Joseph_Smith_receiving_golden_platesI was planning to go through the whole Book of Mormon and do posts on it, but that didn’t happen. Instead I just have this piece, about the First Book of Nephi, which kicks the BOM off. So though this is basically part one of one (maybe I’ll go back at some point), I thought I would share it. I read it mostly as a learning exercise. I am writing about it in a relatively neutral manner. I’d prefer comments remain respectful and not veer in the direction of “But the whole thing is a crock!” Religious diversity and tolerance uber alles.

A few random observations.

Plot: God tells Lehi to get the heck out of Dodge (Jerusalem) because there is some bad stuff coming. Lehi tries to round up his family, but a couple of his sons (Laman and Lamuel) object. God picks Nephi, the youngest (at the time) son, as his favorite. This causes much trouble and murmurring with the other brothers. Laman and Lamuel are tagged as bad apples, though God (through Lehi and/or Nephi) alternates between telling them that they are bad apples and that they should behave. There is another son, Sam, who seems to be a swing vote between good (Nephi) and evil (the other two). God gives Nephi some shapechanging powers and gives them a magic compass. After some time in the wilderness, Nephi builds a boat and they sail off to America.

Lesson: DO NOT MURMUR. Murmuring is at the root of a lot of ills. This is not a serious lesson. Mostly a reference that the word is used more than I have ever heard it used before. The real lesson appears to be that you should listen to word of God and the people who God chooses to command, though also an overwhelming sense that dissent is bad more generally.

Freedom: On the other hand, lots of talk about how great freedom is.

Observation: Bad stuff happens on the voyage, presumably because God is testing Lehi’s clan. Laman and Lamuel revolt and tie Nephi up. After that, the bad stuff that happens is because Laman and Lamuel are doing bad things.

Neat: There is a subplot involving a character named Laban, who is some sort of record-keeper or artifact-collector in Jerusalem. He is a villain who ends up getting killed by Nephi with his own sword (which he then keeps). Nephi then shapechanges and pretends to be Laban for a bit. I actually have a character in a story I am thinking of who is a thoroughly corrupt recordkeeper. I’m thinking of working the Laban name into it. I’m not going to name the guy Laban since I don’t believe in symbolic naming. But I’ve definitely got it filed away. I’m not sure why I find this bit so interesting. Maybe because the rest of the story didn’t jump out at me.

Symbolism: Some of it is actually pretty good. They go on to explain it unless you miss it. Some of the imagery is interesting.

Prophecy: America was foretold and it was foretold that America will be awesome. Actually, America isn’t named specifically. Also, the way that the settlers made their way west is because God gave them the equivalent of a GPS.

Surprise: Mormons do not believe in Original Sin, at least not in the same way that most Christian sects do. [Addendum: While I don’t remember if it came up in Nephi I, it’s noteworthy how insistently anti-polygamy the Book of Mormon is. It will later be defined as the primary failing of “the good tribe” – the Nephites – in comparison to “the bad tribe” – the Lamanites – who, despite their faults, were good on the marriage issue.]

Repetition: As mentioned before, I have heard the words “it came to pass” and “murmur” enough to last me a lifetime.

Telephone: The Book of Mormon’s origins are (as best as I can tell) Joseph Smith translating plates from Mormon, who translated from the writings of Nephi. And Nephi got some of his stuff from Lehi. It’s like a game of telephone, though presumably more reliable since it was written down rather than told from one person to the next. I’m not entirely sure how the language issue was supposed to have been handled.

Category: Church

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10 Responses to The First Book of Nephi

  1. How interesting. I have at times had the idle thought that I might try to read the Book of Mormon, but I’ve never even got as far as you did. As I think I’ve said here (and if not, I’m sure I’ve said it at other blogs), all I know about Mormonism is the American History 101 version. So I obviously have a lot to learn.

    A few (completely uninformed) comments/speculations:

    1. I didn’t know about the anti-polygamy posture of the Book of Mormon. Is that interpretation of the Book (it’s anti-polygaymy) something that is perhaps very clear for a non-Mormon reader from the early 21st century, but perhaps less clear to a Mormon person or a person contemplating conversion in the mid-19th century? I’m just curious about how polygamy came to be practice among some Mormons at that time. (I’m more just raising a speculation here, and not making an argument.)

    2. I wonder if there are some possible associations with the word “murmur” that we, in early 21st century America do not recognize. Correspondingly, I also wonder if “murmuring” is one of those words that has a rich hermeneutic tradition in Mormonism in a similar way that, for example, “discernment” or “vocation” might have in Catholicism or certain forms of Protestantism.

    3. The “game of telephone” phenomenon is also interesting. It reminds me of how Plato and Herman Hesse, among others, tended to write. Most of Plato’s “dialogues” (or at least the ones I’ve read) are about somebody telling Plato about a conversation they witnessed someone having with Socrates. Similarly, Hesse in Steppenwolf adopts a similar strategy, wherein the bulk of the story is an account written by Harry Haller and not the plain jane first person narrative we often encounter in literature. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, other than to say I find that narrative form fascinating.

    • Abel Keogh says:

      The section Trumwill is referring to is in the second chapter of the Book of Jacob. The Book of Mormon endorses monogamy as the proper lifestyle unless God commands his people otherwise. This would have been clear to 19th Century Mormons as well as Mormons today.

  2. Abel Keogh says:

    I hope you keep writing about this. I find it fascinating to see what someone who wasn’t exposed to the stories in the Book of Mormon from the time they were young reads and interprets them.

    Though this isn’t official church doctrine, you can find some insight on Nephi’s use of the word murmur here.

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