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An Observation On The I, Nephi Formula In The Book Of Abraham


Chris Smith

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In many of his translations of ancient records, Joseph Smith underscores the identity of the author by using the formula "I, (insert name here)." The best-known example is "I, Nephi," but the formula crops up everywhere that JS translates an ancient record. In the Book of Moses there are a number of places where God himself uses this formula, as for example these two verses:

MOS 2:3 And I, God, said: Let there be light; and there was light.

MOS 2:4 And I, God, saw the light; and that light was good. And I, God, divided the light from the darkness.

These are of course modified from Genesis:

GEN 1:3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

GEN 1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

I think Joseph understood the power of first-person narrative. You can get your truths straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. In the Book of Abraham, though, there is a plurality of gods doing the creating. The "I, God" formula, then, doesn't really work. So notice how these verses get rendered in the Book of Abraham:

ABR 4:3 And they said, the Gods, let there be light, and there was light.

ABR 4:4 And they, the Gods, comprehended the light, for it was bright; and they divided the light, or caused it to be divided from the darkness,

"I, God" becomes "they, the Gods." This is an obvious reaction to the Book of Moses's first-person formula. It has merely ben third-personized for the purposes of the Book of Abraham.

-CK

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Why would he change it up?

I can understand the weight a first person narrative carries, but I'm not sure Joseph was sophisticated enough (especially at the time the BOM was produced) to make that connection.

Interesting observation nonetheless.

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Why would he change it up?

I can understand the weight a first person narrative carries, but I'm not sure Joseph was sophisticated enough (especially at the time the BOM was produced) to make that connection.

Interesting observation nonetheless.

I don't think it takes that much sophistication to make that sort of connection. And frankly, one need look no further than Joseph's sermons, studies, and scriptures to see that he was a very sophisticated thinker.

The creation account in the Book of Abraham mostly follows Genesis and the Book of Moses, but makes several kinds of changes almost mechanically throughout.

1) Singular references to deity are replaced with the plural, and first person becomes third person. This accords, of course, with his new plurality of gods doctrine, springing from his study of Hebrew.

2) All references to creation or making are replaced with references to organizing or forming. This is a particular theological concern of Joseph's at the time of the BoA's production, springing apparently from his study of Hebrew.

3) References to speaking or saying are replaced with more forceful references to commanding, ordering, or proclaiming.

4) "It was good" is replaced with "they were obeyed" (or its future tense equivalent).

5) Past tense references to things the gods created are replaced with future tense, so that for example the gods "prepared" the waters to bring forth life and saw that they would be obeyed. This is an attempt to resolve contradictions between Gen. 1 and 2 by making Gen. 1 a sort of planning phase. (BoMoses resolved it differently, making Gen. 1 a spiritual and Gen. 2 a pysical creation. References to the spiritual creation-before-creation are purged in the BoA version.)

6) The seven days of creation are referred to as seven "times". This probably springs from JS's study of Hebrew.

7) Names of rivers and such are purged, probably to accommodate a Missouri location for Eden.

In my opinion, Joseph is incorporating his new theology and Hebrew study into a new translation of the Genesis narrative: a More Inspired Version, if you will.

-CK

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"Making a record" is not automatically translated into "journal" (which by the way is a modern thingamagingy since paper and Lewis & Clark and schoolgirls who no longer need to make lye soap using the time for "Dear Diary"). Nephi was making a record.

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It does seem an odd construction to use in a journal-type document. The narrator of a journal doesn't usually have to remind his audience who he is.

But many authors do.

The Apocalypse of Abraham uses it:

1. On the day I was guarding the gods of my father Terah and the gods of my brother Nahor, while I was testing (to find out) which god is in truth the strongest,

2. I (then) Abraham, at the time when my lot came, when I was completing the services, of my father Terahâ??s sacrifice to his gods of wood, of stone, of gold, of...

Paul in the New Testament uses it:

"Now I Paul myself beseech you", "Behold, I Paul say unto you", "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner", "I Paul have written it with mine own hand", etc.

John does it too:

"I John, who also am your brother", "And I John saw the holy city", and "And I John saw these things"

Even Jesus is quoted as doing it also:

"I Jesus have sent mine angel"

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But many authors do.

The Apocalypse of Abraham uses it:

Paul in the New Testament uses it:

"Now I Paul myself beseech you", "Behold, I Paul say unto you", "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner", "I Paul have written it with mine own hand", etc.

John does it too:

"I John, who also am your brother", "And I John saw the holy city", and "And I John saw these things"

Even Jesus is quoted as doing it also:

"I Jesus have sent mine angel"

I appreciate the observation, it is an excellent one, but MC doesn't really believe any of those people.

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