Did Nephi Know of the Return from Exile?

I was rereading some of Nephi’s sermons tied to his incipient Christianity. It struck me that it’s not clear Nephi knows about the 2cd temple period and restoration from Babylon. Now I’m still not 100% sure of this. So I appreciate any feedback. Nephi gets some fragmentary prophecies of the future but most are tried to Jesus in Roman Jerusalem (although Nephi doesn’t know it’s Rome). He then primarily focuses in on the fate of his people and the restoration of the Lamanites. The history of Babylon and the return with Nehemiah and company is missing.

His vision of the tree of life contains a lot in it. Yet historically it starts with Jesus being baptized (1 Nephi 11:27) This is then tied to the apocalypse of the large and spacious building. There’s then this very bizarre part that doesn’t get discussed much. The tall and spacious building fights the 12, but it’s the building that loses. (36) Then the vision shifts to America. First we have Christ’s appearance then the return and triumph of the building, the filthy water and so forth such that Nephi’s seed is overpowered.

What’s missing though is a discussion of the first restoration of Israel. We know from the limited prophecies of Isaiah that it will be restored. But those are vague – and several key texts of deutero-isaiah related to the restoration are missing and possibly not held by the Nephites. (Such as Isaiah 45) So what does Nephi think happens to the people taken to Babylon?

1 Nephi 15:20 seems to represent his believe.

“I did rehearse unto them the words of Isaiah, who spake concerning the restoration of the Jews, or of the house of Israel; and after they were restored they should no more be confounded, neither should they be scattered again.”

But of course this is not what happened. Cyrus allow them to return. They build the second temple and then are conquered by the Greeks. With the death of Alexander the two Greek empires (Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid) conquer them at different times. After the Greeks there’s a brief period of independence under the Maccabees then they’re conquered by Rome. After the first uprising in 70 AD (prophesied by Jesus) the temple is mostly destroyed. After a second rebellion Rome completely demolishes Jerusalem turning it into a classic Roman city Aelia Capitolina. Most of the Jews were killed, exiled or sold into slavery. The few who remained were a small minority. This is the diaspora that continued until the aftermath of World War II.

In Nephi’s interpretation though this is not what happens. This first off suggests that he really doesn’t have a lot more revealed than what he recounts in 1 Nephi. The rest is him filling in the gaps – largely on the basis of how he reads the prophecies of Isaiah. Most telling is that for him the restoration isn’t what we understand happened with Nehemiah but a future gathering we associate with the 2cd coming. (1 Nephi 30 seems quite relevant)

The closest we come to something beyond a last days restoration is Lehi’s father’s testimony that Nephi recounts in 2 Nephi 3. He prophesies about a second Moses who rises up. Often this is interpreted as a prophesy of Joseph Smith. But the imagery clearly borrows from Moses leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt.[1] He also quotes some unknown texts regarding prophecies of Joseph of Egypt. There’s also an other mysterious figure in verse 24 who is “one mighty among [thy seed]” who helps restore Israel. Given Nephi’s quotation of Isaiah 10 in 2 Nephi 20, it appears Nephi thinks this prophesy of a later Moses is Isaiah’s prophecy. (See 2 Nephi 20:24)

If Nephi sees the restoration from Babylon primarily as tied to the second coming, perhaps seeing the restoration as Israel in terms of his own people’s restoration to Israel, how does he understand Christ? He knows Jesus is born as the Messiah around 600 years after they left Jerusalem. (2 Ne 25:19) We know he thinks the events of the second coming are well after that. From our perspective Christ is born amongst restored Israel, but it appears Nephi doesn’t think that despite recognizing it is at Jerusalem.

This is really weird, and not something I’ve noticed before. I suspect given the texts he quotes from Isaiah that Nephi thinks the final prophecies are about Babylon and restoration. He may even think the prophesies about Joseph are about the middle east and Babylon/Assyria. Yet he knows Christ is born before the restoration and that he doesn’t restore Israel before his death.

Any ideas?


[1] 2 Nephi 3 really deserves a discussion all of its own. While we all know the typical reading there are oddities in it.

13 comments for “Did Nephi Know of the Return from Exile?

  1. I’ve always wondered too how the Nephites and Lamanites knew that Jerusalem was destroyed. Did they meet desert traders who later confirmed the destruction? Did they just take Lehi’s prophecy as truth?

  2. I think Nephi’s brother, Jacob, was the first BOM figure to record the destruction of Jerusalem as an established fact (2 Ne 6:8). He learned of it through revelation. Later physical confirmation came through Mulek???

    I agree with Clark that there is a hole in Nephi’s timeline and understanding. Another one of those nuanced angles for Grant Hardy to chew on?

  3. ACW, The impression I get from the text is that they knew because of prophecy and not actual information from Jerusalem. Nephi says in America, “according to my prophecy they have been destroyed” (2 Ne 25:10) strongly suggesting they had no reports. Later on in Helaman we hear, “now we know that Jerusalem was destroyed according to the words of Jeremiah.” (Hel 8:20)

  4. So see 1 Nephi 22:4; per Nephi the more part of the tribes were scattered; and they were not restored with the release from captivity by Cyrus.

    If we then go to 2 Nephi 25:10-17 we have the report of a return to Jerusalem, and that “the Lord will set his hand again the second time to restore his people” as well as Babylon not being the group that scatters them.

    Nephi though isn’t of the tribe of Judah and certainly from his perspective there was to be no first ingathering where the Lord brought together His people from the furthest reaches of heaven.

  5. But John, the first restoration is Moses and Egypt as I read that. So the second time would be Cyrus/Nehemiah and the third time the final restoration. The typology is always the restoration by Moses out of Egypt to the land of their fathers. The Moses connection is explicit in chapter 25 as well as 2 Nephi 3.

    Now you’re completely right that he does mention a bit.

    And notwithstanding they have been carried away they shall return again, and possess the land of Jerusalem; wherefore, they shall be restored again to the land of their inheritance. But, behold, they shall have wars, and rumors of wars; and when the day cometh that the Only Begotten of the Father, yea, even the Father of heaven and of earth, shall manifest himself unto them in the flesh, behold, they will reject him, because of their iniquities, and the hardness of their hearts, and the stiffness of their necks. […] behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again; for wo unto them that fight against God and the people of his church. Wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered among all nations; yea, and also Babylon shall be destroyed; wherefore, the Jews shall be scattered by other nations.

    So he does mention a kind of restoration. I definitely read that one wrong. That makes the whole “second” restoration problematic though. He’s also a bit confused on who is getting destroyed there. I assume he means Babylon as a type, but it seems like he has pretty partial information.

    Likewise 1 Nephi 22 discusses the scattering and the nursing by the gentiles. Now Nephi is clearly giving interpretations in that chapter based upon Isaiah. But he seems to be conflating the gathering in the last days with the gathering from Babylon. In fact is was that chapter that got me first thinking about this. The gathering there seems tied to the “might nation” “upon the face of this land” which most would interpret as the US.

    Now if Isaiah has, as most of us would say, multiple levels of typology, this isn’t a problem. I’m just saying that Nephi seems to have missed the level dealing with Cyrus/Nehemiah as well as the Greek/Maccabee situation. This in turn leads to a bit of confusion around the time of Christ – even acknowledging the mention of a restoration and second destruction in 25:14-15. Verse 11 is the key one about a restoration although this comes after the earlier prophecies where things are confused. This also appears to be new at the time of this writing. “I speak because of the spirit which is in me.” (11) So I suspect he sees a problem with his vision in 1 Nephi and clarifies things a bit – he appears to refer to his vision in 1 Ne 11 in 2 Ne 25:13.

  6. Just to add, perhaps a better way of putting my question is what did Nephi know and when did he know it? He clearly knew there was a bit of a return, but it’s not clear he knew the scale. Further it looks like he learns this fairly late around the time 2 Ne 25 was composed.

  7. Clark: taking the release from exile of the Jews by Cyrus as being the gathering of Israel is not something that Nephi would have any reason at all to believe. Jeremiah (29:10) had prophesied that the Jews would be captive for seventy years already, and the Ten Tribes weren’t regathered, nor did most Jews actually head back to Jerusalem from Egypt or Babylon; both Babylon and Alexandria became centers of Jewish thought for many centuries. Nephi also knew that he and his family would not be gathered with the release from captivity, and assuming that Nephi had and had read Zenos (Jacob 5) then he would likewise have no reason to suppose that the continuation of the main tree would be taken as the gathering of all the branches of scattered Israel.

    The scale from Nephi’s perspective is rather different from that of Nehemiah; Nehemiah saw himself leading a great many people, Nephi saw all the other people that weren’t with Nehemiah. Neither one is inaccurate.
    Jeremiah also prophesied of the destruction of Babylon; so he is saying that it would not be Babylon that would destroy Jerusalem the second time.

  8. That’s a great point about Jeremiah. Although that chapter is usually dated to around the first wave of captives and thus after Lehi would have left Jerusalem. That’s not to say the sentiments wouldn’t have been known by Lehi. The debate was largely over whether the exile would be long or short.

    The point about Babylon is interesting since that is more ambiguous in Nephi. I suspect Jeremiah 49-52 would be post-Lehi. (Obvious 52 which is merely quoting 2 Kings is)

    My main original question was much more over whether Nephi recognized his prophecy in 2 Ne 25 as temporally ordered. That is was verse 11 temporally proceeding 14. I think after this discussion I’m inclined to agree it is, despite some oddities. Nephi’s knowledge is still a bit weird though. After all he has Babylon being destroyed at the time of Babylon’s destruction. (v15)

  9. “Although that chapter is usually dated to around the first wave of captives and thus after Lehi would have left Jerusalem. ”

    Nephi says that his father started his ministry at the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, this prophecy was given at the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah. Zedekiah was a puppet king that was installed by Babylon after they had taken the first wave of captives. Unless we argue either a mistranslation regarding Zedekiah or that one of the prior kings was known as Zedekiah then Lehi didn’t even start preaching until Judah had already been a client state of Babylon, rebelled, and had a puppet king installed.

    It may be that the knowledge only comes from Isaiah as per 2 Nephi 23; that opens up some questions regarding Isaiah, and Nephi’s understanding of Isaiah, so that Nephi’s knowledge in that case would not be nearly as concrete regarding Babylon (the empire) being destroyed as Isaiah is more along the lines of the Great and Spacious Building being destroyed because Babylon was the cultural and scientific center of what was then the Assyrian Empire. So if Nephi doesn’t have the prophecies from Jeremiah on the subject his knowledge regarding Babylon relative to the end of the world would be quite wonky.

  10. The question is whether any of Jeremiah was on the plates of brass. I’d assume not. But parts of the book may have been held in scrolls or the like. But I’d imagine if there were writings they’d have been Jeremiah’s older ones.

  11. There were prophecies by Jeremiah on the brass plates see 1 Nephi 5:13

    “And also the prophecies of the holy prophets, from the beginning, even down to the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah; and also many prophecies which have been spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah.”

    But the wording suggests that Nephi knew of other ones that had not yet been written.

  12. Ah. Good reference. I’d somehow missed that. As you note it definitely indicates it’s not the full text of Jeremiah.

    I’d love to know the process for expanding the brass plates. There’s so much mystery about them.

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