“The Great and Marvelous Change Which Had Taken Place”

Brant Gardner

Redaction: These verses figure into the scholarly debate about the timing of the Messiah’s appearance to the Nephites. Brown suggests that these Nephites would not have been merely conversing so close to the destructive event. They would have been tending the wounded and burying the dead. Then they would be rebuilding cities and roads. That they were discussing the Messiah suggests that these other tasks had been completed. Tvedtnes notes that the destruction occurred in the lands southward and the lands northward, but suggests that Bountiful may have been, in effect the “eye of the storm,” and hence was less severely damaged.

Tvedtnes is undoubtedly correct that the damage would not have been uniform and also that Bountiful may have been partially or mostly spared. This scenario would be likely if, two (or more) nearly simultaneous volcanoes erupted, one in the north and one in the south of Bountiful. (The volcanic eruptions known to date close to this time are currently all in the north.) The problem is that the question of damage sidesteps this specific argument against the later date but still does not respond to Mormon’s statement that these events are about a year later.

Both Brown and Tvedtnes accept Nephi’s description as accurate. I hypothesize instead that Nephi constructed a literary transition into the Messiah’s arrival, just as he constructed the account of the destructions. The fact that we do not have Nephi’s original record, including his transition between the destruction and the Messiah’s arrival—all recommend that we use this introduction only warily as evidence of actual events and timing. This introduction is literary. As a matter of realism, some people in Bountiful were not at the temple. Many of those who were present were not discussing the Messiah’s words. Numerous events were occurring that Nephi does not mention. Instead, he carefully selects details from a broader range of information to introduce the important event: the Savior’s arrival.

It suits Nephi’s literary purposes to have the people somewhat prepared for it, hence their presence at the temple. This discussion of the Messiah shows that their minds are already centered on him. Against this backdrop of faith and expectation, Nephi writes the Messiah’s appearance.

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