“In About the Space of Three Hours”

Brant Gardner

Redaction: Mormon records Nephi as saying, “it was said by some… ,” a clear indication that Nephi is integrating reports by others into his account. Despite the apparent precision of “three hours” and “three days,” it would have been difficult if not impossible to determine either duration. There were no clocks for the hours, and the darkness would have made it impossible to differentiate day from night. I therefore interpret “three” as symbolic. I speculate that at some point the meaning of the “sign of Jonah,” or Christ’s three-day entombment, was identified. Against that background, the number three would carry significance for the event and “naturally” show up in time-units associated with this event. Nephi’s estimate was just as much a guess as those of his reporters.

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