Mar 11, 2011

Reformed Egyptian and the Brass Plates

Hugh Nibley has aptly pointed out that when Nephi writes of having been born of “goodly parents” he was not speaking of their character (although they were good), but of their affluence. They had the means to educate their children, something that was not available to everyone at that time. Thus Nephi was "taught in all the learning” of his father. This learning consisted of “the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” As a result of this training, all of Nephi's writings were done in an abreviated Egyptian script which over time evolved into the “reformed Egyptian” of Moroni's day.
How did this tradition of writing in Egyptian transcend so many years when the people themselves were apparently speaking a form of Hebrew? The answer lies with their founding and guiding document, the Brass Plates of Laban. How so? Because the brass plates were writen in the Egyptian script. This comes as a surprise to most Latter-day Saints as we have always supposed that the brass plates were written in Hebrew. But in Mosiah we read:

And it came to pass that he had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord.
And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time. (Mosiah 1:2-4)

Mosiah taught his sons in the language of his ancestors that they might understand and know of the prophecies contained in the writing of the fathers, particularly the brass plates. Lehi could read the inscriptions on the brass plates, which were written in the Egyptian script, because he had been taught in the language of the Egyptians. This makes sense when we realize that the record was one kept by Joseph, who spent most of his life in Egypt, and was well versed in the Egyptian language and culture. The Hebrews of that day apparently used the abbreviated Egyptian characters to write in their native Hebrew tongue, much as we use the Arabic alphabet to write in English. 

Lehi taught this skill to his children, or at least to the males who wanted to learn it. All we know for sure is that Nephi learned it. Nephi subsequently taught it to his descendants, and it was passed on thru the scribes, prophets and kings until the time of the last scribe/prophet, Moroni. 

Thus whenever the Lord sees fit to bring forth the brass plates to the view of the world, which he has promised to eventually do, we can expect them to be written in the Egyptian script.

1 comment:

  1. This makes sense to me, but I had never considered it before. The plates of brass included the first five books of Moses--the same Moses who grew up in Pharoah's court, and Egyptian was likely his first language. Also, Lehi was a descendant of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. Joseph married an Egyptian woman and became a ruler in Egypt, so he and his descendants would have likely been very fluent in Egyptian.
    We are told in the Book of Mormon that the record was written in "reformed Egyptian", and it is inferred that Hebrew was more descriptive but took too much space (Mormon 9:32,33). Another good reason for Nephi to begin the writing in Egyptian is because he quoted a lot from the book of Isaiah (included in the brass plates) and since the brass plates set the precedent of Egyptian, it was easy to continue on using it, and quoting from it.
    I also have never considered the phrase "goodly parents" to mean of many goods. I guess it really does fit as a double meaning.
    Thanks for your research and incites.