Nephi’s Sisters

 Nephi's Sisters

Nephi mentions his sisters only once, which is strange considering that they must have made the trek through the wilderness and the voyage across the sea with him. They are mentioned not long after the arrival in the promised land, when Nephi found it necessary to physically separate himself, his family, and all those who believed in God from his older brothers Laman and Lemuel. The Lord warned him that his life was in danger and commanded Nephi that he should flee into the wilderness with all those who would follow him. In the list of those who chose to leave with him, Nephi mentioned his immediate family, Zoram and his family, Sam and his family, his younger brothers Jacob and Joseph, and his sisters.

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There are several different explanations about who these sisters might have been. The first is that Sariah could have given birth to daughters in the wilderness, but seeing as the births of Jacob and Joseph were mentioned and no other births were, this scenario seems less likely. Another option is that Nephi was referring to his sisters-in-law and not biological sisters. Though it seems strange that Laman and Lemuel’s wives would come with him, and since Nephi had already mentioned that Sam and his family were accompanying him, it might be a bit redundant. It is also possible that Nephi was using the term “sister” to refer to a believer of Christ, like we refer to one another as “brother” or “sister” today in the Church.

This is an excerpt from Walking With the Women of the Book of Mormon.

Another possibility is that they were his biological sisters, who were married to Ishmael’s older sons. In a discourse given in 1882, Apostle Erastus Snow stated that “the Prophet Joseph Smith informed us that the record of Lehi was contained on the 116 pages that were first translated and subsequently stolen, and of which an abridgment is given us in the First Book of Nephi, which is the record of Nephi individually, he himself being of the lineage of Manasseh; but that Ishmael was of the lineage of Ephraim, and that his sons married into Lehi’s family, and Lehi’s sons married Ishmael’s daughters.”

The possibility that Lehi and Sariah had other children, daughters who married Ishmael’s sons before Lehi received the commandment to leave Jerusalem, might explain why Nephi and his brothers seemed so casual about going back to Jerusalem to get Ishmael and his family. They were going back to get their sisters! It also helps us understand why Ishmael and his household may have agreed to leave and follow Lehi into the desert. These were families that were already intimately connected by marriage.

It is also interesting that if Ishmael’s son’s wives were in fact Nephi’s sisters, that they—along with their husbands—rebelled against him on their first foray into the wilderness (see 1 Ne. 7:6). They would also have been among the group that, while on the voyage across the ocean, made “themselves merry” and sang and danced with “much rudeness . . . yea, they were lifted up unto exceeding rudeness” (1 Ne. 18:9). It appears that the wives of Ishmael’s sons often sided with Laman and Lemuel more than they did with Nephi.

Their previous association with the dissenting group makes the fact that Nephi mentions them as being among those who separated from Laman and Lemuel and went with him into the wilderness surprising. Did they have a change of heart after they landed in the promised land? Did their attitudes soften toward Nephi so that they no longer identified with Laman and Lemuel? Did their husbands feel similarly, or did they leave their husbands behind when they fled with Nephi into the wilderness? Any of those scenarios is possible.

Yet the one thing we do know is that Nephi’s sisters, whoever they were, were among the group that chose to “keep the judgments, and the statutes, and the commandments of the Lord in all things” (2 Ne. 5:10). They worked with Nephi and his family to build a righteous community, which was industrious and prosperous. They had the sacred records from which to learn and even built a temple (vs. 16). Nephi’s sisters were pioneers, paving righteous foundations for the Nephite nation that would blossom upon their promised land. Regardless of the poor choices they may have made, these sisters chose to keep God’s commandments and, as Nephi wrote, they “lived after the manner of happiness” (vs. 27). 

This is an excerpt from Walking With the Women of the Book of Mormon.

 Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.  2 Nephi 5:6