Evidence #387 | January 9, 2023

Nephi’s Kingly Introduction

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Scripture Central

Abstract

Nephi’s opening lines in his first book resemble the opening statements made by various ancient Near Eastern kings, as recorded on monuments and other enduring media.

The most famous words in all of the Book of Mormon may very well be found in Nephi’s opening statements in 1 Nephi 1:1:

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Although Nephi is presented as a youth in the opening chapters of his book, which begins around 600 BC, readers should be aware that he composed it more than thirty years after its initial events transpired (2 Nephi 5:28). And by that time, he had become a king and a prophet over his people, hence the designation “His Reign and Ministry” in the subtitle of his book.1 One must also remember that even though Nephi composed his book in the New World, he was raised in Jerusalem. One can assume, therefore, that his ideas of kingship were influenced, at least in part, by his Near Eastern background.2

With that in mind, it is noteworthy that Nephi’s introductory statements found in 1 Nephi 1:1 share several elements with the writings of various ancient Near Eastern kings, as made upon monuments and other enduring media. These include at least the following (color coded for easier identification):

1. a first-person introduction following the formula “I, name, son/born of …” (blue),

2. a reference to the ruler’s father, mother, or to parentage in general (green),

3. frequent use of the phrase “my days” or emphasis on the providential prolonging or enriching of the ruler’s days (red),3

4. attention drawn to the ruler’s relationship with deity, often emphasizing that he has been blessed or favored by his god(s) in various ways (orange).

For the sake of comparison, below are several examples of statements made by ancient Near Eastern rulers, placed side by side with Nephi’s introduction.4 The opening lines of these introductions, as they are currently translated, read “I am [name], son/blessed of.” However, the being verb am is not necessitated by the underlying scripts, so these passages could also be appropriately translated as “I, [name], son/blessed of ….” The latter option is more analogous to Nephi’s opening line in 1 Nephi 1:1 (“I, Nephi, having been born of …”).5

 

Individual: Yehawmilk6

Script: Phoenician

Date: 5th–4th centuries BC

Nephi

Yehawmilk

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 

I am Yehawmilk, king of Byblos/Gubal, son of Yeharbaal, son of son/grandson of Urimilk, king of Byblos/Gubal, whom the Lady, Baalat/Mistress of Byblos/gubal made king upon Byblos/Gubal.May the Mistress of Byblos/Gubal bless Yehawmilk, king of Byblos/Gubal, may she keep him alive, and may she prolong his days and his years upon Byblos/Gubal, for he (is) a righteous king. And may [the Lady], Mistress of Byblos/Gubal give [him] favor in the eyes of gods, and in the eyes of the people of this land and favor of the people of this land.

 

Individual: Panamuwa7

Script: Aramaic

Date: mid-8th century BC

Nephi

Panamuwa

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 

I am Panamuwa, son of Qarli, king of Ydy, who have erected this statue for Hadad in my eternal abode. The gods Hadad and El and Rasap and Rakib-El and Samas supported me. And Hadad and El and Rakib-El and Samas and Rasap gave the scepter of dominion into my hands. Rasap supported me. And I, Panamuwa, reigned also on the throne of my father. … And in my days also Ydy ate and drank. And in my days it was commanded throughout al[l my lan]d to reconstruct TYRT …. And in the days when I gained dominion, a gift-offering(?) was given to the gods …

 

Hadad inscription, made out of basalt, which begins "I am Panamuwa, son of Qarli ..." Image via Wikipedia. 

Individual: Azatiwada8

Script: Phoenician / Hieroglyphic Luwian

Date: end of the 8th century BC

Nephi

Panamuwa

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 

I am Azatiwada, the blessed of Baal, servant of Baal, whom Awariku, king of the Danunians, empowered. Baal made me a father and a mother to the Danunians. … Now there was in my days all good for the Danunians and abundance and luxury. … And they were in my days on all the borders of the Plain of Adana from the East to the West, …. But in my days, (especially) mine, a woman can walk alone with her spindles, by the grace of Baal and the gods. Now there was in all my days abundance and luxury and good living …. Since in my days there was for the land of the Plain of Adana abundance and luxury. And there was never any night for the Danunians in my days. …. Now may Baal KRNTRYS bless Azatiwada with life and health, … may Baal KRNTRYS and all the gods of the city give Azatiwada length of days and multitude of years and good prosperity.

Conclusion

More than a dozen such examples are presented in the Appendix, written in different scripts and coming from different times and locations. While they all have differences, they also share a number of similarities, some of which are also present in Nephi’s account. This isn’t to say that Nephi exclusively modeled his introduction on such precedents,9 but his words certainly fit well alongside them. The introduction found in 1 Nephi 1:1 can therefore be credibly viewed as the opening statements of a Hebrew monarch writing in the 6th century BC.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Nephi Begin by Saying ‘I, Nephi …’?KnoWhy 476 (October 16, 2018).

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.

Noel B. Reynolds, “Nephi’s Political Testament,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 221.

Noel B. Reynolds, “The Political Dimension in Nephi’s Small Plates,” BYU Studies Quarterly 27, no. 4 (1987): 15–37.

1 Nephi 1:1

1 Nephi 1:1

Individual: Yehawmilk10

Script: Phoenician

Date: 5th–4th centuries BC

Nephi

Yehawmilk

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 

I am Yehawmilk, king of Byblos/Gubal, son of Heharbaal, son of son/grandson of Urimilk, king of Byblos/Gubal, whom the Lady, Baalat/Mistress of Byblos/gubal made king upon Byblos/Gubal. … May the Mistress of Byblos/Gubal bless Yehawmilk, king of Byblos/Gubal, may she keep him alive, and may she prolong his days and his years upon Byblos/Gubal, for he (is) a righteous king. And may [the Lady], Mistress of Byblos/Gubal give [him] favor in the eyes of gods, and in the eyes of the people of this land and favor of the people of this land. 

 

Individual: Nabonidus11

Script: Neo-Babylonian

Date: 556–559 BC

Nephi

Nabonidus

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I, Nabonidus, the great king, the strong king, the king of the universe, the king of Babylon, the king of the four corners, the caretaker of Esagil and Ezida, for whom Sin and Ningal in his mother’s womb decreed a royal fate as his destiny, the son of Nabubalassu-iqbi, the wise prince, the worshiper of the great gods, I

 

Individual: Azatiwada12

Script: Phoenician / Hieroglyphic Luwian

Date: end of the 8th century BC

Nephi

Azatiwada

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 

I am Azatiwada, the blessed of Baal, servant of Baal, whom Awariku, king of the Danunians, empowered. Baal made me a father and a mother to the Danunians. … Now there was in my days all good for the Danunians and abundance and luxury. … And they were in my days on all the borders of the Plain of Adana from the East to the West, even in places which formerly were feared, where a man feared to walk the road. But in my days, (especially) mine, a woman can walk alone with her spindles, by the grace of Baal and the gods. Now there was in all my days abundance and luxury and good living …. Since in my days there was for the land of the Plain of Adana abundance and luxury. And there was never any night for the Danunians in my days. …. Now may Baal KRNTRYS bless Azatiwada with life and health, … may Baal KRNTRYS and all the gods of the city give Azatiwada length of days and multitude of years and good prosperity.

 

Individual: Bar-Rakib13

Script: Old Aramaic dialect

Date: ca. 733–727 BC

Nephi

Bar-Rakib

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 I am Bar-Rakib, son of Panamuwa, king of Samal, the servant of Tiglath-Pileser (III), lord of the four quarters of the earth. On account of the loyalty of my father and on account of my loyalty, my lord, Rakib-El, and my lord, Tiglath-Pileser, caused me to reign upon the throne of my father.

 

 

Individual: Panamuwa14

Script: Samalian Aramaic

Date: mid-8th century BC

Nephi

Panamuwa

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 

I am Panamuwa, son of Qarli, king of Ydy, who have erected this statue for Hadad in my eternal abode. The gods Hadad and El and Rasap and Rakib-El and Samas supported me. And Hadad and El and Rakib-El and Samas and Rasap gave the scepter of dominion into my hands. Rasap supported me. So whatever I grasped with my hand, [     ] (served?) and whatever I asked from the gods, they granted me. And I, Panamuwa, reigned also on the throne of my father. … And in my days also Ydy ate and drank. And in my days it was commanded throughout al[l my lan]d to reconstruct TYRT …. And in the days when I gained dominion, a gift-offering(?) was given to the gods 

 

Individual: Ninurta-kudurri-usur15

Script: Akkadian

Date: 8th century BC

Nephi

Ninurta-kudurri-usur

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I, Ninurta-kudurri-usur,16governor of the land of Suhu and the land of Mari, son of Samas-resausur descendant of Adad-nadin-zeri …: the chosen upon whom Sarnas and Marduk, Adad and Apla-Adad joyfully (and) radiantly glanced with their powerful shining faces, to whom they gave complete power and kingship over the land of Suhu, and for my allotted destiny they bestowed justice. 

 

Individual: Azatiwata17

Script: Phoenician / Hieroglyphic Luwian

Date: 9th–8th centuries BC

Nephi

Azatiwata

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

 

I am Azatiwata, the Sun-blessed man, Tarhunsz’s [a storm God] servant, whom Awariku the Adanawean king promoted. Tarhunza made me mother and father to Adanawa [a city]; and I caused Adanawa to prosper, and I extended the Adanawa plain on the one hand towards the west and on the other hand towards the east, and in my days there were to Adanawa all good things, plenty and luxury …. In my days I extended the Adanawean fronteiers … so in my days even women walk with spindles. In my days there was plenty and luxury …. And may Tarhunza the highly blessed … give to him, to Azatiwata, long days and many years and good abundance 

 

Individual: Kulamuwa18

Script: North Phoenician

Date: 830–820 BC

Nephi

Kulamuwa

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I am Kulamuwa, the son of Hayya. Gabbar ruled over Ydy, but he achieved nothing. BNH also (ruled over Ydy), but he achieved nothing. And then my father Hayya, but he achieved nothing. … But I am kulamuwa, son of TML [which some scholars suspect is the name of Kulamuwa’s mother]19

 

Individual: Mesha20

Script: Moabite

Date: ca. 835 BC

Nephi

Mesha

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I am Mesha, the son of Kemosh[-yatti], the king of Moab, the Dibonite. My father was king over Moab for thirty years, and I was king after my father. And I made this high-place for Kemosh in Karchoh, […] because he has delivered me from all kings …. In my days did he say [so], but I looked down on him and on his house …. And Omri had taken possession of the whole la[n]d of Medeba … but Kemosh [resto]red it in my days. … And Kemosh said to me: “Go down, fight against Horonaim!” I went down […] [and] Kemosh [resto]red it in my days.

 

Individual: Ammi-Ditana21

Script: Sumerian

Date: ca. 1683–1647 BC

Nephi

Ammi-Ditana

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I, Ammi-di[tan]a, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Kish, king of the land of Sumer and Ak[kad], king of all the Amorite land, I, descendant of Sumu-la-Il, [s]on of the great champion Abi-eshuh, favor[ite] of the god Enlil, belo[ved of the goddess …] …. At that time, by the wisdom that the god En[ki verily granted] to me, I made (Babylon) dwell in an abode of joy. 

 

Individual: Rim-Sin22

Script: Sumerian

Date: 1822–1763 BC

Nephi

Rim-Sin

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I, Rim-Sin, mighty man, whose offerings are the greatest for the shrine Nippur, who perfectly executes the me’s and rites of Eridu, reliable provider of Ur, who reverences Ebaddar, king of Larsa, Uruk, (and) Isin, king of the land of Sumer and Akkad, when the god Ninsiana delivered all my enemies into my hands

 

 

Individual: Kurdur-mabuk23

Script: Sumerian

Date: ca. 1830 BC

Nephi

Kurdur-mabuk

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

(I), Kudur-mabuk, father of the Amorite land, son of Shimti-shilhak, the one who repaid a favor for the Ebabbar temple (and) adorned it for the god Utu …. I, Kudur-mabuk, humble shepherd, who stands in supplication for the shrine Ebabbar, when the gods An, Enlil, Enki, and Ninmah had given to me, on account of my order by the supreme decree of the gods Nanna and Utu, the true scepter suitable to lead the people (and) reign

 

Individual: Lipit-Eshtar24

Script: Akkadian

Date: 1934–1924 BC

Nephi

Lipit-Eshtar

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

I, Lipit-Eshtar, humble shepherd of Nippur, true famer of Ur, unceasing (provider) for Eridu, en-priest suitable for Uruk, king of Isin, king of the land of Sumer and Akkad, favorite of the goddess Eshtar …. I, Lipit-Eshatar, son of the god Enlil

 

  • 1 See Noel B. Reynolds, “Nephi’s Political Testament,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon: Insights You May Have Missed Before, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1991), 221; Noel B. Reynolds, “The Political Dimension in Nephi’s Small Plates,” BYU Studies Quarterly 27, no. 4 (1987): 15–37.
  • 2 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Nephi as a New King,” Evidence# 0354, July 5, 2022, online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 3 Even though Nephi doesn’t specifically mention that the Lord prolonged his days, the passage strongly implies that is the case, as the Lord delivered Nephi from his afflictions and therefore preserved him throughout his life: “and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days” (1 Nephi 1:1). The contrast between “afflictions” and being “highly favored of the Lord” dovetails with a theme of deliverance and preservation that is developed throughout Nephi’s record.
  • 4 For the purpose of making these translations more accessible for a general audience, all diacritic marks have been removed from transliterations. Also note that in some cases fairly substantial amounts of text (including multiple short paragraphs) are omitted through the use of ellipses. This has been done simply for the sake of convenience and space. While this can give the impression that the parallel elements are closer in proximity than they really are, the total length of most of these inscriptions is actually quite short, occupying less than a single page of modern text using a standard font size and regular margins. Those interested a more complete understanding of the underlying sources and their relationship with 1 Nephi 1 should consult the references provided in the end notes.
  • 5 See Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does Nephi Begin by Saying ‘I, Nephi …’?KnoWhy 476 (October 16, 2018).
  • 6 See Stanislav Segert, “The Inscription of King Yehawmilk,” in Context of Scripture, 3 vols., ed. William W. Hallo (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 2:151–152.
  • 7 See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Hadad Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, 2:156–158.
  • 8 See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Azatiwada Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, 2:148–150.
  • 9 Nephi’s opening lines also correspond in various ways to biblical writings. See, for instance, Genesis 39:2–6; Exodus 2:2; Numbers 11:11–15; 1 Samuel 9:2; 16:12; Proverbs 3:1–4; 9:9–10; 11:27; 12:1–2; 18:22; 22:1; Daniel 1:4; Luke 1:28–30; Luke 2:52; Acts 7:9–10. Some of these passages involve prominent patriarchs, prophets, and kings of Israel’s past, such as Joseph who was sold into Egypt, Moses, Saul, and David.
  • 10 See Stanislav Segert, “The Inscription of King Yehawmilk,” in Context of Scripture, 2:151–152.
  • 11 See Paul-Alain Beaulieu, “The Sippar Cylinder of Nabonidus,” in Context of Scripture, 2:310–313.
  • 12 See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Azatiwada Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, 2:148–150.
  • 13 See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Bar-Rakib Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, 2:160–161.
  • 14 See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Hadad Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, 2:156–158.
  • 15 See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “Ninurta-Kudurri-Usur – Suhu Annals,” in Context of Scripture, 2:179. Note that similar introductions are found in several inscriptions made by this king (see pp. 279–283).
  • 16 Note that this is a lengthier inscription and that the opening formula is repeated at the beginning of five other sections.
  • 17 See J. D. Hawkins, “Azatiwata,” in Context of Scripture, 2:125–126.
  • 18 See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., “The Kulamuwa Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, 2:147–148.
  • 19 See Younger, Jr., “The Kulamuwa Inscription,” in Context of Scripture, 2:147n7.
  • 20 See K. A. D. Smelik, “The Inscription of King Mesha,” in Context of Scripture, 2:137–138.
  • 21 See Douglas Frayne, “Ammi-Ditana,” in Context of Scripture, 2:258–259.
  • 22 See Douglas Frayne, “Rim-Sin,” in Context of Scripture, 2:253.
  • 23 See Douglas Frayne, “Warad-Sin,” in Context of Scripture, 2:251–252.
  • 24 See Douglas Frayne, “Lipit-Eshtar,” in Context of Scripture, 2:247–248.
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