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1 Nephi Chapter 1 Through Verse 3, An Introduction

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 2:
“I Will Go and Do” (1 Nephi 1-7)

 

 

Transcript

1 Nephi chapter 1 is among the most read passages in the Book of Mormon simply because its first, but it deserves far more credit than that which accrues to it for being, as it were, page one on the small plates. Nevertheless, some of the things that make it interesting are there specifically because it is first. One interesting feature of this chapter is that there is a colophon: Colophons are common in ancient texts and serve some of the same functions for ancient written works as the teaser summary on the back of modern books that tells us what to expect in the text, as well as the author bio telling about the author’s credentials.

Thus it is important to note that, unlike the regular chapter summaries you see in the current edition of the scriptures, Nephi’s summary, beginning with “An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah, and his four sons…” and so on down until, “This is according to the account of Nephi; or in other words, I, Nephi, wrote this record.” is part of the translation of what he wrote. Once he begins his authors introduction, though, he does something more interesting: he introduces himself with style, that is, with a wonderful pun.

1 I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents,…

John Gee, an egyptologist, suggests that the name Nephi is “best explained as a form of the Egyptian word nfr, which was later pronounced neh-fee, nay-fee, or nou-fee, especially during and after Lehi’s time” [Original: John Gee, “A Note on the Name Nephi,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1/1 (1992): 189-91; idem, “Four Suggestions on the Origin of the Name Nephi,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2009), 1-5. ; referenced via Matthew L. Bowen, Nephi’s Good Inclusio, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/nephis-good-inclusio/].

Matt Bowen further points out that the dictionary definition of this Egyptian term is “good,” “goodly,” “fine,” “fair.” Matthew L. Bowen, Nephi’s Good Inclusio, https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/nephis-good-inclusio/]

So we have, Nephi, whose name means goodly starting his record by saying, I Nephi, having been born of “goodly parents.” This opening Egyptian wordplay will act as a leitmotiff throughout the Book of Mormon. As Bowen again points out in his masterful Interpreter paper, “Nephi’s Good Inclusio,” Zeniff (whose name is likely a close relative to Nephi’s) opens his record by employing the same wordplay in his colophons which appears to be modeled on Nephi’s, and Nephites throughout the record will not tire of reminding you “we’re the good guys.”

Nephi next, consistent with the literary traditions in which he is operating, explains to us how he learned enough to make such a good quality pun, and beyond that how he came to be qualified to write and also had something worthy to write about.

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.
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.
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.

Nephi thus lets us know that his training includes Egyptian language skills which he included in his opening flourish, and training in the religion and traditions of Jewish people on the one hand, but that much of his authority will come from his own personal and prophetic encounters with the Lord.

Donald L. Parry ( , Poetic Parallelisms in the Book of Mormon: The Complete Text Reformatted) and Neal Rappleye (https://interpreterfoundation.org/blog-nephi-the-good-a-commentary-on-1-nephi-11-3/) both note a Chiastic structure to these verses so one could argue that Nephi is also giving you a taste of the literary nature of the learning of the Jews which he has received in this passage. I add that this is also not the last of the Book of Mormon’s chiastic colophons, which to an extent use Nephi’s as a model.

Verse 4 contains Nephi’s first use of “it came to pass,” which conclusively marks the end of his colophon because he has shifted to a narrative mode, for which “it came to pass” serves as a genre marker as described briefly by Donald L. Parry (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1992/12/i-have-a-question/why-is-the-phrase-and-it-came-to-pass-so-prevalent-in-the-book-of-mormon.html?lang=eng).

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