Evidence #447 | May 15, 2024

Narrative of Zosimus

Post contributed by


Scripture Central


The Book of Mormon has numerous parallels with an ancient text known as the Narrative of Zosimus. These similarities point to shared cultural, literary, and religious contexts in the ancient world.

Apocryphal Literature

The Book of Mormon sometimes resembles scripture-like documents from the ancient world that aren’t considered canonical by most traditions. Such works, often referred to as apocrypha or pseudepigrapha, were generally produced long after the original biblical texts, but they are also ancient themselves and represent authentically ancient literary styles and traditions. They therefore provide a valuable corpus for literary comparison.1 Especially significant are parallels between the Book of Mormon and apocryphal works which were not available in English at the time of the Book of Mormon’s translation.2

The Narrative of Zosimus

One such apocryphal work is the Narrative of Zosimus (also known as the History of the Rechabites), which has been extensively compared to the Book of Mormon by John W. Welch.3 The text recounts how a holy man named Zosimus was divinely transported to a sacred island to learn the righteous way of life of the Rechabites. This group had once lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah and was led to the same island by an angel.

The story was anciently translated into many languages and expanded in various ways, though the two primary versions are preserved in Syriac and Greek.4 Though these texts seem to have been expanded by Christians in later centuries, scholars suggest that the original was a Jewish version written in Hebrew in the first few centuries AD.5 The text was not available in English until the late nineteenth century, long after the translation of the Book of Mormon.6

Example of writing in Syriac (in this instance from the Gospel of Matthew, from the Sinaiticus manuscript). Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

The Narrative of Zosimus was influenced by a few biblical and extrabiblical themes and ideas, which may affect how it relates to the Book of Mormon. These include (1) the story of the Rechabites in the Bible,7 (2) the biblical conception of Eden,8 (3) the genre of apocalyptic literature, (4) a preoccupation in apocryphal literature with the location of the lost ten tribes,9 and (5) the Greek conception of the Isles of the Blessed.10 Thus, instead of representing an exclusive, unique, or direct relationship, the similarities between these texts are likely due to the way that they draw upon shared themes and literary traditions. Nevertheless, in both general and specific ways, the visions of Lehi and Zosimus are still intriguingly similar and therefore deserve careful comparative analysis.

Who Were the Rechabites?

The Rechabites were a clan who resided in Israel and are mentioned several times in the Bible.11 Nothing is known about their ancestor Rechab himself, though he may have belonged to the Kenite tribe (1 Chronicles 2:55). Fortunately, Rechab’s son Jonadab (or Jehonadab) is mentioned several times. Jonadab assisted Jehu with overthrowing the corrupt dynasty of Ahab and in eliminating Baal worship (2 Kings 10:15, 23). Jonadab also commanded his descendants to drink no wine, to not engage in agriculture, and to live nomadically in tents instead of in houses (Jeremiah 35:6–7).

Jeremiah was commanded to test Jonadab’s descendants by inviting them to drink wine, but they appropriately refused. They were commended for their obedience and blessed that “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever,” even though the Lord would “bring upon Judah … all the evil that I have pronounced against them” (Jeremiah 35:1–19). Thus, the Bible itself gives a favorable report of this group and provides some reason to believe that they would be uniquely blessed for their faithfulness.

Visionary Processes

In various ways, the experience of Zosimus has parallels to the visions of Lehi and Nephi, especially their shared vision of the tree of life. For instance, both Lehi and Zosimus began their journey in a “desert” or “wilderness” setting. After praying, each were visited by an angelic being who led them toward an image or setting connected with paradise.12 Zosimus was carried up by either the “wings” of a “storm of wind” or by some “animal” to an unknown destination, similar to Nephi being borne upon the “wings” of the Spirit to an unknown location.

Zosimas the Hermit and Athanasius the Notary, anchorites of Cilicia (Menologion of Basil II). Image and caption via Wikimedia. 

Zosimus conversed with angels and sacred beings to try and discover the content of his vision and what he was seeing, much like Nephi’s vision was mediated and interpreted by an angelic guide. Some of the beings in the Zosimus account had glorious clothing, comparable to the “white robe” worn by Lehi’s guide. Zosimus received a record on stone tablets explaining what he saw, which was to be shared upon returning with others.13 Several of Lehi’s and Nephi’s visions also featured heavenly books and records inscribed on permanent mediums.14 Although some of these elements are common to the apocalyptic genre, this specific combination is nevertheless quite intriguing.15

Narrative of Zosimus

Book of Mormon

About that time there was in the desert a certain man named Zosimus. … This man was entreating God that he might see the way of life of the blessed.

And it came to pass that while my father [Lehi] tarried in the wilderness he spake unto us, saying: Behold, I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision. (1 Nephi 8:2)

And behold, an angel of the Lord was sent saying to him, Zosimus …. And I saw there a … man sitting …. I saw his face as the face of an angel, and his clothing as lightning.

And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. (1 Nephi 8:5)

And I, Zosimus, issuing from my cave with God leading me, set out not knowing which way I went, and after I had travelled forty days my spirit grew faint and my body failed, and being exhausted I sat down, and continued praying in that place for three days.

And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste. And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. (1 Nephi 8:6–8)

Greek: And there came in that place a great earthquake with a noise, and a storm of wind blew and lifted me from the earth, and exalted me on its wing.

Syriac: And suddenly that animal arrived and carried me; and it brought me to the cave.

As I say pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, year into an exceedingly high mountain. (1 Nephi 11:1)

And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. (2 Nephi 4:25)

And the elders said, And now what wilt thou we should do to thee? I said to them, I desire to learn of you your way of life.

And the Spirit said unto me [Nephi]: Behold, what desirest thou? And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw. (1 Nephi 11:2–3)

Greek: And behold two angels came down from heaven and said, Fear not the man, for God has sent him, that he may remain seven days and learn your ways of life, and then he shall go forth and depart to his own place…. And they rejoiced with great joy, And taking up tables of stone they wrote on them with their nails.

Syriac: And we write and send these tablets to you, O people who dwell in that world of vanity, through the hands of this our brother Zosimus.

And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven … And he also saw twelve others following him … And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. (1 Nephi 1:9–11)

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them. (1 Nephi 13:20)

Visionary Content

Zosimus saw a paradise setting on an island, which contained two large supernatural trees as well as a variety of other fruit trees. The trees had pleasant fruit and sweet water flowed from their roots. Lehi and Nephi’s visions also featured a tree of life with delicious fruit and an associated fountain of living waters.

Zosimus saw angelic beings and even thought he saw the son of God. He also learned about the birth of the Word (Christ) from the holy virgin. The Ethiopic account even discusses the circumstances of Christ’s birth, but these verses may have been added later by Christian writers.16 Nephi similarly learned that the tree of life and its fruit were the symbol of God’s love manifest by Christ’s birth through Mary (whose attributes in his account mirror that of the tree).

The Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arm, with the Tree of Life in the background. 

Zosimus entered this blessed domain by grasping the branch of one of the large trees, similar to the iron rod in Lehi’s tree of life vision.17 The Isle of the Blessed in the Zosimus account is separated from the “vanity of the world” by an impassible body of water and a cloud that extended into the sky, similar to the river separating the great and spacious building from the tree of life in Lehi’s vision.

Zosimus’ temporary moral wavering after eating the fruit of the island bears some similarity to those who became ashamed after eating the fruit in Lehi’s vision.18 In the Zosimus narrative, those who lived in this blessed place were devoutly concerned for their kinsmen and prayed for them regularly, much like Lehi desired to share the fruit of the tree of life with his family.19

Narrative of Zosimus

Book of Mormon

It set me upon a place beside a river

And as I cast my eyes round about … I beheld a river of water (1 Nephi 8:13)

Some one cried as if from the water, saying … thou canst not pass through me, for no man can divide my waters. … I saw a wall of cloud stretching from the waters to the heaven, and the cloud said … through me no bird passes out of this world, not breath of wind, nor the sun itself, nor can the tempter in this world pass through me ….

I know that thou art a man of God, for if not, thou couldst not have passed through the cloud and the river and the air.

And I said to them that it was an awful gulf, which separated the wicked from the tree of life, and also from the saints of God…. Our father also saw that the justice of God did also divide the wicked from the righteous… [and] was like unto the brightness of a flaming fire, which ascendeth up unto God forever and ever, and hath no end. (1 Nephi 15:27–30)

Behold, two trees sprang up out of the earth, fair and beautiful, laden with fragrant fruit….

So the attendant receiving me led me to his cave, and we sat under a tree partaking of food… and the water came out of the root of the tree sweeter than honey, and we drank our fill, and the water sank again down into its place.

And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy…. And I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. … and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree. (1 Nephi 8:10–11, 24)

and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. … A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins (1 Nephi 11:13–15)

I beheld… the fountain of living waters, or the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God. (1 Nephi 11:25)

Greek: And I was greatly afraid, thinking that it was the son of God, and trembled, falling upon the ground.

Syriac: To us the holy angels of God announce both the incarnation of the Word of God, who is from the holy virgin, the mother of God.

And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. (1 Nephi 11:18)

And having ended this discourse the man spoke again, Hast thou come hither out of the vanity of the world? ...

And as I came near to them, they said, This man has come hither out of the vanity of the world; come, let us beseech the Lord and he will reveal to us this mystery. Surely the end is not at hand, that the man of vanity is come hither?

And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 11:36)

Syriac: And then one of the trees bent itself down and I securely grasped its branches. And it stretched out toward the height of heaven and lifted me up and carried me …. And thus by God's guidance I passed over the great ocean and the cloud.

And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood …. I beheld others [who] caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward … clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree. (1 Nephi 8:19, 24)

And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life (1 Nephi 11:25)

The Nephites and the Rechabites

When Nephi was shown his father’s vision, he also saw the future of his people and the Christian utopia or Zion society they would build for several generations (1 Nephi 12:6–12). Zosimus learned the history of the nation of the Rechabites and was blessed to see them in a utopian state of their own. Thus, rich parallels can be drawn between the histories of the Nephites and the Rechabites, as well as their respective utopian communities.

The Rechabites are described as a clan in Jerusalem toward the end of the Judean monarchy who were oppressed by the king for their righteousness, until they were delivered and led away by God. They were led across a body of water to a holy land which was shielded from the knowledge and influence of other nations.20 Yet the Rechabites were still able to learn about the happenings in Israel through revelation, much like Lehi’s family did after their own ocean crossing (2 Nephi 1:4).

The Rechabites lived in peace and happiness, and the devil had no power over them. They are described as wearing heavenly white robes and had a longevity similar to individuals in the Nephite paradise.21 Although still mortal, the Rechabites suffered no pain or sickness, and their only sorrow was for the sins of the world, similar to the three Nephites who were translated.

If one includes other accounts of Zion in Restoration scripture and the Bible, then the parallels would expand even further. Among the Rechabites, there was no need for the sun because of the glorious light which filled the place.22 Individuals grew up without sin unto salvation, and angels dwelt among the people. Similar descriptions can be found in the Doctrine and Covenants and some of Joseph Smith’s other teachings.23

Narrative of Zosimus

Book of Mormon

When the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that the city of Jerusalem should be delivered into the hands of the destroyers

 In that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed. (1 Nephi 1:4)

Then the king was enraged and set us in prison… and an angel uncovered the prison … and took us out of the prison, and set us beside the water of the river… And we travelled with the water and with the angel… [until] he had brought us to this place.

They cross the large waters into the promised land, and so forth. (1 Nephi 1 heading)

Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem (2 Nephi 1:9)

We also know you who are there in the world, and who are in sins, and your works, for ever day the angels of the Lord come and tell them to us …. But we pray for you to the Lord, because we also are of you and of your race, except that God has chosen us, and has set us in this place without sin.

But, verily, I say unto you that the Father hath commanded me [Jesus], and I tell it unto you, that ye were separated from among them because of their iniquity; therefore it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you …. But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me. (3 Nephi 15:19, 24)

Thou wearest skins of the cattle of the earth, that decay together with thy body, but look up to the height of heaven and behold of what nature my clothing is… and his clothing [was] as lightning….

But we are not naked of body, as ye wrongly imagine, for we have the garment of immortality and are not ashamed of each other.

And the angel said unto me: Look! And I looked, and beheld three generations pass away in righteousness; and their garments were white even like unto the Lamb of God. (1 Nephi 12:11)

and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus (3 Nephi 19:25)

Syriac: And again we announce to you, O brothers, that among us there is no sickness, pain, fatigue to our bodies, mutilation, weariness, or temptations;

Greek: and we rejoice with the angels over the works of the just, but over the works of sinners we mourn and lament.

And again, ye shall not have pain while ye shall dwell in the flesh, neither sorrow save it be for the sins of the world. (3 Nephi 28:9)

not even Satan’s power can touch us, for there is not among us rage, jealousy, evil desire, or hateful thoughts.

Satan could have no power over them, that he could not tempt them; and they were sanctified in the flesh, that they were holy, and that the powers of the earth could not hold them. (3 Nephi 28:39)

But we experience only quietness and gladness; and exhibit love and affection toward God and each other.

And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness (4 Nephi 1:15–16)

A Few Differences

It is worth noting that, despite these and many other striking parallels, the Narrative of Zosimus differs in many respects from the Book of Mormon. For example, aside from his miraculous experience, Zosimus himself is not placed in any discernable historical context. Essentially nothing is known about him. Moreover, unlike the visionary or dream-like experiences of Nephi and Lehi, Zosimus may have been physically transported to the paradise realm described in his account.

Lehi sees an angel in his vision of the tree of life. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

Zosimus dwells more on the ethical system of paradise than in describing Christ or prophecies of the future. His vision does not entail the same warnings against spiritual pitfalls to the extent that we see in Lehi’s vision. The scene that Zosimus describes has imagery that differs from Lehi’s vision, with an island, multiple trees, and many elements missing.

The Rechabites are an ascetic group who fast daily and who shun clothing, food, homes, and even marriage to a degree, and their needs are provided for supernaturally. In contrast, the Nephite paradise seems to be a more material one, where marriage and the daily tasks of life proceed as usual.24 Many other differences could be mentioned.


It is important to understand that those who have seen parallels in these accounts are not making the case for direct derivation, as if one story was the primary basis for the other. Instead, the parallels are better thought of as arising from similar cultural, literary, and religious contexts. These similarities include broader themes and features typical of particular literary genres, as well as specific imagery, descriptions, and, in some cases, phrasal elements.

As explained by Welch, “Whatever the final explanation may turn out to be, it can at least be said that these two texts share a considerable amount of common ground and that these close parallels corroborate the claim that the authorship of the Book of Mormon is rooted in the ancient Near East.”25 For those interested in a more extensive treatment of textual parallels, the publication from Welch and Kraus given in the Further Reading section below is quite illuminating.

John W. Welch and Spencer Kraus, The Narrative of Zosimus: Greek and Syriac Versions with Book of Mormon Comparative Notes (Springville, UT: Scripture Central, 2024).

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Are Lehi’s and Nephi’s Visions and Histories Similar to the History of the Rechabites? (1 Nephi 8:10–11),” KnoWhy 710 (January 16, 2024).

John W. Welch, “The Narrative of Zosimus (History of the Rechabites) and the Book of Mormon,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 323–374.

BibleJeremiah 35Book of Mormon1 Nephi 11 Nephi 81 Nephi 111 Nephi 124 Nephi 1


Jeremiah 35

Book of Mormon

1 Nephi 1

1 Nephi 8

1 Nephi 11

1 Nephi 12

4 Nephi 1

Literary Features

© 2024 Scripture Central: A Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved. Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-5294264