10 August 2006

Retranslating 2 Nephi 3

I recently read 2 Nephi 3 and got a bit lost. It was mostly due to the three different Josephs and references to future peoples, so I decided to retranslate the chapter, inserting proper names wherever I could. The result was enlightening—and proved to be a very interesting way to study the scriptures.

To make things even clearer, I color-coded the text to indicate who is speaking:
Joseph ben-Israel
The Lord, quoted by Joseph ben-Israel


1 And now Lehi speaks unto Joseph ben-Lehi, Lehi’s last-born. Joseph ben-Lehi wast born in the wilderness of Lehi’s afflictions; yea, in the days of Lehi’s greatest sorrow did Sarai bear Joseph ben-Lehi.
2 And may the Lord consecrate also unto Joseph ben-Lehi this land, which is a most precious land, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s inheritance and the inheritance of Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed with Joseph ben-Lehi’s brethren, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s(i) security forever, if it so be that Joseph ben-Lehi shall keep the commandments of the Holy One of Israel.
3 And now, Joseph ben-Lehi, Lehi’s last-born, whom Lehi has brought out of the wilderness of Lehi’s afflictions, may the Lord bless Joseph ben-Lehi forever, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall not utterly be destroyed(ii).
4 For behold, Joseph ben-Lehi is the fruit of Lehi’s loins; and Lehi is a descendant of Joseph ben-Israel who was carried captive into Egypt. And great were the covenants of the Lord which the Lord made unto Joseph ben-Israel.
5 Wherefore, Joseph ben-Israel truly saw Lehi’s and Joseph ben-Lehi’s day. And Joseph ben-Israel obtained a promise of the Lord, that out of Lehi as a descendent of Joseph ben-Israel(iii) the Lord God would raise up the righteous Lehites(iv) unto the house of Israel; not the Messiah, but a branch which was to be broken off, nevertheless, to be remembered in the covenants of the Lord that the Messiah should be made manifest unto the Lehites in the latter days(v), in the spirit of power, unto the bringing of the Lehites out of darkness unto light—yea, out of hidden darkness and out of captivity unto freedom.
6 For Joseph ben-Israel truly testified, saying:
Joseph Smith shall the Lord Joseph ben-Israel’s God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the lost tribe of Ephraim(vi).
7 Yea, Joseph ben-Israel truly said: Thus saith the Lord unto Joseph ben-Israel: Joseph Smith will the Lord raise up out of the lost tribe of Ephraim; and Joseph Smith shall be esteemed highly among the lost tribe of Ephraim. And unto Joseph Smith will the Lord give commandment that Joseph Smith shall do a work for the lost tribe of Ephraim, Joseph Smith’s brethren, which shall be of great worth unto the lost tribe of Ephraim, even to the bringing of the lost tribe of Ephraim to the knowledge of the covenants which the Lord has made with Abraham and Isaac.
8 And the Lord will give unto Joseph Smith a commandment that Joseph Smith shall do none other work, save the work which the Lord shall command Joseph Smith. And the Lord will make Joseph Smith great in the Lord’s eyes; for Joseph Smith shall do the Lord’s work.
9 And Joseph Smith shall be great like unto Moses, whom the Lord have said the Lord would raise up unto Joseph ben-Israel, to deliver the Lord’s people, O house of Israel.
10 And Moses will I raise up, to deliver thy people out of the land of Egypt.
11 But Joseph Smith will the Lord raise up out of the lost tribe of Ephraim; and unto Joseph Smith will the Lord give power to bring forth the Lord’s word unto the Lehites(vii)—and not to the bringing forth the Lord’s word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing the Lehites of the Lord’s word, which shall have already gone forth among the Lehites.
12 Wherefore, the Nephites(viii) shall write; and the Jews shall write; and the Book of Mormon(ix) which shall be written by the Nephites, and also the Bible which shall be written by the Jews, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the Lehites(x), and bringing the Lehites to the knowledge of Lehi’s sons in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of the Lord’s covenants, saith the Lord.
13 And out of weakness Joseph Smith shall be made strong, in that day when the Lord’s work shall commence among all the Lord’s people, unto the restoring thee, O house of Israel, saith the Lord.
14 And thus prophesied Joseph ben-Israel, saying: Behold, Joseph Smith will the Lord bless; and they that seek to destroy Joseph Smith shall be confounded; for this promise, which Joseph ben-Israel has obtained of the Lord, of Joseph Smith, shall be fulfilled. Behold, Joseph ben-Israel is sure of the fulfilling of this promise;
15 And Joseph Smith’s name shall be called after Joseph ben-Israel; and it shall be after the name of Joseph Smith’s father. And Joseph Smith shall be like unto Joseph ben-Israel; for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by Joseph Smith’s hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring the House of Israel(xi) unto salvation.
16 Yea, thus prophesied Joseph ben-Israel: Joseph ben-Israel is sure of this thing, even as Joseph ben-Israel is sure of the promise of Moses; for the Lord hath said unto Joseph ben-Israel, The Lord will preserve Joseph ben-Israel’s seed forever.
17 And the Lord hath said: The Lord will raise up a Moses; and the Lord will give power unto Moses in a rod; and the Lord will give judgment unto Moses in writing. Yet the Lord will not loose Moses’ tongue, that Moses shall speak much, for the Lord will not make Moses mighty in speaking. But the Lord will write unto Moses the Lord’s law, by the finger of the Lord’s own hand; and the Lord will make a spokesman [Aaron] for Moses.
18 And the Lord said unto Joseph ben-Israel also: The Lord will raise up unto Joseph Smith; and the Lord will make for Joseph Smith a spokesman [Sidney Rigdon(xii). And the Lord, behold, the Lord will give unto Sidney Rigdon that Sidney Rigdon shall write the writing of the Nephites, unto(xiii) Joseph Smith; and Sidney Rigdon shall declare it.
19 And the words which Sidney Rigdon shall write shall be the words which are expedient in the Lord’s wisdom should go forth unto the Lehites. And it shall be as if the Nephites had cried unto the Lehites from the dust; for the Lord knows the Nephite’s(xiv) faith.
20 And the Nephites shall cry from the dust; yea, even repentance unto the remaining Lehites, even after many generations have gone by the Nephites. And it shall come to pass that the Nephite’s cry shall go, even according to the simpleness of the Nephite’s words.
21 Because of the Nephite’s faith the Nephite’s words shall proceed forth out of the Lord’s mouth unto the Nephite’s brethren who are the remaining Lehites; and the weakness of the Nephite’s words will the Lord make strong in the Nephite’s faith, unto the remembering of the Lord’s covenant which the Lord made Abraham and Isaac.

22 And now, behold, Lehi’s son Joseph ben-Lehi, after this manner did Lehi’s father of old [Joseph ben-Israel] prophesy.
23 Wherefore, because of this covenant Joseph ben-Lehi is blessed; for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall not be destroyed, for Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed shall hearken unto the words of the book [of Mormon].
24 And there shall rise up Joseph Smith mighty among(xv) Joseph ben-Lehi’s seed, Joseph Smith shall do much good, both in word and in deed, being an instrument in the hands of God, with exceeding faith, to work mighty wonders, and do that thing which is great in the sight of God, unto the bringing to pass much restoration unto the house of Israel, and unto the remaining Lehites.
25 And now, blessed is Joseph ben-Lehi. Behold, Joseph ben-Lehi is little; wherefore hearken unto the words of Joseph ben-Lehi’s brother, Nephi, and it shall be done unto Joseph ben-Lehi even according to the words which Lehi has spoken. Remember the words of Joseph ben-Lehi’s dying father [Lehi]. Amen.


(i) Regarding the pronouns “thy,” “thine” and “ye”: “Thy” is strictly singular and is the equivalent of “your.” “Thine” is similar to “thy;” i.e. it also means “your” (the difference is in genitive versus possessive case, which is not important here). “Ye” can be plural or singular and is the equivalent of “you” in standard English. In this verse, all of the instances of “thy” and “thine” can only refer to Joseph ben-Israel whereas “ye” can refer to either Joseph ben-Lehi or a group including Joseph ben-Lehi. The use of the word “thy” in the phrase “for thy security forever” is therefore strange, because it restricts this portion of Lehi’s promise to Joseph ben-Lehi only; had Lehi said, “for your security forever,” we could read it to be a promise open to all of his descendents. In this regard, I have chosen to interpret “ye” as singular, given that Lehi has just used the singular pronoun “thy”. This interpretation is not without its problems: by using a singular pronoun, Lehi promises that if Joseph ben-Lehi keeps the commandments then all of Lehi’s sons’ descendents will be blessed.
[ii] See 2 Nephi 9:53 for what Jacob ben-Lehi preaches and 2 Nephi 25:21 for what Nephi preaches concerning this promise. After reading Momon 8:2-3, it might seem as though this promise was not fulfilled, Moroni stating that he remains “alone” after the conquest of the Lamanites. 1 Nephi 3:30 records a vision of Nephi that shows how the promise was fulfilled: “…the mixture of [Nephi’s] seed, which are among [the Lamanites].”
[iii] “The fruit of thy/my/his loins” is difficult to interpret, because it sometimes refers to an individual and other times to a group of descendents. The phrase is used 21 times in this chapter. I have favored reading it as a group except where it clearly (in my opinion) refers to an individual. The use of the phrase “seed of thy loins” makes translation more difficult; is this a different phrase? a poetic way to say the same thing? I have translated both to mean the same thing.
[iv] “Lehites” is not a name used in the Book of Mormon, but I prefer it to writing out all who it includes: the Nephites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, Jacobites, and Josephites by birth, and the Ishmaelites and Zoramites by association. Interestingly, there is no mention of the Samites in the scriptures, even though Sam had children (2 Nephi 5:6).
[v] Is this the appearance of Christ to the Nephites recorded in 3 Nephi or some future manifestation of the Messiah? D&C 3:16-20 suggests the latter. I use the term “Lehites” instead of “Lamanites” because the latter is too exclusive; it would not take into account all of the other peoples that survived (see note in verse 3).
[vi] Is this the Lehites, the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or all three? I favor translating this as “the lost tribe of Ephraim” because of how it is used in verse 7.
[vii] The seer is raised out of “the fruit of Joseph ben-Israel’s loins,” but the word is brought to “the seed of Joseph ben-Israel’s loins.” As noted in verse, I know of no exact difference between these two phrases, but the way they are used in this verse implies that the Lord was using them to refer to two different peoples.
[viii] Alternatively, this could be Joseph Smith.
[ix] If, according to the preceeding note, this is the writing of Joseph Smith, then this could include the Pearl of Great Price and the Doctrine & Covenants in addition to the Book of Mormon.
[x] Will peace be established among the Lehites, the lost tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, or all three? I favored the former, in contrast to what I chose in verse 6. My justification is that here the Lord uses “fruit of thy loins” to refer to the Nephites.
[xi] Joseph ben-Israel says “my people,” not “the fruit of my loins.” The former refers to his contemporaries—the Israelites—whereas the latter refers to only to his descendents.
[xii] See D&C 100:9.
[xiii] The phrase “the writing of the fruit of thy loins, unto the fruit of thy loins” makes translation difficult. I am not sure what “unto” means here—and in 1828, neither was Webster: “[Unto is] of no use in the language, as it expresses no more than to. I do not find it in our mother tongue, nor is it ever used in popular discourse. It is found in writers of former times, but is entirely obsolete.”
[xiv] “Their” could be translated “Nephites” as the writers of the Book of Mormon, or “Lehites” as the recipients of the message. I have chosen the former in the context of verse 21.
[xv] The phrase here is “…mighty among them” not “…mighty from among them.” The latter would mean that Joseph Smith was a descendent of Joseph ben-Lehi, which, of course, he was not.


ernie said...

While studying the same passage I wondered how Joseph Smith Sr and Jr could be descendents of Joseph son of Lehi if all of the Nephites including Joseph Ben Lehi were destroyed. I would appreciate any light on the subject.

BrianJ said...

The key is that in verse 7, the Lord is talking to Joseph ben-Israel, NOT to Lehi or Joseph ben-Lehi. So there is never any claim that Joseph Smith would descend from the Nephites. There is perhaps (verse 24) the claim that he would be "mighty among" the Nephites, but not that he would be a descendant.

Christopher Loch said...

I was confused with all the Josephs also and so I put "2 Nephi 3" into Google to see if anyone had taken the time to break this down.

Thanks so much for doing so.

Kara Lynn Kai Sanders said...

thank you for this post. if you study the Institute Student manual, you'll see Elder Bruce R. McConkie saw verses 18-19 differently from you. I think his synopsis fits a little better. The manual says: Elder Bruce R. McConkie identified the people
spoken of in 2 Nephi 3:18 as follows: "Note these
words of the Lord: ‘And I, behold, I will give unto him
[Mormon] that he shall write the writing of the fruit of
thy loins [the Nephites], unto the fruit of thy loins [the
Lamanites]; and the spokesman of thy loins [Joseph
Smith] shall declare it.’ That is, Mormon wrote the Book
of Mormon, but what he wrote was taken from the
writings of the Nephite prophets; and these writings,
compiled into one book, were translated by Joseph
Smith and sent forth by him unto the Lamanites” (A
New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1985], 426).

create a beautiful day. Peace, Love and God's continued blessings. Always...(s.m.i.l.e.)

http://www.lds.org/manual/institute?lang=eng (scroll down to find the one for the Book of Mormon)