Joseph Smith as Nephi: Parallels in retrieving the Gold/Brass Plates

Joseph’s experiences seem to parallel those he “translated” in the Book of Mormon, perhaps indicating a deeper spiritual-mystical allegory and myth.

In Mormonism, has any scholarship compared Nephi’s retrieval of the brass plates from Laban to Joseph’s retrieval of the gold plates from Moroni? There seems to be a number of parallels, perhaps including the following:

Lehi received the command to get the brass plates in a dream, just as Joseph received the command about the gold plates a dream-vision at night.

They were both said to be metal plates, with sacred engravings, a genealogy of Lehi’s forefathers on the brass, and a genealogy of the native Americans on the gold.

Nephi (and family) went up to Jerusalem, just as Joseph went up to the Hill Cumorah.

Nephi was blocked several times from getting the brass plates, returning several times, just as Joseph was shocked and then blocked for several years from getting the gold plates, returning several times to the hill.

Laban and Lemuel were chastised by an angel, just as Joseph was severely chastised by the angel Moroni for not being “engaged enough in the work of the Lord.”

Laban was tempted by the riches of Nephi’s family, which blocked Nephi from getting the plates, just as Joseph was warned to not be tempted by the riches of the gold plates, or he could not get them.

Nephi went up at night to get the brass plates, his family hiding, just as Joseph went up at night to the Hill Cumorah to get the gold plates, his wife Emma accompanying him (but stayed somewhat behind kneeling in prayer).

Nephi used the sword of Laban to eliminate the obstacle to get the plates, Laban, and which sword Joseph said was also in the box with the gold plates (one account says the brass plates were also in the box too). According to treasure guardian folklore, “the hero must overcome the guardian in order to obtain the treasure.”

If Moroni was a manifestation of something in Joseph’s own self, in his own psyche, perhaps Joseph had to ritually sacrifice a part of himself, perhaps a part of his ego, in order to unearth the “hidden treasure” within him, in the ground of being. It is notable that Laban was killed “with his own sword,” perhaps indicating the self-reflective nature of this death. It’s also noteworthy that in the 1838 account the angel who visited Joseph was named “Nephi,” which was later changed in the manuscript to Moroni.

Nephi and company fled into the wilderness from “the Jews.” Joseph likewise had to flee from several attackers through the woods on his way home with the “plates” in 1827.

In summary:

  • Nephi/Lehi = Joseph
  • brass plates = gold plates
  • Lehi’s forefathers = native Americans
  • Jerusalem = Hill Cumorah
  • blocked from getting plates = blocked from getting plates
  • angel chastisement = Moroni chastisement
  • Laman/Lemuel = Joseph’s doubting self?
  • tempted by Nephi/Lehi riches = tempted by gold plate riches
  • Laban = Moroni? (as treasure guardian, Joseph’s ego?)
  • obtained plates = obtained “plates”
  • fled in wilderness = fled in wilderness

What does this mean? It perhaps means that Joseph’s mind was weaving together a spiritual allegory in the Book of Mormon from his own deep personal visionary and life experiences that were indicative of more universal archetypal patterns. His experiences were a metaphor for mystical spiritual realities, even the mythological “hero’s journey.” As Karen Armstrong notes, myth expresses a timeless truth “that in some sense happened once but which also happens all the time” (The Lost Art of Scripture).

Artwork by R. T. Barrett.

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