1 Behold I, Moroni, do finish the record of my father, Mormon. Behold, I have but few things to write, which things I have been commanded by my father.
The task of finishing the record goes to Moroni. Once again, it appears that Mormon had some vision of the future, for just as he knew that he would survive the last battle to write about it, he knew that his son would survive to write. Moroni tells us that he has been commanded to write “but few things.” Those “few things” continue for 78 verses in our modern edition. After those “few things,” we have the book of Ether, and then further writings in the book of Moroni. At the beginning of the book of Moroni, he tells us:
1 Now I, Moroni, after having made an end of abridging the account of the people of Jared, I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished; and I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me.
Because Moroni tells us clearly that he is writing something he had not supposed that he should write, we may understand that the book of Moroni is not part of what his father asked him to write. Even though there is no explicit evidence that Mormon told his son to abridge the record of Ether, it is conceivable and probable that Mormon did intend that Moroni do that work. When Mormon wrote about the translation of those plates by Mosiah, he gave the following information:
19 And this account shall be written hereafter; for behold, it is expedient that all people should know the things which are written in this account.
At least at that point in writing, Mormon expects that the book of Ether should be available. Remembering our timetable for the writing of the Mormon’s text that we have as the Book of Mormon, this indication that it would “be written hereafter” appears to be a firm indicator that the inclusion of that text is part of what Mormon intended for his record. Perhaps he assumed that it would form the same type of appendix as the small plates were to have done.
What things were commanded of Moroni that he write? The two that are fairly certain are the conclusion to Mormon’s work, and the addition of the book of Ether. It is possible, however, that the intent of Mormon’s command to write was limited to some specific things to be done to finish the main record. This would explain why Moroni indicates that in relation to the commandment of his father, he has only “but few things to write.” The book of Ether does not qualify as “but few things.”
Indeed, even in the “few things” that Moroni does write at the conclusion of his father’s record, he stretches “few things” into 78 verses. It is most probable that Mormon did command some specific types of information to be added, but in the process of adding the information specifically requested, Moroni adds more information himself.
2 And now it came to pass that after the great and tremendous battle at Cumorah, behold, the Nephites who had escaped into the country southward were hunted by the Lamanites, until they were all destroyed.
Historical: Mormon had only indicated twenty four survivors of the devastating final battle (Mormon 6:11). However, there were still others who had escaped from the battle earlier, and gone to the countries in the south (Mormon 6:15). It is not clear in Moroni’s text if those who escaped were the twenty four or the ones mentioned in Mormon 6:15. In either case, the idea that every last Nephite was killed is rhetorical hyperble.
The greatest number of the survivors would have been those who simply changed sides in the battle (Mormon 6:15). In the text, both Mormon and Moroni appear to make a distinction between the twenty four and others who might be designated Nephites who also survived the destruction of their people. The evidence for this assertion comes from Moroni himself. Moroni tells us that all have been killed in verses 2 and 3. Nevertheless, some twenty one years later he states:
1 Now I, Moroni, after having made an end of abridging the account of the people of Jared, I had supposed not to have written more, but I have not as yet perished; and I make not myself known to the Lamanites lest they should destroy me.
2 For behold, their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.
3 And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ; wherefore, I wander whithersoever I can for the safety of mine own life.
Moroni’s statement twenty one years later than the current text shows him as a man on the run, but that there are other Nephites who are similarly endangered. This situation could not occur if every single Nephite had been killed save twenty four at Cumorah, or even all of those who had gone to the southern countries. The obvious conclusion is the one that fits the history of mankind and such battles. While the polity may be destroyed, the people are not. Just as much is made of the disappearance of the Classic Maya, they never actually disappeared. Their descendants still live on the same lands, still speak the same languages, and retain the same much the same way of life as did farmers in those earlier days. What is gone is the political structures and the culture. So it was with the Nephites. There were people who remained, many of whom did deny the Christ and remain alive.
These twenty four needed to go somewhere, and where they go is southward. This begs explanation, for the attack of the Lamanite/Gadianton army came from that direction. It would appear that retreating into the heart of the enemy would be a dangerous thing to do. Why not go northward away from the people who had caused the destruction?
The answer lies in a combination of culture, language, and kinship. To the north were lands that were occupied by other peoples of a different culture and language. Even more importantly, there would be no kinship ties in the lands northward. Therefore, to the north would lie unfriendly territory that would be just as likely to kill them as the Lamanite army. Southward, however, was at least land that they understood, and a language they spoke. In that land there had been a revolution of people (Mormon 2:8) who had apparently shifted sides from Nephite to Lamanite. It is possible that among these were kin of at least some of the twenty four. Their kin would have the responsibility of care for other kin, and therefore there was hope of survival southward, but little to the north.
In spite of their expectations, they were hunted and killed. This raises several questions. First, what would twenty four people to do a Lamanite polity that no controlled large amounts of land? Secondly, how were they found, as they spoke the same language, looked the same, and were part of the same culture as the land southward into which they went?
The only distinguishing aspects of these men were their connection to the Nephite polity and their religion. Neither of those was visible, so the hunting down of these men came through betrayal rather than active search. They would have been killed to eliminate any of the connections to the formal polity to prevent them from fomenting unrest in the people – something they might have done either through political connection to rulership among the Nephites, or simply through their religion which was now a subversive element in the larger society. The process of finding and killing these twenty four takes a period of fifteen years. This tells us that the twenty four were successful in blending in for a time, but were eventually betrayed into the hands of the now governing Lamanites.
3 And my father also was killed by them, and I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people. But behold, they are gone, and I fulfil the commandment of my father. And whether they will slay me, I know not.
Mormon was an old man, but was not able to die a natural death. In verse 5 we are told that he dies in battle: “my father hath been slain in battle.” It is difficult to know what kind of battle this might have been, as there are relatively few Nephites remaining who would be willing to struggle against the great odds that defeated their nation at Cumorah. This battle was either resistance to capture, or perhaps even more sinister, a mock battle as a form of human sacrifice. Such mock battles were known from later Aztec practice (Warwick Bray. Everyday Life of the Aztecs. Peter Bedrick Books, New York, 1991, p. 161).
4 Therefore I will write and hide up the records in the earth; and whither I go it mattereth not.
Moroni has a charge to finish a record, and to hide up the plates. The phrase “whither I go it mattereth not,” is a fascinating one. In the context of the hiding and the recovery of the plates, one would think that where Moroni went might make quite a bit of difference. There are two ways in which we might read this statement, and neither presents itself as the compelling reading:
Moroni hides the plates, and after that it does not matter where he goes.
It doesn’t matter where Moroni goes, and hides the plates. The presumption is that the Lord will make sure they are in the right place at the right time. Certainly if Moroni as an angel could take them away, he could also deposit them close by to Joseph Smith at the appropriate time.
Of course we still have the personal meaning behind his statement that it does not matter where he goes. Moroni is now a man bereft of family and any other connections. He is alone, and as a man without kin ties, is suspect in any community he might enter. As an unattached man, he is always more susceptible to violence, for he has no kin group to deter such violence. He is alone, and whichever way he turns it will be the same. It really doesn’t matter where he goes. The conditions will be the same.
5 Behold, my father hath made this record, and he hath written the intent thereof. And behold, I would write it also if I had room upon the plates, but I have not; and ore I have none, for I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not.
[written the intent thereof]: Moroni witnesses his father’s authorship of the record, and declares that Mormon has “written the intent thereof.” This is an interesting phrase because it either refers to the whole text, or to the final statement of Mormon as we have it in our chapter 7. The part that makes this interesting is that it is the direct antecedent of Moroni’s next statement that “I would write it also…” Moroni is saying that he would write his father’s intent except that there is no room on the plates. Since his father’s most recent summary of his intent takes up less space that Moroni’s concluding statements to his father’s book, he must mean the entirety of the text, rather than that brief summary.
What Moroni is saying is that he endorses the entirety of his father’s work, and that he would produce a similar work had he the space on the plates. Understanding this meaning of Moroni’s words also helps us understand the statement: “…if I had room upon the plates, but I have not; and ore I have none…” This statement appears to indicate that Moroni has a limited space to work with on the plates, and that he is unable to add to them. While it is possible that the situation changed in the years following this statement, it is more probable that there was sufficient room on the plates as he had them to write the remainder of his father’s record, the book of Ether, and his own book. What there was not room to do was replicate a work of the size and scope of his fathers.
[my father hath been slain in battle]: See the comments following verse 3.
[and all my kinsfolk]: For a member of a kin-based society as was the Nephites (as well as the Lamanites), this was a serious matter. It would be one thing to lose a father. Mormon was over seventy five years old, so Moroni was hardly unable to care for himself. Nevertheless, to be really alone would be to be bereft of kin. The support group would be gone, the place where one might find friends and comfort is gone. With this statement, Moroni tells us that he is truly alone. There are none who might help him, and all would be suspicious of him. The addition of this short statement also points out how difficult it is to counterfeit such a document as the Book of Mormon. This is a statement completely understandable and expected in the ancient context, but much less so for a man of Joseph Smith’s era.
6 Behold, four hundred years have passed away since the coming of our Lord and Savior.
Chronological: The four hundred years would be 391 A. D. This is fifteen years after the battle at Cumorah. We have a hiatus in the writing on the plates that occurs at some time during these fifteen years. Since we don’t know how long it took Mormon to finish his writing after Cumorah, we cannot judge precisely the length of the hiatus, but it seems reasonable that it would be ten years at the minimum, and probably longer. During this time we have no information on Moroni’s activities. We may assume that he has been able to find a way to exist without suffering the detection that the rest of the survivors did.
7 And behold, the Lamanites have hunted my people, the Nephites, down from city to city and from place to place, even until they are no more; and great has been their fall; yea, great and marvelous is the destruction of my people, the Nephites.
As noted earlier, this statement contrasts with his statement in Moroni 1:1 that indicates that there are still Nephites twenty one years later. Moroni makes the statement that “they are no more” in the sense of the political organization, not the physical existence of people who once lived under that political aegis. His point is clear when he notes that “great has been their fall.” The fall is to be seen as compared to the glory of the Nephite nation. Both of those aspects of the comparison necessarily relate to the political entity rather than the individuals.
8 And behold, it is the hand of the Lord which hath done it. And behold also, the Lamanites are at war one with another; and the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed; and no one knoweth the end of the war.
Moroni’s description of the world in which he now lives describes warfare, a warfare so widespread that “the whole face of this land is one continual round of murder and bloodshed, and no one knoweth the end of the war.” This is the precise conditions we see at this point in time in the Maya area. It is worthwhile to recall the statement cited earlier about the conditions after the arrival of the Teotihuacan influence in the area of the world we are associating with the Book of Mormon:
“Before the fourth century, we believe, warfare was not the wholesale slaughter that it later became. It was fought by rigidly observed codes – the intent not to destroy neighboring kingdoms but to take captives for sacrifice. Long before the Teotihuacan allies of Tikal arrived on the scene, the Maya War jaguars had prowled for victims on the open savannas of the lowlands. It was the changing of the rules of conduct and the intent of war associated with the new imagery that eventually led to the downfall of Maya Kingships… We suspect that the harnessing of Teotihuacan military statecraft to that of the Maya unleashed a slow-moving, ever-widening cycle of conflict and destruction.” (David Freidel, Linda Schele, Joy Parker. Maya Cosmos. William Morrow & Co., 1993, p. 323-4).
The epigraphic record of the Classic Maya is rife with depictions of warfare. Indeed, “few themes are more obtrusive in Classic Maya inscriptions and art than war.” David Webster. The Fall of the Ancient Maya. Thames & Hudson, 2002, p. 167). The epigraphic and archaeological record all support Moroni’s contention that “no one knoweth the end of the war.” Sadly, it was not just the wars that Moroni witnessed. It was a way of life and war that would continue in one form or another to the time of the conquest by the Spanish.
9 And now, behold, I say no more concerning them, for there are none save it be the Lamanites and robbers that do exist upon the face of the land.
[none save it be the Lamanites and robbers]: This is a repetition of Mormon’s theme of the Gadianton robbers as the cause of the downfall of nations. In this case, Mormon saw the fall of the Nephites at the hands of a particular type of Gadianton robber, the military forces from Teotihuacan. Even though Mormon does not emphasize the Gadiantons specifically in the destruction of the Nephites, they are there symbolically, and certainly physically in the presence of the Teotihucan alteration of the military tactics and intents of the attacking Lamanite army. Now that the destruction has happened, the land is not void, but is rather taken over by these new-style Lamanites among whom are the “robbers,” or the Teotihuacános.
10 And there are none that do know the true God save it be the disciples of Jesus, who did tarry in the land until the wickedness of the people was so great that the Lord would not suffer them to remain with the people; and whether they be upon the face of the land no man knoweth.
11 But behold, my father and I have seen them, and they have ministered unto us.
The destruction has been of the faithful. Moroni is faithful and remains. The three who “did tarry” remain. Moroni knows this first hand, and knows that they are not visible among the people.
This statement that the three ministered to Mormon and Moroni confirms what we would suspect, which is that they spent what time together that they could before Mormon was captured and put to death.
12 And whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it, the same shall know of greater things than these. Behold, I am Moroni; and were it possible, I would make all things known unto you.
Narrative: At verse 12 Moroni shifts his narrative from descriptive history to and admonition to the future readers. As he begins this section that looks forward, it is a generic statement. The “whoso receiveth” is non-specific and directed at anyone of the future readers of his father’s record. The message for those future readers is that they should receive this text and understand it for what it is. There is a conditional promise made:
whoso receiveth this record, and shall not condemn it because of the imperfections which are in it,
the same shall know of greater things than these.
The promise is that receiving the Book of Mormon in faith will lead to the revelation of even greater things than are in the Book of Mormon. Moroni is declaring the Book of Mormon to be a beginning, not an end. The Book of Mormon does not contain all of the wonders of God. It is a directed message, and more is available. Moroni declares that if it were possible, he would explain all such things to us. It is not possible, and he does not.
In this verse he virtually declares that there are errors in the book, for he tells us that we are blessed if we believe in spite of those errors. What kinds of errors are there? Moroni will tell us in verse 17 that they are the “faults of men.” The restatement of the theme of errors is obviously part of his message to the future generations, but the two instances of this message are separated by other text. As Moroni’s addition to his father’s text develops he will alter the target lector of his father’s work. He will move from the opening generic statement, through specific references, to a final generic conclusion.
It is a meandering sequence, and tells us something both of what his father asked him to do, and the way in which it was done.
First, what did Mormon ask his son to do? There are two essential elements in this particular writing from Moroni. The very first is to be the keeper of the records, just as Mormon had been charged with records and recording. Thus one of the commands from his father was not simply to finish Mormon’s book, but to be the scribe for the record. Of course there is no people left for whom to make a record, but the fact of the scribe is such a strong and important tradition that Mormon charges Moroni with it anyway. Moroni fulfills that part of the task as he finished his father’s record by giving the final details of the end of the Nephites and the death of his father. He will also fulfill that task by adding the book of Ether, and then his own book. Mormon asked his son to be the keeper of the sacred records, and Moroni does this. Moroni writes in his father’s book, but gives his own identifying colophon in Mormon 8:13-14.
The second task, based on what Moroni does, is add his testimony in witness to his father’s work. This is the task that fills the majority of the message Moroni writes in his father’s book. However, inserted in the fulfillment of the task assigned by the father is a discernible personal task that he assumes that was likely not part of what his father commanded of him. That will be discussed after verse 14.
What of the way in which Moroni tackles his appointed tasks? Moroni differs stylistically from his father.
“Instead of the concise, objective style of the sober and observant Mormon, Moroni gives us glimpses into his own fears, sorrows, and misgivings… In his writing, Moroni also lacks the confident, concise, and detached style of Mormon.” (Gary Layne Hatch. “Mormon and Moroni.” Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Fourth Nephi through Moroni: From Zion to Destruction [Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1995], 110.)
One of the discernable differences between the writings of father and son is the nature of the forethought and intent of their writings. Mormon was working from notes, and while he would insert asides as he filled in the text on his outline (or perhaps first draft), he is still guided by a structure that moves his intent forward.
Moroni, on the other hand, shows no signs of working from an outline. He begins speaking of the mistakes of men that might be in the record, and then meanders to a different topic. He returns to the mistakes of men. Moroni bears testimony, but the testimony is long and rambling, as opposed to Mormon’s brilliantly concise admonition to future readers (Mormon 7). Based on the text that we have from Moroni, it would appear that he had a charge to write, but no outlined and determined intent for his writing. He was to finish his father’s record, but that finishing touch shows none of the succinctness of which his father was capable. Moroni is writing more directly. He is probably writing on the plates in one sitting, with no previous outline or draft. He goes from mind to text, and the meanderings of his message, as well as the later unconnected collection of documents that comprises his book, is an indication of one who has charge to write, but no specific direction. This makes Moroni no less an important prophet or inspired man. It simply notes that his methodology in writing is demonstrably different from his father.
13 Behold, I make an end of speaking concerning this people. I am the son of Mormon, and my father was a descendant of Nephi.
14 And I am the same who hideth up this record unto the Lord; the plates thereof are of no worth, because of the commandment of the Lord. For he truly saith that no one shall have them to get gain; but the record thereof is of great worth; and whoso shall bring it to light, him will the Lord bless.
Verse 13 and the first sentence of verse 14 comprise Moroni’s identification of his hand on the record. This is his introductory colophon. He identifies himself and his lineage through his father, and then verifies his relationship to the record. It is he who “hideth up this record unto the Lord.”
[the plates thereof are of no worth]: Moroni is aware that gold plates do have some economic value, but it is doubtful that his statement carried the same contrast in meanings that it does today, for the Mesoamerican relationship to gold was not nearly one of such great lust as is the more modern and Western desire. For Moroni, he is creating a literary parallel. There is some worth in the plates, but there is tremendous worth in the content of the plates. Moroni is telling us that the message is infinitely more important than the medium, to twist Marshal McCluen’s assertion that the medium is the message in modern society.
The presence of this verse in Moroni’s cultural milieu is therefore somewhat anomalous. It is absolutely applicable to the future translator of the plates, however. This statement, continuing through verse 16, is rather pointedly aimed at the person of Joseph Smith. Unlike Mormon’s more generic comments about the appearance of his work in the latter days, Moroni directs comments at the person who is to bring forth the record.
Moroni is not only the man who hides up the plates, but he is also the man who is charged with helping Joseph Smith recover the plates (as told in Joseph Smith History 1:29-49). It would appear that Moroni was intimately charged with the care of the record, and that perhaps he knew of his future role through revelation. That revelation may have given him a picture and understanding of the young man who would receive this tremendous burden. He must have been given understanding of the nature of the burdens he would bear. It would appear that while there were yet many things on Moroni’s mind, one of the things foremost on his mind was a person, a yet unborn man who would be the prophet of the restoration, who would awake the slumbering text that Moroni himself would lay down in the earth for its long sleep.
Indeed, it was this same Moroni who would be the Lord’s messenger to that young man, and Moroni would personally instigate the events leading to the translation of the Book of Mormon. When he does, it is interesting that we see in his message-in-person to Joseph Smith a direct reflection of his message-to-the-future give here:
46 By this time, so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard. But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before; and added a caution to me, telling me that Satan would try to tempt me (in consequence of the indigent circumstances of my father's family), to get the plates for the purpose of getting rich. This he forbade me, saying that I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God, and must not be influenced by any other motive than that of building his kingdom; otherwise I could not get them.
Two elements of the conversation between Moroni and Joseph stand out. Moroni specifically notes the temptations for worldly gain. He then notes that “I must have no other object in view in getting the plates but to glorify God.” The first is the subject of the ending of verse 14. The second is the theme of the following verse 15, in which Moroni states that the one who is to bring forth the plates must have “an eye single to his glory.” Moroni had the same message for Joseph Smith. One was written 1400 years before Joseph Smith’s time. The second was delivered in person. The message remained the same.
The Moroni-to-Joseph communiqués are interesting in that Moroni writes them, but also because they were translated long after the plates had been retrieved, and well in to the translation process. The admonition to care for the text more than the value of the plates was certainly a message that was required of Joseph as he began his work, but we might assume that as the work progressed he would have understood that value. We would expect that the temptation to sell the plates should have diminished over time. Regardless of how we understand the sequence of translation after the loss of the 116 manuscript pages (starting again at Mosiah or returning to 1 Nephi) this statement appears deep in the translation process. For Moroni, the admonition would come at the very end, and in Moroni’s mind would have been the last text that this future translator would read. Moroni is therefore not giving an admonition that will be useful in the beginning, but rather an admonition that comes from his personal understanding of the events, written as, and when, he understood them.
15 For none can have power to bring it to light save it be given him of God; for God wills that it shall be done with an eye single to his glory, or the welfare of the ancient and long dispersed covenant people of the Lord.
Even though his father’s work is tangible and crafted on durable metal plates, Moroni understands that the preservation and recovery of the text will not be accomplished by the arm of flesh, but by the hand of God. This message is directed to Joseph in the presentation of the spiritual qualifications for the one who will bring it to light. It cannot be done unless that person’s eye be “single to his glory.” Following on the heels of the contrast between the physical and the spiritual value of the plates, the concept of having an eye single to the glory of God must surely be an admonition to value the plates for their spiritual content, and to concentrate on bringing that important message to light.
16 And blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; yea, it shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of darkness, and come unto the knowledge of the people; and it shall be done by the power of God.
Where Mormon’s vision of the coming forth of his text is generic, in Moroni it is very specific and humanized. It is not a generalized coming forth, but a person who “shall bring this thing to light.” Moroni understands the great role that person will play in the beginning of the final days, and Moroni understands that such a man is to be blessed for his good work. The text will come forth “out of darkness,” and will help to bring men out of the darkness into the light of their God.
17 And if there be faults they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire.
Verse 12 began with the statement that he who could overlook the faults of the record would receive “greater things.” Now the suggestion that there might be faults surfaces again, and Moroni now indicates that the source of those faults was the men who made them. The message of the text comes from God, in whom there is no error. Nevertheless, the word of God comes through men, and that conduit allows for the introduction of humanity into the message of God. This message is so important for the modern reader of the text that Moroni repeats it in the final line of the Title Page: “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men.”
[But behold, we know no fault]: With this statement Moroni testifies that there are no intentional errors in the text. The humanity of Mormon and Moroni might allow for errors, but they do not know that they are there. The implication is that if they knew that there was a fault, they would have corrected it.
[he that condemneth]: Moroni has apparently seen Joseph’s day, and this verse is beginning a transition from speaking to Joseph to speak to those who are immediately around Joseph as the text comes forth. In verse 12 we have the positive statement for the one who would believe in spite of human errors. Such a one would receive greater things. In this statement, the one who condemns the text because of those errors, and therefore will not believe in it, will be “in danger of hell fire.”
The source of the phrase “in danger of hell fire” would be Matthew 5:22, which is repeated in 3 Nephi 12:22. The contexts are completely different, so the borrowing is purely lexical. This is a phrase with which Joseph is familiar, and so it is used here.
18 And he that saith: Show unto me, or ye shall be smitten—let him beware lest he commandeth that which is forbidden of the Lord.
Moroni shifts his narrative target from Joseph Smith to those who are around him. To those people he remarks on perhaps the most common statement every made about the plates: “show them to me.” Moroni indicates that this if forbidden by the Lord, and he who insists “shall be smitten.” While the vision of the plates was generally restricted, it was specifically lifted for certain witnesses. That revelation will come as an inserted directive from Moroni to Joseph in Ether 5.
19 For behold, the same that judgeth rashly shall be judged rashly again; for according to his works shall his wages be; therefore, he that smiteth shall be smitten again, of the Lord.
Moroni creates a parallelism between judging the Book of Mormon rashly and being judged rashly (of God). This is a reworking of the New Testament concept of the parallelism between our actions and the judgment upon our actions. The Matthean base text is:
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Moroni may have been familiar with this concept, for it is also included in 3 Nephi 14:1-2. Moroni has taken that basic relationship, and applied it in a new context. This context is particularly interesting because it adds the idea of judging rashly. From the human standpoint, we certainly understand that a rash decision is one made quickly without attention to the full facts. While this does describe the ways in which many approach the Book of Mormon, it cannot accurately describe God’s justice, as God would never judge us rashly, or on insufficient data. The presence of the second “rashly” is dictated by the parallelism, not theology.
20 Behold what the scripture says—man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay.
Moroni declares that he is citing scripture. The only clear reference we have for this scripture is Romans 12:19. However, that scripture supplies only the parallel phrase “vengeance is mine… I will repay.” That part of the phrase was also found in Mormon’s text in Mormon 3:15.
The larger context given here, and specifically cited as scripture, is not part of our current set of scripture. It would appear that Moroni, and probably Mormon earlier, were citing a scripture from the plates of Nephi that was never copied into Mormon’s text.
21 And he that shall breathe out wrath and strifes against the work of the Lord, and against the covenant people of the Lord who are the house of Israel, and shall say: We will destroy the work of the Lord, and the Lord will not remember his covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel—the same is in danger to be hewn down and cast into the fire;
22 For the eternal purposes of the Lord shall roll on, until all his promises shall be fulfilled.
This admonition appears to be more generic than the previous ones. It does not fit either Joseph Smith or those directly around him. Moroni has moved from specific person to a set of people, and now to the generic future recipients of the text. For all of them the message is the same “the eternal purposes of the Lord shall roll on, until all his promises shall be fulfilled.”
23 Search the prophecies of Isaiah. Behold, I cannot write them. Yea, behold I say unto you, that those saints who have gone before me, who have possessed this land, shall cry, yea, even from the dust will they cry unto the Lord; and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them.
In his suggestion that we search Isaiah, Moroni is echoing that same command from the Savior, given during his teaching in Bountiful (3 Nephi 20:11 and 3 Nephi 23:1). The examples given from Isaiah suggest that we are to read Isaiah as a guide to the latter days. Moroni speaks to people in the future, and uses Isaiah to represent that future time. He ties the future to the past, however, when he remarks on those who have gone before him. They will bear their witness, as does Isaiah, that the Lord “will remember the covenant which he hath made” with the children of Israel, including those in the New World.
24 And he knoweth their prayers, that they were in behalf of their brethren. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word.
Moroni presents the evidence of faith on behalf of prophets of the New World who have lived before him. This is a catalogue of events that have been discussed in his father’s text. There may have been other occasions, but we have the shaking of the earth and the falling down of the prison walls in the case of Alma and Amulek (Alma 14:27), and the combination of fiery furnace and survival of wild beasts attributed more than once to the three Nephites (3 Nephi 21:22; 4 Nephi 1:32-33). The most interesting of Moroni’s depictions of the faith of the fathers is the moving of the mountain. The only time we see this in our Book of Mormon record is in Ether 12:30 in a passing comment by Moroni that is out of chronological order. This tells us that by the time Moroni writes this sentence, he has read the book of Ether. It does not necessarily mean that Moroni was writing in Ether at this time, but he was certainly reading in preparation for writing it.
The impact of Moroni’s citation of the faith of the fathers is to not that they were able to make things happen through faith. Therefore, if they have faith and pray on behalf of their brethren, then what they prayed for will surely come to pass. This theme is picked up again in verse 26.
25 And behold, their prayers were also in behalf of him that the Lord should suffer to bring these things forth.
Moroni asserts that these prophets prayed not only for their brethren, but specifically for the person who was to bring the work to light, for Joseph Smith. Since the 1 Nephi-Omni material was certainly with the record at this point, Moroni would have read Nephi’s discourse on the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 13:39-41). He would also have known of Lehi’s discourse to his son Joseph which contained information about this person who would bring forth the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 3:11-17). These would be some of the points in scripture he would have used to make his statement that the prophets had prayed for the person who would “bring these things forth.”
26 And no one need say they shall not come, for they surely shall, for the Lord hath spoken it; for out of the earth shall they come, by the hand of the Lord, and none can stay it; and it shall come in a day when it shall be said that miracles are done away; and it shall come even as if one should speak from the dead.
This is the point of the discussion of the miracles of the previous prophets. They spoke and performed miracles. Things happened because they willed them to happen through faith. In that same faith, they have prayed for the coming forth of the record, and therefore “no one need say they shall not come.” Just as these prophets have been effective through faith in the miracles performed during their lifetimes, they will also be effective in making certain that the Book of Mormon will be presented to the world.
27 And it shall come in a day when the blood of saints shall cry unto the Lord, because of secret combinations and the works of darkness.
At this point Moroni begins a discussion of the world into which the Book of Mormon would come. It is a world that he has seen in vision (verse 35 below). It is tempting to assume that because it is a vision in which Moroni has been very specific about a single person that he would be as accurate about the rest of the details. However, it is not only not clear that each of his statements has a reference specific to Joseph Smith’s time, many of them are generic scriptural markers of the last days. It would seem that much of what Moroni saw was the prophetic vision of the last days, and the descriptions are simply intended to show that the Book of Mormon would come forth in the last days.
Nevertheless, there would have been some recognition in Joseph’s day of some of these, even though they also pertain to times after Joseph Smith. For instance, it is quite probable that Joseph and his contemporaries would see prophetic fulfillment of Moroni’s declaration that there would be “secret combinations and works of darkness” in the last days in the issues that were being discussed concerning the Masons. The term “secret combinations” was applied to the Masons, and Joseph Smith’s time period was particularly vocal about a particular work of darkness in the murder of William Morgan who was a former Mason who was threatening to expose secrets. The popular assumption was that he was murdered by Masons to preserve those secrets. This type of connection is what has led many critics of the Book of Mormon to see in the statements about secret combinations a reflection of Joseph Smith’s contemporary anti-Masonic feelings (several of these critics are discussed in Daniel C. Peterson, “Notes on Gadianton Masonry.” Warfare in the Book of Mormon. Eds. Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin. FARMS 1990, pp174-224.).
We have noted that the Gadianton robbers as a secret combination have a very specific symbolic role to play in the Book of Mormon, so it is difficult to see the “secret combinations” as anything but linguistic artifacts (a point that is made by Mark D. Thomas. Digging in Cumorah. Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 1999, p. 204). However, it is just as certain that many who read this prophecy of Moroni’s would see in that prophecy the events that had made such a stir in the years just before the arrival of the Book of Mormon (Dan Vogel gives some examples of relatively contemporaneous statements that saw a connection between the Book of Mormon and the anti-Masonic feelings of the time. See Dan Vogel. “Echoes of Anti-Masonry: A Rejoinder to Critics of theAnti-Masonic Thesis.” American Apocrypha. Signature Books, Salt Lake City, 2002, pp. 275-320).
28 Yea, it shall come in a day when the power of God shall be denied, and churches become defiled and be lifted up in the pride of their hearts; yea, even in a day when leaders of churches and teachers shall rise in the pride of their hearts, even to the envying of them who belong to their churches.
Certainly the apostate nature of many of the churches would be a characteristic of the time of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, a condition that existed prior to and after Joseph’s day. Sadly, much of these same conditions continue to exist in the Christian world.
29 Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be heard of fires, and tempests, and vapors of smoke in foreign lands;
30 And there shall also be heard of wars, rumors of wars, and earthquakes in divers places.
The phrase “rumors of wars” is found in Matthew 24:6 and Mark 13:7 in an eschatological context. The presence of that formulaic expression here indicates that Joseph as a translator sees these described events as part of the catalog of descriptions of the last days. It would be unclear as to how Joseph and his contemporaries would have seen the fulfillments of these “fires, and tempests, and vapors of smoke.”
31 Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be great pollutions upon the face of the earth; there shall be murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations; when there shall be many who will say, Do this, or do that, and it mattereth not, for the Lord will uphold such at the last day. But wo unto such, for they are in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.
[great pollutions upon the face of the earth]: It is tempting to see this phrase as a prediction of modern air quality problems. That would be reading the word “pollutions” in its modern sense, and not the context in which it was meant. For instance, we have in the Bible:
20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.
The pollutions are the evils of the idols, and the threat that one might become less clean and pure because of the contamination of those evils. This would be the context of pollutions in this verse in the Book of Mormon. There are great evils abroad. This context is confirmed by the definition of what they were: “murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceivings, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations.”
32 Yea, it shall come in a day when there shall be churches built up that shall say: Come unto me, and for your money you shall be forgiven of your sins.
We have this verse in a very clear translation from Joseph Smith that highlights the problems of the modern day. It is certain that he understood Moroni’s sentiments about materialistic religion. In the Book of Mormon, this was always the order of the Nehors. In the latter days, it is priestcraft for money. Conceptually they are the same. The presence of the term “money” in this verse is certainly Joseph Smith’s interpretation of the modern condition, as there was no money in Moroni’s world.
33 O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches unto yourselves to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? Behold, look ye unto the revelations of God; for behold, the time cometh at that day when all these things must be fulfilled.
Moroni slips from description to exhortation. Keying in on the churches for gain, he addresses the modern world and wonders why they have allowed such a perversion of God’s word to take place. He would have been particularly dismayed with this, for he would have read his father’s work and known of the problems the Nephites had with the conceptually similar order of the Nehors. Moroni encourages the world to return to the scriptures to learn of the true God.
34 Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you.
35 Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
Moroni has had a vision of the future, and his current mindset is looking forward to that future. He has addressed Joseph Smith directly, and now is addressing the general future audience. He notes: “I speak unto you as if ye were present.” This happens more in Moroni than it did in Mormon’s writings. While Mormon also had asides to the future, they are more frequent and much more directed in Moroni’s writings. Moroni is alone in the world, and he has a mission to perform. Clearly part of the mission he knows that he will perform consists in caring for the plates and giving them to Joseph Smith. This revealed purpose is Moroni’s most important task, and so clearly on his mind that he is focuses on the future. He speaks to the future because his thoughts and the intention of his heart is so directed toward that future and his personal role in it.
36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
In the midst of Moroni’s lament for the future, he brings into his statement the cultural contexts that have been part of the Nephite problem. He specifically notes that the people of the last days will “lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel.” This is the Nephite problem. This is what his father wrote his book to demonstrate, that these sentiments were consistently the downfall of the Nephites. Moroni has seen the future, but the continues to interpret what he has seen in terms of the world that he knows. Thus the future’s problems are similarly cause by the “lifting up,” or social segregation, and the “fine apparel” that creates demonstrates the social segregation.
37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
This has been the problem of the Nephites. When they have become wealthy, the segregation of society made a great gap between those who have the wealth and those who do not. Those who do not participate in the wealth are unable to participate in many of the benefits of the society. This is the Nephite principle of egalitarianism that Moroni sees being violated in the future society at the time when the Book of Mormon is to be delivered.
38 O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
This contrast between motivations, that of the glory of God or the praise of the world, is the theme of one of Christ’s messages in the Sermon on the Mount:
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
5 ¶ And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
For those who do practice their religion “because of the praise of the world,” Jesus has said that “they have their reward.” It is a reward from the earth, and not of the heavens. Having their earthly reward, they have forfeited the heavenly reward.
39 Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?
[that which hath no life]: This is a play on the words and theme. That which has no life is the ornamentation and fine clothing that they wear. However, the reference is to more than the fact that clothing is inanimate. It also does not lead to eternal life. In these things there is no physical life, and there is no eternal life through the wearing of them. Those who lift themselves above others are denying the future life for the pleasures of the current life. The evidence of this is their separation from the rest of humanity, particularly those who might need their assistance, the hungry and the needy.
40 Yea, why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans to mourn before the Lord, and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord from the ground, for vengeance upon your heads?
Moroni’s secret abominations have all of the characteristics of the secret combinations. These are simply alternate terms for the same phenomenon in the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon secret combinations have as a particular feature the killing for gain. It is this contextually assumed trait that has Moroni associating the secret abominations with causing widows. The secret combinations murder, therefore there are widows and orphans.
41 Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer.
Reference: A sword hanging over a person is a literary reference to the famous sword of Damocles. The intent of the passage is to indicate that the judgment is coming, because all of these events are harbingers of the second coming. The particular language, however, comes from the Western literary tradition, and would not have been an image that Moroni would have used. Moroni’s text would have connoted the imminent danger, but with some other means of describing the coming judgment.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this location in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002