© Anthony E. Larson, 2007
Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time
Part 1 of 4
Nephi used a handy teaching device to instruct his people. He found it useful to compare events and conditions in his time to those found in his scriptures, “the books of Moses” and the “writings of Isaiah.” He wrote, “…for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Nephi 19:23.) He later amplified on that concept by adding, “Now these are the words, and ye may liken them unto you and unto all men.” (2 Nephi 11:8.)
This is a vital key for our study. In a similar manner, we as well can “liken” events in Nephite history to those in our time “for our profit and learning.” When we do so, some rather remarkable similarities stand out, parallels that allow us to better see our reflection in the mirror of Nephite history and even permit us a glimpse of what may awaits in our future.
Most Latter-day Saints understand that the Book of Mormon was written so we could learn from the shortcomings of the Nephites and the Lamanites. What most fail to consider is that the two histories-Nephite and American-are strikingly similar.
Mormon may have intended that this ‘likening’ of the two histories be far more comprehensive and penetrating than a superficial comparison. He may have intended that we see the remarkable similarity between events and conditions in our time and those in Nephite times.
This becomes especially meaningful when we consider that both Moroni and Mormon clearly saw our day in vision. Speaking to the Gentiles, Mormon wrote, “Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. … for I know that ye shall have my words.” (Mormon 8: 35; 9:30.)
Having seen our day, he was in the unique position to compile Nephite history so as to emphasize the similarities between them and us. With a repetitive, detailed review of Nephite problems, those prophets sought to teach us about our own difficulties. In that manner, it seems, they diligently portrayed our destiny in vivid and graphic narrative, using their history like a paintbrush on the canvas of our day and time.
Our thesis: Americans are the modern counterparts of the ancient Nephites. Seen thusly, Nephite history is a prophetic harbinger for our time-a Paul Revere, if you will, to our modern world, riding out into our age of moral darkness to warn of what is about to overtake us.
President Ezra Taft Benson wrote of these similarities, “The record of the Nephite history just prior to the Saviors’ visit reveals many parallels to our own day as we anticipate the Savior’s second coming.” (A Witness And A Warning, p.37.)
So, let’s examine the record to see what this enhanced perspective brings.
Tracing the threads of both histories back in time, we find that both Nephite history and American history began in the Middle East with the house of Israel.
Led by revelation, Lehi’s party left Jerusalem in the Southern Kingdom and traveled southward and eastward, halfway around the world to settle in the Promised Land.
Fleeing incursions by the Assyrians, and later by the Babylonians, many residents of the Northern Kingdom also emigrated in the same epoch as Lehi’s party. Only, these Israelites migrated northward and westward. What’s more, Assyrians relocated captives to the northernmost borders of their empire.
From there, it is evident that they migrated into Europe around the Black and the Caspian seas. President Joseph Fielding Smith, in Answers to Gospel Questions, wrote, “From these (Israelite) exiles many without question found their way into the area which formed the nations of northern Europe.”
But that is only the beginning of our comparison. Many good examples of these remarkable parallels are found when we compare the origins of both cultures to learn who are today’s equivalents of the Nephites and the Lamanites.
- Founders of both Nephite and American cultures, respectively, wandered in the “wilderness” during their different sagas, covering great distances.
- Both crossed oceans to get to the New World: The Nephites did so early in their history; the Americans did it late in their history.
- Both emigrated to distant lands, where they settled. For the Nephites, it was the “land of original inheritance” in the New World. For the forerunners of the Americans, it was greater Europe.
- The Western Hemisphere ultimately became home to both cultures.
- In the Book of Mormon saga, the Nephites were forced to separate themselves from their brethren, the Lamanites in the South, due to religious persecution and intolerance. They moved North, away from the “lands of original inheritance,” to found their new nation. In American history, our forebears departed Europe, the land in which their forefathers first settled, or their “first inheritance” after leaving the Middle East, to flee religious persecution and intolerance. There, in the West, they founded a new nation, leaving their ‘brethren’ behind in the East.
- Both nations were the ‘good’ half of a ‘good guy-bad guys’ duality. For the Nephites, their nemeses were the Lamanite groups, their relatives. For the Americans, their nemeses were European groups, their relatives.
- Like the Nephites, Americans in the West were constantly defending themselves against the ‘bad guys” in Europe, in the East-most especially during the recent period known as the Cold War.
- The orientation of the struggle between the Nephites and their Lamanite cousins was north and south. The orientation in our day, especially during the Cold War, has been a struggle between the East and the West.
Thus, by comparing American history with Nephite history, we see how very similar the two are – even to the point that both chronicles concern descendents of the House of Israel.
Lest anyone doubt that the prophets of the restoration taught that we are Israelites and that this comparison of American ancestry to Nephite ancestry is therefore invalid, consider that Moses appeared to Joseph Smith in the Kirtland Temple to commit “the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north.” (Doctrine and Covenants, 110:11.)
This revelation raised the question: Who and where are the Israelites? One simply must first identify them in order to gather them. The answer came with the first callings to foreign missions in this dispensation: They went to England and Europe. And, here’s the reason why:
- The Prophet Joseph Smith once said, “There are thousands of good people in England and those old countries (lands of original inheritance) who are waiting for the fullness of the gospel, and it will not be long before they will flock to Zion, for Ephraim (Israel) dwells largely in those parts” (Joseph Grant Stevenson, The Life of Edward Stevenson, master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1955, p. 25).
- In a 1937 General Conference, Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “The Blood of Ephraim, the blood of Israel, runs strong in European countries ….”
- In his book, Progress of Man, President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “… the blood of Israel is profusely scattered throughout the island of Great Britain.”
- Elder Orson F. Whitney, in Gospel Themes, wrote, “… it is also a fact that from Scandinavia and the nations of Northern Europe has come much of the blood of Israel-the blood of Ephraim now within the pale of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
These discoveries set the stage for even greater revelations regarding striking similarities between the Nephites and the Americans, which we will explore in three future installments in this series.