Evidence #82 | September 19, 2020

Nephi’s Garden and Tower

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Scripture Central


The Book of Mormon’s depiction of Nephi’s garden and tower being located near a highway that led to a chief market fits well in an ancient Mesoamerican setting.

Nephi’s Tower and Garden

Nephi Praying upon his Tower by Jody Livingston

During a time of wickedness and political turmoil, the prophet Nephi (son of Helaman) went and prayed “upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market” (Helaman 7:10). The text indicates that the “garden of Nephi” wasn’t simply a generic name for a public garden. Rather the tower “was in his [Nephi’s] garden, which tower was near unto the garden gate by which led the highway.” (Helaman 7:10).

This suggests that Nephi’s tower and garden were part of his personal property, possibly located at his place of residence. When the people saw Nephi praying on his tower, they “came together in multitudes that they might know the cause of so great mourning for the wickedness of the people” (Helaman 7:11). After which Nephi preached and prophesied unto them from his tower.

From these details it can be reasonably be concluded that

  • Nephi possessed a walled or fenced residence with a gate (a gate necessarily implies a wall of some sort),
  • in or near Nephi’s residence was a garden,
  • Nephi possessed a tower structure that was near the gate of his garden,
  • Nephi’s tower was prominent enough that he could be seen by multitudes of people, but low enough that he could meaningfully converse with those who gathered to hear him pray,
  • a highway was next to Nephi’s tower,
  • this highway led to a chief market in Zarahemla (implying that lesser markets were also in or around the city).

Resident Compounds in ancient Mesoamerica

Maya cities and residential compounds were often walled and had specific entrance and exit points that can appropriately be termed as “gates.”1 Mesoamerican scholar John L. Sorenson has noted that in at least some ancient Mesoamerican cities, “garden areas were cultivated immediately adjacent to single habitation complexes.” Sorenson gave the following examples:

At the archaeological site of El Tajín near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico east of Mexico City are the remains of a city that occupied at least five square kilometers at its maximum period, probably between A.D. 600–900. At that time, the houses of its middle-class people were surrounded by gardens and fruit trees. Likewise, the famous city of Tula, north of the capital of Mexico, was even larger, up to fourteen square kilometers around A.D. 1000–1100, and gardened houselots were common there too.2 

Research at Caracol, Belize likewise indicates that its “households would have been largely self-sufficient because of the fields and gardens that surrounded the residential plazas.”3 Caracol has been described as having a “causeway system” that links together a “constellation of solar markets.”4 As defined by one scholar, “Solar market systems consist of a market center serviced by small subsidiary markets located within a single political entity.”5 On the east end of many resident compounds was a “mortuary building, shrine, or temple” which was often “one of the highest buildings in any residential group.”6 Interestingly, some of Caracol’s “large ‘elite’ households” were associated with outlying market venues and were even directly connected to them “by means of a separate causeway.”7 

Smaller elevated building at Caracol, Belize, Image via siclkrock.com.

This pattern is similar to the often enclosed groups of residential buildings excavated at Chunchucmil, where the compounds “with the tallest pyramids … connect with a sacbe [highway].”8 Similarly, a group of buildings outside the city center at Xunantunich has been identified as an elite resident compound based on several features, including “the sacbe [highway] which connects the residential unit to the site core” and the “large pyramidal ancestor shrine on the eastern edge of the central platform complex.”9 Just below this particular residential pyramid is a courtyard where people might have naturally congregated before funneling through the highway that led to what some researchers believe may have been a market plaza.10

Various structures at Xunantunich. Image via flickr.com.


As discussed above, researchers generally assume that the large residential compounds which had prominent pyramids and which were near highways were owned by elite members of society. The Book of Mormon’s depiction of Nephi’s residence nicely fits this pattern, seeing that Nephi, who descended from a line of prophets and chief judges, was likely a prominent individual among his people.

The idea that Nephi could have addressed multitudes of people from one of these residential towers is also believable. Mesoamerican scholar Brant A. Gardner has explained,

Nephi’s tower was almost certainly one of the many low pyramidal structures that archaeologists have found in the majority of Mesoamerican sites from Book of Mormon times on. Those attached to private compounds were lower than the stepped pyramids in public squares used for public rituals, but they were nevertheless similarly constructed, if not nearly so high. Nephi’s tower was low enough to allow easy conversation with the crowd (Hel. 7:12–13). In a family compound, such towers would have been suitable for prayer and communion with God.11 

Altogether, this picture—of an elite member of society owning a walled residence with a gate, a garden, and a tower, all of which were located near a highway that led to a chief market in a system of markets—fits a Mesoamerican setting remarkably well.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Nephi Prophesy Near “the Highway Which Led to the Chief Market? (Helaman 7:10),” KnoWhy 178 (September 1, 2016).

Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytic and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 5:121–122.

Wallace E. Hunt, Jr., “The Marketplace,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo UT: FARMS, 1999), 196–200.

John L. Sorenson, “Nephi’s Garden and Chief Market,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992) 236–238.

Helaman 7:10–13

Helaman 7:10–13

  • 1 For a survey of walled and gated structures throughout Mesoamerica, see Dirk Van Tuerenhout, “Maya Warfare: Sources and Interpretations,” Civilizations 50 (2002): 129–152. It should be noted that a “gate” doesn’t necessarily have to be obstructed in some way. For example, one definition in the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary describes a gate simply as “An avenue; an opening; a way.” The specific nature of the gate in Nephi’s garden is not described in the text.
  • 2 John L. Sorenson, “Nephi’s Garden and Chief Market,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992) 236.
  • 3 Arlen F. Chase, Diane Z. Chase, Richard E. Terry, Jacob M. Horlacher, and Adrian S. Z. Chase, “Markets Among
  • the Ancient Maya: The Case of Caracol, Belize,” in The Ancient Maya Marketplace: The Archaeology of Transient Space, ed. Eleanor M. King (Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press, 2015), 244.
  • 4 Chase, et al., “Markets Among the Ancient Maya,” 232.
  • 5 Lisa J. LeCount, “Classic Maya Marketplaces and Exchanges: Examining Market Competition as a Factor for Understanding Commodity Distributions,” in Alternative Pathways to Complexity: A Collection of Essays on Architecture, Economics, Power, and Cross Cultural Analysis, ed. Lane F. Fargher, Verenice Y. Heredia Espinoza (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2016), 166.
  • 6 Arlen F. Chase and Diane Z. Chase, “Ancient Maya Houses, Households, and Residential Groups at Caracol, Belize,” Archaeological Investigations in the Eastern Maya Lowlands: Papers of the 2013 Belize Archaeology Symposium, ed. John Morris, Jaime Awe, Melissa Badillo, and George Thompson (Belmopan, Belize: Institute of Archaeoloy, 2014), 9.
  • 7 Chase, et al., “Markets Among the Ancient Maya,” 247.
  • 8 Scott R. Hutson, Aline Magnoni, and Bruce H. Dahlin, “Architectural Group Typology and Excavation Sampling within Chunchumil,” in Ancient Maya Commerce: Multidisciplinary Research at Chunchumil, ed. Scott r. Hutson (Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2017), 60. The study classifies these compounds as “quadrangles.”
  • 9 Leah McCurdy, Whitney Lytle, and M. Kathryn Brown, “New Investigations of Xunantunich’s Site Core,” Archaeological Investigations in the Eastern Maya Lowlands, 217.
  • 10 For the proposed market venue, see Angela H. Keller, “The Social Construction of Roads at Xunantunich, from Design to Abandonment,” in Classic Maya Provincial Politics: Xunantunich and Its Hinterlands, ed. Lisa J. LeCount and Jason Yaeger (Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 2010), 201–203.
  • 11 See Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytic and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 5:121.
Nephi's Garden and Tower
Book of Mormon

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