I Have a Question

Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

I Have a Question

I have heard that the sizes of the Nephite and Lamanite populations indicated in the Book of Mormon do not make sense. What do we know about their numbers?

John L. Sorenson, professor of anthropology, emeritus, Brigham Young University, and Gospel Doctrine teacher, Edgemont Seventh Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont South Stake. Discussions of this topic tend to one extreme or the other. Some people have made invalid assumptions about possible rates of natural increase among Lehi’s descendants. For example, growth rates derived from modern population studies are useless if they refer to conditions unlike those prevailing in Book of Mormon times. We have no way of knowing whether the newcomers had trouble adapting to the climate and new foods. Nor do we know what diseases afflicted the people at that time. On the other hand, we get nowhere by speculating on unknowable things like a doubling of population every generation among the early immigrants.

Although the Book of Mormon is silent on population growth and decline as such, it does provide glimpses of how the numbers were growing. For example, the data on armies and battle casualties indicate quite consistent growth.

An obvious puzzle is how the Lamanites could have become so much more numerous than the Nephites. The early Lamanites are pictured as being dependent on hunting; the Nephites, on farming. (See 2 Ne. 5:11, 24.) Although it is a certain rule in population studies that hunting groups cannot support nearly as many people as can farmers, more than two hundred years later the Nephite record says the Lamanites were “exceedingly more numerous” (Jarom 1:6) than the Nephites, and that pattern continues all along. Simple natural increase by births cannot account for this difference.

The same problem surfaces in Alma 43:14 where we learn that the Amulonites were “as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites.” And yet the Amulonites had begun less than seventy years earlier when Noah’s priests carried off Lamanite women to be their wives. (See Mosiah 20.)

The answers to such puzzles must lie in situations beyond normal population growth. In this regard, the case of the early Nephites is helpful. Mosiah, father of Benjamin, fled the land of Nephi sometime before 200 B.C. with “as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord.” (Omni 1:13.) The record implies that only a part of the Nephites existing at that time went with Mosiah to Zarahemla.

Jarom 1:13 had already mentioned dissensions from the Nephites, no later than 360 B.C. The dissenters, like later ones, could have settled among the Lamanites, swelling their numbers while reducing the size of the Nephite group. Also, after Mosiah’s refugees went to Zarahemla, some of the Nephites left behind may have joined the Lamanites, for no further mention is made of them (unless they became the Amalekites, referred to in Alma 43:13 as dissenters but having an unexplained origin).

Archaeological evidence from all New World areas where the early Nephites and Lamanites could have lived makes clear that peoples who descended from the Jaredite era also lived during the time of Lehi’s descendants. Given Laman and Lemuel’s ambition to rule, perhaps they or their descendants ruled over and absorbed such “natives.” Nephite record keepers perhaps did not know the details of that process, but that is the best explanation that I know of for the remarkable growth in the number of Lamanites.

The case of the numerous Amulonites can be explained on similar grounds—taking control over a resident population.

An interesting note is that some such natives might have lived with or near the early Nephites. Notice that when Sherem “came … among the people of Nephi” (within the lifetime of Jacob, Lehi’s son), he “sought much opportunity” to meet Jacob. (See Jacob 7:1–3.) Yet, the entire population descended from the original Nephites could not have exceeded a hundred adults by that time. In such a tiny tribe, why had Sherem not already met Jacob—unless he was from a foreign group that had come under the rule of the Nephite king?

These cases teach us that there is simply not enough information in the scriptural record to construct a clear picture of Nephite and Lamanite population sizes over time. Nor can we estimate with surety how war, famine, dissensions, contentions, and other factors affected population growth. In short, our presently limited record discourages any attempt to interpret Nephite or Lamanite population history.

Yet there is no reason to question the population numbers in the Book of Mormon. They are all believable once we recognize some of the historical and biological factors that could have been involved.

What were the ages of Helaman’s “stripling warriors”?

John A. Tvedtnes, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Hunter Thirty-fifth Ward, Salt Lake Hunter Central Stake. I had long supposed that Helaman’s “stripling” Ammonite warriors were roughly twenty years old—the minimum age for Israelite soldiers according to the law of Moses. (See Num. 1:3.) I think the Book of Mormon may provide a way to test this idea.

The parents of Helaman’s warriors had been converted to the gospel of Christ through the missionary labors of Ammon and his brothers. Soon after swearing to never use their weapons again, the defenseless Lamanite converts were attacked by loyalist Lamanites opposed to the Nephite religion. (See Alma 24:20.) As a result, many of the “people of Ammon” (also known as “Anti-Nephi-Lehis”) were killed. However, a large number of Lamanites were so struck by their countrymen’s faith that they, too, laid down their weapons.

To avenge the deaths of their converted countrymen whom they had slain, the remaining Lamanites fixed their attention on the Nephites and destroyed the city of Ammonihah in the eleventh year of the reign of the judges. (See Alma 16:1–3, 9; Alma 25:2.) That event and the people of Ammon’s oath of pacifism (see Alma 24:18) 1 appear so close together in the scriptural record that it seems likely that the oath was taken that same year. That covenant would probably have excluded children under age eight if the Nephites considered them to be under the age of accountability. (See D&C 68:25.)

The people of Ammon fled to Nephite territory and settled in the land of Jershon. (See Alma 28:1.) Honoring their oath, they were not able to assist the Nephites in the ensuing war against the Lamanites. Ten years later, in the twenty-fifth year of the reign of the judges, another war broke out. (See Alma 51:1, 9.) The following year, some two thousand young men from the Ammonite group marched to war under command of the high priest Helaman. (See Alma 56:9.) These “stripling warriors” 2 , it seems, could have ranged in age from approximately twenty (going by the Mosaic rule) to approximately twenty-two (those who could have been around age seven when the oath was taken) in the twenty-sixth year of the judges.

Three years later, sixty more young men from the land of Jershon joined ranks with their comrades (see Alma 57:6), perhaps having recently qualified by age for military service. Thus, in the thirtieth year, when Helaman wrote his long epistle to Moroni (see Alma 56:1), it seems possible that his youngest soldiers perhaps were age twenty-one, and his eldest, twenty-six.


  1.   1.

    Alma 23:7 mentions weapons buried by the converted Lamanites, but without an oath. The pacifist oath was made after the conversion of several cities. (See Alma 23:8–13.)

  2.   2.

    These young Ammonites suggest the term necarîm (“young men”) of the Bible, a Semitic title appearing in Egyptian records most often in a military context.

How can a person maintain good and appropriate work relationships with members of the opposite sex?

Victor L. Brown, Jr., president, Citrus Heights California Stake. Experience suggests there are two grand, eternal principles that, if obeyed, will permit us to enjoy friendships at work and be true to our covenants. First, there is opposition in all things; second, the works of righteousness are done in light. These are positive, freeing principles.

We should not fear office friendships as if they are the seedbed of wickedness. But we must ever remember that there is, according to the law of opposition, potential for good or bad in any association, whether in the home or the workplace or at church.

Without exception, when married individuals have come to me as their bishop or stake president to confess that they have fallen in love with someone at work, we have been able to retrace the trail of their fateful choices. Each crossroad and each deadly decision is clearly marked in retrospect. When these individuals were being enticed by opposing influences, they made their decisions in darkness—often literally, always figuratively.

People who choose to develop good, wholesome friendships conduct their activities in the light. Open and aboveboard, they “abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thes. 5:22.) They remember that any association contains the seeds of righteousness or wickedness, according to the choices of the people involved.

Within the ever-present realities of opposition and light, there are some basic guidelines to developing good workplace friendships. It may prove useful to review several kinds of friendships within the context of the higher principles already mentioned.

There are generally three types of relationships involving members of the opposite sex: civil, friendly, and affectionate. A civil relationship is one of courtesy, formality, and purposeful contacts. We interact according to clearly understood rules of propriety. For example, in the workplace our deportment is cordial and businesslike as we discuss the task at hand, such as selling the company’s product or service. We exchange pleasantries and yet maintain an expected professional distance and demeanor.

Naturally, some degree of sociability evolves among colleagues. But when normal sociability goes beyond civility and the courtesies appropriate to civility, the relationship becomes friendship. We seek the other person’s company and talk of many things. This is not wrong in itself, especially if both parties are single. For married individuals, however, a friendship with a member of the opposite sex must be carefully kept within proper emotional, social, and spiritual limits. The friendship must never exclude one or the other’s spouse or entail conversation and actions bordering on the affectionate level. If you are reluctant to tell your spouse about your “friend,” you are in danger of violating your covenants.

Affectionate associations are not appropriate at work, even when the two parties are single. Anyone who tries to justify affectionate conversations, private get-togethers, or touching the other person as essential to a better work relationship is deceiving himself or herself. And in today’s legal climate, such actions may make a person vulnerable to charges of sexual harassment.

How, then, do we maintain good and true associations at work? The safest way is to keep them civil, to remember our covenants of fidelity and purity, and to heed the promptings of the Spirit. (See 2 Ne. 32:5; Moro. 7:19.) Friendships, even appropriate ones, should remain fully in the light and, if we are married, should include our loved ones.