You are here

4 Nephi


Covenant Obedience Brings Peace -

 3 Nephi 11 -- Mormon 7      Disobedience Brings Destruction








     4 NEPHI



4 Nephi Heading The book of Nephi, who is the son of Nephi--one of the disciples of Jesus Christ (Nephite Record Keepers) [Illustration]: Nephite Record Keepers. Adapted from [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 155]


4 Nephi 1:1 The Disciples of Jesus Had Formed a Church of Christ in All the Lands Round About:


     According to John Sorenson, the phrasing of 4 Nephi 1:1 ("the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about") suggests that we ought to be able to detect new religious practices in the Mesoamerican materials around the mid-first century A.D. And we can.

     A shift in ritual equipment and practices is seen at about the time of Christ. Some old practices quite suddenly were given up. Certain old incense burners went out of use or changed form, and the use of the little clay figurins,which probably had some sort of religious significance, was abandoned in many places.56 Both those features, the burners and the figurines, had parallels in Palestine, where they represented religious practices either of a folk nature or connected with Mosaic orthodoxy. It is logical that some of Lehi's people brought knowledge of these features and adapted preexisting Mesoamerican forms of them to their purpose. These would have continued for centuries, at least among the folk. These artifacts may have had to do with the official Nephite rites under "the law of Moses" (Alma 30:3), or perhaps not. In any case they were so entrenched both in Mesoamerica and in the Near East that people hardly have given up such customs except under the impact of powerfully felt beliefs such as were incorporated in "the church of Christ."

     Another shift in religious practice at the same time was giving up the carving of dated stone monuments. This practice had just built up momentum; examples known at Chiapa de Corzo, San Isidro Piedra Parada, Tres Zapotes, and El Baul had started near 35 B.C.57 The series ends with one whose date is either A.D. 36 or 16 (the reading is unclear). Then nothing new occurs for many years. This "enigmatic gap in dated monuments"58 seems to have begun at about the time when many earlier carved stones were battered and some intentionally buried, as if a religious revolution of some sort had taken place.59 At Chalchuapa, El Salvador, one of these inscribed monuments was said to be smashed in a "ritual of destruction" at the moment of the great volcanic eruption near the time of Christ. Its fragments are covered by the ash fall.60 Among the sites where vigorous monument smashing is in evidence are Kaminaljuyu/Nephi and Chiapa de Corzo/Sidom. The Book of Mormon provides a possible explanation for this behavior. It could have been a reaction by the enthusiastic new church against the old worship under the law of Moses or against cults of "idols" (Helaman 6:31). Of course other explanations are possible. [John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, pp. 330-331]


4 Nephi 1:1-2 In All the Lands Round About . . . upon All the Face of the Land:


     We find the following at the beginning of the book of Fourth Nephi:

           And it came to pass that the thirty and fourth year passed away, and also the thirty and fifth, and behold the disciples of Jesus had formed a church of Christ in all the lands round about. . . . And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites . . . (4 Nephi 1:1-2)


     Assuming that the land of Bountiful where Christ appeared at the temple (3 Nephi 11:1) was the centerplace of the Church, then the Church apparently spread to "all the lands round about" the land of Bountiful. If the gospel had been preached and the Church organized in every local land which the Nephites and Lamanites were known to inhabit at that time, one would have to wonder how, in the two years since Christ's visit (from the year 34 to 36--see 4 Ne 1:1-2), the disciples of Jesus could sufficiently cover the entire continents of North and South America, preaching, baptizing, and organizing churches in order for Mormon to say that "the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites" (4 Nephi 1:2). On the other hand, by assuming a Mesoamerican setting, the distance and logistic conditions of this missionary undertaking could have been met quite nicely. We would be dealing in hundreds of miles instead of thousands of miles. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Geographical Theory Map: 4 Nephi 1:1-2 All Converted in All the Land (34 A.S.--36 A.S.)


4 Nephi 1:4, 48 The Thirty and Seventh Year Passed Away . . . Three Hundred and Twenty Years Had Passed Away (Time Span):


     According to Andrew Skinner, in these short verses of 4 Nephi we are taken through almost one-third (approximately 300) of all the years covered by the entire Book of Mormon (approximately 1,000). Truly the magnitude of Mormon's prophetic task and accomplishment is shown clearly here.

     Some readers may lament the fact that one of the greatest periods of Nephite civilization--an era of ultimate earthly peace, prosperity and spirituality--was given such relatively sparse historical treatment. Sidney Sperry observed that "it is unfortunate--at least vexing that the great Golden Era of Nephite history . . . should be so sparingly treated by Mormon, the abridger." (Book of Mormon Compendium, p. 434)

     However it must be remembered, first, that sometimes things were commanded by the Lord not to be discussed in the records. (3 Nephi 26:11,18) A similar injunction may have applied to this portion of the abridgment. Second, Mormon's purpose was not the writing of history, nor was it historical embellishment or even enlargement. His abridgment was first and foremost intended to teach the most important truths of the kingdom as they could be culled from history. (see Words of Mormon 1:7-9). [Andrew C. Skinner, "The Course of Peace and Apostasy," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 220]

     Note* For a reiteration of the main purposes of the Book of Mormon (covenants and Christ), see the Title Page commentary. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


4 Nephi 1:4, 48 The thirty and seventh year passed away . . . three hundred and twenty years had passed away (Illustration): Chart: "Nephite Books Compared by Length and Years Covered." [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #24]


4 Nephi 1:5-7 And . . . and . . . and . . . and (Polysyndeton--The Excessive Use of the Conjunction "And"):


     Richardson, Richardson and Bentley note that the excessive use of the monotonous conjunction "and" in the Book of Mormon seems awkward and somewhat annoying to the western reader, however, it follows perfect Hebrew syntax. The word "and" often stands before each word (or phrase) in a series; possibly because there was no punctuation in the Hebrew language.

     Notice the structure of 4 Nephi 1:5-7:

     And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick,

     and raise the dead,

     and cause the lame to walk,

     and the blind to receive their sight,

     and the deaf to hear;

     and all manner of miracles, did they work among the children of men;

     and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.

     And thus did the thirty and eight 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.


Other uses of polysyndeton in the Book of Mormon are found in 1 Nephi 2:4; 2 Nephi 33:9; Enos 1:21; Alma 1:29; 7:27; 8:21-23; 9:21; Helaman 3:14; 3 Nephi 4:7; 11:19-20; 17:13-25; Mormon 8:37 and Ether 9:17-27. [Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, p. 262]


4 Nephi 1:6 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 . . .:


     According to John Tvedtnes, most of Mormon's abridgment (Mosiah through Mormon) gives precise years for the various events, even when they are "flashbacks." Such precision implies that the records which Mormon possessed were very precise on chronology. It is likely that the historical records he consulted were in the form of annals.

     However, sometimes Mormon listed years without recording any events for them. Thus, in 4 Nephi 1:6 he wrote, "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." Note also 4 Nephi 1:14: "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."

     Such rambling seems to be a waste of precious space on the plates. Mormon's run-down of dates in these verses is probably intended to record the years of the annals he consulted, even though he did not feel to write the history of each. [John A. Tvedtnes, "Mormon As an Abridger of Ancient Records," in The Most Correct Book, pp. 14-15]


4 Nephi 1:6 (Annalistic Writing):


     In 4 Nephi 1:6 we find the following:

           "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 firfty and second; yea, and even until fifty and nine years had passed away."


     According to Daniel Peterson, this verse has been greatly ridiculed by some critics of the Book of Mormon, but it is, in fact, an exceptionally good illustration of the annalist Mormon, at work. Manifestly, he was summarizing other chronicles that he had before him. However, so little was happening in this period that even the conscientious Mormon began to omit annual accounts. It is apparently difficult even for inspired authors to make good and happy times live up to our taste for the sensational and the horrific. "May you live in interesting times!" is, in fact, an old Chinese curse. And Leo Tolstoy began his great novel Anna Karenina with the marvelous line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." [Daniel C. Peterson, "Their Own Worst Enemies," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 104]


4 Nephi 1:7-9 They Did Build Cities Again:


     Some have proposed that after the destruction at the time of Christ's crucifixion, the face of the land was tremendously changed so that it would be impossible to correlate post-crucifixion maps and pre-crucifixion maps, thus rendering the study of Book of Mormon geography "useless." However, according to the Book of Mormon record itself, after the destruction the people "did build many cities again which were burned (4 Nephi 1:7), Zarahemla was rebuilt (4 Nephi 1:8), Ramah/Cumorah was still recognized and valued as a strategic hill (Ether 15:11; Mormon 6:4), the narrowneck and the narrow pass were still there (Mormon 3:5), the land northward and the land southward were still there (Mormon 3:5), the river Sidon was still there (Mormon 1:10). There were, however, "many cities which had been sunk (by water) that could not be renewed" (4 Nephi 1:9). Thus, according to the Book of Mormon record, although destruction might have been widespread, it apparently was only irreparable around coastlines or shorelines; and rightly so, for cities cannot easily be rebuilt upon water. I don't think there is a basis for saying that the geographical map was forever altered to the point of being unrecognizable. According to John Sorenson (The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, p. 298), the rapid rebound in population and prosperity confirms the general stability of the scene even after the destruction. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


4 Nephi 1:12 They Did Not Walk Any More after the Performances and Ordinances of the Law of Moses:


     According to the record of Nephi4, after the visit of the Savior the Nephites "did not walk any more after the performances and ordinances of the law of Moses; but they did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God . . . (4 Nephi 1:12). Some might think that this statement implies that everything taught by the Savior was new, however John Tvedtnes notes the following:

           Paul wrote that the law of Moses was "added" because of transgression (Galatians 3:19). To what was it added? Was it not to the higher law of the gospel revealed through Moses? The Book of Mormon indicates that it was only this added part, the "performances and ordinances" or "statutes and judgments," that was abolished with Christ's coming (see 2 Nephi 25:30; Alma 25:15; 4 Nephi 1:12). What remained was the law that God had always revealed to his prophets even before Moses' time.


[John Tvedtnes, Book Review in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4 1992, p. 230]


4 Nephi 1:16-17 Nor [No] Murderers:


     According to Barbara Fowler, to most English-speaking people, the use of a double negative, such as, "You cannot have no candy," grates against the ears. To the English culture "two negatives equal a positive." However, according to the Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar it is stated that "two negatives in the same sentence do not neutralize each other but make the negation the more emphatic" (Kautach 1909:483).

     In the process of critically analyzing the textual changes made from what was originally written in the Original and Printer's Manuscripts of the Book of Mormon we found several instances where a negative word had been deleted or changed to a positive word. Its restoration would result in the offensive grammatical occurrence we call the double negative. One such instance is found in 4th Nephi. The book of 4th Nephi paints a glorious picture of what life was like when people all lived together with the love of God and each other in their hearts:

     "And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

     And there were no envyings

     nor strifes

     nor tumults

     nor whoredoms

     nor lyings

     nor murders

     nor [no] manner of lasciviousness:

And surely there could not be a happier people among all the people which had been created by the hand of God.

     There were

     no robbers

     nor [no] murderers

     Neither were there Lamanites

     nor [no] manner of ites." (4 Nephi 1:16-17)

[Barbara Fowler, "Double Negatives in the Book of Mormon? Yes! Yes!," in Recent Book of Mormon Developments, Vol. 2, pp. 57-58]


4 Nephi 1:17 There Were No -ites; But They Were in One:


     Did the general location and borders of the original lands according to Alma 22:27-34 (Nephi, Zarahemla, Bountiful, Desolation) still remain the same or did they lose their significance once the people "were in one"? If political boundaries did disappear, did the peoples that inhabited those lands still basically keep their own culture? I think we will see that they did.

     According to John Tvedtnes, we read in 4 Nephi 1:17 that there were no more "-ites" after the coming of Christ, but that all of the people were united in the kingdom of God. However, this evidently has reference to political factionalism, rather than the abandonment of lineage ties. It should be noted that not long before the coming of Christ, the people had dissolved their political ties and retained tribal allegiances (3 Nephi 7:2-4). There is reason to believe that these tribal units continued to exist after the time of Christ. [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare in the Book Of Mormon, pp. 308-309] [See the commentary on 4 Nephi 1:36]


Geographical Theory Map: 4 Nephi 1:3-18 No Lamanites Or Nephites -- They Are"in One" (36 A.S.--110 A.S.)


4 Nephi 1:19 Nephi, he that kept this last record . . . died, and his son Amos kept it in his stead (Nephite Record Keepers) [Illustration]: Nephite Record Keepers. Adapted from [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 155


4 Nephi 1:20 Therefore There Began to Be Lamanites Again in the Land:


     After briefly telling us of the glory and happiness of the Zion period of Nephite society, Mormon quickly sketched how his people moved from that state of complete righteousness to a state of wickedness. That so many years of history were covered in such a few verses suggests that Mormon was highlighting only the major steps or problems that led to their downfall. These include the following:

     1. A group broke off and became Lamanites. (v. 20)

     2. Exceeding prosperity brought pride--people began wearing costly clothing and adornments. (v. 24)

     3. The law of consecration was abandoned. (v. 25)

     4. Classes in society began to develop. (v. 26)

     5. False churches were organized to get gain. (v. 26-28)

     6. Persecution of the true church began. (v. 29-34)

     7. There was a great division among the people. (v. 35-38)

     8. Children were taught to reject the truths of the gospel. (v. 38, 39)

     9. The wicked became more numerous than the righteous. (v. 40)

     10. Secret combinations began to appear. (v. 42)

     11. The people of God became proud & as wicked as the others. (v. 43-45)

     12. Secret society conspiracy overran the whole land. (v. 46)

[Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual, Religion 121-122, pp. 1981, pp. 450-451]


4 Nephi 1:20 Therefore There Began to Be Lamanites Again in the Land:


     In 4 Nephi 1:20 we find that "there began to be Lamanites again in the land." Did these new "Lamanites" (1) start to surface in the same particular regions as they inhabited previously?; or (2) Do we envision a land where "pockets" of Lamanites were cropping up both in the Land of Nephi and the Land of Zarahemla?; or (3) Do we see pockets of Lamanites that were forming throughout all the land northward and all the land southward? I feel we will find that the original cultures, for the most part, remained in place. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on 4 Nephi 1:36-38]

Geographical Theory Map: 4 Nephi 1:20 The First "Lamanites" Appear (110 A.S.--194 A.S.)


4 Nephi 1:20 He Kept [the Records] Eighty and Four Years:


     The four historians who wrote during the period covered by the book of 4th Nephi are:

     (1) Nephi (the son of the Nephi who was a disciple of Jesus Christ) (see the subtitle of the book of 4th Nephi and 4 Nephi 1:18-19)

     (2) Amos (the son of the historian Nephi mentioned above) (4 Nephi 1:19-24),

     (3) Amos (the son of Amos listed above) (4 Nephi 1:21, 47),

     (4) Ammaron (the brother of Amos mentioned in 3, above) (4 Nephi 1:47-49; Mormon 1:3).

     According to Daniel Ludlow, apparently the first historian kept the record for 77 years, the second for 84 years, and the third for 112 years! Thus, life expectancy was quite long during this period. [Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p. 167]

     This long of a life span has not been acceptable to some scholars, in particular the life of Amos. According to Verneil Simmons, with the death of Amos1, the records passed to a son called Amos2. According to Mormon's account, the records next passed from Amos2 to his brother, Ammoron, in the year 305. No other custodian is indicated between A.D. 194 and 305, but it seems rather evident that there must have been one. The second Amos, if born in the year 194 (his father had to have been in his nineties), would have been 111 years old in the year 305. It appears more logical that Amos2 passed the records to a son, who might well have been named Amos, and that this Amos passed them on to his younger brother Ammoron in 305. An extra person added to the prophets' line between 194 and 305 makes the chronology much more logical. [Verneil Simmons, Peoples, Places and Prophecies, pp. 220-221]

     Note* Perhaps another approach to this situation of longevity relates to just how old these recordkeepers were when they were encharged with keeping the records verses how old they were when they actually took possession of the records (see 4 Nephi 1:48-49; Mormon 1:2-3). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A -- Chronology]


4 Nephi 1:21 Amos died . . . and his son Amos kept the record in his stead (Nephite Record Keepers) [Illustration]: Nephite Record Keepers. Adapted from [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 155]


4 Nephi 1:21, 47 Amos died also (and it was an hundred and ninety and four years from the coming of Christ) and his son Amos kept the record . . . after three hundred and five years had passed away . . . Amos died; and his brother, Ammaron, did keep the record (Illustration): Chart: "Life Span's of Alma's Lineage." [John W. & J. Gregory Welch, Charting the Book of Mormon: Visual Aids for Personal Study and Teaching, F.A.R.M.S., Chart #28]


Geographical Theory Map: 4 Nephi 1:23 They Began to Be Divided into Classes (201 A.S.-- 231 A.S.)


4 Nephi 1:24 The Wearing of Costly Apparel:


     According to Joseph Allen, the great apostasy in the Book of Mormon correlates in detail to the time period when the apostasy began in Mesoamerica. No place tells the story of the apostasy in Mesoamerica better than at the Maya ruins of Uxmal in Yucatan, Mexico. However, Uxmal is not the only place. We need only to look at the stone monuments and the written codices to realize that the priests controlled everything. They wore elaborate clothing. Did you catch that? In 4 Nephi we are told that there were those who were "lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel." The archaeological record illustrates how the priests who wore the elaborate and costly apparel looked. Such apparel became a mark of class distinction. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 392]


4 Nephi 1:24 The wearing of costly apparel (Illustration): Depiction of priest wearing elaborate apparel. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormonp. 392]


4 Nephi 1:24 All Manner of Fine Pearls:


     The singular reference to pearls in the Book of Mormon (other than the Savior's "pearls before swine" reference in 3 Nephi 14:6) is found in 4 Nephi 1:24:

           And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.


     According to Gregory Witt, archaeological evidence validates the existence of fine pearls among the ancient Mayans. At Palenque, a classic Mayan site, the pyramid tomb of Pacal is adorned with a lustrous sea pearl, displayed in its shell. Similar pearls and pearl jewelry are on display at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and in the Anthropology Museum in Guatemala City.

     Nevertheless, early critics of the Book of Mormon claimed that the Book of Mormon reference to pearls was just another evidence of Joseph Smith's folly. One might ask, Why? The answer might be found with the coming of Columbus. Five hundred years ago, oysters were abundant in the coastal areas of Central America and Mexico. Then, Columbus and Balboa arrived and discovered pearls. Most people are unaware that, until the development of gold and silver mines in Mexico and Peru, pearls were the New World's biggest export. In fact, the value of pearls exceeded that of all other exports combined, and in Spain, the Americas became known as "The Lands That Pearls Come From." Over-harvesting of oysters, however, led to a dramatic decline in pearl production (Newman, 1990).

     The Book of Mormon reader might also note that the Nephites adorned themselves with "all manner" of fine pearls. Therefore, the question might be asked: Is there any evidence to suggest any notable variety of pearls that would give credibility to the phrase "all manner of pearls"? The answer is, Yes!

     First of all, one of the most famous pearls ever found was a pear-shaped pearl about the size of a pigeon's egg. Its owners have been Phillip II of Spain, Mary Tudor of England, Napoleon III, and Elizabeth Taylor. This unusual pear-shaped pearl was not found in the Red Sea nor in Asia, but it came from the Americas.

     Secondly, most people are not aware that pearls can be classified as saltwater or freshwater. People are generally familiar only with the round, lustrous salt-water pearls. But freshwater pearls, which are found in mussels or oysters in rivers or lakes, tend to have a more irregular shape. Some almost have the appearance of teeth, small shells, or even Rice Crispies. These lesser known freshwater pearls have also been found in Mesoamerica, and were used as ornamental jewelry by the ancient Maya.

     So once again, the Book of Mormon is surprisingly specific in its phraseology. [Gregory Witt, "All Manner of Fine Pearls," in The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. II, Issue I, 1999, p. 15]


4 Nephi 1:26 They Began to Be Divided into Classes:


     According to Joseph Allen, the archaeological record at Uxmal (in Yucatan, Mexico) states that during the Early Classic Period (A.D. 200-A.D. 350) the dominant group was a hereditary elite which emerged in the last century before Christ. Its authority extended throughout all aspects of social life, but in particular they were representatives or mediators between the community and the divine or supernatural forces, utilizing magical/religious means. This group controlled the knowledge of the times . . . much of which determined social behavior. (Uxmal 1986:32) This "hereditary elite" might have been the same people who are called "kingmen" or "those of high birth" who rose up in the "last century before Christ" in the Book of Mormon. Notice in Alma 51:8 it says, "Now those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people." [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 392] [See the commentary on Alma 51:8]


4 Nephi 1:26 They began to be divided into classes (Illustration): An artist's display of social strata in Maya society, around A.D. 600-700, uses a pyramid format to show the ranks or classes . . . [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 81]


4 Nephi 1:26 They Began to Be Divided into Classes and They Began to Build up Churches unto Themselves to Get Gain:


     At about 200 B.C., we find evidence of religious revolution documented in 4 Nephi 1:26-27:

           And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ. And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of this gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness.


     According to Todd Allen, there is striking evidence of this religious corruption at this time period in Mesoamerica. One example is Teotihuacan.

     At the beginning, Teotihuacan was mainly an agricultural city. As it began to grow, many different occupations were pursued, including those of merchants, artists, religious and political leaders, and others. The population reached between 25,000 and 30,000 inhabitants during the early formative period (150 B.C. to A.D. 200) and the famous Pyramid of the Sun was completed. According to archaeological history, Teotihuacan's early growth was due to migrations of people from the southern areas of Mesoamerica into the Mexico Valley and eventually into the great city of Teotihuacan. From a Book of Mormon standpoint this is particularly intriguing as the Book of Mormon mentions similar migrations into the land northward at the same time period.

     Teotihuacan continued to grow and prosper, reaching 50,000 inhabitants by Period II (A.D. 200 to 350), where we find it falling prey to the same sins that characterize the Nephites in their periods of greatest abundance. Interestingly, this was also the period of mass apostasy in the Book of Mormon.

     The changes in Teotihuacan during this time period are visibly manifest in the dramatic alterations we observe in architecture. Sacred buildings, such as the temple of Quetzalcoatl, were being elaborately decorated as never before. And the foundation was laid for the future worship of "a pantheon of gods" (Exploring the Lands, 99). Another correlation we see is that Teotihuacan's inhabitants began to divide into high and low classes and soon its elite were exercising unrighteous power over the lower class. This was largely facilitated through an alliance that was created between the merchants, the military leaders, and the priests. This alliance, or secret combination (of powers), took advantage of the expanding trade throughout Mesoamerica, controlling all trade out of Teotihuacan. The organization is reminiscent of the Gadianton robbers in the Book of Mormon, with its trading activity occurring at precisely the same time when the Gadianton robbers had some control in the land northward. Under such circumstances, Teotihuacan's population expanded to 200,000 and it became possibly the largest city in the world by A.D. 350. [Todd Allen, "Secret Combinations at Teotihuacan," in The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Volume II, Issue II, 1999, p. 10] [See the commentary on Mormon 2:28]


4 Nephi 1:26,27,34,41: They Began to Build Up Churches unto Themselves:


     According to Joseph Allen, the Book of Mormon is very specific on the subject of building churches to get gain. In the last half of 4 Nephi, the church building activity is mentioned four times:

           And they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ (4 Nephi 1:26).

           And it came to pass that when two hundred and ten years had passed away there were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel . . . (4 Nephi 1:27)

           Nevertheless, the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity (4 Nephi 1:34).

           And they did still continue to build up churches unto themselves, and adorn them with all manner of precious things. And thus did two hundred and fifty years pass away, and also two hundred and sixty years (4 Nephi 1:41).


     Again, the archaelogical record at Uxmal explains the same type of activity as outllined in 4 Nephi. This massive building program began in Mesoamerica at A.D. 200 and continued for more than five centuries.

           Architecture was developed during this period (after 200 AD) and in particular a local architectonic style. The structures generally reflect a predominant use of massive stone to create an impressive exterior aspect with little concern for the practical use of interior spaces. This tendency served to reinforce the visual and symbolic elements of a structural ideology which reflected the dominant social structures prevalent in everyday life. It is evident that a great part of the collective force was concentrated in building constructions which were not directly concerned with productivity (Barrera 1985:32-33).


     Many people who have traveled with us to Mexico and Guatemala throughout the years are frustrated to stand in front of the awe-inspiring Temple of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza or the picturesque ruins of Tulum and suddenly realize that these ruins are post Book of Mormon ruins. The Temple of Kukulcan dates to A.D. 1000. and the majority of the buildings of Tulum date even later to the Postclassic Era. Sometimes we might have difficulty understanding why the beginning of the apostasy in the Book of Mormon is also the beginning of the Classic Period among the Maya. However, upon thinking through the details, we need not feel that the situation is strange at all. A society that divorces itself from God almost always ends up worshipping the works of its own hands. The Tower of Babel is one example. In our day, many large buildings, such as football stadiums are built with money used to desecrate the Sabbath. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 392]


4 Nephi 1:26,27,34,41: They began to build up churches unto themselves (Illustration): Classic Maya ruins (200 AD--900 AD) showing massive adornment. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 393]


4 Nephi 1:26-41 (Decline of Christ Worship):


     Richardson, Richardson and Bentley note that the Book of Mormon records that 200 years after Jesus Christ personally established His church on this hemisphere, new religions came about that rejected Christ and his teachings, and eventually dominated the religious scene in Mesoamerica (4 Nephi 1:26-41). This transition in the history of pre-Columbian America is echoed in the archaeological ruins of the great city of Teotihuacan near Mexico City. The following is quoted from John L. Sorenson, "The Decline of the God Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan," Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies Insights, No. 84, (September 1992), p. 2:

           Some Latter-day Saints have long been struck with the similarity between certain characteristics of the god Quetzalcoatl, as known from native traditions in Mexico and Guatemala, and Jesus Christ, whose visit to Lehi's descendants is described in Third Nephi. In the book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon (1985), the dramatic decline of the god Quetzalcoatl in the period around A.D. 200 at the giant city of Teotihuacan near Mexico City was discussed in comparison with Fourth Nephi. The book relied on a study by Mexican scholar Enrique Fiorescano ("Quetzalcoatl: Espiritualismo del Mexico Antiguo," Cuadernos Americanos, 105/4 [1959], pp. 127-139.) A new study now presents even clearer parallels. (See Ruben Cabrera C., "La Secuencia Arquitectonica del Edificio de los Animales Mitologicos en Teotihuacan," in Homenaje a Roman Pina Chan, {Mexico: UNAM, 1987], pp. 349-372.

           The face of what Mexican archaeologists term "the old Temple of Quetzalcoatl" at Teotihuacan has been photographed by innumerable tourists. Dramatic symbolic representations of Quetzalcoatl as a serpent dot the facade of this impressive structure. Additional mapping, ceramic study, and excavation have definitely established that this building was constructed at the same time as the huge Pyramid of the Sun--between A.D. 150 and 200 (Cabrera, p. 364, reports a new carbon-14 date of A.D. 148). As visitors clearly see, the original building was later covered over with another structure bearing very different symbols.

           In Book of Mormon history, this half century was the golden age following the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the Nephites in Bountiful; however, Fourth Nephi gives only two brief verses about this period (see 4 Nephi 1:19-20). (Of course we do not positively know that Teotihuacan was one of the cities of the Nephites or Lamanites, but the change in deities that Cabrera reports is so striking that we may at least speculate that worship of Jesus Christ, under the name translated by the later Aztecs as Quetzalcoatl, prevailed there.)

           Cabrera's picture of the transition between the two sacred buildings is interesting: "the Plumed Serpent [representing Quetzalcoatl] . . . acquired for this period of time a preponderance of force in the political and religious aspect of Teotihuacan. This is shown by the ostentatious, sculpture-decorated structure, which to construct required enormous labor . . . making it one of the great glories of Teotihuacan." But what was the reason, the author goes on, for them to mutilate many of the enormous plumed serpent heads and then construct a new edifice of lesser quality covering the first one? The change was not simply one of architectural style. More likely it had to do with changing political and religious power.

           Cabrera continues, "the band or group of priests representing Quetzalcoatl held power at Teotihuacan from at least the time when the first structure was erected, before A.D. 200. But then other religious groups arose who were represented by the symbolism of jaguars, coyotes, birds and fishes along with other mythological beings." Priests or followers of this new religious persuasion eventually gained control of the city; the date for this change is not known precisely but is usually considered after approximately A.D. 300. Paintings and sculptures of jaguars and other symbolic animals are found widely throughout the sacred portion of the metropolis thereafter

           Fourth Nephi 1:26-41 reports the rise of new "churches" rivaling "the church of Christ," and which eventually came to dominate the society. This took place about A.D. 210 to 260, a reasonable approximation to the scholars' estimate of A.D. 300.

           Cabrera concludes with questions about his "period of social crisis whose causes are unknown": "Do the phenomena mentioned represent other Teotihuacan groups, or groups coming from elsewhere, intent on establishing at Teotihuacan their own religion?" Or, "what was going on in Teotihuacan society in the area of religious and political organizations in the interval between A.D 200 and 350?"

           Those who read the Book of Mormon as authentic ancient history will feel that they already have a useful explanation. But we too would like, in the author's final words, "better information, to establish more exact dates of these social events and determine their causes."

[Allen H. Richardson, David E. Richardson and Anthony E. Bentley, 1000 Evidences for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Part Two-A Voice from the Dust: 500 Evidences in Support of the Book of Mormon, pp. 65-66]


4 Nephi 1:30-33 Therefore They Did Exercise Power and Authority over the disciples of Jesus Who Did Tarry With Them:


     [See the commentary on 3 Nephi 28:19-22]


4 Nephi 1:34 They Were Led by Many Priests and False Prophets:


     According to Joseph Allen, in Mesoamerica, the priests controlled the religious, social, and commercial activities of the people. The book of 4 Nephi describes the situation as follows:

           . . . they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness (4 Nephi 1:27).

           And again, there was another church which denied the Christ; and they did persecute the true church of Christ . . . (4 Nephi 1:29).

           . . . they did exercise power and authority over the disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them, and they did cast them into prison . . . (4 Nephi 1:30)

           . . . the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets . . . (4 Nephi 1:34)

           . . . the wicked part of the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton (4 Nephi 1:42; A.D. 260).


[Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 393]


4 Nephi 1:34 They Were Led by Many Priests and False Prophets:


     The statement in 4 Nephi 1:34 that the people "were led by many priests and false prophets" is culturally at home in Mesoamerica. According to John Sorenson, prophecy among the Maya was a well-established cultural institution termed "bobatil." . . . Their prophecies were written down in books called "huunob." All these features were normal in Post-Classic Maya life, and thus Munro Edmonson cautiously concludes: "It would be surprising if they had not had books of historical prophecy" in the Classic era (A.D. 200-800).

     The Maya governed their lives by their prophetic outlook. Dennis Puleston maintains that changes in Maya civilization were "triggered by an internal mechanism" consisting of Maya assumptions about the power of prophetic time. When change was to come, it would "inevitably come." [John L. Sorenson, "Prophecy Among the Maya," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 263]


4 Nephi 1:34 They Were Led by Many Priests and False Prophets:


     In 4 Nephi 1:34 it says that "the people did harden their hearts, for they were led by many priests and false prophets to build up many churches, and to do all manner of iniquity." Some insight into how far the role of these "priests" evolved over time in Mesoamerica is given in a paper by John Sorenson. According to Sorenson, most Mesoamerican records were in the hands of priests, for few other than they were thoroughly literate.61 . . . The priesthood among the Mesoamerican peoples consisted of several levels of power and jurisdiction, and priests varied in their functions, but many of them had to do with books. Among the Maya of Yucatan, a "high priest" was held in general respect, and a similar office existed elsewhere in Mexico.62 . . . They employed themselves in the duties of the temples and in teaching their sciences as well as in writing books about them. . . . The sciences which they taught were the computation of the years, months and days, the festivals and ceremonies, the administration of the sacraments, the fateful days and seasons, their methods of divination and their prophecies.63

     Both "prophet" and "seer" were established roles, and as indicated [previously in the paper], records of their statements were kept as part of the general historical archives of official documents of native states. . . . The Quiche Maya had hiq' vachinel, "far seers," who were prophetic diviners with second sight able to "see at a distance' or scrutinize (niq'oh) and peer into (vachih) things. Peering into special stones was widespread in Mesoamerica64 and elsewhere in the world.65 An ilol was another type of seer (from iloh, "see"), one who interpreted omens.66 Among the Aztecs, a type of diviner was called tlaachtopaitoani, or "prophet," while another was the quinextiani, whose title was translated to Spanish as "revelator."67 A prophet in Yucatan was called ah bobat. The man holding the office of Chilam Balam ("spokesman") was not only "a" prophet but "the" prophet--the official prophet in his city-state for the katun calendar period. He had to be highly trained and a sage (ah miatz). When disagreements arose over the prophecies, he was the one to resolve them (compare 3 Nephi 1:4-8).

     The document Chilam Balam of Tizimin reports that a prophet named Xupan Nauat prophesied in Yucatan in A.D. 1527 that strangers (whose description and actions turned out to fit the Spaniards) would arrive in three years.68 Other prophets gave similar predictions about the coming of the foreigners.69 [John L. Sorenson, "The Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican Record," in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, pp. 462-463] [See the commentary on Mosiah 28:16]


Geographical Theory Map: 4 Nephi 1:35 Great Division--Nephites & Lamanites (231 A.S.--306 A.S.)


4 Nephi 1:36-38 Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites . . . Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites:


     According to John Tvedtnes, before two hundred years had passed (4 Nephi 1:22), in the second generation after Christ, those who rebelled against the church called themselves Lamanites. However, by the 231st year, those who rejected the gospel were termed Lamanites and Lemuelites and Ishmaelites (4 Nephi 1:38). The same evolution is mentioned regarding the Nephites of the 231st year -- that is although they were termed the "true believers in Christ," there were those among them "who were called by the Lamanites -- Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites" (4 Nephi 1:36). That the tribal structure had never changed is evidenced by the fact that these groups are named in this same order in 4 Nephi 1:38 (referring to events dating two centuries prior to Mormon's time) and Jacob 1:13-14 (dating to the sixth century B.C.). The reversion to the ancient tribal names is more than coincidence. Merely separating into two groups would have been simpler for the people, according to whether they followed or rejected the established religion. Believing that people actually took upon themselves the names of the tribes from which they descended is much more reasonable. This is not to say that there was no intermarriage nor intermingling of tribes. But, following the patrilineal system of their ancestors, it is logical to assume that these Israelites considered themselves to be members of the paternal clan and tribe. . . . The fact that, during Mormon's time, both the Nephites and the Lamanites had become apostate (4 Nephi 1:43,45) indicates that the distinction became more tribal than religious (that is, "believer" vs. "nonbeliever"). That the Lamanites of Mormon's day were more numerous than the Nephites (see Mormon 4:13, 17; 2:3, 25; 5:6) is further evidence of continuing tribal identities. [John A. Tvedtnes, "Book of Mormon Tribal Affiliation and Military Castes," in Warfare In The Book of Mormon, pp. 309-311] [See the commentary on Mormon 1:8-9]


4 Nephi 1:42 The People Began Again to Build Up the Secret Oaths and Combinations:


     In 4 Nephi 1:42 it says that "the people began again to build up the secret oaths and combinations." According to Bruce Warren, secret societies were a part pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Mexican artist and writer Miguel Covarrubias describes the nature of secret societies in Mesoamerica as follows:

           In those days the ancient jaguar cult prevailed throughout southern Mexico and in Central America, superimposed upon the formal, official Indian religion. . . . To quote Sahagun, "like assassins, daring and accustomed to kill, they carried on their persons pieces of jaguar skin. . . . In ancient times the jaguar was an earth god, symbol of the interior of the earth and of the night, of darkness, because jaguars were believed to swallow the sun and cause eclipses. He was the god of caves, the dark interior of mountains . . . As such he was worshipped throughout southern Mexico and particularly around Tehuantepec." [Bruce W. Warren, "Secret Combinations, Warfare, and Sacrifice," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, pp. 229-230] [See Ether 8:18]


4 Nephi 1:45-46 The People . . . Did Lay Up in Store in Abundance . . . and Did Traffic in All Manner of Traffic:


     In 4 Nephi 1:45-46 we find:

           . . . there were none that were righteous save it were the disciples of Jesus. And gold and silver did they lay up in store in abundance, and did traffic in all manner of traffic (4 Nephi 1:46; A.D. 305).


     According to Joseph Allen, you may say that nothing is wrong with practicing free enterprise and having a year's food supply, or more, stored in your basement. The Mesoamerica archaeological record drives home the problem. The thing that was wrong with laying up "in store in abundance" and trafficking "in all manner of traffic" is that priests controlled everything. We can only imagine the "religious" and "social" means the priests employed to control the profits. The Uxmal account states:

           This period runs from A.D. 200-1000 and has been called the period of the Theocratic States Monopoly by the virtue of the fact that the high priests controlled and monopolized the main activities of the social and economic life of the population, encompassing even the simple ritualism, symbolism and beliefs" (Uxmal 1986:32).


     From A.D. 350 to A.D. 900, a great deal of trade activity occurred throughout Mesoamerica. By A.D. 400 , strong trade agreements had been reached between the administrators living in the Mexico Valley (Teotihuacan) and the administrators who lived in Guatemala. On the outskirts of the City of Huehuetenango, in Guatemala, are the Postclassic Maya ruins of Zaculeu. These ruins apparently served as the last outpost for centuries previous to A.D. 900. Even today, the Guatemala military outpost is nearby. Much trading activity passed through this military outpost. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, pp. 393-394]


4 Nephi 1:45-46 The people . . . did lay up in store in abundance . . . and did traffic in all manner of traffic (Illustration): Map illustrating trade activities beginning after A.D. 350. [Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, p. 395]


4 Nephi 1:47 Amos died, and his brother, Ammaron, did keep the record in his stead (Nephite Record Keepers) [Illustration]: Nephite Record Keepers. Adapted from [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 155]


4 Nephi 1:48 Ammaron . . . Did Hide Up the Records:


     The gold plates that were delivered to Joseph Smith amounted to about a "hundredth part" of the total recorded history if the references in the record itself are correct (Jacob 3:13, Helaman 3:14, Ether 15:13). In other words, we might say that the entire collection of plates that Ammaron turned over to Mormon occupied 100 times the volume and weighed 100 times the weight as the set of plates eventually given to Joseph Smith. If that truly was the case, then considering the circumstances, how far or to what distance would Ammaron travel from where he lived in order to "hide up these records"? One should notice here that there is no mention or any attempt to indicate any long journey or extended travel in order to reach the site where these records were hidden (the hill Shim).

     Mormon was only 10 years old when he was entrusted with these records (Mormon 1:2). Mormon would be taken southward to the land of Zarahemla when he was age 11 (Mormon 1:6). This means that sometime between his calling at age 10 and his obtaining the records at age 24 (Mormon 1:3), Mormon would have had to gain some very distinct geographical knowledge of the land Antum and the hill Shim. All these records had been cared for by men who up until this time were all located in the Land Southward (Nephi, Zarahemla, and Bountiful). It doesn't seem very practical at all for Ammaron to be in charge of recording the history of a people thousands of miles away from where he himself was living. Thus, if Ammaron hid the plates in the Hill Shim in the Land Antum (Mormon 1:3). And if the Hill Shim was mentioned in the same scripture with the location of the Hill Cumorah (Ether 9:3) Then both the Hill Shim and the Hill Cumorah might have been located not only somewhat near to each other, but within a few hundred miles of the land of Zarahemla. [See also the commentary on Mormon 1:3; 3:5]


4 Nephi 1:48 All the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation (Illustration): Sources, plates, records, and manuscripts of the Book of Mormon. [John W. Welch ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon, p. 17]

Note* For a more complete listing, the reader is referred to Appendix B


Geographical Theory Map: 4 Nephi 1:48-49 Ammaron Hides up the Plates -- Chooses Mormon (321 A.S.)