“Yea, I make a record in the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians.” (1 Nephi 1:2)
At the very beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi tells us that he is writing his history in the language of the Egyptians. When we are reading First Nephi, we reading something that was written in retrospect, after Lehi’s party arrived in the promised land. This is where Nephi made his first set of plates (1 Nephi 19:1). It is at this point that he chooses to write in Egyptian for some reason instead of Hebrew and we don’t have any explanation as to why.
It is centuries later that Moroni explains that they wrote the record in a reformed version of Egyptian instead of Hebrew because of a space issue on the plates:
“And now, behold, we have written this record according to our knowledge, in the characters which are called among us the reformed Egyptian, being handed down and altered by us, according to our manner of speech. And if our plates had been sufficiently large we should have written in Hebrew; but the Hebrew hath been altered by us also; and if we could have written in Hebrew, behold, ye would have had no imperfection in our record.” (Mormon 9:32-33)
Mormon and Moroni’s reasons for using their reformed Egyptian could have been very different from Nephi’s reasons. Nephi was writing things that he considered sacred at a time of great conflict between his people and his brethren. He might have wanted to protect the information by writing it in a language other than Hebrew so that the information would be hidden from others in case his records fell into enemy’s hands. His intentions might have been to conceal the content of the records rather than save space.
Nephi starts writing his records almost immediately upon arrival in the promised land while Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael are still part of the camp. What if only Nephi knew how to write in Egyptian? Perhaps Nephi didn’t think it was wise to write his record (that included the murmuring and disobedience of his older brothers and step brothers) in a language that they could read. Think of what might have happened if Nephi was out hunting and Laman snuck into his tent to read his “journal”. Nephi’s brothers and step brothers already hated him and reading his depiction of them could have thrown them into a rage and put his family in danger.
Mormon, on the other hand, notes that they had altered the Hebrew and the Egyptian among them to the degree that the reformed Egyptian characters may have been more compact than what their altered Hebrew was like. These theories are only speculation on my part, but I think they illustrate that there are many possibilities to consider.
In 600BC, there were at least three Egyptian candidates for what Nephi could have used on his plates: Hieroglyphic, Hieratic, and Demotic. The only one that doesn’t seem to be available in Nephi’s time is Hieratic, but I have a theory that doesn’t dismiss it as a candidate so let’s see which one works best.
In response to an email question about the meaning of beehives sent in by Cameron to ldsSymbols.com, I dug up some information that I had read several years ago. I located the article I was looking for here, which contains a really great history of what the beehive meant to the Egyptians. This is pretty significant to Latter-day Saints who also use the beehive as a primary symbol of the faith as well as the culture and people of Utah.
Why should what the Egyptians believed be of any significance to Latter-day Saints today? Perhaps it is because the Egyptians, while practicing beliefs that on the surface seem foreign to modern people, had many core principles tied into truth obtained from an earlier time. Abraham 1:26 states:
Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
I find it interesting that some people conclude that that Latter-day Saints hijacked temple ceremonies from the Masons and that Christianity hijacked teachings from the Jews who hijacked their temple rights and beliefs from the Egyptians who hijacked them from…well, maybe the guys who had it right in the first place. I believe that everything goes back to the beginning anyway, and that the “doctrinal debris” left behind can be “restored” or “reconstituted” into a form where truth and light can come to us from it.Read Full Post