[Page 9]Mosiah 2:5 provides the reader of the Book of Mormon with new insights about Israelite-Nephite family structure. In a passage set during what John A. Tvedtnes has persuasively argued is the Feast of Tabernacles, ((John A. Tvedtnes, “King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles,” in By Study and Also by Faith, ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1988), 2:197-237.)) we read: “And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple, they pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, consisting of his wife, and his sons, and his daughters, and their sons and their daughters, from the eldest down to the youngest.”
The word “family” (understood in Modern English as a nuclear, two-generational arrangement—parents and children) is used here as a multigenerational structure—parents, children, grandchildren—and may be the equivalent of the biblical Hebrew word bet-av/bet-ab, “(extended) family.” But as Francis Andersen observes, “Since the scope of bet-ab is nowhere defined, its limits and typical size are not known.” ((Francis Andersen, “Israelite Kinship Terminology and Social Structure,” The Bible Translator 20/1 (January 1969), 36–37.)) Still, Andersen notes that “the commonly accepted opinion is that it was an extended family, composed of all living persons, except married females, descended from a person still living, including the female slaves.” ((Andersen, “Israelite Kinship Terminology,” 29-34.)) The “(extended) family” (bet-av) is [Page 10]thus multigenerational and includes all the living descendants of parents, possibly to the third or fourth generation. ((Cf. Karl Elliger, “Das Gesetz Leviticus 18,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 67 (1955): 9; cf. Helmer Ringgren, “abh,” in ed. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, tr. John T. Willis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 1:9.))
Whereas the modern Hebrew word mishpachah is translated in modern English as “family” and understood as a nuclear (two-generation) family, the biblical Hebrew mishpachah is to be understood as a multigenerational (possibly six-generation) family group, a “clan” or “phratry” that is even larger than the bet-av and was a subgroup of the tribe (Heb. shebet). ((Andersen, “Israelite Kinship Terminology,” 29-34; cf. Hans-Jürgen Zobel, “mispahah,” in ed. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, tr. David Green (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 9:80-83; and Zobel, ”sebet,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, tr. Douglas Stott, 14:306-8.)) The possessive adjective “their” in the phrase “their sons and their daughters” in Mosiah 2:5 may as easily refer to the sons and daughters of the sons and not of the offspring of the daughters since “a married woman joined her husband’s bet-ab.” ((Andersen, “Israelite Kinship Terminology,” 37.))
To recapitulate, the idea of a nuclear, two-generation family is modern (in both English and Hebrew); the Israelite-Nephite family is multi-generational and indicated in Hebrew by bet-av, while the biblical Hebrew mishpachah is a six-generation “clan” or “phratry” and a subunit of the tribe (shebet).