The Book of Mormon and the Year-Rite

The Book of Mormon and the Year-Rite

In the writer's opinion,...the most convincing evidence yet brought forth for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon [is the matter of the year-rite]. Very likely the reader will be far from sharing this view, since the force of the evidence is cumulative and is based on extensive comparative studies which cannot be fully presented here. Still the evidence is so good, and can be so thoroughly tested, that we present it here for the benefit of the reader who wishes to pursue the subject further. Since Gressmann, Jeremias, Mowinckel, and many others began their studies at the start of the century, a vast literature on the subject of the Great Assembly at the New Year and the peculiar and complex rites performed on that occasion has been brought forth. Yet nowhere can one find a fuller description of that institution and its rites than in the Book of Mormon. Since "patternism" (as the awareness of a single universal pattern for all ancient year-rites is now being called) is a discovery of the past thirty years, the fact that the now familiar pattern of ritual turns up in a book first published in 1830 is an extremely stimulating one. For it is plain that Mosiah's account of the Great Year Rite among the Nephites is accurate in every detail, as can be checked by other year-rites throughout the world....

Years ago [I, (Hugh Nibley)] in the ignorance of youth wrote a "doctoral dissertation" on the religious background and origin of the great Roman games. Starting from the well-known fact that all Roman festivals are but the repetition of a single great central rite, he was able to show that the same great central rite and the same typical national festival was to be discovered among half a dozen widely scattered cultures of the ancient world. He has developed this theme through the years in a number of articles and papers read to yawning societies. And all the time it never occurred to him for a moment that the subject had any bearing whatsoever on the Book of Mormon! Yet there can be no doubt at all that in the Book of Mosiah we have a long and complex description of a typical national assembly in the antique pattern. The king who ordered the rites was steeped in the lore of the Old World king-cult, and as he takes up each aspect of the rites of the Great Assembly point by point he gives it a new slant, a genuinely religious interpretation, but with all due respect to established forms. Our own suspicion is that this is not a new slant at all, but the genuine and original meaning of a vast and complex ritual cycle whose origin has never been explained—it all goes back in the beginning to the gospel of redemption. Were it not for the remarkable commentaries of Benjamin, we would never have known about the great year-rites among the Nephites where, as in the rest of the world, they were taken for granted.

The knowledge of the year-drama and the Great Assembly has been brought forth piece by piece in the present generation. One by one the thirty-odd details noted in the course of our discussion have been brought to light and associated in a single grandiose institution of the royal assembly or coronation at the New Year, an institution now attested in virtually every country of the ancient world.31 There is no better description of the event in any single ritual text than is found in the Book of Mosiah.[1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), Chapter 23, references silently removed—consult original for citations.