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1 Nephi 12

Through the Wilderness to the Promised Land

     (1 Nephi )


1 Nephi 12:4 I Heard Thunderings:


     The dramatic catastrophes in the New World that attended the crucifixion of Christ were prophesied 600 years before by Nephi in 1 Nephi 12:2-6. Jeff Lindsay writes that unknown to Joseph Smith and still unknown to most LDS people, it appears that Nephi was not the only ancient prophet who knew of the dramatic upheavals in nature that would accompany the crucifixion of Christ. And Nephi was not the only prophet who gave detailed prophecies about the mission and life of Christ.

     An ancient document, the Book of the Rolls306 contains a remarkable prophecy said to be from Adam to correlates well with the Book of Mormon. In this document, Adam is told that Christ would come to earth and be born of a virgin named Mary. Christ long before his mortal birth, tells Adam:

           I will come down to thee, and in thy house will I dwell and with thy body will I be clothed. . . . I will fast forty days; . . . I will receive baptism; . . . I will be lifted up on the cross; . . . I will endure lies; . . . I will be beaten with the whip; . . . I will taste vinegar; . . . my hands will be nailed; . . . I will be pierced with a spear; . . . I will thunder in the height; . . . I will darken the sun; . . . I will cleave the rocks; . . . after three days, which I have spent in the grave, I will raise up the body which I took from thee. (Book of the Rolls in Gibson, f.100b-101a, p. 16)


     The details about thundering, darkening the sun, and cleaving the rocks are reported prominently in the Book of Mormon (Helaman 14:20-22; 3 Nephi 8:17-20; and 1 Nephi 12:4). The Bible briefly mentions three hours of darkness and say that the earth quaked and the rocks rent (Matthew 27), but makes no mention of thundering. Thus the ancient Book of the Rolls lends plausibility to detailed prophecies of Christ in the Book of Mormon and is consistent with the prophecy of Nephi about violent manifestations in nature at the time Christ was crucified. [Jeff Lindsay, "Concerning Nephi's Detailed Prophecy about the Catastrophe," in Book of Mormon Evidences,, Jan 7, 2001]


1 Nephi 12:6 I saw the heavens open, and the Lamb of God descending out of heaven (Illustration): "Behold I Am Jesus Christ." Nephi saw in vision that the resurrected Lord would appear on the American continent. Artist: Gary Kapp. [Thomas R. Valletta ed., The Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saint Families, 1999, p. 32]


1 Nephi 12:9 Thou . . . Thy Seed . . . Ye (Enallage):


     According to Kevin Barney, the term enallage is Greek for "interchange," and refers to a syntactic device that is fairly common in the Old Testament, where an author intentionally shifts from the singular to the plural (or vice versa) for rhetorical effect. . . .

     A good example is found in Genesis 17. In the first eight verses of Genesis 17, God is speaking to Abraham and establishing his covenant with him. The verbs in this section are for the most part first-person singulars (such as "I will make," "have I made thee," "I will make thee," "I will establish my covenant," I will give unto thee," and "I will be their God"). In verse 9, the subject of the verse shifts from a first-person singular "I" (referring to God) to a second-person singular "thou" (referring to Abraham) in "thou shalt keep my covenant." This shift is emphatic . . . Finally, God addresses both Abraham and his seed together in the second-person plural: "which ye shall keep." Genesis 17:9-13 reads as follows:

           And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generation. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.


     These verses follow the following pattern:

     1. A divine being or a prophet directly addresses an individual (here it is God speaking to Abraham).

     2. He addresses the individual in the second-person singular, "thou."

     3. He makes a third-person reference to that individual's posterity, "thy seed."

     4. Finally, he directly addresses the individual and his posterity together in the second-person plural, "ye."


     In the Book of Mormon this same pattern of enallage can be found in 1 Nephi 12:9, 2 Nephi 1:31-32, and 2 Nephi 3:1-2. . . . In 1 Nephi 12:9 the word ye is a plural referring not just to Nephi, but to Nephi an his posterity:

           And he said unto me: Thou rememberest the twelve apostles of the Lamb? Behold they are they who shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel; wherefore, the twelve ministers of thy seed shall be judged of them; for ye are of the house of Israel.


     In 2 Nephi 1;31-32, the word ye is a plural referring not just to Zoram, but to Zoram, Nephi, and their respective posterities. In 2 Nephi 3:1-2, the word ye is a plural referring not just to Joseph, but to Joseph, his brethren, and their respective posterities. [Kevin L. Barney, "Divine Discourse Directed at a Prophet's Posterity in the Plural: Further Light on Enallage," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 6/2 1997, pp. 229-234.


1 Nephi 12:11 Their Garments Were White Even Like unto the Lamb of God:


     According to Reynolds and Sjodahl, the expressions "their garments are made white in his blood" (1 Nephi 12:10) and "these are made white in the blood of the Lamb" (1 Nephi 12:11) are also found in the Revelation of John (Revelation 7:14), where the angel explains that the multitudes standing before the throne, and before the Lamb, arrayed in white robes, are they which came out of great tribulation and now are serving God day and night in his temple. They, too, "have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." Therefore they are before the throne of God.

     This exceedingly solemn imagery recalls to our minds the sacrifices of the pre-Christian dispensations, and particularly the sacrificial rite on the Day of Atonement under the Mosaic law. That was a day of fasting, confession of sins and atonement, followed by rejoicing.

     On that day Aaron, or whoever held the office of high priest, clean and attired in priestly robes, came to the Sanctuary with a young bullock for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. These he offered and thus made atonement for himself and his house. Some of the blood he sprinkled upon the mercy seat, i.e. the covering of the ark in the Holy of Holies. He was now prepared to officiate as mediator between God and the people.

     In this office he presented two goats before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. By lot one was selected to be the Lord's; the other to be the "scapegoat." The high priest now laid his hands on the scapegoat and thereby transferred symbolically the sins of the people upon him. The animal dedicated to the Lord was slain as a sin offering. The scapegoat was led into the wilderness and set free. And thus an atonement was made for the Priest and the sanctuary and for the entire people. According to the Talmud, in the evening the maidens all went forth arrayed in white garments, into the vineyards, where they rejoiced, singing and dancing, and inviting the young men to come and select their brides. They had, figuratively speaking, washed their clothes and made them white in the blood of the lamb, the prototype of our Lord, the Lamb of God. Their sins had been confessed, atoned for and forgiven. . . . [George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1, pp. 108-109]


1 Nephi 12:16 Filthy Water . . . the River:


     Hugh Nibley says that when Lehi dreams of a river, it is a true desert river, a clear stream a few yards wide with its source but a hundred paces away (1 Nephi 8:13-14) or else a raging muddy wash, a sayl of "filthy water" that sweeps people away to their destruction (1 Nephi 8:32, 12:16, 15:27). In the year A.D. 960, according to Bar Hebraeus, a large band of pilgrims were returning from Mekka and "encamped in the bed of a brook in which water had not flowed for a long time, and during the night, whilst they were sleeping, a flood of water poured down upon them all, and it swept them and all their possessions out into the Great Sea, and they all perished." Even a mounted rider if he is careless may be caught off guard and carried away by such a sudden spate of "head water," according to Doughty. One of the worst place for the gully-washing torrents of liquid mud is in "the scarred and bare mountains which run parallel to the west coast of Arabia; . . . the rainstorms beat against this long ridge and produce almost in a moment raging torrents--the Arabic sayl, spate--which sweep away all obstacles without warning and with loss of life of man and cattle." This was the very region through which Lehi traveled on his great trek.

     The springhead and the sayl, such are the two and only types of "river" (for he calls them rivers) known to the desert Arab. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 45]


1 Nephi 12:16 The Fountain of Filthy Water (Potter):


     In his dream, Lehi describes a river as being both near a tree and having its head a little way off. It would therefore seem to be a life-giving stream which starts in a valley and does not flow into the valley from some other location. Additionally, Nephi later tells us that this river was "a representation of the love of God" (1 Nephi 11:25) Yet the river is described differently in other parts of the dream narrative. Nephi writes "the water which my father saw was filthiness; and so much was his mind swallowed up in other things that he beheld not the filthiness of the water" (1 Nephi 15:26, 27). Also "the fountain of filthy water which thy father saw; yea even the river of which he spake; and the depths thereof are the depths of hell" (1 Nephi 12:16).

     According to George Potter and Richard Wellington, there would seem to be some contradiction here. One might ask how the river can be both a representation of the love of God and at the same time the depths of hell? These two definitions would seem to be mutually exclusive. Our view is that the river was seen in two contrasting stages. The first stage is of a clear stream which gave life to the valley (Wadi Tayyib al-Ism), the second a raging flash flood which destroyed all before it sweeping everything into the depths of the Gulf of Aqaba.

     The canyon at the end of wadi Tayyib al-Ism is the only outlet to the coast from the watershed of 105 square miles of mountains. If this dream took place after the date harvest (since Lehi saw dates or white fruit in his dream) and towards the beginning of the winter it would be an obvious concern to Lehi that any early rains could provide a flashflood from which there could be no escape for man nor beast alike, sweeping them toward the Gulf. The Gulf of Aqaba is referred to in the text as "the fountain of the Red Sea" (1 Nephi 2:9). The Gulf has a depth of 6,000 feet, the drop is precipitous--only a few feet away from the coral reef and shallow water, submerged cliff faces drop off hundreds of feet. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 60-61, 65]


1 Nephi 12:18 A Great and Terrible Gulf:


     Hugh Nibley believes that to symbolize what is utterly inaccessible, Lehi is shown "a great and terrible gulf" (1 Nephi 12:18), "an awful gulf" (1 Nephi 15:28), a tremendous chasm with one's objective (the tree of life) maddeningly visible on the other side. All who have traveled in the desert know the feeling of utter helplessness and frustration at finding one's way suddenly cut off by one of those appalling canyons with perpendicular sides. Nothing could be more abrupt, more absolute, more baffling to one's plans, and so will it be with the wicked in a day of reckoning. [Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, F.A.R.M.S., p. 46]


1 Nephi 12:18 A Great and a Terrible Gulf Divideth Them (Potter):


     Nephi associates the large and spacious building (1 Nephi 8:26; 12:18) in which vain worldly people mocked the righteous with a "great and terrible gulf" (1 Nephi 12:18) or "awful gulf" (1 Nephi 15:28). Regarding this gulf Hugh Nibley writes:

           a tremendous chasm with one's objective (the tree of life) maddeningly visible on the other side; all who have traveled in the desert know the feeling of utter helplessness and frustration at finding one's way suddenly cut off by one of those appalling canyons with perpendicular sides.307


     Corbin T. Volluz describes the river in Lehi's dream "cutting through the chasms and gorges of the Grand Canyon, so as to create a great gulf of division."308 Thus George Potter and Richard Wellington note that these two writers also associate the vertical walls of a canyon with the image of a "gulf," exactly what is found in wadi Tayyib al-Ism. [George Potter and Richard Wellington, Discovering the Lehi-Nephi Trail, pp. 63-64] [See the Potter commentary on 1 Nephi 8:26]


1 Nephi 12:18 A great and terrible gulf divideth them (Potter) [Illustration]: Canyon walls near opening, George standing in the lighted area of the canyon floor. [George Potter & Richard Wellington, Discovering Nephi's Trail, Chapter 3, p. 18, Unpublished]


1 Nephi 12:18 A Terrible Gulf Divideth them; Yea, Even the [S]word of the Justice of the Eternal God:


     We should take note that the original text of the Book of Mormon described the "terrible gulf" which divided them as the "sword of the justice of the eternal God" and not "the word of the justice . . ." Apparently Oliver Cowdery made an error when copying the word "sword" from the original text onto the printer's copy. [Royal Skousen, "How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript" in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1998, p. 31]


1 Nephi 12:18 And [Jesus Christ] Who Is the Lamb of God:


     The restoration of the name Jesus Christ from the Original and Printers Manuscript makes this the first mention of the name of Jesus in the Book of Mormon. Nephi tells us that the name of the Messiah was revealed to him by an angel (2 Nephi 25:19). [Zarahemla Research Foundation, Study Book of Mormon, p. 24] [See the commentary on 2 Nephi 10:3]


1 Nephi 12:20-21 They Went Forth in Multitudes . . . and I Saw Wars and Rumors of Wars:


     In a great vision concerning the future of his seed, and the seed of his brethren, Nephi

           saw the people of the seed of my brethren that they had overcome my seed; and they went forth in multitudes upon the face of the land. And I saw them gathered together in multitudes; and I saw wars and rumors of wars among them . . . (1 Nephi 12:20-21)


     According to Michael Griffith, the Book of Mormon's references to great concentrations of population in ancient Mesoamerica have been strikingly vindicated by modern research (Raymond Treat ed., Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. II, pp. 11-13; Vern Elefson, "Speculations on Book of Mormon Populations," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, pp. 30-33). John Sorenson discusses some of the evidence of the Nephite record's references to large populations:

           Population studies are not, of course, based upon speculation or interpretative whim. As historical and archaeological sources are more carefully examined and the specialists correct each other by mutual criticism, a better grasp of the real numbers is emerging. William Devevan's 1976 volume, The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, weighted all the arguments. His estimated total of 57 million for the hemisphere [before the time of Columbus] seems fairly safe. He concluded that Mexico and Central America had some 27 million. Moreover, according to Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, who used native documents as sources for his post Conquest history of central Mexico, the "Toltecs" of the tenth century carried on wars with forces in the millions and suffered over 5.6 million dead. Even discounting for possible exaggeration, such numbers are not outside the range of the reasonable. Neither are the 230,000 warrior casualties attributed tot he Nephites six hundred years earlier. (See Mormon 6:10-15)

           The figures on Mesoamerican population offered by demographers decades ago could not be reconciled with statements in the Book of Mormon about millions of people being destroyed in the concluding Jaredite and Nephite wars. Now, analysis of the data on lands occupied, ecology, sizes, war casualties, and other population-related factors in the Book of Mormon text shows striking consistency and realism in the reported demographic changes. At the same time, the absolute numbers reported in the book are of the same order of magnitude as the figures which current research on Mesoamerica finds acceptable. (John L. Sorenson, "Digging Into the Book of Mormon," in the Ensign, September 1984, 33)

[Michael T. Griffith, Refuting the Critics, pp. 55-56]