Monday, June 23, 2014

Born of Wealthy Parents?

Yesterday someone presented me with a novel reading of 1 Nephi 1:1. They told me that they were told that in Joseph Smith's day goodly meant wealthy. Therefore,
I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father (1 Nephi 1:1)
would mean that Nephi was able to be educated because his father was rich. This is, of course, intriguing. We know that Lehi was wealthy (1 Nephi 3:22-25), but in pre-exilic Israel education was largely a family affair. Hiring tutors is better known in the later Greco-Roman world.

Unfortunately, the premise of the argument is flawed. According to the 1828 Webster's dictionary, goodly meant:
GOOD´LY, adj. ‎1. Being of a handsome form; beautiful; graceful; as, a goodly person; goodly raiment; goodly houses. – Shak.
‎2. Pleasant; agreeable; desirable; as, goodly days. – Shak.
‎3. Bulky; swelling; affectedly turgid. [Obs.] – Dryden.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists the following usage from Joseph Smith's day:
1. Of good appearance; good-looking, well-favoured or proportioned; comely, fair, handsome.
2. Notable or considerable in respect of size, quantity, or number (freq. with mixture of sense 1).
3. Of good quality, admirable, splendid, excellent. Also, well suited for some purpose, proper, convenient (often with implication of sense 1).
So, in Joseph Smith's day, goodly did not mean wealthy. Yes, Lehi was wealthy but Nephi does not seem to be addressing that issue in his first verse, at least not based on English usage.