When did the “false prophets” (Words of Mormon 1:16) come among the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla? What were and when were the “many dissensions away unto the Lamanites” mentioned by Mormon? For the most part, the verses included in Words of Mormon 1:13-18 concerning war, false prophets, and dissenters seem chronologically indefinite; however, it is my opinion that from the textual evidence of false prophets, dissensions, and wars recorded later by Alma2 (the book of Alma), the reader can understand pretty well how the process of false prophets, dissensions and war developed.
1. What did the dissenters want? The answer given is that these people "had dissented from [the Nephite] church, and had left them and had gone to destroy them by joining the Lamanites (Alma 48:24).
2. How many dissenters were there? There were “dissenters of the Nephites, from the reign of Nephi down to the present time” (Alma 47:35). However, the Lamanites were “a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah” (Alma 43:13). Of these dissenters (the Amalekites, the Zoramites, and the Amulonites), only the origin of the Amalekites remains unconfirmed in the Book of Mormon. Nevertheless, the Amalekites might have been one of the major groups of dissenters that not only Benjamin fought to control during his reign, but which Alma2 and the sons of Mosiah2 sought unsuccessfully through their preaching to bring into the Nephite fold.
Mormon says that “there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes” (Words of Mormon 1:15). It is interesting that Alma2 will later chronicle the stories of two false Christs, Korihor and Nehor. Mormon also says that there “had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people” (Words of Mormon 1:16). The first mention of the Amalekites in the Book of Mormon (although Alma’s preaching was going on at the same time) was during the mission of the sons of Mosiah (Alma 21:2). The text mentions that “the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem.” Aaron tried to preach to these people but “the Amalekites were not converted, save only one” (Alma 23:14). The Amalekites were religious, but did not believe the truth. The Lamanite king said, “I know that the Amalekites say that there is a God, and I have granted unto them that they should build sanctuaries, that they may assemble themselves together to worship him” (Alma 22:7). Nevertheless, the Nephite dissenters were angry because of the preaching of the gospel, for “it did destroy their craft; therefore they would not hearken unto the words” (Alma 35:3).
Concerning the “serious war” of King Benjamin, it is interesting to note that the Amalekites in the land of Jerusalem were situated somewhere along the journey between the land of Zarahemla and the local land of Nephi (the sons of Mosiah reached Jerusalem and the land of Middoni before Aaron went “to the land of Nephi, even to the house of the king” --Alma 22:1). The Amalekites were after the order of Nehor, who was a false prophet (Alma 21:4, 1:16). The destruction of Ammonihah on the northwest of Zarahemla was called the “desolation of Nehors” (Alma 16:11). This means that with the dissident Zoramites situated “on the east of Zarahemla,” the dissident Amalekites in Ammonihah situated to the northwest of the local land of Zarahemla, and the dissident Amalekites situated in Jerusalem apparently southward from Zarahemla, the Nephites were nearly surrounded not only by Lamanites (Alma 22:29) but by dissenters.
Thus, although the time or duration of these “false prophets” and “dissensions” is still uncertain, they might be linked to the dissenters in locations immediately surrounding the land of Zarahemla who apparently stirred the Lamanites up in their locales to go against King Benjamin in what culminated in a “serious war.” This seems more logical than blaming the Lamanites closely associated with the colony of Zeniff near Lehi-Nephi in the “serious war” mentioned by Amaleki.
In addition, although (1) Amaleki mentions a serious war first, then preaches a message, and (2) Mormon mentions a war, then false prophets, and then dissensions; it is the opinion of the author that all these actions were part of the same ongoing process and thus cannot be listed or understood chronologically, other than that they all relatively stopped once Benjamin had established peace. The Nephites, as recorded in the book of Alma, contend with the same problems described by Mormon. Thus, Mormon seems to make a connection between dissension, false prophets, and wars. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]