Another text that contains instructive parallels to the Book of Mormon is the Narrative of Zosimus, an early Christian document widely circulated in the first centuries AD that was listed in the ninth-century canon of Nicephorous with apocryphal works that were to be discarded.16 The traditions upon which this narrative is based most likely predate the birth of Christianity and are reflective of more ancient Jewish thought.17 John W. Welch has demonstrated that the Zosimus narrative parallels the story of Lehi and Nephi in {{s|1|Nephi|in several key aspects.18 On a general level, the text describes a righteous group that left Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah, crossed the ocean, and arrived in a promised land. This striking initial connection to the Book of Mormon is further continued in many details of the Zosimus narrative, which suggests that both texts grew out of a common historical and cultural heritage.

History tells us nothing about Zosimus. In the narrative he is a righteous man who receives an angelic visitation in response to prayer. The angel informs him that he will be taken to a land of blessedness. Zosimus wanders without guidance through a wilderness and, though exhausted, arrives at the land of blessedness through prayer and divine intervention. He then encounters an "unfathomable river of water covered by an impenetrable cloud of darkness," which he crosses by grabbing the branches of a tree.19 Reminiscent of the tree of life, the beautiful and fruit-laden tree next to a fountain of water gives nourishment to Zosimus, who then converses with an angelic escort who, after inquiring what he wants, allows him to see a vision of the Son of God.

After the vision, Zosimus is introduced to a gathering of the righteous sons of God, who share with him their history written upon stone plates. According to this history, these righteous sons of God were led from Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah to this paradise on account of their righteousness. To Zosimus they stress the ideals of prayer and chastity and show him a book through which Zosimus learns that the inhabitants of Jerusalem, though wicked, will be shown mercy by God. Zosimus then returns from the land of blessedness to the world.

The parallels between Zosimus's journey and Lehi's and Nephi's vision of the tree of life—including the emphasis on prayer and faith, wandering through a dark and dreary wilderness, a river, a great mist, the tree of life next to the fountain of living waters, the angelic escort, the interrogation of desires, and the vision of the Son of God—are numerous and significant. Likewise, the intriguing similarities between the exodus of Lehi's family from Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah and Zosimus's account of the history of the sons of God in the land of blessedness also strongly suggest that the two texts are connected in some significant manner. But the connection would seem to be an ancient one, as there is no evidence that the Zosimus narrative was available in English until decades after the publication of the Book of Mormon.20

Although the exact connection between the Narrative of Zosimus and the Book of Mormon will likely remain obscured by the passage of time, the similarities appear too extensive to explain by an appeal to mere coincidence. At the very least, Joseph Smith made a bold, bald assertion by claiming that Jesus had alluded to the Nephites—Israelites separated from the main body of Jews in Jerusalem at the time it was destroyed by the Babylonians and still living across the ocean—when he told his disciples in the Old World about the existence of "other sheep" whom he must also visit and bring (see John 10:16; {{s|3|Nephi|15:16–17). Little could the young translator have dreamed that a text such as the Narrative of Zosimus would later surface, preserving just such a belief among early Palestinian Christians. [1]


  1. Noel B. Reynolds, "By Objective Measures: Old Wine in New Bottles," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 6, references silently removed—consult original for citations.