“Many Should Perish by the Sword and Many Should Be Carried Away Captive into Babylon”

Alan C. Miner

Nephi describes his father Lehi as a wealthy man who, in the first year of Zedekiah, heard many prophets predict that Jerusalem would be destroyed if the people did not repent (1 Nephi 1:4). Lehi prayed for his people and received his own revelation confirming that Jerusalem would be destroyed. A key point for this discussion is that he also explicitly saw in his vision that "many should be carried away captive into Babylon" (1 Nephi 1:13). According to John Pratt, that prophecy raises an important issue to resolve.

How could Lehi prophesy that "many" would be taken captive after the beginning of Zedekiah's reign, that is, after the deportation of "all Jerusalem" had already occurred? The Biblical record is clear that only a few were taken captive at the later final destruction of Jerusalem. Moreover, the details that Lehi was wealthy, having "exceeding great" property comprised of gold, silver, and precious things (1 Nephi 3:22-25), and that some of his own sons couldn't believe it possible for Jerusalem to be destroyed (1 Nephi 2:13), argue against the setting being during the reign of Zedekiah (after 597 B.C.) after all of the wealthy had been deported, and Jerusalem had already been partially destroyed late in 601 B.C.

Because of such considerations, it has been proposed that the king whom Nephi called "Zedekiah" must have been Jehoiakim. Let us adopt that proposal as a working hypothesis to see how well it fits the Biblical history.

Lehi Prophesies with Jeremiah

Nephi describes the response of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Lehi's prophecy, saying they "did mock him" and "they were angry with him . . . and they also sought his life" (1 Nephi 19-20). That matches very well the response to both Jeremiah and Urijah who began to preach of the desolation and destruction of Jerusalem "in the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim" (Jeremiah 26:1). Thus, if Nephi's Zedekiah is the same as the Biblical Jehoiakim, then both the timing of the prophecies near the beginning of his reign, as well as the response of the people, are in perfect agreement. The response of the people would be completely understandable because it would have been before Nebuchadnezzar had begun his dominion.

The 600-Year Prophecy

The problem of 600 years not fitting between Lehi's departure and the birth of the Savior entirely disappears once it is recognized that Nephi's Zedekiah was most likely Jehoiakim. Lehi could have left in 601 B.C., 600 years before the birth of the Savior at Passover in the spring of 1 B.C. Alma noted that Lehi's departure had the same Passover symbolism as Moses' departure from Egypt, in that Lehi was delivered from bondage and led through the wilderness to a promised land (see Alma 9:9, 26:38-39). Accordingly, it has been proposed that Lehi probably left in the spring of 601 B.C. at Passover. Another indication that Lehi's departure was 600 years to the very day before the Savior's birth is that 600 years is a lunisolar realignment interval known long before Lehi on which a date on the Hebrew lunisolar calendar (Passover) reoccurs on the same date on a solar calendar (April 6 on our Gregorian calendar). Thus, Lehi probably left Jerusalem during the night preceding Sunday, 6 April 601 B.C.

The Nephites most likely used a 365-day year for their civil calendar, as indicated by their reckoning of the interval between the signs of the Savior's birth and death. If so, they would not have inserted any leap days during the 600 Nephite years after Lehi's departure, which would explain why they reckoned that the 600 years were fulfilled several months before the Savior's birth. (3 Nephi 1:1).

Lehi's departure in the spring of 601 B.C. would fit well with Nephi's statement that Jerusalem had been destroyed "immediately after my father left Jerusalem" (2 Nephi 25:10). That is, Nephi would not have been referring to the final destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., but rather to the first destruction which occurred in December, 601 B.C.

"Few" Taken Captive

Some hitherto overlooked details of Nephi's account are also explained by the proposal that Nephi referred to Jehoiakim as Zedekiah. After Lehi's group left Jerusalem, they traveled across the wilderness for eight years and arrived at Bountiful (1 Nephi 17:4-5), which would have been in 593 B.C. according to the proposed chronology. At that time Nephi referred to the final destruction of Jerusalem as a yet future event: "I know that the day must surely come that they must be destroyed, save a few only, who shall be led away into captivity" (1 Nephi 17:43). Note that he declared that "a few only" would be taken captive, whereas Lehi had prophesied that "many" would be taken to Babylon. Knowing that there were two destructions of Jerusalem clarifies those details. That is, Lehi's prophecy that "many" would be taken captive had already been fulfilled in 597 B.C. In Bountiful, Nephi spoke of the final destruction of Jerusalem, which would occur in 587 B.C., at which time only "few" would be taken captive. Years later, after they had crossed the ocean to the promised land, Lehi received the confirming revelation that Jerusalem had finally been destroyed (2 Nephi 1:4). That revelation must have come after the final 587 B.C. destruction. The precise way the Book of Mormon account would fit into the historical setting is as follows:

Year B.C. Event

608 1st year of Jehoiakim. Jeremiah prophesied Jerusalem's destruction and desolation

608-607 Lehi began to prophesy of Jerusalem's destruction and the captivity of many.

605 Babylon replaced Egypt as world power and took control of Judah. A few princes taken

captive (First deportation).

6 Apr 601 Lehi departed from Jerusalem, 600 years before birth of Christ on 6 Apr 1 B.C.

Dec. 601 Jehoiakim rebelled; Jerusalem partially destroyed (First destruction).

Dec. 598 Jehoiakim executed, Jehoiachin began reign. (Second deportation).

Mar. 597 Third deportation (of over 10,000) to Babylon. Then Zedekiah began to reign.

593 Nephi prophesies in Bountiful of Jerusalem's final destruction, with few captives.

June 587 Jerusalem destroyed (Second destruction) and Fourth Deportation of only a few, fulfilling

Nephi's prophecy.

Jehoiakim as Nephi's "Zedekiah"

Why would Nephi have called Jehoiakim "Zedekiah?" There are several plausible explanations.

(1) Zedekiah might have simply been another name for Jehoiakim. In fact, Jehoiakim had a son named Zedekiah (1 Chronicles 3:16), not to be confused with his brother Mattaniah whose name was also later changed to Zedekiah when he became king.

(2) Another possibility is that "Zedekiah" might have been a title used interchangeably with the name Jehoiakim, which could explain why the Bible sometimes referred to Zedekiah as Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 27:1).

(3) Another explanation might be that Nebuchadnezzar might have changed Jehoiakim's name to Zedekiah. At that time, every king of Judah had his name changed by the dominating nation, as a mark of subservience. For example, Pharaoh Necho changed Shallum's name to Jehoahaz, and then Eliakim's name to Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34). After Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar changed Jeconiah's name to Jehoiachin, and then Mattaniah's name to Zedekiah. This name changing practice extended even to the captives such as Daniel, whose name was changed to Belteshazzar (Daniel 1:7). Note that the Biblical narrative does not always mention every name change; we only learn of Shallum's name in a revelation where the Lord refers to him by his original name (see Jeremiah 22:11, compare 1 Chronicles 3:15). The only king in this entire period for whom no name change is recorded when a new world power took command is Jehoiakim. Thus, the possibility that Nebuchadnezzar changed Jehoiakim's name to Zedekiah would follow established precedence.

In summary, the simple proposal that Nephi may have been referring to Jehoiakim as "Zedekiah" explains (1) how Jerusalem was destroyed immediately after Lehi's departure in 601 B.C., and many were taken captive thereafter in 597 B.C., fulfilling Lehi's prophecy; (2) how Nephi's prophecy in about 593 B.C. that Jerusalem would yet be destroyed and "few" would be taken captive was fulfilled in 587 B.C.; and (3) how the Savior's birth on 6 April 1 B.C. would have been 600 years after Lehi's departure, as the angel had declared to Lehi. [John P. Pratt, "Lehi's 600-year Prophecy of the Birth of Christ, Http://[www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/000331sixhundred.html]] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 10:4]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary