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Where Did All Those Extra Women Come From?

Telemachus and the Nymphs of Calypso, Angelica Kauffmann (1782), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Where Science Meets the Book of Mormon: Come Follow Me Lesson: April 1-7; Jacob 1-4

We are told in 1 Nephi 2:5, “And he came down by the borders near the shore of the Red Sea; and he traveled in the wilderness in the borders which are nearer the Red Sea; and he did travel in the wilderness with his family, which consisted of my mother, Sariah, and my elder brothers, who were Laman, Lemuel, and Sam.”

Furthermore, in 1 Nephi 7:6 we learn, “And it came to pass that as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the daughters of Ishmael, and the two sons of Ishmael and their families, did rebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters.”

1 Nephi 16:7 states that, “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, took one of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also, my brethren took of the daughters of Ishmael to wife; and also Zoram took the eldest daughter of Ishmael to wife.”

Then we read in 2 Nephi 5:6, “Wherefore, it came to pass that I, Nephi, did take my family, and also Zoram and his family, and Sam, mine elder brother and his family, and Jacob and Joseph, my younger brethren, and also my sisters, and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words.”

In these verses, we learn that Lehi and Sariah had four sons when they left Jerusalem. Zoram joined Lehi’s family when his sons went back to Jerusalem for the plates (1 Nephi 4:35). We also learn that Ishmael had at least seven children: five daughters and two sons. Lehi and Sariah had two sons born in the wilderness (1 Nephi 18:7) and they had at least two daughters. Nephi does not mention his sisters in his record until after the family arrived in the Americas. Ishmael died in the wilderness (1 Nephi 16:34).

So, at the time Lehi’s colony arrived in America, there were three older adults: Lehi, Sariah, and Ishmael’s wife; there were at least seven adult couples between the ages of twenty and thirty-five: Ishmael’s two oldest sons and wives, Zoram and his wife, and Laman, Lemuel, Sam, and Nephi and their wives; there were also two younger boys: Jacob and Joseph; and two daughters of unknown age and marital status. We also can assume that there were children born to the young couples in the wilderness. Ishmael’s oldest sons probably had children before they left Jerusalem. Let’s guess that those seven couples had an average of two children each at the time the family left the Old World, that’s 28 children under the ages of say ten (accounting for the older children of Ishmael’s older sons).

After the split in the colony, described in 2 Nephi 5:6, perhaps around ten years after leaving Jerusalem, there would have been somewhere in the range of three older adults, six adults aged twenty-five to forty, four aged ten to twenty-five, and twelve children ages around five to fifteen. That’s around twenty-five closely knit relatives in Nephi’s colony.

Then we read in Jacob 1:1, “For behold, it came to pass that fifty and five years had passed away from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem; wherefore, Nephi gave me, Jacob, a commandment concerning the small plates, upon which these things are engraven.” This statement was made somewhat around forty-five years after the separation of the Nephites from the Lamanites. By this time, the six adults: Zoram, Sam, Nephi and their wives, would have been around seventy to eighty-five years old, if they were still alive. Jacob, Joseph and their sisters may have been around fifty-five to seventy. The approximately twelve children born before the separation would have been around fifty to sixty. Let’s next assume that the three older adult couples continued to have children after arriving in America, especially in the earlier years, and that they each had six more children each — that would make around eighteen now adults aged say forty-five to fifty-five. Then let’s add another eight adults from Jacob and Joseph, and Nephi’s two sisters and whoever they married — they may have been in their forties or fifties. Jacob and Joseph’s children may have been in their twenties or thirties. The next generation or two may have run into another sixty, or seventy, or more: ranging in ages from one to say thirty or so.

Therefore, a very rough estimate of Lehi’s descendants in Nephi’s colony fifty-five years after leaving Jerusalem would have been around six adults seventy to eighty-five years old, four adults about fifty-five to seventy, somewhere around twelve adults aged around fifty to sixty. Then there may have been in the range of twenty-six adults aged say forty-five to fifty-five. That would make around forty-eight adults over age forty, assuming they were all still alive. Let’s say that the next generation or two would have added another sixty to one hundred. That gives us an estimated total population of around one hundred fifty Nephites around forty-five years after their separation from the Lamanites.

Another way to look at Lehi’s descendants in the Americas is to look at the world record for the number of descendants. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, at the time of his death on 15 October 1992, Samuel S. Mast, aged 96, of Fryburg, Pennsylvania, had 824 living descendants: 11 children, 97 grandchildren, 634 great-grandchildren and 82 great-great-grandchildren.1 By comparison, Lehi’s “children,” including Zoram and the two sons of Ishmael, were 11, but only 7 of them went with Nephi. If we use the Mast family as a standard, each of his children had about 9 children. Therefore, Nephi’s colony would have had 43 in the first American generation. Mast’s 97 grandchildren averaged approximately 7 children each (6.5 to make the 634 great-grandchildren). However, we may assume that his grandchildren married outside the family circle and brought in 97 spouses from outside. If Nephi’s colony was isolated in the Americas, then the 43 grandchildren would have had to marry each other, so the number of couples would have been only 21. If those couples had 7 children each, there would have been 147 great-grandchildren. That’s not far off my previous calculation.

However, of those 147 great-grandchildren, perhaps one third would have been too young to be of reproductive age. Furthermore, half of those old enough to reproduce would have been males and half females. Therefore, at the time Jacob was teaching the Nephites, there were probably around fifty males and fifty females of reproductive age in the population — all cousins or second cousins. I have been to family reunions larger than that.

Now let’s read what Jacob has to say about his relatives. We read in Jacob 1:15, “And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.”

If we ponder this scripture, we must conclude that, if the Nephites were completely isolated in the Americas, Jacob is writing about his sons, grandsons, nephews, and great-nephews — all fifty of them — taking many wives and concubines from among their fifty siblings and cousins. To me, that makes no sense. However, if there were “others” around the Nephite colony at the time, it is entirely possible that the fifty-odd males of the second and third generation were taking extra wives and concubines from among them. There are plenty of scientific data indicating that there were millions of other people in the Americas when Lehi’s colony arrived. We see that the statement in Jacob 1:15 is quite compatible with those data.


If there were others around, why didn’t Nephi and Jacob mention them? Nephi didn’t even mention his own sisters until after the family was in the New World. He never mentioned the name of his wife, or the number of his own children, let alone their names. It is very likely that this information was given on the other plates, and therefore, was not given in this religious record. That information may very likely have been lost with the 116 manuscript pages in the summer of 1828.    



Trent Dee Stephens, PhD






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