Evidence #354 | July 5, 2022

Nephi as a New King

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Nephi’s brief account of his calling as a king among his fledgling society adheres remarkably well to ancient Near Eastern conventions.

After escaping from the murderous intentions of his brothers, Nephi and his followers established a new community (2 Nephi 5:2–7). In his telling of this founding period, Nephi provided the following information:1

1. He cited the Lord’s prior promise that he would “be made a ruler and a teacher” over his brethren (1 Nephi 2:22), thus legitimizing Nephi’s eventual calling as a king (2 Nephi 5:18).

2. Under his leadership, Nephi’s people “did observe to keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things, according to the law of Moses” (2 Nephi 5:10). Nephi also reported a new divine law that prohibited inter-tribal marriages between the Nephites and Lamanites (v. 23), similar to the statute found in Deuteronomy 7:3–4.

3. Nephi “did consecrate Jacob and Joseph, that they should be priests and teachers over the land of my people” (2 Nephi 5:26).

4. Nephi “did build a temple … after the manner of the temple of Solomon” (2 Nephi 5:16). At the Lord’s command, he also made a new set of metal “plates” upon which he “engraved that which is pleasing unto God” (2 Nephi 5:30–32). These plates were specifically meant to be “for the profit” of his people.

5. Immediately afterwards, Nephi recorded the covenantal sermon preached by Jacob at the temple (2 Nephi 6–10).

These details don’t seem to be included by happenstance. Instead, they reflect the regular actions of newly called kings in the ancient Near East. According to John Lundquist and John Welch, “On such occasions in antiquity new kings would typically (1) cite their divine calling, (2) issue new laws, (3) ordain officers, (4) erect monuments, and (5) enter into a new legal order by way of covenant with a ritually prepared community.”2

Nephi making plates. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

The close correlation between kingship and temple-building is especially noteworthy.

Building (or renovating) a temple was an integral part in the legal formation of states and societies in the ancient Near East. … Becoming a king, issuing laws or judgments, and performing many other acts of legal consequence in the ancient world were virtually unthinkable without a temple in which such acts could be solemnized in the presence of a god. A new king would announce interim legislation establishing himself as a king of justice (as in 2 Nephi 5:10), but as soon as possible in the first decade of his rule, “the king builds, renovates, or rededicates the main temple of his city, at which time the fuller version of the laws is decreed and elaborated into a stele by royal scribes.”3

Conclusion

Nephi’s brief account of his calling as a king among a fledgling society adheres remarkably well to ancient Near Eastern conventions. This situation is fitting, seeing that the founding members of Nephi’s community all emigrated from Jerusalem. They would likely have been familiar with such protocols, and even expected them of a new, divinely-appointed monarch.

John M. Lundquist and John W. Welch, “Kingship and Temple in 2 Nephi 5–10,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1992), 66–68.

John M. Lundquist, “Temple, Covenant, and Law in the Ancient Near East and in the Old Testament,” in Israel's Apostasy and Restoration, ed. A. Gileadi (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 293–305.

John M. Lundquist, “The Common Temple Ideology of the Ancient Near East,” in The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984), 53–76.

2 Nephi 5–10

2 Nephi 5–10

Footnotes
  • 1 This summary closely follows and sometimes loosely paraphrases from the list of items in John M. Lundquist and John W. Welch, “Kingship and Temple in 2 Nephi 5–10,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: FARMS and Deseret Book, 1992), 67–68.
  • 2 Lundquist and Welch, ““Kingship and Temple in 2 Nephi 5–10,” 66.
  • 3 Lundquist and Welch, ““Kingship and Temple in 2 Nephi 5–10,” 66. The authors further explain, “For a charismatic figure to merely become king did not assure or perpetuate the state. Without inward commitments and outward symbols of the temple, Nephi's little community looked like a mere splinter group, lacking divine and social sanction. With these observances, however, they laid an enduring foundation for the reign of Nephite kings for over four hundred years to come” (p. 68).
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