“Nephi Who Was the Father of Nephi”

Brant Gardner

Social: The essential organization of Nephite society continues to have judges, and Lachoneous serves in the position of the chief judge. Nephi is the religious leader of the people of the church, but he is on the outside of political power. Even though the overt Gadiantons were exiled, the majority of Nephites have adopted a political and religious philosophy that is contrary to the gospel (they follow the order of Nehor). Nephi is therefore the leader of a minority religious organization.

Textual: Quite obviously we have a new book that has changed from the book of Helaman to the book of Nephi. In the 1830 edition this is simply listed as the “book of Nephi.” The designation of “3 Nephi” was added later to assist in differentiation from the other books of Nephi. In Mormon’s original text, there would not have been the confusion that we have in the current Book of Mormon because the two books we have as 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi were not part of his abridgement. Rather than a “1 Nephi,” Mormon had the book of Lehi.

As we begin the book of 3 Nephi, Nephi the son of Helaman is still alive. He is the same Nephi whose story occupies a good deal of the end of the book of Helaman. Why change book names now?

The hypothesis of book names that has been developed to this point in the commentary suggests that the change in books should represent a change in dynasty. This cannot be the case because a change in dynasty refers to those who are ruling. Helaman, Nephi’s father, was a sitting chief judge, and Nephi was chief judge for a time (Helaman 3:37 records his ascension to the judgment-seat. Helaman 5:1 records his relinquishing the judgment seat to Cezoram. Nephi the son of Nephi is not a sitting chief judge, nor ever was.

It is in this transition from political power to religious position that explains our shift in the textual tradition. When Nephi left the judgment-seat, he brought his record with him. That record had begun with the ascension of his father, Helaman, to the chief judge’s seat (recorded in Helaman 2:2). The transition from book to book is confusing at this point in the Book of Mormon because we have so many fathers and sons with the same names, and the names do not always correspond to the book names. To have a better picture of the reasons for the book name changes, the following traces the books and people:

Book of Alma: Begun by Alma the Younger, son of Alma the Elder. Alma the Younger begins a new book because he becomes the chief judge, which is a change in ruling lines after the close of the Nephite monarchy at the end of the reign of Mosiah. Alma the Younger relinquishes the chief judge’s seat, but retains the record of his “dynasty.” His son, Helaman, continues to write in the “dynastic book” of his father. By the time Helaman is writing, the book of Alma does not represent the political record.

Book of Helaman: Helaman, the son of Helaman, accedes to the chief judge seat. As the beginning of a new political line, there is a change in “recording dynasty” and therefore we have a new book, named for Helaman, son of Helaman. In this book, we have Nephi, the son of Helaman, adding his own record into the dynastic record. However, Nephi was removed from the chief judge-seat, and the record of Nephi the son of Helaman ends with Nephi outside of the political line, but retaining the dynastic record begun by his father.

Book of 3 Nephi: This is the book of Nephi the son of Nephi (the charge concerning the records is discussed in the next verse). Following the model of Helaman writing in the book of Alma, we might expect that Nephi, the son of Nephi, would have written in the same book as his father. This does not appear to have happened, as we have the very obvious change of book names for 3 Nephi. How might we explain this change?

The most significant piece of information comes from later in 3 Nephi. Mormon tells us something about the source of this account:

3 Nephi 5:8-10

8 And there had many things transpired which, in the eyes of some, would be great and marvelous; nevertheless, they cannot all be written in this book; yea, this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done among so many people in the space of twenty and five years;

9 But behold there are records which do contain all the proceedings of this people; and a shorter but true account was given by Nephi.

10 Therefore I have made my record of these things according to the record of Nephi, which was engraven on the plates which were called the plates of Nephi.

As Mormon discusses his sources, he notes that he is taking the information about the appearance of the Messiah from a “shorter” account written by Nephi. His other option was “records which do contain all the proceedings of this people.” That description would best fit the type of record that the official large plate tradition appears to have been. Neverhtheless, he specifically notes that this “shorter” record of Nephi is “engraven on the plates which were called the plates of Nephi.”

It would seem that the best way to understand this particular book is that it was written as a separate record apart from the official plate tradition. Lachoneous was chief judge as this book of Nephi opens and Lachoneous would have continued the “official” plate of Nephi tradition. Nevertheless, after the time of the destruction that accompanied the arrival of the Messiah in the New World, there was a new order, with the righteous Nephites returned to the majority, and returned to leadership in the community. It would be at that time that this “shorter” record was added. As a record from outside the standard provenance, it may have had a separate name inside the large plate tradition, and that separate name was retained in this redaction into Mormon’s plates.

Chronological: The ninety-first year of the reign of the judges is approximately 5BC. In the Book of Mormon, the signs of the birth of the Savior will come in the ninety-second year.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon