4 Nephi 1
Introduction to 4 Nephi:
In many ways, the book of 4 Nephi as we have it is an anomalous work. Unlike most of Mormon’s abridgements of his source material, 4 Nephi contains no direct citations from the source material. In fact, 4 Nephi contains very little detail from the source material. Where Mormon described the events of the hundred or so years leading to the birth of the Savior it great detail, he will allow three hundred years to pass in our 49 verses. In 4 Nephi, Mormon returns to his technique of marking time by noting the passage of years, even when nothing is given for them. However, where he previously marked year by year, in 4 Nephi he allows decades to be represented by the year count. What we have in 4 Nephi is much more of Mormon than source.
The source material for 4 Nephi is once again the plates of Nephi. In this case, we have the dynastic record of Nephi. Mormon tells us nothing of the political situation of the Nephites during this entire time, so we are left to speculation. Even with an egalitarian social order, there would still be a requirement to have some political organization. Even though it is not listed, it would be probable that the Nephites would keep judges as their political mechanism rather than returning to kings. They had recently been torn apart by kingmen, and those who remained would not easily adopt a mode of governance that had been the cause of their dissolution.
Our information about the way book names change allows us to speculate on who filled these political roles. The changing of book names has consistently marked a shift in dynastic record, with some of the changes marking the movement of the record out of and then back in to the political transmission lines. The only fact that we have for the book of Nephi, the son of Nephi, is that it is a new name. Nephi the younger does not write in the book of his father, as we have see in many other instances. This suggests that the transmission line shifted. Nephi the elder was outside of the political line, and a return to political transmission lines would require a shift in name. Since we have this shift and no other reason for it, consistency suggests that Nephi the Younger was the first chief judge of this newly reorganized people. This would make the rest of the names in this book, Amos, Amos the younger, and Ammaron, all rulers of this new Nephites. This information will become important at the end of this book, and as a background for the calling of Mormon to his task as keeper of the records.
As a political record, we may presume that the original record contained details of the operations of the people, as have all other records into which we have glimpses through Mormon’s editing. We may also presume that they were appropriately voluminous to cover three hundred years. In spite of the similarity to other records, and their likely detail, Mormon treats this source much differently that any other record he has used. This should indicate to us that Mormon has made a mental shift in his record. He has had a purpose in writing that moves toward the appearance of the Messiah is some detail. He even slows down the pace of historical narrative in the years prior to that visit to give even more detail of the events approaching that appearance. This suggests that the appearance of the Messiah in the New World is the main focus of his writing.
After the discussion of the events of the coming of the Messiah to the New World, Mormon adopts a different type of editorial stance with regards to his source materials. He treats them more generically, and paints his narrative with a much broader brush, both in time and detail. Mormon continued with details through 3 Nephi 28, and then we have his personal testimony and call to repentance at the end of that book. In 4 Nephi he picks up on the thread laid down at the end of 3 Nephi, but we do not have similar detail until we get to Mormon’s personal book. All of 4 Nephi is simply a placeholder between the appearance of the Messiah and Mormon’s own story.
This use of his text raises some interesting questions. If there were great teaching sermons leading up to the coming of the Messiah, were there none after that? If there were important events that moved Nephite society to the brink of that marvelous experience, were there no such preparatory events happening in the three hundred years after?
The answer to the second question is much easier to see, because there are important events, and they are given in 4 Nephi. However, they are given in very gross terms, not in the detail used for the same kind of events prior to the coming of the Messiah. It is the absence of great teaching sermons that is perhaps the most remarkable absence in the three hundred years covered in 4 Nephi. Surely somewhere there was a discourse as moving as King Benjamin’s, or an explanation as powerful as Alma’s on faith. Surely there were doctrines clarified, ways of living the gospel explained. They must have happened, and they must have been recorded just as they had always been recorded. Mormon simply skips over them just as he nearly skips over the entire three hundred years of 4 Nephi.
Perhaps more than any other evidence, the contrast between 4 Nephi and the entire text Mormon wrote prior to that time suggests that we can learn of Mormon’s intent by noting this distinction, and that all of Mormon’s editorial effort was calculated to lead his readers up to the climactic appearance of the Messiah. Mormon was an apostle of the Lord, a witness of him, and his record was created to lead us to the Savior. To meet this goal he describes the movement of a people toward the coming of their Savior. He does this not only to show the history, but to lay down a pattern. This process of coming to their Savior’s arrival will be mirrored in events prior to the second coming of the Messiah. Once Mormon displays the pattern, he need not repeat it in detail, because that gross pattern will happen again. The details of the second occurrence are simply echoes of the first. History operates in God-defined patterns, and Mormon’s intent was to lay down the pattern.
What he does in the second conceptual section of his work is note that the pattern is repeating, and therefore the end of the pattern will repeat. The pattern was the movement of a people toward their Savior, a period of apostasy, destruction by secret combinations, and a renewal with the arrival of the Messiah. The second conceptual part of Mormon’s work provides the same pattern, but without many of the details. It is in the more abbreviated accounting of the pattern that we see the elements that are important to Mormon, the faith, the apostasy, the secret combinations, and the destructions. What we do not see is the second coming of the Messiah, but we may be certain that Mormon had hope that it would come soon after the destruction of his people, so that they too would be renewed just as were the Nephites after the first appearance of the Messiah in the New World.
Mormon’s presentation of 4 Nephi is not given for the details, but to highlight the patterns.
4 Nephi 1:1
1 And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. And as many as did come unto them, and did truly repent of their sins, were baptized in the name of Jesus; and they did also receive the Holy Ghost.
In 3 Nephi 10:18 we learned that the appearance of the Savior came in the “ending of the thirty and fourth year” from the sign of Christ’s birth. At the beginning of the book of 4 Nephi, Mormon gives us a year count that gives the ending of that year, and then marks the thirty fifth year as well. Mormon had ended his record that we know as 3 Nephi with a commentary on the mission of the twelve selected by the Lord. As he begins this new record, he continues the theme from the last record, and indicates again that the twelve taught and were effective in baptizing many. The book begins with the success of the disciples. At the end of the book, the people are so wicked that the disciples mourn for the sins of the people (see verse 44). This will be a book of contrasts, where the good of the beginning becomes the evil of the ending.
Chronology: The thirty-fourth year would correspond to 31 A.D.
Textual: Mormon treats the book of 4 Nephi as a continuation of the end of 3 Nephi. The original text would certainly have had some continuity of events, but Mormon makes his selection of events for his own purposes. He has ended 3 Nephi with the three Nephites, and he opens 4 Nephi with them.
In the 1830 edition the chapter is simply named, The Book of Nephi with a subtitle indicating: “which is the son of Nephi, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ.” That is the only indication we have of the reason for a name change or of who this particular Nephi might be until we arrive at verse 19 below, when Nephi is finally identified.
Unlike 3 Nephi, which contains large citations from Mormon’s source text, this record has no obvious citations. Mormon is consulting the record, but what we have is a synopsis of the record, not a citation from the text. The connection between this record and the official plates of Nephi is not precisely clear. See the comments following verse 19 below.
4 Nephi 1:2
2 And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.
Historical: Mormon makes the statement that “the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites.” This process takes a very localized population around Bountiful that has had experience with the visit of the
Atoning Messiah, and indicates that form that small base “the people were all converted” within only two years.
Certainly it would be impossible for any missionary effort to convert an entire hemisphere full of people in only two years. It would take longer than that to walk from Mesoamerica to the most remote locations of northeast North America. Clearly there is some kind of limitation placed on “all the face of the land.” We know that it could not have been a hemispheric definition, but how far did “all the land” extend?
The Book of Mormon has been consistent in describing the “land” in a limited sense, one bounded by the gross dimensions we understand as Mesoamerica at the largest, and even more specifically to some area outside of the “land of Zarahemla.”
Mormon has used such inclusive language before when he really means a smaller geographic area:
17 And it came to pass that in the seventy and sixth year the Lord did turn away his anger from the people, and caused that rain should fall upon the earth, insomuch that it did bring forth her fruit in the season of her fruit. And it came to pass that it did bring forth her grain in the season of her grain.
18 And behold, the people did rejoice and glorify God, and the whole face of the land was filled with rejoicing; and they did no more seek to destroy Nephi, but they did esteem him as a great prophet, and a man of God, having great power and authority given unto him from God.
19 And behold, Lehi, his brother, was not a whit behind him as to things pertaining to righteousness.
20 And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east.
The parallel between the situation in Helaman and the one in the current chapter may not be a coincidence. In both Helaman and 4 Nephi Mormon describes the reaction of the people to a miraculous occurrence, though admittedly the appearance of the Savior was a miracle of a higher order than the falling of rain to end a drought. Regardless of the miraculous magnitude, the description of the result is similar. In both cases there is a seemingly universal conversion to righteousness, and a reference made to the righteous people extending over “all the face of the land” in 4 Nephi, and “the whole face of the land” in Helaman.
The parallel is important not only because of the conversion to righteousness and the spreading of the righteous across of the face of the land. It is important because each of these occasions is limited it both geographic space and in time. “All the people” simply means all those in the land, and “the land” is the small geographic area that has traditionally been associated with the Nephites when they were centered in Zarahemla. In addition to the limitation in space, both of these incidents is limited in time. The one in Helaman lasts only three years (see Helaman 11:17-23). In 4 Nephi the peace will last a little longer, some one hundred and seventy years (see verse 24 below). Although one hundred and seventy years is obviously a long time, it is nevertheless temporary, and it will be that very temporary nature that becomes part of the important structural aspect of 4 Nephi. Mormon intentionally will create an antithetical parallel to this time of peace.
One possibility that should be examined is whether or not we should expect the archaeology of the region to demonstrate this universal conversion. There is no indication of a widespread alteration of religion in Mesoamerica until around 200-300 AD when Central Mexican religions appear to intrude on the Maya region. Does this indicate that a change did not take place? No. The problem with archaeology is that is sees a change in religion as a change in the artistic representations of religion. Archaeologically, evidence for a new religion comes when there is a change in the iconography used at a location. When that iconography has a sudden shift to a new set of deity-representations, it is presumed that a religious change has taken place. When there are no contemporary documents, visual changes is all that can signal such a change.
In this case, we would actually expect very little visual change. While there is a conversion over all of the land, it is a restricted area, and an area previously under the control of the Nephite. There are Lamanites in the land who are converted, but they are minorities in a majority population that continued the Nephite culture from before the destruction to after the visit of the Messiah. Now that he had come, their current tradition was justified, not altered. The coming of the predicted Messiah provided no impetus to massive iconographic change, for the understanding of the God did not appreciably change. Therefore, we would not expect a major alteration in the iconographic elements.
One of the problems the Book of Mormon faces as it relates to the archaeological remains is that those remains do not appear to be “Christian.” They don’t even appear to be Jewish. How could the Book of Mormon have taken place in these areas without the establishment of a new iconographic tradition?
The answer lies in the nature of iconographic adoption. When a new religion enters a larger culture with established iconographic forms, the earliest iconographic representations of the new religion may be adopted from the forms already prevalent. This was certainly the case in the Old World as Christianity developed among the pagan cities:
“The tangible record gives the same impression of shared territory. For example, among the grave-goods of large Roman Egypt, very much the same things are found whether the burial be Christian or not. In a Pannonian grave was placed a box ornamented with a relief of the gods, Orpheus in the center, Sol and Luna in the corners, but the Chi-Rho as well; elsewhere, in Danube burials, similar random mixtures of symbolism appear, with gods and busts of Saint Peter and Saint Paul all in the same bas-relief. The Romans who bought cheap little baked clay oil-lamps from te shop of Annius Serapiodorus in the capital apparently didn’t care whether he put the Good Shepherd or Bacchus or both together on his produces; and the rich patrons of mosaicists in Gaul, North Africa, and Syria were similarly casual about the very confused symbolism they commissioned or their floors.” (Ramsay MacMullen. Christianizing the Roman Empire. Yale University Press. New Haven. 1984. p. 78.).
The old mixed in with some of the new. There are two issues. The first is that the symbols were not conceptually segregated, and much of the old artistic conventions continued in the new religion. The second is that there are many of the new Christian symbols that we recognize as Christian symbols only because of long tradition or written documents. Failing those references, a new symbol might be Christian, and we might not know it. For instance, Peter is typically depicted with an iron key. This is certainly a common enough object, but only our understanding of Christian history tells us that this is not a physical key, but a symbol of the heavenly keys given to Peter. In another context, modern Christians are quite familiar with the Christmas tree, but forget that it has its symbolic origins in pagan cults and was simply adopted in Christianity.
The Nephites world had adopted the symbol system of the world that it was in, but doubtless transmuted some of the symbols just as we have the Christmas tree and the Easter bunny. Those symbols had existed before, and continued after the visit of the Savior. Therefore, we should expect no iconographic changes due to this event.
4 Nephi 1:3
3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.
Mormon continues to reprise the information from the end of the last book. At that time he noted of the twelve:
3 Nephi 26:19
19 And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
The similarity of language suggests that this is an intentional linkage. It gives us no new information, however, so his function is not to give us history, but structural continuity. The people early in the world of 4 Nephi continue the righteous ways of those in the community of 3 Nephi.
Social: Even though there is an obvious similarity in the New World practice of “all things in common” with that of the earliest Christian communities in the Old World, we should note that the must have been important differences. The most telling difference was in the completely unrelated economic structures of the societies in which the Christians of the two worlds found themselves. The Old World was a monetary economy built upon land ownership, principles with which we are very familiar.
“Just as Judas carried the common purse when Jesus walked with his twelve discples (John 12:6, 13:29), so everything was held in common by the larger group of disciples. The narratives inserted give a more detailed picture of the community of property in the primitive church. Barnabas was singled out as one who had sold a plot of land and had given the money for it to the apostles (Acts 4:36-37). It would not have been necessary to stress this if “all of them” had done so.” (Johannes Munck. The Acts of the Apostles. Doubleday, The Anchor Bible. 1967, p. 22).
The ideal of the Old World Christian community required that one sell property and give the value over to the Apostles. Nevertheless, this was apparently neither an absolute requirement, as Munck indicates, nor was it a complete separation from individual ownership. The essence of the practice was the redistribution of goods for the benefit of all, but that did not necessarily require participation. Rather, it is probable that there was a connection between the degree of donation and the degree of participation in the redirection of those goods. Crossan notes:
“Recall from above that Essene communalism could range from donating one's entire property at Qumran to donating a minimum of two days' salary per month in the other communities. I think of that communalism as a spectrum from maximum to minimum, but, whatever its specific details, it indicates that a holy Law for an unholy time demands modes of communal sharing. I emphasize, however, that sharing means both giving and taking. If, for example, one depends absolutely on the community, one must give absolutely to the community. Similarly, with Jerusalem. I leave open whether "all things in common" should be taken absolutely or relatively. I propose that there was a serious attempt to establish what we could call share-community to which one gave, at maximum, all one had or, at minimum, all one could. Against that background, the fault of (fictional?) Ananias and Sapphira was lying to the community, claiming to have given all when some was withheld, But that was a practical not just a theoretical lie. They were now taking from the community as if they no longer had any resources of their own. The story admits, in fact, that they did not have to sell their property and that, even after selling it; they did not have to hand it over to the community. But claiming an absolute gift was also claiming an absolute right, an absolute right to receive what one needed, an absolute right to share in the eucharistic share-meal of the community. All the Christ-hustlers were not in Galilee and Syria. In Jerusalem, then, as in Qumran; no deliberate lies about goods, no spurious claims to sustenance. What I see in both cases, with the Essene Jews and the Christian Jews, is a thrust toward establishing sharing community in reaction against commercializing community -an effort made, of course, to live in covenant with God. It is, in any case, the collection for the poor that convinces me to take Luke's "all things in common" not as imaginary idealism or even patronal sharing but as communal sharing.” (John Dominic Crossan. The Birth of Christianity. HarperSanFrancisco. 1998, p. 472.)
The reason for communal sharing was to increase the availability of needed goods to those who would otherwise have no access to the necessities of life. One of the salutary effects of such efforts was to care for those who otherwise had no means. In particular, this allowed for a means to continue to support the needy in the community.
“Eusebius provides a letter from Cornelius, bishop of Rome, written in 251 to Bishop Fabious of Antioch, in which he reported that “more than fifteen hundred widows and distressed persons” were in the care of the local congregation, which may have included about 30,000 members at this time.” (Rodney Stark.The Rise of Christianity. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996, p. 104-5).
This was an unusual circumstance, for pagan religio-political systems had no consistent means of providing for the needy. There were distributions to the poor, but they were in connection with festivals. There was great uncertainty in such public redistributions. The early Christian method provided a more consistent means of mutual support.
The New World Christians were in a very different social situation. They could not sell land, because they did not own land. This was not a defect of their economic system, for no one “owned” the land in the sense that it could be purchased. There were traditional lands, but there was no conception of selling such lands. Even if one did, there was no money with which to buy it, and once sold, one’s entire ability to produce food and goods for living disappeared. The communal nature of the New World Christians had to be of a different type.
When Philo described the community of the Essenes he was doing so from an outsider’s view. He indicates that they had all things in common, although documents from Qumran do indicate some retention of personal ownership amidst a system of communal sharing. (Lawrence H. Schiffman. Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls. Doubleday. Anhor Bible Reference Series. 1994, p.108). Nevertheless, his perspective is important precisely because it describes a rural community that has more in common with the New World than the urbanized Christians:
“… no one among them ventures at all to acquire any property whatever of his own, neither house, nor slave, nor farm, nor flocks and herds, nor any thing of any sort which can be looked upon as the fountain or provision of riches; but they bring them together into the middle as a common stock, and enjoy one common general benefit from it all.
(11.5) And they all dwell in the same place, making clubs, and societies, and combinations, and unions with one another, and doing every thing throughout their whole lives with reference to the general advantage; (11.6) but the different members of this body have different employments in which they occupy themselves, and labour without hesitation and without cessation, making no mention of either cold, or heat, or any changes of weather or temperature as an excuse for desisting from their tasks. But before the sun rises they betake themselves to their daily work, and they do not quit it till some time after it has set, when they return home rejoicing no less than those who have been exercising themselves in gymnastic contests; (11.7) for they imagine that whatever they devote themselves to as a practice is a sort of gymnastic exercise of more advantage to life, and more pleasant both to soul and body, and of more enduring benefit and equability, than mere athletic labours, inasmuch as such toil does not cease to be practised with delight when the age of vigour of body is passed; (11.8) for there are some of them who are devoted to the practice of agriculture, being skilful in such things as pertain to the sowing and cultivation of lands; others again are shepherds, or cowherds, and experienced in the management of every kind of animal; some are cunning in what relates to swarms of bees; (11.9) others again are artisans and handicraftsmen, in order to guard against suffering from the want of anything of which there is at times an actual need; and these men omit and delay nothing, which is requisite for the innocent supply of the necessaries of life. (Philo. The Works of Philo. Tr. C.D. Yonge. Hedrickson Publishers, 1963, p.745. From Hypothetica)
Philo’s description of an agrarian community living with all things in common is probably our best model for the way the social community among the Nephites operated. As an agrarian society, all had to work to supply food, clothing, and shelter. The results of their efforts were shared, so that if one family’s crops failed due to some natural problem, they could call upon others in the community for support through that lean time. This recalls King Benjamin’s indication that he had worked with his own hands for his support rather than tax the population (Mosiah 2:14).
Reference: Several Biblical passages loan phrases and constructions to this verse, which is not copied from any, but modeled upon pieces of each:
44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common;
16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,
The passage from Acts is the most obvious reference, keeping both the phrase and the contextual meaning. Certainly there is no substantial difference between the conception of “all things common” in the Old and the New World. Each describes an economic experiment. It is important for the Book of Mormon context, however, that this New Testament phrase is intimately linked with the Book of Mormon theme of egalitarianism, marked by the next New Testament phrase “no rich nor poor.”
The combination of elements of “rich and poor,” “free and bond,” in Revelation suggests that verse as a linkage. The contextual usage of the terms in that verse not analogous, however, and the rich and poor may be more relevant to the Nephite egalitarian ideal than to the New Testament language. This is the context in which the “all things common” is seen. Once the Nephites have “all things common,” they have achieved a society that has neither rich nor poor, the very definition of the Nephite egalitarianism. The “bond and free” phrase also reflects Pauline language (such as 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galations 3:28). There are no records to tell us how early slavery was present in Mesoamerica, but when it was it was an economic institution, and the equality of access to needed goods would assure that there could be no slaves who purchased their debt with their labor.
4 Nephi 1:4
4 And it came to pass that the thirty and seventh year passed away also, and there still continued to be peace in the land.
4 Nephi 1:5
5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.
Verse five is given in language that Mormon intentionally parallels to a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah:
5 For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases. (italics added).
The Savior was to come and miracles of healing were to be done. Mormon shows that the twelve continue this healing mission of the Messiah. While the Book of Mormon phrase set is longer, it is similar to one in the New Testament:
5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
The similarity suggests that Joseph’s vocabulary was influenced by the New Testament, just as we have seen multiple times. However, the extended version, and more complete citation, that we see between Helaman and 4 Nephi, suggests that the core phrase is indeed Mormon’s and that there is an intentional repetition given here to highlight the fulfilled prophecy.
4 Nephi 1:6
6 And thus did the thirty and eighth year pass away, and also the thirty and ninth, and forty and first, and the forty and second, yea, even until forty and nine years had passed away, and also the fifty and first, and the fifty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away.
4 Nephi 1:7
7 And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land; yea, insomuch that they did build cities again where there had been cities burned.
4 Nephi 1:8
8 Yea, even that great city Zarahemla did they cause to be built again.
4 Nephi 1:9
9 But there were many cities which had been sunk, and waters came up in the stead thereof; therefore these cities could not be renewed.
Mormon gives us this information for two reasons. The first is that it is historically correct that the Nephites began to rebuild the cities that had been destroyed or severely damaged in the destructions accompanying the volcano. The rebuilding of Zarahemla is at least symbolic in that it renews the heart of the old Nephite lands. It is interesting that while Mormon tells us that Zarahemla is rebuilt, he never discusses it as the seat of power. He will make a reference to being taken to Zarahemla (Mormon 1:6), so that might indicate that Zarahemla returned to its status as a capital city, but from this point on in his narrative, Mormon is really very little interested in history.
Given the way Mormon breezes through two hundred years of history in a few verses, where the last hundred years before the arrival of the Savior required an enormous amount of text, tells us where Mormon’s historical focus was. Everything about his text moved to the story of the visit of the Savior, and his authorial intent was to describe the events leading to that appearance. Having described it, Mormon moves to his next concern, which is not historical, but similarly spiritual. Mormon will be creating a second half of time that will be set up as a parallel to the first “half” of time. The events leading up to the destruction of the Nephites prior to the coming of the Messiah will form the model for the events leading to the destruction of the Nephites – prior to the Savior’s second coming.
Mormon describes the effect of the Savior’s visit by noting that everything becomes better. The gospel is preached and “all the face of the land” is converted. There are no wars. There is rebuilding and past glories are returned. Mormon is setting up the symbolic scene of the result of a Messiah coming to his kingdom. Jesus Christ is the Messiah. He came the first time in his role as the Atoning Messiah, but he is the same as the Messiah who will also fulfill the role of the Triumphant Messiah. Mormon is showing us that the effect of God on earth is the same even when his mission is temporal rather than associated with the end of time on earth. The conditions of the triumphant Messiah that are predicted happen in the Nephite lands because Jesus Christ is the Messiah, and these are the traits that accompany the arrival of the Messiah. While the traits are the same, they do not last forever, precisely because the mission of the Atoning Messiah was tied to time. Nevertheless, they necessarily accompany the coming of the Messiah, and last for two hundred years before the effect of the Messiah begins to fade.
Textual: Mormon has a replicated pattern in the years he cites:
The years thirty eight and nine appear to be necessary to tie the 41;42;49/51;52;59 set to a set chronology coming from the events of the Savior’s appearance. Mormon moves from “real” time to symbolic time. The events closer to the time of Christ’s appearance are given in the particular years in which they occur. For most of the events that Mormon will give in 4 Nephi, they are given in generic time, not real time. This is signaled by the duplication of the empty year sets. The pattern tells us that the particular years are intentional. Since nothing is marked by them, the only information they communicate is a particular time of passage of time. In this case, Mormon’s presentation of “history” in 4 Nephi will fit into this symbolized and generalized time, rather than specific history.
There is a repeated gap of seven years between 42 and 49 and 52 and 59. When anyone with a background and understanding of the Old Testament uses the number seven, we should suspect that it is done purposefully. Since no event is marked, it is this symbolic spacing that is important, and likely set as seven to mark a “week of years.”
Chronology: The fifty-ninth year correlates to 55 A.D.
4 Nephi 1:10
10 And now, behold, it came to pass that the people of Nephi did wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast, and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.
Verses 10-13 continue the brief development of the Nephite return to goodness and prosperity. The descriptions Mormon gives are generic, not specific events. His intent is not historical, but symbolic and structural. One of the first indications of this type of purpose is his use of “an exceedingly fair and delightsome people.” This statement is placed here to show the effect of the visit of the Lord. Mormon is repeated standard Nephite prophetic language. The idea of a fair and delightsome, or white and delightsome, people, has long been an image of righteousness. When Mormon uses that phrase in this context, he is showing both the righteousness of the people, and the fulfillment of prophecy:
2 Nephi 30:6-7
6 And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.
7 And it shall come to pass that the Jews which are scattered also shall begin to believe in Christ; and they shall begin to gather in upon the face of the land; and as many as shall believe in Christ shall also become a delightsome people.
While we do not know if this is the particular prophecy to which Mormon alludes, it is quite appropriate. The reference to the shift from the Law of Moses to the Gospel of Christ simply highlights the continuation of the new covenant made upon the Messiah’s visit to the New World.
4 Nephi 1:11
11 And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.
The statement that they were “married, and given in marriage” highlights the generic nature of the “events” placed in this time set. Nephites had been marrying since the beginning of their society. There was nothing unusual. In fact, the statement is here precisely because it is usual. The emphasis is on the continuation of normal life during these pseudo-millenialistic years.
Reference: The language of verse 11 certainly owes form and vocabulary to phrases from the New Testament. The passage from Luke serves as an example:
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage:
35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage. (see also Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 17:27).
The contexts of the phrases are very different, despite the similarity in vocabulary. The closest the passages come is in the 4 Nephi verse’s correlation to Luke 20:34 where being married is an indication of a normal pursuit. That would appear to be the meaning in the 4 Nephi context. Marriage is a normal thing, and normal life occurred in those times of blessing. The New Testament passage deals with questions of marriage in the next life, which has no contextual similarity to the use of the phrase in 4 Nephi. Once again we have the influence of New Testament vocabulary without any indication that the text that supplied the vocabulary model also supplied the conceptual model.
4 Nephi 1:12
12 And they did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God, continuing in fasting and prayer, and in meeting together oft both to pray and to hear the word of the Lord.
As with the note that the people were married, this is nearly non-information. We understood clearly after the visit of the Messiah that the Nephites as a religious people had shifted from the law of Moses to the gospel of Christ. The explicit notation of that fact here is not only repetitious, it is inconsequential. It tells us nothing new. Although Mormon has marked time, when he gets to the events of this “time,” they are non-specific. This reiterates to us that the events really are not the important information, but the structure of the information pre-eminently carries the message Mormon is trying to communicate.
4 Nephi 1:13
13 And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.
When Mormon has used the word contention (or at least when Joseph has translated the meaning of Mormon’s word as contention), it is not war, but an internal dissention. In the past, contentions have arisen over religion, and have led to schisms in the Nephite people. Now Mormon not only tells us that there are no contentions, but he contrasts that lack of contention with “there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus.” This is an intentional contrast. The presence of miracles is the contrasting social attribute that opposes contention. Where previously there had been divisive contentions, now there was such unity that miracles could be performed. Once again, the information is given for the generic value, not as specific history.
4 Nephi 1:14
14 And it came to pass that the seventy and first year passed away, and also the seventy and second year, yea, and in fine, till the seventy and ninth year had passed away; yea, even an hundred years had passed away, and the disciples of Jesus, whom he had chosen, had all gone to the paradise of God, save it were the three who should tarry; and there were other disciples ordained in their stead; and also many of that generation had passed away.
The main intent of this passage is to mark time. We have exactly the same pattern that began in verse 6. The years are 71, 72, and 79. The repetition of the empty pattern emphasizes the pattern, and the fact that the pattern must carry the information, because nothing is tied to those years. The pattern is the message. This continues to be symbolic time. The symbolic nature of that time comes into even greater focus as Mormon places his next “event” at the rather remarkable one hundred year marker.
When the “event” is described, it speaks of the passing of the disciples. Certainly they died not all await a certain year to die. Although the Savior told them that they would die after they were seventy two years old (3 Nephi 28:3), it is highly unlikely that all of the disciples were the same age so that they would all die right after the one hundredth year. Mormon does not give us this timeframe because the apostles died in this year, but because he needs the year markings to be symbolic. The disciples died around this time, and that was sufficiently “historical” for Mormon’s current purpose.
Social: It would appear that we have in this verse the confirmation that the twelve were considered an important body of leaders, and that it was maintained. The verse does not specifically state that the number was kept at twelve, but it is clear that there were “other disciples ordained in their stead.” The most direct reading of this would be that there continued to be a ruling body of twelve.
Narrative: Mormon is dividing the post-Messianic-visit existence of the Nephites into four blocks of one hundred years. This is not a clean division, as he is constrained by events, but he works with that history to mold it into a pattern. For a Mesoamerican context, this is quite significant as 400 years would be a very important number set in the Mesoamerican scheme, since four was the number of perfection. Mormon emphasizes this larger set by the division into the quarters. The first one hundred years was described in verses 1-13. The second hundred years passes quickly through verses 14-21, with verse 22 beginning precisely with the two hundred year marker. These first two hundred years are marked more cleanly at the hundred year breaks because Mormon does not have to deal with specific history. At the three hundred year marker he is closer to his own time, and therefore back into the constraints of events rather than reconstruction. For the first two hundred years, however, he gives himself no such complication. Nothing datable happens in the first two hundred years. Each of the hundred year blocks is treated as a block, and the “events” are generic. In fact the “events” of the second hundred years are nearly a repeat of the “events” of the first hundred years. There will be a degeneration from the perfection of the world after the Messianic visit, but Mormon holds off this degeneration to the two hundred and first year (see verse 22). For Mormon’s spiritual history, it is important to him to have the effect of the Messianic visit last for a complete two hundred year time block.
Chronological: The one-hundredth year corresponds to 96 A.D.
4 Nephi 1:15
15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.
4 Nephi 1:16
16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.
4 Nephi 1:17
17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.
4 Nephi 1:18
18 And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land.
These verses both look back and look forward. Verses 15 and 16 look back to the previous hundred years and emphasize the similarity in the righteous conditions of the land. In the first hundred years there was no contention (verse 13) and in the beginning of the second hundred years there is no contention (verse 15). The close repetition of these two declarations of a lack of contention would be out of place if they were to be taken as dated historical events, for they would appear to be both applicable to the time period around the 100 year mark. They are not intended to be historical, however, but rather generic. They apply to the time-block, not just the time period near when they are mentioned.
Verse 16 emphasizes the basic ethical goodness of the people. This echoes the righteousness of verses 2-5, although the specifics are different. The specific catalog begins to shift the focus from mirroring the past to presaging the future. What is most telling in verse 16-17 is a particular set of phrases:
“lyings, nor murders”
“ robbers, nor murderers”
These are phrases that Mormon has previously tied to descriptions of the Gadianton robbers, and it is therefore significant that Mormon reintroduces them in verse 42. In the “perfect” first two hundred years Mormon tells us that there were no “Gadiantons” with these negations of the Gadianton-traits. This is intended to create a contrast with the second two hundred years which will see the resurgence of the Gadiantons and their role in the final destruction of the Nephites.
A similar pivotal statement is that:
“neither were there
Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of
Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”
14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.
The statement that there were no Lamanites “nor any manner of –ites,” not only stresses the unity of these “perfect” two hundred years, but it presages the dissolution of that society in the second two hundred years. During the coming time period, this unity will dissolve, and the divisions will arise again.
4 Nephi 1:19
19 And it came to pass that Nephi, he that kept this last record, (and he kept it upon the plates of Nephi) died, and his son Amos kept it in his stead; and he kept it upon the plates of Nephi also.
4 Nephi 1:20
20 And he kept it eighty and four years, and there was still peace in the land, save it were a small part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.
[he kept it eighty and four years]: Amos the son of Nephi keeps the record for eighty four years.
4 Nephi 1:21
21 And it came to pass that Amos died also, (and it was an hundred and ninety and four years from the coming of Christ) and his son Amos kept the record in his stead; and he also kept it upon the plates of Nephi; and it was also written in the book of Nephi, which is this book.
At one hundred and ninety four years after the birth of the Savior, Amos dies. He kept the record eighty four years, so we have the death of Nephi, his father, in the year one hundred and ten. We do not know how old Amos was at the time, but if he kept the record for eighty four years, we may presume that he was rather young when the record was entrusted to him.
Chronological: the one hundred and ninety fourth year corresponds to 188 A. D.
4 Nephi 1:22
22 And it came to pass that two hundred years had passed away; and the second generation had all passed away save it were a few.
Still within the first hundred years, Mormon begins to turn his attention away from the constructed pseudo-millennial conditions of the first two hundred years to the events that will come in the second two hundred years. One of the important parts of this end-story is the continuing story of the record. Indeed, the record itself becomes more important in Mormon’s text than it has ever been . Mormon has previously marked the passage of the record as part of the larger books that it detailed, but now the story focuses more on the record than on the specific events. The reason for this is that we are moving from the generic history into specific history, and the specific history is Mormon’s own. Mormon’s history is inextricably intertwined with the story of the record. While Mormon was a general and involved in war, it is nevertheless this record that occupies his mind when he is writing in the record. It is the command to create this record that dictates what we see in the record, and we should therefore have no surprise in his concentration on the record itself. In this context, it is important to remember than Mormon also made certain to record the Savior’s admonitions about record keeping, and in particular, the role of this very record that Mormon is creating.
The transmission of the record begins with Nephi the son of Nephi. We have this information from the header of the book, but there is no indication of Nephi as a writer on the plates until Mormon describes the transmission from Nephi to his son Amos. Nephi may have written on the plates, but we cannot reconstruct with confidence anything from his record. Mormon has so completely recast that information that we can only suppose that there were details of a people living in righteousness and without conflict. Mormon does not give us those details, but rather the generalization.
The next piece of information that we seem to find in the plates is an alteration in the transmission sequence. The large plates of Nephi have been part of the Nephite dynastic record. However, that government was dissolved, and there was no dynasty that could deal with the records. Nephi’s father Nephi was the source material for 3 Nephi, but his book appears to have come from outside the plate tradition, and Mormon had indicated that he was taking his account of the Savior’s visit from Nephi’s more personal record rather than the “official” large plates.
Mormon does not give us enough information to be certain how the transmission lines worked from the end of the Book of Helaman to this book we know as 4 Nephi. There is no clear shift in dynasty, but it does appear that this particular Nephi’s record functioned dynastically. As with other records, Nephi is not the only one to write in this record. It contains Amos and Ammaron as well. Mormon gives us no information on the Nephi political organization, but if we use the textual transmission as a reflection of the political tides, as it has been to this point, then we may speculate. We have seen that the book name changes when there is a change in the dynastic record. Sometimes the change has been only political, and sometimes it the book name change has come from the movement of the record in and out of the political arena to the religious sphere. Nephi the father of this Nephi was outside of the political arena. With the shift in named books, it is therefore possible that we are seeing in our 4 Nephi the creation of a new dynastic record. This would be the only evidence we have of the political situation of the post-Messianic-visit political organization of the Nephites are they went through their rebuilding time. They certainly would have had some form of political organization, but Mormon does not tell us what it is. With the evidence of a book name change, we may suggest that Nephi the son of Nephi became the ruler, and therefore the de facto keeper of the records. This would further suggest Amos and his son Amon (as well as Ammaron?) as rulers of the Nephites for the first three hundred years. The closing and concealing of the record by Ammaron that we will see in this book would indicate the end of the dynasty, and more than Mormon’s discussion, tell us that there was great upheaval in the Nephite world at that time.
Social: Verse 20 tells us that there were again Lamanites in the land. The introduction of this term is important to our story. Mormon tells us:
“part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites.”
The first definition of Lamanites is not longer specifically political, but importantly religious. With the linkage between religion and government in the ancient world, this would also have included a separation politically, but Mormon’s emphasis is on the religion. From this point to the end of the Book of Mormon, the destruction of the Nephites does not really indication the destruction of a physical people, but of a type of people. There will be a destruction of the political organization, but only after the destruction of most of the religious underpinning of that society. The story of the Book of Mormon is certainly not a political one, but a spiritual one. Therefore when a division is made, it is made along religious lines. The gospel has been rejected, and the unity of religion in the land is gone. Indeed, from this point on Mormon will describe more religious diversity, and therefore more competing ideas and attached political systems that will pull on the Nephite society until it pulls them apart.
Chronological: Two hundred years in the Nephite year-count would correspond to 196 A. D. in this correlation.
4 Nephi 1:23
23 And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ.
This is the beginning of the end. While the Nephites have at times endured prosperity and survived, it has been rare. The very conception of prosperity has always included contact with and influence from the outside cultures that do not share Nephite values. While the capstone of the “perfect” two hundred years is prosperity and growth, it carries with it the seeds of the eventual end of the Nephites.
4 Nephi 1:24
24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.
The culmination of all we have seen in Mormon’s authorial process is highlighted in this verse. In the previous verse we have the summation of an ideal time. The Savior had come to them, and his influence engendered peace and prosperity for two hundred years – precisely. Of course it was not two hundred years from the arrival, but the two hundred year marker – something as significant as our passing century marks.
Right after that, in the two hundred and first year, suddenly there “began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.” Of course this wasn’t sudden. No one in that society thought that after the turning of this particular year they would decide to wear different clothing. They did not simply decide that after many years, just now they would pay attention to “costly apparel.” This was a long process, and the “costly apparel” has been Mormon’s code for influence from the economic value systems of surrounding cultures; it has also been accompanied by a social hierarchy. Thus in the two hundred and first year, we have costly apparel. Then comes the rest of the invasive cultural package that has plagued the Nephite culture from the beginning.
Historical: From a purely historical perspective, it is possible, although unlikely, that the nature of Nephite society began to change only in the two hundred and first year, with a rapid decline in the next seventy or eighty years where there had been stability for two hundred years prior to that point. It is more likely that this particular part of Mormon’s narrative is a construction of the author rather than a faithful record of events. When we examine the archaeology of the area, it is unlikely that we will see the kinds of changes that Mormon is describing, because Mormon is describing an ideal more than a reality.
It is quite probable, however, that there was some reality associated with Mormon’s narrative. He would not have written his text by ignoring history, only by molding it. Thus we could expect that in the particular region occupied by the Nephites there would have been peace and little conflict internally or externally. This is certainly possible as that time period saw a more rapid increase in population and importance in centers outside of the Grijalva river basin. After the destruction at the time of Christ’s death, the area would have to have been rebuilt, and it is possible that it simply was not wealthy enough to be a tempting target to the other locations that were more important during this time period. Mormon’s history is not incorrect, it is simply formed into a shape that fits Mormon’s theological interests rather than any antiquarian interests.
4 Nephi 1:25
25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
4 Nephi 1:26
26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.
The constant corollary to costly apparel has been social hierarchies. As in the past, so now at this point. The same package of cultural desires and assumptions that has conflicted with the Nephite religious ideal of egalitarianism in the past returns with the desire for costly apparel. Indeed, the two cannot be separated, as the costly apparel is used to visual demarcate the social hierarchies. Of course the division into classes is the destruction of the egalitarian process. Every time Mormon has described this set of circumstances, it has led to conflict in the Nephite lands due to the conflict with the religion. It is now introduced as the pivot on which Nephite history turns from a millennial-type perfection to a disastrous apostasy and destruction.
Historical: Historically and archaeologically, we would see the result of this change as an increase in the size and opulence of permanent architecture. From our modern perspective, the cities that we see after this time will look bigger, better, and more impressive to us. The things that Mormon saw as the downfall of Nephite civilization are precisely the things that impress us in the archaeological record.
“Inscriptions indicate that by AD 200, or perhaps a bit earlier, the first known dynasties of Maya kings were established at a few great Lowland centers such as Tikal, so it is convenient to begin the Classic period at AD 250. Thereafter royal lines proliferated as new centers were founded, and traditions of elite culture in the form of architecture, art, iconography, and writing spread widely at the same time. Rulers increasingly celebrated their distinguished descent and their participation in ritual and war on the inscribed monuments they commissioned.” (David Webster. The Fall of the Ancient Maya. Thames & Hudson. 2002, p. 45).
4 Nephi 1:27
27 And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.
4 Nephi 1:28
28 And this church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts.
Social: After two hundred years, the pressures to fragmentize the religion begin to rip apart the Nephite church, just as it did the early Christian church in the Old World. The time period of uniformity appears to have lasted longer in the New World, but we cannot be completely certain of the timing because of Mormon’s molding of his history into this symbolic division into two sections of two hundred-year blocks.
Both the Old and the New World saw an apostasy from the gospel. We do not have much comparative information, but it appears that in both hemispheres, much of the stress that led to the total apostasy was internal. Mormon indicates that: “there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel.” Thus the New World had “churches” that were professedly Christian, but which had departed from the gospel. The prophecies in the Old World emphasize that the danger was to come from those who professed to follow the Savior:
15 ¶ Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
The idea that false prophets would come among them became a very real threat, one that was so real that rules were created to discern the true from the false prophets. The Didache (an manual of church operation usually dated to 104-110 AD) gives the following advice:
“While a prophet is making ecstatic utterances, you must not test or examine him. For “every sin will be forgive,” but this sin “will not be forgiven.” However, not everybody making ecstatic utterances is a prophet, but only if he behaves like the Lorde. It is by their conduct that the false prophet and the [true] prophet can be distinguished. For instance, if a prophet marks out a table in the Spirit, he must not eat from it. If he does, he is a false prophet. Again, every prophet who teaches the truth but fails to practice what he preaches is a false prophet. But every attested and genuine prophet who acts with a view to symbolizing the mystery of the Church, and does not teach you to do all he does, must not be judged by yhou. His judgment rests with God. For the ancient prophets too acted in this way. But if someone says in the Spirit, “Give me money, or something else,” you must not heed him. However, if he tells yhou to give for others in need, no one must condemn him.” (“Didache.” Early Christian Fathers. Ed. Cyril C. Richardson. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York, 1970, p. 176-7).
It is interesting that one of the signals Mormon uses for the fragmentation of the gospel is that those who began to develop many churches “did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.” This has reference to the administration of the sacrament, and was part of the instruction that Jesus gave to the disciples during his visit:
3 Nephi 18:26-29
26 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he turned his eyes again upon the disciples whom he had chosen, and said unto them:
27 Behold verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you another commandment, and then I must go unto my Father that I may fulfil other commandments which he hath given me.
28 And now behold, this is the commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall not suffer any one knowingly to partake of my flesh and blood unworthily, when ye shall minister it;
29 For whoso eateth and drinketh my flesh and blood unworthily eateth and drinketh damnation to his soul; therefore if ye know that a man is unworthy to eat and drink of my flesh and blood ye shall forbid him.
Using this example as his indication of apostasy tells us some of what had to have been happening. Just as in the Old World, there were two paths that could be taken for those who were to fall away from the true gospel. The first was to deny the gospel entirely, and to leave it for the pagan religions that were available. In the Old World, both Christianity and Judaism were minority religions in a pagan world, and it was certainly available to any that they would leave Christianity (or Judaism) and accept the pagan religions.
This same option would have been available in the New World. As seen in the past history of the Nephites, the expansion of territory and wealth was concomitant with an expansion of trade. Trade historically brought the Nephites in contact with those who believed differently, and those outside cultures influenced Nephite social development (seen in the pressures for social hierarchies). Since Mormon tells us that these pressures are once again active in Nephite lands because they have begun to differentiate themselves, we might expect that the apostasy was from Christianity to paganism. It wasn’t.
The indication that the sacrament was being given unworthily indicates that the sacrament was being given. Obviously, Mormon had no problems with those who gave the sacrament to the worthy, so his comment must indicate that some of these churches were still administering the sacrament, but that those who followed those new churches were no longer “worthy.” This hint tells us that the social processes during the third hundred years after Christ were similar to those that we have seen in the Old World. As the Nephite people expanded to cover the face of the land they extended their physical distance from one end of the “land” to the other. This geographic spread would have had the same consequences as geographic distribution did in the Old World, leading to divisions and differences in the understanding of the gospel.
Chronological: Two hundred and ten years in the Nephite count would be 204 A.D. in our calendar.
4 Nephi 1:29
29 And again, there was another church which denied the Christ; and they did persecute the true church of Christ, because of their humility and their belief in Christ; and they did despise them because of the many miracles which were wrought among them.
Social: The first set of apostasies listed were those who remained Christian, but left the purity of the gospel. This verse tells us of the second set, which are the more expected “churches” which deny the Christ. These are the same kinds of churches that have been the bane of Nephite religion throughout its history. We would expect that these are even more heavily influenced by the outside pagan world. Their denial of the Christ would come from having been completely outside of the sphere of influence of that monumental visit that the Savior made to his people. Those far from that influence retained the older religions, and it would be logical to assume that they were reasserting themselves in Nephite culture at this time.
Mormon indicates that religious persecution is heating up at this time. We must continually remember that religion and politics were tightly interwoven, and that religious persecution from Mormon’s standpoint might be seen as political stress from an historian’s perspective. Mormon is telling us that there are intense pressures beginning to be placed on Nephite culture, and that they are pointed towards the religio-political entity that professes Christianty/Nephite-polity. This statement becomes the foreshadowing of all out war.
4 Nephi 1:30
30 Therefore they did exercise power and authority over the disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them, and they did cast them into prison; but by the power of the word of God, which was in them, the prisons were rent in twain, and they went forth doing mighty miracles among them.
Textual: Even though Mormon is not specifically citing his source material, it is clear that this information is contained in the book of Nephi (4 Nephi to us). This is therefore the source for these events that Mormon referenced in 3 Nephi 28:19-22 where the events are listed in the same order, and with a similar vocabulary. Clearly the ultimate source underlying both instances is the same, and comes from the record in 4 Nephi. See the commentary on 3 Nephi 28:19-22 for more information.
4 Nephi 1:31
31 Nevertheless, and notwithstanding all these miracles, the people did harden their hearts, and did seek to kill them, even as the Jews at Jerusalem sought to kill Jesus, according to his word.
4 Nephi 1:32
32 And they did cast them into furnaces of fire, and they came forth receiving no harm.
4 Nephi 1:33
33 And they also cast them into dens of wild beasts, and they did play with the wild beasts even as a child with a lamb; and they did come forth from among them, receiving no harm.
4 Nephi 1:34
34 Nevertheless, the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity. And they did smite upon the people of Jesus; but the people of Jesus did not smite again. And thus they did dwindle in unbelief and wickedness, from year to year, even until two hundred and thirty years had passed away.
Textual: Verse 34 is Mormon’s conclusion to his recounting of the miraculous events in the lives of the three Nephites. He gives the information on the three Nephites, and then uses it to contrast to the hardness of the hearts of those who fell away from the church. As noted, these events in the lives of the three Nephites were also recounted in 3 Nephi 28. It is interesting to note the concluding passage to that previous recounting:
3 Nephi 28:23
23 And it came to pass that thus they did go forth among all the people of Nephi, and did preach the gospel of Christ unto all people upon the face of the land; and they were converted unto the Lord, and were united unto the church of Christ, and thus the people of that generation were blessed, according to the word of Jesus.
Mormon has used the same historical events in two different places, for two very different reasons. In 3 Nephi his intent is to show that the three Nephites were worthy and righteous men. Therefore he presents their miraculous preservations, and concludes with the statement that many were converted.
In the current text, where the events are placed in more chronological context, the emphasis is not on the miraculous preservation as much as on the persecution. The conclusion is therefore not hopeful because of the conversions, but foreshadowing the downfall of the Nephite nation because of the wickedness that would allow the people to persecute such righteous men.
We have in these two instances a wonderful example of the way that Mormon perceived his text and task. Mormon has taken exactly the same events, and virtually the same language, and placed them in two completely different contexts to prove two very different points. In doing this, Mormon is flexible with his use of time in the text. In the first instance, the good effect of their preaching is to emphasize the positive aspects of their ministry. In the second set, the persecutions themselves are indications of great apostasy. While it is quite likely that there were very faithful people at the very same time as the faithless were persecuting them, Mormon’s use of the events serves to segregate those pictures into a more discrete image than would have been present in a modern historical rendition of events.
Mormon has a spiritual purpose in his writing, and we must always remember that his spiritual purposes take precedence over strict and dispassionate historical recording; if ever he records anything like a dispassionate historical recording.
4 Nephi 1:35
35 And now it came to pass in this year, yea, in the two hundred and thirty and first year, there was a great division among the people.
4 Nephi 1:36
36 And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ; and among them there were those who were called by the Lamanites—Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites;
4 Nephi 1:37
37 Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.
4 Nephi 1:38
38 And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle.
4 Nephi 1:39
39 And it was because of the wickedness and abomination of their fathers, even as it was in the beginning. And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning.
Verse 35 tells us that this event occurs in the two hundred and thirty first year. While it is entirely possible that his source material listed something in the two hundred and thirty first year that indicated this division into groups, the presence of the number thirty one warns us to take this information cautiously. These verses provide the antithesis to the unity proclaimed in verse 17 above. During the perfect two hundred years. Early in the third hundred years, this unity explodes into major divisions. The situation returns to pre-visit social-religious distinctions. The sense of these verses is very clear. Historically, however, we have more to ask of them. Specifically, we need to know of these divisions are as lineal as they appear to be.
Part of the key to understanding this litany of tribal affiliation is found in verse 39. Mormon notes:
“And it was because of the wickedness and abomination of their fathers, even as it was in the beginning. And they were taught to hate the children of God, even as the Lamanites were taught to hate the children of Nephi from the beginning.” (italics added).
The repetition of and emphasis on the beginning tells us that this is a structural piece rather than a purely historical one. Mormon’s entire construction in 4 Nephi sets a structural stage, and this event is simply one of the symbolic components. The specific antithetical contrast to the “nor any manner of –ites” from verse 17 tells us that this is intended to be a structural piece. The previous unity becomes disunity. The lack of –ites becomes a proliferation of –ites. The new world formed after the visit of the Messiah returns to the old world from the beginning.
Jacob gave us our early understanding of the non-lineal usage of the lineal categories:
14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.
Compare that terminology to that given by Mormon:
“there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ”
“they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites”
In exactly the same way that Jacob indicated that Lamanite was used as a generic label, Mormon relabels the divisions in the people. The key element that decides whether a person is called a Nephite or a Lamanite is their relationship to their belief in Christ, not their parentage. It is certain that kin groupings still remained during the time when there were no “manner of –ites,” but they were not the issue. The difference was the unity/disunity indicated by the Nephite/Lamanite label. When the unity begins to unravel, the social divisions return to those of the previous times, and once again there are Nephites and Lamanites, even though biology was never altered.
It is also interesting to note that the Zoramites are listed among the Nephites. Very ancient history would have associated them with the Nephites, but the Zoramites were also an infamous apostate group, and directly responsible for many of the wars against the Nephites in the decades prior to the Savior’s birth. The more recent history would therefore suggest that the Zoramites would have been most likely to have remembered their more recent history and the lineage should have been associated with the Lamanites. This association with the Nephites must therefore refer to the earliest periods, and is yet another indication that this is an artificial construction rather than a reporting of precise lineages.
Mormon is crafting his narrative to show the symbolic return to a previous unrighteous state. This is important to his meta-theme in that he will be comparing the first and second destructions of the Nephites. One of the elements of the first destruction was the conflict between the Nephite and Lamanite elements. Mormon makes certain that they return as conditions leading to the second destruction.
Chronological: Two hundred and thirty one years in the Nephite chronology corresponds to 225 A.D. in our calendar.
4 Nephi 1:40
40 And it came to pass that two hundred and forty and four years had passed away, and thus were the affairs of the people. And the more wicked part of the people did wax strong, and became exceedingly more numerous than were the people of God.
4 Nephi 1:41
41 And they did still continue to build up churches unto themselves, and adorn them with all manner of precious things. And thus did two hundred and fifty years pass away, and also two hundred and sixty years.
Two hundred and forty four years breaks the previous pattern that Mormon had been using. Once again, it is possible that this really is a year in which an event occurred. However, what “happens” in this year is not a specific event, but rather the generic “the more wicked part of the people did wax strong.” This is the same kind of non-information we have seen previously. In a Mesoamerican society, four was an important number, as was twenty. Thus two twenty’s and four was a meaningful “round” number.
That Mormon tells us nothing new confirms his narrative strategy. Everything is building up to the endgame. The first two hundred years are the millennium-like aftermath of the visit of the Messiah. Beginning in the third hundred years things go down hill quickly. Mormon’s passage of time is symbolic as much as it is historical. Where once he passed years to mark the pace of the development of events prior to the first destruction of the Nephites, he marks the years again. This time, however, he is not telling a tale that requires the minute counting of single years. Decades suit him as well at this time. In between the marking of time, he does a lot of repeating. Here we have him continuing the theme of the increasing wickedness of the people, and a continuation of the multiple “churches.” This is not new information, but a continued emphasis on the trend. Mormon is not interested in specifics in the third hundred years. His interest is in the contrast between the righteousness of the first two hundred years after the visit of the Messiah and the near total collapse of Nephite religion in the third hundred years.
Chronological: Two hundred and forty four years in the Nephite count corresponds to 238 A. D. Two hundred fifty is 244 A.D, and two hundred and sixty is 253 A. D.
4 Nephi 1:42
42 And it came to pass that the wicked part of the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton.
The infamous Gadiantons ominously appear. They presaged the destruction of the Nephites just before the arrival of the Messiah. They presage the destruction that Mormon will witness.
4 Nephi 1:43
43 And also the people who were called the people of Nephi began to be proud in their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, and become vain like unto their brethren, the Lamanites.
Social: The Nephites and the Lamanites were divided in verses 35-39. The original division was created between righteous and unrighteous. However, we also saw that one of the hallmarks of apostasy was wearing fine apparel and social hierarchies after wealth. Now we see proud and vain Nephites, specifically noted as being rich. They are directly compared to the Lamanites, indicating that the Lamanites were also “rich.” The Nephites have therefore adopted the economic trappings of the Lamanites, and as always happened in the past, also adopted the Lamanite ways and religion. The Nephites might still be Nephites politically, but they are losing the religious distinction that truly separated them from the Lamanites.
4 Nephi 1:44
44 And from this time the disciples began to sorrow for the sins of the world.
Mormon briefly reprises the disciples. He specifically noted their involvement in attempting to preach the gospel in verses 30-34. At that time their exploits were recounted to show the increasing wickedness of the people. Now they return to again serve as the comparative foil against which Nephite wickedness is measured. The Nephites themselves are now so wicked that the disciples themselves “began to sorrow for the sins of the world.” They sorrow for the sins of the world, not the sins of the Nephites. That is because the Nephites have adopted the sins of the world. Cultural affiliations are not a concern of the gospel, but cultural acceptance of sins does not meet approval in God’s eyes just because it is widely condoned in society.
4 Nephi 1:45
45 And it came to pass that when three hundred years had passed away, both the people of Nephi and the Lamanites had become exceedingly wicked one like unto another.
Precisely at the three hundred year marker Mormon makes his concluding point for that quarter of the whole time-block. At this time Nephites and Lamanites are “exceedingly wicked.” They have become “one like unto another.” Given the way Lamanite has been used as a designation, there is no reason to suppose that the Lamanites have changed. What has happened is that the Nephites have adopted the intrusive Lamanite culture with its economic and social trappings. There are still remnants of true believers in the Nephite lands, but even those believers are a minority in a larger community of those who are have either adopted pagan ways, or somehow managed to syncretize their Christianity with the “world’s” pagan religions. At this point Nephite and Lamanite become even more difficult terms to understand. Nephite continues to describe the history of the people who should have been Christian. It is becoming more a political term than a religious definition because the Nephites have apostatized from their true religion and adopted the ways of the world.
Chronological: Three hundred years in the Nephite count is 293 A.D.
4 Nephi 1:46
46 And it came to pass that the robbers of Gadianton did spread over all the face of the land; and there were none that were righteous save it were the disciples of Jesus. And gold and silver did they lay up in store in abundance, and did traffic in all manner of traffic.
The capstone of the wicked century is the reappearance of the Gadianton robbers. As with all other events Mormon elects to describe from the record of Nephi the son of Nephi, this is a symbolic appearance as much as it is a historical note. These Gadiantons show up because that is what Gadiantons do. They cause the destruction of a people. They did it before, and they are beginning the process of doing it again.
The idea that they “did traffic in all manner of traffic” is a declaration that there was widespread trade. Trade has always been a part of the Nephite world, but it has also been the probable source of the importation of foreign and apostate ideals into Nephite society. The statement of trade at this point is leading to the negative consequences of trade. The earlier righteous Nephites could not have become “rich” without trade. Mormon mentions it now, not because it is new, but because it is linked to the ills that are plaguing Nephite society.
4 Nephi 1:47
47 And it came to pass that after three hundred and five years had passed away, (and the people did still remain in wickedness) Amos died; and his brother, Ammaron, did keep the record in his stead.
Now we have a specific event tied to a specific year. There is no reason to suppose that the year three hundred and five is anything less than a real date. Amos the son of Amos passes away in the year three hundred and five (297 AD In this correlation).
In verse 21 we find that his father passed away in the year one hundred and ninety four. This gives us a minimum lifetime for Amos the son at one hundred and six. To complicate this chronology, the record is then given to his brother. The most logical assumption, absent this incredibly long lifespan, would be that Ammaron was a younger brother. However, if that were true, then it would be Ammaron who would be a minimum of a hundred and six years old, and his brother even older than that.
There is no current method of reconciling this chronology. It has been suggested that this is an accurate description, and that is represents the benefits of living the gospel:
“There is one thing very noteworthy with regard to the descendants of Alma at this period, it is their longevity. Amos and his two sons (Amos and Ammaron) kept the records for the space of two hundred and ten years. This is a testimony to all believers in the Book of Mormon, to the highly beneficial results arising to the body as well as to the soul of every one who gives undeviating, continued obedience to the laws of God.
No people since the deluge, of whom we have any record, lived nearer to the Lord than did the Nephites of this generation; no people have had the average of their earthly life so marvelously prolonged.” (George Reynolds, A Dictionary of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: J. H. Parry, 1891], .)
“The above-named Nephi died A. D. 110, having kept the record seventy-six years. His son, Amos, kept it in his stead, for the long period of eighty-four years. It is evident that through righteousness the lives of these men were greatly prolonged.” (A Book of Mormon Treasury: Selections from the Pages of the Improvement Era [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1959], 111.)
It is possible, but there have been other righteous men who did not live nearly so long, and even the blessed disciples were to die when they reached the age of seventy two, which must have been selected as a respectably old age (see 3 Nephi 28:3). A more likely scenario has Mormon is making his rapid condensation of the three hundred year interval he is reporting in 4 Nephi, and missing a generation. Adding in one generation gives us a much more reasonable lifetime. Although it is unusual for a grandson to have the name of the grandfather in the Book of Mormon, the only place we have “room” for an extra generation would be between the two men named Amos. This presents nearly the same conceptual difficulty as the unusually long life of Amos and Ammaron.
Is it possible that Mormon could have made such a mistake? The first issue is whether or not the Lord would allow an error in a text that would become scripture. All of our experience with scripture suggests that it was quite possible for the human beings who wrote scripture to enter a mistake of one kind or another. Thus the Lord would have allowed it, had Mormon made the mistake.
The second question is whether it is reasonable that Mormon should have made this type of error. We saw Mormon make what appears to have been an interpretive mistake in the story of Ammon guarding the king’s flocks. We have also seen Mormon manipulate his history in his presentation of the Gadianton robbers. We have also seen that Mormon has paid only scant attention to actual history in this entire condensation of the material from his sources for this time period. We must conclude that it is possible for Mormon to have inadvertently skipped a generation in the transmission line of the record.
While there is no firm evidence for this, the best explanation of the excessively long life of Amos and Ammaron is a missing generation that would have been in Mormon’s sources, but which Mormon inadvertently missed recording.
Chronological: In our calendar, Amos died in 298 A. D.
4 Nephi 1:48
48 And it came to pass that when three hundred and twenty years had passed away, Ammaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ.
4 Nephi 1:49
49 And he did hide them up unto the Lord, that they might come again unto the remnant of the house of Jacob, according to the prophecies and the promises of the Lord. And thus is the end of the record of Ammaron.
Although the end of the Nephites would play out over the next several decades, it effectively ends here. We do not know that Ammaron was a king of the people, but it is probable that he was the end of a ruling dynasty that lent the name of their dynasty founder to their book. When Ammaron abdicates his responsibility as the record-keeper it is not in death as is tradition. Ammaron does not pass the record on to the next recipient, who should have been his son. That does not appear to have been an option. While a possibility is that the son was not righteous (even failing a son, there would have been other transmission options for a ruling dynasty), it is much more likely given the circumstances that this righteous ruling line has been removed. The righteous Nephites are no longer in political power, just as before the first destruction of the Nephites the righteous had also lost their hold on political power. In this case, Ammaron considers the ouster not only personally dangerous, but dangerous to the records themselves. His burial of the records is clearly to preserve them. Thus at three hundred and twenty years after the birth of the Savior, the social and political pressure has turned against the gospel so completely that even the traditional records are in danger. This is suggestive of a major alteration in the nature of Nephite politics and religion.
Chronological: Three hundred and twenty years correlates to 313 A. D.
Textual: This is the close of the book of Nephi. The final phrase indicates that it is the “end of the record of Ammaron.” As Ammaron is the last to write in the book of Nephi the son of Nephi, it is correct that it is the close of his record. It is also the end of all of the material Mormon cared to present from the dynasty record of Nephi the son of Nephi.
Conclusion to the Book of 4 Nephi:
The book of 4 Nephi is anomalous in all of the books we have from the hand of Mormon. It simply doesn't behave the way all other of Mormon's books behave. To roughly illustrate, here is a brief comparison between the Mosiah-3 Nephi material and 4 Nephi.
Descriptions of war:
What conclusions might we draw from all of these anomalous features? Can we get into the mind of Mormon the editor and discover why he suddenly changes his entire approach to his task?
First, we should remember that in Mormon's original conception there was only one book to be written after 4 Nephi. It is likely that he intended Ether as an appendix, rather in the way that he added the 1 Nephi-Omni material. Both were for extra information, but outside of the scope of his intended work. This tells us that 4 Nephi simply fills a structural gap between 3 Nephi and the ending of the work. 4 Nephi introduces the conclusion.
The most obvious thing that we understand from all of this is that the real purpose of Mormon's narrative is the visit of the Savior to the New World. In the pre-3 Nephi material, time slows down as it approaches that point. Earlier material might happen in large chunks, but we get virtually year-by-year detail as we approach that most important event. After that, he speeds up dramatically and breezes through over three hundred years. All of this is well and good, because we understand that Mormon would be excited about the coming of the Savior.
However, this is still an unsatisfying explanation, because it leaves way too much unexplained. It explains why we have 3 Nephi, but it really doesn't explain anything before that, and it certainly doesn't explain the anomalous 4 Nephi.
We could say that Mormon wrote what he did because he was some type of historian. While that is true enough, it is also too simplistic a statement. It does not explain why the same historian created two very different types of history, before and after the visit of the Savior.
There is no indication that Mormon was haphazard in the creation of his text. In fact, there are indications that he was writing either from an outline or from a previous text. Mormon planned his work, and so we really need to understand what it was he intended. To do this we must work backwards from the result, because the only thing he ever tells us about his intent is that he is writing this for a future generation. What is his message for the future generation?
Of course his message is the Christ, but this is still too simplistic an answer because it leaves unexplained the way in which Mormon chose to present that method.
Here then is the solution. It accepts Mormon as an intentional patterner of the history he wrote, with a specific goal in mind. In Mormon’s authorial intent, 4 Nephi is not anomalous, but is rather a different type of message.
Mormon conceived of two structural pieces of history:
Mormon saw the post-Messianic-visit world as a parallel to that of the time prior to the first visit. He saw history as repeating itself. Therefore, in the first set he details the events that cause the destruction of the Nephites in some detail.
Then the Savior comes, and the world is renewed.
Then the events parallel the first period, and the Nephites are destroyed by the Gadianton robbers. Mormon does not need to describe this in detail, because the same causes pertain. All he must do is show us the repetition, and we are to understand the pattern. Mormon shifts his style in 4 Nephi because he has shifted his purpose. It is no longer to detail the process, but simply to show the repetition of the process.
There is one parallel that is missing, and that is the coming of the Savior. I believe that this is the message Mormon has for us. Since the events of the Nephites all paralleled the first period, there is yet another parallel to come. The Savior will return. We are part of that return, and he is preparing us for the surety of that coming.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002