Evidence #43 | September 19, 2020

The Passover Tradition

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Scripture Central


The Book of Mormon contains several lines of evidence suggesting that its authors were familiar with the ancient Israelite Passover tradition.

The Passover in the Bible

Before the tenth and final plague in Egypt, the Lord told the Israelites to kill a lamb without blemish and wipe its blood on the doorframes of their homes (see Exodus 12:6–7). They were then given specific instructions to roast the lamb with fire and eat it along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (v. 8). The Lord explained that “the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt” (v. 13). The Lord further told the Israelites that “this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations” (v. 14).

The feast commemorating this important event later become known as the Passover because the destroying angel of the Lord passed over all those who had the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. According to David Seely and Jo Ann Seely, “The elements of the Passover meal: the lamb, the blood, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs all pointed toward the coming of the Messiah and the redemption He would offer from sin, death, and hell.”1

Israelite Passover Event. Image via thirdhour.org.

The Passover in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon contains no direct references to the Passover. And yet its authors clearly understood that salvation comes through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, whom they often recognized as the Lamb of God.2 The first hint that they were familiar with the Passover tradition comes from Nephi’s connected visions in 1 Nephi 11–14. In these chapters, the Messiah is referred to as the “Lamb,” or variants such as the “Lamb of God,” on no less than 56 occasions.3 While one might assume that the title “Lamb of God” was only adopted during early Christian times, evidence (primarily from a text called the Testament of Joseph) suggests it may derive from a much earlier period in biblical history.4

Terrence L. Szink has argued that Nephi would have been “familiar with the Exodus both in story form as he might have heard it from his father and through annual Israelite rituals such as the Passover as they were acted out.”5 It is possible that Nephi’s early visions helped solidify for him, and for his future posterity, that the Passover tradition, including the Passover lamb, was meant to symbolize Jesus Christ.6

Other stories in the Book of Mormon indicate that its peoples were likely familiar with the Passover. For example, several scholars have noted that Abinadi likely preached to King Noah and his priests during the festival of Pentecost (or Shavuot), which “marked the concluding phase of Passover.”7 Matthew Roper has found several clues suggesting that the destruction reported in 3 Nephi may be “an ironic reversal of the Passover blessing of protection and deliverance.”8

John W. Welch has suggested that a Passover setting also makes sense in Alma 10:7–11, when Amulek fed Alma after his fast. “Indeed, if the Nephite calendar began the year in the fall, then their seventh month fell in the spring and was the month of Passover; … Assuming that Amulek was traveling to be with his close family relatives during the Passover season, perhaps he anticipated that Elijah was coming when the angel told him to return home to ‘feed a prophet of the Lord.’”9

Finally, there is evidence that Alma was following an early Passover tradition when giving instruction to his three sons. The tradition held that a father should give different instructions to sons who often acted out three different roles—the wise son, the uninformed son, and the wicked son. This is very similar to Alma’s instructions to Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton in Alma 35–42.10 

Alma instructs Helaman. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

John Welch and Gordon Thomasson found that other themes in Alma’s sermon also indicate a Passover setting:

Alma speaks of “crying out” (compare Deuteronomy 26:7; Alma 36:18) for deliverance from “affliction” (compare Deuteronomy 26:6; Alma 36:3, 27; especially the unleavened Passover “bread of affliction”) and from bondage in Egypt (Alma 36:28), from the “night of darkness” (compare Alma 41:7Exodus 12:30), and from bitter suffering (Alma 36:18, 21; related to the Passover “bitter herbs” in Exodus 12:8). The Paschal lamb may parallel some of Alma’s references to Christ; and the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart (see Exodus 11:10) may parallel Alma’s reference to the hardness of his people’s hearts (see Alma 35:15). Just as Alma’s deliverance was preceded by three days and nights of darkness (see Alma 36:16), so was the first Passover (see Exodus 10:22).11


In light of such findings, Daniel C. Peterson remarked that the prophets who wrote the Book of Mormon seem to have known “remarkably much about the Jewish Passover.”12 Although we might expect them to have mentioned the Passover more explicitly, it actually makes sense that they didn’t. This is because “[m]ost references to the two festivals of Passover and unleavened bread [in the Old Testament] are found in the law of Moses. We must remember that the Book of Mormon is not a law code, but a book of history and religious teachings.”13 The way that the Passover tradition only surfaces in the Book of Mormon through careful analysis may be yet another indication of the text’s historical authenticity.

Book of Mormon Central, “Were Nephite Prophets Familiar with the Passover Tradition? (Mosiah 13:30),” KnoWhy 429 (March 29, 2018).

Book of Mormon Central, “Did Alma Counsel His Sons During the Passover? (Alma 38:5),” KnoWhy 146 (July 19, 2016).

David Rolph Seely and Jo Ann H. Seely, “Behold the Lamb of God,” in Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Frank F. Judd Jr., and Thomas A. Wayment (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 17–48.

John W. Welch, “‘The Lamb of God’ in Pre-Christian Texts,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Throne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 40–42.

Gordon C. Thomasson and John W. Welch, “The Sons of the Passover,” 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), 196–198.

1 Nephi 11–14Mosiah 11–17Alma 10:7–11Alma 35–423 Nephi 8–9

1 Nephi 11–14

Mosiah 11–17

Alma 10:7–11

Alma 35–42

3 Nephi 8–9

Festivals and Holidays
The Passover Tradition
Book of Mormon

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