Saturday, May 11, 2013

Were the Nephites Literate?

“And it came to pass after he had made an end of speaking unto the people many of them did believe on his words, and began to repent, and to search the scriptures” (Alma 14:1)
Sometimes we get the impression from writers, teachers, or the media that the common people of the Book of Mormon era were illiterate--that only the wealthy and elite members of the society were trained and capable of reading and writing. John L. Sorenson championed this belief, claiming that the tribal chiefs of each Nephite group or family spoke for the entire family and that there was never a one man one vote idea among the Nephites, though he does admit that the “People of Book of Mormon areas were frequently literate.”
Some writers suggest that “the Book of Mormon does not specify directly that the Nephites were literate, this can be inferred from a number of scriptures.” It would appear, however, that there is far more than an “inference” that the Nephites were literate. When Alma was speaking to the poor that had been driven out of their synagogues (Alma 32:5) and approached him on the hill Onidah, he asked them, “Do ye remember to have read what Zenos, the prophet of old, has said concerning prayer or worship?” (Alma 33:3). A strange question to ask people if they could not read. Earlier he told them, “If ye suppose that ye cannot worship God, ye do greatly err, and ye ought to search the scriptures” (Alma 33:2). Again, a strange thing to preach to a people if they could not read.
Another example of literacy is found when Helaman, after receiving all the sacred engravings from his father, Helaman, had “all the engravings written and sent forth among the children of men throughout all the land, save it were those parts which had been commanded by Alma should not go forth” (Alma 63:12). Obviously, to have all the scriptures written down and distributed to all the people would be senseless if the people were not literate and able to read them.
Another example is also shown in Helaman: “And now there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people, by many of this people, which are particular and very large, concerning them… there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites… And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites” (Helaman 3:13,15-16). Obviously, for a people to have many books and many records written by many Nephites would be useless if the people were not able to read them.
King Laman appointed Amulon as a teacher over his people so they could learn the language of the Nephites
At times even the Lamanites were literate, as when Laman, king over all of the Lamanites, appointed Amulonites, that is, king Noah’s former priests, who were apostate Nephites, to teach his people the learning of the Nephites, which included reading and writing (Mosiah 24:4-6).
One Theorist claims, however, that it did not include the spoken language, stating: “Here we learn that the Amulonites taught the Lamanites the language of the Nephites. The Lamanites already knew the spoken language, but didn't know how to read and write it.” However, this is not what the scriptural record tells us. “The language of Nephi began to be taught among all the people of the Lamanites” (Mosiah 24:4); however, Amulon and his teachers “did not teach the Lamanites about God, about Anbinadi, or the Law of Moses” (Mosiah 24:4), which suggests that while teaching the Lamanites the spoken Nephite language, they restricted what information they taught. Then Mosiah goes on to say, “But they taught them that they should keep their record, and that they might write one to another “ (Mosiah 24:6), telling us that after teaching them the spoken Nephite language, the former priests then taught the Lamanites how to write the Nephite language so they could write to one another, which led to the Lamanites gaining in riches, cunning and wisdom (Mosiah 24:7).
When the Lamanite king sent a proclamation throughout all his land “among all his people” (Alma 22:27), it was probably written, however, we do know that when Mormon was nearing the end of his life, he sent an epistle (writing) to the king of the Lamanites inviting him to battle (Mormon 6:2). In addition, the Gadianton Robbers, living in their mountain hideouts, were literate (3 Nephi 3:1, 5-6).
When Captain Moroni, angered over Amalakiah’s rebellion, tore his coat and wrote upon it, he hoisted that message on the end of a pole and “went forth among the people, waving the rent part of his garment in the air, that all might see the writing which he had written upon the rent part, and crying with a loud voice, saying: ‘Behold, whosoever will maintain this title upon the land, let them come forth in the strength of the Lord, and enter into a covenant that they will maintain their rights, and their religion, that the Lord God may bless them’” (Alma 46:19-20). It would appear obvious that the people could read, or why hoist the writing on a pole for all to see?
The wicked people of Ammonihah, after some of their people had been converted by Alma, brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire, “and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire” (Alma 14:8). These were obviously not metal plates, but probably written on animal skin of some type, maybe by the people themselves after listening to Alma’s preachings.
Obvsiously, as has been shown, the scriptural record tells us that the Nephites were literate and, at times, the Lamanites as well.

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