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Interpreting Interpreter
A Prophet, Not a King

This post is a summary of the article “Nephi Wanted to Be a Prophet Like Moses, Not a King Like David” by Taylor Halverson in Volume 59 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Halverson argues that Nephi had a greater affinity for Moses rather than David, hewing closer to the role of prophet rather than the role of king.


The Summary

In this article, Taylor Halverson examines Nephi’s writings, concluding that the Book of Mormon figure is connected more to the person and role of Moses (i.e., as a prophet), than that of David (i.e., as king). In support of this, he cites Nephi’s habit of receiving revelation in high mountains, his having led people to the Promised Land through both wilderness and dangerous waters, and his teaching of commandments received from God. In contrast, though Nephi was himself king, he was a very different king than David. He refused the title of King, and never actually mentions David despite them sharing a similar introductory narrative (i.e., Nephi confronting Laban; David confronting Goliath).

The context for this is the competing traditions of Northern and Southern Israel. Here Halverson casts Nephi’s connection to these traditions in a different light than that proposed by other scholars, suggesting that he and Lehi sided with the Deuteronomists instead of against them, and Laman and Lemuel instead accepting a David-centric Zion theology. Halverson’s discussion on this point is brief, but he notes the similar approaches of Lehi and Jeremiah—a Deuteronomistic figure–to the wickedness of Jerusalem, encouraging repentance rather than trusting in the power of the Davidic kingship. As Halverson concludes:

“Who was the heroic leader in Zion-theology thinking? David. Nephi…appears to reject Davidic kingship as he seeks to avoid the problems he saw firsthand in Zion theology—apostasy influenced by kings who taught that Jerusalem was God’s favored city…Who is the heroic leader in Deuteronomistic thinking? Moses. Nephi aspired to emulate the prophet Moses while downplaying or eschewing the kingly aspects and actions of David.”


The Reflection

Halverson’s contrast between David and Moses is both clear and useful, and it would be hard to doubt Nephi’s preference between the two. I would’ve loved to have Halverson expand a bit more on his view of Nephi as a Deuteronomist—a perspective which might qualify as controversial given the detailed offerings of Rappleye and others—and I hope he gets a chance to do so at some point. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy his weekly insights on Book of Mormon Central (a weekly Come-Follow-Me ritual that my three young kiddos look forward to), and ponder whether I should follow Nephi’s lead and see Moses as a preferred prophetic role model.

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