Mosiah 19


MDC Contents

    Mosiah 19:1
1 And it came to pass that the army of the king returned, having searched in vain for the people of the Lord.

Textual: The chapter division here is not original to the Book of Mormon, but added later. This verse is directly relate to Mosiah 18:32 which described the mission of the army to find Alma's people. At the end of chapter 18 we have Alma forewarned of the army's coming, and they depart the area called Mormon. As was noted, this is a transitional set of verses that moves the story from Alma's people to the story of Limhi. At this point we have a temporary hold on Alma's story. Mormon leaves them in the limbo of their departure, and does not return to them until Mosiah 23.

Mosiah 19:2
2 And now behold, the forces of the king were small, having been reduced, and there began to be a division among the remainder of the people.
Mosiah 19:3
3 And the lesser part began to breathe out threatenings against the king, and there began to be a great contention among them.

Mormon has most certainly left out an important historical event somewhere between the story of Abinadi and this verse. When we see Noah at the beginning of the story of Abinadi, he is the powerful king and ruler of the city. He is a king who can control the labor force, embarking on large building projects. He appears, at that beginning description by Mormon, to have a fairly uniform popular support. In spite of these descriptions of a man apparently firmly in power, we have Mosiah 19:2 which appears to begin to describe a king losing his grip on his kingdom.

Somehow the uniformity that begins the story of Noah has now disintegrated into internal factionalism and a reduction of the military force. We are completely on our own to assume the causes of the internal unrest and the cause of the reduction in the military. In the case of the military, we also do not know if the reduction came because of losses in war, or due to defection to dissenting parties. We are simply presented with the stark picture of a very different Noah.

Since we have an explicit Lamanite attack in verse 6, and no indication of any previous attack, we may assume that the reduction of Noah's military was not through wartime losses, but rather defection. This reduction in the forces would therefore be directly related to the internal dissension, with those who agreed with the dissenters leaving the service of the king.

We have even less information on which to judge the internal disorder. It is tempting to relate it to the teachings of Alma who might have created an atmosphere of dissatisfaction with Noah on religious grounds. This does not appear completely likely, however, since those who agreed with Alma appear to be yet another faction, and their physical danger required them to be not only secretive, but to leave the city entirely. Thus those who remained to continue this contentiousness are probably not followers of Alma. They are also clearly no longer followers of Alma. Who were they and what caused the dissatisfaction?

It is possible that this faction (or these factions, if there were more than one) was present prior to the incident with Abinadi. Mormon may not have given us a completely clear picture of the social conditions under Noah because it suited his editorial interests to place not only Noah, but also the entire population under the light of apostasy. This gave Mormon a simpler backdrop against which to paint the story of the rejection of Abinadi and his arrest and trial before Noah and the priests.

We know that Mormon is writing the descriptions of Noah, and that he is making his own selections from history, and this allows us some leeway in reconstructing the most probable social situation. Very clearly Noah had a dominant political position, and probably statistical majority support for his religious innovations. However, it is unlikely that all of those who had followed Zeniff would have completely abandoned all of their previously held opinions and religion. Thus the presence of some in society who would have remained loyal to Zeniff's teachings is fairly assured, and this smoldering factionalism could easily be that which erupted after the death of Abinadi. It is probably that the high taxation that allowed for the building projects also created economic pressure on those who did not agree with the particular society that was being embodied in the buildings being built.

It would have been these more loyal followers of Zeniff who would have been receptive to Abinadi's preaching, and recognized him for a prophet of God. If, as Daniel Ludlow suggested, Abinadi had been one of the deposed priests of Zeniff, then those loyal to the memory and legacy of Zeniff would be particularly moved at his public and undeserved execution. While it is certainly speculative, this scenario would explain how the only events we have reported could lead to the dissolution of Noah's empire in this short of time. Perhaps this appeared so natural a conclusion to Mormon that he saw no reason to explain it. Perhaps it was simply another incident in Mormon's interest in greater spiritual stories that has left out so many things that a historian would love to know.

Mosiah 19:4
4 And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.

Gideon appears abruptly in our story. We are not given any of his background, but from his actions as they unfold we can easily surmise that Gideon is a military man. Verse 22 below will speak of the "men of Gideon," clearly placing Gideon as a recognized leader of men. Mosiah 20:21 clearly shows that Gideon has a knowledge of the prophecy of Abinadi concerning Noah and his people. These small pieces of information can give us a probable picture of Gideon prior to this sudden introduction. As a man of action and the sword, we can place Gideon in the military. His actions are not those of a man given to political intrigue, but of physical action. He must have been part of the military assigned to the palace, as his knowledge of Abinadi's statements would indicate that he either heard them directly, or through the world of mouth information exchange that would have been part of palace life. His dissatisfaction with Noah, combined with the citation of Abinadi, suggests that he was one of the men who left Noah's military service and would have been aligned with those who would have been the follower's of Zeniff suggested above. We may further surmise that he was a captain of men (or we may call him a general - we don't have any information on rankings in Noah's military - it is sufficient that he was a commander). It is entirely likely that he took with him all of his military unit n his defection, accounting for the designation "men of Gideon" as well as a fair part of the reduction of Noah's military.

Mosiah 19:5
5 And it came to pass that he fought with the king; and when the king saw that he was about to overpower him, he fled and ran and got upon the tower which was near the temple.

Modern saints are accustomed to mentally picture Noah as Arnold Freiburg painted him, overweight and probably out of shape. This verse suggests something different. While it is clear that Noah survived his initial encounter with Gideon by fleeing, the verse also suggests that there was some initial physical encounter. For anyone untrained in military weaponry to long withstand the attack of one who would have been as competent as Gideon suggests that Noah had sufficient physical abilities to brunt the initial attack and give himself time to flee.

The lack of any suggestion that Gideon had to fight his way through an armed guard to even reach Noah is further suggestive that Gideon was a ranking man among the palace guard. If he had been required to fight his way into Noah's presence from outside the palace, Noah would have been notified, and his flight would have occurred even sooner. Gideon was apparently leading a palace coup, and apparently had sufficient backing by his own men that he was able to enter Noah's presence nearly unhindered. We may conclude that at this point Noah's rule was over, and that Gideon had already effectively seized government.

Mosiah 19:6
6 And Gideon pursued after him and was about to get upon the tower to slay the king, and the king cast his eyes round about towards the land of Shemlon, and behold, the army of the Lamanites were within the borders of the land.

The towers of Noah were specifically built for the purpose of overseeing the land for the incursion of Lamanite armies (see Mosiah 11:12). In this case, the tower does precisely what it was meant to do, and Noah sees the Lamanites in the field.

We may also speculate further on the conditions that lead to this particular incident. First, why would Noah run up a tower rather than away from the palace to open ground where he had more options. In this case he "treed" himself. Assuming that Noah was not completely stupid, he probably had few options. If Gideon effectively controlled the palace and the access to Noah, he would clearly control all of the exits. Therefore Noah's only hope would have been a defensible higher ground. For those who have seen the narrow and steep steps of Mesoamerican temples, one may see how such a "tower" might be a position of defense. With Noah on the flat top and Gideon attempting an uphill fight on narrow stairs, Noah's military position would be clear. In the conditions that appear to be described in the brief hints Mormon gives us, Noah probably did the only thing that had any chance of saving his life.

Mosiah 19:7
7 And now the king cried out in the anguish of his soul, saying: Gideon, spare me, for the Lamanites are upon us, and they will destroy us; yea, they will destroy my people.
Mosiah 19:8
8 And now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life; nevertheless, Gideon did spare his life.

Gideon had come to slay the king, and now chooses not to. Of course the presence of the Lamanites is the fulcrum on which his choice moved from death to liberation, but why? The Lamanites posed a clear threat that Gideon wanted to meet. As a leader of men, he had a home and a land to protect. Nevertheless, we may assume that with his previous intent, had be been able to quickly dispatch Noah he may have done so. As with the previous physical conflict with Noah, the king was apparently able to hold his own for at least a little while, and in this case would have held the more defensible ground, making Gideon's attack even more difficult. Given a choice between a protracted delay while he killed the king, or the immediate ability to rally forces to meet a much larger challenge, Gideon chose the more pressing immediate threat of the Lamanites. This also suggests that Gideon was fairly firmly in control of the government at this time, so that he could presume to rally the people to their defense in spite of the freedom of Noah.

Mosiah 19:9
9 And the king commanded the people that they should flee before the Lamanites, and he himself did go before them, and they did flee into the wilderness, with their women and their children.

A plausible reading of verse 18 would be that Gideon was not one of those who fled with Noah before the Lamanite advance. Indeed, the character of Gideon as we glimpse it would have been antithetical to such a cowardly flight. The scenario that appears to best fit the description is that Gideon and those loyal to him would have remained to defend the city, and it was those loyal to Noah, and those who panicked who fled to the wilderness. The flight of an entire city would be a remarkably easy target, and while even this group was destined to be caught, it is most probable that the flight was of Noah's loyalists and their families in the immediate vicinity of the palace. No others save those who saw the flight and joined in panic would have had the time to assemble themselves, even for flight.

Mosiah 19:10
10 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did pursue them, and did overtake them, and began to slay them.

Supposing the scenario as presented, this group was not the entire population of the city, but more likely the loyalists living in and around the palace. Mesoamerican housing patterns show a definite clustering of homes into kin-based units. Thus it would not be surprising for Noah to be able to alert kinsmen and have them flee in concern, coming from one of these kin-based compounds.

The Lamanite attacking army would therefore face two options, chase the fleeing band that included the King, or turn and attack a city that would have been defended by Gideon and his men, as well as all who would have remained in the town. It is not hard to see the easy choice made by the Lamanites. If the group fleeing could be seen well at all, their dress would certainly mark them as high status, and the unorganized flight would make them a much easier target than organized resistance around a probably fortified location.

Mosiah 19:11
11 Now it came to pass that the king commanded them that all the men should leave their wives and their children, and flee before the Lamanites.

Until this point we have little evidence for Mormon's assertion in verse 8 that King Noah was cowardly: "And now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life…" Mormon certainly knew of this incident before he wrote the abridgement, and so this reprehensible event gave him proof enough of the flaw in Noah's character.

Mosiah 19:12
12 Now there were many that would not leave them, but had rather stay and perish with them. And the rest left their wives and their children and fled.

Among those who fled with Noah were those who would also abandon their families. There were others who could not face the idea of abandoning their loved ones to an uncertain fate. Even among the loyalists there was another final division, dividing yet further those who remained with any continuing connection to Noah.

Mosiah 19:13
13 And it came to pass that those who tarried with their wives and their children caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them.
Mosiah 19:14
14 And it came to pass that the Lamanites had compassion on them, for they were charmed with the beauty of their women.

In small defense of those who abandoned their families, it is possible that this salvation through the medium of the women was precisely what was hoped for when Noah and the others abandoned their wives and children. Perhaps there was some tradition of non-violence against women that they had recognized. Certainly those who stayed with their families rapidly turned to a different version of the same ploy. Where Noah would have abandoned the women and children, perhaps supposing that they would be spared, the men who remained with their families still used their women as intermediaries rather than put up a fight.

Mormon's interpretation is that it was the beauty of their women that softened the hearts of the Lamanites. It is hard to understand how a marauding army would be touched by beauty to the point of forgiveness. It is quite probable that this was a negotiated surrender. While lives were spared, capture was not, and the final point of the story is the subjugation of the land of Lehi-Nephi to the Lamanites.

Mosiah 19:15
15 Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would deliver up king Noah into the hands of the Lamanites, and deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed, one half of their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year.

Historical: Here we have the pattern that we have seen before in this land of first inheritance. Rather than a European conception of conquest and defeat, the Book of Mormon reflects a very Mesoamerican mode of ending a conflict. While Limhi and the rest of his people are "captured," they are allowed to return to their city. All returns to "normal," except for the imposition of a heavy tribute to the Lamanites.

Mosiah 19:16
16 And now there was one of the sons of the king among those that were taken captive, whose name was Limhi.

We are now introduced to Limhi, whom we met when this entire historical flashback began. The presence of Limhi in the party that fled with Noah further strengthens the idea that those who fled were family first and retainers to Noah. Limhi certainly would have gone with his clan, even though his moral character is certainly an improvement over his father's, a fact also noted by Mormon (verse 17).

The presence of both the King and the future king in the same group provides yet another reason for both the pursuit of this group and the nature of the conclusion of the conflict. With the capture of the king-to-be, and perhaps a public rejection of the fled King, the Lamanites would have captured the city by proxy in the person of the man who would traditionally be the personification of the city (of course this presumes that Noah was now sufficiently discredited that Limhi would be considered as the current rather than the future ruler.)

Mosiah 19:17
17 And now Limhi was desirous that his father should not be destroyed; nevertheless, Limhi was not ignorant of the iniquities of his father, he himself being a just man.

This verse is difficult to place in context. If we read it as a conclusion to the previous verses, we have Mormon commenting on Limhi's mixed feelings about supplanting his father as ruler of the people. If we read it as the prelude to Gideon's actions, then it would be more suggestive that Limhi requested Gideon to send troops to find his father and return him.

This second is not very likely. If Limhi was not aware that Gideon had intended to kill his father, it is quite likely that Gideon would have made known his intentions. A Limhi shown as not wanting his father destroyed would hardly commission a man who had tried to kill him to provide for his safety.

It would seem easier to see this expedition sent from the city after the return of Limhi's people. Gideon would have been in the city, and initiated the search party as a continuation of his attempt to overthrow Noah. It is therefore quite probable that when the party went to chase down those who fled that they had in mind killing Noah, and that there was at this point no formal recognition of Limhi as king by Gideon nor his men. This must have come after, when events had settled and safety was assured.

Mosiah 19:18
18 And it came to pass that Gideon sent men into the wilderness secretly, to search for the king and those that were with him. And it came to pass that they met the people in the wilderness, all save the king and his priests.

Note that Gideon sends the men "secretly." While this might mean that they were going cautiously, it may also be indicative that he was acting without the approval of Limhi, as suggested above. As the search party trails Noah, they meet up with many men returning toward the city. As noted in this verse, the king and the priests were the only ones who remained behind.

Mosiah 19:19
19 Now they had sworn in their hearts that they would return to the land of Nephi, and if their wives and their children were slain, and also those that had tarried with them, that they would seek revenge, and also perish with them.
Mosiah 19:20
20 And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.
Mosiah 19:21
21 And they were about to take the priests also and put them to death, and they fled before them.

The contentions that were eating at all of Lehi-Nephi now permeated the last of Noah's loyalists. Among this self-selected group of men, only the king and the priests appear to stand together, with the rest desiring to return. The official reason for the division was the desire of the men to avenge the deaths of their wives and children. The nature of what happened suggests that it was the final act of political overthrow. Finally the king was shown to be less than infallible, certainly less that divine, which he might have claimed as many kings have.

The king and the priests were the old government. The men turn on their old government and decide to eradicate it. They succeed in killing the king, and would have done so to the priests except that those priests managed to escape in some way not recorded by Mormon.

Mosiah 19:22
22 And it came to pass that they were about to return to the land of Nephi, and they met the men of Gideon. And the men of Gideon told them of all that had happened to their wives and their children; and that the Lamanites had granted unto them that they might possess the land by paying a tribute to the Lamanites of one half of all they possessed.

The initial meeting of these two groups was probably not quite as calm and easy as Mormon makes it appear. If Gideon's men had come to kill the king, they would be ready for a fight. The returning men would be tired and exhausted, but perhaps not immediately certain that they had met with a Nephite party or a Lamanite party. When they were close enough to see clearly, surely there would have been recognition of at least some who knew each other.

Clearly the returning men would be anxious for their abandoned families, and they learn of the fate of those families, as well as the entire city.

Mosiah 19:23
23 And the people told the men of Gideon that they had slain the king, and his priests had fled from them farther into the wilderness.
Mosiah 19:24
24 And it came to pass that after they had ended the ceremony, that they returned to the land of Nephi, rejoicing, because their wives and their children were not slain; and they told Gideon what they had done to the king.

Verse 24 contains the unique phrase "after they had ended the ceremony…" It is unclear what this means. Perhaps there was some formal greeting. Perhaps there was a formal ceremony of surrender by the former Noah-men to the Gideon-men. Perhaps it was simply a word that described the exchange of information between the two groups. Another possibility is that Mormon is again conflating events. Perhaps the meeting of the two groups is occurring at approximately the same time as the exchange of oaths noted below, and it is that exchange of oaths that is the "ceremony." Gideon may have sent his men "secretly" while the rest of the city was occupied in the "ceremony" of formal submission to the Lamanites.

John Tvedtnes has suggested that the ceremony would have been a purification ceremony whereby the men were returned to ritual cleanliness after their murder of the king (Tvedtnes, John A. "The Nephite Purification Ceremony." In: The Most Correct Book. Cornerstone, 1999, pp. 176-7). This suggestion makes sense in terms of Jewish halakic (purity) laws, but does not necessarily fit the Biblically proscribed actions for a murderer. As Tvedtnes points out, the murderer would not be allowed to live under the law of Moses. While an accidental killing allowed for refuge, it would be hard to consider the death of Noah accidental. Nevertheless, there may have been some aspect of the Nephite culture (or at least this branch of Nephite culture) that provided for a ritual cleansing of those who had committed a similar act.

Mosiah 19:25
25 And it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites made an oath unto them, that his people should not slay them.
Mosiah 19:26
26 And also Limhi, being the son of the king, having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people, made oath unto the king of the Lamanites that his people should pay tribute unto him, even one half of all they possessed.

While there is no break between verses 24 and 25, we should mentally insert a small one. There is a change of place, occasion, and meaning between these verses. These verses have two actors, the king of the Lamanites, and Limhi "being the son of the king, having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people…." Thus we have a formal exchange between two rulers, and binding acceptance of the terms of subjugation, the payment of the tribute to the Lamanites. This imposition of tribute is ironically the very thing that Zeniff had long ago feared would be the goal of the Lamanites.

The next interesting piece of information we learn is that Limhi has "the kingdom conferred upon him by the people." It is very probable that at this point in time the news of Noah's death has not made it to the city. Had they known that Noah had died, Limhi would have been king by right of accession. The people "confer" the kingdom on Limhi precisely because the transference was seen as abnormal. He was king because they allowed him to be, perhaps presuming that Noah was still alive, but certainly rejected as a king. In selecting Limhi they affirmed their principles of succession while denying the further legitimacy of Noah's kingship. This event would appear to confirm the view that the meeting of Gideon's men and those returning from their flight would have occurred outside of the city and the fate of Noah was not yet known.

Mosiah 19:27
27 And it came to pass that Limhi began to establish the kingdom and to establish peace among his people.
Mosiah 19:28
28 And the king of the Lamanites set guards round about the land, that he might keep the people of Limhi in the land, that they might not depart into the wilderness; and he did support his guards out of the tribute which he did receive from the Nephites.
Mosiah 19:29
29 And now king Limhi did have continual peace in his kingdom for the space of two years, that the Lamanites did not molest them nor seek to destroy them.

These verses confirm the nature of the tribute arrangement. The Lamanites leave "guards" to ensure the collection of the tribute. Mesoamerican archaeology has noted the presence of "foreigners" in certain locations. The "foreigners" were from the known dominant city state of the era, and the best explanation is very similar to the Book of Mormon's. They were garrisons to ensure the tribute.

Other than the tribute, Limhi is allowed to govern his people. The Lamanites have no interest in establishing their own rule. Their interest is in the receipt of tribute. Once again, this incident is quite at home in Mesoamerica, but much less so in European or American wars.

Textual: There is no break in chapters at this point in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon.
      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2000