Next Sunday we start our study of the BoM in earnest with a lesson on 1 Nephi 1-7. As you know, the text begins with these words: “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father….” Clearly there is a causal relationship between Nephi’s parents being “goodly” and the education he received. The late Marc Schindler had a theory to the effect that “goodly” here does not mean simply “good” (perhaps with the connotation “righteous”), as it is usually taken, but rather something like “possessed of goods,” and therefore “affluent,” suggesting that Nephi received an education because his parents were materially well off and could afford to educate him.
This question has been tossed around on the Bloggernacle before (see here and here). These previous posts accepted the notion that “goodly” refers to wealth. I personally thought it was an intriguing idea, but so far I have taken an agnostic stance. To work, I think we need some sort of evidence for “goodly” bearing the meaning “possessed of goods.” That sounds to me like a possible meaning of the word in Jacobean idiom, but I would like to see some sort of actual evidence to that effect. My hope in this blog post is to settle this question once and for all.
The OED provides the following definitions of “goodly” as an adjective:
1. Of good appearance, good looking; well favoured or proportioned; comely, fair, handsome.
2. Notable or considerable in respect of size, quantity, or number (frequently 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).
4. Gracious, kind, kindly disposed.
The 1828 Webster’s has “pleasant; agreeable; desirable; as goodly days.”
Lexically, therefore, there does not seem to be any support for “goodly” meaning “possessed of goods.” This hasn’t been sufficient in and of itself to dissuade anyone. So what I propose to do is examine the usage of the term in the King James Bible as well as in Joseph’s scriptural productions. “Goodly” appears 29 times in the KJV OT, 4 in the KJV NT, 4 in the D&C, and 1 other place in the BoM. In my view, for it to be reasonable for us to take “goodly” as meaning in effect “wealthy,” there ought to be some indication of such an attested usage somewhere in these 38 scriptural occurrences. The KJV usages are particularly telling, because we can use the underlying Hebrew and Greek as a control as to the intended usage of the KJ translators. So, without further ado, on to the scriptural usage evidence:
1. Gen. 27:15. And Rebekah took goodly raiment. HEB chemdah, that which is desired, pleasant, excellent.
2. Gen. 39:6. Joseph was [a] goodly [person], and well favoured. HEB toar, beautiful (in form).
3. Gen. 49:21. he giveth goodly words. HEB shepher, beauty, elegance (of words).
4. Exod. 2:2. she saw him that he [was a] goodly [child]. HEB tob, good (in various senses: fair, beautiful).
5. Exod. 39:28. goodly bonnets. HEB p’er, an ornament, tiara, turban.
6. Lev. 23:40. the boughs of goodly trees. HEB hadar, ornament (IE “ornamental trees”).
7. Num. 24:5. How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob. HEB tob, good in various senses (beautiful, pleasant).
8. Num. 31:10. all their goodly castles. HEB tirah, a fortress, enclosure.
9. Dt. 3:25. that goodly mountain. HEB tob, good in various senses.
10. Dt. 6:10. to give thee great and goodly cities. HEB tob, good in various senses.
11. Dt. 8:12. hast built goodly houses. HEB tob, good in various senses.
12. Joshua 7:21. a goodly Babylonish garmnet. HEB tob, good in various senses (fair, beautiful).
13. 1 Sam. 9:2. Saul, a choice young man and a goodly. HEB tob, good in various senses.
14. 1 Sam. 16:12. of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. HEB tob, good in various senses.
15. 2 Sam. 23:21. an Egyptian, a goodly man. HEB mar’eh, form, appearance.
16. 1 Ki. 1:6. and he also [was a] very goodly man. HEB tob, good in various senses.
17. 2 Chron. 36:10. with the goodly vessels. HEB chemdah, that which is desired, pleasant.
18. 2 Chron. 36:19. all the goodly vessels. HEB machmad, object of desire, grace, beauty, something precious.
19. Job 39:13. gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks. HEB nenanim, meaning uncertain (something having to do with the sound of the wings).
20. Ps. 16:6. I have a goodly heritage. HEB shaphar, pleasing.
21. Ps. 80:10. the goodly cedars. HEB ‘el, mighty (lit. god-like).
22. Jer. 3:19. a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations. HEB tsebi, splendor, glory (IE beautiful).
23. Jer. 11:16. a green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit. HEB tuar, a beautiful form, IE beautiful.
24. Ezek. 17:8. that it might be a goodly vine. HEB ‘addereth, wide, ample, thus magnificent, splendid.
25. Ezek. 17:23. and be a goodly cedar. HEB ‘addir, large, great, mighty, powerful, magnificent.
26. Hosea 10:1. they have made goodly images. HEB tob, good in various senses.
27. Joel 3:5. my goodly pleasant things. HEB tob, good in various senses.
28. Zech. 10:3. as his goodly horse in the battle. HEB hod, splendor, freshness, beauty, and thus majestic.
29. Zech. 11:13. a goodly price that I was prised as of them. HEB ‘eder, magnificence, thus “magnificence of price” (said ironically).
30. Mt. 13:45. goodly pearls. GR kalos, beautiful, pleasing in form.
31. Lk. 21:5. adorned with goodly stones. GR kalos, beautiful, pleasing in form.
32. James 2:2. goodly apparel. GR lampros, shining, brilliant, and thus splendid, magnificent.
33. Rev. 18:14. all things which were dainty and goodly. GR lampros, shining, brilliant, and thus splendid, magnificent.
34. Mosiah 18:7. there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon.
35. D&C 99:7. thou mayest go up also to the goodly land, to possess thine inheritance. [Note that in HEB, tob when used of land has the connotation "fertile."]
36. D&C 97:9. planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream. [Note that in HEB, tob when used of land has the connotation "fertile."]
37. D&C 103:20. possess the goodly land. [Note that in HEB, tob when used of land has the connotation "fertile."]
38. D&C 103:24. to drive you from my goodly land. [Note that in HEB, tob when used of land has the connotation "fertile."]
Given the above evidence, I don’t see any scriptural usage of the word “goodly” that would suggest the meaning “wealthy” in 1 Ne. 1:1. I therefore am renouncing my prior agnosticism on this issue and accepting the traditional reading of goodly as simply meaning “good” in some sense.