Source:Rediscovering the Book of Mormon:Ch:4:1:Colophons: 1 Nephi

Colphons: 1 Nephi

Colophons: 1 Nephi

In the heading before chapter 1 of 1 Nephi, we find Nephi's outline of his record. It begins, "An account of Lehi and his wife Sariah, and his four sons," and ends, "This is according to the account of Nephi; or in other words, I, Nephi, wrote this record." Sometimes these signposts appear before a section to tell us what is to come. Other times, they appear at the end to explain, recap, or mark the end of what has been said. For lack of a better word, I call them colophons, though technically colophons are notes or guidelines after a text.

Nephi set the pattern. He wrote his own titles, prefaces, summaries, and conclusions. All of 1 Nephi 9 consists of Nephi's statement about what he had been recording in the previous eight chapters and what he intended yet to write. Note too the subtle signal of his editorial guiding hand in the "amen" ending the chapter. In 1 Nephi 14 he summarized the preceding chapters and again concluded with "Amen." Other clear-cut examples are in 15:36 and in 22:31, which ends the book of 1 Nephi.

We understand from 2 Nephi 5:28-33 that Nephi began writing the small plates account—what was to become 1 Nephi through Omni—some thirty years after Lehi and Nephi left Jerusalem. Having a clear plan in mind when he began as to what to include on the small plates, Nephi could begin his book with the colophon that sounds like a table of contents....

Knowing the details of all these editorial comments is not necessary for readers primarily concerned with reading the text for its spiritual value. They do have value, however, in a number of other ways. For students of historical documents and ancient literary forms, they provide valuable clues to the process of writing and compiling the record. Furthermore, the large number of these statements in such intricate relations both with each other and in the overall structure of the book teach us something else. They make it obvious that they came from ancient writers, not from Joseph Smith.

Considering the way Joseph dictated the book to scribes, for the most part in a matter of weeks without revising what he had dictated, we should realize that he could not himself have come up with this complicated set of prefaces and summaries. It is unlikely that he would go to the trouble to insert anything like them (they are not required to move the story along). It is also most unlikely that, while dictating, he could keep in mind what he had promised in the prefaces and then remember to close off so many sections neatly with summaries. Much more believable are the claims in the Book of Mormon itself that the record was done by ancient writers working with written materials over long periods of time.[1]


  1. John A. Tvedtnes, "Colophons in the Book of Mormon," in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, edited by John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.; Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1991), Chapter 4.