Abstract: Nephi’s record on the small plates includes seven distinct scenes in which Nephi depicts the anger of his brethren against him. Each of these scenes includes language that recalls Genesis 37:5‒10, 20, the biblical scene in which Joseph’s brothers “hate him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd] for his dreams and for his words” because they fear that he intends to “reign” and to “have dominion” or rule over them (Genesis 37:8). Later, they plot to kill him (Genesis 37:20). Two of these “anger” scenes culminate in Nephi’s brothers’ bowing down before him in the same way that Joseph’s brothers bowed down in obeisance before him. Nephi permutes the expression wayyôsipû ʿôd in terms of his brothers’ “continuing” and “increasing” anger, which eventually ripens into a hatred that permanently divides the family. Nephi uses language that represents other yāsap/yôsîp + verbal-complement constructions in these “anger” scenes, usage that recalls the name Joseph in such a way as to link Nephi with his ancestor. The most surprising iteration of Nephi’s permuted “Joseph” wordplay occurs in his own psalm (2 Nephi 4:16‒35).
In two previous studies1 I have demonstrated that Nephi uses wordplay on the biblical name Joseph in his use of Isaiah’s words in 2 Nephi 5:17, 21; 29:1, as well as 1 Nephi 22:8‒12 (a wordplay apparently adapted by [Page 116]Mormon in 3 Nephi 5:23). Nephi’s wordplay on the name Joseph occurs in prophecies pertaining to the future gathering of Israel and a future “Joseph” that would fulfill divine promises made to the patriarch Joseph.2
It appears, however, that Nephi also adapted wordplay on the name Joseph to accomplish additional literary and rhetorical purposes. In this article, I will endeavor to show that Nephi adapts the subtle onomastic wordplay on the name Joseph from Genesis 37:5‒8 to highlight similarities in his biography to those of his ancestor Joseph, whose name constitutes a causative (Hiphil) jussive form of the Semitic/Hebrew verb yāsap (to “add,” “increase”) — yôsēp, “May he [God] add,”3 “May he increase,” “May he continue,” etc.
Moreover, it emerges that this “Joseph” wordplay revolves around the manifestation of Nephi’s brothers’ anger against him as described in seven distinct scenes: 1 Nephi 3:28–4:4; 7:6‒21; 16:18‒32, 16:34–17:4; 17:17–18:1, 18:4‒22; 2 Nephi 4:12–5:28.4 Nephi’s adaptation and permutation of the biographical wordplay on the name “Joseph” tells us much about how Nephi viewed his relationship with his brothers and his being “a ruler and a teacher” over them.
“They Hated Him the More” (Genesis 37:5, 8; 2 Nephi 5:1): Calibrating Nephi’s “Joseph” Wordplay
It is not difficult to see parallels between Nephi’s autobiography and the biography of Joseph, his ancestor. Both Joseph5 and Nephi enjoyed special relationships with their father that gave rise to extreme fraternal resentment (e.g., “our brother is like unto him [Lehi],”1 Nephi 17:22). Nephi himself could scarcely have avoided noticing these parallels, having read the detailed account of Joseph’s life on the plates of [Page 117]brass.6 Accordingly, when writing his autobiography, Nephi fashions his description of Laman and Lemuel’s jealousy, which later becomes anger and hatred, to resemble and recall the biblical description of Joseph’s older brothers’ hatred toward him. This is evident in a cursory comparison of Genesis 37:3‒8, 20 with 2 Nephi 5:1‒3:
Genesis 37:3-8, 20
2 Nephi 5:1-3
|Now Israel loved Joseph [yôsēp] more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. And Joseph [yôsēp] dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd]. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd] for his dreams, and for his words. (Genesis 37:5‒8)
Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. (Genesis 37:20)
|Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren. But behold, their anger did increase [Hebrew yāsap] against me, insomuch that they did seek to take away my life. 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 that he shall7 be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people. 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.|
Nephi emphasizes the similarities between his biography and his ancestor Joseph’s biography, an account written in the aftermath of his father’s passing and the division of the Lehite-Ishmaelite clan. Nephi’s use [Page 118]of the phrase “their anger did increase against me” evokes the language of Genesis 37:3‒8 (“they hated him yet the more”), including, evidently, the use of wordplay on the name “Joseph” — wayyôsipû. The most basic meaning of the verb yāsap in Hebrew is to “add” or “increase,”8 and it is in terms of this verb that the text explains the giving of Joseph’s name (yôsēp) in Genesis 30:24 (“The Lord shall add [yōsēp] to me another son” or “May the Lord increase [yōsēp] to me another son”). Moshe Garsiel notes the narrative emphasis on Joseph’s brothers’ hatred using auxiliary yôsîp in Genesis 37:5, 8: “the attitude of his brothers towards Joseph is twice defined in these terms.”9 Nephi will similarly and repeatedly define his brothers’ attitude towards him, his father, and the Lord by using the similar “Joseph” terminology.
Moreover, Garsiel continues: “It should be noted that this hatred takes its rise from Jacob’s preferential love for Joseph.”10 Joseph’s and Nephi’s brothers “added” to hate11 them not only out of jealousy for their relationships with their fathers, but their anger and resentment towards them “increased” because of the spiritual gifts that they themselves did not possess, or had failed to cultivate (see especially 1 Nephi 15:1‒11).
Scene #1: “They Were Yet Wroth,
and Did Still Continue to Murmur”
Nephi’s use of Genesis 37 begins early in his small-plates record, the first “anger” scene occurring in 1 Nephi 3:28–4:4. Nephi establishes the basis for his brothers’ resentment even as he describes the point at which the trajectory of his life diverges from that of his brothers.12 Genesis 37 records that Joseph reported the “dream” or revelation that his brothers and parents would “bow down” to him (hištaḥăwâ [3 x], which in many [Page 119]contexts denotes “worship”).13 This is interpreted by his brothers as a claim of kingship and rule over them by their younger brother: “And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion [Hebrew timšōl, rule, be a ruler] over us?” (Genesis 37:8).14 Nephi similarly records a revelation that contained a divine promise that he, the younger brother, would “rule” over his older brothers: “thou shalt be made a ruler [môšēl]15 and a teacher over thy brethren” (1 Nephi 2:22).
Not coincidently, the very next episode he reports is the very one in which Nephi demonstrates his faithfulness and leadership vis-à-vis Laman and Lemuel. It is also no coincidence that his brothers’ anger began to surface in the episode after Nephi began to exert his leadership, which he begins to do in 1 Nephi 3:15‒23. When Nephi’s solution to obtaining the brass plates fails (see 1 Nephi 3:24‒27), Nephi’s brothers’ jealous anger flares up against him for the first time: “And it came to pass that Laman was angry with me, and also with my father” (1 Nephi 3:28). Laman and Lemuel later physically assault and abuse their brothers Sam and Nephi (see 1 Nephi 3:28). The beating ceases only after a divine messenger intervenes (1 Nephi 3:29).
Notably, it is at this very moment that “the angel turn[s] the tables”16 on Laman and Lemuel, who have been using a rod or stick to assert their authority17 as older brothers over their younger brothers as inferiors. The angel reveals to Nephi’s brothers the divine promise of “rule” that Nephi had received earlier, as recorded 1 Nephi 2:22 (see 1 Nephi 2:19‒24):
[Page 120]And it came to pass as they smote us with a rod, behold, an angel of the Lord came and stood before them, and he spake unto them, saying: Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you, and this because of your iniquities? Behold
ye shallthou shalt18 go up to Jerusalem again, and the Lord will deliver Laban into your hands. And after the angel had spokenspake19 unto us, he departed. (1 Nephi 3:29-30)
The angel’s words, of course, echo Joseph’s brothers’ words in Genesis 37:8: “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? Or shalt thou indeed have dominion [shalt thou indeed rule] over us?” The implicit answer to Joseph’s brothers’ question in terms of Nephi’s relationship to Laman and Lemuel is “yes.”
The lexical affinities between this scene and Genesis 37 are strengthened by the angel’s statement “thou shalt go up … again.” If spoken in Hebrew, which was presumably the case, the angel’s words probably used the yāsap-idiom, to “do something again.” The brothers already had “[gone] up again unto the house of Laban” at Nephi’s instigation (1 Nephi 3:23). The literary/rhetorical effect of this language in both instances is to recall the name Joseph, which (as noted above) derives from yāsap, and thus to associate Nephi with Joseph and Nephi’s brothers’ with Joseph’s brothers.
The same observations can be applied to what follows in 1 Nephi 3:31 after the angel had departed: “Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” The celestial glow of the angel had hardly dimmed, so to speak, when Laman and Lemuel “add” or “increase” their angry murmuring. The yāsap/yôsîp + verbal component idiom is reflected in the phrase “again began to murmur,” and it constitutes an echo of Genesis 37:5, 8 (“they hated him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd]”).
Unfortunately, the chapter division between 1 Nephi 3:31 and 1 Nephi 4:1 tends to obscure or obfuscate the pattern of iterative (yāsap ) action that Nephi emphasizes. In response to his brothers’ added or increased murmuring, Nephi then exhorts his brothers, reiterating the angel’s previous commandment: “I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem” (1 Nephi 4:1). Nephi resumes his leadership (his [Page 121]“ruling”), and his language recalls the name Joseph, whose revelations regarding his fraternal and family leadership the Lord eventually vindicated. Nephi understands that the Lord will vindicate the promises the Lord made to him regarding his own fraternal and family leadership role.
At this point, Nephi makes an even clearer allusion to Genesis 37 and the anger/hatred of Joseph’s brothers: “Now when I had spoken these words, they were20 yet [cf. ʿôd] wroth, and did still continue to murmur” (1 Nephi 4:4). Nephi’s statement not so subtly echoes Genesis 37:5, 8: “and they hated him yet the more” and “And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd] for his dreams, and for his words.” It should be noted here that one of the idiomatic senses of yāsap is to “continue to do [something], carry on doing,”21 i.e., continuing an activity. Nephi appears to split the yāsap/yôsip + ʿôd idiom from Genesis 37:5, 8 in connecting his brothers’ increased (and increasing) anger against him, to that of Joseph’s brothers.
Thus in 1 Nephi 2–4 we see the beginning of Nephi’s efforts throughout his personal record to adapt and permute the language of Genesis 37 in order to identify himself and his struggles with Joseph and his struggles, and to identify Laman and Lemuel with Joseph’s brothers. Nephi will return to the same language, including wordplay on the name Joseph, to further emphasize these connections. Nephi will not only demonstrate the reiteration of Laman and Lemuel’s anger that is progressing to hatred, but make additional allusions to Joseph’s story which show that Joseph’s revelations regarding his relationship with his brothers were fulfilled again or actualized in Nephi’s relationship with his inimical brothers Laman and Lemuel.
Scene #2: “They Were Angry with Me Again”
The second “anger” scene occurs in 1 Nephi 7:6‒21 on the return journey from Jerusalem to the valley of Lemuel. Laman and Lemuel notably appeared to have offered little resistance in the way of their trademark murmuring and complaining when Lehi commanded them to return to Jerusalem the second time on a mission to persuade Ishmael’s family to join them in the wilderness — a mission that, if successful, would result in their having suitable marriage partners. Their “sales pitch” is successful, and Ishmael’s family joins Lehi’s family in the wilderness. At [Page 122]this point, fraternal resentment against Nephi resurfaces in a scene that evokes Joseph’s brothers’ treatment of him in Genesis 37:
And it came to pass that when I, Nephi, had spoken these words unto my brethren, they were angry with me. And it came to pass that they did lay their hands upon me, for behold, they were exceedingly wroth, and they did bind me with cords, for they sought to take away my life, that they might leave me in the wilderness to be devoured by wild beasts [cf. especially Genesis 37:20]. But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in me,22 wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound. And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them again. And it came to pass that they were angry with me again, and sought to lay hands upon me; but behold, one of the daughters of Ishmael, yea, and also her mother, and one of the sons of Ishmael, did plead with my brethren, insomuch that they did soften their hearts; and they did cease striving to take away my life. And it came to pass that they were sorrowful, because of their wickedness, insomuch that they did bow down before me, and did plead with me that I would forgive them of the thing that they had done against me. (1 Nephi 7:16‒20)
Here again, Nephi includes several words and phrases that recall Genesis 37:5‒10, 20. Alluding to Joseph’s brothers’ “hate,” Nephi refers to his brothers’ anger three times: “they were angry with me,” “they were exceedingly wroth,” and “they were angry with me again.” Nephi intends the latter phrase to recall the twofold statement “they hated him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd]” with its wordplay on Joseph’s name. It will be remembered that the same verb used, yāsap, is the same Hebrew word frequently used to express iterative action — i.e., to “do something again.” Thus when Nephi says his brothers “were angry with me again” (1 Nephi 7:19), he intends his audience to recall how Joseph’s brothers “hated him yet the more” (Genesis 37:5, 8).
Similar narrative verbal art is evident in Nephi’s statement “and I spake unto them again” (cf. Isaiah 8:5 [2 Nephi 18:5]: “The Lord spake [Page 123]also unto me again [wayyôsep … ʿôd]”).23 Ordinarily this kind of statement would not draw much attention. However, in the context of Nephi’s attempt to draw connections between Joseph’s biography and his own, the apparent use of the yāsap-idiom reminds us that Nephi is speaking to his brothers as Joseph did and gendering a very similar response: attempted fratricide.
Another important narrative detail that Nephi must have included because it recalled Joseph’s biography is his brothers’ “bow[ing] down before [him].” This, of course, was the very essence of Joseph’s dreams and revelations — that he would “have dominion” or “rule” over his brothers:
And Joseph was the governor over the land, and he it was that sold to all the people of the land: and Joseph’s brethren came, and bowed down themselves [wayyištaḥăwû] before him with their faces to the earth. (Genesis 42:6)
And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him [wayyištaḥăwû lô] to the earth. And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well …? Is he yet alive? And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance [Qere: wayyištaḥăwû]. (Genesis 43:26‒28)
The two scenes in Genesis 42:6 and 43:26‒28 in which Joseph’s brothers bow down24 are matched by the two scenes in 1 Nephi 7 and 17 (on the latter, see below) in which Nephi’s brothers bow down to (or attempt to bow down and worship) him. Just as Joseph’s dream was fulfilled, Nephi wants us to see that the Lord’s promise that he would be “a ruler and a teacher” was already well on its way to being fulfilled.
The pericope concludes with another idiomatic yāsap/yôsîp + verbal complement25 statement: “And after they had done praying unto the [Page 124]Lord we did again travel on our journey towards the tent of our father” (1 Nephi 7:21). Nephi’s “Joseph” leadership and Joseph-like faith is responsible for the progress of the family in their journey.
Scene #3: “They Had Hardened Their Hearts Again”
The third “anger” scene occurs in 1 Nephi 16:18‒32 during the journey south-southeast through Arabia from the valley of Lemuel, which brought new perils to the family. Despite Lehi’s finding of the Liahona, “which led [the family] in the more fertile parts of the wilderness” (1 Nephi 16:16), broken and disabled bows eventually brought a hunger crisis upon the family. Nephi here reports the resurfacing of his brothers’ anger: “And it came to pass that as I, Nephi, went forth to slay food, behold, I did break my bow, which was made of fine steel; and after I did break my bow, behold, my brethren were angry with me because of the loss of my bow, for we did obtain no food” (1 Nephi 16:18). Nephi then adds, “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did speak much unto my brethren, because they had hardened their hearts again, even unto complaining against the Lord their God” (1 Nephi 16:22). Nephi’s brothers’ anger had become hardness of heart. In stating that “they had hardened their hearts again,” Nephi uses an expression that represents (or is) the yāsap + verbal complement construction, thus again subtly recalling the name Joseph and Joseph’s brothers’ increasing hate — their “hat[ing] him yet the more.”
Uncharacteristically, Nephi’s words “humbled” his brothers for the moment. Nephi’s faithfulness, ingenuity, and spiritual gifts enabled him to replace his lost bow and follow the directions on the Liahona to obtain food (1 Nephi 16:24‒32). Like Joseph’s actions during his captivity and sojourn in Egypt, Nephi’s efforts enable his family to survive and continue in their journey: “And it came to pass that we did again take our journey, … and after we had traveled for the space of many days we did pitch our tents again, that we might tarry for the space of a time (16:33). The verbal constructions here too probably represent the yāsap/yôsîp + verbal complement construction at some level, yet again recalling (if only subtly) the name Joseph.[Page 125]
Scene #4: “The Lord Did Bless Us Again”
The fourth “anger” scene occurs at “the place which was called Nahom,”26 as recorded in 1 Nephi 16:34–17:4. Unfortunately, here the anger and resentment of Nephi’s brothers surface and grow to the point that they plot both fratricide and patricide:
And thus they did murmur against my father, and also against me; and they were desirous to return again to Jerusalem. And Laman said unto Lemuel and also unto the sons of Ishmael: Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi, who has taken it upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren. Now, he says that the Lord has talked with him, and also that angels have ministered unto him. But behold, we know that he lies unto us; and he tells us these things, and he worketh many things by his cunning arts, that he may deceive our eyes, thinking, perhaps, that he may lead us away into some strange wilderness; and after he has led us away, he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us, that he may do with us according to his will and pleasure. And after this manner did my brother Laman stir up their hearts to anger. And it came to pass that the Lord was with us, yea, even the voice of the Lord came and did speak many words unto them, and did chasten them exceedingly; and after they were chastened by the voice of the Lord they did turn away their anger, and did repent of their sins, insomuch that the Lord did bless us again with food, that we did not perish. And it came to pass that we did again take our journey in the wilderness; and we did travel nearly eastward from that time forth. (1 Nephi 16:36‒1 Nephi 17:1)
Laman’s cohortative language, “Behold, let us slay our father, and also our brother Nephi,” is reported in a manner that echoes Joseph’s brothers’ proposed fratricide: “Come now therefore, and let us slay [Page 126]him” (Genesis 37:20). Laman accuses Nephi of unrighteous dominion, asserting: “[he] has taken upon him to be our ruler and our teacher, who are his elder brethren” and “he has thought to make himself a king and a ruler over us.” These accusations replicate Joseph’s brothers’ charge: “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” in Genesis 37:8. Ironically, Laman uses his anger to stir up Lemuel and others to anger in order to get his own way, a true attempt at unrighteous dominion.
Resentment at Nephi’s relationship with their father has, by this point, become not only a potential basis for fratricide but patricide. This marks a terrible progression in Laman’s anger. Jealousy of Nephi’s spiritual gifts — “the Lord has talked with him,” “angels have ministered unto him,” “cunning arts” — has clearly redoubled that anger. The situation becomes so serious this time that the Lord intervenes directly (1 Nephi 16:39). Only words of divine chastisement avert disaster for the entire clan. Finally, only in consequence of the chastisement, “they did turn away their anger” (1 Nephi 16:39). All of this yet again reminds us of Genesis 37:5, 8 and the repeated statement “and they hated him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd].”
Nephi’s statement that the brothers were “desirous to return again” may or may not represent another instance of the yāsap/yôsîp + verbal complement construction.27 However, his concluding statements in the pericope, “the Lord did bless us again with food” and “we did again take our journey,” very likely represent the yāsap/yôsîp + verbal complement construction, thus recalling the name Joseph and recalling the Lord’s preservation of life of Jacob’s entire family through Joseph (specifically in giving the family food). Nephi, like his ancestor Joseph, serves as the Lord’s instrument in the temporal salvation of the entire family, in spite of their being the objects of their brothers’ anger and hatred, and even perhaps because they are objects of such contempt.
Scene #5: “Stretch Forth Thine Hand Again”
The fifth recorded manifestation of Laman and Lemuel’s anger at Nephi occurs in the land Bountiful, after the Lord commands Nephi to build a ship and his brothers mock him and his endeavor, while refusing to [Page 127]help Nephi (1 Nephi 17:17–18:1). Nephi then gives them a prolonged exhortation replete with lessons from ancient Israelite history (1 Nephi 17:23‒43) and from the family’s own more recent history (1 Nephi 17:44‒47). Just as Joseph’s “words” engendered hatred in his brothers, Nephi’s words yet again have the effect of angering his brothers: “And now it came to pass that when I had spoken these words they were angry with me, and were desirous to throw me into the depths of the sea” (1 Nephi 17:48). When Nephi’s brothers “came forth to lay their hands upon [him],” Nephi drew upon divine power “even unto the consuming of [his] flesh” and commanded his brothers to cease and desist, lest they “wither even as a dried reed” and “God … smite [them]” (1 Nephi 17:48). Nephi further admonished them in words that echo the name Joseph: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto them that they should murmur no more [cf. (wĕ)-lōʾ yōsipû … ʿôd]28 against their father; neither should they withhold their labor from me, for God had commanded me that I should build a ship.” Nephi’s express wish that “they should murmur no more” (1 Nephi 17:49) constitutes yet another permutation of the phrase “they hated him yet the more” in Genesis 37:5, 8. Nephi wanted and needed his brothers to cease acting as Joseph’s brothers had acted towards Joseph, which they did for a little while. Nephi informs us that his brothers “were confounded and could not contend against me; neither durst they lay their hands upon me nor touch me with their fingers, even for the space of many days. Now they durst not do this lest they should wither before me” (1 Nephi 17:52).
It is probably significant that the Lord, at this point, commands Nephi to demonstrate the divine power within him in words that also echo the name Joseph. The response that this divine power effects further echoes Joseph’s biography:
And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: Stretch forth thine hand again unto thy brethren, and they shall not wither before thee, but I will shock [shake]29 them, saith the Lord, and this will I do, that they may know that I am the Lord their God. And it came to pass that I stretched forth my hand unto my brethren, and they did not wither before me; but the Lord did shake them, even according to the word which he had spoken. And now, they said: We know of a surety that the [Page 128]Lord is with thee, for we know that it is the power of the Lord that has shaken us. And they fell down before me, and were about to worship me, but I would not suffer them, saying: I am thy brother, yea, even thy younger brother; wherefore, worship the Lord thy God, and honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee. (1 Nephi 17:53‒55)
The command “stretch forth thine hand again” — if a representation or manifestation of the yāsap + verbal complement construction, as seems likely — echoes the name Joseph and the idea that “the Lord was with Joseph,” as in Genesis 39:2, 2130 (see especially Nephi’s brothers’ statement, “we know that the Lord is with thee”). This command also echoes a commandment given twice to Moses in Exodus 8:5 and 9:22, when Moses is given divine power to accomplish the plagues in Egypt. The Lord was with Nephi (1 Nephi 17:55) just as he was with Moses (Exodus 3:12).31
Moreover, for a second time, Laman and Lemuel fall down before Nephi and are about to “worship” him — i.e., observe hištaḥăwâ or proskynesis. This scene not only recalls the incident in the wilderness in 1 Nephi 7, but also recalls Genesis 37 and Joseph’s prophecy that his brothers would “bow down” or “do obeisance”/“worship” before him and its fulfillment in Genesis 42:6 and 43:26‒28. Nephi’s brothers likewise have bowed down to him twice. Nephi had become “ruler” over his brothers, just as Joseph had become “ruler” over his.
Nephi’s description of the completed ship that would carry the family to the New World contains an echo of both his name and the name Joseph: “And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord” (1 Nephi 18:4). Nephi here makes a possible wordplay on his own name — Nephi (Egyptian nfr = “good”)32 — the ship being “good” because of its divinely directed [Page 129]builder. Moreover, Nephi brings together the image of the brothers “bowing down,” here alluded to less concretely in the phrase “they did humble themselves,” together with the yāsap/yôsîp + verb complement construction of iterative action (“to do something again”), recalling the name Joseph. The point here too is that Nephi had become their “ruler” and their “teacher.” The completed ship was such stark proof of that fact, and at this point not even Nephi’s brothers could deny it.
Scene #6: “We Sailed Again Towards the Promised Land”
The sixth recorded “anger” scene (1 Nephi 18:4‒22) occurs on the ship built under Nephi’s inspired leadership, as the Lehite-Ishmaelite clan travel to the Promised Land over the “great deep.” Predictably, Nephi’s brothers’ being “humble before the Lord” has a short shelf life. On the journey across the “great waters,” Nephi’s brothers’ anger resurfaces in its most brutal manifestation thus far. The brothers’ pretext again is alleged unrighteous dominion — Nephi’s being a “ruler” over them:
And after we had been driven forth before the wind for the space of many days, behold, my brethren and the sons of Ishmael and also their wives began to make themselves merry, insomuch that they began to dance, and to sing, and to speak with much rudeness, yea, even that they did forget by what power they had been brought thither; yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness. And I, Nephi, began to fear exceedingly lest the Lord should be angry with us, and smite us because of our iniquity, that we should be swallowed up in the depths of the sea; wherefore, I, Nephi, began to speak to them with much soberness; but behold they were angry with me, saying: We will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us. And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel did take me and bind me with cords, and they did treat me with much harshness; nevertheless, the Lord did suffer it that he might show forth his power, unto the fulfilling of his word which he had spoken concerning the wicked. (1 Nephi 18:9‒11)
The brothers’ declamation “we will not that our younger brother shall be a ruler over us,” again recalling Joseph’s brothers’ words in Genesis 37 (“Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have [Page 130]dominion [timšōl, rule] over us?”), is highly ironic, given everything that has transpired during the Lehite/Ishmaelite clan’s journey through the wilderness, and the preservation of life that Nephi’s leadership has accomplished. It is perhaps even more ironic that they reacted against Nephi’s leadership (as “ruler”)33 by exercising unrighteous dominion or “rule” of the worst kind over the rest of the family.
That Nephi still had the Lord’s approval is evident in the violence of the storm that arose when Laman and Lemuel, et al., confined him and abused him (1 Nephi 18:10‒20), and the “great calm” that prevailed when they released him (1 Nephi 18:21). Nephi offers another echo of the name “Joseph” when he reports, “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land” (1 Nephi 18:22). As it was with Joseph, so it was with Nephi: “the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand” (Genesis 39:3) and “that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper” (Genesis 39:23).
Scene #7: “Do Not Anger Again Because of Mine Enemies”
The seventh, final, and most complex “anger” scene occurs in 2 Nephi 4–5, although it is anticipated already in Lehi’s speech in 2 Nephi 1. Given that the number seven in Hebrew denotes completion, fullness, perfection and the like,34 I suggest that this represents a deliberate authorial and narratalogical decision on Nephi’s part. The fruit of Laman and Lemuel’s “increasing” anger finally ripened.
Lehi’s paranetic speech to his sons in the New World, as reported by Nephi, commanded them: “Rebel no more [cf. ʾal tōsipû] against your brother, whose views have been glorious, and who hath kept the commandments from the time that35 we left Jerusalem; and who hath been an instrument in the hands of God, in bringing us forth into the land of promise; for were it not for him, we must have perished with hunger in the wilderness; nevertheless, ye sought to take away his life” (2 Nephi 1:24). Nephi, like Joseph, had been the Lord’s instrument in preserving life of his entire bêt-ʾāb (“father’s house”). Lehi’s use of a negative imperative + “no more” probably represents ʾal tōsipû in spoken Hebrew, constituting in the context of all the foregoing yet another allusion to and wordplay on the name Joseph.
[Page 131]Lehi then addresses Nephi’s suffering and addresses the brothers’ accusation of unrighteous dominion:
Yea, and he hath suffered much sorrow because of you. And I exceedingly fear and tremble because of you, lest he shall suffer again; for behold, ye have accused him that he sought power and authority over you; but I know that he hath not sought for power nor authority over you, but he hath sought the glory of God, and your own eternal welfare. (2 Nephi 1:24‒25)
Lehi’s statement “I exceedingly fear … lest [Nephi] suffer again” is to be understood in connection with his earlier command “Rebel no more against thy brother.” The former, like the latter, appears to represent the yāsap/yôsîp + verbal complement construction. If so, Lehi (and Nephi) are making a very pointed connection between Nephi and his ancestor Joseph and clearly evoking the latter’s name.
Nephi’s specific, repeated mention of the “anger” of his brethren before 2 Nephi 5, rather than their hatred, which he finally mentions in 2 Nephi 5 — although that they hated Nephi was unquestionably true — may point to Jacob’s mention of Simeon and Levi’s disqualifying themselves from possible birthright blessings because of their “anger” (see Genesis 49:6‒7 referring to the story told in Genesis 35:25‒29, just as Reuben and Judah would also disqualify themselves on moral grounds). A major point of Nephi’s record is to show how Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael had disinherited themselves and their posterity (for a time) from specific spiritual blessings (see 2 Nephi 1) and from the right to rule.36
Nephi states that as soon as Lehi was dead, their anger resurfaced: “And it came to pass that not many days after his death, Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael were angry with me because of the admonitions of the Lord” (2 Nephi 4:13). We anticipate a scene that will unfold like the previous six (1 Nephi 3:28–4:4; 7:6‒21; 16:18‒32, 16:34–17:4; 17:17–18:1, 18:4‒22).
We recall that Lehi defends Nephi against the apparent countercharge of his brothers that Nephi had been “angry” and used “anger” as a means of compulsion — another reiteration of the accusation that he was guilty of unrighteous dominion:
[Page 132]And ye have murmured because he hath been plain unto you. Ye say that he hath used sharpness; ye say that he hath been angry with you; but behold, his sharpness was the sharpness of the power of the word of God, which was in him; and that which ye call anger was the truth, according to that which is in God, which he could not
restrainconstrain,37 manifesting boldly concerning your iniquities. (2 Nephi 1:26)
But we learn in Nephi’s “Psalm” (2 Nephi 4:16‒35) that Nephi had been “angry” and that he had been grappling with “anger.” And Nephi is quite upset about it.
Nephi lamented the anger he had felt and still felt at the time of the writing of his psalm — anger that arose in response to the repeated anger directed at him by his brothers and the repeated physical, mental, and emotional abuse heaped upon him by the very older brothers who should have loved and nurtured him:
And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy [the one who hates me]? Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul [the one who hates my soul]. Do not anger again [do not add to be angry] because of mine enemies [those who hate me]. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. (2 Nephi 4:27‒29)
Whatever anger Nephi felt and to whatever degree he felt it, that anger did not lead him to plot fratricide or patricide, as did his brothers’ anger. Nephi had, rather, ever “sought the glory of God, and [their] eternal welfare” (2 Nephi 1:25). Nevertheless, Nephi’s anger had brought him too close to the anger of Joseph’s brothers and his own brothers for comfort. It is Nephi’s admission of this fact that makes the wordplay on “Joseph” in 2 Nephi 4–5 — not least the phrases “do not anger again” and “their anger increased against me” — the most interesting and significant permutation of the “Joseph” wordplay in Nephi’s writings.
Nephi recognized that his brothers’ anger would determine their eternal destiny (see Lehi’s “fear[ing] exceedingly” for them in 1 Nephi 8:4‒36; and Nephi’s own fear in 1 Nephi 17:47: “I fear lest ye shall be cast off forever”). Nephi wanted no part of that. It will be remembered that in his words to his sons, Lehi deployed the “awake” language of [Page 133]Isaiah 51:9, 17; 52:1 (2 Nephi 1:13‒14, 23). Nephi likens this “awake” language to himself and his soul. Nephi’s use of terms translated “no longer,” “no more,” “do not … again” are probably drawn ultimately from the “no more” of Isaiah 51:22 (“thou shalt no more drink it again [lōʾ tôsîpî … ʿôd]”) and 52:1 “there shall no more [lōʾ yôsîp … ʿôd] come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean.” These statements are also meant to recall Lehi’s statements “rebel no more” (2 Nephi 1:24) and “he shall suffer again” (2 Nephi 1:25). All these texts echo the name of Joseph, with whom Nephi so thoroughly identifies himself.
Following his psalm, Nephi resumes the story of his brothers’ anger and its consequences:
Behold, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did cry much unto the Lord my God, because of the anger of my brethren. But behold, their anger did increase [Hebrew yāsap] against me, insomuch that they did seek to take away my life. 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 tothat he shall be38 our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people. 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 Nephi 5:1‒4)
The wordplay on “Joseph” in this passage is twofold: “their anger did increase” represents and alludes to the use of the Hebrew verb yāsap in Genesis 37:5, 8 (as noted previously). In other words, the “increase” of fraternal anger that represents Nephi’s brothers’ attitude towards him matches the increase in hatred (“they hated him yet the more”) that represents Joseph’s brothers towards him.
Concomitant with the “increase” of their anger is another play on the name “Joseph” (as presented in the text) and one of the saddest statements that occur in Nephi’s writings, if not in the entire Book of Mormon: “Now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words.” Nephi’s brothers, like Joseph’s brothers, wanted to kill him “because of his words.” Laman and Lemuel, et al., would never again have Nephi’s words in mortality — and for many years, neither would their posterity. The “rule” that Nephi’s spiritual leadership offered [Page 134]would have helped Laman and Lemuel’s posterity avoid the pitfalls that Laman’s “rule” caused the descendants of those family members who followed him. Nephi here concludes “that the words of the Lord had been fulfilled unto my brethren, which he spake concerning them [in 1 Nephi 2:22, reiterated by the angel in 1 Nephi 3:29], 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” (2 Nephi 5:19).
For his part, Laman’s “rule” among his siblings and their families (to this point) constituted abuse and unrighteous dominion. Nephi and those who followed him were compelled to flee that situation. The remainder of the family were “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20), as the Lord first foretold to Nephi and separately to his father Lehi (Alma 50:20; 1 Nephi 2:21; 2 Nephi 1:20; 4:4).39
“Ye Shall See My Face No More” (Genesis 44:23): Implications of the Final Familial Breach in 2 Nephi 5
Nephi’s brothers’ stated wish was to “not be afflicted more because of his words” (2 Nephi 5:3). This language recalls, in a rather ironic way, a later scene in Genesis 44 between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph as ruler in Egypt, as yet unknown to the very brothers who had sold him as a slave into Egypt, said to them as recalled by Judah: “And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more [lōʾ tōsipûn]” (Genesis 44:23).
The ending of the story for Joseph and his brothers is ultimately a happy one. As for Nephi and his brothers, they never “added” to see Joseph’s face — they would “see [his] face no more.” Moreover, they were cut off from the Lord’s “face” or “presence.” The divinely mandated departure of Nephi and those who would follow him marked a permanent breach in the family: “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” (2 Nephi 5:14). Nephi’s brothers’ anger had now “increased” to full-blown hate — a full-blown generational hatred with long-lasting consequences.40
[Page 135]That this breach pained Nephi for the rest of his life is evident in one of the last statements he makes at the end of his record, evidently near the end of his life: “And it [Nephi’s record/words] speaketh harshly against sin, according to the plainness of the truth; wherefore, no man will be angry at the words which I have written save he shall be of the spirit of the devil” (2 Nephi 33:5). Nephi knew by hard, painful personal experience about what kind of person would “anger” at his words and why, just as his ancestor Joseph had learned (see Genesis 37:8). Nephi had faced the “enemy of [his] soul” who made himself manifest in his brothers’ anger time and time again, yet Nephi still had “great faith in Christ that [he would] meet many souls spotless at his judgment-seat” (2 Nephi 33:7), including the souls of his brothers’ descendants.
Nephi’s autobiographical adaptation of the wordplay in Genesis 37:5‒8 constitutes a sophisticated use of scripture in texts that themselves have become scripture. This shrewd adaptation of biblical wordplay is not likely to be the work of a 19th century agrarian youth of limited literary attainments, but of an ancient Israelite familiar with an ancient version of Joseph’s biography and the wordplay on Joseph’s name in Genesis 37:5, 8 and elsewhere.
Nephi’s inclusion of seven scenes — a number that denotes fullness or completion — describing his brother’s increasing anger. In every case these scenes include a permutation of the phrase “they hated him yet the more [wayyôsipû ʿôd]” or otherwise include language that represents [Page 136]the yāsap/yôsîp + verbal component idiom, recalling the name and life of Joseph.” This “Joseph” wordplay revolves around the anger of Nephi’s brothers and their attitude towards him, thus recalling Joseph’s brothers’ hatred of Joseph and its consequences. Although the ending of the story of Joseph and his brothers was a happy one, and the story of Nephi and his brothers was not, Nephi, Jacob, Enos and others continued to pray for the reconciliation the Nephites and the Lamanites. The stories of Joseph and his brothers and the story of Jacob and Esau gave them that hope that there could be such a reconciliation.41
[Editor’s note: The author would like to thank Allen Wyatt, Parker Jackson, and Tim Guymon.]