“Six Hundred Years from the Time That Lehi Left Jerusalem”

Brant Gardner

Chronology: The ninety-first year of the reign of the judges is approximately 5 B.C. (See commentary accompanying 1 Nephi 10:4 for information on how this commentary calculates Nephite years.) Signs of the Savior’s birth will come in the ninety-second year. Thus, the six-hundred-year prophecy (1 Ne. 10:4) is fulfilled in the Nephite year prior to the Messiah’s birth. Apparently the prophecy was for 600 whole years.

There is no concrete way to verify the year in which Jesus was born according to our modern calendar. An important temporal anchor comes with details in the birth narrative that require that Herod be alive at that time. Raymond Brown, the eminent New Testament scholar, points out: “Josephus fixes the death of Herod the Great shortly after an eclipse of the moon and before a Passover. In [4 B.C.] there was an eclipse on the night of March 12/13th, one month before Passover. While other possibilities are 5 B.C. and 1 B.C., the best evidence favors March/April 4 B.C. as the time of Herod’s death.” After March/April 4 B.C., the biblical statements do not fit. Therefore, Jesus must have been born before that date; but how much earlier?

The slaughter of the children ages two and younger suggests an outside margin of two years (Matt. 2:16). Brown continues: “This notice, fixing the age limit according to the rising of the birth star of the King of the Jews has led scholars to date Jesus’s birth ca. 6 B.C., two years before Herod’s death.”

Since this date is based on the star’s appearance, not necessarily the birth, it seems likely that 6 B.C., like 4 B.C., sets an outside boundary to the event but does not date it. It is probably beyond the data to try for a more precise date than saying the birth fell between these two dates. The Nephite count is closer to 4 B.C. Therefore, I suggest that the birth occurred in 4–5 B.C., with the caveat that we do not know how the beginning of a Nephite year correlates to the beginning of the Old World year. Some of the Nephite year may overlap that of the Old World.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5