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Nephi on Women & Motherhood

 

By Book of Mormon Explorer, George Potter

 

Nephi was an incredible intellect, a Renaissance man who was thousands of years ahead of his time. His accolades include:  being a great visionary, a prophet, a brave leader who led his family through the wilderness (Mosiah 10:13), a talented wordsmith, the builder and captain of a large sailing ship, the architect of a city and a temple, a king, and the father of the Nephite Nation. Yet, one of his greatest achievements is that in an era that place little value on women, Nephi taught the true nobility and importance of women. Indeed, in the very first sentence in the Book of Mormon, he pays equal tribute to his father and his mother: “I, Nephi, being born of goodly parents….”

 

The prophets inscriptions in 1st and 2nd Nephi are very ancient records. Yet we see that his treatment of women, even by medieval standards, is revolutionary. Nephi and his disciple, his younger brother Jacob, clearly respected women’s sentiments and achievements, supported their rights, and showed high reverence to the divine calling of Motherhood.

 

Too understand just how progressive Nephi was, one needs only to compare his writing to those of other ancient script, which seldom named women, let alone discussed their affairs. Take the Old Testament as an example. How many women were named in its four thousand year chronicle, and of the few that are mentioned, what do you really know about this women? Indeed, Nephi’s text is so inclusive of women, that some might suggest that it must have been written by Joseph Smith in the Nineteenth Century. This is not so. Richard Wellington and I clearly proved in our book, Lehi in the Wilderness, 81 New Documented Evidences the Book of Mormon is a True History, that the author of 1st Nephi had to have lived in the 6th Century B.C. and had to have traveled down the ancient frankincense trail to southern Arabia (see www.nephiproject.com).

 

It has only been during the last two centuries that women and their issues have been given significant weight in literature. Indeed, in many parts of the world today, women are still considered little more than the property of their husbands. In antiquity, women were rarely given credit for their achievements and were seldom respected for the incredible challenges they endure as mothers living in primitive conditions. Period texts like the Old Testament or even the more current Qur’an support the practice of wife beating, polygamy and the right of men to sleep with their slave women and the tradition of acquiring an unlimited collection of concubines.

 

Perhaps, the greatest crime committed against women in antiquity was that they were for the most part ignored. Michael Crichton placed the manuscripts of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan’s report to the Caliph of Baghdad in a novel format: In 922 A.D., Ibn Fadlan had been sent as an ambassador to the King of the Bulgars. Crichton writes, “Ibn Fadlan never states that his party is greater than a few individuals, when in fact it probably numbered a hundred people or more, … Ibn Fadlan does not count-literally-slaves, servants, and lesser members of the caravan.” [1] Of course, the lesser members of the caravan were the women. Thus we have the saying, “History was written by men and for men”. The end result is a tragedy since the histories of half the world’s population are lost forever.

 

Nephi clearly superseded this tradition by writing in detail about affairs of his mother, wife, sisters, sister-in-laws, and even the mother of Christ.  The prophet must have had great respect for women for he counseled those who followed him to only write on the small plates the things of God (1 Nephi 9:2-4) and those things which should “profit” the people (2 Nephi 5:30-32).  Thus, Nephi himself must have highly valued the affairs of their women, a concept that seems to have been foreign in other ancient manuscripts. Following Nephi’s “commandment”, Jacob only wrote of the ‘most precious things” (Jacob 1:2), and yet he wrote extensively about the problems faced by the Nephite women.

 

Nephi himself showed great empathy and respect for the suffering of the women during his family’s journey, and pays specific tribute to the hardships sustained by his own mother (1 Nephi 5:1-3, 18:17,19). It would also appear that Nephi had a deep respect for the faithfulness of his wife, noting that she cried and prayed on his behave when his brothers bound him (1 Nephi 18:19). Nephi also included on the plates the efforts of one of his sister-in-laws and his mother-in-law for softening the hearts of Laman and Lemuel so that they cease trying to murder him (1 Nephi 7:19).

 

Although at one point the daughters of Ishmael murmur against Lehi and Nephi, it is interesting to note that Nephi explains that they did so only after their father died and it appeared that they would all die from hunger. Throughout the ordeal of crossing the Arabian Desert, Nephi appears to have had a deep empathy for the women, for he inscribed on the plates that they had “suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue” (1 Nephi 16:35). 

 

Nephi’s concern for the women in his party turned to outright respect. In Chapter 17, Nephi holds the women in the party up as a model and standard for the entire group, and seems to credit the women’s efforts for bring the party into compliance with the Lord’s commandments:

 

And we did travel and wade through much afflictions in the wilderness; and our women did bear children in the wilderness. And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.  And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them (1 Nephi 17:1-3)

 

Thus, we can see from his earliest writings, that rather than ignoring women, the customer of the time, Nephi was inclusive of women in his narrative.

 

Jacob loved Nephi (Jacob 1:10) and followed in his footsteps. Undoubtedly, his words  make the Book of Mormon the earliest book in history to that specifically condemns the unauthorized practice of multiple wives.

 

Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. Wherefore, my brother, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. (Jacob 2:26-28)

 

Equally remarkable is Jacobs strong rebuke of those who abuse their wives. Emotion and physical abuse are both alluded to by Jacob. His language is progressive even in our day.

 

For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.

And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which  I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.

For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.

And how behold, my brethren, ye know that these commandments were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before; and ye have come unto great condemnation for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.

Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hears ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds. (Jacob 2:31-36)

 

Above all, Nephi, more than any other ancient author, honored motherhood, and his words paid great respect to mothers. 

 

Nephi told Jacob to only use the gold plates for writing the “spiritual things”, and to avoid trivia (Jacob 1:1-2,4). In this light, Nephi must have believed it was important that we understand the suffering that his own mother endured in her effort to follow the commandments of God. He tells us how his mother ‘truly had mourned’ when she thought her sons had perished in the wilderness, and how she was ‘exceedingly glad’ when they finally returned (1 Nephi 5:1). Nephi appears to have been humbled by the sacrifice the women made as they bore children in the wilderness, and takes the time and effort to record these wilderness deliveries on the golden plates (1 Nephi 17:1). 

 

Again, Nephi praised the nobility of all the mothers in their small caravan, and acknowledged their strength during the most difficult part of the trail. The example of the mothers seem to have inspirited the men in the party, and directly led to an increase in the faith experienced by the family, which in turn, was the key reason the family was able to survive their journey. (1 Nephi 17:1-3) Nephi lets us know that these were pampered women, who left the precious things, probably their maidservants, and a large luxurious house to endure eight years in one of the most hellish wildernesses on earth. Why? – to fulfill the commandments of God (1 Nephi 17:3).  With Nephi helps we can understand that his mother, wife and the other mothers in the party were great pioneers of faith.

 

Another profound tribute Nephi made to mothers is that he recorded the correct image of our first mother, Eve. Satan and the world have labeled her with a despicable image. Some Christian and Muslim scholars credit Eve as the root of all evil and relegate her to a dark and distorted legacy. The psychological sting of this Satanic deception has been felt by all women.

 

Nephi, our great prophet, stood tall for Eve. He recorded on the plates his father’s teachings that Eve was brave, tough, and intelligent enough to understand, and then fulfill, her extremely important role in the Lord’s plan. So important was her assignment that its completion was essential for the eternal progression of all her children….each of us (2 Nephi 2:22-26). The Book of Mormon appears to suggest that Eve realized the consequences of her actions prior to the fall, i.e. enduring the pains of child birth and physical death so that man could experience God’s great gift of free agency. (2 Nephi 2:22-26). By the fall, she was helping Adam in opening the door to eternal progression, the knowledge of sweetness and joy, and eventually the blessings for all of us to appreciate and be cleansed by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Book of Mormon provides an accurate image our great first mother: a decisive hero, an intelligent martyr who subjected herself to physical death, and a wonderfully loving mother who understood the gospel in great depth. (2 Nephi 2:15-18)

 

And after Adam and Eve had partaken of the forbidden fruit they were driving out of the garden of Eden, to till the earth.

And they had brought forth children; yea, even the family of all the earth.

And now, behold, if Adam [& Eve] had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end.

And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.

But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.

Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.

And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves… (2 Nephi 2:19,20,22-26).

 

Perhaps, the most important tribute to Motherhood found in the Book of Mormon is Nephi’s words describing Mary, the mother of our Savior. Carefully consider the adulates he places on Mary and contemplate the powerful endowment it provides for every woman as she dreams of entering motherhood. In my own opinion, the images of Mary in the Book of Mormon have little to do with her physical appearance, but are describing her core character and the purity of her soul. God’s eyes are not man’s eyes. What better model could any young woman have of the eternal importance and grand splendor of Motherhood than Mary?

 

And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me; and he said unto me;  Nephi, what beholdest thou?

And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all the other virgins.

And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?

And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. (1 Nephi 11:14-18)

 

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[1] Ibid., 22.