When Nephi had a vision of the future of his people before the time of Christ he wrote, “I beheld wars and rumors of wars” (1 Nephi 12:2). He later recounts the destruction of his people and the subsequent conflicts among the Lamanites, “And I saw wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away” (1 Nephi 12:21). These references have been an object of ridicule since the publication of the Book of Mormon as the following comments show:
“I beheld wars and rumors of wars” . . . Beheld rumors!
Origen Bacheler, Mormonism Exposed, 1838, 20.
“And I saw wars and rumors of wars among them; and in wars, and rumors of wars, I saw many generations pass away.” The last quotation reminds me of the old lady who in a time of war remarked that they only had the wars then, “but wait,” said she, “until the rumors come”
G. Stewart, “The Book of Mormon,” The Perfectionist, 15 May, 1843).
[Nephi] was not only a very “large” man, as we are told, but a very funny man I should say, for he cooly informs us that he saw “rumors of war!” so that, according to this professedly “inspired” book, eyes do the work of ears.
J. B. Sweet, A Lecture on the Book of Mormon, 1857, 12.
The Book of Isaiah begins with the information that it is “The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isaiah 1:1). The second chapter speaks of “the word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:1). Isaiah, however, speaks not only of what he sees, but what he hears. Motyer observes that the verb to see which is used in these passages can mean more than just to see. “All thirty-five occurrences of vision (hazon) and thirty-six out of forty-eight of saw (haza) refer to truth disclosed by God, not necessarily in visual experience” (J Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary. InterVarsity Press, 1993, 41).
In another study of this verb, which is rendered “seer” in our English translations of the Bible (Isaiah 30:9-10), Jeffers also notes that the term was not used exclusively of visual perception, “the hozeh `sees’ but he also `hears’ in a context where the reception of the word of God plays an important part” (Ann Jeffers, Magic and Divination in Ancient Palestine and Syria. Leiden: Brill, 1996, 36). Likewise, since the verb has a broader meaning than visual experience, Nephi Seer of olden time could indeed “behold” not only wars, but rumors of wars, even though the English usage at first may seem strange.