Where did the people in King Noah’s kingdom come from?

Most readers are familiar with evil King Noah in the Book of Mormon. He is the prototype of the evil king, as we all know. My question is: where did the people in his kingdom come from?

Here’s the history: we read in Mosiah 9:1-7 of Zeniff, who was King Noah’s father. This is about 200 BC.

Zeniff took two trips from Zarahemla to Nephi. The first ended in failure because of infighting. During the second trip, Zeniff took “as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land” and headed back to Nephi. This time, they were “smitten with famine and sore afflictions.” Nevertheless, a few of them arrived at Nephi and convinced the king of the Lamanites to “depart out of the land.”

So, this group of Mulekite-Nephites possesses the land, repairing the walls of the city of Nephi (also called Lehi-Nephi) and the city of Shilom. My question is: how many people came with Zeniff, and how did they grow into a kingdom by the time of King Noah?

There are several journeys mentioned between Zarahemla and Nephi. The biggest may have been the first failed one, which ended with only 50 survivors after the infighting. Zeniff led another group, which is described as a “considerable number” in Omni 1:29. The other trips were smaller, 16 strong men (Mosiah 7:2) and 43 people sent from Nephi to Zarahemla (Mosiah 8:7).

So, the question is, how many were the “considerable number,” and did it include a lot of women and children? This is a key question that is not answered in the text, but given that the first trip ended badly, perhaps a reasonable answer to the second question is “no.” Or perhaps Zeniff’s trip was more successful precisely because there were women and children there? Zeniff wanted to treat the Lamanites kindly, unlike the first unnamed leader, who is described as “stiffnecked man” who “caused a contention among them” over the issue of destroying the Lamanites.

We must also consider the fact that during Zeniff’s trip there was “famine and sore afflictions,” so perhaps some people died during this trip?

In any case, let’s name a large number of people for Zeniff’s trip, perhaps 150, which would have been very large compared to the other trips that were taken.

About 40 years later, we read about King Noah and his rather large kingdom filled with gold, silver, ziff, copper, brass and iron. Noah laid a tax of 20 percent on everybody to build huge buildings and ornamented the buildings with “fine work of wood, and all manner of precious things.” (Mosiah 11:8).

The taxes were high enough that Noah and a coterie of priests were all maintained in luxury and laziness.

This kingdom must have grown immensely. If we assume, say 40 women of child-bearing age in the original group with five children each (which, given the primitive conditions, may be too many — remember infant mortality was very high in those days), we do not get to a kingdom large enough to maintain King Noah in the luxury to which he became accustomed. In addition, we must ask where did Noah and his large court get all the “wives and concubines?” (Mosiah 11:4).

Let’s do the math. 40 women with five children each equals 200 extra people after 15 years. The next generation would be have women (100 girls). Each of them have five children, adding an additional 500 people. But keep in mind people are also growing old and dying. No matter how you slice it, the Mulekite-Nephite population could not have been greater than 1,500 people at the most, and probably a lot less. A large percentage of this population would have been under 10.

I believe that the Book of Mormon is a real history involving real people. So, the point I am getting at is that we cannot limit ourselves when thinking of the different groups of people and how they integrated with the people around them.

A much more likely scenario, in my opinion, is that other people began to move to the land of Nephi when they saw the industrious Mulekite-Nephites rebuild the city. Obviously the Lamanites had let the place fall to pieces. People are attracted to growth, and the new people brought industry and growth and perhaps even jobs. This would explain all of the mining and timber and farming and building going on. From an economic standpoint, the land of Nephi became an engine of growth for the entire region. Many of the Lamanites or even other groups of people moved there and helped the region grow.

I would postulate that the same thing happened with Nephi moved away from the Lamanites and originally settled the land of Nephi (described in 2 Nephi 5:5-8). He moved there with a few dozen people, yet very quickly he was being named a king and building a temple. I believe that Nephi attracted a lot of newcomers and that the Nephites of his day included people from Jerusalem as well as many people who were already in the Americas. This would also explain why it is so difficult to find Middle Eastern DNA in the Americas — there was a lot of mixing with existing populations.

So, to sum up, King Noah’s kingdom probably involved a lot of unexpected people. There were probably Lamanites and even many non-Israelites. The Book of Mormon lands were probably much more of a melting pot than we like to think.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

23 thoughts on “Where did the people in King Noah’s kingdom come from?

  1. CTJ, did you read the OP? Many readers may even agree with your comments, but there are a bit off the topic, which believe it or not was not political.

  2. I think the initial band under Zeniff was much larger, if the dead were described as “all save it were fifty” of a “large number.” Certainly Zeniff knew that a large population would be necessary for a self-sustaining community far from any interaction with Zarahemla. Consider also that the community founded by the renegade priests was never considered to be a “large people” unto themselves, despite the fact that there were enough priests that they could kidnap, hold, and take to wife 24 Lamanite women.

    I also disagree with your characterization of Zeniff’s band as “Mulekite-Nephite.” Given that this is one generation after the infiltration of the existing Mulekite nation by the Nephite immigrants, it seems more likely that those who went up to the land of the Nephites “who were desirous to possess the land of their inheritance” (Omni 1:27) were pure ethnic Nephite separatists who wanted to reconquer their homeland rather than assimilate into Mulekite society.

  3. You can also look at the army sizes and casualties to determine the population. The military participation rate for a society is usually about 10-20% of the total population. You have to take out the women and children, and the men that are either too young or old to fight, and you end up with about 15% of the population able to bear arms. We see this at the end of the BoM. If you take an army size of 30,000 (Mormon 2:25), it is about 15% of 230,000, which was the total population at Cumorah. I didn’t see any numbers given for army size, or the amount that died in the battles so that may not work here. (I’m running out the door or I would look further.) The guards boast that 50 0f them could slay 1,000. I believe it was Sorenson that suggested they may have faced odds that great towards the end.

    On CTJ’s comment. His comparison is somewhat simplistic but does recall stereotypes from Chinese history. Confucian historians often had the stereotype of the “bad last emperor” that forfeited the Mandate of Heaven. They also had the “good emperor” that ruled with sagacity and benevolence. I describe them more here:
    http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2009/03/bad-emperor.html
    http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2009/06/good-emperor.html

    Thanks for the great post Geoff.

  4. Nathan, interesting points. Your first is of course possible — we don’t know. The key issue is of course Zeniff’s second group, not the first. Let’s say it involved 500 people — wouldn’t that have been noteworthy compared to the 16 and 43 mentioned elsewhere? Moving that many people through the wilderness immediately after a failed trip the first time seems unlikely to me, but of course possible. We really don’t know for sure.

    Zeniff was likely a Mulekite of some sort. Note in Mosiah 9:1 he describes himself as “having been taught in the all the language of the Nephites.” A Nephite would never mention this because it would be obvious. It would be like an English-speaking American saying, “having been taught in English.” A recent immigrant might point this out but a native speaker never would. My point in describing them as “Mulekite-Nephites” was to emphasize the melting pot nature of the society. If you don’t like it, you can just ignore it.

  5. I’m guessing Zeniff had 1000-2000 people with him at the time they arrived in the land of Nephi. A large group, but commensurate with King Mosiah II wondering what had happened to them. I do not think they would have sent a search party out for 150 people. I also think the first army had perhaps 1000 men, enough to destroy the Lamanites in the land of Nephi. Had there been just a hundred, having 50 survive would not be a great ordeal to explain to the families afterward. Nor would there have been sufficient soldiers to threaten the Lamanites over the territory.

    It is possible that some of the Lamanites may also have joined with Zeniff’s group, although it does not seem to have happened, from what we read. It definitely appears that they remained divided as two people. That the Lamanites were infuriated in thinking that 24 of their maidens were stolen by the Limhites led to war, so it is not likely they sought to integrate with the Lamanites, nor absorb any of them. In fact, it seems that the people of Zeniff became xenophobic rather quickly after arriving.

    By Noah’s time, Alma was able to find 450 converts to travel in the wilderness with him. This was a large enough group for Noah to notice, so they obviously didn’t have a population of 100,000. But 450 out of maybe 40,000 would be noticed and be large enough to worry about defections, etc. In a generation or so, 2000 people can turn into 10,000 – becoming a potential threat to the Lamanites in the area.

    That from Zeniff’s entrance into the land of Nephi until Limhi’s few years as king, we see 70 years pass, we have a possibility of 4 generations in this time. If 2000 people marry each other, you have 1000 couples. If each has 5 children in the first generation, you then have 6,000 people. If in the second generation those 5000 marry and have 5 children, we have 12,500 in the third generation (with Zeniff still probably alive). In the fourth generation, we would end up with an additional 30,000+ people. So by the time we get to Limhi, there’s a possibility of 45,000 people alive.

  6. Another note, it is unlikely that other Nephites later traveled to the land of Nephi. The people of Limhi became lost trying to find Zarahemla, ostensibly marching past it and finding the dead jaredite civilization. Ammon and his men wandered for 40 days, but it took less than half that time for Alma and his people (with flocks) to travel to Zarahemla. So, the distance was not very far, perhaps 250-400 miles, but the trail was swallowed up by the jungle and heavy rains.

    As I said, I do not think they absorbed many Lamanites or others in the area, as they tended to be very xenophobic.

  7. Rame, your numbers may be right. As I say, we don’t know for sure what a “considerable number” is. The key question left unanswered is: if it was a war party as you say, how many women traveled with Zeniff? Your number of even 2,000 implies that it was 1,000 each of men and women, all of marrying age, which of course did not happen. It was normal for warring groups in those days to have one woman along to do the wash, cooking etc (sorry ladies, that was just how it was done then). So, let’s say there are 2,000 troops and 100 women? How many could bear children, etc? The numbers still don’t add up.

  8. It seems that by the time of Noah there isn’t so much a kingdom as two cities that are populated by his people, which seems like not so many. I think the second expedition (lead by Zeniff) must have been pretty large, otherwise nobody would have gone looking for them. Also, they knew how many Lamanites were there from spying and from the failed expedition, so they’d have wanted to take a large enough force to protect themselves if needed.

    But I agree that the implied growth rate seems very large in the generation or so from Zeniff’s arrival to Noah’s reign. Note that these people leave during Benjamin’s reign and are rediscovered prior to the end of Mosiah II’s reign in Zarahemla.

    I always wonder if they aren’t incorporating indigenous people they meet along the way. It also seems reasonable to assume that people escaped the Jaredite civilization before it killed itself off. By people I mean lots of people, not just Coriantumr and Ether. If millions are killed off, even a small percentage escaping would provide a large number of people, especially 400 years later.

    The odd thing about Zeniff being a Mulekite is why would he be so anxious to go claim Nephite lands if he isn’t a Nephite? That strikes me as odd. I am not convinced that Mosiah 9:1 indicated that he is a Mulekite. I think he’s just parroting Nephi here talking about what languages he’s been taught. Supporting the Zeniff as Mulekite idea though is the fact that Ammon is not only a Mulekite, but a descendant of Zarahemla, so clearly they’re sending a Mulekite to lead the search effort.

  9. On the issue of the Lamanites and the Nephites remaining separate, I think there was room for a lot of movement in the first few years after Zeniff’s group arrived. Remember, it took 12 years for the Lamanites to get jealous about the growth of the Nephites. A lot of people in that type of agrarian society do not see themselves as part of an ethnic group. They may live on a farm on in small towns nearby and not even know what a Lamanite is. So, they hear about the city of Nephite being rebuilt, and they move there to join the fun. I find that scenario much more likely — a lot of movement back and forth — than some idea of strict separation in a 2nd century BC society.

    Another possibility that just occurred to me: remember, the first Mosiah left Nephi a few decades earlier. Then the Lamanites moved in. It was very possible that even thousands of people stayed there during the bad Lamanite years and did not leave when the Lamanites left after Zeniff’s arrival. It is possible that when the king of the Lamanites told “his people” to depart, he was only speaking of the Lamanite rulers, not the Nephites who had remained. Just a thought.

  10. A random John,

    I agree with you on Zeniff’s ethnicity. In Nephite culture (see 1 Nephi 1:1, Enos 1:1) it seems like one cements the legitimacy of his record by citing his learning (note also that it appears that the first Mosiah cemented his rulership of the Zarahemlaite majority by the legitimacy of his language).

    What I wonder — and what is never even referenced in the text — is what, specifically, happened to the Nephites who stayed behind from Mosiah’s exodus. Were they all killed, or were they merely subsumed into the looming Lamanite majority?

  11. Geoff, I see the land of Nephi being on the Lamanite borders with the wilderness. Wilderness areas tend to not be as populated as other areas. So, there would have been few Lamanites in the area when Zeniff showed up. Later as both Lamanite and Zeniffite populations grew, they collided with each other – just as we see today with conflicts between over-populated nations.

    When I say 2000 people, I’m referencing the 2nd non-war party to go to the Land of Nephi. The first party of only warriors was probably much smaller.

    I do not see there being communication between Zarahemla and LoNephi. Such long distances back then through jungle would have prevented much travel. It seems to me the Zeniffites would early on have sought assistance from Zarahemla to fight the deceptive Lamanites.

    King Limhi shows just how xenophobic the people are in having soldiers with him whenever he left the city’s walls, and having Ammon bound for several days before bringing him to the king.

    As for your other thought, I don’t see any evidence for it. In fact, the text speaks against it. By the time Zeniff arrived, those in the area were Lamanite, and not Mosiah-philes. Had Zeniff discovered a large entity of wannabe Nephites, he probably would have noted it. Instead, he specifically says that all Lamanites left the area.

    That an army of perhaps 500 could have retaken the lands show that in Zeniff’s day, it was still depopulated, except for a few Lamanites living on the border with the wilderness.

  12. The Only True and Living Nathan,

    We know very, very little about Mosiah I. We can assume that his story was told in more detail in the lost 116 pages of the Book of Lehi. We don’t even know if he is ruler of the Nephites prior to leaving for Zarahemla. It seems unlikely that he is, as Jacob tells us that the Nephite rulers go by the name/title Nephi, and Mosiah isn’t ever called that. We also don’t know how he obtains the interpreters. They aren’t mentioned as Nephite artifacts, so it makes sense that they are Jaredite (D&C 17 says that Joseph Smith’s interpreters were the Brother of Jared’s) but there is no documented provenance.

    I agree with you and Geoff that it is very likely that a large number of ethnic Nephites stayed behind when Mosiah I left. What I am not sure why an ethnic Mulekite would be interested in joining up with them, but perhaps the majority of the people in the party were Nephite. Lots of questions, and very few details due to the 116 pages being lost.

  13. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that since “moshiah” is Hebrew for “deliverer” (probable root of “Moses”), that “Mosiah” was a coronation name taken when he was crowned king of Zarahemla, having successfully led the people in a little “exodus.”

  14. Nathan, number 18, very interesting suggestion.

    arJ, number 17, an interesting question about the missing 116 pages. As I’m sure you know, the 116 pages were part of the same plates that were in the Book of Mosiah, while the plates of Nephi were in a different set of plates. So it certainly is reasonable to speculate they would have contained some missing information.

    Rame, I see the lands of Nephi and Zarahemla very differently than you do in the 2nd C BC. I see the wilderness area as likely a big mountain range surrounded by jungle. In fact, there are several mountain ranges in Guatemala that fit the bill. There were probably very few people living in the mountain range, but I speculate that there were lots of little villages on both sides that may or may not have been part of the Nephite and Lamanite experience. The BoM mentions one city that is near Nephi called Shilom, so it is not unreasonable that the land of Nephi was not just one city but instead lots of little villages (with one big city), and some of the villages had no contact at all with the Lamanites. So, I think it is easy to imagine the city of Nephi growing and attracting people because of the industrious people who followed Zeniff. In addition, it is easy to imagine people fleeing the Lamanites and forming their own communities 15 miles away without actually following Mosiah to Zarahemla and therefore remaining part of Nephi proper.

    I would point out that Limhi was very fearful of strangers but that he lived 70 years after Zeniff first arrived. There could have been many years of peaceful travel and trade and exchange with other people before that time.

    Anyway, I think a lot of this is speculation and just a friendly discussion between colleagues, so no biggee.

  15. I don’t see any reason to assume that Zeniff’s second expedition was small, or smaller than the first. If the first was a reconnaissance mission, it makes sense that the second would be much larger, now that they had intel. The first expedition sounds like it was mostly military (i.e., only masculine nouns and pronouns); the second expedition had people intending to settle, therefore women and children. Also, the largest number Zeniff uses is 3,043 (Mosiah 9:18); perhaps that suggests that any nebulous numbers he uses are at least that larger, and probably larger.

    I also agree that Zeniff makes more sense as a Nephite, perhaps discontent with settling for any land other than his great ancestor’s promised land of Nephi (Joseph Spencer has suggested that Zeniff and his colonists felt they were fulfilling Utopian/Millennial/Zion prophecies from Isaiah).

    My understanding is that “wilderness” by definition (as used in the scriptures) means “unsettled/unpopulated,” not “overgrown.”

    Interesting ideas about Nephites lingering from Mosiah I’s day.

  16. Geoff B.,

    Correct. The Book of Mosiah starts midway through since the first part was lost. Other books have an introductory blurb and Mosiah does not. In fact, it isn’t clear to me _which_ Mosiah the book is named after. My guess would be Mosiah I since he is one of the more extraordinary leaders in the Nephite history, leading a mass migration, discovering Zarahemla, translating the large stone, and becoming king of the combined Mulekite/Nephite nation (not even his homeland), which starts a 3 generation dynasty.

  17. Just as the Lord kept the knowledge of the Nephites hidden from the Jews in Jerusalem, it’s possible that the Lord has kept knowledge of pre-existing and neighboring populations (those that were contemporaneous with the Lamanites/Nephites) in the Western Hemisphere hidden from us.

    It may turn out that the Lord instructed all the Nephite historians, from Nephi on down to Moroni, to not mention the other populations and their interactions.

    On recent readings through the BoM, I’m impressed by how Nephi and others keep mentioning that they were taught in the language of “their fathers”. It raises the question, whose other language could it have been if not their fathers? And why do they have to be *taught* it, since the normal way of picking up language is that you grow up with it.

    The story of Sherem, who came among the second generation of Nephites, in Jacob’s time, like an outsider, also hints there there were ‘others’.

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