass that they were angry with me again, and sought to lay hands upon me; but behold, one of the daughters of Ishmael, yea, and also her mother, and one of the sons of Ishmael, did plead with my brethren, insomuch that they did soften their hearts; and they did cease striving to take away my life.

These nameless women are more effective than Nephi and the angel . . .

20 And it came to pass that they were sorrowful, because of their wickedness, insomuch that they did bow down before me, and did plead with me that I would forgive them of the thing that they had done against me.

21 And it came to pass that I did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness. And it came to pass that they did so. And after they had done praying unto the Lord we did again travel on our journey towards the tent of our father.

22 And it came to pass that we did come down unto the tent of our father. And after I and my brethren and all the house of Ishmael had come down unto the tent of my father, they did give thanks unto the Lord their God; and they did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto him.

Royal Skousen thinks “and they did offer sacrifice and burnt offerings unto him” is the original reading.

*****

BIG THEMES:

(1) The obedience of L&L. (No, really, stop laughing.) They presumably could have stayed at home, or gone back home, at any point. But instead, they stay with Lehi and follow his request to go back to Jrsm not once but twice. They are, in general, obedient, even though they complain a lot and occasionally beat up their brothers (wait . . . this sounds exactly like my kids . . .) I think the general tendency is to read them as Bad Guys, but that isn’t how the BoM portrays them. They are basically, just not completely, Good Guys. I can’t help but think of Exodus, where the people whine constantly when they are given stuff, but they stay with Moses. Then, when they are asked to contribute to the tabernacle, they give so much stuff that Moses has to eventually say, “that’s enough, folks!” What are we to make of L&L? What can we learn from L&L?

(2) Why did they have to go back to Jrsm two times? What does this tell us about the Lord?

(3) The killing of Laban, about which I have nothing more to say than I did above.

 

*****

Additional resources:

John Welch, “The Narrative of Zosimus and the Book of Mormon

Glimpses of Lehi’s Jerusalem

David Seely, “Lehi and Jeremiah

Camille Fronk, “Desert Epiphany:  Sariah and the Women of 1 Nephi

Neal A. Maxwell, “Lessons from Laman and Lemuel

Feast wiki

Elder Holland, “Daddy, Donna, and Nephi”  (The title might make it sound like a cheese-fest, but I promise you it is dairy-free. He covers, in a gentle fashion, some very important techniques for scripture study, including close reading, asking questions, outlining, and looking for patterns using 1 Nephi 1 as an example. Please read this.)

Elder Bednar, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord

 

29 Responses to BMGD #2: 1 Nephi 1-7

  1. Joe Spencer on January 2, 2012 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for these notes, Julie. Wonderful!

  2. Kevin Barney on January 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Great. I’ll print this out when I get a chance. This is so helpful to me, I really appreciate all the work you put into it.

    I take another whack at the goodly parents thing, here:

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2012/01/01/goodly-parents-revisited/

  3. Dave on January 2, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Very impressive, Julie. It makes my New Year’s resolutions pale by comparison.

  4. Amira on January 2, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks, Julie. My husband and I aren’t the best at getting through the Sunday School manuals on our own, and this helps a lot to perk up our discussions.

  5. Raymond Takashi Swenson on January 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    On the mindset of Laman and Lemuel: Perhaps they felt they had a duty to take care if their dotty dad, their mom, and their wacky younger brothers, rather than let them perish in the wilderness from their own foolishness. Compare it to the actions of the experienced pioneers when all the tenderfeet from England insisted on heading off with their handcarts into the wilderness late un the season, having no idea how far it was, how remote it was from any refuge, how the high altitude plains could be visited with unrelenting bluzzards in September, all because they thought that God would protect them from the consequences of their foolishness.

    It is not a.simple thing to know what the right path is without real revelation from God. While the Bible seems to treat the reforms of Josiah as praiseworthy, the destruction if Jerusalem seems to be a direct consequence, and the Book of Mormon seems to indict them as a form of righteousness without the substance, looking beyond the mark. Margaret Barker also seems to critique Josiah for suppressing a type of Judaism that was the direct precursor to the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Son of God. We should not confuse the vague theism of their descendants with the formal self-righteousness of Laman and Lemuel.

    Your review of the various commentaries on the incident of Nephi slaying Laban was very “confounding”. Your suggestion that it is intended as a test for readers of the Book of Mormon is interesting. Terryl Givens’ theme in By the Hand of Mormon is that the book us not merely information but is an experience meant to take us into a world where God is actively communicating with men and asking them to do hard things. Perhaps then the Laban experience is like military boot camp, where extreme hardship breaks down the egos and habits of the raw recruit to prepare him to accept a new identity. When we have vicariously passed through this Abrahamic test with Nephi, we are ready to follow him into “an exceeding high mountain” and be given a vision of what is going to occur in the rest of the Book of Mormon and then learn that our own modern history is part of the same prophetically foreseen narrative, and we are living in the world of divine intervention and even greater impending events, where we will be called on to go and do as the Lord commands, even if those commandments are difficult.

  6. Sam Brunson on January 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks, Julie; I’m only through your Chapter 1 thoughts so far, but I’ll certainly be coming back again and again.

  7. Jax on January 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Fantastic Julie! I might only finish one lesson a month, but at least I’ll enjoy it and have the expectation of getting something from it! Thanks

  8. Alison Moore Smith on January 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Sheer awesomeness. You are an example to GD teachers across the globe.

  9. Sonny on January 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    I haven’t had time to read all of it, but what I read was just fantastic. Now that I was released from my Primary calling and can attend Gospel Doctrine, I really look forward to reading your notes.

    Question: Can we just put a camera in your class and stream your lesson live to GD classrooms hither and yon? :-)

  10. Ardis E. Parshall on January 2, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    I’ve now made it all the way through (you didn’t want me to get much else done today, right?).

    In more than one place you ask why Lehi’s family didn’t bring or go after some other set of records, presumably their own copy or some set easier to get at than Laban’s. How common do you think sets of records were, though? It seems clear to me that Lehi hadn’t had much opportunity to read sacred records himself, although Nephi seems generally familiar with the stories: Until reading the plates of brass, Lehi doesn’t seem to know that he is a descendant of Joseph, and the way Lehi is shown surveying the plates to see what they might be — “Lehi, took the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, and he did search them from the beginning. And he beheld that … [description of contents]” — reads as though this was all a new experience for him.

    There seems to have been only one set of official records in the Nephite nation, some central repository, and even Mormon with full access to the records seems surprised at finding the small plates of Nephi late in his work of compilation, as if their contents were new and unexpected. So that doesn’t sound as though there were multiple sources for Nephite scripture.

    Several of the sources I’ve been reading lately point out that as a descendant of Joseph Lehi and Laban both properly belonged to the exiled northern kingdom, not to Judah and Jerusalem where they were living. Those sources speculate that given their completeness and the fact that they were written on more permanent metal plates rather than on more perishable material, Laban’s plates may have been the northern kingdom’s official records, spirited to safety in the south at the time the northern tribes were led away.

    Obviously the plates of brass weren’t the only records in existence or else the Jews would have lost much of their knowledge of the past when Nephi took the records. Still, I think there couldn’t have been many copies around — so no, I don’t think less of Lehi for leaving without a copy, and I don’t know that that *were* other copies for the brothers to have begged, borrowed, copied, or memorized. It may well have been Laban’s plates or nothing.

  11. Ardis E. Parshall on January 2, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Not that that is the only point I wish we could talk about — I wish we could sit around the kitchen table and talk about a LOT of what you’ve written — it’s just that that’s the only point I can respond to without droning on way too long.

  12. Julie M. Smith on January 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Ardis, good points and I like your attention to Lehi’s response to reading the plates.

    I think we are in basic agreement that the number of extant copies was greater than one but relatively small. The issues that I was trying to get at with my questions were:

    (1) How do we interpret the killing of Laban if these were not the only copies of the plates?

    (2) I’m wondering if perhaps Lehi thought that leaving Jrsm was meant to be temporary, and that’s why he didn’t take plates (or wives for the boys) the first time. I don’t know that he knew what was in store for him all at first, and perhaps leaving without plates reflects that.

  13. Course Correction on January 2, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    I find it curious that the words of the Spirit directing Nephi to kill Laban are almost word for word the same reason Caiaphas gives for plotting the death of Jesus (John 11:50). Does anyone have an explanation?

  14. Ardis E. Parshall on January 2, 2012 at 9:50 pm
  15. Senile Old Fart on January 2, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Perhaps, in light of the provenance of Deuteronomy (made up to bolster Josiah’s heresies), you could consider de-emphasizing violations of supposed “commandments” contained therein.

  16. Ardis E. Parshall on January 3, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Or maybe you could consider de-emphasizing the extremist elements of the documentary hypothesis.

  17. Ben S on January 3, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Excellent stuff. For me, one of the most relevant facts in interpreting 1 Nephi is that it is a retrospective, written 30 years after the fact (2 Nephi 5:28-29). We tend to read it like a journal-narrative, but everything there serves some purpose or other of a Nephi 30 years older than when he slew Laban and left Jerusalem.

  18. Alison Moore Smith on January 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Ardis, glad for your additions. More to think about.

    Ben S., I was thinking much the same thing. I was talking to two of my college kids yesterday — school starts up again tomorrow — and I was amused at how I look so differently at college than when I was attending. Just like all “old” people. I’ve often thought how different the book might have been if the writing was contemporaneous with the events.

    And I second sonny’s suggestion on the live feed from your class, Julie. :)

  19. Ray on January 3, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    Excellent post, Julie – and excellent addition, Ardis.

    I only will add two things:

    1) “What does Nephi mean by “Jews”? Does he not consider himself one?”

    As Ardis said, Nephi wasn’t a Jew. I think that being an “outsider” in that area greatly influenced how he talked about “the Jews” throughout his record.

    2) About Laman and Lemuel, I wonder if they simply weren’t “visionary men” like their younger brother and father. I know you’ll get to “he maketh no such thing known unto us” later, but I wonder if that actually was nothing more than a true statement – and how much our view of their wickedness might be slanted as a result of Nephi recording his descriptions of them so late in his life. I wonder if there might be a more accurate, charitable view of them waiting to be discovered.

  20. Mark B. on January 3, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    First, great stuff, Julie. Thanks.

    A completely different take on the slaying of Laban (leaving aside all of the issues that you raised, Julie): was part of the Lord’s purpose in having Nephi kill Laban to cut Lehi’s family off, irrevocably, from Jerusalem? Now that they were suspects (or at least persons of interest) in a brutal murder of a harmless old drunk, they couldn’t go back home again. Even if some of the family were inclined to whine about the rigors of wilderness life and the loss of all those good things they gave up in Jerusalem, they couldn’t go back without risking prosecution for the crime. And surely there were other servants of Laban who had seen the previous attempts to obtain the brass plates, and they could have testified that it was Lehi’s boys who were involved.

  21. Ben S on January 3, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    “Now that they were suspects (or at least persons of interest) in a brutal murder of a harmless old drunk, they couldn’t go back home again.”

    This is the way Orson Scott Card portrays it in his science-fictionalization-cum-commentary on the Book of Mormon, the Homecoming series.

  22. chris on January 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    #13, Thanks for pointing that out. I can’t help but see a sense of irony in that prediction by Caiaphas considering that Jesus did indeed die so that none of us would perish. Did Caiaphas get the principle right in getting it wrong?

    I also think Grant Hardy’s observation that the Jews were threatening to kill Lehi, the dreamer of dreams who they assumed was a false prophet, because they were familiar with Deut. 13, which specifically says to kill those false prophets who dream dreams.

    I see this as a “better” textual analysis of Deut 13. than using other Deut 19. as an apology for Nephi killing Laban. Because the Jews in this case were making an idol out of the law and seeking to kill one who had the spirit of prophecy. If you’re going to kill someone, don’t do it because a book said so. At least listen to that inner voice in your head…err… hold on a sec…

  23. Mark B. on January 3, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    This is the way Orson Scott Card portrays it in his science-fictionalization-cum-commentary on the Book of Mormon, the Homecoming series.

    Well, my consolation is that Leibniz didn’t get any credit either–but he knew in his heart that he didn’t get the idea from Newton.

  24. Ziff on January 4, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Julie, I particularly like your editorial comments like “what work is this phrase doing here?” and “why say this again?” If this was years later, you’d think Nephi could’ve drafted a version and then edited it before going to the trouble of putting it down on gold plates. :)

  25. Cindy L. on January 5, 2012 at 9:50 am

    #16 I find it interesting that some believe Nephi went out of his way to make himself look too perfect in his record. Nephi was commanded to only write down his spiritual experiences in the small plates, and the only way for him to have had these experiences was through personal righteousness. Does this mean he was perfect? Of course not, my guess is that his “natural man” screw ups were recorded in the other plates.

    You ask the question why Nephi included his age, size, and desires. We find in our reading that all four brothers were single men. This would indicate that Laman would likely be 20-21 years old, so that would make Nephi around 14-15 years old. His description of being large in stature tells us he had a major growth spurt and looked older than he was, but he still had the mind of young man. I have a son who recently had his 15th birthday and he is 6’1”. Everyone assumes he is at least two years older. He is a good responsible young man, but he is only a teacher, and in the middle of transitioning from an immature deacon to mature priest.

    Nephi’s desire to know the mysteries of God reminds me of 14-year-old Joseph Smith’s experience. Joseph tells us at that time in his life, “so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.” Nephi is confused by the reaction the people and his brothers have to his father’s visions. Is his father truly a man of God receiving revelation or a nut job? So he prays, and has a visitation from the Lord telling him everything his father speaks is truth. From that point on, Nephi, like Joseph, could not deny what he had seen, and wasn’t going to offend God by rebelling against his father.

  26. Cameron N. on January 5, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    Great notes and comments.

    I too found the thoughts regarding Nephi’s self-portrayal interesting, only because they had never occurred to me before.

    I always saw Nephi as someone who was so innocently naive and full of faith and it probably didn’t occur to him that he looked good. He glories in plainness is trying to be as clear and concise as possible. He wasn’t going to overcompensate by fudging the truth.

  27. a random John on January 7, 2012 at 12:06 am

    Julie,

    Thanks for these notes. I’ve been looking them over while my wife prepares her lesson. Here’s something I just noticed. The first words of the book are, “The First Book of Nephi, His Reign and Ministry”

    I find it interesting that he immediately establishes this as a record of him as a prophet king. Much of the story seems aimed at legitimizing him (and therefore his descendants?) as having both religious and political authority.

    This theme is repeated in 1 Nephi 2. In verse 20 we have the first mention of a “land of promise” this is made to Nephi. We are not told that it was made to Lehi. In fact in the second chapter Nephi keeps talking about Lehi’s land of inheritance as being Jerusalem. He seems to be drawing a distinction.

    In 1 Nephi 2:22 he is promised that he’ll be “a ruler and a teacher over thy brethren.” Again, this theme of a prophet king, legitimized by God.

    This plays into the idea of Nephi’s killing of Laban as part of what legitimizes Nephi as ruler of a new nation, if you happen to be a fan of that idea. I always struggle with the lopping of of heads for books sequence.

  28. a random John on January 7, 2012 at 12:40 am

    While I’m at it, the idea of labeling the first two attempts at obtaining the plates as a failure is odd. They provide an enormous amount of context for what comes next. Could you imagine Nephi just showing up on a first try, finding Laban (who had done him no wrong in this scenario) and deciding that killing him is really the best course of action?

    The first two attempts were well intentioned and the second especially seemed like a very normal way to attempt to purchase something of great value. I’ve got big questions about killing Laban, but they’d be orders of magnitude bigger if Nephi hadn’t attempted to obtain the plates in good faith first.

  29. prometheus on January 8, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    This is some 40 pages printed in a smallish font, Julie. I am beyond impressed. The citations and quotes provided are super. Honestly, I hardly even know what to say besides thank you. The reference work you are creating here is just amazing.

    I haven’t had a chance to finish reading it yet, but that is the plan for tonight. :)