Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Peoples of the Land of Promise – Part I

We have received several comments in the past showing readers’ confusion of the numerous peoples mentioned in the Book of Mormon, who they were, where they came from, and how they were aligned. So we will take a moment out and provide a list of these different peoples for those who are uncertain as to who anyone is in the scriptural record. 
   As stated in the scriptural record, there are some fifteen distinct groups of people mentioned, with four of these obviously playing a primary role: Nephites, Lamaniates, Jaredites, and the people of Zarahemla—the latter called the Mulekites but not so named in the scriptural record. While the Jaredites were entirely alone during their time in the Land of Promise, arriving around 2100 B.C. and annihilated in a final battle sometime around 600 B.C., the other three groups co-existed in the land. In addition, there were five other groups that were of secondary concern; and six more were of lesser prominence.
Initially, there were four brothers, all sons of Lehi, the initial prophet and beginning personage of the record. These four sons were: Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi, the latter, though youngest, ended up being the lineage line through which the blessings of the Priesthood flowed—with the name being applied to those who were: 1) direct descendants of this Nephi, 2) members of the Church and followers of Christ; 3) individuals adopted into the lineage, such as Sam (Nephi’s older brother) and Zoram (Laban’s servant and one who joined Nephi and his brothers in leaving Jerusalem); and 4) those who chose to become Nephites (such as the Mulekites and certain Lamanite groups, such as the converts from which the stripling warriors came, and the children of Amulon).
    These were all called Nephites. Now among these Nephites were sub-divisions, tribes, clans, or whatever sub-heading one wants to give them—they were the Jacobites, Josephites (Nephi’s two younger brothers) and the Zoramites, who kept their separate identity, while Sam’s descendants did not.
    On occasion in the record, someone identifies himself as a “pure Nephite” or as “a descendant of Nephi” as did Mormon (Mormon 1:5), and Amulek through Aminadi (Alma 10:2-3), meaning they were a direct descendant of Lehi, through his son Nephi, to separate themselves within the overall name of “Nephite” for the pure lineage or direct lineage of Nephi. Evidently, this held some matter of importance within the Nephite Nation, or among the direct Nephi lineage line.
    Thus, the name Nephite loosely applies to all who were not Lamanites or those who defected to the Lamanites throughout the scriptural record, though the name Nephite had a much narrower meaning regarding those who were the direct lineage of Nephi, and probably Sam, which lineage Lehi combined as one people just before his death (2 Nephi 4:11).
    It should be kept in mind that because the Land of Promise was "conferred upon none but those who were descendants of Nephi" (Mosiah 25:13), all the lineages that were not Lamanites became known as Nephites, like the Mulekites (which would have included the tribe of Judah and perhaps other Israel tribes that were represented in the original party that brought Mulek to the Land of Promise), so that they could have a claim upon the land for an inheritance under the Hebrew laws and the Law of Moses.
    In addition, it should be noted that the Mulekites were most likely not a single lineage, though Mulek himself would have been of the tribe of Judah—he was the youngest son of Jedekiah, the king of Judah, brother to Jehoiakim and grandson of the righteous king Josiah, the 15th king of Israel, who reigned from 641 to 610 B.C.
    During the fall of Jerusalem, the Babylonian king Nebuchadneezer, killed all of Jedekiah’s sons except Mulek, who as a baby or young child, had been spirited out of Jerusalem before the city and kingdom fell. This group evidently included Palace guards, retainers, servants, and perhaps some assemblage of family, who brought the young Mulek to the Land of Promise, aided by the hand of the Lord (Omni 1:16).
    They were called in the scriptural record “the people of Zarahemla” (Omni 1:14-15), and were, at least in part, the seed of Zedekiah (Helaman 8:21), and those of Mulek, the son of king Zedekiah who came out of Jerusalem with him (Helaman 6:10). They have been referred to by most Latter-day Saints as the Mulekites, and were made up of different families, perhaps even different lineages, though it might be assumed were mostly of the tribe or house of Judah since Mulek at least wa a surviving heir to David’s throne. We are not told who else was involved in the party that followed Lehi’s path to the sea, evidently to also build a ship, and sail to the Land of Promise as Lehi did.  
    The other major group, the Lamanites, on the other hand, were made up of two separate linages: 1) The two older sons of Lehi, named Laman and Lemuel; and 2) the two sons of Ishmael, whose names are never recorded, but referred to in the scriptural record as Ishmaelites. As for Lehi’s second son, Lemuel, nothing much is said of him other than he seems to have been a follower, and sided with Laman in all things, both against their parents, and against Nephi and Sam. Of this secondary tribe, the descendants of Lemuel, nothing is said about their being a separate group other than routine listings among the Nephites' enemies (Jacob 1:13-14; Mormon 1:8-9), although a "city of Lemuel" is mentioned in Alma 23:12.
    It should also be noted that the physical appearance of these Lamanites were different from the Nephites (Jacob 3:5; Alma 55:4, 8; 3 Nephi 2:15). Also, there were a certain amount of Nephites who defected over to, or joined forces with, the Lamanites (Alma 31:8; 43:13; 47:35; Helaman 1:15), and this physical distinction carried over to them (Alma 3:14-15). Though we are not told in the scriptural record what all of these dissenters called themselves, the Zoramite dissenter, Ammoron, bragged that he was “a bold Lamanite" (Alma 54:24).
    On the other hand, The Amalekites and the Amulonits are singled out, not as Lamanites after defecting, but by their own lineage (Alma 21:1), as were Amalekites and Zoramites (Alma 43:6), and also the Amlicites (Alma 2:35; 3:18), as well as Jacob, the Zoramite defector who became a Lamanite but referred to by his original lineage (Alma 52:20).
    Within the Lamanite group as a whole, were the Ishmaelites, the descendants of the two sons of Ishmael (1 Neph 7:6), who sided from the beginning with Laman and Lemuel against Nephi and Sam, and also against their parents. By the time of Ammon (first century B.C.), the Ishmaelites had gained the throne over the entire Land of Nephi, with Lamoni’s father the king over all the land, and his sons, including Lamoni, kings over smaller portions of the Land of Nephi (Alma 20:12).
    Evidently, this Ishmaelite king and his sons of smaller kingdoms, were all culturally loyal Lamanites even though of a minor lineage, for the king echoed the oft-stated Lamanite complaint that Nephi had originally "robbed our fathers" of the right to rule (Alma 20:13). Obviously, four hundred years later, the Ishmaelites were still an important part of the Lamanite forces, and fought in the final battles that eventually ended with the annihilation of the Nephites at Cumorah (Mormon 1:8).
    So, throughout the thousand-year Nephite history of the Land of Promise, these seven groups made up the population landscape: Nephites, made up of the tribes of Nephi (including Nephi, Sam and the Mulekites), Jacob, Joseph and Zoram; and the Lamanites, made up of the tribes of Laman, Lemuel, and the two sons of Ishmael (Jacob 1:13, Mormon 1:8). However, these divisions or tribes disappeared following the appearance of Christ at Bountiful, when there was neither "Lamanites, nor any manner or -ites" (4 Nephi 1:17), which lasted about two hundred years, though in the end of this golden period, the tribal relationship returned, first with the breakoff of Lamanites (4 Nephi 1:20), who sub-divided into Lamanites, Lemuelites and Ishmaelites (4 Nephi 1:38); also the Nephites, who were the true believers of Christ, and within the Nephites were the Jacobites, Josephites, and Zoramites once again (4 Nephi 1:36).
    It might be of interest to note that in any breakdown of Nephites, the Jacobites are always mentioned first among these secondary groups or tribes. This might just be that they followed Nephi in order, as the 12 tribes of Israel are often listed, or it might have been for some other, significant reason. We do know that Jacob was the “head of the Church” or religious leader (Chief Priest) under (king/ruler) Nephi during the latter’s later lifetime. Whether there is significance in that is not stated, though we find that it was Jacob’s descendants who maintained the spiritual record, the small Plates of Nephi, while the kings, the descendants of Nephi, maintained the large plates that contained a more historical record.
    Following Jacob, Joseph is then listed, again, probably with no other reason than he was next in chronological order after Nephi and Jacob. He always proceeds Zoram, who was not literally a descendant of Lehi and, therefore, would have been listed after Lehi’s direct descendants in any Hebrew chronology.
(See the next post, “The Peoples of the Land of Promise – Part II,” for this continuing list of the people mentioned in the scriptural record)


  1. In ancient times many countries named their children after the grandparents. Since Laman was the oldest in the family it is quite possible that Laman was named after the the father of Lehi. A little less likely, he was the father of Sariah.

  2. An interesting point. Another reason why I wish we had those 116 pages that Martin Harris lost in 1828, and that Joseph Smith said were the Book of Lehi.
    If Nephi followed his father's method of writing his history and naming his father (1 Nephi 1:4) and mother (1 Nephi 2:5), then it would seem likely that Lehi named his parents. Only Joseph and Martin Harris would know that.