Journal of Book of Mormon Studies


Steven L. Olsen


The literary sophistication of the Book of Mormon is manifest at all levels of the text: vocabulary, rhetoric, narrative, and structure. A prime example of this craftsmanship is the concept of ethnicity, that is, how different social groups are defined and distinguished in the record. Nephi defines ethnicity by four complementary concepts: nation (traditional homeland), kindred (descent group), tongue (language group), and people (covenant community). While all four concepts are relevant to the Nephite record, people predominates. The term people is by far the most frequently used noun in the Book of Mormon and is the basis of a distinctive covenant identity given by God to Nephi. Following God’s law was the essential condition of this covenant and the basis of most of the sermons, exhortations, commentary, and other spiritual pleas of this sacred record. The covenant of the chosen people accounts for much of what befalls the Nephites and Lamanites, positive and negative, in this history. Mormon and Moroni follow Nephi’s covenant-based definition of ethnicity in their respective abridgments of the large plates of Nephi and the plates of Ether.