A Picture of Nephi; What’s in the Background?
Have you ever seen a picture that has obviously been tampered with? When I was younger, my three brothers and I went hunting and had each of our pictures taken separately with the same four-point buck. One of my brothers eventually modified the pictures and put them together to form one panoramic view of four brothers in the same location having bagged four four-point bucks. At a glance the picture looked real enough, but up close under greater scrutiny one could see that each hunter had the same weeds near their knees. The mountains in the background were similar like a string of paper dolls cut from the same sheet. The four bucks had the same tilt on each tine and looked suspiciously similar except for the different angles in which they lay in the picture. To the simple eye this was the luckiest day ever for the four brothers, but for the inquisitive eye, the panoramic view was a glaring forgery.
In 1830 Joseph Smith introduced the world to a young author named Nephi, the alleged author of the books of First & Second Nephi (I & II Nephi) in the BkM. In our minds we paint a picture of this young man as we read of the challenges and victories he lived through while following God’s lead in a difficult time as he begins to record a family history. On the surface Nephi appears to be a young man full of faith and desire to obey God, but to see the picture clearly we must step back and view the picture of Nephi with all of its background and then move in close and scrutinize every detail. Where was this picture taken? At what time was this picture taken? Who is standing in the background? What events have recently happened that may affect how we view this picture? All of these questions and more must be considered before we can be sure the picture of Nephi we paint in our minds is not a forgery.
Nephi’s story begins in Jerusalem at the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah. What can we learn about this time and event? Through our studies in the Bible we learn that it was Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who appointed Zedekiah to be the king of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar had just accomplished a siege against Jerusalem that ended with the former king of Judah, Jehoiachin, leaving the city and being carried off to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had also, just prior to Zedekiah’s reign, removed the golden treasures from the temple and taken them to Babylon. He had deported all of the craftsmen and smiths from Jerusalem, all the princes, all the mighty men of valor, the mighty of the land, and all that were strong and apt for war. Everybody except the poorest sort of the people of the land were carried out of Jerusalem and taken captive to Babylon. These events occurred just prior to Zedekiah’s appointment by King Nebuchadnezzar. At the beginning of the book of I Nephi we see that Nephi and his family had just lived through a terrible time in Jerusalem, or had they?
Nephi does not tell us specifically how old he was when he begins the book of I Nephi other than to say that he was exceedingly young. As we read we learn that he was the youngest of four sons of a man named Lehi. By a careful consideration of Nephi’s characteristics recorded in I Nephi we can assume that he was between fifteen and twenty years of age. A calculated guess would determine his father Lehi to have been at least forty-five to fifty years old. As lifelong Jerusalem residents, Nephi and his family would have lived through part of the Prophet Jeremiah’s prophecies which led up to Nebuchadnezzar’s second siege of Jerusalem and Zedekiah’s appointment as king of Judah. Nephi verifies this when the writings of the Prophet Jeremiah are mentioned in the book of I Nephi. This leads the author to ask some questions. Did the Prophet Jeremiah know these men? Did Lehi and Nephi know Jeremiah? Did Jeremiah have anything to say about these two men? Do his writings support Nephi’s story?
The Prophet Jeremiah preached repentance to the people of Jerusalem prior to Zedekiah’s appointment, (The beginning point of the BkM). Unfortunately, the chapter divisions of Jeremiah’s written record are not dated specifically as to which year each chapter applied. Zedekiah’s name mentioned first in chapter twenty-one leads the researcher to believe that the first twenty chapters of the book of Jeremiah all preceded Zedekiah. Certain events listed in later chapters as well as the mention of kings who reigned prior to Zedekiah indicate that those chapters also must predate Zedekiah. A thorough study of the book of Jeremiah is invited for all readers. It can be calculated that he proclaimed God’s messages to the Jerusalem residents for roughly thirty years prior to Zedekiah’s reign and for eleven years during Zedekiah’s reign. Everything written by Jeremiah to the Jerusalem residents preceding Zedekiah’s reign would have applied to Nephi’s father Lehi, and some to Nephi himself, had they truly existed as Jerusalem residents all of their lives. It is God’s voice that speaks through the Prophet Jeremiah’s messages. What did God say about Lehi and Nephi?
Mormonism stands upon the story that Joseph Smith presented to the world in the BkM. Joseph Smith claimed to have been directed by the angel Moroni to dig up hidden golden plates that contained records of Nephi and his descendants. Having done so, we are told that Joseph Smith then translated those ancient records by God’s help and produced an historically accurate record of Nephi and his family who were allegedly the early ancestors of the American Indians, and how they came to dwell in the Americas.
In the BkM Jesus is recorded as having visited the descendants of Nephi to preach the gospel to them about the time of his crucifixion in Jerusalem. Much of what Jesus is credited with having taught Nephi’s descendants is written in the BkM. For this reason, the BkM claims to be another testament of Jesus, and the Mormon Church claims to be a Christian Church.
Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth prophet and president of the Mormon Church, stated the following:
Mr. Smith opened a door of invitation when he stated that Joseph Smith should be exposed as a deceiver if, in fact, he was. Many have taken up that challenge. Since the introduction of the BkM in 1830, numerous volumes considering doctrinal differences between it and the Bible have been written. Archeological studies have been done in an attempt to verify or disprove the existence of the peoples mentioned within its pages. Historical evidence has been gathered to determine the credibility of Joseph Smith the author, or the translator of the golden plates, as Joseph Smith claimed. With the recent advent of DNA research, studies have considered the possibility of DNA evidence among Native American Indian tribes as a means to validate the historical accuracy of the BkM.8 The mass of evidence has proven the BkM claims to be false. One could ask why another book need be written in this endless pursuit? The answer- because Joseph Fielding Smith was absolutely correct! If Joseph Smith was a deceiver, who willfully attempted to mislead the people, then he should be exposed!