When Lehi Left Jerusalem: 605 B.C.? A Plausible Hypothesis from Jeff Chadwick

A frequent question and criticism of the Book of Mormon involves Nephi’s statement at the beginning that Lehi had a vision in the first year of the reign of King Zedekiah. Afterwards, when Lehi and his family have left Jerusalem, Lehi prophecies that the Messiah would be born 600 years later (1 Nephi 10:4, repeated in 1 Nephi 19:8 and 2 Nephi 25:19, and confirmed in 3 Nephi 1:1, 9–19). Since it has long been known that Zedekiah’s reign began in 597 B.C., and since it is generally accepted that Christ’s actual birth was around 5 B.C., the 600-year prophecy poses an obvious problem. Viewing the 600-year prophecy as a rounded approximation seems inadequate, given the specificity of the text.

Several approaches have been taken to deal with the 600-year prophecy, including an appeal to a 360-day year of the Mesoamerican calendar or a 354-day lunar calendar, but Professor Jeffrey R. Chadwick of BYU has what seems to be a superior treatment. In his newly published “Dating the Departure of Lehi from Jerusalem,” BYU Studies 57/2 (2018): 7-51, Chadwick proposes that when the Egyptians killed Josiah in battle in 609 B.C. and later Jehoiakim on the throne, the rightful heir was Zedekiah and many faithful Jews might have naturally viewed the Egyptian appointment as illegitimate. Indeed, Jehoiakim was strongly denounced by Jeremiah.

In the minds of the Jews of that day, the rightful reign of Zedekiah had already begun, though he wold not ascend to the throne for several more years. Chadwick’s proposal seems to neatly resolve several issues and provides for a reasonable time for Lehi to minister in Jerusalem before he had to flee for his life. It also fits well with some of the social and political realities that might have made later travel too risky. He considers a wide variety of details and concludes that the Book of Mormon account is remarkably consistent with what we are learning about Israel in that era.

On quibble is that Chadwick insists that the River of Lemuel must have been a wadi that only temporarily had flowing water, otherwise a perennial stream (such as the excellent candidate found by George Potter) would have attracted a large settlement and would not have been available for any random family to wander up to and use. But remote, hard-to-find locations can remain largely uninhabited, as we see with Khor Kahrfot/Wadi Sayq, the leading candidate for Bountiful which remains substantially uninhabited in spite of having the largest freshwater lagoon in the Arabian Peninsula. When there are other sources of water in a region, a remote and difficult location won’t necessarily attract a crowd.

Had Joseph been the brilliant Bible scholar he is sometimes required to be, he would have known that Zedekiah’s reign began in 597 B.C. The 600-year prophecy would have at least been dialed down to 597 years. The 597 B.C. was well-known as the beginning of Zedekiah’s reign in Joseph’s day is illustrated in a printing of the Bible with commentary showing the date 597 B.C. at the top of the pages for Jeremiah 27. The source is Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments According to the Authorized Version with Explanatory Notes and Practical Observations, vol. 3 (Boston: Samuel Armstrong, 1823), available at Google Books; https://books.google.com/books?id=jaJOAQAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA323. The commentary explains that there may be a scribal error in Jeremiah 27:1, for that verse speaks of the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim, but the rest of the chapter is addressed to Zedekiah.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

6 thoughts on “When Lehi Left Jerusalem: 605 B.C.? A Plausible Hypothesis from Jeff Chadwick

  1. I find this one puzzling, Jeff. It seems perfectly reasonable to me to read "600 years" as an approximation. That seems much more plausible than the idea that a Jewish chronicler would write as if his favored person was on the throne when in fact that person was not.

    — OK

  2. Hello! I know I could have contacted the Bishop in the Ward where I live BUT I have not attended a service in years. I will not bore you with the details, I was Baptized a very long time ago. it was a dark time for me then and it is a darker time for me now. I know a lot about many different faiths but there has always been something about Mormonism that has felt RIGHT. With the Internet there are a lot of very angry people making false and hurtful accusations about this church, I don't know what happened to them but even after I read their stories I believe they are wrong. I can't put my finger on why I believe that Joseph Smith did find golden plates but I do believe the story and everything that happened thereafter. Frankly, I am ashamed of myself, I can't just pick up the phone and dial the Bishops number, I am afraid I will be hung up on. I can't afford to tithe, and I have not been to services in years so I don't think I would be welcome. I use to smoke, I stopped that over 20 years ago, I use to drink diet Pepsi, now I combine ice tea with lemon with ice tea and lemon aid no coffee or other caffeine! It is a rare occasion when I have a glass of wine (so something I need to work on). I lost my husband in Dec of 2015 to an aneurism he was not Mormon, he was born a Catholic but never really attended church, I have no family we were not blessed with children (5 miscarriages), it is just me and my cat I am so lonely. I want to come back to a Ward that wants an old lady maybe looking for someone to share the remainder of my life as my partner but I am so ashamed of myself, it is hard to look at myself in the mirror. I don't know, maybe I am just typing a message to a great void but if there is someone reading this who has a heart and would like to help me find a way to come home (back to the LDS church) I would follow the crumbs. Tears come down my face as I write this. I don't know what else is left to say just thanks if there is someone out there reading my babble, thanks. Blessings, Mary (Slattery) Kasal.

  3. Hi Mary,
    I don't know who your bishop is, but I am confident he would be thrilled to hear from you. Bishops are like that. Your relief society president, too. I hope you'll reach out to them. You can contact me at shakinbake22@yahoo.com if you want help figuring out how to contact them. God bless!

  4. Starting over again has to be hard.

    I've been married for 50 years and I live in dread of the day that one of us has to go on without the other. Still, I don't know that I could swallow religious fantasy to fill the void or provide alternative company. I don't know that that would honor my husband or do much for my self respect.

    What I'd prefer to do is offer the skills I've acquired over a lifetime to volunteer groups. I've always me the most interesting and selfless people when I do that. And I'd know that my life continued to have value in my community. Local public schools are always looking for volunteers to give struggles students some one-on-one time. Master gardeners are always in demand to help in civic projects and to give new gardeners a hand.

    You'll find a core for your life again, Mary. It may require that you step out of a long established routine but it will be worth it! Courage!

  5. Type your home address in at maps.lds.org and it will give you your home ward and Bishop's name number and even meeting times.

  6. Mary you can learn all you need to know by reading the gospel topic essays on lds.org. Google that term and you will find them right away. A lot there that you probably don't know about the church, that the church itself is finally admitting to after years of silence. Please do this. I pray that you do this before you jump back in blindly.

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