This first scripture is, no doubt, the most read scripture in all the Church, and possibly the most read from the LDS canon outside of the Church. Members of the Church have all read this scripture over and over as they begin reading the Book of Mormon and recommit to daily scripture study and finishing the Book of Mormon. We are familiar with the honor Nephi bestows upon his parents, his telling of the afflictions he suffered throughout his life, the way the Lord favored Nephi and blessed him greatly, and thus Nephi begins his record. This first verse of the Book of Mormon could probably be recited from memory by most members of the Church because of its frequent repetition. But did you know that this first verse, indeed the entire small plates of Nephi, might have overarching temple themes?
I recently stumbled upon the The Feast upon the Word wiki, which includes some commentary on this verse that is fascinating in its application to the temple:
Together the clauses beginning with having form a pattern that runs through Nephi’s two books: creation (“having been born”), fall (“having seen many afflictions”), atonement (“having been highly favored of the Lord”), and passing through the veil (“having had a great knowledge”). The pattern might broadly be called “the plan of salvation,” but it appears to play a more fundamental textual role for Nephi as well. His first eighteen chapters (1 Nephi 1-18) tell a sort of creation story (with constant reference to his goodly parents); his following nine chapters (1 Nephi 19-2 Nephi 5) tell a sort of fall story (marked emphatically by the division between Nephites and Lamanites); his next twenty-five chapters (2 Nephi 6-31) tell a sort of atonement story (how the Lamanites might become again favored and reconnected to broader Israel); and his concluding three chapters (2 Nephi 31-33) dwell on a sort of passing-through-the-veil story (through a discussion of baptism in incredibly “veil-like” terms). Moreover, that the twenty-five chapter atonement stretch of Nephi’s two-book record is presented by three messengers who collectively bring to the reader an understanding of how the “veil” of 2 Nephi 31-33 might be passed suggests that there is some connection between Nephi’s broader record and the temple drama. If this connection is not unfounded, Nephi’s “therefore” toward the end of this verse is powerfully significant: it is because his very life might be read as a sort of “endowment” that he is writing this text.
Indeed, every one of our lives might be read as a sort of “endowment” experience. We are all born (creation), we experience hardships (fall), we are redeemed by Jesus Christ (Atonement), and we die and return to the presence of God (veil). But Nephi’s record is even more explicit in its temple references. The Feast upon the Word wiki continues:
If the final phrase of this verse is taken in the Egyptian idiom, it is remarkably close to the Egyptian name for what is commonly called the “Book of the Dead” (Egyptian: “The Book of Going Forth by Day“) [see Wikipedia’s entry]. Nephi might here be making a suggestive allusion: his two-volume record on the small plates is, as it were, his own Book of the Dead (which was, for all intents and purposes, a sort of Egyptian endowment, an Egyptian drama of resurrection) [see Hugh Nibley’s The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment]. If this reading is justified, this final phrase might ground the temple connections mentioned above. A connection (however distant) to the Book of the Dead would certainly explain the autobiographical “I, Nephi” with which the verse begins: copies of the “canonical” Book of the Dead were always personalized (by name) for the individual who purchased them. This may also provide a better context in which to understand verse 2.
The interesting thing here is that we don’t often think of the Book of Mormon as referencing temples very often. There is a mention here or there about the people building temples, but not much more. What we might find is the temple references are much more implicit in nature in the text, but might still provide quite a bit of information, even the structure of the book itself.