Trouble in the Family Tree
The Account of Lehi and Sariah
Mormons tend to assume that Lehi arrived here in the Americas with a great number of people. Let’s look at what the Book of Mormon has to say about that and the number of people who could have come here to start this civilization (2 Nephi 1:9 says that this land was kept from knowledge of other nations, so they were the only ones to occupy this land). Use the chart on page 22 for reference.
Lehi and his family left Jerusalem in 600 BC (1 Nephi 2:4 – date is given as BC 600). How old would Lehi’s children have been when they left? Remember, they carried all their belongings, provisions, and their tents with them. No mention is made of any pack animals or camels (1 Nephi 2:4).
They traveled for three days away from Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:6). Nephi and his brothers were sent back to Jerusalem, packing their tents (1 Nephi 3:9). Nephi claims to be “a man large in stature…” (1 Nephi 4:31). How old could this “man” Nephi be? Being the youngest son, he could not have been more than 20 years old at that time. Assuming that there are 18 months between him and the other brothers, that would make Sam about 21 1⁄2, Lemuel about 23, and Laman 24 1⁄2.
All of these men married in the same year, including Zoram (1 Nephi 16:7). Zoram took the oldest of Ishmael’s daughters, Laman took the second daughter, Lemuel took the third, Sam took the fourth, and Nephi took the fifth.
The year is now somewhere around 596 BC, making Nephi about 22 years old. Their “women did bear children in the wilderness.” They “ate raw meat…their…women gave plenty of suck for their children, and they were strong…even like unto the men” (1 Nephi 17:2). The oldest of these children would be only three or four years old by 592 BC. According to 1 Nephi 17:4, they have been in the wilderness for eight years
They arrive at the seashore (1 Nephi 17:5,6). Assuming that there were 18 months between children, they would all be between infancy and four years old. If all these women had children accordingly, there would now be 13 children, all under the age of four. During these years, Lehi had two more sons, who would be less than eight years of age at this time. So there are, at most, 15 children (including Lehi’s two sons born in the wilderness) and 18 adults. Any mention of Nephi’s sisters doesn’t come till later. Their ages are unknown. We’ll assume that they are younger than Nephi and older than Jacob and Joseph, who were born in the wilderness. (see date notation at bottom of page in the Book of Mormon).
Miraculous Mining, Refining, Ship-building
Nephi is commanded to go up to the mountain and meet with God (1 Nephi 17:7). There he is told how to build a ship and make the tools with which to build it (1 Nephi 17:8-11).
In verses 10-11, he is told where to find ore, and in verse 16 he tells how he made tools to build the ship. There are just 18 adults and several very small children to help him mine, smelt, and manufacture the tools—as well as hunting and gathering food.
First Nephi 18:4 states that they completed the building of the ship and “that the workmanship thereof was exceeding fine.” The date at the bottom of the page is about 591 BC—so it has taken them one year, more or less, to mine the ore, smelt it, manufacture the tools, harvest the timber, and construct the ship, in addition to finding and gathering food for all these people. By 590 BC (verse 8), they are setting sail for the “promised land,” but no mention is made of how or where they obtained material for the sails. The oldest children of Nephi and his brothers are now about five to six years old.
Arrival in the Promised Land
First Nephi 18:23 describes their arrival at the promised land and the pitching of their tents. The date given at the bottom of the page is 589 BC. The oldest of the children are now six to seven years old.
Verse 24 tells how they immediately tilled the earth and planted the seeds they had brought with them. Remember, these seeds have lain dormant now for years and years since they left Jerusalem. Depending on what seeds they brought and planted, it would take four to six months for a crop to mature and be harvested.
Now that they have harvested a good crop, they have time to explore. It is amazing what they find: verse 25 mentions all kinds of wild beasts, wild goats, and all manner of wild animals, along with cows, oxen, asses, horses, and goats, “which were for the use of men.” Also, verse 25 states that they found “all manner of ore, both of gold, and of silver, and of copper.”
The very next thing Nephi does at the command of the Lord, is to make plates of this new found gold ore to make a record of his people (1 Nephi 19:1-4). The year is now between 588 and 570 BC, and the children might be from 16 years old down to infants. Half of all these children are girls. In the year 580, Nephi would be 38-40 years old.
A “Growing” Population Problem: Too Few People
In the year 580, the total population of this group (at most) would be 16 older adults. Ishmael had died before they left for the “promised land” (1 Nephi 16:34), and Lehi’s death is reported in 2 Nephi 4:12.
These younger men have been married for about 16 years. Zoram married Ishmael’s oldest daughter. They reportedly have only one son. Laman had married Ishmael’s second daughter.
The maximum number of children at this point, from single births, would be 11 per couple, based on the number of years they have been married, and each having one child every 18 months: Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi would each have eleven children. Nephi had “sisters,” but no mention is made of them marrying, or whom they could have married, for 2 Nephi 1:9 says that this land “was kept from all other nations.”
The total number of children would now be 45, at the most, during those 16 years (not including those who may have died at birth or from disease or illness), the oldest of these being 15 years old.
Seven of the adults are women. Two are elderly (Lehi’s and Ishmael’s wives). The other women are nursing mothers with their hands full, taking care of the small children. That leaves only Nephi’s unmarried sisters to help with other tasks.
In 2 Nephi 5:5,6, Nephi is told to flee into the wilderness and take all those who would go with him. He takes his older brother, Sam, and his family, and his two younger brothers, Jacob and Joseph, and his sisters “and all those who would go with me.” The greatest possible number of people in Nephi’s group would then be 35, most of them very young. The remainder would go with Laman and Lemuel.
After traveling in the wilderness for many days, they again set up their tents (v. 7). They sowed their seeds and “reaped in abundance,” and “began to raise flocks, and herds, and animals of every kind” (v. 11).
The people have been in the promised land for eight or nine years, and they have “flocks, and herds and animals of every kind.” Remarkably, they have somehow managed to domesticate all these animals while “journeying in the wilderness” in this short period (we are using 580 BC as the midpoint date in this examination).
Let’s look at the numbers again: the group has split; Laman and Lemuel, their wives, and around 22 children, along with the sons of Ishmael (group of 28 people), cause Nephi to flee into the wilderness.
There, in the wilderness, Nephi makes “many swords”, “after the manner of [the sword of Laban]” (2 Nephi 5:14). This was for protection from the evil brothers, Laman and Lemuel, and their group, “lest by any means the people, who were now called Lamanites, should come upon us and destroy us.”
Again, the question has to be asked: From where did he get the ore, and how did he refine it and make swords, considering that his small group had only a few adults, a few teenagers, and the were rest small children?
Second Nephi 5:15 continues by stating that they “built buildings” and worked “in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance”.
Second Nephi 5:16 states that Nephi built a temple “after the manner of the temple of Solomon.” He continues by saying that it wasn’t quite as nice as Solomon’s because all those precious things “were not to be found upon the land” (emphasis added)—even though he had stated in the verse immediately previous that they were “in great abundance.” Nevertheless, “the workmanship was exceeding fine.”
Is it logical or reasonable to believe that such a small band (the Nephites) did all this in addition to raising their “flocks and herds,” gathering food for their families, mining for precious metals, refining them, and defending themselves against the Lamanites’ attacks?
At this point, the time is reported to be between 588 and 570 BC. If we use the date at the end of the chapter, which is 569-559 BC, Nephi is about 59 years old. The children are now grown. But whom are they marrying?
Lehi, his wife Sariah and their four sons and two daughters leave Jerusalem in 600 BC and go to the wilderness by the Red Sea. Their plan is to sail to a “land of promise” (1 Nephi 2:20). About 597 BC, Lehi sends his sons back to Jerusalem to acquire records engraved on brass plates to “preserve the language of our fathers” (1 Nephi 3:19; 5:10-13). These records contained the five books of Moses and the history of Israel up to that date. In order to get the records, Nephi kills Laban. Laban’s servant, Zoram, goes back with Nephi (1 Nephi 4:17-18, 35). Some time later, Lehi again sends his sons back to Jerusalem to convince Ishmael and his family to join them in the wilderness. Ishmael, his wife, five daughters, and two sons (with their families), come back with them (1 Nephi 7:6). Lehi’s youngest sons, Jacob and Joseph, were born “in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 18:7) just before they sailed to the “Promised Land” (591 BC).
The family tree and data given to us by Joseph Smith raise crucial questions about this record: How is it possible to derive the great numbers required to substantiate the alleged civilization built by Nephites, and the rest of the history in the Book of Mormon? What evidence exists to refute claims that the “historical” account in the Book of Mormon is nothing more than elaborate fiction? Can an examination of Mormon archaeology exonerate the testimony of Joseph Smith? That is the subject of the next chapter.