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I Am a Nephite

A portion of the painting, Lehi Blesses His Posterity, by A. C. C. Christensen, 1890; United States public domain


Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: June 17-23; Alma 8-12

We learn early in the Book of Mormon, in Jacob 1:13, that, “Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.” This was about 544-421 BC.


Then, we were told in Mosiah 25:12-13, that around 120 BC, “…it came to pass that those who were the children of Amulon and his brethren, who had taken to wife the daughters of the Lamanites, were displeased with the conduct of their fathers, and they would no longer be called by the names of their fathers, therefore they took upon themselves the name of Nephi, that they might be called the children of Nephi and be numbered among those who were called Nephites. And now all the people of Zarahemla were numbered with the Nephites, and this because the kingdom had been conferred upon none but those who were descendants of Nephi.” And then around 92-91 BC, we are told in Mosiah 29:44, “…thus commenced the reign of the judges throughout all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who were called the Nephites; and Alma was the first and chief judge.”


All of these scriptures indicate that there were two major groups of Book of Mormon people: the Lamanites and the Nephites. Almost anyone who has read the Book of Mormon already knows this. Alma was the first judge over the Nephites.


After Alma had been chief judge and chief priest of the Church for ten years, according to Alma 4:18-19, “Now Alma… retained the office of high priest unto himself; but he delivered the judgment-seat unto Nephihah. And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.”


We read of some of Alma’s missionary efforts in Alma 8:3-12, “…in the commencement of the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi…Alma departed from thence and took his journey over into the land of Melek, on the west of the river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness. And he began to teach the people in the land of Melek according to the holy order of God, by which he had been called; and he began to teach the people throughout all the land of Melek. And it came to pass that the people came to him throughout all the borders of the land which was by the wilderness side. And they were baptized throughout all the land; So that when he had finished his work at Melek he departed thence, and traveled three days’ journey on the north of the land of Melek; and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah. Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah. And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them. Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma. Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance. Nevertheless, they hardened their hearts, saying unto him: Behold, we know that thou art Alma; and we know that thou art high priest over the church which thou hast established in many parts of the land, according to your tradition; and we are not of thy church, and we do not believe in such foolish traditions. And now we know that because we are not of thy church we know that thou hast no power over us; and thou hast delivered up the judgment-seat unto Nephihah; therefore thou art not the chief judge over us.”


It is clear from this last verse that the people of Ammonihah were under the judgeship of Alma and then Nephihah. Therefore, they would have been considered to be Nephites.


After the people of Ammonihah rejected Alma, and even spit upon him (Alma 8:13), Alma left Ammonihah. But an angel appeared to him and told him to return (Alma 8:14-17). Then we read in Alma 8:19-21, “And as he entered the city he was an hungered, and he said to a man: Will ye give to an humble servant of God something to eat? And the man said unto him: I am a Nephite, and I know that thou art a holy prophet of God, for thou art the man whom an angel said in a vision: Thou shalt receive. Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house. And it came to pass that the man received him into his house; and the man was called Amulek; and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma.”


What? Amulek said “I am a Nephite.” Wouldn’t that be like my meeting someone asking for food on a street-corner and my saying to him or her, “I am an American”? This was 82 BC, at least 350 years since the initial designation of Lamanites and Nephites as described in Jacob 1:13. There appears to be something going on here that is not clear from this set of scriptures alone. This rather strange statement had also been made about Alma in Mosiah 17:2, “But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi.” We are also told the same thing about Aminadi in Alma 10:3, “And Aminadi was a descendant of Nephi, who was the son of Lehi, who came out of the land of Jerusalem…” Over one hundred years later, Mormon makes a similar statement in 3 Nephi 5:20, “I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi...” Wouldn’t everyone in the Americas be descendants of Nephi and especially Lehi? Even if they were descended from the Zoramites or Mulekites, they would almost certainly also have been a descendant of Lehi because of intermarriage.   


The idea that people specifically identified themselves as descendants of Nephi and Lehi suggests that most people in the population were not descendants of this founding population. I am a direct descendant from eight of the original fifty-three surviving Pilgrims who established the first Plymouth settlement. The Plymouth colony was founded just over four hundred years ago — nearly the same time interval as between Lehi and Alma. It is estimated that just over 3% of people living in the United States in 2018 are descended from the Plymouth Pilgrims.1 Therefore, 97% of people in the United States are not descendants of the Plymouth colony. This may have been similar to the population of the Americas in 82 BC — the vast majority were not descended from Lehi's colony.


I have emphasized in many of my previous blogs that the Nephites represented a very small fraction of the total people in the Americas at the time. I believe that the scriptures cited above provide strong evidence supporting that hypothesis.


Trent Dee Stephens, PhD







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