“Because of Their Prosperity in Christ”

Brant Gardner

This is the beginning of the end. While the Nephites have at times endured prosperity and survived, it has been rare. The very conception of prosperity has always included contact with and influence from the outside cultures that do not share Nephite values. While the capstone of the “perfect” two hundred years is prosperity and growth, it carries with it the seeds of the eventual end of the Nephites.

“Because of Their Prosperity in Christ”

Still within the first hundred years, Mormon begins to turn his attention away from the constructed pseudo-millennial conditions of the first two hundred years to the events that will come in the second two hundred years. One of the important parts of this end-story is the continuing story of the record. Indeed, the record itself becomes more important in Mormon’s text than it has ever been . Mormon has previously marked the passage of the record as part of the larger books that it detailed, but now the story focuses more on the record than on the specific events. The reason for this is that we are moving from the generic history into specific history, and the specific history is Mormon’s own. Mormon’s history is inextricably intertwined with the story of the record. While Mormon was a general and involved in war, it is nevertheless this record that occupies his mind when he is writing in the record. It is the command to create this record that dictates what we see in the record, and we should therefore have no surprise in his concentration on the record itself. In this context, it is important to remember than Mormon also made certain to record the Savior’s admonitions about record keeping, and in particular, the role of this very record that Mormon is creating.

The transmission of the record begins with Nephi the son of Nephi. We have this information from the header of the book, but there is no indication of Nephi as a writer on the plates until Mormon describes the transmission from Nephi to his son Amos. Nephi may have written on the plates, but we cannot reconstruct with confidence anything from his record. Mormon has so completely recast that information that we can only suppose that there were details of a people living in righteousness and without conflict. Mormon does not give us those details, but rather the generalization.

The next piece of information that we seem to find in the plates is an alteration in the transmission sequence. The large plates of Nephi have been part of the Nephite dynastic record. However, that government was dissolved, and there was no dynasty that could deal with the records. Nephi’s father Nephi was the source material for 3 Nephi, but his book appears to have come from outside the plate tradition, and Mormon had indicated that he was taking his account of the Savior’s visit from Nephi’s more personal record rather than the “official” large plates.

Mormon does not give us enough information to be certain how the transmission lines worked from the end of the Book of Helaman to this book we know as 4 Nephi. There is no clear shift in dynasty, but it does appear that this particular Nephi’s record functioned dynastically. As with other records, Nephi is not the only one to write in this record. It contains Amos and Ammaron as well. Mormon gives us no information on the Nephi political organization, but if we use the textual transmission as a reflection of the political tides, as it has been to this point, then we may speculate. We have seen that the book name changes when there is a change in the dynastic record. Sometimes the change has been only political, and sometimes it the book name change has come from the movement of the record in and out of the political arena to the religious sphere. Nephi the father of this Nephi was outside of the political arena. With the shift in named books, it is therefore possible that we are seeing in our 4 Nephi the creation of a new dynastic record. This would be the only evidence we have of the political situation of the post-Messianic-visit political organization of the Nephites are they went through their rebuilding time. They certainly would have had some form of political organization, but Mormon does not tell us what it is. With the evidence of a book name change, we may suggest that Nephi the son of Nephi became the ruler, and therefore the de facto keeper of the records. This would further suggest Amos and his son Amon (as well as Ammaron?) as rulers of the Nephites for the first three hundred years. The closing and concealing of the record by Ammaron that we will see in this book would indicate the end of the dynasty, and more than Mormon’s discussion, tell us that there was great upheaval in the Nephite world at that time.

Social: Verse 20 tells us that there were again Lamanites in the land. The introduction of this term is important to our story. Mormon tells us:

“part of the people who had revolted from the church and taken upon them the name of Lamanites.”

The first definition of Lamanites is not longer specifically political, but importantly religious. With the linkage between religion and government in the ancient world, this would also have included a separation politically, but Mormon’s emphasis is on the religion. From this point to the end of the Book of Mormon, the destruction of the Nephites does not really indication the destruction of a physical people, but of a type of people. There will be a destruction of the political organization, but only after the destruction of most of the religious underpinning of that society. The story of the Book of Mormon is certainly not a political one, but a spiritual one. Therefore when a division is made, it is made along religious lines. The gospel has been rejected, and the unity of religion in the land is gone. Indeed, from this point on Mormon will describe more religious diversity, and therefore more competing ideas and attached political systems that will pull on the Nephite society until it pulls them apart.

Chronological: Two hundred years in the Nephite year-count would correspond to 196 A. D. in this correlation.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon