Mosiah 22


MDC Contents


Mosiah 22:1
1 And now it came to pass that Ammon and king Limhi began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves out of bondage; and even they did cause that all the people should gather themselves together; and this they did that they might have the voice of the people concerning the matter.

There are some important facts to be discovered in this verse. The first is that Ammon and Limhi consulted with the people. This tells us first that it was probably not the normal form of government, else it would not be necessary to mention. In the size of the city under Noah (as well as Noah's probable proclivities) there would not have been a consultation with the populace on any matter. The king would decide and declare. This occasion is different in that the entire population will be effected by the resulting answer. In fact, it is quite likely that the ultimate solution was known beforehand, and the meeting was held to allow the people the opportunity to participate in making a decision that would require them to uproot themselves from their homes.

The second important piece of information is that while they were under Lamanite guard, the Lamanites were clearly not in the city itself. Had there been Lamanites present, a large gathering would not only attract attention, but it would be impossible to conceal the contents of such a large meeting. This meeting had to be conducted with the knowledge that no Lamanite would hear the discussion and know of their plans beforehand.

Mosiah 22:2
2 And it came to pass that they could find no way to deliver themselves out of bondage, except it were to take their women and children, and their flocks, and their herds, and their tents, and depart into the wilderness; for the Lamanites being so numerous, it was impossible for the people of Limhi to contend with them, thinking to deliver themselves out of bondage by the sword.

There is no way out of their bondage except to flee. They have tried military might three times, and each has resulted in defeat and the dreadful loss of men. The city now finds itself with a smaller population, and a much-diminished population of fighting men. Military might is simply no longer an option. There is nothing to negotiate, and all negotiation favors the Lamanites. There is only escape.

Mosiah 22:3
3 Now it came to pass that Gideon went forth and stood before the king, and said unto him: Now O king, thou hast hitherto hearkened unto my words many times when we have been contending with our brethren, the Lamanites.
Mosiah 22:4
4 And now O king, if thou hast not found me to be an unprofitable servant, or if thou hast hitherto listened to my words in any degree, and they have been of service to thee, even so I desire that thou wouldst listen to my words at this time, and I will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage.

Textual: Mormon is now copying the speech from the Limhite records. While it is possible that Mormon created dialogue, it is less likely than his creation of the narrative portions. In this particular case, the nature of the discourse suggests that it is authentic to the period. Rather than a terse introduction of the topic, Gideon gives an elaborate introduction to the reason why he should be granted the ability to speak. He reminds the king that his advice has been valuable in the past, and that in recognition of past service he should be heard. Of course Gideon's service would be quite well known to Limhi, and all of Gideon's introduction entirely useless from an information standpoint. However, this is a formal situation, and Gideon is seeking formal audience before his king and in front of the population. This requires the protocol that Gideon exhibits. Mormon's style tends to be more terse, and had Mormon invented this speech it would be more likely to follow Mormon's desires to keep the text simple and to the point.

Mosiah 22:5
5 And the king granted unto him that he might speak. And Gideon said unto him:

Social: This is the second half of the formal request for the king's ear. The king formally grants Gideon permission to speak.

Mosiah 22:6
6 Behold the back pass, through the back wall, on the back side of the city. The Lamanites, or the guards of the Lamanites, by night are drunken; therefore let us send a proclamation among all this people that they gather together their flocks and herds, that they may drive them into the wilderness by night.

Gideon's knowledge of the drunkenness of the Lamanites tells us that Gideon has had spies in the field. He would need to know the state of the various Lamanite encampments. Mesoamerican cultures appear to have had a long-time difficulty with the excesses of alcohol. Jacques Soustelle analyzed the later Mexica laws concerning drunkenness:

"When one studies the literature upon the subject, one has the feeling that the Indians were very clearly aware of their strong natural inclination to alcoholism, and that they were quite determined to work against this evil, and to control themselves, by practising an extraordinarily severe policy of repression. 'Nobody drank wine (oct1i) excepting only those who were already aged, and they drank a little in secret, without becoming drunk. If a drunk man showed himself in public, or if be were caught drinking, or if he were found speechless in the street, or if he wandered about singing or in the company of other drunkards, he was punished, if he were a plebeian, by being beaten to death, or else he was strangled before the young men (of the district) by way of an example and to make them shun drunkenness. If the drunkard were noble, he was strangled in private'

There were ferocious laws against public drunkenness. The statutes of Nezaualcoyotl punished the priest taken in drunkenness with death; and death was the punishment for the drunken dignitary, official or ambassador if he were found in the palace: the dignitary who had got drunk without scandal was still punished, but only by the loss of his office and his titles. The drunken plebeian got off the first time with no more than having his head shaved in public, while the crowd jeered at him; but the backslider was punished with death, as the nobles were for their first offence.

Here we have an exceedingly violent case of socially defensive reaction against an equally violent tendency, whose existence has been historically proved, for when the conquest had destroyed the moral and judicial underpinning of Mexican civilisation, alcoholism spread among the Indians to an extraordinary degree." (Soustelle, Jacques. Daily Life of the Aztecs on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest. Stanford University Press, 1962, p. 156-7).

While this example comes from much later than the Book of Mormon, and an entirely different culture, there is no reason to suppose that the potential problem with alcohol was much less in earlier times and different cultures. As Soustelle noted, when the severe cultural penalties were withdrawn, the problem of alcoholism became widespread. In the current case we have some Lamanites who are guarding the back gate who are drunk every night. Gideon does not mention any other group of guards.

A possible picture of the situation would be that the Lamanites also had a fairly rigorous injunction against drunkenness. This particular guard party, however, appears to be isolated away from other encampments. Those encampments closer to Shemlon, and with greater contact with that city, would probably have been more circumspect. However, this guard party by the back gate might not expect any particular problem. Gideon speaks of a secret pass (verse 7). This would indicate that the area would have been generally considered impassible (except perhaps through the particular location guarded by the Lamanites). When combined with the Lamanite drunkenness at night, all of this suggests that the Lamanites thought that there would be little threat, and that the night would be even less of a problem. This Lamanite sense of complacency would be increased by the lack of probable trouble as well as the lack of recent troubles. When combined with their relative isolation, it would appear that they literally let their guard down.

Mosiah 22:7
7 And I will go according to thy command and pay the last tribute of wine to the Lamanites, and they will be drunken; and we will pass through the secret pass on the left of their camp when they are drunken and asleep.

The plan has two parts. The first is to assure an even more drunken Lamanite guard, and the second is to use the "secret pass." The term "secret" certainly presupposes that it was little known, and certainly unknown to the Lamanites. The plan therefore was to diminish the Lamanite awareness, and then to escape from an unexpected outlet. We may be assured that the Lamanite camp was created to guard any obvious path out of the land. To be effective, this plan relied upon the Lamanite ignorance of the secret pass.

Mosiah 22:8
8 Thus we will depart with our women and our children, our flocks, and our herds into the wilderness; and we will travel around the land of Shilom.

Geographical: Sorenson notes that the information that Gideon gives is too scanty to trace a certain route out of Lehi-Nephi. However, he does suggest a plausible route that bends toward Shilom on the south before it arrives at a more passable valley system leading northward to Zarahemla (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1985, p. 175). The evidence of the relative locations of Shemlon, Shilom, and Lehi-Nephi suggests that Shilom lay in between Shemlon and Lehi-Nephi. At this point in time, all of Limhi's people are located in Lehi-Nephi. This would indicate that either Shilom is uninhabited, or that it is inhabited by Lamanites. This latter is more probable, as the Lamanites appear to be in an expansion mode, and Noah had built buildings there that would be of value to the Lamanites.

With this configuration in mind, the "back gate" most likely would be the one farthest from Shemlon and Shilom, allowing the people to leave with the city between them and the largest force of the Lamanites. Since they would not want to volunteer to go too close to Shemlon if they could avoid it. In the geography Sorenson has developed, their path would proceed down a valley to the south-southwest before they hit the northwest valley. This saved them from crossing mountains with their people and herds. It might have been safer to cross over the mountains, but much more difficult on women, children, and flocks. Thus this turn towards Shilom makes geographic sense, even when it makes no sense from a safety perspective.

Mosiah 22:9
9 And it came to pass that the king hearkened unto the words of Gideon.
Mosiah 22:10
10 And king Limhi caused that his people should gather their flocks together; and he sent the tribute of wine to the Lamanites; and he also sent more wine, as a present unto them; and they did drink freely of the wine which king Limhi did send unto them.

Limhi gives the Lamanites the regular portion of tribute wine. As has been previously noted, this was probably pulque, the standard Mesoamerican intoxicant. In addition, Limhi gives them an extra portion. This was wise on Limhi's part, because the Lamanites might decide just that night that they might be in trouble if they drank up the entire tribute. With the extra portion, however, they would freely drink that, and then probably drink more from the tribute wine.

Textual: Both the printer's manuscript and the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon begin this sentence with "And it came to pass that king Limhi…." The phrase was deleted from the 1837 version to the present.

Mosiah 22:11
11 And it came to pass that the people of king Limhi did depart by night into the wilderness with their flocks and their herds, and they went round about the land of Shilom in the wilderness, and bent their course towards the land of Zarahemla, being led by Ammon and his brethren.

Geographical: As was mentioned above, Limhi's people exit from the "back" of the city through a secret pass. This pass is a way between mountains, and it apparently lead down toward Shilom. Since the topography suggests that Shilom is at a lower elevation than Lehi-Nephi, the group would be traveling down a valley, perhaps a drainage, that led toward Shilom. Thus they go "round about the land of Shilom." They do not get all of the way to Shilom, because they remain "in the wilderness." In this case, the "wilderness" would be unpopulated land, but certainly not desolate. There would have been trees and other types of cover, but probably a reasonable path along the bottom of the valley/ravine/drainage - whatever accurately describes the location.

At some point prior to Shilom, when they were apparently still at a safe distance, they were able to "bend their course towards the land of Zarahemla." This suggests that they needed to go around some foothills to arrive at the travel path that would lead in the direction of Zarahemla. Sorenson's map of this routing shows the topography of this area, and depicts precisely this arrangement of mountains and valleys (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1985, p. 170).

Mosiah 22:12
12 And they had taken all their gold, and silver, and their precious things, which they could carry, and also their provisions with them, into the wilderness; and they pursued their journey.

Economic: As with previous mentions of gold and silver, we presume that these are among the "precious things" that were taken with the Limhites. These are more likely the raw materials for their trade. The Limhites are taking with them not only their subsistence goods, but their luxury goods. More importantly, however, would be the means by which they gained those "precious things." This would be the category for the gold and silver. Those metals would form the basis of trade goods, which led to the "precious things."

Mosiah 22:13
13 And after being many days in the wilderness they arrived in the land of Zarahemla, and joined Mosiah's people, and became his subjects.

We get very little information about the travel, but we may expect that it was arduous. It is also probable that they are returning along a similar path to the one Ammon took to find them, since the Limhites had already attempted to find Zarahemla and missed.

Upon arrival in Zarahemla, Limhi recognizes Mosiah's superior right to rule, and he and his people become subjects of Mosiah. This would be logical in that Zarahemla would have the greater population, the greater claim to rule, and the recognition that Zarahemla was saving the Limhites.

Mosiah 22:14
14 And it came to pass that Mosiah received them with joy; and he also received their records, and also the records which had been found by the people of Limhi.

Textual: The records found by Limhi's expedition are specifically mentioned (the 24 plates which are the Book of Ether). These were not the only plates given to Mosiah. The record of Zeniff, which probably included the record of Noah and Limhi as well, was given to Mosiah, who reads them to his people (Mosiah 25:5).

The naming of this record as the record of Zeniff, even though it encompassed the reign of three different kings, is analogous to the situation suggested for the Book of Lehi. The official lineage record would be named for the lineage ancestor, and the name of the "ancestor book" would not be changed until a change in dynasty, which is the explanation for the Book of Mosiah which begins a new dynasty and also contains the accounts of three kings (Mosiah 1, Benjamin, Mosiah 2).

Social: While Mosiah received the Limhites "with joy," they were also certain to have been a difficult task of integration. Since they were an entire community come complete with their own structures and experiences, they would probably remain together. Thus Mosiah is faced with finding a way to include a new city inside his jurisdiction. The Limhites would therefore probably be sent to add to a small population, or to begin a new location in the land of Zarahemla, but not specifically in the city of Zarahemla.

Translation: It is possible that the phrase "received them with joy" was formal phrase for the integration of one people in to another because we have virtually the identical phrasing when Alma's people come to Zarahemla:

Mosiah 24:25
25 And after they had been in the wilderness twelve days they arrived in the land of Zarahemla; and king Mosiah did also receive them with joy.
If this is not a formal acceptance phrase, then it is possible that Mormon is making a literary parallel to indicate that both the Limhites and Almaites were accepted equally.
Mosiah 22:15
15 And now it came to pass when the Lamanites had found that the people of Limhi had departed out of the land by night, that they sent an army into the wilderness to pursue them;
Mosiah 22:16
16 And after they had pursued them two days, they could no longer follow their tracks; therefore they were lost in the wilderness.

There is no indication of how this information was obtained. It would appear that some scouts were left to guard the rear of the Limhite retreat party, and that they would be able to know when they were pursued, and when the pursuit was called off. We are not told why the tracks were untraceable after two days. The area they were passing through would be mountainous forest, and perhaps the soft undergrowth did not easily mark the signs of their passing. While there may be reasonable natural explanations for why the party could not be traced, the Lord must have had a hand in covering the tracks, as a whole city's worth of people, animals, and goods (they had brought their gold, silver, and precious things - see verse 12) would leave a fairly obvious trail. It is also possible that rather than not being able to follow the trail, the Lamanites simply decided that they would not find them within a reasonable distance, and turned back for distance as much as failure to find tracks.

The last possibility is that the failure to continue to give chase to the Limhites was due to the discovery of the priests of Noah, which is described in Mosiah 23:30-31. These verses specifically note that it was the expedition that was chasing Limhi that found the priests. Whether they found them and therefore cut off the search for the Limhites, or were lost, and then found the priests of Noah may not be known with precision, although they do appear to have lost their way (Mosiah 23:30) and so the most probable conclusion would be that the army both lost the Limhites, and lost their way. As they were attempting to return they found the encampment of the priests of Noah.

Textual: This is a separate chapter in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon.

      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2000