Population Studies by  P. L. Simiskey

(Copyrightã 28 Feb 2002

Introduction.  A study of Book of Mormon geography should include population estimates in order to complete the picture.  In doing these, however, it quickly becomes apparent that demographic data in the Book of Mormon are quite limited.  Nevertheless, there are enough to support estimates at certain points in Nephite history.  These estimates in turn provide the basis for a crude population profile, which I have included at the end of this chapter.  In the course of doing this profile, a number of interesting things turned up that I have tried to capture in this chapter.

Population growth rates.  An essential requirement for any demographic study is to determine what growth rates to use for escalating numbers forward and backward.  John C. Kunich, in his book Multiply Exceedingly: Book of Mormon Population Sizes, advocates a growth rate of 0.4% per year.  James E. Smith, an expert on historical demography, uses 1.25% for high growth rates but is reluctant to apply that number to time-periods covering hundreds of years.[i][i]  Clearly, the rates used by Kunich and Smith are well founded on long-term, historical data and are applicable to much of Nephite history; however, these rates appear to be too conservative for certain segments of their time-line.

In order to find a basis for growth rates covering periods of Nephite history most favorable to growth, I looked at data from a number of modern countries around the world.  Finally, I settled on the data from Guatemala—which was neither the highest nor the lowest that could have been selected.[ii][ii]  Guatemala is interesting among other reasons because it is a place where most Book of Mormon scholars believe Lehi’s descendants lived, and where many of us believe his blood still flows today.  On the other hand, these data are consistent with those from any number of other countries that could have been used to produce similar results.  Data we should avoid for this study are those from countries where modern birth control practices have driven growth rates far below historical levels.  In the Guatemala case we see a steady decline in the birth rate from 1950 to 1997 and a corresponding decline in the death rate (presumably due to lower infant mortality).  The net result is that the “rate of natural increase” has remained nearly flat—until the last few years when it reached historic lows (see Appendix F).  This “rate of natural increase” excludes migration and goes from a low of 2.897% in 1951 to a high of 3.302% in 1977.  The rounded off average of these data over 47 years is 3 percent—which seems like a good number to use for the Nephites’ prosperous times.

To test the above growth rates we can consider the Israelites who, by all accounts, prospered mightily from the time the family of 70 males (Genesis 46:27) entered Egypt until Moses led them out 210 years later (Jasher 81:4).[i][iii]  The total number of Jacob’s family initially in Egypt must have been about double the number of males mentioned above—or 140 individuals.  One credible estimate for the size of their population at the exodus from Egypt is about 72,000.[ii][iv]  If the Israelites grew at Kunich’s rate of 0.4%, the number leaving Egypt would have been 162; if they grew at Smith’s rate of 1.25% there would have been 951.  These sizes would hardly require “rulers of thousands”(Exodus 18:25).  At a 3% growth rate, there would have been 69,500 people.  The 3% rate seems more appropriate for the Children of Israel at this time and for certain segments of Nephite history.

I also looked at my ancestors, the Acadians, who settled in what is now Nova Scotia.  The 1671 census for these people lists 358 inhabitants.  The high-side estimate of that number is 400 and includes some that lived deep in the woods and others that refused to answer the census taker.  The Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia in 1755.  During that 84-year period, their numbers grew to about 10,000—an estimate that is well supported by church and family records from the time.  The net migration in and out of Acadia during this period appears to be about zero, since it seems that every Acadian today can trace his ancestry to the original 1671 residents.  This increase represents a growth rate of about 3.91%, which is the more impressive when we consider the harsh conditions.  Other cases could be cited, but I think this will suffice to show that higher growth rates for the Nephites is by no means out of the question.

The math.  Some will want to know how these calculations were made, so I will give the equations here.  (It will also save me the trouble of re-deriving them next time I want to make such calculations!)  The following symbols are used in the equations: p1 = the starting population, p2 = the ending population, y1 = the starting year, y2 = the ending year, r = the annual growth fraction, and R = the annual growth percent.  The annual growth fraction can be calculated from the annual growth percent by the following equation:

r = 1 + R / 100

The three versions of the equation for doing population calculations are as follows:

Calculation of ending population:           p2 = p1 + p1r ^ (y2 – y1)

Calculation of starting population:                  p1 = p2 / (1 + r ^ (y2 – y1))

Calculation of growth fraction:                r = e ^ ln ((p2 – p1) / (y2 – y1))

How large was the Lehi Company?  This is the first question that must be answered in order to begin a population study of the Nephites.  Fortunately, it’s not hard to make a reasonable estimate; but in order to make a good split between the Lamanites and Nephites, I have chosen to make the estimate at the time of Lehi’s death.  Unfortunately, the Book of Mormon does not give a date for Lehi’s death; so that must be estimated also.  To do this, we can look at the life of Lehi’s son, Joseph.  Before boarding the ship to the Promised Land, Nephi tells us that Lehi “begat two sons in the wilderness; the elder was called Jacob and the younger Joseph (1 Nephi 18:7).”  Lehi calls Joseph his “last-born” (2 Nephi 3:1); and in his final counsel to Joseph he said, “thou art little; wherefore hearken unto the words of thy brother, Nephi” (2 Nephi 3:25).  It seems to me that Joseph must have been at least eight years old to receive the counsel given in 2 Nephi 3; and it also seems to me that a Jewish father would not refer to a twelve-year-old boy as “little.”  Therefore, I conclude that he must have been between the ages of eight and eleven when Lehi died.  For purposes of this study, I have assumed that Joseph was born the year before the family reached Bountiful where the ship was built (about 593 BC) and that he was eleven years old when Lehi died in about 582 BC.  If the footnote in 1 Nephi 18:23 is correct, that would have been seven years after they reached the Promised Land.  (Even if these dates are off by ten years, it will make very little difference to the overall results; but it is helpful to look at a specific point in time.)

An estimate for the size of Lehi’s Company in 582 BC can be found in Appendix E.  It comes to a total of 57 people—32 Lamanites and 25 Nephites.  Much could be said about this estimate, but I’ll keep it short and simply point out a few interesting things that I noticed.

1.       There appears to be more genetic diversity than one might first think.  Assuming that neither Zoram, Ishmael’s family nor the wives of Ishmael’s two older sons were related to Lehi’s family, there would have been no need in the beginning for siblings or cousins to marry in order to propagate the society.

2.       The family sizes could have been much larger than estimated here, but they were based on the Guatemala data shown in Table 37-1 below.  Whether the families were larger or smaller than estimated, the ratio between Lamanites and Nephites should be good—assuming comparable fertility rates.



Mother's age

Children ever born

















28 (Age at median child)




Table 37-1: Number of Children Born to Guatemala

Women (1973)[i][v]

3.      Sam’s family may have consisted entirely of daughters—since we never read of “Samites” in the Book of Mormon.

4.      The estimate in Appendix E show’s a gap of 17 years in Lehi’s family between the birth of Nephi and the birth of Jacob.  That could be explained in part by Nephi’s mention of sisters (2 Nephi 5:6).  However, I have made the conservative assumption that there were just two sisters—too young to be married at the time Nephi led them into the wilderness.  (There is no mention of families for them as there are for others in the company.)  This means that their births were assumed to be between those of Jacob and Joseph.  A better explanation for the gap might be disease in Jerusalem that led to the deaths of children in that age range, but that is mere speculation.

How large were the later Nephite populations?  Here is where I got some surprising results.  I took the 57 people from Lehi’s Company and escalated that number forward by 3% per year to the final battle at Cumorah in AD 385 and reached the astounding number of 148 trillion!  This exercise was done without regard to the effects of war, famine, or disease and was intended simply as an upper limit to work from.  Even as early as 240 BC (the time I estimate that Mosiah1 led the people of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla) the number is 1.4 million—790,000 Lamanites and 610,000 Nephites.  If half that number of Nephites followed Mosiah1 to Zarahemla, it would have been over 300,000 people, which seems very unlikely to me.  For comparison, there were a total of about 70,000 LDS pioneers who reached the Utah Territory by the time the railroad arrived in 1869;[ii][vi] and there may have been about 72,000 Israelites (as mentioned above) led out of Egypt.  At the least, this little exercise points out that Lehi’s party had no need of native populations to bulk up their numbers.  It also gives an indication of how much war, famine, and disease impacted their numbers.

The one place that these numbers come up surprisingly small is when we consider the likely Nephite population at the time of Nephi’s death in about 545 BC (Jacob 1:1).  There would have been about 75 people based on the 3% assumption.  On the other hand, Appendix G shows an estimate of 143 people done by hand using the Guatemala data.  I consider this latter estimate the more accurate even though it reflects the extraordinary growth rate of 4.83%.  This is only so because of the youthfulness of the childbearing members of the group; and Nephi did note that “the Lord was with us” and “we began to prosper exceedingly, and to multiply in the land” (2 Nephi 5:11, 13).  In any case, this small group built a temple modeled after the one that Solomon built.  It would seem unlikely except that Nephi built a ship with far fewer people (1 Nephi 18:1-5).  His description of the temple is as follows:

And I, Nephi, did build a temple; and I did construct it after the manner of the temple of Solomon save it were not built of so many precious things; for they were not to be found upon the land, wherefore, it could not be built like unto Solomon's temple. But the manner of the construction was like unto the temple of Solomon; and the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine (2 Nephi 5:16).

King Benjamin’s speech in 124 BC.  We can get an idea of the size of the population in Zarahemla in 124 BC from the record of King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 2:1-8.  At that time, Mosiah2 “had made a proclamation throughout all the land, that the people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them.  And there were a great number, even so many that they did not number them; for they had multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land.”  After the people offered “sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses,” the record goes on:

And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple, they pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, consisting of his wife, and his sons, and his daughters, and their sons, and their daughters, from the eldest down to the youngest, every family being separate one from another. And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them; For the multitude being so great that king Benjamin could not teach them all within the walls of the temple, therefore he caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them. And it came to pass that he began to speak to his people from the tower; and they could not all hear his words because of the greatness of the multitude; therefore he caused that the words which he spake should be written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice, that they might also receive his words. (Mosiah 2:5-8.)

It appears that King Benjamin had hopes that everyone could hear him from the tower; but seeing that they couldn’t, he sent out written copies of the speech.  This is quite clearly a larger audience than the 350 or so that would be calculated by Kunich’s 0.4%.  (350 is reached by assuming there were 25 Nephites in 582 BC, that all of them followed Mosiah1 to Zarahemla, and that they represented 45% of the population in Zarahemla.)  It is also clearly less than the 42 million that would be calculated with the same assumptions using 3%.  Smith’s 1.25%, however, (which he would not recommend for such long periods of time) yields the plausible number of about 16,000.  The problem with that number is that it must be escalated at 7.53% per year in order to reach my 87 BC estimate of 235,000.  As a compromise, I calculated backward from the 235,000 estimate at 3% to arrive at 78,700 for King Benjamin’s speech.  (This reflects a growth rate of 1.77% from 582 to 124 BC—too high for Smith and Kunich, but reasonable in my mind for a people who had “multiplied exceedingly.”)

How large an audience could King Benjamin have reasonably expected to address?  The fact that he built a tower probably means it was larger than the 2,500 the Savior addressed at Bountiful—presumably without a tower (3 Nephi 17:25).  With excellent acoustics, King Benjamin may have been able to address 21,000 (the number of seats in the new LDS conference center, which is probably the world’s largest auditorium for religious gatherings).  As it turned out, by my estimate, he tried to address about twice that many.  (Undoubtedly, not everyone in the land came.  Aside from the sick and elderly, there had to be a number of disinterested people.  I’d say he’d do well to get 50% there—or about 40,000.)  This is a number that probably exceeds the ability of one man to speak to—even on a tower with good acoustics.  It is some six times the number that could be seated in the LDS tabernacle on Temple Square—a building that originally had no sound system except for the extraordinary acoustics.  The 78,700 figure seems to be in the right range for the population of Zarahemla at this time.

The war with the Amlicites in 87 BC.  A reasonable estimate can be made for the combined Nephite-Mulekite population in the Land of Zarahemla at the time of the war with the Amlicites.

Amlici, a cunning man after the order of Nehor, drew away a large portion of the people who wanted to make him king over the land (Alma 2:1-2).  This proposal was brought to a vote as required by law, and Amlici lost in what was apparently a very close contest (Alma 2:3-7).  The faction who lost the election made Amlici their king anyway; and Amlici attempted to gain the rest of the population by force (Alma 2:8-15).  During the first battle, the Amlicites lost 12,532 and the Nephites lost 6,562.  The Nephites appeared to have won the battle (Alma 2:16-20).  Unfortunately, the remaining Amlicites joined with invading Lamanites in a desperate struggle the next day in which many more were killed on both sides (the Book of Mormon does not give exact numbers).  At the end of this battle, the combined forces of the Amlicites and Lamanites were defeated and driven to the wilderness of Hermounts where many more died of their wounds (Alma 2:21-38).  The Amlicites were never spoken of again in the Book of Mormon.

It would appear that 20% might also be a good estimate for the number of Nephites and Amlicites who died in that war—lowering the population to around 188,000.  The loss of crops, animals, and loved ones was so great that “every soul had cause to mourn” (Alma 4:2-3).
































































































Source: U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base.






Table 37-2: Guatemala Year 2000 Population, by Age

and Sex (Thousands)

So, how good are these numbers?  I have tried to quantify that by giving upper and lower limits for the total, pre-war population.  An upper limit of 2,110,000 was calculated by assuming that only 25% of the population followed Amlici to war and only 10% of those died in the first battle.  A lower limit of 120,000 was calculated by assuming that 49% of the people followed Amlici to battle and that 90% of those died in the first battle.  Both of these situations appear to be unlikely enough that we can safely assume at least a 90% probability that the actual population was between these limits.

The Mulekites.  An important aspect of the population numbers in the Book of Mormon is covered in Mosiah 25:2-3:

“Now there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness.  And there were not so many of the people of Nephi and of the people of Zarahemla as there were of the Lamanites; yea, they were not half so numerous.”

The uniting of Mosiah1’s people with the people of Zarahemla clearly had advantages for both groups, but it may have also sown the seeds for the bitter war with the Amlicites 150 years later.  When Mosiah1 and his people arrived in Zarahemla, Mosiah1 was made king over the land even though the people of Zarahemla outnumbered his people.  This was in spite of the fact that Zarahemla was a descendant of Mulek who was a son of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (Helaman 8:21), and had a lineal claim to the kingship of Judah.  It is probable that there was lingering resentment about this among the descendants of Zarahemla that eventually resulted in the Amlicite war.  The people of Zarahemla are never mentioned after this war either—except once in the past tense in Alma 22:30.  There were further problems, however, with a group called “king-men” who also rebelled against the government—resulting in the army of Moroni1 slaying 4,000 of them and executing others who would not take up arms to defend the country (Alma 51:5-21; 62:9).  These incidents could have been the result of the same, on-going ethnic rivalry.  It is interesting, however, that no mention is made of “Zarahemlahites” in the final stages of Nephite history when they again divided into factions (4 Nephi 1:35-38).  It appears that no significant number of Zarahemla’s people made it though the Great Destruction at the death of Christ who were not thoroughly integrated into Lehi’s descendants.

People of Ammon (82 - 66 BC).  The demographics of the people of Ammon are rather straightforward—based on the recruitment of their 2,000 sons in the 26th year of the reign of the judges, or about 66 BC (Alma 56:9).  These young men were those who were too young to enter into the covenant not to take up arms at the time their parents buried their weapons (Alma 24:6-18).  This covenant was probably made in the tenth year of the reign of the judges—just prior to the attack when 1,005 of their number were killed while offering no resistance (Alma 24:20-22).  This event made the Lamanite aggressors retrospectively “more angry because they had slain their brethren;” so they “took their armies and went over…and fell upon the people…of Ammonihah and destroyed them” (Alma 25:1-2).  The attack on Ammonihah took place on the 5th day of the 2nd month of the 11th year of the reign of the judges, or about 81 BC (Alma 16:1).  The covenant probably took place the year before—or 82 BC.  If this is the case, then the recruitment took place about 16 years after the covenant was made.

If we take the age of accountability—or eight years old (D&C 18:42; 68:27)—as the age below which the young men did not enter into the covenant, then sixteen years later the oldest of these would be 24.  If we take the minimum fighting age as 15, we can easily estimate the size of a population required to produce 2,000 young men in this age range.  To do this, we can again make use of the age distribution in Guatemala as shown in Table 37-2.  In this table we see that there are 1.306 million young men in the age range of 15 to 24 in a total population of 12.640 million people.  If this same ratio held true for the people of Ammon, their total population would have been about 19,400 in 66 BC.  Going backward 16 years with an assumed 3% growth rate, we have a number of converts of about 12,100.  (The reader will recall that the Lamanites killed 1,005 of those, but that they were “joined that day by more than the number who had been slain” (Alma 24:22-27).  The net effect is that we can probably ignore that event in our calculations.)

These 12,000 or so converts came primarily from seven locations—the land of Ishmael, the land of Middoni, the city of Nephi, the land of Shilom, the land of Shemlon, the city of Lemuel and the city of Shimnilom (Alma 23:8-15).  That would amount to about 1,700 per location.  The text reads as if all the Lamanites in these locations were converted but very few others.  Even if only half the people in these areas were converted, that would make the average population for each area about 3,400.  This is probably much smaller than most of us imagined, but consistent with the idea that this was an agrarian society that probably could not support large urban populations.  Even King Lamoni had flocks to tend and horses to feed.  These kinds of numbers may have been typical of many of the cities and lands in the Book of Mormon.

A population profile.  Combining the above information with other data from the Book of Mormon, we have a basis for working up the following population profile.  (The numbers in parentheses represent my best estimate, an upper number, and a lower number.  In some cases, the corresponding growth percentages are also included.)

1.      582 BC.  The number of Nephites at the death of Lehi is discussed above and is estimated in Appendix E to be 25—with a high side of 50 and a low side of 15.  (25; 50; 15)

2.      582 BC – 545 BC.  The number of Nephites at the death of Nephi is discussed above and is estimated in Appendix G to be 143.  (143-4.83%; 216-6%; 75-3%)

3.      545 BC – 240 BC.  The growth rate from the death of Nephi to the time that Mosiah1 led his followers to Zarahemla is estimated to be 1.25%.  These were not easy times.  There were already wars before Nephi died (Jacob 1:10).  There was apostasy during Jacob’s life (Jacob 1:15) as well as wars and contentions (Jacob 3:13; 7:24-25).  There were wars and apostasy during Enos’ life (Enos 1:22-24).  There was apostasy and war during the life of Jarom (Jarom 1:3,8-9,13).  There was “serious war” during Omni’s life (Omni 1:3). “The more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed” during Amaron’s life (Omni 1:5); and Abinadom saw “much war and contention” and had to fight the Lamanites (Omni 1:10).  (6,300-1.25%; 60,000-2%; 480-0.4%)

4.      240 BC.  Finally, things became bad enough that Mosiah1 was “warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness—” (Omni 1:12).  Clearly, not everyone went with him.  I made the assumption that 45% did—with a high side of 80% and a low side of 20%.  The ones left behind must have joined with the Lamanites.  (2,800; 48,000; 400)

5.      240 BC.  We are not told how many more Mulekites there were than Nephites—only that there were more (Mosiah 25:2).  For purposes of this study, I have assumed that the number of Mulekites in Zarahemla was equal to the number of Nephites left in the Land of Nephi—or 55%.  Hence, there is no break in the population profile.  It seems like as good an assumption as any!  (6,300; 107,000; 900)

6.      240 BC – 124 BC.  It appears that the time between Mosiah1’s arrival in Zarahemla and the war with the Amlicites in 87 BC was a period of considerable peace and prosperity among the Nephites.  Hence, I used the 3% growth rate for that 37-year period to back-calculate a population of 78,700 at the time of the speech—see above.  A lower growth rate would calculate a larger number of people at the speech, and the number calculated already seems to press the limits of how many could have been there.  Using the 78,700 number, yields a growth rate of 2.2% from 240 BC (6,300) to 124 BC.  This seems reasonable for this time period following war and including a period of integration with the Mulekites.  This period also includes the time when Zeniff’s people went back to the Land of Nephi for three generations before returning to Zarahemla in two groups.  There was little, if any, growth of Zeniff’s group during it’s sojourn in the Land of Nephi, but they are included in the beginning and ending numbers and are part of the reason for a lower growth from 240 BC to 124 BC.  (78,700-2.20%; 707,000-1.64%; 40,200-3.33%)

7.      124 BC – 87 BC.  The growth rate for this period is taken to be 3% as explained above.  The number of Nephites at the start of the Amlicite war was discussed earlier.  (235,000; 2,110,000, 120,000)

8.      87 BC.  As explained before, I estimated that 20% of the inhabitants in Zarahemla died in the Amlicite war.  (188,000; 1,690,000; 96,000)

9.      87 BC – 76 BC.  This was a time of transition from war to affliction and rebuilding (Alma 4:1-4) after which wickedness came back into the Church (Alma 4:11).  In 81 BC the Lamanites attacked and destroyed Ammonihah (Alma 16:1-3); and five years later “there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem” (Alma 28:2).  I have estimated that this was a period of zero growth ending in the slaughter of 25% percent of the people—since this battle must have been worse than the one with the Amlicites.  (141,000; 1,270,000; 72,000)

10.  76 BC – AD 19.  This period was another troubled time—starting with a period of mourning and rebuilding (Alma 30:2-3).  Then there was a series of wars from 74 BC to 60 BC under the leadership of Moroni1 and then migration of 20,000 or so people northward (Alma 63:4-9).  There was war in 52 BC (Alma 63:16), wars in 46-44 BC (Helaman 3:3, 19), war in 35-30 BC (Helaman 4:5-18), wars in 20 BC due to the robbers (Helaman 11:1-2) and then a severe famine (Helaman 11:2-6).  After the famine, there was a relatively peaceful period from 16 BC until AD 13 when wars started again with the Gadianton robbers (3 Nephi 2:11).  These wars culminated in a battle such that “there never was known so great a slaughter among all the people of Lehi since he left Jerusalem” (3 Nephi 4:11).  At best, this period would have been a time of zero growth until the slaughter in AD 19 when I will estimate that 30% of the people were killed—since it was even more severe than the last.  Ethnic distinctions became blurred during this period since many of the Lamanites joined with the Nephites and many of the Nephites and Lamanites joined with the robbers.  Nevertheless, these estimates more or less reflect the numbers of those who called themselves Nephites.  (98,700; 889,000; 50,400)

11.  AD 19 – AD 34.  I assume that zero growth continued up until the Great Destruction, which took place at the crucifixion of Christ in AD 34 (3 Nephi 8:5-20).  One can only guess how many died in that event.  I have estimated two-thirds.  Later that year, Jesus appeared to 2,500 people at Bountiful (3 Nephi 17:25), who brought back such a large crowd the next day that they had to be divided into 12 groups (3 Nephi 19:1-5).  If the 12 groups were each as large as the one group that Jesus taught the day before, it would represent about 30,000 people.  If that were the case, it may mean that people had gathered to Bountiful from throughout the land prior to Jesus’ appearance.  (I need to reiterate, however, that the 33,000 Nephite survivors I have projected at this time would not include the much larger number of Lamanites.  The people who met the Savior would have been a mixture of the two.)  (32,900; 296,000; 16,800)

12.  AD 34 – 322.  AD 34 to 201 was truly a “Golden Era” of Nephite-Lamanite history during which “they had all things common among them” (4 Nephi 1:3).  One might think that 3% would apply here, but the data seem to indicate that things get off to a slow start after periods of devastation—probably because of the breakup of families, large numbers of sick and wounded, many widows and orphans, famine conditions, etc.  A much lower growth rate likely applies to the first couple of generations.  AD 202 to 231 was a period of division into classes, the formation of other churches, and the progression of wickedness to the point that some tried to kill the disciples of Jesus (4 Nephi 1:30-31).  At the end of this time, they again divided into Lamanites and Nephites (4 Nephi 1:36).  From AD 231 to 322 the situation deteriorated to the point that both the Lamanites and the Nephites were wicked, there were robbers throughout the land again, and Ammoron hid the records to protect them (4 Nephi 1:42-48).  In AD 322 war started by the River Sidon (Mormon 1:8-10), and the disciples were taken away (Mormon 1:13-16).  The growth rate I have used for this overall period is Smith’s 1.25% with a high of 2% and a low of 1%.  (1,180,000; 9,860,000; 578,000)

13.  AD 322 – 385.  This is a period of war in which the Nephite population dropped from what was probably its peak in AD 322 to the 230,000 or so (let’s say plus or minus 10%) who gathered at Cumorah (Mormon 6:10-15).  Part of this decrease may be attributable to desertion to the Lamanites and Gadianton robbers.  (230,000; 253,000; 207,000)

14.  AD 385.  Aside from Moroni2 himself, we are told that the only Nephites that the Lamanites did not kill were the ones who would deny the Christ (Moroni 1:2-3).  These people essentially became Lamanites.  (1; 1; 1)








The peak of Nephite population.  The peak of Nephite population probably occurred at AD 322—just prior to the start of war—as indicated in item 12 above.  Mormon, who was raised north of the narrow neck, described the situation in Zarahemla at this time in Mormon 1:6-7:

“And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.  The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.”


The size of Nephite lands.  We are now prepared to give some thought to how large an area may have been occupied by the Nephite people.  To do this, we shall consider modern-day population densities of several selected countries as shown in Figure 37-4.  The countries selected lie primarily between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator and have a proximity to the seas similar to the lands in Mesoamerica and Central America where many of us believe Lehi’s descendants lived.  The exceptions to these criteria are Mexico and Israel.  Israel is included because it is the place where Lehi and Mulek originated.  Mexico is included in its entirety rather than just the lower states.  The population densities from all these countries (persons per square kilometer) were averaged to determine a reasonable estimate for the Nephite density at its peak.  That average came out to 99 persons/km2.  The inclusion of all of Mexico had the effect of slightly lowering the average.  On the other hand, we could have included the subcontinent of India and increased the average to about 174.  However, the density of 99 translates to a land area of 11,885 km2 for the “Best Guess” population of 1,180,000 and 99,314 km2 for the “Upper Limit” population of 9,860,000.


The “Best Guess” land area of 11,885 km2 is about the size of the state of Maryland or about half the size of Israel, Belize, or El Salvador.  The “Upper Limit” land area of 99,314 km2 is about the size of Virginia or Guatemala.  It appears that we are not looking for a particularly large tract of land for the location of Zarahemla.


Area, km2











Costa Rica




El Salvador








































Sri Lanka




















Figure 37-4: Population Densities of


Selected Countries.[i][ix]


Conclusion.  The population numbers given in this chapter are no more than plausible estimates—since none of them can be determined with certainty.  However, it is highly likely that the real numbers lie somewhere between the upper and lower limits given.  And even though we don’t know the exact numbers, there is little doubt about the trends.  These numbers clearly show that there is no need to assume the addition of indigenous people to the descendants of Lehi in order to satisfy the population requirements of the Book of Mormon.  It is true that local people could have joined them, but the Book of Mormon does not mention it.

We also see from these estimates that a plausible size for the Land of Zarahemla is somewhere between that of the states of Maryland and Virginia.  This information should be useful as we consider various proposals for the location of Zarahemla. 

[i][i] Reynolds, Noel B., ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited, Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1997, Chapter 10 “How Many Nephites? The Book of Mormon at the Bar of Demography.”

[ii][ii] This information (and much more) about Guatemala and 226 other countries and areas of the world can be accessed from the International Database of the U.S. Census Bureau at www.census.gov/ipc/www/idbnew.html.

[iii][iii] Exodus 12:40-41 states that the Children of Israel were in Egypt 430 years.  This was probably from the time Abraham entered Egypt.  In Galatians 3:16-18 we learn that the Law of Moses was given 430 years after the covenant (or promise) was made with Abraham.  A time-line attributing 430 years from the time Jacob entered Egypt until Moses left is not credible, but the 210 years from Jasher fits the facts very well.

[iv][iv] Old Testament: Genesis—2 Samuel (Religion 301) Student Manual, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981, p. 194.

[v][v] Source:  U.S. Census Bureau, International Database; median age calculated by Simiskey.

[vi][vi] Church News, October 12, 1996, “Pioneers Walked ‘Footsteps of Faith’” by Elder Ballard.

[vii][vii] Sorenson, John L., An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996, p. 193.

[viii][viii] Reynolds, Chapter 10.

[ix][ix] The World Factbook 2001 located on the web at www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/index.html.

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