Historical Overview of the Nephites
The purpose of this page is to explain the historical sequence recounted in the Book of Mormon. This page should remain short enough to read in about thirty minutes.
- 1 Timelines
- 2 Lehi's generation
- 3 Early Nephite period in the Land of Nephi (Second Nephi - Omni / 570-200 BC)
- 4 Classic Nephite period in the Land of Zarahemla (Omni - Third Nephi / 200 BC - 34 AD)
- 4.1 Kings Mosiah I, Benjamin, Mosiah II (Omni - Mosiah / 200-90 BC)
- 4.2 Reign of the Judges in the time of Alma the Younger (Alma 1-44 / __-__ BC)
- 4.3 Reign of the Judges in the time of Helaman I (Alma 45-63 / __-__ BC)
- 4.4 Reign of the Judges in the time of Helaman II (Helaman 1-6 / __-__ BC)
- 4.5 Reign of the Judges in the time of Nephi I (Helaman 7-16 / __-__ BC)
- 4.6 Reign of the Judges in the time of Nephi II (Third Nephi 1-10 / 1-33 AD)
- 5 Late Nephite period after Christ's ministry (Third Nephi - Moroni / 34-421 AD)
- 6 Chronology issues
- 7 Resources
- 8 Notes
Referring to one of the following timelines may make it easier to relate specific events described on this page to the big picture of Old Testament history.
Babylonian invasions of Jerusalem
Babylon invaded Judah three times over the course of about twenty years. First Nephi begins in about 597 BC soon after the second of those three invasions.
In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated the combined armies of Assyria and Egypt and then succeeded his father as king. Later that year he also invaded Judah for the first time and besieged Jerusalem. The Jewish king Jehoiakim (r. 609-598 BC) submitted. (2 Kgs. 24:1). That same year Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would serve Babylon for 70 years. (Jer. 25:1, 11-12). In February 604 BC Nebuchadnezzar returned home to Babylon with Jewish captives, probably including Daniel and his friends. (Dan. 1:1-3, 6; 2:1). Ezekiel was also active as a prophet during this time.
Within a few years king Jehoiakim rebelled, and Babylon invaded a second time. Babylon conquered Jerusalem on 16 March 597 BC and then installed Zedekiah (r. 597-587 BC) as the new Jewish king. Following this second invasion, most of the Jewish elites were carried off and resettled elsewhere. (2 Kgs. 24:1-17). Lehi, Ishmael, and Laban were among those who did remain in or near Jerusalem. The Book of Mormon begins at Jerusalem during the first year of the new king Zedekiah's reign as many prophets warn that the city will be destroyed if the people do not repent. (1 Ne. 1:4). We do not know how long Lehi preached in Jerusalem before being warned to flee; it could have been as little as a few days or at most eight years.
By August 594 BC king Zedekiah was plotting to rebel against Babylon (2 Kgs. 24:20), contrary to the counsel of Jeremiah (Jer. 27:12-22) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 17:13-16). So in 589 BC, eight years after Zedekiah became king, Babylon invaded Judah a third time and again laid siege to Jerusalem. (2 Kgs. 24:20). After a brutal two and a half year siege the Babylonians again conquered Jerusalem. This time they destroyed the Temple of Solomon on 28 August 587 BC and carried away the inhabitants of the city, including king Zedekiah. (2 Kgs. 25:1-12).
A broader treatment of the history of ancient Israel is found at Historical Overview of the Old Testament.
Lehi's family (First - Second Nephi / 600-570 BC)
1 Ne 10:4; 19:8; 17:4-5; Jacob 1:1; Jarom 1:5
Lehi led his family out of Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah, which began in 597 BC, but before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, which began in 589 BC. Using 597 BC, the date closest to 600 BC, minimizes chronological difficulties and is therefore most likely. This would put all of First Nephi 1-15 in about 597 BC. If the statement that Nephi was at this time very young but large of stature (1 Ne. 2:16; 4:19, 31) places his age at about 13, then he would have been born about 610 BC, about five years younger than Daniel if Daniel was about age 10 when carried off to Babylon in 605 BC.
The Lehites spent eight years in the wilderness. (First Nephi 16; 1 Ne. 17:4). This would put their arrival at Bountiful on the coast of the Arabian peninsula at about the same time that the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem began in 589 BC. We do not know how long it took the Lehites to build the boat and travel across the ocean to the west coast of America (First Nephi 17-18), but it seems reasonable to guess that this stage of the journey took about another year, which would bring the story to 588 BC.
Mulek led others who fled Jerusalem about 587 BC when Mulek's father king Zedekiah was carried away captive to Babylon. (Omni 1:15-16). We have no information regarding the length of time it took them to arrive in America and settle a short distance north of the Lamanites and Nephites.
After Lehi's family arrived in America, Nephi was commanded to make the large plates upon which he recorded his lengthy comprehensive history. (1 Ne 19:1-6). The preaching and blessings in First Nephi 19-Second Nephi 4 all occurred some time between ten and thirty years after leaving Jerusalem, or during about 587-567 BC. (2 Ne. 5:28). After arriving in America, Lehi referred to the destruction of Jerusalem (which occurred in 587 BC) as an accomplished fact. (2 Ne. 1:4).
Early Nephite period in the Land of Nephi (Second Nephi - Omni / 570-200 BC)
All of these dates are calculated simply by subtracting from 600 with no thought given to the absence of a year 0 when counting backwards, dealing with partial years, etc.
Also at some point between ten and thirty years after leaving Jerusalem, Nephi and those would follow him fled northward to establish themselves as Nephites, a separate people from the Lamanites. (2 Ne. 5:28). The Nephites planted crops, made swords, and built a temple. (2 Ne. 5:__). These events thus occurred during about 590-570 BC.
At some point during the next ten years (2 Ne. 5:34), or during 570-560 BC, Nephi received the commandment to make the small plates upon which he made the shorter record of his religious ministry that eventually made its way into the Book of Mormon as First and Second Nephi. (2 Ne. 5:30-31).
Jacob received the small plates from Nephi 55 years after Leh left Jerusalem, or about 545 BC. (Jacob 1:1). If Nephi was about age 13 when the family left Jerusalem, then he would have been about age 68 when he gave the small plates to Jacob. It is not clear how long Nephi lived after delivering the plates to Jacob. (Jacob 1:12).
Enos received the small plates of Nephi from his father Jacob. (Jacob 7:27). If Jacob and Enos each had custody of the small plates for the same length of time, this would have occurred in about 483 BC. Enos described the Nephites as farmers and herders, in contrast to the Lamanites who lived by hunting, dwelt in tents, and wore little clothing. Enos also described many prophets among the Nephites, efforts by the Nephites to convert the Lamanites, and war between the Nephites and Lamanites. (Enos 1:20-24).
Jarom received the small plates of Nephi from his father Enos 179 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, or about 421 BC. (Enos 1:25). Jarom described some of the Nephites as being hard hearted, but also described others as having revelations and not being stiffnecked. (Jarom 1:3–4). Jarom stated that he himself also had revelations and prophesies. (Jarom 1:2). The Nephites spread upon all the face of the land and became very rich in metals, buildings and machinery. (Jarom 1:8). The Lamanites far outnumbered the Nephites and came against them to battle many times. But the Nephite kings and leaders were mighty men in the faith of the Lord, and the Nephites were able to repel the Lamanite invasions. (Jarom 1:6-7).
Omni received the small plates of Nephi from his father Jarom 238 years after Lehi left Jerusalem, or about 362 BC. (Jarom 1:13). Omni described himself as a wicked man who has not kept the commandments of God as he ought to have done. (Omni 1:2).
Amoron received the small plates of Nephi from his father Omni around 318 BC. (Omni 1:3). He reported that by 280 BC the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed. Amoron then delivered the small plates of Nephi to his brother Chemish. (Omni (1:9).
Abinadom received the small plates of Nephi from his father Chemish. Abinadom wrote that he was not aware of any revelation or prophecy among the people of his own generation, but only that which had been written down. (Omni 1:10-11). It appears, however, that Abinadom would have left the Land of Nephi under the leadership of the prophet Mosiah I. ([__]). Abinadom's record marked the end of a long slow decline of the Nephites.
Classic Nephite period in the Land of Zarahemla (Omni - Third Nephi / 200 BC - 34 AD)
Kings Mosiah I, Benjamin, Mosiah II (Omni - Mosiah / 200-90 BC)
Likely about 200 BC, and apparently during the days of Abinadom, Mosiah I led all who would hearken to the voice of the Lord to flee out of the Land of Nephi northward into the wilderness. (Omni 1:12-13). They encounter the Mulekites who have settled the city of Zarahemla. The two peoples join together with Mosiah I as king. The Mulekites have no writing, and their language has drifted over the previous nearly five hundred years to the point that the two peoples have difficulty communicating. (Linguists use a rule of thumb that it often takes about a thousand years for two people speaking the same language to no longer understand each other). (Omni 1).
About 180 BC Zeniff leads a colony from Zarahemla back south to reoccupy the Land of Nephi. The colony ends in internal strife. About 180 BC Zeniff leads a second group that succeeds in resettling the Land of Nephi in tribute to the Lamanite king Laman. (Omni 1; Mosiah 9-10).
Benjamin became king over the Nephites and Mulekites at Zarahemla in about 150 BC.
Also about 150 BC, Noah becomes king in the Land of Nephi. He taxes his people heavily with a 20% tax. Lamanite invasions are beaten back. Abinadi preaches and is burned. The Lamanites invade, the Nephites obtain terms. Noah is burned. Alma’s group escapes.
About 135 BC Limhi becomes king in the Land of Nephi. The Lamanites prevail over the Nephites in the Land of Nephi three times. These Nephites send a party northward to search for Zarahemla; they travel as pfar north as the Land of Desolation where they find the Jaredite record amid a scene of destruction, but they do find Zarahemla and believe it to be destroyed.
Mosiah II began to reign at about age 31 in about 123 BC.
About 125 BC, Ammon (not the son of king Mosiah II) leads a search party who finds the Nephite colony in the Land of Nephi. (Mosiah 1-8, 21-24).
About 120 BC Alma organizes the church. (Mosiah 25-26).
At some point here Mosiah II translates the Jaredite record. (Mosiah 27-28).
Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah II are converted.
About 100 BC the sons of Mosiah depart on a 14 year mission to the Lamanites.
Reign of the Judges in the time of Alma the Younger (Alma 1-44 / __-__ BC)
Alma the Younger elected chief judge. King Mosiah II died, and the Nephite monarchy ended, in the 510th year after Lehi left Jerusalem, or in about 90 BC. (Mosiah 29:46). This was also the 1st year of the Reign of the Judges. Thus, add 509 to a year during the Reign of the Judges to arrive at the number of years since Lehi left Jerusalem.
Nephihah became judge in the 9th year of the Reign of the Judges, or about 82 BC. (Alma 4:20-8:2).
The sons of Mosiah return to Zarahemla in the 15th year of the Reign of the Judges, or about 76 BC. (Alma 17:1-6).
Korihor is refuted in the 17th year of the Reign of the Judges, or about 74 BC. (Alma 30:6-35:12).
There is war because of the Zoramites, and Moroni leads the army, in the 18th year of the Reign of the Judges, or about 73 BC. (Alma 35:13; 43:3-4, 17).
Reign of the Judges in the time of Helaman I (Alma 45-63 / __-__ BC)
The Nephites begin migrating north in the 37th year of the Reign of the Judges, or about 54 BC.
Reign of the Judges in the time of Helaman II (Helaman 1-6 / __-__ BC)
Helaman II becomes chief judge in the 42nd year of the Reign of the Judges, or about 49 BC. (Hel 2:1-5).
Helaman II dies, and Nephi II becomes chief judge, in the 53rd year of the Reign of the Judges, or about 38 BC. (Hel 3:37).
Reign of the Judges in the time of Nephi I (Helaman 7-16 / __-__ BC)
Reign of the Judges in the time of Nephi II (Third Nephi 1-10 / 1-33 AD)
Late Nephite period after Christ's ministry (Third Nephi - Moroni / 34-421 AD)
Dating of Christ's mortal ministry at Jerusalem
Millennial peace (Third - Fourth Nephi / 34-200 AD)
Decline and destruction (Fourth Nephi - Moroni / 200-421 AD)
The Nephites employed three systems for reckoning years:
- Dating events since Lehi left Jerusalem. (Mosiah 29:46). This calendar system can be closely tied to a known event in the Old World, the reign of king Zedekiah over Judah that began shortly before Lehi left Jerusalem.
- Dating events since the beginning of the Reign of the Judges. ([ ]). This system of reckoning cannot be correlated directly with events in the Old World, but can be tied to the two other systems for reckoning years.
- Dating events since the sign of Christ's birth. ([ ]). This system of reckoning can be tied to two known events in the Old World, the birth and death of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Mormon repeatedly states that Lehi left Jerusalem 600 years before the birth of Christ. (1 Ne __; 3 Ne __). Scholars widely agree that the time between Zedekiah's accession to the throne of Judah and the birth of Jesus Christ is about 600 years, but not exactly 600 years, with estimates ranging between 590 and 597 years. (See, for example, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on Book of Mormon Chronology). Close, but off by about 1%.
This discrepancy is similar to the prophecy to Abraham that his descendants would serve Pharoah for four hundred years. ([ ]). Paul, speaking in hindsight, calculated the time spent in Egypt as 430 years, off by about 7%. ([ ]). Or Jeremiah's prophecy that Israel would serve Babylon for 70 years ([ ]). Scholars calculate the Babylonian Captivity as lasting 67 years from 605 BC to 538 BC, off by about 5%. Similarly, the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 587 BC and rededicated in 515 BC, a period of 72 years, off by about 3%. It thus appears that prophecies regarding long periods of time that are given in round numbers may be both imprecise and true. Less accuracy may be required of a prophecy regarding 600 years than a prophecy regarding 597 years, 5 months, and 2 days.
Methods of reckoning years have been proposed in an attempt to calculate exactly 600 years between the time that Lehi left Jerusalem and the birth of Christ consistent with widely accepted dates for the reign of Zedekiah and for the birth and death of Jesus Christ. One difficulty, however, is that the dates for these three Old World events are known with certainty only within ranges of dates, and it is therefore impossible to arrive at a solution that can be declared with any certainty to be successful.
A second difficulty is that the Nephite New Year likely did not begin on January 1. This means that a Nephite year likely overlapped with portions of two different years BC or AD on the Gregorian calendar that we use today.
In light of these difficulties, including the lack of consensus among scholars regarding the precise date of Christ's birth, this Chronology will take the following approach:
- Events during Lehi's lifetime will be given in years BC on the assumption that the Zedekiah began to rule and that Lehi left Jerusalem all in 597 BC.
- Events in the New World down to the time of King Mosiah II will be given in years BC counting as though Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 BC. These events are never dated with greater precision than to identify the year, and thus no effort will be made to correct for differing dates for the new year.
- Events during the Reign of the Judges will be given in years BC as though
All dates should be accurate to within no more than five years.
Correlating internal and external dates
This section is for listing links and print resources, including those that are also cited elsewhere on this page. A short comment about the particular strengths of a resource can be helpful. Click the link above and to the right to edit or add content to this heading. →
References cited on this page: Biblical history.
- Finegan, Jack. Handbook of Biblical Chronology: Principles of Time Reckoning in the Ancient World and and Problems of Chronology in the Bible, revised ed. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1998. (ISBN 1565631439). BS637.2 .F5 1998. One of the two standard references for assigning specific dates to Old Testament events.
- Steinmann. Andrew E. From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011. (ISBN 0758627998). BS637.3 .S74 2011. Builds on the earlier work of Finegan and Thiele and may become a third standard reference; likewise addresses the difficult issues but also presents a comprehensive timeline including the easy issues.
- Thiele, Edwin. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, new revised ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1994. (ISBN 082543825X). BS 1335.5 .T48 1994. One of the two standard references for assigning specific dates to Old Testament events.
References cited on this page: Other history.
- Oaks, Dallin H. "Worthy of Another Look: The Historicity of the Book of Mormon." In Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, 21/1 (2012): p. 66-72. Provo, Utah: BYU University: Neil A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Elder Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles defends the historicity of the Book of Mormon from the standpoint of faith and revelation. He demonstrates that scholarship cannot create faith and that secular evidence will never be able to prove or disprove the Book of Mormon. He also illustrates how the burden of negative proof lies squarely on the shoulders of skeptics, how God values the witness of revelation more than the witness of man, and how historians’ methodologies are unable to sufficiently account for the Book of Mormon.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.
- Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 141, 158-59.
- Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 257-58, 264; Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 141, 162, 167.
- The consensus date for the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple has been 17 August 586 BC. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, 258-59. Steinmann builds upon that earlier work to propose a date one year earlier, 28 August 587 BC, relying especially Ezek. 26:1-2. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul, 136-38, 159-69, 174.
- "And it came to pass that Mosiah died also ... being sixty and three years old; making in the whole, five hundred and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem." (Mosiah 29:46). Both 509 years since leaving Jerusalem and 63 years since Mosiah's birth are fully competed periods. So 509-63=446 years since leaving Jerusalem, or 600-446=154 BC.
- "And it came to pass that Mosiah died also, in the thirty and third year of his reign ... making in the whole, five hundred and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem." (Mosiah 29:46). Both 509 years since leaving Jerusalem and 32 years since Mosiah's accession to the throne are fully competed periods (the 33rd year was incomplete). So 509-32=477 years since leaving Jerusalem, or 600-477=123 BC.
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