Monday, October 17, 2011

Who Were the Nephites and the Lamanites? Part I

In a FARMS website, the following questionable statements were made about the Land of Promise and the people there, that need some further discussion and, in some cases, correction. The article’s comments are listed here as eleven numbered items:

1. “At many points Mormon's record states or clearly implies that the terms Nephite and Lamanite bore multiple meanings during the Book of Mormon period.”

We know who the Nephites were: 1) Nephi’s biological descendants, 2) Sam’s descendants, 3) Jacob’s descendants, 4) Joseph’s descendants, 5) Zoram’s descendants, 6) Nephi’s sisters descendants, 7) Mulekites, and 8) the Ammonites and other Lamanite converts (3 Nephi 2:14;6:14). After the resurrection of Christ, and his visit to the Nephites, those who later continued to be followers of Christ were called Nephites (4 Nephi 1:36).

2. “At least six senses of the term “Nephite” can be identified: The term sometimes referred to (1) those belonging to the relatively small lineage consisting of direct descendants from Lehi's son Nephi (compare Mormon 1:5; 3 Nephi 5:20); (2) a larger "noble" group consisting of the descendants of the kings who succeeded Nephi, each of whom bore Nephi as a royal title (see Jacob 1:11); (3) those descended from, as well as all those who were ruled by, any of the monarchs bearing the title Nephi; (4) believers in a particular set of religious practices and ideas (compare Jacob 4: 4-6; 4 Nephi 1:36-38); (5) participants in a particular cultural tradition (see 2 Nephi 5: 6, 9-18); and (6) an ethnic or "racial" group (see Jacob 3:5, 8-9).”

First, “Participants in a particular cultural tradition” is academic jargon meaning: “a distinctive tool kit or technology that lasts a long time—longer than the duration of one culture—at one locality or several localities” particularly used in archaeology, and is “a cultural tradition is knowledge handed down from generation to generation concerning the values, norms, attitudes, and predispositions of a given culture.” In the above sense, the author’s “cultural tradition” would be described by the rest of us as “believers in Christ.” As Nephi wrote in the quoted verse above: “And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words” (2 Nephi 5:6).

Nephites throughout the record were those who believed in and followed Christ

Second. Bringing into the explanation the kings that were called Nephi is unnecessary and overlaps the main understanding of who the Nephites were—the descendants of Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, Nephi’s sisters, and Zoram. We know of no others involved in the Nephite category until Mosiah (who was not a king in the Land of Nephi, but probably a prophet or religious leader) left and discovered the Mulekites who joined with and became known as Nephites.

What happened to that line of kings called Nephi in Mosiah’s time is unknown; however, Omni seems to make it clear that all the unrighteous Nephites were wiped out (Omni 1:6-7), and Amaleki tells us that when the Lord told Mosiah to leave the City of Nephi, "as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him" (Omni 1:12) This is the same term used by Nephi, and who might have been involved in the term “and all those who would go with me,” is unknown. This might have been some of Ishmael’s descendants, it might have been some of Lehi’s and/or Ishmael’s servants who might have come with the families out of Jerusalem—or it might have been some of the younger Lamanite group. Nor do we know all those who went with Mosiah--but it seems reasomable that they were those who believed in the Lord.

Third. The term “a larger ‘noble’ group consisting of the descendants of the kings who succeeded Nephi,” seems out of place. In a secular society, this would undoubtedly be true, but in a “theocratic” society, we find many instances of kings, like Benjamin, who did not consider themselves “noble” or above others, since humility is a major concern of followers of Christ.

(See the next post, “Who Were the Nephites and the Lamanites? Part II,” for more of these comments and responses)

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