Thursday, February 9, 2012

1 Nephi 1: The Cold Open

Kick Things Off With a Bang!
Nephi begins his account of his experiences by describing the situation in his hometown of Jerusalem, circa 600 BC. He says that there were "many prophets" warning of the city's imminent destruction, apparently excluding his father from that group. So Lehi, apparently just a normal merchant guy, prays about these prophecies and BAM--epic vision time.

We're just six verses into the Book of Mormon and we already have full-on pillar of fire action. This seems a little bit like modern storytelling. I'm no expert about how people told their stories back in the days of oral traditions, but grabbing the reader's attention with a miraculous vision on the first page is the kind of thing that's taught in a creative writing class. This isn't necessarily suspicious, but I think it's worth mentioning. I mean, the Old Testament, for example, starts off with a bunch of boring stuff about God creating the world. This is all very important, of course, but it's pretty repetitive and not very interesting to your average reader.

So it's interesting to me that the Book of Mormon begins a little bit more like a modern novel than it does like a book of ancient scripture.

I Tawt I Taw a Vision!
The pillar of fire is followed being overcome with the spirit then by hosts of singing angels, and Lehi even "thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with--"

Wait. He thought he saw? This whole running off into the desert for a few years and then sailing across the ocean to start an entirely new civilization on the other side of the planet deal is all because Lehi thought he saw God? No...wait, he's pretty sure it was God. It had to be. Yeah. Right?

That's not weird at all.

The True Meaning of the Book of Mormon
Nephi closes the chapter by sharing what is often considered to be the "thesis statement" of the entire Book of Mormon: 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."

It's a fair point--Nephi had a lot of faith. He and his family successfully escaped Jerusalem and some of its inhabitants who wanted to kill them, survived for years in the desert, built a ship and sailed across thousands of miles of ocean, and became a leader in a new, flourishing civilization in a previously uninhabited land. I'd say he was pretty mighty and he was delivered from a lot of difficult circumstances.

But...his brothers also rebelled against him and eventually broke off to form a rival group that would clash with Nephi's descendants in centuries of bloody battles. So I guess the real thesis statement of the Book of Mormon is that Mormonism creates rifts in families, tearing them apart in violent, irreconcilable ways.

Awesome. Who wouldn't want that for their loved ones?


  1. To be fair, the BoM is supposed to be an "abridgement" of the original documents, right? So breaking right in to the action has a believable lampshade.

    Just found this blog. Enjoying it so far!

  2. That's a good point. Perhaps Mormon just started with the first event that he found relevant to his purpose in creating an abridged record.

    But the fact that the Book of Mormon starts off with such a bang isn't evidence that it was made up, it's more along the lines of a characteristic of the book that can be supported by the theory that it's fictional. It's not a strong argument for anything, but it makes a lot of sense from one perspective.

  3. Well, I suppose Joe Smith started it out a bit more conventionally in the original, but the first 116 pages got lost (thanks a bunch, Mrs Harris) and he couldn't 're-translate' (what a missed opportunity for 'god' to confirm the credentials of his prophet... instead they - god and Joe - took the cop out road and started over without covering the lost beginning bit, making it impossible to distinguish this godly practice from that of common conmen who couldn't be expected to remember all of his lies well enough to produce an exact replica). :oP

  4. I'd love to read the lost 116 pages just to see all the changes.

  5. Replies
    1. Well, to be fair, a lot of websites are.