Nephi did not
slay Laban in vain in obtaining the books of Moses engraved upon the “plates
of brass”. Truly the LORD guided Lehi’s company to a land where they could
keep the Law of Moses “in all things”.
This must have included seasonal ordinances based in the temperate Northern
Hemisphere. Given the calendar constraints of the Law of Moses, how is the
Book of Mormon’s prophetic 600 year chronology reconciled with current
The Book of Mormon records
that “a Messiah” would come “six hundred years” from the time that the
prophet Lehi departed Jerusalem.
(1 Nephi 10:4;
2 Nephi 25:19)
The ancient American historian, Mormon further records that Lehi and his
family “came out of Jerusalem in the first
year of the reign of Zedekiah, the king of Judah.”
(Genealogical preface to 3
Some early historical
works list Zedekiah’s reign as commencing 599 years before the “Christian era”. (Appendix Dissertation V to
The Complete Works of Josephus;
translated by William Whiston, 1867 – 1752) Assuming that the Lord was actually born near “Anno Domini” in 1 or 2
CE, this appears to support the “six hundred years” mentioned in the Book of
Mormon. No problem - right? Well, not exactly. More recent estimates of
Zedekiah’s first regnal year mark 597 BCE (Before the Common Era),
and many scholars now see the birth of Yeshua fitting closer to 5 BCE. (Jack
Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Princeton University
Press, 1964, pp. 320-323, 325)
In that case, the Book of Mormon prophecy appears to be off by
In reading the Book of Mormon, have you noticed that while Lehi’s
company were journeying to the Promised Land, they didn’t describe the
passage of time in terms of months, but in terms of “days” and “years”?
(1 Nephi 16:15,
At times in their journey, the seasons and phases of the moon
stopped making sense to them - until they arrived in the Promised Land!
“Shanah” comes from the
Hebrew word for “change” (שנה).
The Hebrew word “shanah” is translated “year”, but “shanah” is not quite the
same as a year in the modern sense defined by the Gregorian calendar.
The Promised Land “shanah”
or Israelite year is variable; either 12 or 13 lunar months (true “moonths”). How
long the Promised Land “shanah” is depends on agriculture – in
particular the ripening of barley in the fields. Karaite Jews, relying
almost exclusively on Torah (Law of Moses), understand this. They understand
that before the Babylonian captivity, the designation of the first month,
year to year, depended on a particular crop.
(Click here for more on the meaning of
and the importance of barley
in ancient Israelite culture)
The simplicity and
genius of the LORD’s Promised Land calendar is its ability to designate
months by the moon, yet track the seasons by adding a leap month as needed.
The divinely appointed
first month in the Promised Land always occurrs in the spring of the
Northern Hemisphere following the “aviv” of barley. “Aviv” or “Abib”
(KJV) is a key stage of barley ripening. Ripened barley was essential for
springtime grain offering performed yearly by the priests in the Temple during the month of
Deuteronomy 16:1) This was a requirement of the Law of Moses that must also
have been satisfied in the American
of Israel – “choice
above all other lands”.
(2 Nephi 10:19) Certain Priesthood ordinances could
only be performed at “the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place
(Deuteronomy 16:5) The Book of Mormon indicates that the LORD had
chosen to place his name in more than one land.
The Book of Mormon
symbolically relates the springtime “first-fruits”
barley offering to resurrection.
(2 Nephi 2:8-9,
prophetically on the first day of the week
(the day following Shabbat) during the week of Passover.
If the barley in the
was not mature enough at the end of the twelfth month, then the
designation of the first month of the year had to be postponed an
extra month. (Alfred Edersheim,
– Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ, Ch. 10, pg. 136, 64/131)
When Lehi left
in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah
, being on a journey, Lehi and his company were excused from
observing certain seasonal ordinances on time.
There was even a reasonable provision in the Law allowing them to eat
forbidden things (including blood) in order to save their lives. For a man
is to “live in” the statutes of the LORD - not die because of them.
1 Nephi 17:2)
Nephi had killed a man (Laban)
so that future generations in the Promised Land would have the Law of Moses
in detail to obey.
(1 Nephi 4:14-16) Nephi would later attest that the LORD
had in fact led his people to a land where they could keep the Law of Moses
“in all things”.
(2 Nephi 5:10)
Until they and their seed
could be established in the Promised Land, they were excused from observing
of the ordinances of the Law. Much of the Law is Promised Land based. (E.g.
While journeying, Lehi was not always required to keep track of seasons and
months – nor indeed could he! The strange and varying seasons encountered
during their travels could not be counted on for
ordering the year.
During their voyage, the
progress of the lunar phases appeared to change from right to left
(seen from the Northern Hemisphere; same as the direction of Hebrew writing, and the
writing on the Book of Mormon plates; History of the Church,
Vol. 1, pg. 71) to left to right (seen from the Southern Hemisphere), back to the familiar right
to left again, as they arrived in the American Promised Land in temperate North America. In the
American Promised Land, the constellations and lunar phases were again
familiar, but during their voyage, The cycles of
the moon (about 29.5 days per cycle) would not always coordinate with the
seasons – so the pilgrim Lehi could not rely on cycles of the moon and
seasons to accurately tell the “year”.
Months are never mentioned in
the account of Lehi’s journey. The units of time that were kept track of
were “days” and “years”. If agricultural seasons could not be relied on to
determine the length of a “shanah” (“year”), how did Lehi measure “shanim”
(“years”) during his travels to the Promised Land?
Lehi’s company could
always discern the passing of days. The journey “shanah” must
therefore have been based on a set number of days. Lehi could have relied on
a fixed number of days to define a “shanah”, independent of the cycles of
the moon and the seasons.
may have been divinely appointed.
(1 Nephi 19:8)
When did Lehi start
counting “years” to Messiah’s coming? From his Jerusalem departure we are told!
(1 Nephi 10:4;
2 Nephi 25:19) It must therefore have been the fixed journey “shanah”
and not the adjustable Promised Land “shanah” that was the prophetic unit of
time marking the Messiah’s coming in “six hundred years”.
The Nephites could have
easily distinguished these two units by masculine and feminine plural
endings. Prophetic journey “years” would be “shanim”, and Promised Land
years would be “sh’not”. Both of these plural forms are found in Hebrew
scripture, and both are translated “years”. The distinction is lost in
translation; but it is possible to discern between the two measures of time
in Nephite scripture. Lehi’s prophetic shanim are always measured from the
time he left Jerusalem.
is Hebrew for “years”. The masculine plural ending (-im)
is appropriate in light of the count to his (Messiah’s) coming.
“shanim” in Hebrew scripture are:
“Sh’not” (pronounced “shehn-oat”)
is also Hebrew for “years”. The feminine plural
(-ot) is appropriate for designating years in the American Promised Land
divine Israelite calendar.
The covenant land (ha-aretz) is spoken of in Hebrew
scripture as feminine.
(E.g. Leviticus 25:22-23;
Helaman 11:17) Examples of
“sh’not” in Hebrew scripture are:
Faithful Nephites in
continued to tally Lehi’s journey “shanim” long after settling in the
Promised Land. They did this not as a requisite calendar, but for the
sole purpose of counting “years” to Messiah’s coming. Lehi’s journey “shanah”
could not be used to establish months of the festival calendar, so the count
of “years” from Lehi’s departure wasn’t so much a calendar as it was a
Once the Nephites were
established in the Promised Land, the Law of Moses set the practical
calendar which became Nephite custom.
The calendar became convention whether
or not the people were righteous, as in the Biblical Promised Land.
The passage of time
measured in Lehi’s journey “years”, on the other hand,
became a purely religious exercise with an eye single to Messiah’s coming.
Nephite months in the
American Promised Land were essentially the same numerated Promised Land months or
Israelite months that we find
mentioned in the Bible. The very same
calendar was used by the Nephites that is so integral to the Law of Moses –
for they and converted Lamanites
“strictly” kept the Law “in all things”.
(2 Nephi 5:10;
3 Nephi 25:4,
The estimated birth of
Messiah near 5 or 6 BCE (having an uncertainty on the order of about a year;
Matthew 2:16) is
based on the lunar eclipse of 4 BCE, observed in Palestine near the time of
the death of Herod “the Great”. (Josephus,
Antiquities of the Jews,
is believed to have ascended the Babylonian
throne in 605 BCE.
(Richard A. Parker and Waldo H. Dubberstein,
Babylonian Chronology 626
B.C. - A.D. 75, Brown University Press, 1956, pg. 12)
Subtract 19 years from 605 BCE to estimate the time of the fall of
Jerusalem and the end of Zedekiah's reign. (Jeremiah 52:8-13)
Add 11 to this results for the years of
Zedekiah's reign (Jeremiah 52:5), and
we arrive at the first regnal year of Zedekiah commencing in 597 BCE.
Princeton University Press, 1964, pp. 320-323, 325)
In order to determine the possible number of years between the
first year of Zedekiah's reign 597 BCE (first
year) or 598 BCE (year of accession) and the birth of the Anointed,
we should know the precision or uncertainty of the ~598, 597 BCE date.
precision of this date is based on astronomical observation relating to the kings of
(i.e. records in the Babylonian Chronicles),
this would tend to make the estimate rather precise (being based on celestial
mechanics); compared to say, the radiocarbon dating of an archaeological
artifact from the same time
period. We need to know quantitatively how uncertain the date of Zedekiah’s
first year of reign really is! Given this information, we may better propose
the number of days in the journey “shanah”. Short
this information we can proceed with a test based on a reasonable estimate
of how many days may have composed Lehi’s journey “year”.
Let’s suppose that the journey “shanah”
given to the pilgrim Lehi (his “prophet’s time”;
Doctrine and Covenants 130:4)
was a “perfect” period of exactly 360 days. An ideal year of 360 days is a
good average between a purely lunar year (~354 days) and the solar year
(~365.25 days). The number 360 is completely divisible by 12. It is the
traditional number of
degrees. By comparison the
divine lunisolar Promised Land year (which tracks the seasons of the
temperate Northern Hemisphere) averages
in the long-term to about 365.242 days per
In anticipation of
Messiah’s birth, all the Nephites had to do was to keep counting and
recording days in groups of 360, calling them shanim “from the time Lehi
left Jerusalem”, and then to keep this prophetic tally separate from the
months and years (sh’not) that pertained to the Law of Moses.
Lehi could not have relied on the
divine Israelite calendar to determine “years” while he was journeying far
from both Promised Lands. He could not tell from the seasons in foreign
places whether the year should be defined as 12 months or 13 months. Time
from his Jerusalem departure is never given in months - this is a clue. Lehi likely
relied on a revealed fixed number of days to define a year during his
journey. After Lehi’s people settled
in the American Promised land, they were able to keep “the commandments of
the Lord, in
all things according to the law of Moses.”
(2 Nephi 5:10)
The Nephites continued to count Lehi’s
shanim separately as a prophetic count to Messiah’s coming.
(1 Nephi 10:4)
In the American Promised
Land, Nephites and converted Lamanites referenced the lunisolar Israelite
calendar as they strictly kept the Law of Moses on a daily, monthly and
You cannot strictly keep the Law of Moses in all things and
omit the divine calendar. The LORD would not have led Lehi’s people to a
land where they could not have kept all the commandments.
(2 Chronicles 8:12-13,
2 Nephi 5:16)
Here then are the proposed
rules for Nephite scripture:
“years” measured from the time Lehi left
are 360 day shanim.
(e.g. relating to the reign of kings or judges in the land, wars etc.) are sh’not
measured according to the Israelite calendar.
therefore consist of either 12 or 13 months, tracking the seasons of the
temperate Northern Hemisphere.
It’s ok for a verse to reference both measures of time.
Let’s demonstrate how these different
measures of time, both translated “years”, fit scripture:
We read that Mosiah son of
Benjamin began to reign
“in the thirtieth year of his age”, meaning that he was
between his 30th and 31st
birthdays in the land. He was 30+ Promised Land “sh’not” (Promised Land years) when he
began to reign. We also read that this event corresponded to “about” 476
journey “shanim” (journey “years”) from Lehi’s departure.
We read that Mosiah died
in the 33rd
Promised Land year of his reign.
He was between 63 and 64 Israelite years old when he died. We are told that
this event corresponded
“in the whole” to 509 “years” from the
(Mosiah 29:46) We conclude that
the “five hundred and nine years” is estimated in Lehi’s prophetic journey years –
It makes sense that in the
Book of Mormon, time from Lehi’s Jerusalem
departure is always measure in Lehi’s prophetic “years”; which he started
counting after leaving Jerusalem;
whereas months and other historical events in the land are determined
according to the Israelite calendar. Again, the number of days
per Israelite year, averaged over many years, is about 365.242.
The relation between
king Mosiah’s age (ש1)
in Israelite Promised Land based years, and time from Lehi’s
departure in journey “years” (ש0),
can be mathematically modeled as a simple linear function having slope m = 365.242/360 and
intercept b1. Like this:
This does not mean that
the Nephites had to use linear functions to keep track of time. Simple
linear functions are effective for testing and for showing how scriptural
Because b1 is
constant, an interval of time in Promised Land years (Δ
corresponds to an interval of time in journey “years” (Δ
according to the following basic formula:
≈ m Δ
Must we deal with
formulas to resolve these matters?
Well, there’s the risk
of oversimplifying the problem if we don’t. Here is an example of an overly simplified
Mosiah began his reign 476
years from Lehi’s departure.
Mosiah died 509 years from
So Mosiah reigned 509 – 476
= 33 years.
Ah, but there’s a problem here: Scripture teaches that
Mosiah died in the 33rd year of his reign.
(Mosiah 29:46) The 33rd
year of Mosiah’s reign started 32 years after he became king, so Mosiah
actually reigned less than 33 years.
We see that
oversimplifying a problem can lead to inaccurate conclusions. We need to use
exactness and care in these matters. We need to be mindful of margins of
error and approximations. We need to be careful how we mix similar but not
identical measures. For example: 476 yards + 33 meters is not equal to 509
yards, neither is 476 shanim + 33
sh’not equal to 509 shanim.
a more excellent and exact approach
let’s suppose that king Mosiah reigned
about 32.62 years
in the land. The scripture says that Mosiah died “in the thirty and third
year of his reign, being sixty and three year old; making in the whole five
hundred and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.”
(Mosiah 29:46) If
~32.62 Promised Land years, this of course satisfies the scriptural
requirement that he died “in the thirty third year of his reign…” But how
many prophetic journey “years” elapsed during Mosiah’s
~32.62 year reign in the land?
The answer is
about 33.1 journey “years”.
Here is how this was calculated:
32.62 ≈ 33.1
So the passage of about
32.62 years in the land corresponded to the passage of
about 33.1 prophetic “years” of the type measured by Lehi during
his journey. Can this fit the other scriptural requirements? Let’s see:
Suppose 475.5 journey years had
passed when Mosiah began to reign.
 This arguably satisfies
the requirement that it was “in the whole, about four hundred and
seventy-six years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem” when Mosiah began to reign.
(Mosiah 6:4) When Mosiah
passed away, how many journey “years” would have elapsed (from Lehi’s departure)?
The answer is 475.5 +
33.1 about 508.6
journey years, or as the scripture says: “making in the whole, five hundred
and nine years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.”
It is unlikely that
Mosiah passed away precisely on the anniversary of Lehi’s departure.
Mormon’s expression “making in the whole” indicates some kind of rounding
process. It is likely that he perceived 508.9, 508.8, 508.7, or 508.6 as
“making in the whole” 509.
Time from Lehi’s
departure is never expressed in months because a 360 day
“year” is not
exactly divisible by the lunar period.
on the other hand,
are composed of months - true lunar cycles. (E.g.
It is clear that Mormon did not arrive at 509
“years” by mixing units in over simplified addition:
476 + 33 = 509
For one thing, Mosiah son of Benjamin did not reign
exactly 33 years.
If Mosiah was 30.39
years old when he started to reign,
“in the thirtieth year of his age”, he would have been about 30.39 + 32.62 or about 63.01 Israelite years old when he died; or to put it as simply as scripture does: “sixty and three years old” when he
died. Given such information
b1 can be estimated from equation
(1), but we don't need to do this here.
Some have gotten the impression that king Mosiah’s reign
ended and then the reign of the judges commenced. This isn’t quite
correct! King Mosiah was alive when the first year of the judges
“year of the reign of the
judges”, and “year of the judges” are synonymous.
Scripture indicates that the last days of Mosiah’s reign and the commencement of
the reign of the judges were not mutually exclusive.
(Mosiah 29:11) They overlapped.
The reign of the elected judges was commenced at the request
of king Mosiah. It was his laws, the laws of his fathers and of God, that the judges were obliged to enforce in
It was king Mosiah who caused that the people should be governed by their
It is true that the death of Mosiah
son of Benjamin
“ended the reign of the kings over the people of Nephi”.
He said he would be their king the remainder of his days; but
before Mosiah died,
judges were appointed and put in office
It is clear that “the reign of the judges” actually commenced before the
death of Mosiah,
and that Mosiah died
sometime in the first year of the judges.
Illness could have incapacitated Mosiah in his final days.
Scripture does not tell us
the month Mosiah died in. It appears he died before the trial of the
murderer Nehor, which we only know occurred sometime in the first year of
Again, oversimplifying the facts can lead to dubious
Consider for instance the following facts:
The LORD told all Israel when the year was to begin.
Zedekiah's first regnal year started at the time designated as the first
of the year.
Lehi left Jerusalem in the first year of Zedekiah's reign.
Mosiah died ~509 years after Lehi's departure.
The 92nd year of the judges (91 years after the
start of the first year) started ~600 years from Lehi's
year is the year of the Savior's birth.
509 + 91 = 600
So, can we conclude that Mosiah died on an
Lehi’s departure, which happened to be the start of the
year - the first year of the reign of the judges?
No - such a conclusion ignores the fact
that Mosiah died after the commencement of the reign of the judges. It was
not the start of the reign of the judges that scripture says happened about 509
it was the passing of Mosiah. His death came to pass after the commencement
of the reign of the judges.
The Nephite (Israelite) year in which the judges came to
power started before the sons of Mosiah went up to the land of Nephi.
The year did not start with the death of king Mosiah, or with the reign of
the judges. The year started at the appointed time set by the LORD in
The fact that Mosiah died about “five hundred and nine years
from the time Lehi left Jerusalem”, and that the 92nd year
of the judges commenced about “six hundred years from the time Lehi left
(3 Nephi 1:1) fits the fact that Mosiah passed
away in the first year of the reign of the judges.
Care must be taken in comparing years of reign and “years” from Lehi’s
departure. Even though both are translated “years”, comparing
sh’not and shanim is
like comparing meters and yards.
equal to 600
! The values need to be properly converted before
operations are performed.
The reign of the judges
was counted in ordinal years:
... In other words, there was no year zero starting the reign of the judges.
The reign of the judges commenced with year one. The first year of the
judges was the year in which the reign of the judges commenced, but this does
not mean that the reign of the judges commenced exactly at the start of the
year. We know in fact that the sons of Mosiah took
“leave of their father, Mosiah, in the first
year of the judges”.
Therefore the sons of Mosiah departed to
the land of Nephi, the reign of the judges commenced, Alma the elder and
Mosiah son of Benjamin passed away, and Nehor was tried, all in the first
year of the judges.
from the Jerusalem departure are not ordinal but
cardinal numbers. Time zero was at the start of the journey. Relating years of the judges to Lehi’s prophetic “years” requires another linear
function similar to the one relating king Mosiah’s years of reign to “years”
from Lehi’s departure.
represent ordinal years of the reign of the judges in the land, commencing with year
= 1). Then:
Again m is (365.242/360), and
b2 is the new intercept to be determined.
King Mosiah could have
died in the first year of the reign of the judges near 1 + .65 =
which is about eight months into the first year of the reign of the judges.
the time window of
Mosiah 29:44-47 and
We can solve for the intercept
by rearranging equation (3) - like this:
turns out to be about 506.92 journey “years”. Here is how it was computed:
(365.242/360) x 1.65 ≈ 506.92 journey “years”.
With the intercept b2
based on a possible date of king Mosiah’s death, we can
estimate the prophetic “years” from Lehi’s departure at the end of the
year, start of the
92nd year of the reign of the judges.
We use equation (3) to do this, plugging in the value of b2
which we just computed. We find that the
commencement of the
92nd year of the judges in the land corresponded to
about 600.26 prophetic “years”. Here
is how this was computed:
(365.242/360) x 92 + 506.92
≈ 600.26 prophetic
as scripture says, “six hundred years from the time
Lehi left Jerusalem.”
(3 Nephi 1:1)
The ancient Israelite year
always started in the spring of the Northern Hemisphere. This was a
directive given to all Israel.
As long as we are consistent, we may let the Israelite year in the calculation above, be at its latest in the spring. The Hebrew year could have commenced
a month earlier (~30 days earlier) in the spring. The position of the Hebrew month in its
season can shift by about
This makes a difference in the decimal of about 30/365.242 ≈ .082 Promised
Land years. We can use equation (2) to estimate how much this would affect
the prophetic years or shanim. We find the decimal is
affected by as much as .083 journey
“year”. So, had the first of the Hebrew year
started a month earlier, the start of the 92nd year of the judges
would have been about 600.18 prophetic shanim from the time Lehi left
And some said, “Behold,
the time is past, for the words to be fulfilled …” concerning the coming of
(3 Nephi 1:5) But their doubt was premature - the prophecy was soon
Keep in mind that the
Israelite Promised Land year could be a minimum of about 29.5 x 12 = 354
days. The Israelite year could occasionally be a maximum of about 384 days.
Over a long time, the average Promised Land year would effectively work out
to be about 365.242 days per year. But because the ancient Israelite year is based on agriculture
(i.e. the “aviv” of barley), in theory, weather and climate
vicissitudes could lead to a string of shorter 12 month years. Over crucial intervals of
time in the above calculations, it is possible that the average number of
days per “year” could have been less than 365. This means that the decimal
after the 600 prophetic “year” could be even less.
By calculation, we have found
that the end of
the 91st year of the judges corresponds to about 600.18 “years
from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem”. How big of a margin of error
accompanies the 600 year prophetic estimate? Does scripture give us any indication?
Is a margin of .18 of a journey
translation of the Book of Mormon never says, …from the day Lehi
left Jerusalem, but rather, “from the time
…” Nephi in fact notes the passing of thirty years “from the time we
(2 Nephi 5:28) Did Nephi have his wife and Zoram in mind when he wrote “we”?
(2 Nephi 5:6) As long as his sons were at
Jerusalem, did Lehi consider himself completely out
of the city?
3 Nephi 1:2 mentions:
“…all those things which had been kept sacred from the departure of Lehi out
The sacred things referred to included the plates of brass and the ball or
director. Lehi’s departure out of
encompassed the time when his family acquired the sacred records and the
director. Evidently, Lehi was only in the process of departing Jerusalem until he had “fulfilled all the
commandments of the Lord”, concerning the records and his sons.
(1 Nephi 16:8) At that point, Lehi was commanded “that on the morrow he should take
his journey into the wilderness.”
(1 Nephi 16:9)
It was then he was given a “round ball of curious workmanship…”
“pointed the way… into the
(1 Nephi 16:10) Preparations,
travel days, impediments and delays all considered, “the departure of Lehi out of
Jerusalem” could have had a temporal margin of several
weeks if not months. The duration
of .18 of a journey “year”
is roughly equivalent to a couple of month’s time.
Continuing with scripture
The passing away of the 99th
year of the judges roughly corresponded to about 608.38 prophetic “years”.
Here is how this was computed:
(365.242/360) x 100 +
506.92 ≈ 608.38 prophetic
“years” from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.
(3 Nephi 2:4)
About 608.29 prophetic shanim if the
101st year of the judges
started a month earlier.
also a hundred years had passed away since the days of Mosiah, who was king
over the people of the Nephites.”
(3 Nephi 2:5)
The expression, “since the
days of...” (מִימֵי)
is not numerically precise. It doesn’t exactly mean “since the death of...”.
See, for instance,
how this expression is used in
3 Nephi 24:7,
Ether 1:4 etc.
The passing of a hundred years “since the days of Mosiah”
(3 Nephi 2:5)
connotes a range of days, not a precise date. If we argue that
it means from his death, this would suggest
about 610.05 prophetic “years” from the time Lehi left
Here is how this is estimated:
(365.242/360) x (100 + 1.65) +
≈ 610.05 prophetic “years” measured from the time Lehi left
shanim, if the 101st
year started a month earlier.
But the words, “since the days of Mosiah, who was king over the people of the Nephites”
could simply be another way of saying, from about the first year of the
reign of the judges (which included the last days of
Mosiah), this works out to be
about 609.39 journey “years” from the time Lehi left Jerusalem. Here is how to calculate this:
(365.242/360) x 101 +
506.92 ≈ 609.39 journey
“years” from the time Lehi left Jerusalem. About 609.31 shanim, if the
year started a month earlier. In other words about “six
hundred and nine years … since Lehi left Jerusalem.”
(3 Nephi 2:6)
But we may also estimate the date passed the
99th year of the judges, that more precisely correlated with 609 shanim, this
may in fact be closer to the date
3 Nephi 2:5
is referring to. The date is about 100.61 in the 100th
year of the judges. Here is how to compute it using
(609 - b2)/m
≈ 100.61 in the 100th
year of the judges.
This date was 99.61 years from the commencement of the reign of the
judges (which started year 1). 100 Israelite years before this
date in the 100th
year of the judges, definitely reached into the “days of Mosiah”.
We assume here that the
year started at its latest in the spring. Had the year commenced a month
earlier, the estimate would be closer to 99.7, or almost 100 years from the
start of the reign of the judges.
It is curious that in
3 Nephi 2:5,
Mormon chose to use the less specific phrase “since the
days of Mosiah...” instead of referencing the year of the
judges as he did in the verses before. Perhaps he was intentionally trying to match sh’not
with the passing of “six hundred and nine” shanim from Lehi's departure.
This brings up an
important point on the accuracy of the above estimates: The above estimates
are based on the long-term average of 365.242 days per Promised Land year. It is likely that
the nine years starting from the year of the sign consisted of seven 354 day
years and two 383.5 day years. This yields an average of about 360.56 days
The scripture continues:
“And nine years had passed
away from the time the sign was given” that is from the event in the 92nd
year of the judges.
(3 Nephi 2:7)
This nine year anniversary of the sign could have occurred between about
609.31 journey “years” and (365.242/360) x 102 + 506.92 ≈ 610.41 journey
“years” from the time Lehi left Jerusalem.
(3 Nephi 2:7)
Thus we see that all the
times listed in
3 Nephi 2:5-7 are proximal – occurring at close to the same
time. The scripture is not saying that the hundredth year
from the days of Mosiah, and the six hundred and ninth “year” from Lehi’s
departure, and the ninth year from the bright sign of Messiah’s coming, all
happened simultaneously. The scripture
(3 Nephi 2:4-7) lists events that
came to pass; three of which occurred near each other, that is, near the 609th
journey “year” from Lehi’s departure
Journey “years” are still
being mentioned by Mormon at this point in scripture (609th
to 610th years of the judges), because the start of the Nephite
calendar had not yet been re-ordered from “the period when the sign
(3 Nephi 2:8)
After the Nephite calendar
was adjusted, there was no need to continue tallying Lehi’s prophetic shanim.
The need for keeping track of Lehi’s journey years had been fulfilled – the
Messiah had been born! This had been the purpose for tallying Lehi’s
prophetic shanim all along. Never again are “years” since Lehi left
mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
Years and months in the
land continued to be recorded. The Nephites had the calendar they needed to
carry on with recording their history, and to anticipate the dark time when
Messiah would die. They had the divinely revealed Israelite calendar, based
in the Promised Land of the temperate Northern Hemisphere!
The Nephite first month could have
typically started a month later than the Jerusalem first
month, but, given the variation in the start of the year, there had to have been years when the American and Jerusalem
month coincided. The paramount thing was for the LORD’s Passover
to be kept “in his season”, according to
the designated days of the month.
2 Chronicles 30:1-3,
Samuel the Lamanite “strictly” kept the Law of Moses.
Again, it is impossible to strictly keep the Law of Moses and not observe the
calendar revealed to Moses and Aaron.
(Exodus 12:1-2) Samuel the Lamanite’s
“five years” Messianic prediction therefore involved “years” defined by the
(Helaman 14:1-2) The
same is true for the predicted years to Messiah’s
death (also prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite,
3 Nephi 8:2-3).
The time of the Messiah’s death
by the Lamanites and Nephites in Promised Land years, much the same as in Palestine;
except that the Nephites started numbering the years from the “period when
the sign was given” of Messiah’s birth. The first month of the year
continued to be reckoned in the spring as commanded.
This of course implies a temperate covenant land in the Northern Hemisphere
- a land which actually experiences a spring at the same time as the annual
commemoration of Israel’s
According to the Book of Mormon, Messiah’s death occurred
in the beginning of the 34th year. About 33 years had passed
- starting from the ordinal year of the sign of his birth. The first year
(the year of
the bright sign) must have commenced in the spring, as did all Israelite,
Nephite years. Sometime during that first year, the sign of the Savior’s
birth was given. This means that Yeshua was 32+ going on 33 years of age
when he was crucified.
If the Savior was born in 5 or 6 BCE as some estimate,
this would mean that he was crucified in the spring of either 29 or 28 CE. The interval of 6 BCE to 28 CE is a
possible fit for ST John’s
account. The Apostle John relates that the Savior was actually crucified on
the preparation day (ostensibly
day) before the Sabbath, near the time of the Full Moon in the
first month, when the Passover
(Exodus 12:6) The synoptic gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark
and Luke) seem to contradict ST John on this point, and have the trial and crucifixion occurring post Passover.
(Frederick Farrar, The Life of Christ, Appendix, Excursus X. (page
555); “Was the Last Supper an Actual Passover?”, pg. 691.
For a contrary opinion see
Alfred Edersheim, The Temple – Its Ministry and Services As They Were at
the Time of Jesus Christ, Appendix, “Did the Lord Institute His “Supper”
on the Paschal Night?”, pp. 246-251, 128/131)
The actual observance of Passover (the Feast of
Unleavened Bread) could in theory, have been pushed forward by as much as a
day or two if the sighting of the first waxing sliver of the moon (the “new
moon”) had been postponed in the preceding months due to overcast skies,
or other problems with reckoning. The
accepted number of days in the Hebrew month could be either 29 or 30. The
start of each month depended on observation. (Alfred Edersheim, The
Temple – Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ,
Ch. 10, pp. 136-138, 64/131)
these millennia, it is difficult to prove absolutely that the seven day week in
was in phase with current days of the week.
rose on the first day of the week (B'sorot Matti
(Hebrew Gospel According to Matthew) 28:1) but does that day
truly correspond with our modern
Sunday in Europe and the Middle East? How do we know that with the passing of wars,
plagues, the commotions of men, nations and nature, and with the
ever-present potential of human error, that the days of the week have not shifted?
Mormon expresses some
uncertainty as to the exact Nephite “reckoning”
(3 Nephi 8:2),
Even so, the
fact remains, Nephite months were typical of the Israelite calendar. The
Law of Moses had not been fulfilled when
the need to count “years” from Lehi’s departure had
come to an end.
(3 Nephi 1:24-25) It is no
coincidence therefore that both the Book of Mormon and the Bible place the
death of Yeshua in the first month – the month of Pesah (Passover),
the month of the “aviv” in the temperate Northern Hemisphere.
(3 Nephi 8:5,
Mormon, in fact, may have been right in
noting the possibility of a “mistake” in the date of the Savior’s death.
(3 Nephi 8:2)
The “fourth day” should in all likelihood read “fourteenth day”.
(3 Nephi 8:5,
This would be an easy mistake to make if the number 14 were recorded tersely
as as symbols for 10 and 4. In recent Hebrew, the letters “yod dalet”
designate 14. Omitting the “yod”
“jot”; “jot” = 10;
3 Nephi 1:25) leaves “dalet” = 4.
A similar transcription error exists in the Bible.
2 Kings 24:8 records that
eighteen years old when he began to reign...”
The numbers 8 and 10 are explicitly written.
2 Chronicles 36:9 however, states that “Jehoachin was eight
years old when he began to reign...” In this verse, the Hebrew number 10
appears to have
Nephite record keepers were
not beyond making an omission here or there.
(3 Nephi 23:12-13)
Some Nephite records were definitely written in a form of pre-exilic Hebrew.
The Nephites knew “jot”
and used Hebrew letters.
Set by essentially
the same phases of moon, the Jerusalem and American Israelite first month
could differ by about a month (due to the agricultural leap month), but it is unlikely that they would differ
by ten days! The LORD chose the
of the first month for a
The Savior predicted that the Son
of Man would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the
His words should be taken seriously, even though they do not seem to fit well with
common interpretations of the timing between the crucifixion and the
resurrection. The Savior’s “three days and three nights” prophecy
fits the prediction made by Samuel the Lamanite in the American
“…in that day that he
shall suffer death the sun shall be darkened … and there shall be no light
upon the face of this land, even from the time that he shall suffer death,
for the space of three days, to the time that he shall rise again from the
Could it be that the
Savior actually held the Passover supper with his disciples at the appointed
time according to the revealed calendar
Leviticus 23:5-6), but
because of imperfect lunar observations that year, the proclaimed
celebration at Jerusalem was not observed until the following evening?
According to the Beloved Apostle, the day of the Savior’s
trial and crucifixion was the proclaimed preparation day of the Passover. (ST John 19:14,
click on LDS edition footnotes b, c, and d) The
first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was designated a day of rest
whether or not it coincided with the seventh day of the week.
Could it be that “three nights”
(not just two)
really did pass as prophesied between the Savior’s death and his rising on the first day of the
We see that the ideal 360
used to count
“years” during the
journey to the Promised Land, satisfies scripture; and was likely employed by the Nephites alongside the Israelite calendar.
We see that the Israelite calendar was used by the Nephites
to keep track of months (true lunar cycles), to chronicle their
history, and to faithfully observe the ordinances of Torah.
Journey “shanim” were
used by the Nephites only to carry on the count of “years” from the time of
departure. This was done with an eye single to Messiah’s
birth - anticipating a full 600 prophetic “shanim” at his coming. These nomadic
units of time translated “years” were not and could not be the basis of a sedentary, seasonal calendar. During the journey to America, Lehi
was obliged to define a “year” as a fixed number of days. He could
not rely on the moon and seasons in foreign places to tell how long a year should be.
Specific and implied mentions in the Book of Mormon to “years” from the time Lehi left Jerusalem, and to “years”
passed in journeying to the Promised Land, are
fixed shanim relating to
Lehi’s pilgrimage and
The record from the
smaller plates of Nephi has many references to time from the Jerusalem
(2 Nephi 5:28,
The reason the smaller
plates of Nephi have so many references to shanim from Lehi’s
departure is because
this record has a particular focus on the prophetic mission of Messiah.
(1 Nephi 19:8,
2 Nephi 4:14;
There are more references to sh’not
on the larger plates; pertaining to
the historical record of kings, judges and wars etc. Unlike shanim, Nephite sh’not
are composed of months (true lunar cycles)! (E.g.
Promised Land “sh’not”
(also translated “years”) consisted of either 12 or 13 months each, depending on
seasonal, agricultural need.
We read that the Mulekites and Nephites counted “moons”.
The very Hebrew word translated “month” derives from the word for “new”,
connoting “new moon”. Scriptural “months” are inextricably tied to
observed lunar cycles.
Chronicling lunar cycles, was both a practical and religious undertaking in
agrarian Israelite society.
As in the Bible, months and years of the
reigns of kings and judges were based primarily on the calendar the LORD revealed to
Moses and Aaron. It is this divine and practical
calendar that the followers of Nephi were
able to re-establish by lunar and agrarian observation, once they were
settled in their inheritance. In America, they found everything that was needful to strictly keep
the Law of Moses
all things.” (2 Nephi 5:10)
How does Lehi’s prophetic journey “year”
resolve the “six hundred years” problem of the Book of Mormon?
If the first year of the
reign of Zedekiah commenced in 597 or 598 BCE as recent estimates suggest,
it would have been a little after this date that Lehi started counting days
to the coming of Messiah. The relationship between years Before the Common Era (YBCE)
and ideal “shanim” as counted by Lehi, is roughly given by:
YBCE ≈ 597 – m-1
Expressed another way:
≈ m(597 -
Given that Messiah was
born near 5 or 6 BCE, how many prophetic “years” would have passed from
Lehi’s departure? The answer(s):
(365.242/360) x (598 –
6) ≈ 600.62 journey “years”.
The same answer
(365.242/360) x (597 – 5) ≈
600.62 journey “years”
Using 6 BCE we obtain:
(365.242/360) x (597 – 6) ≈
599.61 journey “years”
Using 598 BCE for the
start of Zedekiah’s reign we obtain:
(365.242/360) x (598 – 5)
≈ 601.63 journey “years”.
Keep in mind that since
Lehi left Jerusalem
after the start of Zedekiah’s reign, the above estimates should be slightly
reduced. The “six hundred years from the time Lehi left Jerusalem” indeed seems to fit; give or take a
If the 92nd
year of the judges corresponded to either 5 or 6 BCE, then Lehi left
Jerusalem in approximately 5 + 600.18/m ≈ 596.56 BCE, or else 6
+ 600.18/m ≈ 597.56 BCE,
Note that these estimates are based on the
92nd year of the judges commencing at ~600.18 journey “years” from
The purpose of these
exercises has been to demonstrate that a teaming up of the ancient biblical
calendar and the prophetic 360 day “year” can satisfy Book of Mormon
accounts. Annotated dates in recent editions of the Book of Mormon are
The scenario is
open to adjustment
Famine between the 73rd
and 76th years in the land impacted the growth of “…her fruit,
and her grain in the season of grain” and therefore may have impacted the “sh’not”
(“years”, feminine) of the agrarian Nephite calendar.
17) There were numerous mouths to feed in the land and little food.
Thousands perished in “the more wicked parts of the land.” Decimated were
those who depended on the fruits of others.
People abandoned their
dry, wasted lands and congregated near bodies of freshwater such as
the “sea west”, where they could quench their thirst and irrigate their
crops. Where does scripture hint that “the sea west” was an inland
freshwater sea? When the famine abated, we read that the people began again
to spread upon the face of the land, “from the sea west to the sea east.”
(Helaman 11:20) The situation calls to mind the biblical famine in the land of Egypt,
and the regions round about, where even the effluence of the
Nile, a river called a “sea” in scripture, did not yield enough
by way of irrigation, to feed the multitudes during the drought.
The years of drought may
have had premature springs and shorter cold seasons, with minimal to no
precipitation. Crops failed in the extended dry warmer months. If the
drought had begun in a twelve month year, the calendar may have been allowed
to cycle through an unusually long sequence of twelve month “sh’not”.
A twelve month Israelite year is only about 354 days. The Nephites did not
follow post-exilic calendar rules. A thirteenth month was added to the year
only when agricultural need required.
to Ken Chamberlain who first suggested to me that the “six hundred years”
problem of the Book of Mormon might be resolved by a 360 day year.
Biblical scholars are mainly aware of the imprisonment of the Prophet
Jeremiah in the “tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah”.
(Jeremiah 32:1-2) I accept footnote d of
1 Nephi 7:14, which tacitly
Jeremiah 37:15(15-21) to an earlier imprisonment of Jeremiah near
the time of Lehi’s departure.
Using the departure date
(either ~596.56 or ~597.56 BCE)
we can approximate the date BCE when Mosiah son of
Benjamin began to rule. This is based on the first regnal year of Zedekiah
(in the spring of either 597 or 598 BCE). Assuming that Mosiah began to reign 475.5 journey “year” from Lehi’s departure or “about four hundred and
seventy-six years from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem”
we estimate that Mosiah began to reign about:
596.56 – (360/365.242)
x (475.5) ≈ 127.89 BCE,
based on a departure date of ~597.56 BCE:
An earlier departure of Lehi (e.g. ~597.73 BCE) could
place the commencement of Mosiah’s reign
after the first of the year, in the spring, near the time of the
convocation. See note .
Assuming seven years
of (12 x 29.5) = 354 days per year, and two years with leap months of (13 x
29.5) = 385.5 days each, the average becomes:
(7 x 354 + 2 x 385.5)/9
≈ 360.56 days per year
Given that from the start of the reign of the judges, 91 years had passed
corresponding to about 600.18 shanim
(3 Nephi 1:1), The 100th
year from the reign of the judges would then be about:
(360.56/360) x 9 + 600.18
≈ 609.19 journey “years”
Nine years from the
ending of the 92 year (the year of the sign) would correspond to:
(360.56/360) x 10 + 600.18
≈ 610.19 journey “years”
So nine years from the
sign could have occurred sometime between journey “years” 609.19 and 610.19.
WHEN EXACTLY WAS THE CRUCIFIXION?
Modern historical sources
put Zedekiah’s first year of reign at either 597 or 598 BCE.
James Translation - LDS edition,
Chronology – Bible
Zedekiah’s first regal year is
estimated to have started on the first day of the first month
of the Hebrew calendar in the spring of 597 BCE.
(Jack Finegan, Handbook of
Biblical Chronology, Princeton University Press, 1964, pp. 320-323, 325)
installed by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon prior to the start of the year. (2 Kings 24:17,
2 Chronicles 36:10)
Why is there no mention in Nephi’s
account of the mighty Babylonian army besieging Jerusalem? Could it be that Lehi and Nephi regarded the Hebrew year of
Zedekiah’s accession to the throne as his
first year of reign, even though Zedekiah had not reined the entire year? If
so, Lehi may have actually departed Jerusalem before Zedekiah was installed,
and later learned of
(1 Nephi 5:10-13)
Nephi then identified the year
of his father’s departure with the year in which Zedekiah began to reign.
The birth date of Yeshua
is estimated at either 5 or 6 BCE based on the Gospel of Matthew account,
and the eclipse of 4 BCE, which according to the Jewish – Roman historian
Josephus, occurred near the time of Herod’s death.
of the Jews, Chapter V.)
Six hundred journey years had
passed from the time Lehi left Jerusalem to shortly before the sign of
(3 Nephi 1:1,
If we grant that the year of the sign commenced 600.26 journey years from Lehi’s departure (fitting the scriptural
this is equivalent to 600.26/m ≈ 591.65 sh’not
or Promised Land years. Add six years (if Messiah was born in 6 BCE) and we get about
BCE for the approximate date of Lehi’s departure.
Remember, the first month of the Israelite
calendar (later named Nisan) is in the
spring. The first of
the year is not regarded here as starting in January. If the year of Lehi’s
departure commenced a month earlier (still
in the spring) then Lehi could
have left Jerusalem as early as 597.65 + .082 or about 597.73 BCE.
3 Nephi 8:2-3,
thirty three years had past, starting with the year of the
Savior’s birth. Shortly thereafter the Savior died and a great and terrible
destruction ensued in the American Promised Land. This places the Savior’s
death at the time of Passover in the year 28 CE.
Allowing for a leap month,
we find that the Savior would have been right to conduct the Passover meal
with his disciples on what is estimated to have been a Wednesday evening. The actual 15th day of the first month, would have started the night of
Wednesday the 14th, according to exact lunar calculations.
See table below:
Special thanks to Ken Chamberlain for providing the above
table of information
Owing to less than ideal lunar observations that year (28
CE), it is entirely possible that the proclaimed celebration of Passover was
set for the following evening (Thursday). Having observed the
Passover meal with his disciples on the evening of the correct day (counted
from the time of the true
new moon), the Savior was taken, tried and crucified on what was proclaimed to be
the 14th day of Nisan (in reality the
15th day). The
14th day of the first month is the preparation day
of Passover - the day on which the lamb is slain -
“in the evening”.
(Exodus 12:5-6, verse 6 in Hebrew literally reads: “between the evenings”) The
next day (deemed the 15th of
Nisan - a Friday, but starting Thursday night) was proclaimed a day of rest – an effectual Sabbath.
Leviticus 23:6-7) The regular Sabbath followed, followed by the first day of
the week (a Sunday) on which Messiah rose. (Mosiah 3:10)
Thus “three days and three nights” had passed as prophesied.
2 Nephi 25:13,
Scripture defines a “day” as either a period of daylight, or
a cycle of darkness and light. (Genesis 1:5,
2 Peter 1:19,
Doctrine and Covenants 50:24)
The Lamb of God died near the end of a darkened day. (Matthew 27:45 in contrast to
ST John 19:14)
The ordinal count of the first day
from his death to the “third day”
on which he rose, began with the night that commenced the official Feast of Unleavened Bread.
ST John 19:14;
20:1) But the
of three distinct periods of daylight, or “days” (each followed by a distinct
night, totalling three) in which his spirit was among the dead in
“the heart of the earth”,
began the day he was crucified and died. (Luke 23:43,
1 Peter 3:19)
According to John, the Savior rose from the tomb while “it was yet dark”
on the “first day of the week”. The temple of his body was not resurrected until the third day of the
Feast of Unleavened Bread;
the previous two days being Sabbaths.
Consider Matthew 27:40,
ST John 2:19-21;
Mark 8:31 with Matthew 16:21, and
It is likely that the day of rest, following the Savior’s
crucifixion (which was in reality the designated first day of the Feast of
Unleavened Bread) eventually became confused with the regular Sabbath of the
seventh day, and hence the inaccurate perception that Yeshua was tried and
crucified on a Friday before the Sabbath.
(ST John 19:14,
especially click on LDS edition footnote c)
The Savior in fact gave
up his life near the time lambs were slain in preparation for Pesah
(Passover), and he had with
divine exactness and much desire kept the Passover Seder with his disciples the night before.
“Difficulties of the Calendar
Hitherto we have not adverted to the difficulties which those who intended to appear in Jerusalem at the feasts
would experience from the want of any fixed calendar. As the year of the Hebrews was lunar, not solar, it consisted of only 354 days 8 hours 48’ 38”. This, distributed among twelve months, would in the course of years have
completely disordered the months, so that the first month, or Nisan (corresponding to the end of March or the
beginning of April), in the middle of which the first ripe barley was to be presented to the Lord, might have fallen
in the middle of winter. Accordingly, the Sanhedrim appointed a Committee of three, of which the chief of the
Sanhedrim was always president, and which, if not unanimous, might be increased to seven, when a majority of
voices would suffice, to determine which year was to be made a leap-year by the insertion of a thirteenth month.
Their resolution * was generally taken in the twelfth month (Adar), the additional, or thirteenth month (Ve-Adar),
being inserted between the twelfth and the first.
* Tradition has it, that neither high-priest nor king ever took part in these deliberations, the former because he
might object to a leap-year as throwing the Day of Atonement later into the cold season; the king, because he
might wish for thirteen months, in order to get thirteen months’ revenue in one year!
A Sabbatical year could not be a leap-year, but that preceding it was always such. Sometimes two, but never three,
leap-years succeeded each other. Commonly, every third year required the addition of a month. The mean duration
of the Jewish month being 29 days 12 hours 44’ 3 1/3”, it required, during a period of nineteen years, the insertion
of seven months to bring the lunar era in accordance with the Julian.
The New Moon
And this brings up yet another difficulty. The Jews calculated the month according to the phases of the moon, each
month consisting of either twenty-nine or thirty days, and beginning with the appearance of the new moon. But
this opened a fresh field of uncertainty. It is quite true that every one might observe for himself the appearance of a
new moon. But this would again partly depend on the state of the weather. Besides, it left an authoritative declaration of the commencement of a month unsupplied. And yet not only was the first of every month to be observed as
‘New Moon’s Day,’ but the feasts took place on the 10th, 15th, or other day of the month, which could not be
accurately determined without a certain knowledge of its beginning. To supply this want the Sanhedrim sat in the
‘Hall of Polished Stones’ to receive the testimony of credible witnesses that they had seen the new moon. To
encourage as many as possible to come forward on so important a testimony, these witnesses were handsomely
entertained at the public expense. If the new moon had appeared at the commencement of the 30th day—which
would correspond to our evening of the 29th, as the Jews reckoned the day from evening to evening—the
Sanhedrim declared the previous month to have been one of twenty-nine days, or ‘imperfect.’ Immediately thereon
men were sent to a signal-station on the Mount of Olives, where beacon-fires were lit and torches waved, till a kindling flame on a hill in the distance indicated that the signal had been perceived. Thus the tidings, that this was the
new moon, would be carried from hill to hill, far beyond the boundaries of Palestine, to those of the dispersion,
‘beyond the river.’ Again, if credible witnesses had not appeared to testify to the appearance of the new moon on
the evening of the 29th, the next evening, or that of the 30th, according to our reckoning, was taken as the commencement of the new month, in which case the previous month was declared to have been one of thirty days, or
‘full.’ It was ruled that a year should neither have less than four nor more than eight such full months of thirty
Temple – Its Ministry and Services As They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ,
Ch. 10, pp. 136-138, 64/131)
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