Nephi, son of Lehi

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Still from The Life of Nephi (1915)

Nephi (/ˈnf/ NEE-fy) is one of the central figures described in the Book of Mormon. He was the son of Lehi, a prophet, founder of the Nephite people, and author of the first two books of the Book of Mormon, First and Second Nephi.

Early life[edit]

Nephi was the fourth of six sons of Lehi and Sariah. He is believed to have been born in 615 BC. Nephi and his family lived in Jerusalem, circa 600 BC,[1] during the reign of King Zedekiah,[2] until Lehi was commanded by God to take his family and flee into the wilderness.[3] Before their flight, Nephi's father prophesied the impending destruction and captivity of Jerusalem by the armies of Babylon.

Family tree[edit]


Nephi also mentions having sisters, though he does not mention their names or birth orders.[4]


Nephi and his family left Jerusalem, traveled to the Red Sea, and then journeyed three days further into the wilderness, stopping in a valley by a river near the Red Sea.[5] Some modern scholars have suggested that the location of their camp was near the city of present-day al-Bad, in the Tabuk region of Saudi Arabia, approximately 375 kilometres (233 mi) South of Jerusalem.[6] Lehi then sent his 4 sons (Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi) back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates.[7] After successfully obtaining the Brass Plates, they were commanded to return to Jerusalem a second time to bring Ishmael's family for the purpose of providing spouses for Lehi's children.[8]

The Plates of Brass[edit]

A powerful man named Laban was in possession of the Plates of Brass,[9] a record kept by the Jews which contained their laws, customs, history, and lineage.[10] Nephi and his brothers tried three times to get the brass plates from Laban. First, they sent Laman, who simply asked Laban for the plates.[11] Laban tried to kill Laman, accusing him of being a thief.[12] Laman fled back to his brothers, extremely upset.[13] The second time, Nephi convinced his brothers to try to buy the plates using their abandoned wealth.[14] Laban wanted the riches but wouldn't give up the plates, sending his servants to kill them. They ran for their lives and their wealth fell into Laban's possession.[15] The four brothers hid in a cave.[16] Laman and Lemuel started to beat their younger brothers severely.[17] An angel appeared and stopped them, telling Laman and Lemuel that, because of his righteousness, the Lord had made Nephi "a teacher and a ruler over them."[18] Finally, Nephi returned to try one last time.[19] Before he got to the house of Laban, he found a drunken man passed out in the street.[20] The man was Laban.[21] Nephi was then commanded by the Lord to kill Laban.[19] At first, Nephi struggled with the idea, because he had never before "shed the blood of man."[22] The Spirit convinced him that it is better for "one man to perish than for an entire nation to dwindle and perish in unbelief."[23] Nephi followed through with the command and then dressed himself in Laban's clothing and armor.[24] He returned to Laban's house and ordered Zoram, one of Laban's servants, to bring him the Plates of Brass.[25] He then led Zoram back to where his brothers were hiding.[26] Laman, Lemuel and Sam, seeing Nephi disguised as Laban were afraid and turned to flee.[27] Nephi called out to them. When Zoram saw Nephi's brothers, he turned to run, but Nephi stopped him.[28] Nephi promised Zoram "that he should be a free man like unto us if he would go down in the wilderness with us," to which Zoram agreed.[29]

Eight years in the wilderness and flight to the Promised Land[edit]

Nephi spent eight years in the wilderness,[30] facing many hardships, including the breaking of his bow which made it impossible to obtain food,[31] and Nephi's elder brothers Laman and Lemuel rebelling against him and his father Lehi.[32][33][34] Nephi's rebellious older brothers attempted to kill him on at least two occasions.[35][36]

Finally, in the land of Bountiful, Nephi is commanded by God to build a ship and sail to the "Promised Land" or the Americas. However, Laman and Lemuel do not think he should, saying, "Our brother is a fool, for he thinketh that he can build a ship; yea, and he also thinketh that he can cross these great waters." [37] They then proceed to try to throw Nephi into the depths of the sea; however, Nephi commands them not to. He does this by saying, "In the name of the Almighty God, I command you that ye touch me not, for I am filled with the power of God, even unto the consuming of my flesh; and whoso shall lay his hands upon me shall wither even as a dried reed; and he shall be as naught before the power of God, for God shall smite him."[37] The land of Bountiful where this occurred was likely somewhere along the coasts of present-day Dhufar, Oman.[6]

Life in the Promised Land, Temple, King of the Nephites, and death[edit]

Not long after arriving in the Americas, Lehi died, leaving the leadership of their colony in Nephi's hands. His brothers Laman and Lemuel rebelled shortly thereafter, and the colony split into two. Nephi's followers named themselves "Nephites", while the others were dubbed "Lamanites". Nephites separate into the wilderness, where they begin building in the land of Nephi. Within twenty one years of arriving in the promised land, Nephi's people construct a temple.[38] Under Nephi's leadership the Nephite civilization prospered despite occasional war with the Lamanites. According to the Book of Mormon, Nephi was revered by his people.[39] Nephi's death is supposedly attributed to old age.[40] Upon his death, the charge of keeping the sacred records of the Book of Mormon was passed to his brother Jacob.


Nephi's vision of the young Jesus and Mary

Nephi is credited with several major contributions to Mormon doctrine and teachings. After his father received his Vision of the Tree of Life, Nephi received a similar vision and recorded it in more detail, including an interpretation of each element of the dream. The dream and Nephi's interpretation are quoted often by Latter-Day Saints. Nephi also saw and recorded details of the birth, life, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ – the first such relation to occur in the text of the Book of Mormon. An angel also showed him things similar to the vision of John the Revelator which is canonized in the Book of Revelation.[41]

Nephi quoted extensively from the Book of Isaiah. Between the books of First and Second Nephi 18 chapters of Isaiah are recorded almost verbatim as they appear in the King James Version of the Bible.

One of the most often quoted Book of Mormon scriptures was penned by Nephi in the narrative of his exile:

7 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. (1 Nephi 3:7)[42]

Nephi also recorded his thoughts on his own inadequacy as a disciple of Christ in what is regarded as some of the most beautiful prose in the Book of Mormon. Recorded in chapter four of Second Nephi, it was dubbed the Psalm of Nephi.[43] A portion of the passage is given below:

And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. (2 Nephi 4:19–23)

Nephi's legacy[edit]

Nephi is regarded by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a major figure in the Book of Mormon, as a prophet, political leader, and record keeper. A variety of individuals throughout the Book of Mormon were named after him, including all of the kings in the early Nephite civilization. Additionally, his people referred to themselves as "Nephites" – a name that would follow them through the entire 1000-year history given in the Book of Mormon.

Nephi is also used as a personal name amongst contemporary Latter-day Saints.[44]

Etymology of Nephi[edit]

The origin of the name Nephi is uncertain, and disputed. As non-Mormon scholars view the Book of Mormon as a work of fiction, and do not recognize Nephi as a historical figure, the predominant scholarly view is that the name was selected or coined by Joseph Smith. Based on a non-Mormon or secular perspective, hypotheses for the name's origin include:

  • its appearance as a geographic name in 2 Maccabees of the Apocrypha ("And Neemias called this thing Naphthar, which is as much as to say, a cleansing: but many men call it Nephi.")[45]
  • the shortening of two personal names Nephish and Nephishesim in the Authorized King James Version,[45]
  • a reference to the nephilim ( נְפִילִים ), who are the mythical half-immortal "giants" described in Genesis;[45] the name means "fallen ones."[46][47][48]
  • a reference to the work Nephiomaoth, which "was one of the magic names of God in early Christian Gnosticism"[45]
  • or the term Nephes, which is a Kabbalistic term for a ghost that wanders around sepulchers.[45]

Religious Mormon scholars generally believe that the Book of Mormon is historical, and therefore have proposed etymologies consistent with that view. For example, Mormon scholar John Gee theorizes that Nephi is a Hebrew form of the Egyptian name Nfr. In Phoenician and Aramaic inscriptions of Egyptian names containing nfr, the nfr element is rendered npy, and the closely related Hebrew language would presumably transcribe the name the same way.[49] Hugh Nibley has suggested that the name Nephi is related to the Egyptian Nehri. Some Mormon scholars have proposed that the name Nephi is related to the Hebrew word nephesh (נֶפֶש), which literally means the "complete life of a being" though it is usually used in the sense of "living being" (breathing creature). Psyche is the equivalent New Testament Greek word from which the English word soul is only translated. In the Greek Septuagint nephesh is mostly translated as psyche (ψυχή). Other Mormon scholars propose that the term is a variant of the Arabic and Hebrew words for prophet: Nabi.[citation needed]

Book of Mormon Movie[edit]

In The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey, adapted from First and Second Nephi, Nephi was portrayed by Canadian actor Noah Danby. Danby was a Lutheran and had never read the source material before playing the role. The portrayal was highly influenced by Arnold Friberg paintings of Nephi.

The film was rated PG-13 by American censors for "a scene of violence", having contained an image of Nephi with blood splattered on his face after beheading Laban. This image was removed for home media releases, and the film received a PG rating.

The film was widely panned by Mormon[50] and non-Mormon critics.[51] The Austin Chronicle wrote

Where’s Steve Reeves when we really need him? Even in his present condition, the former Hercules could emote up a storm compared to The Book of Mormon Movie’s Noah Danby, who plays straight-shootin’ Mormon icon Nephi with all the finesse of a golem.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1 Nephi 10:4". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  2. ^ "1 Nephi 1:4". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  3. ^ "1 Nephi 2:2". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  4. ^ "2 Nephi 5:6". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  5. ^ "1 Nephi 2:4–6". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  6. ^ a b Hilton, Lynn M; Hilton, Hope A (1996). Discovering Lehi : New evidence of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia. Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, Inc. ISBN 1555172768.
  7. ^ "1 Nephi 3:2–4". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  8. ^ "1 Nephi 7:1–2". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  9. ^ "1 Nephi 3:3". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  10. ^ "1 Nephi 5:10–16". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  11. ^ "1 Nephi 3:11–12". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  12. ^ "1 Nephi 3:13". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  13. ^ "1 Nephi 3:14". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  14. ^ "1 Nephi 3:21–24". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  15. ^ "1 Nephi 3:25–26". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  16. ^ "1 Nephi 3:27". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  17. ^ "1 Nephi 3:28". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  18. ^ "1 Nephi 3:29". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  19. ^ a b "1 Nephi 4:5". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  20. ^ "1 Nephi 4:7". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  21. ^ "1 Nephi 4:8". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  22. ^ "1 Nephi 4:10". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  23. ^ "1 Nephi 4:13". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  24. ^ "1 Nephi 4:18–19". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  25. ^ "1 Nephi 4:20". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  26. ^ "1 Nephi 4:24–28". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  27. ^ "1 Nephi 4:29". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  28. ^ "1 Nephi 4:29–31". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  29. ^ "1 Nephi 4:32–38". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  30. ^ "1 Nephi 17:4". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  31. ^ "1 Nephi 16:18, 21". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  32. ^ "1 Nephi 7:6". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  33. ^ "1 Nephi 7:16". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  34. ^ "1 Nephi 18:11". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  35. ^ "1 Nephi 7:16". Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  36. ^ "1 Nephi 17:48". Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  37. ^ a b "1 Nephi 17". Retrieved 30 October 2016.
  38. ^ Jacob 5:16
  39. ^ Jacob 1:10
  40. ^ Jacob 1:11
  41. ^ "1 Nephi 14:18–27". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  42. ^ "1 Nephi 3". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  43. ^ "In his 1947 monograph Our Book of Mormon, Sidney Sperry christened this passage "The Psalm of Nephi," and it has carried that epithet ever since." – Nickerson, Matthew, Nephi's Psalm: 2 Nephi 4:16–35 in the Light of Form-Critical Analysis, Matthew Nickerson, Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 1997. Pp. 26–42.
  44. ^ "Nephi | Name Meaning & Origin | Boy Name Nephi | Baby Names World". Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  45. ^ a b c d e Quinn, D. Michael (1998). Early Mormonism and the magic world view ([Rev. and enlarged ed.] ed.). Salt Lake City: Signature Books. ISBN 1-56085-089-2.
  46. ^ Aufarth Christoph; Loren T. Stuckenbruck The fall of the angels Brill (22 Feb 2004) ISBN 978-9004126688 p.34
  47. ^ Marks, Herbert "Biblical Naming and Poetic Etymology" Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 114, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 21–42
  48. ^ "Professor Michael S. Heiser The Meaning of the Word Nephilim: Fact vs. Fantasy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  49. ^ A Note on the Name Nephi
  50. ^ The Book of Mormon Movie, Deseret News
  51. ^ The Book of Mormon Movie, Volume 1: The Journey in the Austin Chronicle

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

First Nephite record keeper of the small plates
600 B.C. – 544 B.C.
Succeeded by