In Mosiah 25:6, Mormon says, “And [Mosiah2] also read the account of Alma and his brethren, and all their afflictions, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time they returned again.” Does this mean that Alma1 was part of Zeniff’s original party? Did Alma’s account represent a firsthand report? In other words, should the phrase “from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time they returned again” be taken literally so that “Alma and his brethren” would have been some of the original members of Zeniff’s party? The question is one of chronology and has to do with the amount of time Zeniff’s group stayed in the land of Nephi. According to Donald A. Cazier, the question could be asked, “Since Alma and his followers were presumably born in the land of Nephi and had never been to Zarahemla, how is this matter reconciled? A first possibility is that the phrase ‘Alma and his brethren’ includes the group’s ancestors as well as all who were ever part of the colonization effort. It is likely that Alma would have included in his history some mention of Zeniff’s exodus from Zarahemla, even if he had not been part of it, since Alma was such a meticulous record keeper. (See Mosiah 17:4) So in that collective sense, the passage poses no problem… . A second possibility is that Alma and other members of his group did originally come from the land of Zarahemla.” [Donald A. Cazier, “I Have a Question,” The Ensign, August, 1992, p. 61]
In order to arrive at a more definitive conclusion, it is wise to assess just when it was that Zeniff departed from the land of Zarahemla and when Alma1 returned:
A. We can trace backward from the death of Alma1 to his birthdate, and then trace forward to his call as a priest of Noah (A1). From there we can approximate how long it was before Alma1 fled to the waters of Mormon and how long it was before the death of Noah (A2).
B. In order to get Zeniff’s departure date (ZDD), we can start with when Noah was killed (A2), then we can subtract the estimated length of reigns for both Zeniff (B1) and Noah (B2).
C. We can establish the total time that Zeniff’s colony was gone (TT) by calculating the difference between Zeniff‘s estimated departure date and Alma’s estimated arrival date (A1AD), which can be coordinated with Ammon’s departure date (ADD) and Ammon and Limhi’s arrival date back in the land of Zarahemla (ALAD).
Part A1: From the death of Alma1 backward to his birth and forward to being Noah’s priest:
Year (Years Since Lehi Left Jerusalem)
510 Alma1 dies at age 82 (Mosiah 29:45) (Assuming the date cited in Mosiah 29:46 pertains to the same year) Thus:
428 Alma1 is born Then:
458 Alma1 is appointed a priest of Noah. [A1] (We will assume that Alma was appointed a priest of Noah
at the age of 30 -- see the commentary on Mosiah 17:2)
Part A2: The death of Noah:
Assuming that Alma1 was a priest and 30 years old when Abinadi first “went forth” among the people of Noah (Mosiah 11:20). Thus, Alma would have been 32 years old when Abinadi came the second time “after the space of two years” (Mosiah 12:1). We will assume that it took about one to two years (see the commentary on Mosiah 18:3) for: (1) Alma to write the words of Abinadi (Mosiah 17:4); (2) Alma to gather a “goodly number” to preach to at the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:7); (3) Noah’s men to be sent to destroy him (Mosiah 18:33 -- see also the commentary on Mosiah 18:32); and (4) the Lamanites to invade (Mosiah 19:6), and Noah to flee and be burned to death (Mosiah 19:11,20). Thus:
462 Alma1 was probably 34 in the year 462 when Noah was killed. [A2]
Part B1: The length of Zeniff’s reign
Zeniff reigned for a twelve-year period: “after we had dwelt in the land for the space of twelve years … king Laman began to grow uneasy” (Mosiah 9:11). In the thirteenth year there was war (Mosiah 9:14). Zeniff then notes that “we did inherit the land of our fathers for many years, yea, for the space of twenty and two years” (Mosiah 10:3). Zeniff also notes that “we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years” (Mosiah 10:5). Afterward there was a war with the Lamanites in which Zeniff’s people drove them out of Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 10:6-21). Thus:
Zeniff reigned for 12 + 1? + 22 + 1? = 34-36 years = 35 years. [B1]
Part B2: The length of Noah’s reign:
The kingdom was conferred on Noah (Mosiah 11:1), and he reigned for enough years to: (1) “commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness” (Mosiah 11:2); (2) lay taxes (Mosiah 11:3); (3) change “the affairs of the kingdom” (Mosiah 11:4); (4) build “many elegant and spacious buildings” (Mosiah 11:8); (5) build “a spacious palace” (Mosiah 11: 9); (6) build a “tower near the temple” and “a great tower … on the hill north of the land of Shilom” (Mosiah 11:12,13); (7) have Abinadi prophesy, flee, and reappear in 2 years for imprisonment and trial (Mosiah 11:20; 12:1).
If we assume it only took Noah from 10 to 20 years to do all these things, and that Noah was at least 30 years of age when he was made king (see the example of Mosiah2 -- Mosiah 6:4), then Noah would have been 50 years of age at his death. Under these circumstances, if Limhi was born when Noah was 20, then Limhi would have been 30 when the people made him their king upon Noah’s death (see Mosiah 19:26). Thus:
Noah reigned for 20 years. [B2]
Zeniff’s Departure Date (ZDD):
From the estimated year that Noah was killed (year 462) we can subtract the estimated time for the reign of Noah (20 years), and also subtract the estimated time for the reign of Zeniff (35 years). These calculations bring us to the year 407, or the estimated year in which Zeniff returned to the land of Nephi. Year (Years Since Lehi Left Jerusalem)
407 Zeniff leaves Zarahemla for the land of Nephi. (ZDD)
What was the total time that Zeniff’s colony was gone? The total time can be obtained by calculating the difference between the departure date of Zeniff and the arrival of Alma1 in Zarahemla. This can be coordinated with the departure of Ammon:
Ammon’s Departure Date (ADD): According to the commentary on Mosiah 17:4, Ammon’s departure date from the land of Zarahemla was about the year 480 (see commentary).
Ammon and Limhi’s Arrival Date (ALAD): According to the commentary on Mosiah 17:4, the arrival of Ammon and Limhi in the land of Zarahemla was about the year 480 (see commentary).
Alma1’s Arrival Date (A1AD): According to the commentary on Mosiah 17:4, the arrival of Alma1 in the land of Zarahemla was about the year 481 (see commentary).
Thus, the total time (TT) Zeniff’s colony was gone was about 74 years (481 minus 407 = 74)
Zeniff’s reign = 35 years
Noah’s reign = 20 years
Limhi’s reign = 18 years
Alma’s time in bondage = 1 year
According to this estimated chronology and in response to the original question, Alma1 would not have been part of Zeniff’s original group because he was born in the year 428 and Zeniff left in the year 407.
According to the estimated chronology noted in the commentary on Omni 1:12, Mosiah1 fled from the land of Nephi to go to the land of Zarahemla near the year 398. Zeniff returned to Lehi-Nephi in the year 407 after a stay of some nine years in the land of Zarahemla. Amaleki was born about the year 406 and would have been only a few years old when Zeniff left, and Amaleki’s brother who went with Zeniff (Omni 1:30) would have been an older brother, maybe about 18 or 20 years old at the time he left. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Appendix A]