Nephi and the Exodus: Research and the Book of Mormon


Latter-day Saints believe that the Book of Mormon has some distinctively Hebrew characteristics, a belief that many non-Latter-day Saint scholars have either ridiculed or minimized. However, more and more scholars are discovering striking Hebrew parallels in the Book of Mormon, supporting that scripture’s claim that it has strong ties to the Jews and their learning. Recently, several researchers, George Tate, John W. Welch, and Avraham Gileadi, have noted that one of the most important of all Hebrew motifs, the exodus cycle, is woven throughout 1 Nephi.

Nephi himself was an Israelite, born of Jewish parents and reared in Jerusalem. He tells us that he was taught in the learning of his father and that he employed the learning of the Jews in writing his record. (1 Ne. 1:1–2.) With his background, Nephi knew the vital parts of Hebrew history and literature.

Nephi had access to the Exodus account on the plates of brass, which contained the five books of Moses and an account of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. (1 Ne. 5:11, 15.) However, even before Lehi’s family had obtained the plates of brass, which undoubtedly aided in Nephi’s study, Nephi still knew the story of the Exodus. (See 1 Ne. 4:1–3.)

Nephi’s familiarity with the Exodus story is paralleled by his apparent familiarity with the exodus cycle as a literary pattern. The exodus cycle is the pattern of enslavement and divine rescue used often in the Bible and in other Jewish writings.

Since an exodus cycle deals with how events fit the pattern of deliverance, the order of events is relatively unimportant. Hence, Nephi’s account does not always follow the sequence Moses used in his writings, but it does share numerous motifs of the Exodus, some of which are listed in the accompanying chart. (The list is a sampling only; it is incomplete and represents no attempt to order the significance of the parallels.) The instances of similarity are many, and the result is the same: after the people have arrived in the promised land, they know that the Lord is God and that he delivered them from destruction.

One final characteristic of the exodus cycle is that its end marks the beginning of a new era. After experiencing a number of localized exodus cycles, the era will end in the prophesied final exodus out of Babylon—out of a wicked world.

The final testimony of the exodus of the last days is the same as the testimony of the exodus from Egypt and the exodus from Jerusalem: “All flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (1 Ne. 21:26; Isa. 49:26.)

Nephi’s use of the Exodus shows that he freely used Hebrew literary methods. His writing in 1 Nephi is full of Hebrew substructures, Hebrew forms of prophetic speech, Hebrew expressiveness, and Hebrew literary themes. It is truly a record that “consists of the learning of the Jews.” (1 Ne. 1:2.)

Parallels Between 1 Nephi and Exodus

1 Nephi

Exodus

Themes Common to Both Accounts

1 Ne. 1:6; 1 Ne. 16:16

Ex. 13:21

Lord’s guidance

1 Ne. 1:20

Ex. 1:11–16

oppressive conditions

1 Ne. 2:2

Ex. 3:7–18

Lord’s command to depart

1 Ne. 2:6–7

Ex. 3:18; Ex. 15:22; Ex. 20:25

sacrifice to the Lord after three day’s journey

1 Ne. 2:11–12; 1 Ne. 5:2; 1 Ne. 16:20

Ex. 15:24; Ex. 16:2–3

murmuring against the Lord

1 Ne. 2:15; 1 Ne. 3:9; 1 Ne. 10:16

Ex. 18:7; Ex. 33:8

dwelling in tents

1 Ne. 2:20

Ex. 3:17

promise of a new land of inheritance

1 Ne. 4:12

Ex. 17:8–13

victory over enemies

1 Ne. 7:6–7

Ex. 14:12

rebellious desire to return

1 Ne. 9:1–4

Ex. 17:14

a record of the journey

1 Ne. 11:1–1 Ne. 14:27

Ex. 19:19–Ex. 31:18

instruction from a heavenly being on a high mountain

1 Ne. 15:6–1 Ne. 16:5

Ex. 19:3–25

prophet who teaches the people after divine instruction

1 Ne. 16:10

Ex. 7:9–21; Ex. 8:16; Ex. 14:16

miraculous physical object (rod and liahona)

1 Ne. 17:3–5

Ex. 16:11–18

Lord’s provision of food

1 Ne. 17:4

Ex. 16:35; Deut. 8:2

prolonged wandering in the wilderness

1 Ne. 17:6

Ex. 16:3; Ex. 17:1

afflictions in the wilderness

1 Ne. 17:26; 1 Ne. 18:8–23

Ex. 14:21–22, 29; Ex. 15:19

crossing the sea

1 Ne. 17:55

Ex. 14:31; Ex. 20:12

acknowledgment of the Lord’s power

1 Ne. 18:7

Ex. 18:3–4

two sons born in the wilderness

1 Ne. 18:8

Ex. 14:21

Lord’s providential wind

1 Ne. 18:9

Ex. 32:18–19

wicked revelry

1 Ne. 18:20

Ex. 32:10

death threats from the Lord

1 Ne. 18:23–25

Josh. 11:23

inheritance of a promised land

1 Ne. 19:11

Ex. 20:18

thunderings and lightnings

[illustration] “Leaving Jerusalem,” by Minerva Teichert. Courtesy of the Brigham Young University Art Collection.