This is the first in a series of books from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute meant to seek “Christ in scripture by combining intellectual rigor and the disciple’s yearning for holiness,” (page vii) and focusing on theological aspects of the Book of Mormon. “In this case, theology, as opposed to authoritative doctrine, relates to the original sense of the term as, literally, reasoned ‘God talk’” (page viii). This volume is by Joseph Spencer, an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU and the editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.
At 146 pages, the book is indeed brief. It is a small paperback, but it has a lot of nice features. The front cover is embossed and both the front and back covers have flaps that can (almost) be used as bookmarks. There are woodcut illuminations matching those in the recent “Study Edition” of the Book of Mormon, also published by the Maxwell Institute. And the text has orange highlights and notes throughout.
The book has two parts. The first part, “The Theological Project of 1 Nephi,” was the most interesting to me. It talks about the original chapter breaks, and how they made it easier to see that Nephi intentionally structured the book to have two parts. The first part is an abridgment of the record kept by Lehi, and the second part, beginning with the original chapter three (now chapter ten) is about Nephi’s life. “The first half of the book prepares for the second by explaining how Nephi’s family came to possess the two key prophetic resources [the brass plates and the vision of the tree of life] essential to Nephi’s own subsequent ministerial efforts. The second half of the book then recounts Nephi’s ministry to his brothers, built on parallel expositions of the two key prophetic resources from the first half of the book” (pages 19-20). This is all shown in two diagrams, which explain that each of the original chapters had a theme and how they relate to each other. [Read more…] about Book Review – 1st Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction