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Musings on the Making of Mormon's Book: 1 Nephi 6

Our chapter six begins the original chapter II, covering our chapters 6-9. Thus this chapter both begins and ends with references to the plates on which Nephi is writing.

1 Nephi 6: 1-2

The first two verses of the next section of Nephi’s work tie to a theme from the first. In 1 Ne. 5:14 Nephi records that his father found a genealogy of his fathers on the brass plates and that “he was a descendant of Joseph.” Now, only seven verses later, Nephi repeats essentially the same information. The only really new thing that he adds is that “I, Nephi, do not give the genealogy of my fathers in this part of my record.” By “this part of my record” Nephi must mean the small plates, as we never get that genealogy. Presumably it was in the large plate set.

1 Nephi 6:3-6

These verses are an interesting insertion in the more historical record. They begin a new chapter, but related to text from the previous chapter. They start a new historical section, but they are not about the time period of the story but rather the time when Nephi is creating the text.

Nephi, as an author, makes insertions in his historical narrative that not only refer to his present time, but to the present task of record creation. This is one of those inserted breaks in the narrative time.

If we attempt to peer into Nephi’s mind, there was something about the end of the first unit (the 1830 chapter, our chapters 1-5) when came to a full stop. Perhaps he left the work for a time and returned to it. That might give a reason for the repetition of material that had so recently been stated. Perhaps it is an extreme of the narrative technique that has been called “repetitive resumption .” David Bokovoy, an Associate Instructor in Languages and Literature at the University of Utah describes the technique as used in the Old Testament: “Repetitive resumption refers to an editor’s return to an original narrative following a deliberate interlude. Old Testament writers accomplished this by repeating a key word or phrase that immediately preceded the textual interruption.”1 It is a technique that can be seen in Alma 17:13-17 and Alma 30:56-58.2 The other occasions when we see the technique are embedded in the text and represent a return to a theme after some kind of aside. In this case, it might be the same technique but a break related to time.

Orson Pratt set verses 1-6 off from the rest of Nephi’s unit, creating a separate chapter. He recognized that they were thematically different from the historical narrative that will pick up in our chapter 7. However, although Pratt is correct that they are qualitatively different, setting them apart tells us about what Pratt saw and doesn’t tell us anything about Nephi.

These verses do add important information, but it is subtle information. Nephi tells us that “And it mattereth not to me that I am particular to give a full account of all the things of my father, for they cannot be written upon these plates, for I desire the room that I may write of the things of God” (2 Ne. 6:3). This is the first time that we have a hint about the divine directive that guided the creation of this second set of plates. We will not get a more explicit explanation until 1 Nephi 19:1-6. Although Nephi doesn’t specifically describe the call to make the plates and the directive for their contents, clearly that directive was operative from when he first began to write. He simply alludes to it here.

The question, then, is why here. Why at the beginning of his second chapter and not the beginning of the record itself? We must speculate. Nephi has created a break in his narrative. His text came to a full stop with the end of the first chapter. As he begins the next, he falls back on his possible scribal training3 to use the technique of repetitive resumption to start again after some type of break. As he does so, he decides to confide a little information about his relationship to the sources he is using. He has a genealogy. He decides not to include it. Tracing genealogies was an important element of many of the texts with which Nephi would have been familiar. Documenting a connection to Joseph would place him in a prophetically important line. Nevertheless, Nephi declines that particular type of documentation because it takes up room and the same value accrues by noting the connection. He is writing to people (his own and his prophetically envisioned future audience) that will likely accept the connection without the requisite proof.

Nevertheless, he explains why this notable absence occurs. It leads Nephi to his first insertion of his current time into his historical narrative. However, it also reminds us that although he is giving us history, it is history with a much more important purpose. Nephi declares: “For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved (1 Ne. 6:4). The recording of Israelite history, and Nephite history, is designed to show the acts of God in the lives of his people. Through recording what the God of Abraham has done for his children, we may discern that he continues to act for the benefit of his children in other acts that might masquerade as simply history.

  1. David E. Bokovoy, “Repetitive Resumption in the Book of Mormon,” Insights: A Window on the Ancient World 27, no. 1 (2007): 2. 
  2. Brant A. Gardner, “Mormon’s Editorial Method and Meta-Message, FARMS Review, vol. 21, no. 1 (2009): 86. 
  3. Brant. A. Gardner, “Nephi as Scribe,” FARMS Review, vol. 23, no. 1 (2011). 

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