One of the most interesting things about the small plates of Nephi is the first person narrative which recounts his own life. The text begins famously “I Nephi,” and gives a personal account of Nephi’s family history, personal reflections, and all this is done in the first person. This is extremely rare in ancient and classical literature. What are we to make of this?
I don’t know every ancient text, of course, but I am not aware of any Ancient Near Eastern literature in the autobiographical genre. In Greek and Roman literature, this is also relatively rare. Josephus wrote about his own life, but it is more of an extension of his Jewish War. The famous Antiochene orator Libanius wrote about his own life. Augustine’s Confessions are frequently considered the first “true” autobiography because of its introspective character.
Prophetic literature is not typically autobiographical. There are episodes of personal narrative, but this is not the focus of the prophetic drama. The closest you get is that some apocalypses or heavenly journeys are described in the first person, like 1 Enoch, History of the Rechabites, and others. While Nephi offers his own account of a heavenly journey, the difference is that he is actually writing his own, while the others are most certainly pseudepigraphical. Not to mention that these are later texts.
So, we are left with something that I am not sure what to do with. 1 Nephi seems to belong to a genre of autobiography that is anomalous among ancient literature. Not only that, but this genre is incredibly frequent throughout the Book of Mormon, interrupted only by Mormon’s editing, but then returns in Mormon and Moroni. Is the Book of Mormon the first ancient autobiography?