Lehi continues with his prophetic blessings which include his blessing to Joseph. It is within Joseph’s blessing that we get some of the unique contributions of the Book of Mormon: prophecy of the coming forth Book of Mormon and of Joseph Smith Jr.. Lehi’s death is recorded. We get the division between the Nephites and the Lamanites.
O.K. now that we got what will be talked about in Sunday School out of the way, let’s get our hands dirty!!
2 Nephi 3 Joseph’s blessing from Lehi
Here we get some interesting interweaving of prophecy from the Brass Plates with Nephi’s narrative of his youngest brother’s blessing. Many of these prophecies are again repeated later in 2 Nephi. Here are some examples:
2 Nephi 3:7; 25:8; 28:2, 33:3 great worth unto them
2 Nephi 3:11; 29:7; 25:18 bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins
2 Nephi 3:12; 29:12 the fruit of thy loins shall write, and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write
2 Nephi 3:12; 28:9, 12 false doctrines
2 Nephi 3:12; 30:5 knowledge of their fathers
2 Nephi 3:12; 30:8 my work shall commence….restoring
2 Nephi 3:21; 29:2; 33:14 words shall proceed forth out of my mouth
2 Nephi 3:21; 33:4 weakness of their words will I make strong
In 2 Nephi 3, we are reading Nephi’s writings with him looking back. Later (after 2 Nephi 5), Nephi is writing contemporary with the events he is narrating. What would be the purpose of his re-introducing these passages from the Brass Plates? Why in, 2 Nephi 3, does Nephi never explicitly identify his own literary labors with the book spoken of in 2 Nephi 3? Later in 2 Nephi he will make the connection between the two (sealed book, coming from dust, etc).
We see Nephi not only making connections with this part of the Brass Plates, but also with some Isaiah prophecies:
2 Nephi 3:19; 26:16; 33:13, Isaiah 29:4 out of the dust
It is in these later chapters that we finally see Nephi making a connection between his writings and the future book prophesied by Joseph of Egypt in the Brass Plates. Why does Nephi do this? These do not seem to be random hits, nor are they simply the result of the pervasive biblical diction in the Book of Mormon. Outside of these chapters “false doctrine(s)” appears only once (Alma 1:16) and “bring forth my word” and “knowledge of their fathers” never occur anywhere else. 2 Nephi 3:16 and 2 Nephi 25:21 (which focuses on Nephi’s own writings) tell us explicitly that Nephi had Joseph of Egypt’s prophecies in mind ( 3:16 I will preserve thy seed forever 25:21 promised me….handed down unto my seed).
This seems to represent a deliberate, creative synthesis of Nephi’s own revelations, the writings of Isaiah, and the prophecy of Joseph of Egypt. The form of Nephi’s writing reflects his theology. Just as the multiple witnesses of the visionary, future book – which will clearly testify of the Christian gospel in the last days – come together at the conclusion of 2 Nephi, so also at the end of the world the record of the Nephites will combine with the other holy texts testifying of God’s dealings with branches of his chosen people scattered throughout the earth. This is a remarkably expansive notion of divine providence, but can such prophecies be relied upon? For Nephi, there are two strong pieces of evidence for authentic revelation. The first is multiple attestation. It is significant that Joseph of Egypt, Isaiah, and Nephi all said the same thing. The second attestation is the fact that so many of the predictions of Isaiah, in Isaiah 2-14 (detatils of the Syro-Ephramite War of 743 BC and the Assyrian conquest of Israel in 722 BC ), had been fulfilled long before Lehi’s family journey, lends credibility to those prophecies of Isaiah that have yet to come to pass.
Joseph of Egypt’s prophecies show up again in Mormon. Here are examples:
2 Nephi 3:5 (1 Peter 2:9); 3:7; 3:11; 3:14 compare with Mormon 8:13-16 bringing of them out of darkness into light of great worth will the Lord bless power
It is interesting to note that Nephi’s youngest brother, Joseph receives such a lengthy blessing and discourse when compared to the other brothers. It is somewhat surprising as Joseph only enters the Book of Mormon in two other places (1 Nephi 18 and 2 Nephi 5:6, 26). Jacob, by contrast, will become the king of the Nepites. The sole function of the narrative of Joseph (Nephi’s brother) is to be the recipient of the blessing; which for Nephi is of theological significance.
2 Nephi 3:18 “I will raise up [ we expect a direct object which is missing ie a seer or another Moses] unto the fruit of thy loins”
“a spokesman” Doctrine and Covenants 100:9 seems to identify this spokesman as Sidney Rigdon.
We saw earlier, and we will see again, that Nephi saw himself in the role of Joseph of Egypt; saving his family. We also know that he and Lehi didn’t always see eye to eye in regards to his rebellious brothers. Why was the youngest brother named Joseph? Was Lehi trying to send a message to Nephi that he wasn’t necessarily the “Joseph of Egypt” that Nephi saw himself as being?
2 Nephi 4 Lehi blessing Laman and Lemuel’s children and Lehi’s death
2 Nephi 4:1-2 Nephi follows his father’s speech with unusual affirmation. He does however insert an editorial comment into the four Chapters of Lehi’s teachings. Why does Nephi insert this editorial? Is it possibly acting as a reminder that if it were not for his faithfulness, the family never would have obtained the Brass Plates? Does it have to do with his evolving sense of his own contribution to the now doubly foretold book and an awareness of the readership for whom he was ultimately writing? To whom is Nephi writing?
At first, it appears that he thinks his readers are either his descendants or the “subjects” of his kingdom. (1 Ne 7:1; 19:3, 5, 18; 2 Nephi 5:32; 11:2). This is despite his tentative appeal “unto all the House of Israel,” (1 Ne. 19:19). During Nephi’s later exegesis of Isaiah, a possible second audience is introduced: “not plain unto you…I give unto you a prophecy” (2 Ne 25:8). Furthermore, Nephi makes reference to his seed in the “last days” (2 Ne 25:8) despite his knowing that they will all be destroyed (2 Ne. 26:10). Nephi must either have in mind the posterity of his brothers (with whom Nephi’s descendents had intermingled) or he is claiming the entire House of Israel as his kin. In either case, we see Nephi’s first acknowledgment that his prophecies will be more intelligible to a distantly removed audience, who will eventually become his primary readership.
2 Nephi 4:11, 12 Lehi gives blessings “to all his household” yet, as pointed out on the last Book of Mormon post, we don’t see Nephi’s blessing. However vs. 11 gives us some possible insight into what a part of Nephi’s blessing might have said.
What the heck happens to Sam? After his blessing, we don’t here of him again nor of his posterity. Later in Jacob 1:13, we get Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites, but no “Samites”. We know Nephi had descendants (Mormon lays claim to this in Morm 1:5) yet it is Jacob’s posterity that takes the royal line, not Nephi’s. What of Nephi’s Sons and daughters?
2 Nephi 4:11 makes it clear that Sam’s seed would be combined with Nephi’s. Is it possible that Sam’s sons married Nephi’s daughters and then adopted the label of “Nephite” as they dropped their own father’s name? If this is so, why did this not happen with the other “ites” as they married their first cousins? Did Nephi only have daughters so, living in a patriarchal society, his posterity could not take the throne? Did Nephi’s sons leave with Laman and Lemuel at the time of the division? With 1 Nephi 2:22-23 in mind, the latter appears to be a possibility and would further explain the “gap” that occurs in regards to Nephi’s blessing from his father. Nephi’s sons apostatizing with his brothers would only deepen the pain of his inability to keep the family together.
2 Nephi 4:13-35 The Psalm of Nephi
When the family left Jerusalem, Nephi most likely was a teenager. He was literate in at least Hebrew, and it appears, some form of Egyptian. His family was affluent. When they leave, the only literature they have are the Brass Plates. Nephi, seems to be the only prophet of the Book of Mormon (with the exception of Mormon very rarely [see above] and Jacob at the admonition of Nephi [ 2 Nephi 6:5]) that shows enthusiasm for ancient writings. We see him (as previously noted) attempting to connect his own revelations with what earlier prophets had foretold.
Imagine him, now 30-40 years later writing the history of his family, in a strange land, with no literature to read except scripture, knowing he was responsible at least to some degree for the family hardships, being frequently misunderstood by his siblings, foreseeing the destruction of his descendants (while seeing the preservation of his brother’s), disagreeing with his father on how to best handle Laman and Lemuel, unable to keep the family together, and even waring against relatives. He also bore the divine injunction to produce a record of these events that would highlight the spiritual truths. Nephi’s account would, not surprisingly, emphasize his side of the story while minimizing his personal struggles, weaknesses, and mistakes, but they are surely there. It is here, between sibling arguments, that Nephi inserts his Psalm. It is in Nephi’s Psalm that we see Nephi’s insecurities. It is here that we read of Nephi’s weaknesses, sorrow, temptations, sins, slackened strength, anger, agitation – all this from the one family member who never complained! Here we get insight into Nephi’s inner struggles, yet he has constructed his narrative in such a way that the Psalm of Nephi does not tempt us into misreading his record and empathizing too much with the wrong parties. He does this in three ways: His descriptions of his struggles are general – we are not informed of any specific sins. Furthemore, by this point in the narrative, our sypathies are firmly established; we know who was right and who was wrong. Thirdly, he keeps all his struggles within a few verses. He is less concerned with exploring his weaknesses than in working through them to a clear resolution.
2 Nephi 5 Dealing with Racism in the Book of Mormon. 1 Nephi 19- 2 Nephi 4 are almost completely scriptural exegesis or prophecy. It isn’t until 2 Nephi 5 that we get some of the historical narrative again, but it is only for a brief time. For Jacob then jumps in, in the following chapter with his preaching. Such little detail for such an extended period of time (30-40 years).
At Valsquillo, near Puebla, in southern Mexico, cultural remains have been found that have been dated as early as 21,000 to 24,000 years ago. This date might even be pushed back further with finds on the Yukon dating from 26,000-29,000 years ago (Dr. Michael D. Coe, Mexico, second edition, pages 26,27).
2 Nephi 5:5 Once again Nephi sees himself in the motif of Moses/Joseph, saving his family
2 Nephi 5:6 The question must be asked if there is any indication in the book of Mormon narrative to suggest a civilization already existing in the Americas? For the sake of full disclosure, I hold to the limited geography model and believe the events described in The Book of Mormon occurred mostly around southern Mexico and Guatemala. In 2 Nephi 5:6 we get some indication that there were – “And all those who would go with me” could possibly indicate that some of the already extant natives in the area joined with Nephi’s group.
2 Nephi 5:16 Infrastructure such as temples and other community buildings are not built unless there is a large society to support such construction. This is especially true of his description of the temple being “after the manner of the temple of Solomon.” Nephi’s followers must have been bigger than just his family,and the families of Zoram, Sam, Jacob and Joseph, and maybe some of his sisters.
Racism in The Book of Mormon?
2 Nephi 5:21 “wherefore, as they were white , and dexceeding fair and delightsome…..the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”
“[The Indians] are fast becoming a white and delightsome people….. The [Indian] children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation” (Spencer Kimball, October 1960 LDS Church Conference, Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-3)
As children, my brother Paul and I, who are one-half Guatemalan, were often called very lovingly, “my little Lamanites” by our Caucasian father. We never took offense to it and saw ourselves as special and set apart from the rest of Mormondem. As I got older, the ideas of my skin color being a cursing, and the even darker color of those of African ancestors being a cursing, started to bother me.
I see three ways to interpret this scripture:
1) Literally My brother and I are cursed.
Job 30: 30 “My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.”
Jermiah 8:21 “For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment has taken hold on me.”
Lamentations 4:8 Speaking of the estate of Zion as being pitiful because of sin and iniquity “Their visage is blacker than a coal….”
Lamentations 5:10 “Our skin was black like an oven ….”
Joel 2:6 “…all faces shall gather blackness.”
Nahum 2:10 “…and the faces of them all gather blackness.”
Here we see the blackness as as either a metaphor or an idiom for sin or for sorrow/gloom. Nephi could have been using the same idioms.
3) The Nephites were racist themselves
We get a hint of this possibility in other descriptions made of the Lamanites. Jarom 1:6 “and they [the Lamanites] were exceedingly more numerous than were the Nephites; and they loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts.”
Enos 1:20 “…and they [the Lamanites] became wild, and ferocious, and a blood thirsty people, full of idolatry….wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle…..and many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat….”
There are problems with these two scriptures, for they are contradictory based on what we know of societies anthropologically. For a society to grow rapidly, (as the Lamanites do according to the Nephite record) it must be stable. For it to be stable, it cannot be a hunter-gatherer society as the Lamanites are described in the Nephite record.
“From what we know about still existant societies with a similar way of life [hunter-gatherer], such as the Australian aborigines, concentrations of populations larger than the small band were quite impossible. [It has been] estimated that on this level of development, corresponding roughly to the Upper Palaeolithic of Europe, 25 square miles of territory are required for the support of one person.” (Dr. Michael Coe,Mexico, Second Edition, pg 28)
“[It has been] demonstrated that the density of population of peoples on the Neolithic (or Formative) level of food-getting is 25 times greater than the figure for primitive hunters and gatherers – the domestication of plants and animals obviously resulted in a quantum increase in the world’s population, no matter how long the process.” (Dr. Michael Coe, Mexico; Second Edition, pg 52)
So how do the social sciences inform our interpretation of the Lamanite people found in the Book of Mormon? What we are dealing with here is a racial caricature of the Lamanites by the Nephites. To be as large of a group as the record describes them, two things need to occur. First, it is quite possible that the Lamanites assimilated into the greater, already existent, society of Meso-America. Thus the “Lamanite” became a description of “the other.” It did not necessarily mean just the descendants of Laman, Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael. That would account for the Lamanites being “exeedingly more numerous” than the Nephites. Second, to be such a large group, the Lamanites had to be a society that relied on agriculture, not wandering around “eating nothing but raw meat.” The Nephite description of the Lamanites is that of a hunter-gatherer society.
What we know of Mesoamerica can also inform us regarding the Nephite description of the Lamanites. Alma 43:20 says, “….and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea they were all naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites.” vs 37 says, “….for their nakedness was exposed to the heavy blows of the Nephites…” Alma 44:18 “But behold, their naked skins and their bare heads were exposed to the sharp swords…” So why all this talk of nakedness?
A very important site in the Valley of Oaxaca in southern Mexico arose during the Middle and Late Formative times (300BC-300AD) is Monte Alban. “Most of the construction that meets the eye at Monte Alban are of the Classic period (300AD -1520AD). However, in the south-western corner of the site, which is laid out in a north-south axis, excavations have disclosed the Temple of the Danzantes (the Dancers), a stone-faced platform contemporary with the first occupation of the region, Monte Alban I. The so-called Danzantes are bas-relief figures on large stone slabs set into the outside of the platform. Over 140 of these strange yet powerful figures are known at Monte Alban…..these are [depictions] of corpses, undoubtedly chiefs or kings slain by the earliest rulers of Monte Alban. In many individuals the genitals are clearly delineated, usually the stigma laid on captives in Mesoamerica where nudity was considered scandalous.” (Coe, pg 81) Are the Nephite historians describing the Lamanites as such because it was considered “scandalous” to be naked in Mesoamerica and because nudity was attributed to a society that has been conquered and thus less than your own?