In 1844, the Prophet Joseph Smith went to his grave testifying of the Book of Mormon. By that point in his life, he had lived in the forests of Vermont and New York, the plains of Ohio and Missouri, and the swampy river bottoms of Nauvoo, Illinois. Yet the publication that defined his life began in a totally different world. The opening chapters of the Book of Mormon have a distinctly Arabian flavor, garnished with some Israelite and Egyptian dressings.
Growing up in the late-7th century BC, Nephi wrote in “the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2). Critics in the 1830s scoffed at the idea of Jews writing in Egyptian, and for decades this particular phrase was difficult even for believers to understand. Now, archaeological finds have uncovered over 200 texts in Israel dating to the 8th–7th centuries BC that use Egyptian script in a distinctive way. The peculiar phrasing of 1 Nephi 1:2 proves to be an apt description of what some scholars are calling “Palestinian hieratic.”