Journal of Book of Mormon Studies


Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi, Civilization, Government, Laban, Nephi1


The slaying of Laban has been a stumbling block for many readers of the Book of Mormon. Although Laban appeared to have legally merited the execution, any explanation of the act is unsatisfactory if Nephi is considered to be acting as an individual. Larsen illustrates that Nephi was acting as a sovereign, with a clear political purpose. When Lehi offered a sacrifice in the Valley of Lemuel, his family became a separate people, with Nephi repeatedly promised the role of ruler. Nephi’s symbolic and literal assuming of this sovereign authority through the act of killing Laban is explained through six different layers: (1) substitutional sovereignty, (2) the assumption of Mosaic authority, (3) the assumption of Davidic authority, (4) private and public motives, (5) the Nephite constitutional order, and (6) explicit declarations of Nephi’s reign. Nephi did not formally assume the role of king for many years, but by slaying Laban he proves that he will be a dutiful king.