“I Saw the Devil That He Was the Founder of It”

Brant Gardner

Just as Babylon could represent a multitude of specific cities, it could also represent a countervailing image for the church of God. Babylon is juxtaposed to Jerusalem, with both functioning as symbols rather than as literal cities. Both symbolize the juxtaposition of Satan and Christ, and the ultimate victory of Christ. Nephi’s great and abominable church serves the same function. The dualism is spelled out in 1 Nephi 14:10: “And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.”

In this comparison, the conflict is simplified to its most basic form: good versus evil, with the church of the Lamb of God directly counterbalancing the church of the devil. In the cosmic struggle, there are only two options.

History: Nephi provides some specific descriptions of the way the great and abominable church treats the saints: “which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.” While several of these, such as “yoking” and “binding” might be seen as generic descriptions, it is perhaps more difficult to fit the concept of “torture” into a putative conflict between “churches.” However, it may also be that Nephi is seeing very specific things that prophesy the way his own descendants will be treated by a competing religion in the New World. Torture and binding of captives are specific traits of the Maya cult of war. (See commentary accompanying Alma 24:9–11.) It is particularly interesting that we see some of these specifics in the events Mormon describes for the end of the Nephites. (See Mormon, Part 1: Context, Chapter 1, “Introduction to the Book of Mormon.”)

Variant: The original manuscript and the 1830 edition show this passage as saying: “I saw the devil that he was the founder of it.” The 1837–1920 editions read: “he was the founderfoundation of it.” It was restored to the original wording in the 1981 edition. Similarly, Oliver Cowdery copied the original’s formation as foundation into the printer’s manuscript in verses 4 and 5 and also in 1 Nephi 13:26 and 13:32. Skousen notes that “it is difficult to determine whether Oliver’s three changes are accidental or intentional. If the change had occurred only once, we would readily suspect that Oliver accidentally misread scribe 2’s formation as foundation. On the other hand, since the change occurred three out of four times, it is possible that for some reason Oliver thought foundation was more suitable than formation.”

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1