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Arguments for 3 Nephi Being Key Redactor of the Small Plates


David T

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  • Bore the name of "Nephi" (a true "I, Nephi")
  • Authorized Keeper of the Brass Plates and other Records (3 Nephi 1:2, 2:9)
  • Recieved Angelic Visitations and Visions (3 Nephi 7:15)
  • Eyewitness and personally present to the Ministry and teachings of the Risen Jesus Christ (3:Nephi 11, etc)
  • Recieved specific instruction on Baptism (3 Nephi 11, cf 2 Nephi 9, 2 Nephi 31)
  • Taught by Christ about the falling away of the Gentiles because of Pride leadiing to wickedness, in context with the ministry of Jesus Christ (3 Nephi 16:4-20, 20:9-29, cf 1 Nephi 11, 12)
  • Witness Christ using (Deutero)Isaiah to teach (3 Nephi 20:30-21:10, 22, 23)
  • Specifically Exhorted to study the words of Isaiah (3 Nephi 23 1-5)
  • Commanded to correct the records to note fulfillment of Prophecy (3 Nephi 23:6-13)
  • Given the words of Malachi (3 Nephi 24-25, cf 1 Nephi 22:15, 23-25, 2 Nephi 25:13, 26:4, 6, 9, etc)
  • Witness of conflict in factions among Nephites, Lamanites, Zoramites (of whose namesake ancestors are given their history in the Small Plates)

The Small plates would be to the post-Christian era Nephites as the JST is to the period of the restoration: A prophet revising and expanding the narrative of the ancient foundational records to more clearly teach the New Revelation and Doctrine for 'likening' to the current generation.

You could view what we have from 1 Nephi- Omni as the "3NT" (3rd Nephi Translation) of the Small Plates, recontructed based on:

1. The (much smaller, and much less detailed) original record

2. Study and guessing of timeline based on the Deuteronomistic History of the Plates of Brass (which ends at the reign of Zedekiah)

3. Tradition

4. The personal revelations recieved

5. The instruction given through a witness of the ministry of Jesus Christ

6. The hindsight of history

Thoughts? :P Read the Book of 3 Nephi, and then go back and read the small plates from this perspective. It will change everything. At least, it did for me...

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Incidentally, an after-the-fact writing of a 'spiritual history' of the origins of the Nephites/Lamanites would also solve the problem of the 'skin of darkness' coming upon the Lamanites. Instead of it being an eyewitness account of a people's skins literally changing, it would be a mythic just-so-story generations later of how and why the modern-day Lamanites' appearance was different than that of the Nephites. Which more plausibly opens the doors to other explanations (interbreeding with indigenous peoples, etc), and allows for a symbolic reading of the terms dark, and also a literal meaning (there was a literal difference in appearance), without there being a literal historical 'mark of the curse' that occurred instantaneously.

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I am curious as to what you mean by redaction in this instance. What would be original to the original Nephi, what would be the redacted material?

I think a good comparison would be the Book of Moses material to the material in the first few chapters of Genesis.

1. Moses 1 presents a 'New Origin' and re-setting for the text in scriptural history.

2. Additions and explanations are inserted in the text, giving it a new meaning

3. Entire new narrative elements are inserted (such as the Zion/Enoch chapters, Baptism of Adam, etc), with specific relevance to current situations and teachings of the modern saints.

I think that which is original to Nephi Prime is perhaps extremely minimal. For example, The Tree of Life vision, as well as elements of the initial prophetic call of Lehi may be original, with additional interpretation and detail expanded by Nephi the Disciple. It is interesting the number of times we have emphasized how little space is on the plates, and then we have whole chunks of Isaiah and other scriptural exposition repeating what would be very available on the Plates of Brass.

I think it would be easier to discern nearly definite redactions than to discern the elements of what would most likely have been original.

Also, I feel that Nephi Prime would most likely have left post-exile. The historical surrounding details (reign of Zedekiah, pre-exilic Jerusalem) would have been ammendations/additions by Nephi the Disciple based on the end of the Deuteronomic History (2 Kings). I think it's very possible (although admittedly more of a stretch) that they came from the pre-maccabean/post-exilic remnant 'people of the land', (contemporary with Trito-Isaiah) who may have been part of a faction that did not agree with the reforms of Ezra, and his synagogues ('the brethren of the Church/assembly'), who (Ezra, etc al) were also the keepers and interpreters of the scriptures, and were not very keen on the concept of Visions of God.

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A key implication that comes from such a hypothesis is that every compiled body of work in the Book of Mormon, even before it gets to Joseph, goes through a post-visitation of Jesus Christ hand.

The small plates no longer have of necessity an origin in pre-exilic, pre-Christian 600BC. The Mormon's post Words of Mormon abridgment of Nephite History would begin to take this newly discovered and somewhat out of place record into consideration.

The entire history of the Nephites, as we have it, Small Plates + Mormon's Abridgement, would have been written (or at least redacted) with Christian Era doctrine and history in hindsight, following the appearance of Jesus Christ himself.

A former critical conclusion to the Book of Mormon, and specifically of the Small Plates section (too much detail, prophecy uncharacteristic to that we've previously seen, doctrinal and textual anachronisms), which pointed to a Post Christian, and by assumption 19th Century composition, now becomes an internally consistent and potentially powerful strength, with powerful parallels to not only modern conclusions in Old Testament Textual Criticism, but also modern documents of the Restoration (such as the JST).

It also opens up new venues of discussion as to when the original departure of the Proto Nephites may have been, and exposure to additional cultures (greek?) if we are now allowed to place them post-exilic, instead of strictly 600BCE.

It seems to me the implications could be staggering and wide-reaching for future Book of Mormon scholarship - all without changing the message and doctrine of the volume itself, nor its acceptance as an inspired translation of an ancient document.

In fact, if there's anyone out there who finds merit in this, who has publication experience and familiarity with Biblical Scholarship who I could collaborate with to develop this (and additional material) into a publishable form, (like perhaps for Journal of Book of Mormon and Restoration Scripture or Dialogue) I'd love to further discuss it with you.

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How would you use such a redaction to explain such issues as Deutero-Isaiah? We have no evidence that Jesus delivered a newer addition of Isaiah to 3Nephi. It does nothing to explain elephants, metal swords, etc.

As it is, we see a development of Messianic/Christology thought through the Small Plates, that then develops full blown in Mosiah and Alma. While it is a fun concept to consider a redactor, I just don't see enough evidence to suggest it. Instead, we read that Nephi had to keep a second set of plates, which Mormon claims to have found and pasted to the back part of his abridgement.

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How would you use such a redaction to explain such issues as Deutero-Isaiah? We have no evidence that Jesus delivered a newer addition of Isaiah to 3Nephi.

It makes it very plausible for a significantly later date for the arrival of the proto-nephites in the new world. It plausibly allows for them to have left in the post-exilic era. Jesus would have been expounding the scriptures they already had in a different way than they had been expounded before - this would have effected Nephi the Disciple in how he expounded on the same texts in his version of Nephite History.

Jesus is, however, recorded as giving the Nephites the prophecies of Malachi - which are quoted and referenced in the Small Plates!

It does nothing to explain elephants, metal swords, etc.

That is true. I didn't claim this explains all the problems, but does go a long way in creating a paradigm which sets the composition of the record forward in a way which removes many of the historical/textual anachronisms concerning doctrine and scripture. Those have been the areas of focus in my studies. However, it does open the door wider for later 'Nephite' contact with old world influences than previously recognized.

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As it is, we see a development of Messianic/Christology thought through the Small Plates, that then develops full blown in Mosiah and Alma.

I don't really see anything significant to basic Christology in Mosiah/Alma that hasn't appeared in a basic form in the small plates.

In the books of 1 Nephi alone, we already have:

  • Christ born of a virgin
  • calls 12 Disciples
  • is baptized
  • Holy Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove
  • He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world
  • He is tortured and scourged
  • He is Crucified
  • Chapter 12 of 1 Nephi speaks in detail of the specific visitation to the Nephites, of which Nephi the Disciple was present
  • The name of the apostle John (of whom the 3 Nephite Disciples are made known)

All that in 1 Nephi alone. 2 Nephi presents the actual name Jesus Christ, among other details.

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VERY interesting! I can see the advantages- a very different paradigm indeed!

(Thinking...)

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Just to be clear, you are suggesting an editor who goes in and adds additional material without changing the first person narrative style? Someone who adds dialogue and events into the autobiographies without any overt differentiation between what is old and what is new?

Do you see this instruction ("Commanded to correct the records to note fulfillment of Prophecy (3 Nephi 23:6-13)") as giving him the motivation to do so or was that instruction for a more limited endeavour?

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Just to be clear, you are suggesting an editor who goes in and adds additional material without changing the first person narrative style? Someone who adds dialogue and events into the autobiographies without any overt differentiation between what is old and what is new?

This is standard procedure in Midrashic, Targumic, and Pseudepigraphic literature from and after the exilic period. Modern Dispensation equivalents would be material in the Joseph Smith Translation, language in sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, and more clearly, History of the Church, wherein many third person documents were changed to make them appear to be Joseph speaking/writing in First Person.

Do you see this instruction ("Commanded to correct the records to note fulfillment of Prophecy (3 Nephi 23:6-13)") as giving him the motivation to do so or was that instruction for a more limited endeavour?

The way I viewed it was as in indicator. It was clear to me that Mormon (from his words in 'Word of Mormon') believed the text was original to ProtoNephi. If he was unaware of the private endeavor (which could have been personally and privately instructed to the Writer by the Lord, either in person, or through the same revelatory means by which Joseph was instructed to begin the JST), there would be no need to find an explicit statement of direction.

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I've been communicating with Kevin Barney and Brant Gardner, whose published work and insights I have an incredible amount of respect for.

They done a great job of pointing out some important questions and difficulties I would need to resolve before it could possibly stand as a viable hypothesis. It actually served as a great 're-orienting' exercise for me, and was a well-needed (and very respectful) 'knocking down a notch'.

The strongest thing that keeps coming back, inclusion of seeming exilic writing aside, is still that 1 Nephi does feel so much like a sacralized history, with strong allusions trying very hard to connect it to what we know they had in the historical scriptural text, and with what are very clear (to me, at least) indications of inclusion of eponymous ancestry (similar to the 'explanation of origins of things' in Genesis, embodied in single particular ancestors, events, etc) . This was what sent me searching for clues as to who the latter author might be.

The selection of 3 Nephi (the Disciple) as author/redactor was actually the last element of the theory that I grabbed on to. The specific and individual selection of an author is actually the least important aspect of the issue, and the one I am most willing to drop. The specific elements outlined in the OP just jumped out at me as being very 'convenient' parallels.

The very coherent and well crafted nature of the Small Plates are presented as one of many obstacles in the claim that there was a partial redactor to the text. And that is certainly true.

But there are aspects of the Small Plates that don't make sense to me as a simple autograph (even admitting Joseph Smith's own modern interpolations). I agree that it is very well crafted. Brilliantly crafted. Which is why my theory of redaction would have pretty much necessitated the existing 1-2 Nephi material to have been pretty much 90% (if not more) the original work of the redactor. Perhaps redaction may not even be the best word, because at this point, it would have fallen into the category of full on pseudepigrapha. (The 'two sets of plates' would have been a fictional addition, designed to explain the existence of the original autograph of the proto-nephite record, and now this New Record). My key questions would then be when would it have been written, and who wrote it? Certainly a later date is convenient for many reasons, but perhaps that may not be a case. Perhaps its an end-of-the-first-generation text re-framing their history in such a way as to give this new nation focus, and meaning, in a way that they would recognize this was truly the beginning of something new. To give them the idea that they had figuratively left a dying Jerusalem, and their mission was to become a people who would merit the building of a new Jerusalem, a new kingship and priesthood, around them.

I recognize there's still a lot of work to be done, a lot of chaff to be blown off, and a lot of mistakes and missteps still to be made. But there's something here.

In short, I'm willing to be shown I'm wrong on almost anything, and very happy to embrace new understanding. If perhaps any of this causes someone to think in a new way they hadn't previously, which in itself leads to a new understanding, I'd say that it's worth it :P

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