Bar Mitzvah, Jesus and Nephi

presented by Don R. Hender
[a descendant of Joseph through his son Ephraim]

A Modern Definition

bar mitz-vah

    1. the religious initiation ceremony of a Jewish boy who has reached the age of 13 and is regarded as ready to observe religious precepts and eligible to take part in public worsip.


    1. celebrate the bar mitzvah of (a boy).

meanings of the words:

    bar: son
    bat: daughter (bat mitzvah)

    mitzvah: commandment or law (refering to the commandment(s) or covenant of the Law of Moses)

What it is a bar or bat mitzvah?:

    It is a religious rite or ceremony of a coming-of-age passage held since the times of Moses.

A 'transliteration meaning' of the phrase 'bar mitzvah':

    Today you are a son/daughter (a man/woman) of the covenant of Moses, recognized to be worthy to stand in the congregaions worship and council of Israel and to be counted as one among Israel as a participating adult (young adult).

    One very Jewish and more likely correct meaning is that the Bar Mitzvah is really not a ceremony at all. It is an arrived at status of actual being. That is the term is said to literally mean, "He who is under [i.e. obligated to do] the Mitzvah [the Covenant - the keeping of the Covenant or Commandments of Moses or of the Jews]. Today's modern prescribed ages are 12 for a girl or 13 for a boy. When that age of becoming was anciently might have to do more with translation than precise determination. And in truth that set age is not a manditory age as the Bar Mitzvah or committment of the person may actually vary from those specificly given ages of today - sometimes of a later date.

     AS a young girl growing up my mother was use to marking time and years of age in a common older fashion. Rather than stating or understating one's age they would state is as being in such and such a year of their life. For example when she had passed her 15th birthday, she would say that she was in her 16th year. Many older civilization did the same. Today we state and report our age in terms of the year of our last birthday, which actually understates our ages up to a full year's duration of time. Stating that your are in the year of your next birthdate year seem to be more of an honest manner of stating what your true age is. If you say you are 15, you may be just 15 or you maybe 15 years, 11 months, and up to 30 days old as a matter of the whole truth thereof.

Over the centuries and even millenia of Israel's celebating of the mitzvah coming-of-age passage of years, a simular adjustment of marking time may have occured. And as I have come to understand, a daughter of Israel was not always so included in the mitzvah ceremony, it being a male society based religion in the days of old.

The Bar Mitzvah of Jesus

As reported in the Christian Bible of today, the Jews of the days of Jesus would present their son who had come of age in the Temple, or perhaps their local Synagogue. Since Jesus was born* during the season of Passover, Joseph and Mary and their family were again in the Jerusalem theatre of operation when Jesus turned the age of 12 per the Bible account. And it was at this point and time that the Bible, as tranlated/transliterated into the English King James Version, that Jesus was found to be sitting with the scholars of the temple being questioned of them and giving them answers and understanding.

Today's modern bar mitzvah can be very simple or of a more through affair depending. Often a mere reading of a few scriptural verses in English is what is given to represent and person's understanding of their knowledge of the Law and the Covenant. In ancient times that 'drill' and proof given of a person was very often more than a single simple reading, but rather somewhat of a detailed questioning and an exemplifying of one's knowledge and understanding of the Law of Moses and the doctrines thereof. This seems to be the order of the day of Jesus, as he was deep in doctrinal discussion with the scholars of the temple and they were greatly amazed by what Jesus taught them.

Now the historical facts of the Law of Moses and the coming of age of the Israelite children to being included as 'young adults' of the religiouos congregation and counted in Israel to be a 'man' and/or 'woman,' is significant both in the life of Jesus and his compliance to the Law of Moses during his visit to the temple as recorded in the Gospels and to the Life of Nephi and the timeline of the Book of Mormon. In Nephi's case it makes the points in Nephi's own record where he first considers himself to be 'exceedingly young' that is still not so counted to be a 'man' in Israel, and when Nephi does record and consider himself to be refered to as being a 'man large in stature.' This is further explained next to be revolving about the event of Nephi coming of age in Israel.

Bar Mitzvah of Nephi?

Because of the highly condensed Book of Mormon dialog, it would almost seem that one day Nephi is exceedly young and the next day he is a man. This first scripture verse is taken from when the Lehi 'colony' first sets up camp in the wilderness along the banks of the Red Sea after escaping from Jerusalem to preserve Lehi's threatened life by the Jewish leadership.

    "And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers." ~ Book of Mormon | 1 Nephi 2:16

Sadly what I term the 'quick study artists' of the Book of Mormon suffer from eating dry condensed soup before it is fully reconstituted. What? Both Nephi's small plates and Mormon's abridgement of the Book of Mormon are highly condensed and abridged acounts that never really do give a chronological journal of events. Yet many tend to read it as a journal day, week or month history.

The Book of Mormon is stated to begin in the commencement of the first year of King Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4). And in a short order text Lehi has questions, prays to the Lord, has a vision, comes home and has another vision. In the second vision he is commanded to teach or phrophesy to the Jews that Jerusalem is going to be destroyed. And in what sounds to the quick study reader, by the end of the first week the Jews are planning to murder Lehi. Lehi is warned of the Lord and he and his family escapes into the wilderness. They travel for three days, arrive at what Lehi names the valley of Lemuel and set up camp.

And then by the end of that first month, Lehi sends his fours sons back to Jerusalem to obtain the plates of brass. The sons travel to Jerusalem and by the end of the next month the sons have obtained the brass plates and returned to the valley of Lemuel. And, oh, by the way, Nephi has transformed himself from being exceedly young to being a man of large stature.

    "And it came to pass that when the servant of Laban beheld my brethren he began to tremble, and was about to flee from before me and return to the city of Jerusalem.
    "And now I, Nephi, being a man large in stature, and also having received much strength of the Lord, therefore I did seize upon the servant of Laban, and held him, that he should not flee."
    Book of Mormon | 1 Nephi 4:30-31

And so from 1 Nephi 2:16 to 1 Nephi 4:31, it would seem to the 'quick study artists' that a few months at most have passed by and Nephi has gone from be exceedingly young to becoming a man large in stature. How is that possible or is it. Well if you throw in a Bar Mitzvah in between, poof, right of passage, and you have a large young 13 year old that has suddenly become a son of the covenant and recognized as a man in Israel from just a few months early being an exceedingly young child of 12.

That is likely a part of the story. One of my 13 year old, deacon, grandsons is as tall as I am, about six foot tall and 200 pounds. On the one hand he is literally a man large in stature and a number of the men in his boxing class he took this last summer just could not believe that he was only 12 years old. He was the size of and looked like a young man in high school and just around the corner from going on a mission. So to us we say that he is our grandson 'Nephi.'

Yet I feel in all honesty that I should also fill in the rest of the story here as well.

Yes, Nephi was a young lad, 10, 11, 12, upon leaving Jerusalem and first coming into the Valley of Lemuel. But it was more likely the end of the first year of King Zedekiah by the time that they first arrived there. A key here is the true involvement of the events of really life and the meaning of a frequently used phrase in the Book of Mormon. That being, "And it came to pass."

And It Came to Pass

"And it came to pass," is a passage of time marker. Since Nephi's small plates record is a highly abridged record of Nephi's ministry over his 'adult' life, some 40+ years have actually passed between 1 Nephi 1 and 2 Nephi 5. There are 17 'it came to pass' phrases before Nephi identifies himself s being 'exceedingly young.' Now in truth the passage of time of 'it came to pass' could be a matter of a few hours, a day, a week, a month, or even a year or two or more. All we know for sure is that some about of time and some amounts of events have occured between the previous identified events and the next set of events having happened.

* The Latter-day Saint understandng has been given that Jesus was born about the 6th of April which falls variously round about the time of Passover.