When Joseph Smith first started writing the Book of Mormon, he began with the Book of Lehi. However, the Book of Lehi was stolen and has never been recovered. Fortunately, Lehi’s son, Nephi, gives an abridgement of the Book of Lehi (in The First Book of Nephi), so we pretty much know what was in it.
Despite the fact we already know what the Book of Lehi said, many Mormons have been looking forward to the day the original Book of Lehi will be recovered. Well, my friends, the wait is finally over.
As we’d expect, the Abridgment of the Book of Lehi (as revealed by William C. Chappell) retells the story we’re all familiar with from 1 Nephi. Strangely, however, the author assumes the reader is already familiar with 1 Nephi and seeks to clear up some confusion the 21st-century reader may have about parts of it. For example, why is the Book of Mormon written in an otherwise unattested language called “reformed Egyptian” if Lehi’s family came from Israel?
Abridgment of the Book of Lehi is often written in a stream of consciousness style, jumping back and forth in time and repeating previously stated things over and over again. This is a type of writing style I wouldn’t use if I was engraving everything on metal plates. Some contemporary idioms like “it did make some and it did break others” (Lehi 6:2), “rough it out in the wilderness” (Lehi 4:6), and “things which we take for granted” (Lehi 9:13) find their way into the text as well.
We do get some new information, such as the name of Lehi’s mother: “And, behold, my fourth son, Nephi, I did name after the name of my mother. For her name was Nepfreteri, which in the Egyptian language means daughter of the prince, although she was a Jewess. Wherefore, behold, the name Nephi signifies prince or great leader, which I felt to name him.” (Lehi 1:20)
It feels a bit like reading Gertrude Stein sometimes with him repeating the same thing using slightly different words. For example, compare the following three verses:
“And, behold, there were several prophets whom the Lord did send to the city of Jerusalem, to warn the Jews of their impending destruction, as a people and a nation, if they did not repent and return to the law of Moses, and to the prophets, and the commandments of the Lord their God.” (Lehi 2:11)
“And, behold, the Lord did send several prophets unto Jerusalem; saying, that the great city Jerusalem would be carried off captive into Babylon; and that their men, and their women, and their children would be slain, and that Jerusalem would be left desolate, if they did not repent and return unto their God.” (Lehi 2:13)
“And, behold, the Lord did send the prophets unto the city of Jerusalem, that he might be justified in bringing in these judgments upon them. And there were prophets which did arise among the Jews in the land of Judea, and there were prophets whom the Lord did bring from other lands. And I, Lehi, was one of them, for, behold, I was brought up out of Egypt.” (Lehi 2:15)
We learn about the origins of the mysterious reformed Egpytian language:
“Therefore, I did take the book of our scriptures which were engraven upon plates of brass with me to Jerusalem. Now the inscriptions were neither Egyptian characters, nor were they Hebrew. For, behold, it was a writing of their own making that my forefathers had developed. For they lived unto themselves in Egypt; they being separated from both the Jews and Egyptians, except for their work and manner of employment.
“For, behold, the engravings upon the plates of brass is [sic] a type of characters for shorthand. The characters were developed from a combination of different languages, and are like none of them in particular. It had begun with their business of trading as a means of secret communication among themselves.
“From that it later developed into a written language, that we call reformed Egyptian. By that I mean it was a new kind of language which was developed in Egypt; for it was a shorthand used among the Jewish merchants in the land of Egypt.” (Lehi 3:5-7)
There you have it. Reformed Egyptian was the first conlang created by Jewish Egyptians as a secret trading language thousands of years before Esperanto. Mystery solved.
When he is 18, Lehi meets his future wife. The only thing we’re ever told about her is that she’s pretty. I guess that’s all that matters.
“Now I did seek an opportunity to see my future wife Sariah; and I knew that surely she did wish to see me too before our marriage. And I did see her, and, behold, she was a beautiful and fair maiden, being no more than fourteen years of age, as I supposed. And Sariah did like me too, as I could tell.
“Now the family of my father Samuel, that dwelt in the land of Egypt, and the family of Laban that dwelt at Jerusalem, were kinsmen. Yea, for they are both of the tribe of Manasseh. Thus, my father Samuel and Laban were distantly related. And I discovered that Sariah was a niece of Laban, and that she dwelt within the household of Laban. Wherefore, I also came to dwell with the household of Laban.” (Lehi 3:11-12)
But all was not well in the household of Laban:
“And as I did seek for the mind and will of the Lord; yea, even as I did all the more seek the face of my God, and to obey his commandments; behold, the time came that Laban did cast me out of his house.
“And Laban did keep much of my gold and silver which my father had given me. For he said that I owed him for my stay those years. But worst of all, Laban did keep my scriptures, even the book of the plates of brass that I had brought with me from my fathers in the land of Egypt.” (Lehi 3:15-16)
Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, are the two main antagonists in 1 Nephi. Readers have noted that they’re pretty much indistinguishable from each other, and in fact, even their father Lehi has trouble telling them apart:
“And I have often thought of them as twins. For, behold, they did act like twins, for they were always together, and they agreed on every point. Now my son Laman is the eldest, but my son Lemuel was born in [sic] about one year later. And they looked somewhat alike, and they behaved even more alike; therefore, I have often thought of them as twins. But they became the most difficult sons unto me, and, behold, I and my faithful son Nephi did have a double portion to contend with.” (Lehi 4:4)
Being a prophet, Lehi of course knows that Joseph Smith will lose the book he’s writing: “And if this record is lost my prayer unto God is that it might someday be restored.” (Lehi 4:21)
Being a prophet, he also knows people living thousands of years in the future will misunderstand some things about 1 Nephi. Does he tell his son to make these things clearer in the book he’s currently writing? Of course not, silly! He writes the clarifications for 1 Nephi into the book he knows will be lost:
“But let me now try to clarify a few things which may be misunderstood in future generations. Behold, when I say that we are Jews, I mean that all of Israel are called Jews at this time. But, as I have written, my father’s family were Israelites of the tribe of Manasseh, and of the house of Joseph.
“And when I speak about the land of our inheritance, it was not Jerusalem, or Judea, or even our new land of promise. For, behold, the land of our inheritance was our house and farm which was near Hebron. Yea, it was our home place where we farmed and raised our children.
“And, behold, when I say that I dwelt at Jerusalem all my days; behold, I mean that I did live in the land of Judea ever since I was a grown man.” (Lehi 4:22-24)
See? It’s not a contradiction for him to say he lived in Jerusalem all his days even though he lived in Egypt until he was 18. (Also, what a coincidence ancient Jews considered 18 to be the age of adulthood just like modern-day Americans do!)
“And when I speak of the plates of brass which we got back from Laban; behold, it was not his plates of brass. But it was my own book of brass plates that my father had given me when I left the land of Egypt. Nevertheless, my sons have only heard about the plates of brass which Laban had.” (Lehi 4:25)
Why have your sons never heard the plates of brass were originally yours? You could have just told them, you know. You might have been able to clear up a lot of these misunderstanding before they happened. Just saying.
“And, behold, I perceive of the Spirit of the Lord, that there shall be two great obstacles with our records in the future generations. And it shall be that our records are engraven upon plates of metal; and it will be that the characters of our language are not known in the world and cannot be proved to the world.
“Yea, because the characters of our language cannot be proved to the world; for they are not known in the world; behold, there shall be many in that day who will mock these things.” (Lehi 4:26-27)
Gotta hand it to Lehi here. He did accurately predict that I would mock him thousands of years before the fact. Maybe he’s a real prophet after all.
I’m not sure what he’s trying to say in this next section. He claims the Lord never repeats himself, then immediately gives examples of the Lord repeating himself in the very next verse:
“And behold, I, Lehi, have since pondered upon these things. And, behold, I have seen that all the works of the Lord are unique. Yea, for he never repeats himself twice. And so was this work. For, behold, the plates of brass, and the Liahona, and the ship of Nephi were done but once among men. Yea, each of these things were unique among men.
“Yet, we were cast out of our land like unto Adam and Eve from the land of Eden; and we did wander in the wilderness of the desert like unto Moses and the children of Israel; and we did ride upon the great waters like unto Noah and the ark upon the great flood.” (Lehi 4:29-30)
Lehi seems to have run out of things to say at this point, because Chapter 5 explains reformed Egyptian to us again, as well as once again telling us how the plates were made. He also repeats the story of how he left Egypt, got married, prophesied against the Jews, and got cast out of Laban’s house. The Lord may not repeat himself, but Lehi sure does. Either he’s got memory problems, or he’s trying to pad his book out in order to reach a certain word count.
I also noticed a minor contradiction. At one point, he said the reason he fled south was because the other three cardinal directions weren’t good options (Lehi 4:9), later, he says he fled south at God’s command (Lehi 5:21).
There are a couple new bits. Laban’s servant Zoram originally belonged to Lehi’s father apparently:
“And, behold, the name of the servant whom my father did send unto me was Zoram. And having heard of my father’s death, behold, Laban did take Zoram, and he made him his own servant. But he had been a bondservant of my father ever since the days of his youth in the land of Egypt.” (Lehi 5:15)
Ishamel (another character from 1 Nephi) was also the servant of Lehi’s father:
“Wherefore, I did move out of the city of Jerusalem, with my wife Sariah and our two sons, Laman and Lemuel. And I bought my own house and farm which was a few days journey from Jerusalem, and south past Bethlehem near Hebron. Behold, it was near the house of Ishmael. Now Ishmael had been a hired servant of my father, and my friend, who had come with me out of the land of Egypt. But Ishmael did stop at Hebron, and he did stay and he dwelt there, while I went on to Jerusalem.” (Lehi 5:16)
Some Book of Mormon readers may wonder how Nephi was able to successfully impersonate Laban. Many readers also question why Nephi murdered Laban when he found him passed out drunk in the street. Well, wonder no longer:
“And since Laban was wearing a rain cape; because it was raining; behold, Nephi did put the rain cape upon himself. Wherefore, Nephi did appear as Laban unto Zoram. Then when he did recognize Nephi, behold, Zoram was filled with fear; for he was a bond servant unto my father, and he could have been slain for becoming a bond servant unto Laban; but, behold, my son Nephi did spare him for his own reasons.
“Now, behold, there may be some who might question the slaying of Laban by my son Nephi. But can a man question the righteous purposes of the Lord.[sic] For this thing was a righteous judgment sent upon Laban of the Lord. Yea, Laban in his own wickedness and rebellion against God had brought this judgment upon himself. For, behold, Laban had stolen my plates of brass, and he had even tried to slay my sons.” (Lehi 5:26-27)
There you have it. Theft and attempted murder should be punishable by death. No need to get the courts involved either. Just carry out the sentence yourself. It’s fine.
Chapter 6 begins with a lot of throat clearing. Lehi 6:1 starts “Now for the record I do wish to give the fuller account of my dealings with the Lord” telling us what he’s going to tell us rather than cutting to the chase and just saying it already. Lehi 6:2 also introduces what he’s going to say next. Lehi 6:3 begins, “But I do wish to jump ahead first” giving readers whiplash. So you’re not going to tell us the things you told us you’d tell us in 6:2?
Lehi 6:11 tells us “I hope to have enough room to inscribe all my record upon these plates.” Yet 6:11 also repeats what he already told us about the plates, so he’s obviously not worried about running out of room or he wouldn’t keep telling us over and over again about these plates he’s writing on. We get more filler in Lehi 6:16 when Nephi tells Lehi what to write about. Lehi then spends four verses (Lehi 6:17-20) telling us he will write about those things.
Lehi 6:14 sneaks a bit of misogyny by telling us women are “the weaker vessel.” Lehi mentions in passing that he has daughters (Lehi 6:21). Up to this point, he’s only mentioned his sons. He doesn’t even bother to tell us what their names are. I guess there just wasn’t enough room on the plates.
Chapter 7 might as well have been Chapter 1 since Lehi once again tells us about how he grew up in Egypt. He tell us again that Sariah was “very attractive” (Lehi 7:4) when she was not older than 14, and repeats everything he’s told us already. I know reboots are all the rage these days, but it feels a little early to be rebooting the story to me. I mean, shouldn’t you finish telling it once before you start to retell it?
In Chapter 8, we finally get some new information. (Well, it’s from 1 Nephi, but at least it hasn’t appeared in a previous chapter of the Book of Lehi.) He decides now is the time to describe the Liahona. How did Lehi get the Liahona?
“And, behold, the Liahona lay at the door of my tent one morning” (Lehi 8:3)
Miss that? Don’t worry, he’ll tell us again:
“Nevertheless, and all of a sudden one morning, and as a surprise to me; behold, at the door of my tent there appeared this marvelous instrument.” (Lehi 8:5)
Wait. I wasn’t paying attention. Where did he find the Liahona?
“Behold, this marvelous instrument was found laying on the ground before the door of my tent early one morning.” (Lehi 8:7)
Super interesting. Tell me more.
“For as I awoke and came out of my tent to stretch and to get a breath of fresh air; behold, there before me lay the Liahona. And, behold, it was this round ball of a most curious workmanship.” (Lehi 8:7)
Wait. What was this round ball called again? I forgot.
“And this ball, which we did call the Liahona, was about four inches in its diameter, it being about the width of a man’s hand.” (Lehi 8:7)
Who could use this instrument?
“Yea, behold, it did only work for myself and my son Nephi.” (Lehi 8:8)
“Nevertheless, by the workings of this most miraculous instrument,” (Lehi 8:9)
Wait, wait, wait. What’s this miraculous instrument called?
“even the Liahona,” (Lehi 8:9)
Oh yeah. What did you use it for?
“we did find our way across all the barren desert of the wilderness of Arabia.”
“Behold, I, Lehi, wish to describe the Liahona in very particular detail.” (Lehi 8:10)
Don’t let me stop you.
“For, behold, it was I and my faithful son Nephi who used this instrument” (Lehi 8:10)
You already said that in Lehi 8:8. You know, you claim that you’re worried about running out of room on these plates, but you sure don’t act like it.
“Wherefore, I do wish to describe the Liahona in very particular detail.” (Lehi 8:11)
Whoa, deja vu all over again.
“Yea, I do wish to describe its looks, its nature, and its operation.” (Lehi 8:11)
Do you really? Cause if you really wanted to, you’d have done it by now. You just wish to make this chapter unnecessarily long, don’t you?
“what greater joy could I have received when I found the Liahona at the door of my tent.” (Lehi 8:11)
Oh, right you haven’t mentioned where you found it for a couple paragraphs. Thanks for reminding us. I’d forgotten all about the whole tent thing.
“So I shall now give a more particular description of the Liahona,” (Lehi 8:13)
Sigh. You keep saying this, but I’m skeptical that you’re ever going to actually do it.
“and of how I and Nephi did use it.” (Lehi 8:13)
You already told us only you and Nephi could use it.
“Behold, as I did say, the Liahona was a round ball which was about four inches in its diameter.” (Lehi 8:13)
Yes, you did say that already, didn’t you?
“But, behold, the metal served only for the covering and protection of the crystal globe inside.” (Lehi 8:13)
You’re going to tell us this a few more times, aren’t you?
“For, behold, inside of the metal frame, which was of an intricate design, there was a hollow crystal globe.” (Lehi 8:14)
Okay. Got it. No need to repeat yourself.
“Thus, the metal frame enclosed the crystal globe” (Lehi 8:15)
“Now, behold, when the ball of curious workmanship was found outside the door of my tent;” (Lehi 8:17)
I’m glad he finally told us where he found it. I’ve been wondering that all chapter.
“And it was that the characters, which did appear upon the band of the ball, were in the language of my people in Egypt” (Lehi 8:18)
“And they were all in my language that my fathers had developed in Egypt.” (Lehi 8:19)
Sorry, I missed that. Can you please repeat? It’s not like this is written down and I can go back and read it again.
“It was in the characters of the language from my forefathers, even in our written language.” (Lehi 8:20)
“And as I said, the metal covering of the Liahona was designed of the most curious and intricate workmanship.” (Lehi 8:23)
Sigh. You did say that already, yes.
Now that we know about the Liahona, let’s move on to Chapter 9, shall we?
“Now the two sons of Ishmael were named Shazer and Nahom” (Lehi 9:6)
I don’t think the sons of Ishmael are named in 1 Nephi. Shazer and Nahom are names of geographical regions in 1 Nephi, though, and Lehi names places after his sons, so it makes sense. Shazer and Nahom marry Lehi’s two daughters, but unfortunately, there isn’t any room on the plates to give their names.
“For marriage was taken seriously in our day, and most marriages were arranged, and there was no dating or any such thing beforehand.” (Lehi 9:8)
Lehi seems to be implying that marriage isn’t taken seriously anymore. I can’t help wondering, did ancient Hebrews have a word for dating? Also, it’s kind of weird for Lehi to be talking about his present day using the past tense, isn’t it?
“But, behold, I am now well stricken in years, and my writing may not be so organized.” (Lehi 9:14)
You can say that again. Maybe he should have dictated this to someone who could remember what was said a paragraph ago? That would have helped.
“And if it so be that I have room upon these plates, then I shall give the full account of the things which I have witnessed in my days. For, behold, the books of brass plates are first made before we begin our engravings on them. Then, behold, we hope to have enough room to finish our account upon them. Yea, the plates are first made and bound with rings to make a book.” (Lehi 9:15)
You’ve said this before. Saying it again takes up room on the plates, you know.
“And any iron which was refined and tempered the Jews did call steel. Nevertheless, when it was cold at night, and the steel bow was not properly warmed before use, behold, the bow did break.” (Lehi 9:18)
This doesn’t sound legit to me, but I can’t be bothered to fact check it.
“But Samuel and Nephi did accept the fair daughters of Ishmael who did desire them, even though they may not have been the fairest daughters, but they were comparable in age.” (Lehi 9:24)
Apparently, the only thing we need to know about the daughters of Ishmael is their approximate age and how fair they are. Too bad there wasn’t enough room on the plates for their names.
“Now before my going further with this account let me describe the making of the books of metal plates; yea, even what we called the plates of brass. Behold, I have not yet gotten to the account of my dreams, and my visions, and the spiritual things of my life. But, nevertheless, let me now describe the nature of the metal plates and of our inscriptions upon them.” (Lehi 10:1)
Again, if you’re concerned about running out of room on the plates, maybe don’t repeat yourself so much? Maybe don’t tell us what you’re going to tell us before you tell us?
“But pure gold of itself is too soft, and copper or silver of themselves will soon corrode. But when smelted together in the proper amounts, then behold, they did make excellent plates for the engravings of the characters of our language. Wherefore, the plates of Nephi had a composition of more gold.” (Lehi 10:9)
This seems directed at modern-day people who scoff at the idea of plates made of pure gold. See? The plates weren’t pure gold!
“And as I have engraven on these plates; behold, I did take my family, and we did leave our home and the land of our inheritance, and we did flee south into the wilderness.” (Lehi 11:1)
Don’t worry, you’ve only mentioned this about a dozen times by now.
“And, behold, it was during the wet season that I did send my sons back to Jerusalem to get my plates of brass from Laban. Now the fuller account of these things I have already inscribed on these plates, even this Record of Lehi.” (Lehi 11:4)
Why are you telling us this again then?
“Yea, we did land upon the western shores of the great southern continent in the isles of the sea; and, behold, it was not far south of the equator.” (Lehi 11:20)
Lehi somehow knows America is composed of both a northern and southern continent. Interesting.
We finally reach the final chapter in which he gives us an extended description of the ship, repetitious like we’ve come to expect:
“And, yet, this was done by men who had never set sail. Yea, this was done by men who had never set foot upon a ship.” (Lehi 12:11)
“And, behold, this great feat was accomplished by a man who had never before set sail. And it was done by a people who had never before set foot upon a ship.” (Lehi 12:17)
He apparently “runs out of room on the plates” at this point, even though this is only around 60 pages and it was supposed to be 116. I guess that’s why this is called an Abridgment of the Book of Lehi. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he didn’t keep repeating himself for another 60 pages, but he could have at least copy and pasted Lehi’s famous vision from 1 Nephi 8 in here somewhere since that’s kind of a big deal in Mormonism. Whatever. At least it’s finally over.
Or not. He also includes a Part II which is a series of short essays on Book of Mormon geography. Remarkably, the writing style of William C. Chappell is very similar to that of Lehi! Like Lehi, Chappell repeats himself quite often, tells us what he’s going to tell us before he tells us, uses modern idioms, and so forth.
While he believes the Book of Mormon is true, he says it’s filled with errors, which allows him to reinterpret anything that doesn’t fit his theories. For example, he tells us “head of a river” is the Book of Mormon’s way of saying “mouth of a river”.
After 25 pages of arguing that the Book of Mormon takes place in Panama, we get this:
“(A Special Note from the Author to the Reader).
There is some space left on this page, and I, the author of the Geography of Mormon; wish to add a special note to the reader. It is this: This analysis and description of the Book of Mormon geography may – or may not – be true. This was simply my own knowledge and inspiration, or opinion, at the time.”
He then goes on to say he now thinks the Book of Mormon took place not in Panama, but in the eastern United States and refers his readers to “U-Tube” for more info.
What? Even more confusing, the next essay then goes back to the Panama theory and sticks with that for the rest of the book. I’m guessing this note was added after he’d finished writing the book and like he said, he just stuck it on a page that had some blank space rather than putting it at the beginning of part II or the end of the book which would have made more sense. You know, if you want to add a special note to readers on a computer, you can add it anywhere, not just in places that currently have a blank space.
Since the author negates his own theory with the insertion of this note, I don’t think there’s any point in commenting on the whole Panama theory. I would like to share this one interesting tidbit that appears towards the end, though:
“During the birth of this king [Mormon], the baby had almost been born when it was miraculously taken back into the womb. When it was born, it had literally been born again the second time. For this cause the child was named ‘Mormon’ in their language. The ‘mor’ means ‘to bear’ and the ‘mon’ means ‘again.’ Thus, the name means ‘to bear again’ or ‘born again.'”
Yikes. If you think giving birth the normal way is painful, just image what this poor woman had to go through! Apparently, John 3:4 is meant to be taken literally. (Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?)