Geology and Third Nephi (4): An Explosive Volcanic Eruption?

Geology and Third Nephi (4): An Explosive Volcanic Eruption? February 18, 2020


Wiki CC Mt. Arenal
Costa Rica’s Mount Arenal, roughly as I saw it several years ago in company with, among others, the late geologist Dr. Eugene Clark  (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo)


I continue with some notes from Bart J. Kowallis, “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi,” BYU Studies 37/3 (1997-1998).  He identifies twenty-one specific elements or events that are expressly mentioned in the account of natural catastrophe described in 3 Nephi 8-10:


  1. A great storm (8:5)
  2. A strong and terrible tempest (8:6, 12, 17; 10:14)
  3. Terrible thunder (8:6, 12, 17)
  4. Shaking of the whole earth (8:6, 12, 14, 17, 19; 10:9)
  5. Exceedingly sharp lightning (8:7, 12, 17)
  6. Burning of cities (8:8, 14, 24; (9:3, 9-10; 10:13-14)
  7. Sinking of cities into the sea (8:9; 9:4, 7; 10:13)
  8. Earth carried up on cities (8:10, 14, 25; 9:5; 10:13)
  9. Sinking and burial of cities (9:6, 8; 10:13-14)
  10. Changing of whole face of the land (8:12, 17)
  11. Whirlwinds (8:12, 16; 10:13-14)
  12. Breaking up of highways and earth (8:13)
  13. Breaking up of cities, destruction of inhabitants (8:14-15)
  14. Breaking and scattering of rocks (8:18; 10:19)
  15. Three-hour duration of initial events (8:19)
  16. Three-day duration of thick darkness (8:19, 22, 23; 10:9, 13)
  17. Palpable darkness (8:20)
  18. No fires or lights (8:21)
  19. Very dry wood (8:21)
  20. Vapors of smoke (10:13-14)
  21. Falling objects crushing people (10:13)


At first glance, Professor Kowallis points out, it would be difficult to explain all of these observed phenomena as the result of a single cause.  An earthquake or a storm, for example, could not account, by itself, for several of them.  However,


all of these events can be explained in the context of a single explosive volcanic eruption.  (142)




Each of  these events listed above have been documented in historic explosive volcanic eruptions.  (143)


And, specifically,


It is the violent, explosive eruptions from subduction-related volcanoes or continental hot spots that can explain the events of 3 Nephi.  (145)


Significantly, the general Mesoamerican location that many close students of the subject have proposed as the geographical setting for the central story of the Book of Mormon is precisely such a zone of tectonic activity and subduction-related volcanoes:


If, as most Book of Mormon scholars believe, the people lived in southern Mexico or Central America, then they would have been living in a very active belt of explosive volcanism located where the North American and Cocos tectonic plates are colliding.  In fact, based on the volume of eruptive material and the length of the volcanic belt, the Central American volcanic zone is ranked as the most productive volcanic region anywhere on earth.  (147)


Of course, as Dr. Kowallis acknowledges, further work needs to be done:


At the present time [1997-1998], a particular layer of ash or a particular volcano has not been tied to the 3 Nephi disaster, but I believe that it is there.  (148)


Posted from Phoenix, Arizona


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