“And There Was Also a Great and Terrible Tempest”

Brant Gardner

Prophecy: The events recorded in 3 Nephi were prophesied by Zenos:

 1 Nephi 19:10-12

10 And the God of our fathers, who were led out of Egypt, out of bondage, and also were preserved in the wilderness by him, yea, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, yieldeth himself, according to the words of the angel, as a man, into the hands of wicked men, to be lifted up, according to the words of Zenock, and to be crucified, according to the words of Neum, and to be buried in a sepulchre, according to the words of Zenos, which he spake concerning the three days of darkness, which should be a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel.

11 For thus spake the prophet: The Lord God surely shall visit all the house of Israel at that day, some with his voice, because of their righteousness, unto their great joy and salvation, and others with the thunderings and the lightnings of his power, by tempest, by fire, and by smoke, and vapor of darkness, and by the opening of the earth, and by mountains which shall be carried up.

12 And all these things must surely come, saith the prophet Zenos. And the rocks of the earth must rend; and because of the groanings of the earth, many of the kings of the isles of the sea shall be wrought upon by the Spirit of God, to exclaim: The God of nature suffers.

Since the specifics of the prophecy given by Zenos were fulfilled in the New World, but not in the Old, it would seem that Zenos’ prophecy was given understanding that his words would be carried to that New World where they would see their fulfillment.

Geography and Geology: The arrival of the Atoning Messiah is presaged by incredible natural manifestations. There are two aspects of these events that are remarkable. The first is typological. The coming of the Messiah at the end of times is to be preceded by great destructions. These will include burnings according to the prophecies. In this appearance of the Messiah during the Meridian of time, these same destructive elements accompany him. For Mormon, the Atoning Messiah and the Triumphant Messiah are known to be the same person, and Mormon’s understanding of the Messiah is that his comings should by typologically parallel. The Messiah, being who he is, brings the elements of the final arrival even as he comes for a different purpose in his first coming.

The second aspect is the very description of the physical events. The Book of Mormon is very explicit in the description of the physical events. These events may be examined for their correlation to the real world, and they find direct correspondence in a an explosive eruption of a volcano arising in a subduction zone, or the zone where two tectonic plates are colliding (Bart J. Kowallis. “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi.” BYU Studies. 37, no. 3, 1997-98, pp. 145. On the general topic of the 3 Nephi phenomena, see also Isaac B. Ball “Additional Internal Evidence for the Authenticity of the Book of Mormon.” Improvement Era, 1931, Vol. Xxxiv. May, 1931. No. 7). Mesoamerica is part of the “ring of fire” that marks one of the most active volcanic regions in the world, and Mesoamerica is particularly located at a subduction boundary. All of the geologic conditions to create a violently explosive volcano are present in Mesoamerica, and indeed that region has seen such explosions in the past. Indeed, Central America ranks as “the most productive volcanic region on earth.” (Bart J. Kowallis. “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi.” BYU Studies. 37, no. 3, 1997-98, pp. 147).

An explosive eruption of Ilopango in El Salvador buried a Mayan village in an eruption typically given as approximately 260 AD. (http://volcano.und.nodak.edu/vwdocs/volc_images/south_america/el_salvador/ilopango.html). However, the radiocarbon dating for the site provides various eruption times:

“A table of the radiocarbon datings for that site [indicates] that the determinations for the date of eruption fall into two groups. There is an early group: A.D. 50, 30, 60.  And there is a group of later dates: A.D. 340, 270, 300. 450, 550, 390...  Originally, before the recent corrections were made to the data, they lumped all these dates together and came up with a composite date of A.D. 260.” (Loren K. Hansen. Email message to Eyring-L, Thu, 23 Jul 1998.)

Dating of historical eruptions can be difficult, but we have at least this one example of an explosive eruption that may date to the time period described by the Book of Mormon, although this volcano is south of the Book of Mormon lands. Interestingly, however, this is bracketed by the historical eruption of the volcano Xitle in Central Mexico to the north of Book of Mormon lands, and covering a plausibly similar time period. (Esther Pasztory. Teotihuacan An Experiment in Living.  University Of Oklahoma Press, Norman And London, 1997, p. 78). In addition to Xitle, the volcano Yololica erupted around the same time. (Esther Pasztory. Teotihuacan An Experiment in Living.  University Of Oklahoma Press, Norman And London, 1997, p. 3).

Even though we are unable to date these eruptions precisely, we are given the distinct impression that there is a flurry of serious volcanic activity in the region at the time the Book of Mormon describes these events. While we cannot place the specific volcano at present, the timing and described phenomena are completely consistent with the area.

Chronological: The difference in the Nephite calendar is manifest in the dating of this destruction. It comes in the fourth day of the first month. Regardless of the question of the year, the beginning of the year obviously has some difference. It would be interesting if the Nephite restructuring of the calendar also shifted the month for the new year so that the year began in the month of Jesus’ birth, held in LDS tradition to be April.

The dating of the year of Jesus’ death has been the subject of a large amount of scholarly effort. Father Raymond Brown summarizes a tremendous amount of such work, and notes that there are two dates between which he is unable to choose: April 7, 30, or April 3, 33. (Raymond E. Brown. The Death of the Messiah. Doubleday, New York, 1998, 2:1375-6) Though Father Brown may not have access to a way to discriminate between the two dates based on Old World history, the Book of Mormon chronology would point us to the year 30, and therefore the more complete date of April 7, 30 (This is the date that is used for the crucifixion in the Book of Mormon Critical Text. FARMS 1987, 3:1324)

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon