The Book of Mormon 6/18
A long time ago, I read a book called The Gentile Times Reconsidered by Carl Olof Jonsson. It was about how Biblical, archaeological, and astronomical evidence pointed to 587 BCE as the date for the destruction of the Jewish temple rather than 607 BCE, which is when the Jehovah's Witnesses date it. The book pointed out many problems with Jehovah's Witness chronology.
The BOM also has a specific chronology, so I was curious how it would work out. The BOM repeatedly says that Jesus will be born 600 years after Lehi left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 10:4, 2 Nephi 25:19, etc.). Lehi left Jerusalem in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (1 Nephi 1:4, 1 Nephi 2:2-4, etc.). That means Jesus should be born 600 years after the 1st year of Zedekiah.
The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the 11th year of Zedekiah, which was the 19th year of Nebachadnezzar (2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39; Jeremiah 52). That happened in 587 BCE, which means that Lehi left Jermusalem in 598 BCE.
If Lehi left Jerusalem in 598 BCE, that means Jesus was born in 3 CE.
But the problem is that according to Matthew 2, King Herod was still alive when Jesus was born. Herod died in 4 BCE, which means Jesus had to have been born in 4 BCE or earlier.
It seems like the only way to make the BOM chronology work is to argue for a different date than 587 BCE for the destruction of the temple, but that date is supported by some pretty strong evidence, which you can read about in Carl O. Jonsson's book. Another way would be to argue for a different date for King Herod's death. I've read (I can't remember where) that some people date Herod's death as late as 1 BCE, but there seems to be a strong consensus in favour of the 4 BCE date.
The footnotes in my copy of the BOM say that Lehi left Jerusalem in 600 BCE, and that Jesus was born in 1 CE. That would put the destruction of the Temple in 589 BCE, and the death of Herod no earlier than 1 CE.
I brought this up in the comment section of this blog and Kevin Winters directed me to a FARMS article called "The Jewish/Nephite Lunar Calender," by Randall P. Spackman, which addressed the points I raised. The rest of what follows is just cut and paste from my response to the article.
The article was actually kind of surprising to me because in the end, the author claimed to have solved one problem, but in doing so, created another--the problem of whether Lehi left Jerusalem in the 1st year of Zedekiah, as Mormon said in the heading of 3 Nephi, or whether he left between 588 and 587 BCE, as the author argued (being the 10th or 11th year of Zedekiah). To deal with THAT problem, the author quoted the preface to the BOM, which says, "And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ."
That is a really interesting response. It sounds like the author is saying in that section that Mormon made a mistake. There's a contradiction in the BOM about when Lehi left Jerusalem. But if that's the case, then why go through this long explanation, trying to reconcile the 600 year prophecy? Why not just begin with this claim about human error and avoid the whole thing?
This "human error" solution creates another problem, too. The introduction of the BOM quotes Joseph Smith as saying that "the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth." If the BOM is fallible, then there isn't an infallible book on earth--neither the Bible nor the BOM. We might as well give up worrying about contradictions and chalk them up to human error.
[I discovered later that Mormons do not subscribe to inerrancy, neither for the Bible, nor for the Book of Mormon. Mormon 8:12 says, "And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these."]
I admit that the author's solution works. I did the math, and, indeed, 600 lunar years (without adding a 13th month every three or so years) is equal to about 582 solar years, so 600 lunar years before 5 BC is 587 BC.
But I am highly skeptical that if this story were true, the Nephites, out of ignorance, would've failed to add the 13th month every 3 or so years. After all, they had every reason the Mesoamericans, Hebrews, and Egyptians had to notice a problem--harvests and festivals, especially. And living in the Hebrew/Egyptian world for much longer than 3 years before leaving like they did, and being acquainted with their calender, surely they would've known about the 13th month.
But if that's the case, then why not just say these are "the mistakes of men" and live with it?