- 1 Ne. 1:1 - born of goodly parents
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.The rather convoluted opening verse of Nephi's first-person account. The first 18 chapters take place near Jerusalem, in the Judean and Arabian wilderness, and on the ocean. Lehi's party does not arrive in the New World until 1 Nephi 18:23. The term "record" appears frequently throughout the Book of Mormon — the text offers a surprising amount of commentary on itself and on the process of recordkeeping on metal plates. For an enlightening discussion of the phrase "goodly parents," see Kevin Barney's BCC post "Goodly Parents" Revisited. For discussion of the apositive construction "I, Nephi," see my post "An Unsettling Book: Grant Hardy's Understanding the Book of Mormon."
- 1 Ne. 1:3 - the record which I make is true
An artist's representation of the gold plates.
I know that the record which I make is true; and I make it with mine own hand; and I make it according to my knowledge.
This verse states that the account in 1st and 2nd Nephi is not an abridgement or restatement by Mormon circa 400 AD, but rather is directly from the hand of Nephi in the 6th century BC. This early self-reflective insistence on the truth of "the record" stands out, and is matched by the well known claim and invitation at Moroni 10:4: "[I]f ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of [these things] unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost." Other instances of claims that "this record is true" can be found at Mosiah 1:6 and 3 Nephi 8:1. See also John 8:13-14 and 3 Nephi 17:25, 18:37, where "bearing record" (rather than a written record) is declared to be true.
- 1 Ne. 1:4 - in the days of Zedekiah
[I]t came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah ... there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.
This verse situates the events of the first few chapters of 1st Nephi in the year 597 BC, just after Zedekiah was placed on the Judean throne as a presumably loyal vassal by Nebuchadnezzar the Great of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in that year, then deposed the rebellious king Jehoiakim and carried off thousands of upper class Jews: the rich, the educated, the rulers, the priests. It is curious that Laban, in command of troops and serving the king either directly or indirectly; Lehi, obviously rich and well educated; and Ishmael, who seems to be as well off as Lehi, were not deported to Babylon with the rest of Jerusalem's elite. Perhaps Lehi and sons evaded deportation by hiding out at Lehi's country estate (see 3:16).
Given this firm date, the Old Testament books of Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and especially Jeremiah (mentioned by name at 5:13 and 7:14), along with the historical narrative in 2 Kings 22-25, should describe the setting of the first few chapters of 1st Nephi and provide cultural and religious context to the events in the narrative. Jer. 26:20-23 names Uriah as a prophet contemporary to Jeremiah who also preached against the city of Jerusalem. Nibley [p. 73-77] draws particular attention to Jeremiah chapters 29 through 35. Jer. 32:1 gives a date of "the tenth year of Zedekiah," which would have been approximately ten years after Lehi departed Jerusalem. Jer. 35 recounts Jeremiah's earlier exchange with the austere but righteous Rechabites, who eschewed city life and lived in tents (see Jer. 35:6-10). Nibley [p. 75] declares rather boldly that "Lehi and his family were Rechabites; they joined that particular movement."
- 1 Ne. 1:13 - carried away captive to Babylon
The hanging gardens of Babylon.
Wo, wo, unto Jerusalem, for I have seen thine abominations! Yea, and many things did my father [Lehi] read concerning Jerusalem—that it should be destroyed, and the inhabitants thereof; many should perish by the sword, and many should be carried away captive into Babylon.
The "repent or die" theme is entirely consistent with the graphic preaching in Zephaniah and Jeremiah. But by the time Zedekiah was ruling Judah in 597 BC, many thousands of Judeans had already been carried away captive into Babylon (see 2 Kings 24), so the perspective of this verse is odd. You'd think Lehi would say "repent quickly or many more of you will be carried off to Babylon." Later, when Nebuchadnezzar again beseiged and took Jerusalem in 587 BC, much greater destruction was visited on the city and another large group of Judeans was once again hauled off to Babylon (see 2 Kings 25).
- 1 Ne. 1:19-20 - "the Jews"
A Jewish man praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
[T]he Jews did mock him [Lehi] because of the things which he testified of them; for he truly testified of their wickedness and their abominations; ....
Again, this parallels the message of Jeremiah, with the same result: "they also sought his [Lehi's] life, that they might take it away" (1:20). Lehi was essentially chased out of Jerusalem by the authorities, which makes his departure into the desert or "wilderness" (2:2) the safest course of action for Lehi and his family. This would also, one presumes, be the natural response for nomadic Rechabite types.
The phrase "the Jews" appears repeatedly in the Book of Mormon, putting them in a rather negative light, much as the term is used repeatedly in the book of John to describe the Jews in the time of Jesus. The tone is first struck in 1:19-20, where "the Jews" mock Lehi and attempt to kill him, with the additional suggestion that "the Jews" habitually cast out, stoned, and slayed previous prophets. I know of little support for that claim: Elijah incited the lynching of a bunch of Canaanite prophets, but Elijah wasn't slain; Elisha engineered a coup against the king, but Elisha wasn't slain; the Israelites partied while Moses went up the mountain, but they didn't stone him when he returned. Tradition has it that Isaiah died at the hands of king Manasseh of Judah, but that historical rumor doesn't appear in the scriptural record and, even if true, means that Manasseh killed Isaiah, not that "the Jews" did. Most graphically, in 1 Nephi 10:11 "the Jews" are accused of killing Jesus ("And after they had slain the Messiah, who should come, ..."). That now-discredited charge was used to justify European Antisemitism for centuries.
Interestingly, modern Mormon sentiment is very favorable toward the Jewish people and all things Jewish. The modern Mormon view is diametrically opposed to the depiction of the Jews in the Book of Mormon. That's true from Orson Hyde's mission to Palestine in 1841-42 to dedicate the Holy Land for the return of the Jews right up to today, with the BYU Jerusalem Center, warm relations between LDS and Jewish scholars, etc. When I was a student at BYU, I even attended a passover celebration hosted by BYU professor Victor Ludlow (hint: watch out for the very spicy spread on the crackers). So don't draw the wrong conclusion from these or other Book of Mormon passages. What the text says may have little relation to what Mormons today believe and practice.
Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Part 1 (FARMS, 1993).