In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Colophons in the Book of Mormon

Nephi and the Plates of Brass
Of all the evidences that support the Book of Mormon’s claim of authenticity some of my favorites are those that deal with ancient literary devices or styles of writing that date back to ancient time periods but can be found littered all throughout the Book of Mormon proving its ancient origin and not merely a creation of Joseph Smith jr. One of my favorites is that of the colophon as pointed out by Hugh Nibley in his articles “Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites”. A colophon is a statement made by the author or scribe used to give some sort of relevant information or useful insight usually about the author or scribe of a document.

The term derives from tablet inscriptions appended by a scribe to the end of an ancient Near East (e.g., Early/Middle/Late Babylonian, Assyrian, Canaanite) text such as a chapter, book, manuscript, or record. In the ancient Near East, scribes typically recorded information on clay tablets. The colophon usually contained facts relative to the text such as associated person(s) (e.g., the scribe, owner, or commissioner of the tablet), literary contents (e.g., a title, "catch" phrase, number of lines), and occasion or purpose of writing. Colophons and "catch phrases" (repeated phrases) helped the reader organize and identify various tablets, and keep related tablets together .Positionally; colophons on ancient tablets are comparable to a signature line in our own times.

The book of 1 Nephi and especially the first chapter is a colophon. It’s a literary form of an introduction. It was pointed out by Hugh Nibley several years ago that they appear in several Egyptian documents. This is interesting because we know that Nephi made his record “in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” Here's how Nibley described the ancient literary device found in 1 Nephi,

Bremner-Rhind Papyrus dating to 4th Century B.C.
“The first three verses of 1 Nephi, sharply set off from the rest of the text, are a typical colophon, a literary device that is highly characteristic of Egyptian compositions. Typical is the famous Bremner-Rhind Papyrus, which opens with a colophon containing (1) the date, (2) the titles of Nasim, the author, (3) the names of his parents and a word in praise of their virtues, with special mention of his father's prophetic calling, (4) a curse against anyone who might ‘take the book away,’ probably ‘due to fear lest a sacred book should get into impure hands.’ Compare this with Nephi's colophon: (1) his name, (2) the merits of his parents, with special attention to the learning of his father, (3) a solemn avowal (corresponding to Nasim's curse) that the record is true, and the assertion, ‘I make it with mine own hand’ (1 Nephi 1:3)--an indispensable condition of every true colophon, since the purpose of a colophon is to establish the identity of the actual writer-down (not merely the ultimate author) of the text. Egyptian literary writings regularly close with the formula iw-f-pw ‘thus it is,’ ‘and so it is.’ Nephi ends the main sections of his book with the phrase, ‘And thus it is, Amen’ (1 Nephi 9:6; 14:30; 22:31).” (Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites, p. 15.)

These textual elements functioned in antiquity somewhat like a copyright or seal of approval. There are many other colophons scattered throughout the Book of Mormon especially by the prophet Mormon in his compiling of the plates. Thus when we compare the style in which Nephi composed his colophon at the beginning of the chapter with that of Nasim the author of the Bremner-Rhind Papyrus we see that Nephi's style of composing this device would have been a common characteristic of the time period. Not only common but almost verbatim.  I offer this as another "Nibley Find" that once again confirms the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.