The Timing of Christ’s Appearance to the Nephites

The Timing of Christ’s Appearance to the Nephites

 John A. Tvedtnes

Most casual readers of the Book of Mormon probably conclude that Jesus Christ appeared to the Nephites immediately after the great cataclysm accompanying the crucifixion, when the thick vapor had dissipated. This is understandable in view of the fact that the appearance of Christ is discussed right after the description of the great destruction. So, too, in 1 Nephi 12:48 and 2 Nephi 26:19 one has the impression that Christ would appear right after the vapor of darkness dispersed from off the land. However, this latter passage describes a vision of Nephi that contains only highlights of the subsequent history of the Nephites.

The traditional view has been challenged by such scholars as Sidney Sperry,[1] S. Kent Brown,[2] and Jerome Horowitz.[3] Two alternatives to an early appearance have, in fact, been proposed. The first is that Christ appeared soon after his ascension, following a forty-day ministry among his original twelve apostles in the Old World. The other is that he came to the Nephites at the end of the thirty-fourth year of the new Nephite calendar.

The Nephites employed three different calendars during their history. The first counted years from Lehi’s departure from Jerusalem. After the judgeship was instituted by King Mosiah, they reckoned time from that date.  A new calendric system was instituted when the signs of Christ’s birth were seen in the heavens. Hence, the crucifixion took place in the 34th year of the new calendar (3 Ne 8:2, 5). The passage on which these theories are based reads, in part:

“And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will show unto you that . . . soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them.”  (3 Nephi 10:18)

Both Brown and Horowitz make a case for Jesus appearing to the Nephites toward the end of the 34th year of the Nephite calendar. Since the great destruction that accompanied the death of Christ took place “in the thirty and fourth year, in the first month, on the fourth day of the month” (3 Nephi 8:5), this would be approximately a year later.

A reexamination of the evidences elicited by these scholars, however, considerably weakens their case. I find both misunderstanding of the Book of Mormon text and much unwarranted supposition. It is for this reason that each of these points of “evidence” are discussed below.

The “Ascension”

Ascension Day has long been a Christian holy day, celebrating Christ’s return to his Father after a 40-day post-resurrection ministry among his twelve apostles. However, it plays a very minor, almost non-existent role in the New Testament. One is led to wonder how much Christ’s “ascension” in the Old World could mean to Mormon (or to Nephi the disciple, whose record he abridged).

Luke is our principal source for the formal “ascension” of Christ. In Luke 24:50-52, he tells how Jesus led the eleven remaining apostles to Bethany, on the eastern spur of the Mount of Olives, and rose to heaven. There can be no doubt from the account that the event took place on the day of Christ’s resurrection (cf. vss. 1, 13, 33, 36). Yet in Acts 1:3-12, also attributed to Luke, Christ is said to have risen from the Mount of Olives after spending some forty days with his disciples.  (Are there, then, two “ascensions” from the Mount of Olives?)

Mark, after recounting the same basic story told in Luke 24 about the appearances of Jesus on the day of his resurrection (Mark 16:9-14), recited Jesus’ formal commission to the apostles (vss. 15-18), then noted that he was received into heaven (vs. 19). Consequently, his story supports the account in Luke 24, which has Christ ascending to heaven on the day of resurrection. Matthew, however, complicates matters by reciting the same commission noted in Mark, but said that it was given atop a mountain in Galilee (Mattnew 28:16-20).

This, of course, could not have taken place on the day of resurrection, when the apostles were in Jerusalem, not Galilee. Matthew makes no mention of an “ascension,” nor does John, whose account, being designed to show the divinity of Jesus, could have profited from such an event.

In my opinion, Luke. our source for the formal “ascension” of Jesus. is the least trustworthy of the gospel writers. Though we cannot discuss here all of the evidences, it is important to note that Mark’s gospel became one of the primary sources of information for both Luke and Matthew. Luke generally accepted Mark’s version without question, though in some cases he added details not found in Mark. Matthew, on the other hand, corrected Mark at every turn, implying that he felt that Mark was in error. If we assume that the gospel of Matthew was really written by the apostle of that name, then we must accept his version as more authentic, for he was an eyewitness of most of the events he recorded. Mark and Luke are, at best, tsecond- or third-generation Christians (despite Christian traditions that attempt to identify Mark with the young man in Gethsemane who ran away naked, and Luke with one of the two disciples who met the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus).

When the gospels disagree, most Bible readers try to “wrest the scriptures” to bring them into “harmony” one with another. Others, noting that Mark and Luke generally agree in their mutual accounts, while Matthew differs, opt in favor of the majority. Two-to-one, Matthew, the only one to have known Jesus (!), loses. I prefer to treat Matthew as an almost first-hand account, while Mark and Luke are far from being primary sources.  Luke is also our only biblical source for the so-called “forty-day post-resurrection ministry.” Mark implies (as did Luke in his earlier account) that Jesus rose to heaven from Jerusalem on the day of resurrection. Matthew has him later appearing to his disciples in Galilee, finding agreement in his fellow-disciple John. This assumes that the gospel of John was written by the apostle of that name.

Returning to the original question, we must concern ourselves with what “ascension” meant to Nephi the disciple or to Mormon. The “ascension” of Christ was, in fact, an essential doctrine of the pre-Christian Nephites, as we note in Mosiah 15:9; 18:2 and Alma 40:20. All three of these passages refer to Christ’s saving power (e.g., his role as intercessor before the throne of God), while two of them relate the ascension to his resurrection. This might imply that the event took place on the day of resurrection, as noted above.

Four centuries after Christ’s visit to the New World, Moroni referred to the “ascension” of Christ (Moroni 7:27).  And, of course, we have several such references in the “Nephite Gospel,” some of them dealing with his ascension from the city of Bountiful (3 Nephi 11:21; 18:39; 19:1; 26:15).  Of particular interest is the note that it had been prophesied that Christ would show himself to the Nephites after his ascension into heaven (3 Nephi 11:12). Following his delivery of the “sermon at the temple,” Christ said that the Nephites had heard the things which he had taught before he ascended to his Father (3 Nephi 15:1). At no point did he mention anything about a 40-day ministry in the Old World preceding that ascension.

Horowitz may be correct in stating that Christ’s “ascension” was a process, not an event, referring to his return to the presence of the Father after his sojourn on earth. I.e., he returned to the divine throne to become an intercessor and a mediator for mankind after having wrought the atonement, as a number of passages indicate. However, Mormon’s reference to the appearance of the Savior to the Nephites “soon after the ascension of Christ” (3 Nephi 10:18-19) implies that this “ascension” was a specific, earlier event. In this case, I propose that it is his return to the Father on the day of his resurrection, and not after some forty-day period. This would accord with his instructions (given on the day of resurrection) to Mary Magdalene to inform the apostles that he was ascending to his Father (John 19:17), followed by his appearance to them later that same day.

The “ending” of the year

If Jesus appeared immediately after the three days of darkness, this would have occurred in the first month of the thirty-fourth year, not at the end of that year. Is Mormon then incorrect in 3 Nephi 10:18? This possibility has not been seriously considered, despite the fact that Mormon himself admitted that the records from which he made the abridgement may have been in error concerning the chronology:

“And now it came to pass that according to our record, and we know our record to be true, for behold, it was a just man who did keep the record . . . And now it came to pass, if there was no mistake made by this man in the reckoning of our time, the thirty and third year had passed away.” (3 Nephi 8:1-2)

While Mormon rejected the possibility of error in the recording of events, he did imply that the “reckoning of our time” may be incorrect.

Brown, in citing the passage in 3 Nephi 10:18, neglects to note some of the words from Mormon (“I will show unto you”) and does not quote vs. 19, in which Mormon promised that he would give “an account” of the ministry of Christ “hereafter.” The two verses should be read in context:

“And it came to pass that in the ending of the thirty and fourth year, behold, I will show unto you that . . . soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven he did truly manifest himself unto them, Showing his body unto them, and ministering unto them; and an account of his ministry shall be given hereafter. Therefore, for this time I make an end of my sayings.” (3 Nephi 10:18-19)

This verse is immediately followed by the preface to the Nephite “Gospel,” which Mormon wrote when he took up the record again.

It is clear that Mormon was about to conclude his work for a time when he promised to show how Jesus appeared to the Nephites. Some have believed that this has a bearing on the promise to show “in the ending of the thirty and fourth year” the appearance of Christ. Horowitz has noted two ways in which people have read this passage. I.e., there are those who believe that Christ appeared in the New World “in the ending of the thirty and fourth year,” while others see this timing as indicative of when the historical entry was made. Horowitz supports the first of these views. In response to the second, he wrote, “This part of the Book of Mormon is not the record written at the time or nearly a year later but is an abridgment written by Mormon centuries later.”

But this is precisely the point!  Had Horowitz further examined Mormon’s methodology, he would have realized that Mormon took his material from  Nephite annals. As evidence, note the following recitations of  “years” for which he records no events:

“And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth.”  (4 Nephi 1)

“And thus did the thirty and eighth year pass away, and also the thirty and ninth, and forty and first, and the forty and second, yea, even until forty and nine years had passed away, and also the fifty and first, and the fifty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away.” (4 Nephi 1:6)

“And it came to pass that the seventy and first year passed away, and also the seventy and second year, yea, and in fine, till the seventy and ninth year had passed away; yea, even an hundred years had passed away.  (4 Nephi 1:14; cf. also Helaman 3:2)

There is no logical reason for which Mormon would have listed year-numbers without recording events for them unless he was keeping a running tally of the annals he had consulted. Therefore, I propose that 3 Nephi 10:18-19 may be just such an entry, in which he tells his readers that he will be recording the events through the end of the thirty-fourth year.

There are only two other Book of Mormon passages in which the expression “in the ending of the year” occurs. One of these is Helsman 3:1:

“And now it came to pass in the forty and third year of the reign of the judges . . . which affairs were settled in the ending of the forty and third year.”

I propose that the meaning of this passage is that the “affairs” were settled “before the end” or “by the end” of the forty-third year.  (The same meaning could be given to Alma 52:14.) I further propose that the Hebrew idiom behind the passage reads be-sōp, lit., “in the ending” (preposition be + infinitive of the root swp. “to come to an end”). It would then be akin to the passage found in 2 Kings 2:1, where we have behacălōt YHWH ’et ’ēliyāhū, lit., “in the Lord’s bringing up Elijah.”  Obviously, the events described after this verse did not take place “at the time” (or “when”) Elijah was taken to heaven, but prior to that event. This led the KJV translators to render it “when the LORD would take up Elijah.” But the text does not contain the imperfect verb one would expect in order to justify the modal translation; it has an infinitive. In view of the fact that the text then goes on to recount events which took place prior to his ascension, I suggest that 2 Kings 2:1 should correctly read, “by the time the Lord took Elijah up” or “before the time the Lord took Elijah up.” By the same token, 3 Nephi 10:18 would read “by the end of the thirty-fourth year” or “before the end of the thirty-fourth year.”

The “Settled Condition” of the Nephites

Brown and Horowitz make some basic assumptions concerning the circumstances of Christ’s appearance to the Nephites that are not wholly supported by the textual evidence. These are:

1, The extent of the destruction was such that the people would have spent many months cleaning up and burying the dead.

2. The necessity of rescuing people from the rubble of destroyed buildings would have made it unlikely that the survivors could have been visited by Christ immediately after the destruction.

3. After the destruction, bread and wine, used in the sacrament when Jesus appeared, would not have been available.

4, Moroni wrote “that Christ showed himself” unto the people only “after they had faith in him.” This requires a lapse of time after the destruction for faith to ber established in the hearts of the people.

I view these matters in an entirely different light, as the following material will show.

Extent of the Destruction

The great destructions in 3 Nephi 8:12-18 occurred only in the “land northward,” while those in vss. 8-11 were in the “land southward.” Hence, Brown is wrong in associating the following items with all of the land occupied by the Nephites (and Lamanites), and especially in the region of Bountiful, where Christ appeared:

“there were some cities which remained; but the damage thereof was exceedingly great, and there were many of them who were slain.”  (3 Nephi 8:15)

“And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed.”  (3 Nephi 8:17; this is the same statement made in vs. 12 in reference to the “land northward”: “the whole face of the land was changed”)

The highways were broken up (3 Nephi  8:13).

Samuel the Lamanite had specifically named Zarahemla and Gideon as cities which would be destroyed unless the people repented (Helaman 13:12-15), adding, “Yea, and wo be unto all the cities which are in the land round about, which are possessed by the Nephites, because of the wickedness and abominations which are in them” (vs. 16).

The heavenly voice announced the destruction of the cities of Zarahemla, Moroni, Moronihah, Gilgal, Onihah, Mocum, Jerusalem, Gadiandi, Gadiomnah, Jacob, Gimgimno, Jacobugath, Laman, Josh, Gad, and Kishkumen (3 Ne 9:1-12).  Note that several of the destroyed cities have Jaredite-sounding names and are hence probably to be associated with the robbers of the Gadianton band (cf. Gadiandi, Gadiomnah). There is evidence that the secret combinations continued from Jaredite times via the Mulekites, but the details are too lengthy to discuss in this paper. The names Kishkumen, Gadianton, etc., are clearly Jaredite in form, as published and unpublished studies of Jaredite names has demonstrated. Verse 9 specifically states that the city of Jacobugath had been settled by the secret combination headed by Jacob, who had sought to become king.[4]

The voice from heaven declared to the survivors that they were being spared because they were “more righteous than” the people in the cities that had been destroyed (vs. 13). This is confirmed in other Book of Mormon passages. E.g., the Lord had told Nephi that he would not destroy those who believed in him, while the unbelievers would be destroyed by fire, tempest, earthquakes, etc., i.e., the very means by which people died at the time of Christ’s crucifixion (2 Nephi 6:14-15).

In 2 Ne 26:1-9, Nephi tied the appearance of Christ to the destructions which, from their description, are the very ones that later took place at the time of the crucifixion. He stressed that it was the wicked who perished in these cataclysms (vss. 4-6) because they had cast out the prophets and stoned and slain them (vs. 3), which is precisely the reason Christ gave for the destruction of the wicked at the time of the crucifixion (3 Nephi 9:5, 7-11). The righteous, on the other hand, would obey the prophets and look for the signs; Christ would appear to them and heal them (2 Nephi 6:8-9).

“And it was the more righteous part of the people who were saved . . . And they were spared and were not sunk and buried up in the earth; and they were not drowned in the depths of the sea; and they were not burned by fire, neither were they fallen upon and crushed to death; and they were not carried away in the whirlwind; neither were they overpowered by the vapor of smoke and of darkness.”  (3 Nephi 10:12-13)

Since the destruction did not occur throughout all of the Nephite lands, there would be no necessity of rebuilding the temple and houses, or of rescuing people from the rubble. Indeed, the idea of such rescue efforts seems to me to be a  modern concept of earthquakes, in which four- and five-story buildings (and taller) collapse and trap people beneath tons of rubble. It is much more likely that the Nephites lived in small houses, built with materials convenient to the geographical location of the city. Rescue efforts would probably have been minimal.

Brown notes that the Nephites from Bountiful knew to which cities they should go to bring others back to see the risen Savior on the second day of his visit. This, he believes, is evidence that sufficient time had passed for them to learn which cities were destroyed and which survived. We need not so presume, however. The text makes it clear that the heavenly voice told them which cities had been destroyed and in what manner (3 Ne 19:1-3). Moreover, in the short time remaining before the visit of the next day, the people of Bountiful could only have gone to nearby towns or villages, where there was more likelihood that they had relatives and friends.

In connection with the messengers sent from Bountiful to other towns, Brown notes that “the roads must have been repaired.” Assuming that there was extensive damage to the earth  in the area of Bountiful, the roads could have been destroyed. But since automobiles were not in use by the Nephites and there is no evidence that they even used carts, we assume that it was likely that their principal mode of transportation was walking, which would not have been severely affected by damaged roads.

Only once in the Book of Mormon do we encounter a “chariot,” in the story of Ammon and King Lamoni. There is no evidence in the text or in archaeology to indicate that there was widespread use of such vehicles, however. Kings may have been the only ones to possess them.

Burying the Dead

To assume that there was mourning for the loss of loved ones after the disaster presumes that some of the inhabitants of Bountiful were killed, which is, of course, possible. But there is sufficient evidence that the Book of Mormon peoples had clan and tribal structures.[5] Hence, people from Bountiful would not have had relatives scattered throughout the various Nephite/Lamanite settlements. Moreover, the Book of Mormon specifically states that the people stopped mourning soon after the destruction.

Upon hearing the voice of Jesus speaking through the thick darkness, “so great was the astonishment of the people that they did cease lamenting and howling for the loss of their kindred which had been slain”  (3 Nephi 10:2). After three days, the darkness and trembling and noises disappeared (3 Nephi 9:9), and “the mourning, and the weeping, and the wailing of the people who were spared alive did cease; and their mourning was turned into joy”  (3 Nephi 9:10).

Horowitz believes that the people could not have assembled at the temple until after a long  period of burying the dead and mourning. In so stating, he overlooks some very important facts. First, the cities destroyed in the great cataclysm are mentioned by name (3 Ne 8:10, 24-25; 9:3-10), but Bountiful, where Jesus appeared, is not among them. Significantly, its temple was spared. When Mormon tells us that the “more righteous” were saved, he specifically notes that these were the people who were not buried in the earth, drowned in the sea or burned by fire (3 Ne 10:12-13). Since these are exactly what happened to the destroyed cities, the implication is that those cities were wicked, while the city of Bountiful and perhaps other places were righteous. I therefore presume that it was only the people living in Bountiful who were gathered on the day of Jesus’ first visit, while others from nearby towns were invited to come the next day.

With this scenario in mind, it appears less and less likely that the people in Bountiful would be out burying the dead of other cities. I presume that clan or family members lived within close geographical proximity and therefore that the Nephites and Lamanites did not – as we Americans – have dead relatives to bury in various parts of the country. Moreover, if the cities listed were really swallowed up by the sea or the earth or destroyed by fire, there were perhaps no remains to be buried. Even so, there are other examples in the Book of Mormon where the Nephites did not take time to bury their dead because of the vast numbers slain in war (Almaq 16:11; 28:11). It seems unreasonable, therefore, to expect that they would do so in the face of an even greater catastrophe.

Availability of Bread and Wine

Horowitz and Brown argue that bread and wine could not have been available for the sacrament immediately after the destruction.  The wine containers would have been destroyed in the cataclysm, and no one would have had time to make bread which, in most cultures, is made daily. There are several reasons to refute these ideas. The bread, for example, need not have been fresh; it could have been three days old and used out of necessity.

Brown indicates that with “kilns and ovens” surely being destroyed by the earthquakes, it would not have been possible to have fresh bread immediately after the crucifixion. This, it seems to me, presumes that the Nephites made bread in loaves like we do. The evidence is quite to the contrary. The bread of the ancient Near East (as among the Bedouin today) is a flat round bread, often unleavened, which is not baked, but cooked atop a flat piece of metal placed on rocks over an open fire. Its Mesoamerican equivalent is the tortilla. No ovens are needed. Even so, since there appears to have been less destruction in the city of Bountiful, we have no reason to believe that ovens and wine containers had been destroyed.

Appearance After the People had Faith

Citing Moroni in Ether 12:7 as evidence that sufficient time to develop faith had passed between the crucifixion and Christ’s appearance in Bountiful is unwarranted. The passage in question is part of a discussion of faith:

“For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him for he showed himself not unto the world”.  (Ether 12:7)

Read in its entirety, the passage can be seen as evidence that some, indeed, had faith in Christ. The Lord had told Nephi that he would not destroy those who believed in him, in a passage clearly referring to the destruction which would occur at the time of the crucifixion (2 Nephi 6:14-15). In another revelation, he noted that while the wicked would perish in the cataclysm, the righteous who obeyed the prophets would look for the signs and Christ would appear to them and heal them (1 Nephi 26:1-9). From these, it is evident that the survivors in Bountiful already had faith in Christ and had no necessity to wait until the end of the year. This is further demonstrated by events leading up to the time of Christ’s coming:

In year 16 of the new (Christian) era, the Gadianton leader demanded the surrender of the government. The Nephites assembled to Zarahemla and Bountiful to defend themselves (3 Nephi 3). The Nephites defeated the Gadianton band (3 Nephi 1:4) and acknowledged that their victory resulted from their repentance and humilit (3 Nephi 4:30-33). In the 22nd year, all of the people came to havefaith in Christ and the prophets (3 Nephi 5:1-3, 7). Four years later, all of the Nephites returned to their own lands with their families (3 Nephi 6:1).

In the 29th year, divisions began among the people because of riches (3 Nephi 6:10-13f). The next year, the Church was broken up in all the land except among a few Lamanites (3 Nephi 6:14). Prophets were sent to testify of several things, including the resurrection of Christ (3 Nephi 6:20). Unrighteous judges secretly slew many of the prophets who testified of Christ (3 Nephi 6:23; Christ mentions this as a reason for destroying the people caught in the cataclysm). The wicked judges’ friends and kindreds gathered themselves together (3 Nephi 6:27) and entered into the covenants of the secret combinations (3 Nephi 6:28), wanting to establish a king over the land (3 Nephi 6:30). The chief judge was murdered (3 Nephi 7:1) and the people were divided into tribes by family, kindred and friends (3 Nephi 7:2), each tribe appointing its own leaders (3 Nephi 7:3, 14). Even the “more righteous part of the people had nearly all become wicked; year, there were but few righteous among them” (3 Nephi 7:7). The secret combination named one Jacob as king, he having spoken against the prophets who testified of Jesus (3 Nephi 7:9-10). They fled to “the northernmost part of the land” (3 Nephi 7:12), which is the area most affected by the destruction at the time of the crucifixion.

In the 31st year, Nephi preached repentance and faith on Jesus Christ (3 Nephi 7:16). A few converted and believed in Jesus (3 Nephi 7:21). In the beginning of the 33rd year (vs. 23), many were baptized (3 Nephi 7:26). It would appear, then, that by the time of the crucifixion, there was a new core of believers in Christ.

We conclude, therefore, that the “high spirituality” of the people (noted by Horowitz) does not necessarily imply that sufficient time for repentance had passed since the great cataclysm. After all, we read that only the more righteous had been spared (3 Nephi 10:12-13). Moreover, it is generally accepted that in times of crisis people turn to God.[6]

Gathering at the Temple

All twelve of those chosen as disciples were present in Bountiful at the time Jesus first appeared. Horowitz and Brown see this as evidence that the people had gathered at the temple (e.g., for Passover) a year after the crucifixion. Indeed, the fact that the multitude is said to have “gathered” in the land of Bountiful (3 Nephi 11:1 and preface) implies that they had, in fact, assembled from nearby towns. But they could just as well have been celebrating the Passover of the time of Jesus’ death when they were caught by the cataclysms of nature and were, after three days, visited by the Savior.

Though I believe that the Nephites were, indeed, assembled for Passover, the gathering of the people at the temple is not evidence that it was festival-time. The temple could have been a place of refuge from the storm. On the other hand, it is likely that only the truly righteous would be at the temple anyway. It is important to note that there were only 2,500 people at the temple on the first day of Jesus’ visit (3 Nephi 17:25).  It was not until these people had spread the word to other towns that a multitude assembled (3 Nephi 19:1-5). On the second day, they were so numerous that they had to be divided into twelve groups.

Samuel’s Prophecy

Horowitz notes that Nephi had forgotten to add the fulfillment of the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite concerning the resurrection of others at the time Christ rose from the dead. Though 3 Nephi 23:7-13 clearly states that it was the fulfillment of Samuel’s prophecy concerning the resurrection of the saints that had not been recorded by Nephi, the modern preface to chapter 23 indicates that it was “the words of Samuel the Lamanite concerning the resurrection” that were added. This implies that the words in Helaman 14:25 reflect the portion Nephi added. Jerome’s reading of the incident in 3 Nephi 23 has been much more careful than that of official Book o Mormon publication committees.

Arguments for an Early Appearance

Among the evidences sometimes elicited to indicate an appearance immediately after the three days of darkness include the following statement: “they were marveling and wondering one with another, and were showing one to another the great and marvelous change which had taken place. And they were also conversing about this Jesus Christ, of whom the sign had been given concerning his death” (3 Nephi 11:2).

It can be argued that the people would not have been pointing out changes which had taken place a year before. The objection offered to this is that people had gathered from great distances for the first time in a year and hence the changes in the land of Bountiful were new to them. This is refuted by the fact that only 2,500 people were in Bountiful on the first day of Christ’s appearance among them. Nor were people gathered in from “great distances” the next day, for it would have been impossible for them to have traveled so far overnight.

The “calm” that prevailed at the temple in Bountiful (referred to by Horowitz) is more likely attributable to the fact that this city did not suffer the fate of other wicked cities. (The very existence of the temple implies that the people were more righteous.) Changes in the land had been noted, to be sure. But here the text supports the view that the cataclysmic events had only recently taken place. Otherwise, why would the people be discussing a year-old event?

After Christ’s appearances in Bountiful, he appeared once more to the disciples as they were traveling (3 Nephi 27:1-28:17). They then went about preaching, during which time there were various attempts to imprison and slay them. But they were successful in establishing the Church.  It is only after telling of these events that Mormon notes, “And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth” (4 Nephi 1:1). Hence, Christ’s appearance would seem to have not been in the “ending” of the thirty-fourth year, since there had been time for the disciples to begin their travels and preaching.


Viewed from this perspective, the possibility remains that Jesus appeared to the people in Bountiful “soon” after his resurrection, i.e., possibly as early as the same day or the next. In my view, there remains but one vestige of evidence for Jerome’s suggestion that the event took place some time later. I refer to Jesus’ instructions to Nephi to add details concerning the fulfillment of one of Samuel’s prophecies to the record. I cannot satisfactorily explain why he would have to “remember” that the event had not been recorded if it were only a day or so old. But then, perhaps the coming of Jesus really did occur as much as forty days later, or even fifty, if the assembly at the temple were for the feast of Shavuoth (Pentecost) and not Passover. It is less likely to have occurred a full year later.



[1] Sidney B. Sperry, The Book of Mormon Testifies, 294, n.4; repeated in his Book of Mormon Compendium. ______.

[2] S. Kent Brown “Jesus among the Nephites: When Did It Happen?” in Church Education System’s Religious Educators’ Symposium on the New Testament (15-17 August, 1984, BYU).

[3] Jerome Horowitz, “Some Thoughts on 3 Nephi 10:18 Concerning the Time of Christ’s Visit to the Nephites,” a paper submitted to the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).

[4] Robert F. Smith has, in private communications, suggested that the name of the city is a combination of “Jacob” and the Jaredite place-name “Ogath.” A tie to a Jaredite site implies that it was in the “land northward,” where they lived.

[5] See my paper

[1] See my paper “Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Caste,” in Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin (eds.), Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret and FARMS, 1990).

[6] During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, virtually all Israeli soldiers became “religious” overnight and there was a severe shortage of religious paraphernalia such as the tallith, tefillin, and prayer books.