1 And now I, Mormon, make a record of the things which I have both seen and heard, and call it the Book of Mormon.
Mormon announces his position as the author of his own record. This is the opening colophon that parallels that of the first Nephi in 1 Nephi 1:1. Mormon is announcing both that he is the author (as opposed to the compiler/abridger/historian), and that he has created a shift in the transmission line of the text. This is not the book of Nephi in which Ammaron wrote, but the book of Mormon, in which Mormon and his descendants will write. We do not know if Mormon understood at this time that his own “dynasty” would not extend past his own son.
2 And about the time that Ammaron hid up the records unto the Lord, he came unto me, (I being about ten years of age, and I began to be learned somewhat after the manner of the learning of my people) and Ammaron said unto me: I perceive that thou art a sober child, and art quick to observe;
There is no indicated kinship connection between Mormon and Ammaron. Certainly Ammaron knew Mormon’s family, or else he would hardly have noticed a ten year old child enough to proclaim him “a sober child, and … quick to observe.” The Lord certainly had a hand in the selection of Mormon, but it is equally as certain that the Lord made certain that Mormon was in a sphere of acquaintance where Ammaron would understand to whom the promptings of the Spirit would refer. It would not be unusual for there to be a kinship connection that explains the reason that Ammaron would have known of Mormon.
If there was a kinship connection, it was not a direct one that invoked the lineal lines of transmission. When Amos the father of Amos gives the plates to another, it is to his son. When Amos the Younger gives the plates, it is to his brother. This sibling transmission is one that we have seen before (Nephi to Jacob and Amaron to Chemish: Omni 1:4-8;) It is also a known facet of later Aztec royal inheritance, where the brother might inherit prior to the sons in certain instances. Had Mormon been a son or brother, we would expect that the normal transmission would have been followed.
We do not have any information on the circumstances that caused Ammaron to bury the plates, but we have speculated that it was the result of a coup that ousted his family from rule. If this is correct, then we would not expect Mromon to be a close kin, or else he would have been too closely watched as a potential claimant to the throne. Whatever danger Ammaron saw in keeping the plates himself would then have pointed directly at Mormon.
Although it is pure speculation, the best explanation for passing the plates to Mormon in this fashion was that Ammaron was ousted from political favor, and that he went to someone that was known to him, but distant. If there was a kin relationship, it would be one explanation for a way that Ammaron would know Mormon’s father, and therefore have a means of knowing Mormon. If there were a kinship connection, however, it would have to have been distant or else Mormon would have been under the same danger that caused Ammaron to bury the plates in the first place.
A second possible way in which Ammaron would have had a connection to Mormon would have been that Mormon’s father could have been a court retainer for Ammaron as ruler. This might allow Mormon’s father to be an acquaintance, but not kin. The advantage of this proposal is that it makes it even more likely that there was enough social distance between Ammaron and Mormon that whatever dangers Ammaron perceived could be deflected from Mormon.
[art quick to observe]: There are two ways of reading this phrase. Mormon would be “quick to observe” might mean that he learned quickly. The “observation” would then be related to his intelligence and learning. In this connection we might suppose that Ammoron was in a position to note Mormon as a student. Ammaron would be particularly interested in Mormon’s ability to learn to read and write, traits that would be required for Mormon to complete the task that Ammaron was to request of him. This suggests that Mormon would have been in the court of Ammaron learning this skill. Mesoamerican practice suggests that those who learned to read and write were those who were peripheral nobles outside of the inheritance lines. This is, of course, exactly where our speculation places Mormon.
A second reading of “observe” would be that Mormon was quick to observe the laws of the gospel. In this reading the emphasis would be on Mormon’s religious devotion. While this is possible, given the nature of Ammaron’s request, it would seem more likely that Ammaron’s interest in a ten year old boy would have more to do with his ability to read and write that his piety. That would have been important, but it might also have been assumed based upon knowledge of the family and the heritage. The ability to read and write would be paramount, and not necessarily typical of a ten year old.
3 Therefore, when ye are about twenty and four years old I would that ye should remember the things that ye have observed concerning this people; and when ye are of that age go to the land Antum, unto a hill which shall be called Shim; and there have I deposited unto the Lord all the sacred engravings concerning this people.
What must Joseph Smith have thought as he translated this passage? Mormon received the commission to work with sacred records when he was young, but had to wait a number of years before he could assume the task. The records he was to work with were buried in a hill. By the time Joseph wrote this passage, he had lived through the parallel events. While there are certainly differences in the experiences of Mormon and Joseph Smith, it is doubtful that Joseph would have missed the parallels. Nevertheless, unlike other references in the Book of Mormon to the future, there is not textual foreshadowing showing Mormon as a type of the future translator. While we see the connection clearly, Mormon was unaware of it.
Geographic: Mormon does not give us enough information to firmly place the hill Shim. It is in the land Antum, and we have no other indication of the location of that land. We may presume, however, that it was close by Mormon’s home in the Bountiful land, and therefore that it was one of the northern lands. We will see it again in Mormon 4:23 when Mormon goes to the hill Shim fleeing Lamanites invading from the southland. This continues to point to the hill Shim lying in the northern parts of the Nephite holdings. (see Sorenson’s comments, John L. Sorenson. The Geography of Book of Mormon Events. FARMS 1990, pp. 312 and 317).
4 And behold, ye shall take the plates of Nephi unto yourself, and the remainder shall ye leave in the place where they are; and ye shall engrave on the plates of Nephi all the things that ye have observed concerning this people.
Ammaron charges Mormon with the standard charge concerning the plates. He is to take them and write “things that ye have observed concerning this people.” This is not a charge to make the text that we know as the book of Mormon. It is, rather, explicitly to write “on the plates of Nephi.” The early experience of Mormon as chronicler is of his own people and time. We do not learn of Mormon’s inspiration to write for future generations until Mormon 5:9.
5 And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (and my father's name was Mormon) I remembered the things which Ammaron commanded me.
This verse is a conclusion to the opening identificatory colophon. Mormon identified himself as the writer in the first verse, and in this verse declares ancestral lineage and direct parentage. There is no reason to declare Mormon’s father’s name except as a statement of lineal position.
For more information on colophons, see the commentary following 1 Nephi 1:1. It is important to note that we have the best examples of colophons in the holographic writings. When Mormon writes his version of the texts, he does not include the colophon because it is not appropriate, as it is presumes a direct identification of the writer of the text.
6 And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla.
After the great destruction there was no Zarahemla for fifty years (see 4 Nephi 1:8). For a minimum of fifteen years there was no Nephite capital at Zarahemla. After the rebuilding, however, there is still no indication that there was a relocation of the nascent government to the rebuilt city. During the interim, a government had to function, and it would have been functioning in Bountiful. Once again we return to the speculation that the book of 4 Nephi belongs to the ruling dynasty of the Nephites after the coming of the Messiah. If this assumption is correct, it further establishes Bountiful as the new capital city of the Nephites, as that is where Ammaron and Mormon the elder are located. Mormon the elder then leaves Bountiful to go to Zarahemla. No reason is give for the relocation. We find Mormon engaged in two activities, however. The first is preaching, and the second leading an army. The move to the south placed the family in a position where the Lamanite influence and incursion was perhaps greater. It may be that Mormon the elder was inspired to move his family into the location where they would be most needed.
7 The whole face of the land had become covered with buildings, and the people were as numerous almost, as it were the sand of the sea.
Historical: The archaeological record for Mesoamerica agrees that there were increasing numbers of people and an increasing number of cities that were being built at this time. This is a time of population growth that is accompanied by building the cities to accommodate the larger populations. There will still be larger populations in the future, but for Mormon this time period would represent the heaviest concentration of people that had been known in any record available to him.
8 And it came to pass in this year there began to be a war between the Nephites, who consisted of the Nephites and the Jacobites and the Josephites and the Zoramites; and this war was between the Nephites, and the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites.
9 Now the Lamanites and the Lemuelites and the Ishmaelites were called Lamanites, and the two parties were Nephites and Lamanites.
This catalog of the makeup of the Nephites and the Lamanites ends with the lumping of divisions into the larger gross categories of Nephite and Lamanite. It is also the precise list that Mormon gives in 4 Nephi. See the commentary following 4 Nephi 1:39. These are still generic designations, even though they have the appearance of specific lineages.
As with the pre-Messianic-visit world, the relations between Nephite and Lamanite lead to war.
10 And it came to pass that the war began to be among them in the borders of Zarahemla, by the waters of Sidon.
The site of the battle indicates that gross divisions in geographic influence have not changed dramatically. In spite of the move of the capital to Bountiful and the rearrangement of the social meaning of Nephite and Lamanite in the two hundred years of millennial-like peace, when the wars begin, they appear to have the same geographic elements are wars before the visit of the Savior. The Nephite holdings are still to the north, and Zarahemla would still be closer to the traditional Lamanite holdings. The past Lamanite incursions had come down the Sidon valley, and it appears that this invasion follows that traditional path.
11 And it came to pass that the Nephites had gathered together a great number of men, even to exceed the number of thirty thousand. And it came to pass that they did have in this same year a number of battles, in which the Nephites did beat the Lamanites and did slay many of them.
12 And it came to pass that the Lamanites withdrew their design, and there was peace settled in the land; and peace did remain for the space of about four years, that there was no bloodshed.
The initial battles of this final war begin with numbers that sound like individual armies. While thirty thousand is a round number, it is still a number that could easily represent the assembled army of the Nephites. In fact, it might be supposed that this particular army is from the region of Zarahemla, and recruited from the dependent population on that particular city. This battle does not appear to have involved communities from farther downstream on the Sidon.
The Nephites are victorious in this first incursion, and the Lamanites retreat for four years. The cataloguing of major battle events recalls Mormon’s treatment of the years prior to the birth of the Savior. However, this account is much more parsimonious than the earlier accounts. There are multiple battles, but no indication of tactics or people for any of them. This contrasts with the concentration on the person of Moroni the earlier general as well as Helaman and his stripling warriors. Mormon’s purpose has shifted here to move more rapidly to the final denouement of the Nephites. It is also most likely that he does not find personalities to admire, and he clearly did Captain Moroni.
13 But wickedness did prevail upon the face of the whole land, insomuch that the Lord did take away his beloved disciples, and the work of miracles and of healing did cease because of the iniquity of the people.
The presence of the three Nephites had been a source of miracles and healings. However, the wickedness was so great that they are now removed from among the Nephites. After having endured the prisons, dens of wild beasts, and furnaces of fire that Mormon recorded of them, they still continued to preach. Now, however, the conditions are apparently even worse, and the Lord takes them away. This is the symbolic withdrawal of the Lord’s spirit as embodied in these three beloved disciples. When they leave, the spirit of the Lord no longer protects the Nephites. The foundational promise is no longer in effect, and they have effectively rejected the protection of the Lord.
14 And there were no gifts from the Lord, and the Holy Ghost did not come upon any, because of their wickedness and unbelief.
The “gifts from the Lord” and the fact that “the Holy Ghost did not come upon any” are both symptoms of the same problem. Just as the beloved disciples physically leave, so does the spirit of the Lord, and when it is gone, the manifestations of that spirit among men are also gone. The people may known that the Lord is no longer with them because the disciples are not with them, and the manifestations of the spirit are not with them.
15 And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus.
The withdrawal of the Lord’s spirit is from the people as a whole, not from each individual person. Even though the spirit of the Lord has withdrawn, it is yet available to righteous individuals. Mormon was one of those, and he tells us that while the spirit may not have been present for the benefit of the people of Nephi as a whole, it was nevertheless important in his life.
Mormon tells us that he was “visited of the Lord.” This might be phrase that actually refers to the spirit, but there is no reason to be so limited in our reading. Mormon deserves that we take him at his word, and understand that he actually was visited “of the Lord.” Mormon declares himself a special witness of the Savior, so this is the most likely reading of the passage. (It is the reading understood by Ludlow. Daniel H. Ludlow, A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976], 299.) In this connection we find yet another parallel to Joseph Smith, who also had a visitation from the Savior by the time he was fifteen.
16 And I did endeavor to preach unto this people, but my mouth was shut, and I was forbidden that I should preach unto them; for behold they had wilfully rebelled against their God; and the beloved disciples were taken away out of the land, because of their iniquity.
Mormon “endeavors to preach,” but his “mouth was shut.” He doesn’t tell us how far he got in those endeavors, but it would appear that the Lord protected him. If the people were of a mind to imprison and send to fiery furnaces the three disciples, they might have had such intentions for Mormon. Even though the people needed to be called to repentance, the Lord had a different mission for Mormon.
17 But I did remain among them, but I was forbidden to preach unto them, because of the hardness of their hearts; and because of the hardness of their hearts the land was cursed for their sake.
Mormon remains in Zarahemla.
[the land was cursed for their sake]: “for their sake” in this case should more probably be translated “because of them,” rather than the connotation of “for their benefit.” This is the revoking of the foundational promise. When that promise of protection is gone, it is the same as cursing the land, and the enemies of the people of Nephi will now have more power over the people of Nephi.
18 And these Gadianton robbers, who were among the Lamanites, did infest the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again.
19 And it came to pass that there were sorceries, and witchcrafts, and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought upon all the face of the land, even unto the fulfilling of all the words of Abinadi, and also Samuel the Lamanite.
Samuel the Lamanite’s prophecies to which Mormon refers are found in Helaman 13:18-23 and 30-37. One of the fulfilled facets of that property has to do with Mormon’s “slippery” earth:
31 And behold, the time cometh that he curseth your riches, that they become slippery, that ye cannot hold them; and in the days of your poverty ye cannot retain them.
32 And in the days of your poverty ye shall cry unto the Lord; and in vain shall ye cry, for your desolation is already come upon you, and your destruction is made sure; and then shall ye weep and howl in that day, saith the Lord of Hosts. And then shall ye lament, and say:
33 O that I had repented, and had not killed the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out. Yea, in that day ye shall say: O that we had remembered the Lord our God in the day that he gave us our riches, and then they would not have become slippery that we should lose them; for behold, our riches are gone from us.
34 Behold, we lay a tool here and on the morrow it is gone; and behold, our swords are taken from us in the day we have sought them for battle.
35 Yea, we have hid up our treasures and they have slipped away from us, because of the curse of the land.
36 O that we had repented in the day that the word of the Lord came unto us; for behold the land is cursed, and all things are become slippery, and we cannot hold them.
37 Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls. Behold, our iniquities are great. O Lord, canst thou not turn away thine anger from us? And this shall be your language in those days.
This is the prophecy of Samuel concerning the days of the Gadiantons. It is an important characteristic of Gadiantons or secret combinations when they are at their most destructive stage. Note that similar conditions of “slipperiness” existed just before the end of the Jaredites:
1 And now there began to be a great curse upon all the land because of the iniquity of the people, in which, if a man should lay his tool or his sword upon his shelf, or upon the place whither he would keep it, behold, upon the morrow, he could not find it, so great was the curse upon the land.
2 Wherefore every man did cleave unto that which was his own, with his hands, and would not borrow neither would he lend; and every man kept the hilt of his sword in his right hand, in the defence of his property and his own life and of his wives and children.
Mormon has certainly read the book of Ether, even though it will remain to Moroni to include it. Nevertheless, Mormon intends that it be included because it is part of the evidence for the destructive nature of the secret combinations.
In addition to fulfilling the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite, Mormon suggests that the prophecies of Abinadi are equally fulfilled. Mormon’s reference to Abinadi is more difficult to find. Reynolds and Sjodahl suggest Mormon refers to Mosiah 17: 14-20 (George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl. Commentary on the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book Company, 1976, 7:256 is Abinadi’s dying condemnation of Noah. The verses that might form Mormon’s reference are:
15 Behold, even as ye have done unto me, so shall it come to pass that thy seed shall cause that many shall suffer the pains that I do suffer, even the pains of death by fire; and this because they believe in the salvation of the Lord their God.
16 And it will come to pass that ye shall be afflicted with all manner of diseases because of your iniquities.
17 Yea, and ye shall be smitten on every hand, and shall be driven and scattered to and fro, even as a wild flock is driven by wild and ferocious beasts.
18 And in that day ye shall be hunted, and ye shall be taken by the hand of your enemies, and then ye shall suffer, as I suffer, the pains of death by fire.
This prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of the wicked by fire during the volcanic catyclism that accompanied the death of the Savior. While this is a prophecy that has a fulfillment later in the text, it does not appear to be the one to which Mormon refers, as there is no clear tie to the specifics he notes.
Unless Mormon is referencing a prophecy of Abinadi that he did not put into his narrative, Mormon’s reference to Abinadi is oblique rather than specific, as it is to Helaman. For Abinadi, the fulfillments are generalized and pertaining to the appearance of the Savior. At this point, we do not have the kind of direct tie to a recorded prophecy for Abinadi as we do for Samuel the Lamanite.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002