“O wretched man that I am! ...I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me!”. “My God hath been my support… He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh”. “Awake my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul” (Book of Mormon). All of these sentiments were expressed by the great prophet Nephi in what is arguably the only psalm of the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 4:16-35--more commonly referred to as the “Psalm of Nephi”. I argue that 2 Nephi 4 is, in fact, a literary psalm, much like those of the Old Testament- for three reasons. First, it uses the poetic form and language of a psalm; second, it portrays deep religious feeling; and third, it acts as a song of praise to God.
Webster’s online dictionary defines a psalm as, “a sacred song or poem used in worship”. dictionary Clearly, when Joseph Smith translated the plates, he wasn’t given a musical score to accompany 2 Nephi 4. Thus, we will analyze the poetic nature of the passage. Often times we think of poetry in a very limited sense. We imagine rhyming, rhythmic language, or alliteration—but poetry is much more. Doctor Steven P. Sondrup says, “Poetry can be viewed more broadly and taken to include all those utterances in which language artfully and significantly draws attention to itself by the intensification of its own linguistic and formal properties”.1
In order to better appreciate the “Psalm of Nephi” as poetry, and to more clearly understand the elements of poetry it uses, it is helpful to set aside the traditional format found in the LDS standard works—numbered verses and two columns of text-- and separate the text into lines of poetry as they naturally fall. For example, verses 28-30 would read as follows2:
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.
Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more
for the enemy of my soul.
Do not anger again because of mine enemies.
Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say:
O Lord, I will praise thee forever;
Yea, my soul will rejoice in thee,
My God, and the rock of my salvation.
Not only does this passage use strikingly beautiful, poetic language, but it also contains many elements similar to traditional Hebrew poetry: the use of a bi-colon format (short sentences with two short clauses) 6, and the use of parallelism. 6 Bi-colon format is shown very clearly in first line of this section, with the first “portion” coming before the exclamation point, and the latter after. The second through seventh lines demonstrate introverted, or chiastic, parallelism, meaning that “the first member is… parallel to the fourth…and the second… to the third”. 1 “Rejoice, O my heart” in the second line is parallel to the same phrase in the sixth, and “Do not anger” from the fourth line is parallel to “Do not slacken” from the fifth.
While it is now apparent that the psalm of...