|2 Nephi 5|
2 Ne. 5:1
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren.
2 Ne. 5:2
But behold, their anger did increase against me, insomuch that they did seek to take away my life.
Literary Analysis: After the poetic psalm of Nephi, the text returns to rather plain discourse. In verse 1 Nephi returns to the theme of his writing immediately prior to the poetic insertion:
This return with little transition between the psalm and the more historical relation suggests that the psalm came out of the emotions involved in the discussion of the death of Lehi and the problems with Laman and Lemuel. In the transition into the psalm, Nephi states:
The sequence of mental transition in 2 Nephi 4 is:
Anger of Laman and Lemuel
Writings on the other plates of the "lectures" to Laman and Lemuel
Musing on the relationship of the writing and Nephi's soul
The blessings that have enlarged his sould
A reflection on those blessings and Nephi's understanding of the process of becoming as Christ
This sequence is fairly logical, with one notion moving logically into another. This suggests that the next step is a result of the previous, and that we have in this section some kind of "stream of consciousness" on Nephi's part. This is curious because we understand that engraving the script on the plates was not necessarily an easy task (Jacob 4:1 . . . and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates. . . ). Either Nephi was remarkably able to engrave and maintain a literate stream of consciousness, or he wrote first on a more malleable medium, and then transcribed onto the plates.
There is no reason to assume that the plates were the first redaction of the information, although there are enough asides and references to the plates themselves that it is probably that the text we have consists of both modes.
In contrast to the logical flow of elements that moved from history to poetry in chapter , there is no transition whatsoever at the beginning of 5. Chapter 5 in the current text does match with a new chapter in the original Book of Mormon edition, which followed the chapter headings of the plates. Thus Nephi also saw this as a new beginning. The abrupt return to narrative after a poetic flight also suggests that Nephi stopped writing after the psalm, and picked up again at a later time. How much later is unknowable. Perhaps he could have recovered rapidly from his excursion into soul-poetry, but somehow I prefer to see Nephi reflecting on that experience, and only later coming back to the more mundane task of narrative.
2 Ne. 5:3
Yea, they did murmur against me, saying: Our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore, now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words. For behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people.
With Lehi gone, Laman and Lemuel are now facing the very fear they have been expressing for years, that Nephi is attempting to rule over them. Nephi gives us this much explicitly. It is clear that this fear/hatred had been a continuing undercurrent with Laman and Lemuel (dating at least back to the recovery of the brass plates, if there were not unwritten seeds of such a dissatisfaction with Nephi earlier). It appears that Lehi was able to hold his family together by his patriarchal power, or by Laman and Lemuel's sense of duty to their father. There is now nothing to hold the family together, and Nephi begins the story of the separation of the family into two factions.
2 Ne. 5:4
4 Now I do not write upon these plates all the words which they murmured against me. But it sufficeth me to say, that they did seek to take away my life.
2 Ne. 5:5
5 And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me.
2 Ne. 5:6
6 Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.
The division of the family is no orderly, polite separation. The Lord's warning to Nephi that his brothers once again seek his life causes Nephi to gather those who are of a similar heart to his and to flee. Nephi had been in this situation before, and had never left. In this case the situation has changed, and Nephi leaves.
It is interesting that there were no angels protecting Nephi at this point. Where Laman and Lemuel had been prevented from harming Nephi in the past due to the protection of the Spirit (see 1 Ne. 17:48) the only protection afforded at this time was the warning to go. Of course the warning had the same saving effect, the outcome allowed the disintegration of Lehi's family, were before it was preserved. Presumably, the Lord knew that the time had come for the separation to occur.
Historical Analysis: Verse 6 gives us the original makeup of the "Nephites." Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, and his sisters and their families leave with Nephi along with Zoram and his family. This left Laman and Lemuel and their families as well as perhaps the families associated with Ishmael not represented by the families that went with Nephi. Sorenson suggests that there were possibly eleven adults and perhaps thirteen children in the group that went with Nephi (Sorenson, John L. "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did they Find Others There?" In: _Nephite Culture and Society_. New Sage Books, 1997, p. 66).
This division actually suggests that perhaps the more than half of the party left with Nephi, creating an interesting demographic problem in that the later versions of the "Lamanites" have them as more numerous than the Nephites, yet they appear to have begun with a significantly smaller population. The best reading of the remarkable demographics of Book of Mormon peoples is that they intermingled with other populations that are known to have been in the area at that time period (Sorenson, "When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did they Find Others There?" In: _Nephite Culture and Society_. New Sage Books, 1997, pp. 65-104 [Note, this is a reprint from Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1992,1:1-34]).
2 Ne. 5:7
7 And we did take our tents and whatsoever things were possible for us, and did journey in the wilderness for the space of many days. And after we had journeyed for the space of many days we did pitch our tents.
Historical analysis: The phrase "we did take our tents and whatsoever things were possible for us" combined with the Lord's warning to flee suggests that this was not a peaceful, organized departure. The band took what they could, and left. They also do not explicitly say that they pitched their tents until after they had "journeyed for the space of many days." This also suggests that it was a hasty flight.
When the left, where did they go? Following the general geography Sorenson has outlined, the Lehites landed on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, and would likely have remained relatively close to the coast up until this time. With the separation of the families, the "Lamanites" would have stayed put, as it was the Nephites who were fleeing. While they might have gone up or down the coast, it is probably that such a route would have made it easier for the angry Laman and Lemuel to follow. Combined with later information about the Nephites, it is most likely that they went inland, into highland Guatemala. This would have required mountain ascents, and they were quite likely exhausted by the time that they were finally comfortable enough that they had left Laman and Lemuel safely behind to pitch their tents.
A word about tents is appropriate here. While we may presume a tent to be an easily portable temporary shelter, this may not be the meaning in this verse. In Sorenson's analysis:
2 Ne. 5:8
8 And my people would that we should call the name of the place Nephi; wherefore, we did call it Nephi.
Nephi and his band name their new home after their leader Nephi. This naming appears to be a continuation of the tradition of naming places for people that was part of the nomadic tradition of Nephi's family. Lehi had named a river for Laman and a valley for Lemuel (2 Nephi 2:8,14). Coming to a new place where they were to make a new home, they desired a way to refer to the place, and used Nephi's name. Where Lehi had named the river and valley out of hope, this land was much more likely named for respect.
2 Ne. 5:9
9 And all those who were with me did take upon them to call themselves the people of Nephi.
At this early point in the history of the Nephites, it is likely that they named themselves for the person and not the land. However, it is also quite likely that after the death of Nephi, the designation of the land would continue, and the name "Nephites" would come to be more associated with a place than a person. Indeed, later in the Book of Mormon it is clear that Nephite becomes a political name much as one would expect of a place-associated name. Had it remained personal, it might be a race-designator, but that will become a much lesser meaning of the term over time. At this point in the beginnings of Nephites and Lamanites, there is no purpose in making the distinction. Land, person, and ethnicity were all bound up in the same group. Time would serve as the distinguishing factor.
2 Ne. 5:10
10 And we did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses.
Nephi declares the religious orientation of his people. As a few of them were Old World Jews and had lived the Law in Jerusalem, this is not completely surprising. However, it is interesting that Nephi's experiences did not lead him to make major adaptations in the practice of religion. Unquestionably the clear revelation of the coming Savior flavored Nephi's and Jacob's teachings. Nevertheless, regardless of the teachings, the practice was Mosaic. For Nephi, the practice of religion would have been intimately bound up with the institutions of the Mosaic Law. He would have seen no conflict between the continuation of those practices and the teaching of a Christ who would eventually supercede those laws.
It is also historically significant that Nephi would establish his new colony on a religious model. This early declaration of their religious practices not only discusses their religion, but the entire basis upon which their society was based. We might expect that all early forms of social interaction in the band would be governed by the model that Nephi remembered from his youth.
The exigencies of the new life would certainly lead to adaptations of the Old World model, but for the time being, it is most likely that questions of leadership, worship, land management, and social organization would be answered by deference to the Law of Moses and the Jerusalem model (if they made any distinction between the two at all).
2 Ne. 5:11
11 And the Lord was with us; and we did prosper exceedingly; for we did sow seed, and we did reap again in abundance. And we began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind.
Redactive analysis: Notice that in the same verse we see both the sowing and the reaping of the harvest. This is a clear indication that the text is being written after the fact. While this is still holographic Nephi, it is not a current journal. Nephi writes on these plates as he has time available. This section on the beginnings of the Nephite people is certainly written a number of years after the separation. This account is personal recollection, not an accounting of events at the time that they occur.
Historical analysis: As a synoptic account, it is interesting what items become relevant to the synopsis. Certainly the first harvest would have been a significant event, as it provided evidence of their ability to continue to thrive in this new land, and to create a society modeled on that of the Old World. Had they been unable to plant and harvest, they would have been required to dramatically alter their social structure to create a hunter-gatherer society, which is organized very differently from an agricultural society, with the greater complexity of social structure being supported by the more stable food source of the agrarian society.
In addition to the cultivated plants, the Nephites begin to "raise flocks, and herds." Nephi does not mention what kind of flocks or herds these were. The usage of these terms in the Book of Mormon and in the Old Testament is interesting and perhaps may shed some light on the meaning the terms acquired in the Book of Mormon.
In the Book of Mormon, "flocks and herds" are a paired set. "Herds" are not mentioned except as in conjunction with "flocks." For example, we have Nephi's statement about flocks and herds, and another example from Alma:
This usage of the paired terms "flocks and herds" matches well with Old Testament usage, where the vast majority of cases have "flocks and herds" paired, as in Exodus:
This consistent pairing indicates that there was a linguistically tied phrase common in the Old World that was perpetuated in the New World, where mention of herds would also automatically require the paired word flocks. This pairing was required only by the presence of the term "herd," however, as "flocks" could appear singly (and herd could rarely occur on its own in the Old Testament, but never in the Book of Mormon).
In Old Testament usage, flocks refer to sheep, as in:
Similarly, herds were typically associated with cattle. However, the KJV translation will at times use the world "cattle" as a translation for miqneh "a possession, thing purchased" (Strong's Analytical Concordance). This explains the confusing KJV passage in Genesis where the flock appears to refer to cattle:
In this case, verse 40 reconfirms the association with flocks and sheep, even though cattle are mentioned.
In the New World, the association between herds and cattle is only tenuous. While there are times that it might appear to be an appropriate designation, there are also clearly times when it is inappropriate to see "herds" as "cattle." In Enos, flocks are directly associated with "cattle" as well as other animals:
Enos' usage is quite problematic. First of all we have "flocks of herds," a usage completely unattested in the Old Testament. Next we have the "flocks of all manner of cattle of every kind." It is possible that Enos is so far removed from the care of such animals that he is not precise in his terms as we would expect someone to be who worked with them on a daily basis. However, Enos' writings comes so early in the Book of Mormon that it is quite certain that the Nephites had not yet developed a complex social structure, and the likelihood that Enos would have had the luxury of a mode of living divorced from raising food is very improbable (note that Benjamin, who comes later and is a king, still indicates with pride that he works with his hands for his own support Mosiah 2:12, 14). It is therefore much more likely that the terminology of "flocks and herds" was under some transition of meaning, certainly due to the differences in the animal life available in the new world. The Book of Mormon linking of "flocks and herds" combined with this evidence from the early writings of Enos further suggests that "flocks and herds" was a linked linguistic pair that had meaning together, but not necessarily separately. "Herds" may not have existed except when generically linked to "flocks."
While there is no direct evidence for the usage, there is the possibility that the Old Testament usage of miqneh "possessions" could have become the transferred meaning of the paired "flocks/herds." The usage of flocks and herds could easily fit into this meaning, where the singly used "flocks" might not (such as Mosiah 2:3 "And they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses;" where a specific animal for sacrifice is intended rather than a generic "possessed animal").
John L. Sorenson suggests that flocks and herds may have been categories for smaller and larger animals respectively. He includes fowl in the flocks, which is completely expected in the English usage of the term, but not supported in Biblical usage (Sorenson, AN ANCIENT AMERICAN SETTING FOR THE BOOK OF MORMON, p. 293 ). His discussion of the possible animals under semi-domestication is worthwhile, but the meaning of "flocks and herds" may have been much different than his more conventional analysis suggests.
2 Ne. 5:12
12 And I, Nephi, had also brought the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass; and also the ball, or compass, which was prepared for my father by the hand of the Lord, according to that which is written.
As part of the important cultural inventory, Nephi specifically mentions the brass plates, the Liahona, and the sword of Laban (see verse 14). The separation of these items in Nephi's text indicates that he sees each of these items as items of intrinsic and separate worth. The brass plates and the Liahona have religious significance, where the sword of Laban is a very functional weapon.
This utilitarian understanding of these important artifacts will change over time. They will become a set, and are eventually used as tokens of the legitimacy of political power. The best example of this comes in the transfer of the kingdom from Benjamin to Mosiah, where the transfer of these relics is part and parcel of the transfer of legitimate power:
The continued use of these relics as a set is indicated by their presence with the plates Moroni buried. From at least the time of Benjamin until the end of the Nephites with Moroni, these important items became much more that they were to Nephi.
2 Ne. 5:13
13 And it came to pass that we began to prosper exceedingly, and to multiply in the land.
Nephi makes no comments of hardships or trials in this brief rendition of the "origin of the Nephites." He did not so refrain form mentioning difficulties and hardships as they were crossing the wilderness on their way to Bountiful. It is therefore most likely, particularly in conjunction with his statement that they had an abundant crop, that they were living in an area that was quite conducive to agricultural life. They were in a fertile land that apparently provided for their needs with sufficient ease that they were able to prosper and "multiply in the land."
2 Ne. 5:14
14 And I, Nephi, did take the sword of Laban, and after the manner of it did make many swords, lest by any means the people who were now called Lamanites should come upon us and destroy us; for I knew their hatred towards me and my children and those who were called my people.
Here the sword of Laban is a model for other weapons. Nephi mentions nothing more about his sword-making than that the swords were "after the manner" of the sword of Laban. It is not clear what this means. Certainly there is a lack of archaeological evidence for swords that would match the "manner" of an Old World sword.
We know that Nephi was early able to work metals. His experience forging tools for the ship would have remained with him, and the plates upon which he writes are another evidence of the continued use of metals. Therefore it is possible that the sword was also metal - although it is not necessarily required by the text. In order to make a sword similar to that of Laban, the particular metals and methods would be required, and they may not have been present.
The archaeological information on the Mesoamerican "sword" provides a possible meaning for the "sword" of the Book of Mormon (though not absolutely certain for the swords modeled on the sword of Laban.) The weapon that bears the Nahuatl name "macuahuitl" was a wooden shaft with obsidian blades on both sides. While that does not visually match our conception of a sword, it does fit relatively well with the descriptions of the way swords were used in the Book of Mormon.
Because superior military technologies provide a marked advantage in early warfare (as witnessed by the Spanish sword in combat with the Aztec macuahuitl) it would be expected that any accurate copy of the sword of Laban, particularly in quantities, would first give the Nephites a military edge, and secondly be rapidly incorporated into other cultures. For this reason alone, it is therefore suggestive that "after the manner of" does not necessarily translate into the same materials. If an inferior metal were used, the sword might lose the edge, or be too brittle for use.
Whatever the reason, while the original defensive weapons of the Nephites were modeled on the sword of Laban, history suggests that they were replaced with other types of weapons. The only reason that would happen is if they other weapons were actually superior. The suggestion again is that the copies were not of the quality of the original.
2 Ne. 5:15
15 And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.
As part of the cultural catalog of his people, Nephi tells us that he imparted his knowledge to them. He teaches them what he knows of building, woodwork, and metalwork. Interestingly, he specifically teaches them the working of brass and steel. Certainly the steel should have been sufficient for the making of military-quality swords, which argues against the note above. However, while he imparts the knowledge, he does not necessarily indicate that the knowledge was useful. While it was certainly useful for buildings and woodworking, he notes only of the precious ores that they were in great abundance. Of course it is speculation, but perhaps the ores for the other metals were not as readily available.
Those ores and metals are known from Mesoamerica, but were not in wide use. It is possible that for the Nephites as well as for the rest of Mesoamerica, the abundant ores and therefore the concentration of metalworking was in the precious metals, with the other metals being of lesser availability, and therefore of lesser utility. This would have been particularly true of a small band of people with no surplus trade goods sufficient to acquire valuable but rare metals. The "precious" ores were apparently easily found.
2 Ne. 5:16
16 And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine.
In this synoptic history of the early Nephites, Nephi appears to be relating events in a rough chronological order (or at least the ordering is suggestive of a chronology). After basing his earliest efforts on their religious beliefs, they concentrate on the most important things - food and protection. With those elements secured, and with a larger (and now more skilled) population, Nephi can now turn to the construction of a significant sacred structure - a temple.
The very building of such an edifice suggests a substantially increased population. While we don't know how long after their arrival in the land of Nephi they began to build this temple, the very act of public building requires a fairly large base population. It requires that there be sufficient stability of food sources to be able to spare labor for the public building. It requires that there be sufficient surplus that the basic needs of the people are covered and there is yet material and effort available for the public structure. All of these are present.
We understand that they were not yet present in abundance, however, because Nephi clearly states that this temple, while modeled after that of Solomon, is "not built of so many precious things." While there is surplus sufficient to build, there is not sufficient to supply the truly luxury items that would be associated with the temple of a reasonably prosperous people such as Solomon governed.
We do not know the material of which the temple was built. The early date of the building would suggest that it might have been wood rather than stone. Stone would have required learning a new set of skills not specifically known to have been in Nephi's repertoire, and would also take much more time and labor.
In Mesoamerican, temple building was a very old tradition, and while this temple was modeled after that of Solomon, it does not take much imagination to transfer to a different mode of temple-building once a shift was made from wood to stone. When stone began to be used, the methods and models for stone construction would come from the surrounding cultures, and the resultant temples would likely have begun to look like the temples of the area. The importance of a temple is its sacred nature, not its construction.
2 Ne. 5:17
17 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cause my people to be industrious, and to labor with their hands.
Anthropological analysis: While textually separated, this statement of Nephi about his people provides an important distinction in the way Nephi sees the differences between his people and the people of Laman and Lemuel. Nephi specifically states that his people are industrious, and labor with their hands. Contrast this description to his description of the "Lamanites:"
The Nephite industriousness is contrasted to the idleness of the Lamanites, and the evidence of their idleness, or at least the one given is that they "did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey." Combined with the evidence of the planting by the Nephites, we see the development, at least temporarily, of a different choice of sustenance.
The Nephites have chosen to continue the agricultural patterns, and the Lamanites have elected to become hunter-gatherers. The election of hunter-gatherer as a mode of sustenance suggests a number of things. First, Nephi suggest that they chose this mode because they were "idle." In order to be "idle" hunters and gatherers, the hunting and gathering must be abundant. This is typically not an easy life, as one must move after the game. However, the Lamanites are "idle." Nephi's description thus suggests that the Lamanites decided to take the easy path to subsistence rather than go through the work of agricultural labor.
Another feature of hunting and gathering societies is that they tend to be smaller, and to lack permanent structures. This is because it takes a large amount of land to supply the band, and their frequent travels through their hunting territory argue against monumental structure (the labor for which typically requires a larger population).
Therefore, we get a picture of the Lamanites from Nephi that shows more than a simple separation in location. There is a conceptual separation in lifestyle as well. It is important to note that this initial hunter-gather phase will obviously be discarded as a Lamanite strategy, as they become a numerous people with cities and kings. Those factors all argue against a continuation of that strategy. However, the important point for future Nephite-Lamanite relationships is that there is a psychological barrier placed between the Nephites and their Lamanite cousins that labels them as "idle" (as well as other things). Very early on, the Lamanites were seen in pejorative contrast to the Nephite life. In the way of most of humanity for ages, peoples tend to approve of people who are most like themselves, and disapprove of those who are different. The roots of the conflict between Lamanite and Nephite begin between brothers, but are magnified between peoples.
2 Ne. 5:18
18 And it came to pass that they would that I should be their king. But I, Nephi, was desirous that they should have no king; nevertheless, I did for them according to that which was in my power.
Anthropological analysis: It is quite interesting that the suggestion would be made that Nephi be a king. This must have been an honorific title, as the population of the people was clearly insufficient to either require or support a king in the tradition from the Old World. However, knowing the honor of the *position* they likely desired that for Nephi, following their Old World model. Nephi intuitively understands that his people need a leader, but not a king. He has been the de facto leader, and continues to do "for them according to that which was in my power." He was the leader before, and continued to be after.
2 Ne. 5:19
19 And behold, the words of the Lord had been fulfilled unto my brethren, which he spake concerning them, that I should be their ruler and their teacher. Wherefore, I had been their ruler and their teacher, according to the commandments of the Lord, until the time they sought to take away my life.
Nephi surely knew nothing of the population sizes required for various political systems, but he knew the Lord, and knew that the Lord had prophesied that Nephi would lead his people. Nephi sees this people as the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Nephi's brothers had always feared the prophecy, partially because they saw it as usurping their birthright, and partially because they could see it becoming true as Nephi became a de facto leader. What is interesting from a spiritual perspective, and as an insight into Nephi's character, he apparently does not see the fulfillment of the prophecy until he actually becomes a leader by voice of his people.
It is this way with the fulfillment of many prophecies. They are fulfilled in quite natural ways, in the flow of the events of life and the world.
2 Ne. 5:20
20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.
While Nephi is on the subject of prophecy, he turns to the subject of his missing family - those who have turned away. For the sake of literary continuity, he repeats the prophecy so he can elucidate the fulfillment of it.
2 Ne. 5:21
21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
The reiteration of prophecy in verse 20 contains only two elements; that the Lamanites would be cut off from the presence of the Lord, and that they were cut off. In verse 21 Nephi continues with a "cursing." Because this verse ends in the controversial "skin of blackness," it is of worth to examine the verse carefully.
The first sentence indicates that the Lamanites were cursed with "even a sore cursing." The cause of this cursing is clearly stated as their iniquity. The second sentence is a compound sentence, and contains two ideas. The first is the concept that the Lamanites had hardened their hearts against the Lord, so hard that they were "like unto flint."
It is the second part of the sentence that the most interesting. Inside of the phrase on skin color there are two overt concepts. The first clear concept is that the Lamanites were, at the time of separation, " white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome." Of course this is only to be expected, because they were siblings to Nephi and Sam and the rest of the Nephites. Certainly Nephi would not be expected to say of them anything so petty as that they were ugly, and we are "fair and delightsome." Nevertheless, Nephi indicates that there was a change, that that they now have a "skin of blackness." What is going on?
If we do some arbitrary re-cutting of the text into verses and move the sentence on the cursing to a different verse so that it is not as clearly seen in this context, the final verses have a very consistent version of the skin color. There is a change in skin color, and the change occurs under the direction of the Lord for a particular reason. The reason is "that they might not be enticing unto my people." This reason and function for the skin color is reiterated in verse 22. The function is to provide a visual separation between the Nephites and the Lamanites. Just as ancient Israel was under proscription from marrying outside the ethnic group, the New World Nephites are also being set up as a separate unit, prohibited from intermarriage (v. 23).
The text does not clearly indicate what that curse was, and the reason for the skin color change is given after it is announced, suggesting that the skin color might not be the curse, as that change required its own explanation. However, it has become customary to presume the connection between the curse and the skin color. In the context of Nephi's cultural predispositions, that could easily have been his perception.
The next problem is the phraseology itself. Until the importation of African slaves, a true "skin of blackness" was unknown (or at least quite rare) in Mesoamerica. When Cortez arrives with blacks in his company, the natives were even more taken with the novel black skin color than with the "white" of the Spaniards. With meaning did "skin of blackness" have for Nephi?
Nibley further expounds on the cultural meanings of the black/white problem in the Book of Mormon:
John L. Sorenson further examines the context of this "skin of blackness:"
The immediately salient points are that this is absolutely a recognition of prejudice, and secondly a continuation of a long tradition that tends to exaggerate the "terrible" nature of ones enemies. It is a common feature of small group dynamics that where enmity exists, there will also be prejudice, and where prejudice, exaggeration. All of this is happening between the Nephites and the Lamanites.
Because we can see the Nephites as possessing a prejudice typical of their age, does that mean that we impute prejudice to God? Of course not. God's "hand" in this matter was to mark the Lamanites as separate. The prejudices came from the Nephites themselves. But where did the skin color come from? Did the Lamanite simply wake up one morning and see everyone around them with a markedly different skin color (can you imagine the shock)?
The best explanation is a combination of the lifestyle and the intermarriage with existing local populations. Remembering that the Lamanites would have remained along the coast while the Nephites went inland and upland, the Lamanites chose to wear fewer cloths (due to the hotter and more humid weather - not simply their indolence, as suggested in the Nephite record). Such conditions alone would darken the skin. Intermarriage would have taken longer, and the likelihood that the Nephites also intermarried with other populations suggests that the real difference was one of darkening due to sun exposure.
As John L. Sorenson notes:
What we have in this verse is an adequate explanation of the consequences of the Lamanite lifestyle choice, along with a culture-bound prejudice system, expressed in terms common for Nephi.
2 Ne. 5:22
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
2 Ne. 5:23
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
Anthropological information: The point of the "skin of blackness" is "that they shall be loathsome unto thy people." Note that in verse 23 the curse extends to those who might marry any of these people. Thus there is not only a geographic division between the brothers and their families, but a moral and religious chasm as well.
The question of marriage is an important one, because the Lord has now excluded a significant number of the potential marriage partners. The preferred mode of marriage would be to marry someone within the same tribe:
A marriage in the ancient world dictated the flow of rights and properties. In the case of Israel, it was not only physical property, but a religious inheritance that was passed on. Thus the injunction to marry within the tribe. The Nephites would have been inheritors of that tradition, and would therefore prefer to marry within the tribe. However, half of the potential mates had been cut off and prohibited.
The preference for marriage inside the tribe was coupled with other prohibitions against marriage outside the tribe:
This analysis of the marriage laws is important to our understanding of the developing Nephite society. Not only is their tribe split in half, but by this time each person was related to the other by blood or marriage. As noted in Smith's passage, this would create tremendous difficulties in maintaining the Law.
Three points become important. The first is that marriage outside the tribe, indeed outside of Israel was permitted but discouraged (with very specific prohibitions against the Canaanites, and legal prohibitions for marrying *men* from the Ammonites or Moabites). There is even the ability for men from outside of Israel to be incorporated legally. It is therefore quite likely that in order to continue the tribe, the Nephites and Lamanites were required to marry outside of their small group. This inevitable intermarriage with other natives of the land is the best way to account for the impressive increase in population noted in the Book of Mormon. While not the preferred method when the larger population of Israel was available, it was nevertheless allowed, and preferable to the more direct violation of the prohibition of marrying within ones immediate and near family (which certainly would have described the original Nephite and Lamanite bands at this point in time).
The second point is that the prohibition of intermarriage with the Lamanites follows the long Israelite tradition of prohibiting marriage with a particular people. In the case of the Lamanites, there was likely just as much potential of disruption of the religious tradition of the Nephites as there was with the Canaanites.
The third point of interest is that the prohibition against marriage with the Lamanites comes very early, and at this point is certainly directed at the specific tribal affiliation of Lamanites/Lemuelites, etc. When the term "Lamanites" appears to become a more generic term, akin to "gentile" it is likely that the specific prohibition was lessened, although it might have remained in place with the lineal descendants of these original Lamanites.
2 Ne. 5:24
24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.
By the time Nephi writes this passage, there is ample reason for him to have developed an enmity with his brothers. Not only does he have a personal history of difficulties with them, but by this point there have already been wars and conflicts with them (see verse 34). In addition to the particular reasons Nephi may have had to dislike the Lamanites, he also obviously disapproves of their mode of life. It is difficult to know to what specifics Nephi refers when he calls them "full of mischief and subtlety," but it is certain that the terms are indicative of the very wide gulf that grew between him and his brothers.
2 Ne. 5:25
25 And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.
In the midst of all of the apparent prejudice against the Lamanites, Nephi indicates that they will serve a purpose. The persecutions begun by the Lamanites will put pressure on the Nephites to bring them continually to remembrance of their God - and should they not remember their God, they should be destroyed. While Nephi does not specifically link this passage to his vision of the Tree of Life, he had a vision of the future history of his descendants, and now sees even more clearly how those prophecies might come to pass.
2 Ne. 5:26
26 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people.
At this point in the history of the Nephites, they must still be a relatively small population. Nephi has been both political and religious leader. However, he also appoints Jacob and Joseph to be priests. In Nephi's government, the government of God was much more important than the government of men, thus he appoints the men as priests. This may indicate a number of things. First is that while relatively small, the population had yet become much larger than at the beginning, so that there was reason for more specifically called priests.
Anthropological information: Jacob and Joseph are appointed teachers "over the land of my people." This appears to indicate that there is an established territory that they have proclaimed, and that the people are spread out on that land. This is a fairly typical ancient mode of land use. A town/city center will provide for the legal and ritual workings of the community, and there will be attached to that town center a large amount of farmland on which most of the people will live and work. Assuming that the Nephites in this first thirty years have come to the point where they will actually have a central location, Jacob and Joseph may be itinerant teachers to reach the population in the lands, rather than waiting for the people to have occasion to come to the town center.
At this point in time, the population would still probably have been insufficient to have much surplus labor, so it is probably that the town center would have mostly wood buildings. Note that Nephi's catalogue of their advances in this first thirty years does not specifically include stone masonry: "2 Ne. 5:15 And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance." They built buildings, but the only building material mentioned is wood.
This will certainly change in the future for the Nephites, but it will take a larger population. Stone masonry takes time in the quarrying, cutting, and assembly of the buildings. All such labor removes men from the tasks in the fields, and therefore is usually associated with populations large enough to have a surplus of food that can sustain those working on the monumental projects.
2 Ne. 5:27
27 And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.
Nephi does not say that they were happy. He says that they "lived after the manner of happiness." In Nephi's terminology, this would mean following the path of the Gospel as Nephi understood it. Nephi's use of the word is probably a result of Lehi's understanding and use of that concept: "2 Ne. 2:10 And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement--" Lehi considers happiness one of the eternal results that is affixed to eternal law. The obedience to Law produces happiness as a result. This is surely Nephi's meaning when he says that they lived after the manner of happiness. They lived the Law that would lead to happiness.
2 Ne. 5:28
28 And thirty years had passed away from the time we left Jerusalem.
2 Ne. 5:29
29 And I, Nephi, had kept the records upon my plates, which I had made, of my people thus far.
2 Ne. 5:30
30 And it came to pass that the Lord God said unto me: Make other plates; and thou shalt engraven many things upon them which are good in my sight, for the profit of thy people.
Historical information: These two verses give us some idea of the dating of the text we are reading. Our current text for 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi was not begun until thirty years after the departure of the family from Jerusalem. The large plate tradition had been begun earlier (though also most likely after their arrival in the New World - unless a perishable version was begun in the journey from Jerusalem to Bountiful -they would not have appreciated the weight of yet another set of plates, not to mention the inability to find appropriate materials for them).
The next piece of information for dating the plates comes for verse 34 below. At that point, it is forty years after the departure from Jerusalem. Therefore, the entire text of the Book of Nephi this far was begun no earlier that thirty years after their departure, and this text is being written before forty years had passed. Therefore, Nephi began writing his second version of the history of his people after 567 BC, and finishes the end of this chapter by 557 BC. While there is a fair amount of text to this point, it is abundantly clear that it is not ten years of constant labor. This lets us know that the process of writing this second set of plates was accomplished over time, and that very little of the text is contemporaneous to the events described. While Nephi's other set of plates may have had some contemporaneous accounts (perhaps including Lehi's final blessings) there is no clear indication of that. The earliest material concerning the departure from Jerusalem likewise might have been part of the large plates, but it is equally as likely that each constituted a personal remembrance by Nephi, as he was a participant in each.
2 Ne. 5:31
31 Wherefore, I, Nephi, to be obedient to the commandments of the Lord, went and made these plates upon which I have engraven these things.
2 Ne. 5:32
32 And I engraved that which is pleasing unto God. And if my people are pleased with the things of God they will be pleased with mine engravings which are upon these plates.
2 Ne. 5:33
33 And if my people desire to know the more particular part of the history of my people they must search mine other plates.
Historical information: Nephi is very explicit about the function of this set of plates. They are particularly to record the things of God, and are quite expressly not to be seen as a detailed history of his people. In fact, there are major gaps that historians would love to see filled. Unfortunately for us, Nephi refers us to the other set of plates for that information.
Why are we not told of the meeting with other peoples and the negotiations for a land to call their own? Why are we not told of the intermarriages with the local populations, and the establishment of trade that probably provided early necessities (other than food) and probably provided the knowledge of local materials to make their own necessities - such as pottery? To all of this, Nephi simply refers us to the other plates.
Unfortunately for the historically minded, even having the lost 116 pages of the Book of Lehi would likely not have given us the information we desire, as that information was part of Mormon's abridgement, and Mormon does not see that type of information as particularly relevant for his purpose either. The absence of such data is not a condemnation of the Book, it is part of the Book's explanation about itself. Such information is recorded elsewhere. We just don't have those sources.
2 Ne. 5:34
34 And it sufficeth me to say that forty years had passed away, and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren.
Anthropological information: At this point in the record we are at approximately 557 BC. As noted, the Nephites and Lamanites have by this time increased in population. The Lamanites have increased sufficiently in numbers that they are able to provide for themselves, and have the time to conduct "wars and contentions." Nephi does not mention lists of casualties, and with his personal knowledge of his people, casualties would have been a significant occasion. It is therefore likely that these "wars and contentions" should not be read as the same kind of destructive wars seen later in Nephite history. These are much more likely to be raids, where there might be injuries, but the point of such "contentions" would be the acquisition of specific wealth or imagined "credit" for the bravery of the raid rather than obtaining territory or domination. This kind of smaller raid was very typical of the conflicts among many of the Indian tribes on the North American continent, and those probably may serve as a model for these early skirmishes between Nephite and Lamanite.
|by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1998|