Evidence #96 | September 19, 2020

Ether’s Genealogy

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Scripture Central


Each name given in a lengthy genealogical list in Ether 1 is discussed in precisely reverse order throughout the rest of the book. This dynastic history, which has parallels with king lists from ancient America and the ancient Near East, is believably ancient and remarkably consistent.
Infographic by Book of Mormon Central.

The opening chapter of the book of Ether contains a lengthy genealogical list of Ether’s ancestors, most of whom were kings. As recognized by literary scholar Grant Hardy, this list provides a framework for the rest of the book, which discusses each of the list’s names in exact reverse order.1 For example, Jared is the last name on the list (Ether 1:32), and the first one mentioned in the narrative (v. 33). This pattern continues throughout the entire book,2 never missing a name or getting them out of order, despite all the additional names of people and places in between.

The list in Ether 1 is similar to the king lists attested in the ancient Near East and to dynastic histories found in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Comparable to the lengthy list in Ether 1, a Hittite king list is 30 names long,3 and an example from the ancient Maya has 33 names.4 Genealogies in the Bible usually start at the beginning and document descendants until arriving in the present.5 However, king lists in reverse chronological order, called retrograde king lists, are often found in the ancient Near East and may have been the style of king list adopted by the Jaredites.6 Mesoamerican dynastic histories also usually start with the most recent ruler and then trace the lineage backward through their ancestors.7

An Ancient Sumerian king list.

Hardy described the retrograde list in Ether as a “striking example of narrative complexity,” concluding that it would have required “quite a feat of memory” to compose the record on the fly.8 If Joseph Smith were the author—rather than the text’s divinely-aided translator—he would have been faced with the task of producing each of the names on this list in reverse sequential order without reviewing the original list and without relying on any notes or outline to aid his memory.9

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Does the Book of Ether Begin with Such a Long Genealogy? (Ether 1:18),” KnoWhy 235 (November 21, 2016).

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 198–218.

Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 223.

See Appendix

See Appendix

The Genealogy from Jared to Ether


Order of Occurrence on the Initial King List – Ether Back to Jared

Order of First Occurrence in the Narrative History – Jared down to Ether


1. (1:6)

30. (11:23)


2. (1:6)

29. (11:18)


3. (1:7)

28. (11:14)


4. (1:8)

27. (11:11)


5. (1:9)

26. (11:10)


6. (1:10)

25. (11:9)


7. (1:11)

24. (11:4)


8. (1:12)

23. (10:31)


9. (1:13)

22. (10:31)


10. (1:14)

21. (10:31)


11. (1:15)

20. (10:31)


12. (1:16)

19. (10:31)


13. (1:16)

18. (10:29)


14. (1:17)

17. (10:18)


15. (1:18)

16. (10:17)


16. (1:19)

15. (10:16)


17. (1:20)

14. (10:14)


18. (1:21)

13. (10:13)


19. (1:22)

12. (10:9)


20. (1:23)

11. (10:4)


21. (1:24)

10. (10:1)


22. (1:25)

9. (9:25)


23. (1:26)

8. (9:25)


24. (1:27)

7. (9:21)


25. (1:28)

6. (9:14)


26. (1:29)

5. (8:1)


27. (1:30)

4. (7:7)


28. (1:31)

3. (7:3)


29. (1:32)

2. (6:14)


30. (1:32)

1. (1:33)


  • 1 Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 223.
  • 2 While the names of the characters on the list are discussed throughout the entire book, the genealogical relationships are established between chapters 1 and 11, which is approximately 30 pages of text in the 2013 edition of the Book of Mormon.
  • 3 Bernard Goldman, The Ancient Arts of Western and Central Asia: A Guide to the Literature (Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1991), 249.
  • 4 Ruth J. Krochock, “Written Evidence,” in Handbook to Life in the Ancient Maya World (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 286. Evidence for such histories does not yet date back to Jaredite times, but this may be due to the limited amount of writing recovered from Jaredite times. There is evidence for writing spreading across Mesoamerica between 900 and 500 BC, so it is plausible that such a list could have been written in (late) Jaredite times. See Stephen D. Houston, “Writing in Early Mesoamerica,” in The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process, ed. Stephen D. Houston (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 284. See also John Justeson, “Early Mesoamerican Writing Systems,” in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, ed. Deborah L. Nichols and Christopher A. Pool (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012), 830–831; Javier Urcid, “Scribal Traditions from Highland Mesoamerica (300–1000 AD),” in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology, 855. It is also important to note that Moroni lived in the late fourth century (early Classic period), and as the text’s abridger, he could possibly have imposed this structure on the record.
  • 5 See Genesis 5:3–32 or 1 Chronicles 1–9 for classic examples of this style. Matthew 1 shows a similar style.
  • 6 See K. Lawson Younger Jr., “Ugaritic King List (1.104)”, in The Context of Scripture, 3 vols., ed. William W. Halo (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 1:356n.1.
  • 7 See Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 6:164. For numerous examples, see Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube, Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, 2nd edition (London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 2008), 26–27, 32–4, 37–40, 48, 52, 70–72, 162, 172–173.
  • 8 Grant Hardy, ed., The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2003), xiii.
  • 9 This claim is based on evidence from the witnesses of the translation. See John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Timing of the Translation of the Book of Mormon,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, ed. John W. Welch, 2nd edition (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2017), 143, 168; Daniel C. Peterson, “Editor’s Introduction—Not So Easily Dismissed: Some Facts for Which Counterexplanations of the Book of Mormon Will Need to Account,” FARMS Review 17, no. 2 (2005): xiii–xvi; Royal Skousen, “How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 7, no. 1 (1998): 24. 
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Ether's Genealogy
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