Guest Post: Were the wise men Nephites (and Lamanites)?

This is something my friend Mike M. put together. He is a serious social scientist who says that I can just describe this as the “crazy ramblings of some kook you knew in Rexburg.” While I knew many kooks in Rexburg, I had not considered Mike to be one. Anyways, here is something fun for Christmas:

Were the wise men Nephites (and Lamanites)?

By Mike M.

Here’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while . . .

Who were the “wise men” mentioned briefly in Matthew Chapter Two? There are many
plausible theories, but I would like to suggest a particularly intriguing possibility: perhaps the wise men were descendents of Lehi who travelled to Jerusalem from the western hemisphere.

The Book of Mormon offers some tantalizing clues to support such a notion. First, Lehi’s posterity in the New World had been looking forward to the coming of Christ for centuries. It makes sense that representatives from a righteous branch of the House of Israel would be allowed to witness the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah.

Nephite and/or Lamanite representatives also likely had the means to return to Jerusalem.

Approximately fifty years before the birth of Christ, Hagoth was building “exceedingly large ships” and sailing the “west sea” with large numbers of people (Alma 63: 5). And with the Brass Plates and the records of Lehi and Nephi, these representatives would have had some knowledge of Old World geography

Interestingly, the star that the wise men followed is not mentioned anywhere else in the Old or New Testaments. But righteous Nephites and Lamanites in the New World had been looking for just such a sign of Christ’s birth as a result of Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecies.

The moniker “wise men” is also intriguing. Approximately two years before the Savior’s birth, we read in Helaman 16: 14 that “. . . angels did appear unto men, wise men, and did declare unto them glad tidings of great joy; thus in this year the scriptures began to be fulfilled.”

Finally, in terms of the gifts presented to Jesus, we know from the Book of Mormon that gold was had among the Nephites and Lamanites. And the travelers could have acquired frankincense and myrrh after their arrival in the Old World, particularly of they attempted to retrace the route of Lehi through Arabia.

But who, specifically, among the Nephites and Lamanites might have made such a trek back to the land of their forefathers? One possibility is Nephi (son of Helaman, father of the Nephi who was present at the time of Christ’s visit to the New World). Nephi’s ministry spanned the two decades before Christ’s birth. Nephi testified valiantly of the coming Messiah, and the Lord granted him the sealing power as a result of his righteousness and faithfulness (Helaman 10: 4, 5). Yet Nephi was not present when the long-awaited sign of Christ’s birth finally came. 3 Nephi 1: 2 states: “And Nephi, the son of Helaman, had departed out of the land of Zarahemla, giving charge unto his son Nephi, who was his eldest son, concerning the plates of brass, and all the records which had been kept, and all those things which had been kept sacred from the departure of Lehi out of Jerusalem.” Then in the next verse Mormon adds cryptically that Nephi “departed out of the land, and whither he went, no man knoweth . . .” Nephi’s disappearance is so noteworthy that Mormon mentions it again in the next chapter: “And Nephi, who was the father of Nephi, who had the charge of the records, did not return to the land of Zarahemla, and could nowhere be found in all the land” (3 Nephi 2: 9).

A possible traveling companion of Nephi was Samuel the Lamanite. Following Samuel’s bold declarations upon the walls of Zarahemla (declarations which included the signs of Christ’s birth), he “cast himself down from the wall, and did flee out of their lands” (Helaman 16: 7).

Mormon indicates that Samuel began to preach and prophecy among his own people, but interestingly “. . . he was never heard of more among the Nephites . . . ” (Helaman 16: 8).

It seems appropriate that Nephi and Samuel, two prophets who had faithfully testified of the coming Christ in the years before his birth (and perhaps a few other travelling companions), would be permitted to journey back the “land of Jerusalem” to personally witness the young Jesus.

I don’t claim to know that this actually happened and I may be way off, but it’s fun to consider the possibility that the wise men came from the Americas.

17 Replies to “Guest Post: Were the wise men Nephites (and Lamanites)?”

  1. And with the Brass Plates and the records of Lehi and Nephi, these representatives would have had some knowledge of Old World geography

    one trip across the Pacific does not “knowledge of Old World geography” make. The Israelites of 600 BC did not have maps of the world. Certainly they had maps of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, but beyond that, they just had no need for any other maps. Thus Nephi most definitely did not have any other maps with him (if he even took any maps, which there is no indication that he did). Secondly, Nephi was no seafarer. The account he wrote gives no indication he had any idea of seafaring navigation. It is highly doubtful he created a map, particularly one that would be exact enough to replicate the trip in the reverse across thousands of miles of open sea where, because it is such a long distance, the compass starts to shift (play around with Google Earth and you’ll see what I mean). Granted, “these representatives” could have been led of the Lord all the way back just to say hi to the baby Jesus, even though they were promised that Jesus would eventually visit them a mere 34 years later. That’s some serious lack of patience on “these representatives!”

  2. Just gotta add one more comment. I think we’re overplaying the importance of these “wise men.” In reading the account, it seems that the only reason Matthew has the story in is because it describes what made Herod kill all the under-2 boys in Palestine. Essentially, for Matthew, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Making them be Nephites on a 12,000 mile trek across the world is a pretty big deal! Surely God would have intended for these Nephites to make it back to testify that they had seen Jesus. But then that opens a whole can of worms, because others would want to start seeing how they could get across the impassable Pacific. Nephi’s ship, and Nephi’s journey is truly a miraculous, wondrous journey that has not been duplicated until modern technology allowed us to master this world’s laws of physics.

    I believe God intended the Nephites to never come in contact with the Old World again.

  3. I do not think that they were Nephites. I agree with Dan when he says that we are placing too much importance as to the identity of these men.

  4. “it seems that the only reason Matthew has the story in is because it describes what made Herod kill all the under-2 boys in Palestine.”

    I can agree with much of Dan’s comments, but this part in particular seems too strong. The “only” reason? There are additional interesting points Matthew might be making here, such as: Jesus is Lord of all, not just the Jews; outsiders recognized his deity, but his own did not; the gifts appropriately reflect Jesus’ various roles; perhaps others.

  5. Dan, my guess is that Mike M is aware of these limitations. His PhD is in cultural geography.

    This is more of a fantasy-style “What if?” I think it is more in the spirit of the enchanted Christmas idea that Sheldon posted about earlier.

  6. Just as another highly implausible but fun consideration, it’s curious that many nativities with the wise men depict at least one of them as dark-skinned. Samuel? Anyway, fun post, and I disagree with Dan that the only reason the wise men were mentioned is so that Matthew could discuss Herod’s atrocity and the family’s ensuing flight. If that was the case, why mention the worshipping and giving of gifts? Isn’t Matthew trying to teach us something about the universally encompassing gospel, a very radical idea for the Jews of that time-period? As a testament of Jesus Christ, wouldn’t it be significant to include the visit of foreign emissaries to acknowledge the birth of the Savior and then return to their own lands and testify of him? These things seem like a much more significant message to convey than Herod’s wickedness and Joseph’s family’s departure.

  7. It is an interesting theory. The question is, if this is true, then to whom did the go to testify? Their mission was one of bearing witness and we are told by Matthew that they departed a different way to their own country. I think this is clearly not the Americas again, so the question is: To whom did they testify of Jesus’ birth?

    I suppose that one possible answer (which adds a speculation upon speculation – is that like line upon line…?) is that they could have been going to testify to the 10 Lost Tribes. We know that there have been missions sent to preach the Gospel among them and that their records will come forth at a later stage… Wouldn’t it be interesting if Nephi, Samuel (and Lehi the brother of Nephi as is proposed by Jeff Holt in “From the East”) had testified of this among those lost tribes?

  8. Was this a joke I’m not getting?

    Nephi’s ship, and Nephi’s journey is truly a miraculous, wondrous journey that has not been duplicated until modern technology allowed us to master this world’s laws of physics.

    There were at least three major transoceanic voyages in the Book of Mormon. Sailors from other cultures (Chinese, Scandinavian) did similar things before the Spanish/Portuguese. And the shipbuilders/sailors at the time of Columbus certainly had not “mastered the laws of physics”. I wouldn’t even say that about contemporary humanity.

    Nearly all of the scriptures give us very limited accounts of events from the perspectives of single observers. What percentage of the travels, learning, and travails of God’s children do they tell us about? 1% of 1%?…probably much less. What percentage of the prophets that have been called are even mentioned? It’s perfectly in keeping with this that three (or however many) prophets linking up to go see the newborn savior wouldn’t be mentioned anywhere. This would likely have been a personal reward for each of them, which would thus have nothing to do with the salvation of the rest of us, so why mention it?

    I think it’s obvious that Nephi was one of those wise men. Who else would it be? Some pagan astronomers? Come on.

  9. I can only imagine that if Nephi was going to go to the old world to see the Savior, that would have been something mentioned…but instead, we get the words which you mentioned…Nephi “departed out of the land, and whither he went, no man knoweth. It is not reasonable to think that someone who testified of Christ’s coming would “sneak” out to see him and not tell anyone. Prophets do not hide from such declarations of testimony.

  10. Some of the most precious sections of the Book of Mormon have remained sealed until we’re prepared for them. We have a pretty small view of the Book of Mormon to be making judgments about whether something could or could not have happened with much certainty.

  11. Ethan,

    That would depend on what is supposed to be in the sealed portion. According to the only place where Mormon talks about the sealed portion, in 3 Nephi 26, it seems he is referring to the teachings Jesus taught the Nephites when he visited them.

    I should add one more thought to my original comments. I have no problem with thinking outside the box, with trying to see things beyond what we know. But if we’re going to do this, we must account for everything, control all the variables, so that way when we posit something, it stands on sound logic.

  12. I confess to being skeptical about Book of Mormon historicity, but the more general claim that there was some sort of back and forth contact between the Nephites and the Old World would solve a few problems, such as the appearance of Pauline phrases, Deutero-Isaiah, and Greek names. (Hugh Nibley dealt with the question of Greek names, but I wasn’t convinced by his response.)

    As for the wisemen, I wonder if it’s a piece of a larger tradition now lost to us. In the first epistle of Clement, the author refers to the Phoenix as typifying the resurrection. He says that it originates in Arabia where it builds its nest using frankincense and myrrh…

  13. One thought to consider is priesthood keys. The Savior would need to receive them by the laying on of hands as he was baptized by John the Baptist. Lehi had the sealing keys which would be needed. I’m not sure who in the old world would have them.

  14. First: we Konow that Elijah gave the sealing keys at the mount of tranfiguration just like he did to Joseph Smith in Kirtland Second: If the account of Nephi Or Samuel visiting the Christ Child were in there That Means that they would have had to come back to tell their story making a lyer of Mormon who said they were never heard of again Third: To say that they were sent to tetify because they were A tribe of israel would not a Representative of the other tribes be there also.

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