Editor’s Note: Tammy Uzelac Hall is the host of LDS Living’s newest podcast, “Sunday on Monday,” a weekly Come, Follow Me focused podcast that dives into the hidden treasures of the gospel. Here are five questions readers might have while reading the first chapters of the Book of Mormon in their studies this week, accompanied with Hall's insights that add new meaning to the beloved verses.
Question: What language was written on the plates?
Answer: Nephi said that he made the record “in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians (1 Nephi 1:2).” Mormon writes that it was written “in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us (Mormon 9:32).”
Most have concluded that this means the writing was in the Hebrew language, in modified Egyptian characters. In recent years, we have learned that several ancient documents were written in precisely that fashion.1
Question: Is “tender mercy” a Book of Mormon phrase?
Answer: “Tender mercy” is found many times throughout the book of Psalms as well as in Luke 1:78 and James 5:11. In Hebrew, “tender mercy” is translated as Racham, meaning “compassion," but the root of the word actually means “womb.” The kind of love that a woman has for her unborn child, the child she carries, the child she raises—this is the type of love and compassion that God has for each of us. As our Creator, His interest is in us. His compassion is for all of us. He mourns when we mourn. He comforts us when we stand in need of comfort. He will bear our burdens that they may be light—the truest form of tender mercies. I don’t think that there can be a greater kind of love than this.
Question: Why did Laban have the plates? What benefit were they to a wicked man?
Answer: Laban may have been righteous at one time to care so much for the plates. Laban came from a righteous posterity and like Lehi, was also a descendant of Joseph of Egypt (1 Nephi 5:16).
The plates of brass contained the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The plates also contained Lehi's family genealogy (Lehi was a descendant of Joseph, who was a great-grandson of Abraham), the Law of Moses, a record of the Jews, and the prophecies of the holy prophets from the beginning down to the commencement of the reign of King Zedekiah. It is believed that some of these prophecies were of interest to either Laban or scribal assistants, who wanted to record two decades of the prophet Jeremiah's revelations.2 These were recoded on the brass plates as part of the record of the Jews and the prophecies of all the holy prophets down until the reign of King Zedekiah. King Zedekiah was king at the time Lehi was warning the people to repent or be destroyed/taken into captivity.
Question: Who was Ishmael and why did Nephi and his brothers have to marry into this specific family (1 Nephi 7:2)?
Answer: It appears that from 1 Nephi 7:6 Ishmael’s sons were already married to Lehi’s daughters before the journey began (yes, Nephi had sisters, see 2 Nephi 5:6).
In a sermon delivered on May 6, 1882, Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about the lineage of Lehi and Ishmael's families:
“The Prophet informed us that the record of Lehi was contained on the 116 pages that were first translated and subsequently stolen, and of which an abridgment is given us in the first Book of Nephi, which is the record of Nephi individually, he himself being of the lineage of Manasseh; but that Ishmael was of the lineage of Ephraim, and that his sons married into Lehi’s family and Lehi’s sons married Ishmael's daughters” (Journal of Discourses 23:184).
Question: Laman and Lemuel said that what their father required of them was a “hard thing” (1 Nephi 3:5). Was it really that difficult?
Answer: The distance from Jerusalem to the Red Sea (the Gulf of Aqaba) is about 180 miles through hot, barren country infested anciently by many marauders—and they had gone three days’ journey beyond that (see 1 Nephi 2:6). This meant at least a 12-14 day trip one way, giving added meaning to Nephi’s response when he said, “I will go and do.” But not only did he say, “I will go and do,” but he made the “oath of all oaths,” (like that of Zoram in 1 Nephi 4:32 which we talk about in Episode 2) which meant he could not come home empty handed. The oath he made to and in front of his brothers (1 Nephi 3:15) was so serious that if he returned without the plates he would face a life of ridicule from his brothers as well as having his reputation ruined forever, being labeled a man without honor.
Getting the plates before Lehi and his family left Jerusalem would have made much more sense than going back to get them. But the experience of going back is what proved Nephi worthy to be a “ruler and a teacher over they brethren” (1 Nephi 2:22). It was what caused Nephi to go from being “young” in 1 Nephi 2:16 to a “man” in 1 Nephi 4:31.
The "Sunday on Monday" study group is a Deseret Bookshelf PLUS+ original presented by LDS Living. You can access the full study group discussion through the Bookshelf app. Listen to a segment of this week's episode below or you can listen to the full "Sunday on Monday" episode here.
1. John A. Tvedtnes and Stephen D. Ricks, “Jewish and Other Semitic Texts Written in Egyptian Characters,” JBMS, fall 1996, 156–63; William J. Hamblin, “Reformed Egyptian” (Provo: FARMS, 1995). See also John Gee, “Two Notes on Egyptian Script,” JBMS, spring 1996, 162–76.)
2. D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse the Book of Mormon, Volume 1, pp. 34