Nephi’s journey out of Jerusalem and the Exodus have many parallels. Enough that you might wonder if this is really true history.
In 1 Nephi 17:12-14, Nephi explains some details about their trip from Jerusalem to the promised land.
12 For the Lord had not hitherto suffered that we should make much fire, as we journeyed in the wilderness; for he said: I will make thy food become sweet, that ye cook it not;
13 And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.
14 Yea, and the Lord said also that: After ye have arrived in the promised land, ye shall know that I, the Lord, am God; and that I, the Lord, did deliver you from destruction; yea, that I did bring you out of the land of Jerusalem.
Compare to a couple verses in the Bible.
Exodus 13:21 The Lord was the light in the wilderness for the Israelites also.
21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night
Exodus 6:7 Just like the reason God gave Nephi, the Israelites were told them the reason for this was for them to know for sure that it was God who saved them (beautiful concept, by the way).
7 And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
Both groups had a miracle which provided them food. For Nephi’s group: the making of their raw meat sweet. For Moses: manna and the providing for them manna in morning and quail at night.
12 At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.
1 Ne 17, starting in v 22, Nephi scolds Laman and Lemuel for their murmuring, making a direct comparison between his group and Moses and his people. Nephi’s group was led out of Jerusalem, where they were threatened with death, they tarried in the wilderness, are on the way to the promised land and are in the middle of murmuring. Moses led his people out of captivity in Egypt, they tarried in the wilderness, their people also murmured, but they repented and were led to the promise land.
The use of the word murmur is also very interesting.
The word murmur or form of it appears in the Book of Mormon 33 times. We get 19 of those 33 references in the relatively small amount of text in the eight chapters that include the narrative of Lehi’s family leaving Jerusalem, journeying in wilderness, and arriving in promised land.
The word murmur appears 28 times in the Old Testament. 20/28 of the Old Testament “murmur” references are to Moses and his people.
There are many times when the BOM’s reliance on the Bible is obvious and generally understandable. Examples are when Nephi quotes Isaiah or when Jesus comes after his death and the BOM author inserts long passages from the New Testament. The explanations are reasonable. ie Nephi could be quoting from the Brass Plates and Jesus could be restating the same message he gave prior. Joseph Smith might have recognized these as coming from the Bible and simply inserted similar passages.
Then there are times when the BOM is quoting or borrowing from the Bible out of sequence. A few examples:
- Alma 7:11,12 borrowing from Hebrews 2:17-18
- Moroni’s writings on faith, hope, and charity
- Paul lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor 12. The Book of Mormon seems to borrow from this both in Omni 1 and Moroni 10
This category is a little more difficult to explain by those who take a traditional, literal LDS view. Usually the argument is something like: both authors were expounding on a previous text that both had access to, either through the Brass Plates, or through revelation from God.
The final category is most difficult to explain. This is when actual events seem to parallel too closely to actual events in the Bible, like this example of Nephi and Moses’ Exodus. Another curious example is the story of Moroni’s weakness in Ether 12. Ether 12 seems to draw on 2 Cor 12. Parallels include:
- Both Moroni and Paul have a weakness
- Both pray to God to fix it for them
- Both are told “no”
- Both include phrase “grace is sufficient”
- Both include comparisons of weakness and strength
We are left to wonder as General Authority and LDS Historian from the early 1900’s B.H. Roberts did.
“… [T]here is a certain lack of perspective in the things the book relates as history that points quite clearly to an undeveloped mind as their origin. The narrative proceeds in characteristic disregard of conditions necessary to its reasonableness, as if it were a tale told by a child, with utter disregard for consistency…
“Is this all sober history…or is it a wonder-tale of an immature mind, unconscious of what a test he is laying on human credulity when asking men to accept his narrative as solemn history.”
I use this line of thinking a lot, but I will repeat it again here.
One way to respond to this is with a traditional/literal narrative, and to shrug these off as anti-Mormon/faithless arguments.
Another way is to take a shallow view of it. Joseph made it up. That means it’s garbage, the church is not true, goodbye.
A third way is with a nuanced view. Yes, some of these issues challenge a traditional/literal narrative. What could it mean?
Grant Hardy is a faithful LDS scholar who has some very creative views of the Book of Mormon. He describes the Book of Mormon as we have it as being heavily influenced by the main narrators: Nephi for the small plates and Mormon (and lesser extent Moroni) for the large plates. They were written and abridged much later than the original events took place, and the text we have will include their bias. For example, on this parallel between Nephi and Moses, Hardy might theorize that Nephi, writing this 30 years after the events might have pictured himself as a type of Moses, and manipulated the story a bit to strengthen his case.
Another less orthodox but faithful approach would be that of Blake Ostler, who might picture Joseph Smith, using principles of midrash and exegesis to extrapolate out the original text, building in doctrinal points and spiritual teachings. This could be done either through the sermon-preaching portions of the text or even by adding details to actual stories and events. This would be his right as a prophet to receive inspiration and add to scripture.
Another approach even more unorthodox could be to view the Book of Mormon mostly or even entirely as a product of Joseph’s mind in collaboration with inspiration from God, with no actual Ancient American text as a base.
I love the Book of Mormon. I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I believe by analyzing the text of the Book of Mormon in this way, we can find insights that can help us in our journey to find God and serve him.