“According to the Reigns of the Kings”

Brant Gardner

Historical/textual: This verse has some interesting possibilities. On the simplest level, it discusses the naming of the kings after Nephi, where Nephi becomes a title (this connection between name and title becomes lost in the Book of Mormon years after the initiation of the reign of the judges, which allows for Nephi to reappear as a personal name at the time of Christ - which otherwise could not have happened because of the shift from name to title). What is most fascinating in this verse, however. is that this description of the naming of the kings appears to be in the past tense and appears to suggest that Jacob has personal knowledge of at least two kings titled Nephi. Jacob clearly knows that the second king was called Nephi, but to be able to confidently state that the third was also called Nephi would require that he had seen the third. Of course one could make the statement based on intention, but Jacob is more certain than saying that there was a proposal that this should be so.

Taking this past tense literally, we have Jacob writing on the plates a number of years after they have been given to him. Thus while the writing must be chronological, the events written about do not, because they are written not only after the fact, but probably long after the fact.

We do not know the precise date of Jacob’s death. The next specific date marker we have is just prior to Enos’ death where he notes that 179 years have passed since the departure from Jerusalem (Enos 1:25). From the time of Nephi’s death until Enos’ death (presuming it came soon after that 179 year marker) we have 124 years in which there are only two writers on the small plates. This is a long time, and requires advanced ages for both Jacob and Enos. Splitting the difference between them, each would have had to have had a life time of about 87 years. That is quite old for the ancient world, but Nephi lived into his 70’s, and these ages would not be beyond possibility, although remarkable. Of course any revision of Jacob’s probable date of birth to a later year makes this span shorter.

With this proposed life span for Jacob, he will have nearly 36 years as the record keeper after his brother’s death. We would therefore have Jacob writing in his record near the end of his life, and having witnessed at least two anointings of kings in his own lifetime. While this can give us a time reference for Jacob’s writings, it gives us a fascinating question as to why there should be two anointings of kings, and a speculation as to who the second king might have been.

There are three reasons prevalent in the ancient world which account for the short reign of kings, and all have to do with the death of the king. We might have a king die by illness, war, or intrigue in his own house by pretenders to the throne. I believe we may safely eliminate this last reason if for no other reason that Jacob does not mention it. It will show up later in the Book of Mormon, but is usually associated with a larger population.

Illness and war are two possibilities. Since this is inherently speculative, it appears that war is the most likely as the Book of Mormon at this point speaks little of disease, and we have long lives for Nephi and Jacob. As a king, the best of the living conditions and food would be available, and so conditions would be favorable to have as long a life as his father and uncle. This leaves war, and with the tradition of Nephi personally wielding the sword of Laban, it is quite likely that this king would also be expected to wield the sword personally, placing him in potential harm’s way. It is certain that he would have been protected, but our understanding of Mesoamerican warfare does suggest the possibility of the death or capture of the opposing king. This appears the most likely reason Jacob would see the anointing of the second Nephi - titled king.

These kings continue to be anointed “according to the reign of kings” which still follows the Old World model. Thus the next king would be the son of the second, or the grandson of Nephi. Even though youths could and did sit on ancient thrones, Nephi was certainly of an age where he could have one or more mature grandsons.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon