Book of Mormon Lesson 5
1 Nephi 16-22

This year I am reading Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon along with his Reader’s Edition of the Book of Mormon. I have thoroughly enjoyed my study so far. Most of the following thoughts are excerpts from his book Understanding the Book of Mormon that deal with this week’s Sunday School lesson. The one exception is my dealing with the place, Nahom, which comes from a previous “Know Your Religion” lecture I attended years ago and Wikipedia.

My goal is to do a weekly post from his book that deals with the upcoming Sunday School lessons.

1 Nephi 16:1, 35, 37; 17:17
Selective Characteristics:

When reading the Book of Mormon, it is interesting to look for what Meir Sternberg calls “gaps” and “blanks”. Gaps are conspicuous absences from a narrative that demand some sort of closure. Blanks are things that might be interesting to know but which are hardly crucial to the story, such as someone’s physical appearance.

The narrator Nephi has deliberately shaped his characterizations to provoke certain reactions in readers, and this process is more interesting than simple up-or-down judgment on whether any particular figure is compelling or inspiring. Nephi, while he may appear at first glance as the “unbendingly good younger brother,” is also narrator who is our sole source for everything to know about his rebellious older brothers. That adds a certain nuance to his account, as well as allowing for more sophisticated interpretations.

Like the biblical story of Joseph, the narrative of Nephi and his brothers is both a family drama and the founding narrative for a nation. The difference is that Nephi tells the story himself, in retrospect (30 years later 2 Ne 5:26-30) and with a clear agenda. His goal is to show 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 (1 Ne. 1:20). To accomplish this, he needs villains from whom deliverance is necessary, preferably someone who themselves exhibit a lack of faith. At first this is the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem, then Laban, then the older brothers Laman and Lemuel. Nephi knows the tragic results of the tragic family tension and has little sympathy for his rebellious brothers. We have to remember this is Nephi’s second revised history which is referred to by later writers as the “small plates.”

Nephi not only wants to illustrate theological principles or outline the origins of political divisions. He wants his readers to adopt his religious beliefs (1 Ne 6:4). Nephi carefully structured his writings to convince his own and later generations that the Lord had selected him over his elder brothers to be Lehi’s political and spiritual successor. Given Nephi’s penchant for plain speaking (“my sole delighteth in plainess…” 2 Ne. 25:4) we might expect a very didactic story. That is exactly what we get. Nephi has to explain why the group split up and the ensuing wars (1 Nephi 19:4). The explanation given is the history God had requested and it focused on spiritual causation.

Nephi flattens his older brothers by treating them as a single unit rather than as individuals. The only time Laman does anything independently is when he goes to Laban’s house to ask for the plates (1 Ne 3:9-14). Nephi writes of Laman and Lemuel like people write about twins. Despite the Book of Mormons claims at historicity, the reader is forced to speculate about its characters as full-bodied individuals with lives outside of whatever my be explicitly reported in the text. Nephi lived with these brothers for more than three decades. It is difficult to imagine that, in his mind, they were virtually indistinguishable or that his relationships with both of them were identical.

Nephi flattens Laman and Lemuel’s characters out. This is a reduction of reality rather than a representation of it. The two older brothers are stock characters. They don’t develop much, and it seems their sole mode of communication is complaining. While it may be religiously satisfying to see life presented in terms of absolute good and evil, this is a reduction of reality rather than a representation of it.

This sort of didacticism follows from Nephi’s intentions. To make his points, he needs opponents who are strong enough to highlight the miraculous nature of his deliverances, yet not so interesting that readers might be tempted into taking their point of view seriously. Laman and Lemuel are flat, one dimensional figures because Nephi has made them that way

1 Nephi 16:17-32; 2 Nephi 1:24
Nephi’s bow
Nephi, like Joseph , is miraculously delivered and eventually saves his entire family from starvation

1 Nephi 16:34
Nahom is where Ishmael dies and is where the group changes directions from a southern to an eastern direction. LDS archaeologists have found a tribal area that anciently and still today is called NHM (remember Hebrew is written with no vowels). Some LDS scholars believe Lehi followed the Frankincense trail. The location of NHM is near the main junction of these ancient trails at a point where the trails veer to the east. According to the Book of Mormon, prior to their arrival at Nahom, the travelers had been moving in a “south-southeast” direction (1 Nephi 16:13). It was at this location “Nahom” that the Book of Mormon states that the travelers made a significant change in direction “eastward” before continuing their journey toward the coast.[3] The location of NHM and the eastward change in direction have been used by LDS scholars to assist in determining a plausible location for the coastal location referred to by Nephi as Bountiful. In 1978 Ross T. Christensen noted the existence of a location in Yemen called “Nehhm” on an early map produced by Carsten Niebuhr as the result of a scientific expedition sent out by King Frederick V of Denmark (Christensen 1978, p. 73). After doing extensive research over several years at the site in Yemen, the location of Nahom was associated with the existing location and tribal name NHM (usually vocalized as NIHM or NEHEM or NAHM) by Warren and Michaela Aston in 1994 (Aston & Aston 1994). LDS scholars now consider the location and tribal area of NHM in the Jawf Valley in Yemen (15° 51′ 0″ North, 44° 37′ 0″ East, GPS coordinates 15.88, 44.615) to be the only plausible location for the place referred to as Nahom in the Book of Mormon. LDS scholars consider NHM to be one of the locations in the Arabian peninsula that they believe confirms Book of Mormon historicity in the Old World (Givens 2002, pp. 120–21). Terryl Givens states that the discovery of the altars “may thus be said to constitute the first actual archaeological evidence for the historicity of the Book of Mormon.” This conclusion is based upon archaeological evidence and inscriptions recently found on altars at a specific location in Yemen which appear to correlate with the “place called Nahom” described in the book of 1 Nephi (Aston 2001, pp. 56–61), (Brown 1999, pp. 66–67). Nahom is one of only a very few locations mentioned in the Book of Mormon that the text implies had been named prior to contact with the Lehite travelers, in contrast to Lehi’s normal application of the Middle Eastern practice of naming locations after family members (Givens 2002, p. 120). One of the artifacts discovered at this location was an inscribed altar which has been dated to the seventh or sixth centuries BC. According to the inscription, the altar was donated to the temple by “Bi‘athtar, son of Sawad, son of Naw‘an, the Nihmite” (Brown 1999). The first altar discovered was removed from the Bar’an site and placed in a traveling exhibit which began touring Europe in October 1997. Since that time, two additional altars bearing the same inscription mentioning NHM have been identified at the same temple site (Aston 2001). Some of the variant names based upon the Semitic root NHM found in both Arabic and Hebrew texts are Nahum, Naham, Nihm, Nehem and Nahm (Reynolds 1997, p. 380). The root NHM has different meanings. The South Arabian root NHM is related to stone cutting. The Hebrew root NHM is found repeatedly in the Bible and relates to sorrow, hunger, consoling, and mourning (Damrosch 1987, pp. 128–29). Scholars consider this root appropriate when used to refer to a place of burial (remember Ishmael is buried here) and the expression of mourning (Goff, Sorenson & Thorne 1991, pp. 92–9). This theory is corroborated by a huge area of ancient burial tombs at ‘Alam, Ruwayk, and Jidran about 25 miles (40 km) north of Marib that were examined by a French team at approximately the same time that the Bar’an excavation was completed. This burial complex is the largest such burial area known anywhere in Arabia (Aston 2001).

1 Nephi 16:35-36; Exodus 15:24, 15:2-3, 17:3
Comparing these verses, Nephi is weaving a story similar to the Exodus (1 Nephi 4:2-3) and will draw upon that narrative for his own. He will also explicitly use the narrative of Joseph of Egypt ( 1 Nephi 7:16; Gen 37:20,33). The big difference between Joseph’s and Nephi’s story is that Joseph’s ends in reconciliation; Nephi’s does not.

Remember the daughters mentioned in 1 Nephi 16:35-36 would have included Nephi’s wife. Later in 1Nephi 17:1-2 the women as a group (including Nephi’s wife) are presented as stoic in strength, although Nephi does not report his wife’s perspective. Laman and Lemuel seemed to be more attuned to the feelings and concerns of female family members than Nephi.

Laman and Lemuel as husbands
1 Nephi 17:20-21
“and our women have toiled….” Compare this verse with what Jacob later says about the Lamanites in Jacob 3:7 – “their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children.”

Laman and Lemuel bowing to Nephi
1 Nephi 17:55; 1 Nephi 7:20;Gen 37:5-11; 44:14
Once again a clear allusion to Joseph of Egypt.

1 Nephi 18:11-20
The way the story is told is out of order chronologically. Why would Nephi do that? It is told as follows:
1)Nephi bound (v.11)
2)Great storm arises (vv. 13-14)
3)Sense of self-preservations lead them to untie Nephi (v. 15)
4)Lehi, Sariah, Nephi’s wife, beg for Nephi to be let loose – all to no avail (vv. 17-19)
5)Laman and Lemuel panic in the storm and untie Nephi (v. 20)
It is clear that event 4 happened between events 2 and 3, and Nephi was freed once, not twice. Nephi, as narrator, wants to disrupt any sense that the appeals of family members were even a partial cause of his brothers’ change of heart.

1 Nephi 19:1-7

Why does Nephi once again describe the two records? We have him explaining the two sets of plates earlier in 1Nephi 9:1-6.  What is the concern he has with record keeping?

Here Nephi gives a description of what are later called the “Large” & “Small plates”.  The language gets a bit confusing as he uses the ambiguous adjectives and pronouns, “these”, “those”, “and them”.   “These”, in the case of 1 Ne 19:1-7, refers to the small plates (the plates that we are reading), while “those” and “them”, refer to the Large Plates of Nephi.  Here in these verses we get a glimpse into what the  Large Plates of Nephi contained.  They were: a transcribed copy of Lehi’s record (we don’t know upon what kind of material Lehi wrote his record) and Nephi’s more secular record.  It appears that Nephi’s own part of the Large Plates were most likely written close to the actual events he is describing.  In contrast, the Small Plates were written some 30-40 years after the events (2 Nephi 5:28-33) and contained the “sacred” history of the people of Nephi.   The Small Plates were to be passed on from one prophet to the next.

1Nephi 19:8; 10:4

According to the record we have, it was Lehi, not the angel that told Nephi of the timing of the coming of the Messiah (1 Ne 10:4).   Here we get one of the unique clarifications that the Book of Mormon offers:  The Promised Messiah would be crucified and that the Promised Messiah was God Himself; remember the date of these prophesies correlate with Jeremiah’s time.  Relying solely on the Hebrew Bible, you cannot get such  a clear of interpretation of prophecy.  There is no Jewish tradition during the time of Jesus that would have lead a Jew to look forward to the “suffering servant” Messiah.   It requires taking the life and death of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament and reassessing the Messianic texts of the Old Testament to see that the Messianic Old Testament prophecies were about Jesus of Nazareth. 

1 Nephi 20, 21

Phrases that are in the Book of Mormon that the King James Version does not contain:

20:1 or out of the waters of baptism

21:1 Hearken, O ye House of Israel, all ye that are broken off and are driven out because of the wickedness of the pastors of my people; yea, all ye that are broken off, that are scattered abroad, who are of my people, O House of Israel.

1 Nephi 22

Nephi weaves  into his dialogue quotes from Isaiah, the prophet Zenos and other prophets.  Some is material he had already quoted in chapters 20 and 21 and some are quoted only  in chapter 22. Below are the quotations as pointed out by Grand Harding:

vs 4 to and fro(Isaiah) upon the isles of the sea(Zenos & Isaiah)

vs 6 nursed(Isaiah) lifted up his hand upon the Gentiles and set them up for a standard (Isaiah) their children have been carried in their arms, and theirdaughters have been carried upon their shoulders (Isaiah)

vs 7 mighty (Isaiah)

vs 8 proceed to do a marvelous work (Isaiah)  nourished by the Gentiles and being carried in their arms and upon their shoulders (Isaiah)

vs 10, 11 make bare his arm in the eyes of the nations (Isaiah)

vs 12 out of obscurity and out of darkness (Isaiah)  know that the Lord is the Savior and their redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel (Isaiah)

vs 13 and they shall be drunken with their own blood (Isaiah)

vs 14 fight against Zion (Isaiah)

vs 15 the time cometh speedily that Satan shall have no more power over the hearts of the children of men; for the day soon cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that all the proud and they who do wickedly shall be as stubble; and the day cometh that they must be burned (Malachi)

vs 17 preserved (Isaiah)  ‘they shall be saved, evenif it so be as by fire’ – this latter quote is of uncertain origin

vs 18 fight against Zion (Isaiah)

vs 20 A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.  And it shall come to pass that all those who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people (Moses


vs 23 brought low in the dust (Isaiah) stubble (Malachi)

vs 24 led up as calves of the stall (Malachi)

vs 25 from the four quarters of the earth (Zenos)



Miguel is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.

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