1 And it came to pass that after king Limhi had made an end of speaking to his people, for he spake many things unto them and only a few of them have I written in this book, he told his people all the things concerning their brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla.
Textual: This is a continuation of Limhi’s discourse, and there is no chapter break in the 1830 edition. Indeed, this should not be seen as a separate chapter from the previous, as both comprise Limhi’s discourse.
Mormon tells us that he is abridging his source here. He has included some of Limhi's discourse, and left out much. What does he choose to leave in, and why? One of the features of the last editorial choice we have seen for Mormon was the inclusion of Limhite-important material, and simple reference to Ammon's description of King Benjamin's new covenant. Given the importance of the covenant, the best explanation for abridging Ammon's description of it is that Mormon had just written about it extensively, and therefore does not need that material for his intended audience (although it would have been very important for the Limhites). In the current case, we have Limhi giving some of the sketchy details of the "iniquities" of his people, specifically the death of Abinidi. All of these events will be given in greater detail later when Mormon enters the record of Zeniff. Why does he include these brief details on material that will be covered later?
We may assume that Mormon had a mental construction established when he began writing on the plates. The physical process would be sufficiently demanding, and the difficulty of change sufficiently high, that Mormon must have had his basic decisions already made as to what to include and what to abridge. We may therefore expect that Mormon knew that he would proceed to the story of Zeniff, and that the record of Zeniff would provide greater detail on these sketchily drawn events in Limhi's discourse. We therefore have Mormon including precisely the type of information he has previously excluded. Again - why?
Mormon's editorial pattern is to include texts, and to abridge events and background, In the current example, we have included text and we may be reasonably certain that Mormon is faithful to his source. Since the material is in the source, and is an integral part of the discourse, it is included. However, Limhi's discourse has another purpose. We may also presume of Mormon that he did not include every discourse. He says so explicitly for Ammon, and even for Limhi he does not include the entire speech, and this verse makes clear. We can therefore conclude with confidence that the reason the historical material in Limhi's discourse is included is that it is an important part of the discourse. However, the history is not the point of the discourse. This discourse is included because of the greater content. Limhi is discussing faith, sin, repentance, and hope. Those are principles that Mormon finds important, and the speech is included because it touches on those subjects, not for its historical content.
From this verse it is not completely clear if the parts of the discourse that are not included are the descriptions/information about their brethren in Zarahemla, or whether that information followed the formal discourse. The text appears to lean to the latter, and the content would appear to require a separation as well. In the discourse we have recorded we have a formal declaration of the king, an expression of communal culpability transformed to communal hope. This would appear to require a more formal setting. The information about Zarahemla would be of tremendous interest to Limhi's audience, but would be a less formal presentation. It is probable that there was break between the formal discourse and the presentation of the general information about Zarahemla.
2 And he caused that Ammon should stand up before the multitude, and rehearse unto them all that had happened unto their brethren from the time that Zeniff went up out of the land even until the time that he himself came up out of the land.
While Zeniff may have given some information about Zarahemla, he is wise enough to produce Ammon, and have Ammon describe the events that have led to Ammon’s presence among them. This is more than a simple courtesy to allow a visitor to speak. In Ammon, Limhi produces the foundational proof of the existence of both Zarahemla and their hope of deliverance. The undeniable presence of the foreigner among them would have its own interest factor, but the impact of the very person who came from Zarahemla rather than just a promise that such a person existed was tremendous.
Modern societies with modern modes of communication and entertainment have little remembrance of the importance of the new person in the community. In the case of Ammon, he was not only a new person, but one connected with an ancestral land, and one bearing news of a god-fearing people. All of these facets make him tremendously interesting, and exciting. Even more important for Limhi, however, was that Ammon is the tangible connection to Zarahemla – the existence of which Limhi has used a foundation for the renewed hope of his people for delivery from bondage.
3 And he also rehearsed unto them the last words which king Benjamin had taught them, and explained them to the people of king Limhi, so that they might understand all the words which he spake.
Textual: Once again, Mormon has abridged into extreme brevity the discourse of Benjamin, knowing it to be redundant for his readers even though very important, and extremely interesting for Limhi’s people.
4 And it came to pass that after he had done all this, that king Limhi dismissed the multitude, and caused that they should return every one unto his own house.
Social: Although it may be making too much of too little, there is an interesting contrast between the passage where Mormon describes the dismissal of Benjamin’s people, and this dismissal of the Limhites.
3 And again, it came to pass that when king Benjamin had made an end of all these things, and had consecrated his son Mosiah to be a ruler and a king over his people, and had given him all the charges concerning the kingdom, and also had appointed priests to teach the people, that thereby they might hear and know the commandments of God, and to stir them up in remembrance of the oath which they had made, he dismissed the multitude, and they returned, every one, according to their families, to their own houses.
In both cases, we have the king formally dismissing a public assembly. This is natural, because a formal assembly requires an end, and it is fitting that it should be proclaimed by the king. At the end of each of these passages describing the formal dismissal the people return to their homes. Once again, this is logical, as in an ancient town, many if not most of the people would have lived at some distance outside of the town’s ceremonial center.
Where we have the contrast in this two very parallel dismissals is in the organization to which the people return. For Limhi, they simply return to their individual homes. For Benjamin, they return home "according to their families." As noted in the discussion of this verse, the kin-based organizations of Mesoamerican societies typically located residences in similar locations, creating family compounds. Thus for Benjamin’s people, return "according to their families, to their own houses" makes imminent sense in a Mesoamerican context. Limhi’s people simply go home.
It is impossible to know whether or not this distinction in the kin-unit description of the two societies is significant or not. Certainly we would expect that kindred would continue to be important for Limhi’s people, but we should also remember that the origins of those people with Zeniff did not necessarily include entire kin groups. The original volunteers probably cut across family boundaries, and the founding peoples would have a less well defined large kin structure. Additionally, the Limhites were people who had been reorganized after the failure of their king and his political/religious structure. This may also have effected the nature of kin organizations by having removed or demoted some of existing kin groups. It is therefore possible that there is a significance in this distinction, and that the Limhites did not have kin-based compounds as part of their residential pattern. They certainly would have had nuclear family units together, and may have begun to create the extended family compounds, but if most of the Zeniffites were of travel/labor age, these larger extended family compounds would be in their infancy rather than well established as they would have been in Zarahemla.
5 And it came to pass that he caused that the plates which contained the record of his people from the time that they left the land of Zarahemla, should be brought before Ammon, that he might read them.
Textual: Mormon is severely editing here. This verse follows immediately upon the closure of the public event without any intervening text to show a difference in time or place. There were surely both. By its very nature, the discourse of Limhi before his people was public. This verse, however, describes a very non-public event. The records of the Limhites are brought to Ammon to read.
We learn here that Zeniff’s people kept records on plates and that they were brought to Ammon. Plates are inherently heavier than paper would be, and this suggests that Ammon may have moved away from the public dais to a location somewhat more in proximity to the place where the records were kept – most likely the palace of the king. In Mesoamerican public architecture, the residence of the king would frequently be near the main temple, and the main temple would have been the location for this public ceremony, so they would not have traveled far, and perhaps this is the reason Mormon makes no mention of the change of location.
We will begin with this history in the next chapter, so we must deal with the question of Mormon’s motives for including this reference. He is clearly abbreviating mightily. With such a broad editorial cut, why include this reference to something that will be given much more fully in the very next chapter? This particular verse is not important in and of itself, but because it stands as the reason for the question asked of Ammon in the next verse. This verse is a transitional verse to move to the next important subject, and it is that next subject, not the reading of Zeniff’s history that is important to Mormon as he writes these passages.
Historical: The recording of official dynastic history on plates is apparently a heritage of the Nephites. Zeniff was a Nephite, and surely knew of the large plates of Nephi. His official dynastic record would be a mimic of the plates of Nephi, in both content and form. It is unlikely that these plates were created in Zarahemla, and were probably created after the arrival in the land of Nephi, and after a sufficient time had passed that Zeniff and his people had the available time to create them. This would have required at least some passage of time since the first requirement after their arrival would be subsistence. While they may have received an intact village/town, it is not at all certain that this would have included all of the produce of the land under cultivation. Even if such were given also, the lands would require tending to assure the continued survival of the people prior to creating plates for the recording of official history.
6 Now, as soon as Ammon had read the record, the king inquired of him to know if he could interpret languages, and Ammon told him that he could not.
Textual: Mormon tells of Ammon reading the plates of Zeniff because they are the introduction to the question of reading other plates. The plates of Zeniff are the bridge in the action between Ammon’s interest in Zeniff/Limhi and this new question of unread plates.
We may reconstruct some of Mormon’s source here. Even though abridged, there is enough of the skeleton and the logic to understand what the original described. After the public discourse, Ammon is brought to the king’s residence, and as the continuing building of mutual history between Limhi and Zarahemla, Ammon reads the history of Zeniff and his people. It is significant that this history is on plates, because the idea of plates triggers another issue for Limhi. His people have found plates that they cannot read. Triggered by a foreigner reading plates, Limhi thinks of the foreign plates he cannot read.
The question Limhi asks is whether or not Ammon can interpret languages. The implicit jump from Zeniff’s plates to the discovered plates can be reconstructed from what comes later, but it is not apparent here. The transition for Ammon must have been abrupt. When Ammon finishes reading, he is asked if he can interpret languages. This is not a clean transition in writing, but a very logical one for a live interaction. We may presume, therefore, that Mormon’s source recorded the action with reasonable faithfulness, and that the question of interpretation preceded the explanation of the question in the original. Even in his close editing, Mormon is preserving the sequencing of the original.
7 And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.
Historical: The explanation for the plates provides us with more historical data about Limhi’s people and incidentally, more information about the nature of the land in which these people lived. First we are to understand that the hope that Zarahemla would be their salvation precedes the arrival of Ammon and his band. The conception that Zarahemla would be beneficial was acted upon once before, but in vain (as will be noted in this brief discussion). This reinforces the importance of the arrival of actual representatives of Zarahemla.
Limhi sends 43 men on this journey. It is not at all clear why the number 43 was selected. The number 40 would be a good Mesoamerican number, and 3 is significant for the Christian godhead, but that would not be well understood at the time of Limhi.
8 And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.
Geographic: Limhi’s reconnaissance band travels back in the direction of Zarahemla, but missed it. This highlights the fact that there was no record kept of the precise path from the land of Nephi to Zarahemla. It should also be remembered that it is likely that few or none of the members of that band had made the trip from Zarahemla to the land of Nephi with Zeniff. Limhi is the grandson of Zeniff, so we are two generations removed from the original settlers who might have had first hand knowledge of some of the natural features that might have guided them.
This band manages to travel through the narrow neck of land, and miss Zarahemla entirely, suggesting that the narrow neck was not so narrow as we might presume. What they found was further away than Zarahemla, further to the North in our understanding of the plausible Book of Mormon geography. They found the remains of a Jaredite civilization.
In our geographic correlation, we have the Mulekites entering the New World by way of the Gulf of Mexico, entering into an area that was dominated by a people that are termed the Olmec. The Zarahemlaites would have moved south, away from this center of Olmec/Jaredite influence. The Limhites searched for the land of their most recent inheritance, bypassed Zarahemla, and had stumbled on to the more ancient land of the Mulekite first inheritance, among the Jaredites.
9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.
10 And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.
11 And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates. Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?
There several important points in these verses. The very first is that these relics were brought back to Limhi "for a testimony that the things that they had said are true." This party of 43 (presumed to consist entirely of men, based on the function and cultural division of male/female roles) missed their target. They were gone for a long period of time, and while they did not find what they were looking for, they did find something they found quite marvelous. Rather than be seen as simply telling a tale, the men brought back tokens of their find – verification that the rest of the tale was also correct.
Limhi’s list of the artifacts begins and ends with the plates. They were clearly the aspect of the artifacts that most interested him. Before treating the plates in this discussion, however, we will examine some of the other items brought back by Limhi’s party.
Limhi’s people had stumbled onto a great battlefield, and their trophies were battle-related, except for the plates. They bring back two types of warfare accouterments, the defensive armor (breastplates) and offensive weapons (swords).
The term breastplate invokes a European conception of a metal covering for the chest. Such items were not known in Mesoamerica, at least as discovered in the archaeological record or in the iconographic depictions of battle. The most well known battle scenes for Mesoamerica deal with much later cultures, so there may or may not be any direct correspondence with the Jaredites. There is, however, a type of personal decoration that might be covered by the term "breastplate" even though that word invokes too great a connotation of European armament.
One of the personal decorations seen on many figures in artistic depictions is a large plate hung around the neck, but covering the chest. These take different stylistic forms, but uare susuall flat with some geometric cut to their design. To my knowledge, they are not square, nor are they curved. Nevertheless, they do appear to be metal in the artistic representations (which date from later than Jaredite times). This is at least suggestive that the breastplate was not the European category, but that the European word was simply used to describe this metal piece that hung over the chest. The Mesoamerican plates cover the upper chest, perhaps as literal and symbolic protection for the heart, which was the focus of human sacrifice, and clearly highly significant in Mesoamerican society.
The swords are more difficult to interpret in Mesoamerican categories because these swords appear to be of iron, which is susceptible to rust. Iron swords are unknown, though there is evidence of possible iron working among the Olmec.
Sorenson provides the following information on what is know about iron in Mesoamerica:
"Iron use was documented in the statements of early Spaniards, who told of the Aztecs using iron-studded clubs. A number of artifacts have been preserved that are unquestionably of iron; their considerable sophistication, in some cases, at least suggests interest in this metal. (That is not surprising, since even a culture as simple as the Eskimo found iron—from meteors—valuable.) Few of these specimens have been chemically analyzed to determine whether the iron used was from meteors or from smelted ore. The possibility that smelted iron either has been or may yet be found is enhanced by a find at Teotihuacan. A pottery vessel dating to about A.D. 300, and apparently used for smelting, contained a "metallic-looking" mass. Analyzed chemically, it proved to contain copper and iron. Linne, the same Swedish archaeologist who made that find, accepted a piece of iron found in a tomb at Mitla, Oaxaca, as probably refined.
Without even considering smelted iron, we find that peoples in Mesoamerica exploited iron minerals from early times. Lumps of hematite, magnetite, and ilmenite were brought into Valley of Oaxaca sites from some of the thirty-six ore exposures located near or in the valley. These were carried to a workshop section within the site of San Jose Mogote as early as 1200 B.C. There they were crafted into mirrors by sticking the fragments onto prepared mirror backs and polishing the surface highly. These objects, clearly of high value, were traded at considerable distances. (This archaeologically established mineral processing was taking place within the valley that chapter I identified as the probable
Jaredite land of Moron)" (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. Deseret Book, 1985, pp. 284-5).
None of this quite answers the mystery of iron swords, but does indicate that the possibility for them existed. We do not know why such a potentially valuable weapon would have disappeared.
The plates provide another kind of historical challenge. We do not know precisely where the plates were discovered. It would have been very unlikely that the plates would have been on the battlefield. The party did find ruined buildings, however, and we would expect that the plates would have been kept in one of the buildings.
The only Mesoamerican codex found in situ was found in a temple. That clearly tells us that this was one place where such records might be found, but probably not the only place. When Ammon reads the plates of Limhi, they are probably in the king’s residence, and that is another location which is sacred/important enough to have records. Records would certainly have been sacred/important enough that they would not be risked on a battlefield. However it is very easy to understand that the party would be interested in the buildings as well as the battlefield, and they would most likely have found the plates in the enclosure on top of a pyramid, or in the building that would have been the ruler’s residence.
The very finding of the records, however, indicates that the destruction of the people who had inhabited those buildings had been either complete, or rapid. Either no one was left to carry away sacred records, or the flight from the city was so rapid that these were missed when the people fled. We may surmise that it was in no way an ordered withdrawal, or these records would never have been left to be found. Unlike the records of Qumran, these plates would not have been well hidden, as Limhi’s group would not have taken the time to do extensive searches. They found what they could, and returned. The plates, therefore, must have been in the place where they would have been used, and abandoned due to the battle that clearly had raged around them.
12 And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate? For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction.
Limhi’s curiosity about the records is quite understandable. Of course Limhi had no idea what the plates would hold, and the plates could have been nothing more than the dynastic record of a Mesoamerican people with no understanding of God. What they were, however, was the text we have as the Book of Ether.
13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
14 And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
Textual: As with any other incident Mormon records, we must ask ourselves why this particular incident is included in his abridgement. While we might say that it is obviously significant, we are unable to tell whether it is as significant as things that were left out, or more significant than the material Mormon chooses not to include. Even the determination of the value of the incident depends upon our interest in it. For a linguist, a discussion of the appearance of the plates might be more interesting, providing some useful clues as to its identity. For someone else, the details of how Limhi organizes his people for their departure may be more interesting than this exchange. The point is, of course, that this incident is important to Mormon, and we should understand the reason it was important to him.
It is too simple to say that the incident is important because of the information contained on the plates of Ether. While the information on those plates is important, and we do eventually receive that information, the inclusion of that text in our Book of Mormon comes much later. In the current context, the Mormon selects the important information in the form of an abbreviated conversation. The conversation actually says nothing of the text of the plates. The conversation takes place prior to either Limhi or Ammon understanding what the plates were. While Mormon would have the advantage of knowing that the eventual translation would reveal information of religious significance, at the time of this recorded/reported conversation, the plates could just as easily have been tribute lists, or divination aids, both of which are text types known for Mesoamerica, albeit much later in time, and not on plates.
Mormon gives absolutely no foreshadowing of the content of the plates. For Mormon, then, this exchange between Limhi and Ammon has more to do with the exchange than the eventual translation of the plates. Mormon includes this information because it describes the spiritual position of a seer. Mosiah II was such a man, and that spiritual prowess is what interests Mormon, not his linguistic abilities.
Note: For a further discussion of verse 13, see the discussion of verses 16 and 17 below.
15 And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.
The way some modern readers would understand this verse is as a verbal foil to the following discussion of the definition of a seer. We are much more interested in Ammon’s "right" definition than in Limhi’s "wrong" conclusion. Nevertheless, we really must ask ourselves why Limhi might have thought a seer greater than a prophet. Why would anyone think that a seer might be greater than a prophet?
The key to understanding is to realize that Ammon is not correcting Limhi, but rather agreeing with him. Ammon has specifically has associated a seer with one who is able to read a specific kind of text. He has described Mosiah as one who can: "…translate all records that are of ancient date." The key is not the text itself, but that it is an ancient text. It is the ancientness of the writing that is significant, and sets it apart from the kind of recording that must have occurred so that we have this exchange. The point is that the text deals with the past.
To understand the importance of the ancient text, we need to understand the way the past was conceived in ancient Israel and in ancient Mesoamerica (and likely in many other parts of the ancient world). History was not simply something that had happened, but a glimpse at cycles that have occurred, but will occur again. For Israel, "the unifying principle [acted] like a magnet in evoking a pattern amongst iron filings. It created a pattern of history out of all its complexities, a pattern which disclosed the previously hidden purpose of God" (Robinson, H. Wheeler. Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1946, p. 129). For Israel, the past revealed the form of the future. One of the manifestations of this patterning of life and history can be seen in the numerous ways in which the Exodus became the model for subsequent events, including Lehi and his family.
In Mesoamerica, all time ran in repeating cycles. The creation myth that was shared among the Maya and Nahua told of recurring cycles of destruction and new creations in which the destruction/renewal of the sun was the principle event. The serendipitous arrival of the Spanish (serendipitous for the Spanish, at least) in a year which symbolized change and renewal allowed them to be seen as a predicted return of a god, Quetzalcoatl. That same year had come and gone before, but the arrival of the Spaniards created a connection to mythological themes. This historical event became a cyclical event, and the present repeated the past. Sadly, the greatest repetition of the past was not Cortez’ arrival becoming the triumphal return of Quetzalcoatl, but the eerie way that the destruction of the Aztec kingdom repeated the destruction of Tula - an event also linked indelibly to Quetzalcoatl in Nahua mythology.
A seer, therefore, was one who could not simply read about the past, but have the past revealed to him – to have the "real truth" of the past revealed, not simply the record of the past. With a conception of the past that linked it to the future, a seer was then one who could see the future because he could see the past, whereas a prophet saw only the future that was revealed to him. As seer would have the larger patterns available to his prophecy.
Note how this fits into Ammon’s discussion of the seer – not as a redefinition of a seer as something else, but rather as the confirmation of Limhi’s perception of the true standing of the seer (see the next three verses).
16 And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
Ammon expands the definition of the seer. The seer is two different kinds of connection to the power of the Spirit. A seer is a revelator and a prophet. What is the difference between these two? The prophet is one who sees the future. A revelator is, by definition, one who reveals. What that one reveals is the will of the Lord by making understandable that which is hidden to others. In this particular case, Ammon and Limhi would presume that the revelator would make understandable the patterns of the past that teach the future. The will of the Lord past, present, and future, would be known through the revealing of that which is hidden – in this case in an unreadable text.
We now have three terms, which modern usage lists as prophet, seer, and revelator. The seer, as Ammon defined him, was the one who possessed the interpreters. The interpreters were the aids to not only translation, but to the revealing of the hidden. Note the way Ammon describes the seer:
Mosiah 8:13 … he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
At the end of the verse is the simple definition of the seer as the possessor of the interpreters. Look, however, at what the interpreters do. Of course the seer can use them to "translate all records that are of ancient date…", but they are so powerful that their use must be restricted. They operate only on command of God, for if they were to work all of the time, one might "look for that he ought not…" It is this statement that shows the true nature of the interpreters as the tool of the revelator. If the interpreters dealt only in ancient languages, what kind of out of control linguist might we imagine? What destruction to his soul might occur if one translated a Hittite grocery list? The power of the interpreters is not simply in translation, but rather in revelation. One without the spirit might see in them information that he would be tempted to use unrighteously. One might understand that which he should not. Through the past, one might see the future clearly enough to abuse that vision.
18 Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.
The restriction of the interpreters to a command from God means that God is with the man who uses them. It is the power of God that reveals, not man. The seer is not a translator, and should not be confused for one. His function is much more than reading words, his function is revealing God. It is in that revelation of the will of God that "he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings."
19 And now, when Ammon had made an end of speaking these words the king rejoiced exceedingly, and gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.
Remember that at this point, Limhi has no idea what is on the plates. Why does he have such confidence that "doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates"? That they are a mystery is assured. That they are a great mystery is Limhi’s expectation that the past will be instructive for the present and the future.
20 O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them!
21 Yea, they are as a wild flock which fleeth from the shepherd, and scattereth, and are driven, and are devoured by the beasts of the forest.
This account ends rather abruptly and confusingly. Limhi ends by praising the Lord, and certainly finding that a seer is living and available (in Zarahemla) is reason for praising God. What is confusing is the specific nature of his praise. How do these sentiments fit into the context that produced them? How does Limhi get from a seer to a "wild flock which fleeth from the shepherd, and scattereth?"
We begin with verse 20. Limhi contrasts the "marvelous…works of the Lord" with the "blind and impenetrable… understandings of the children of men." These concepts create a parallel of opposition. The two phrases should be read together, and understood as parallels of contrast. For Limhi, the focal point is the "blind and impenetrable… understandings…."
Limhi is placing himself in the position and of the blind and impenetrable understandings. He has the physical plates, but they are impenetrable to him. On his own, Limhi might as well be blind, for he can understand nothing of what he presumes to be the "great mystery" they contain.
Contrasted to this is are the "marvelous… works of the Lord" who can read and reveal these texts. The Lord is able to reveal wisdom.
That paralleled set of contrasts, the wise-and-revealing God/ the blind-and-not-understanding man, is further elaborated by augmenting the description of man. Because the beginning of the comparison is explicit, this stated continuing lament for the understanding-blindness of man serves to implicitly praise God through the unstated but understood contrast to the expanded lament. In other words, there is no parallel praise to God that is written to balance the lament about man. However, that praise is structurally implied, and the meaning is supplied, even when not directly stated.
Verse 21 compares man without the wisdom of God to a "wild flock which fleeth from the shepherd, and scattereth, and are driven, and are devoured by the beasts of the forest." The shepherd, like God, is there to provide wisdom and order. It is the "wild flock" that runs from that source of wisdom, and perishes without the guidance they need.
In the context of the conversation with Ammon, Limhi understands Mosiah as seer to be one who can reveal the will of the Lord. He sees Mosiah as a great man who can be "… a great benefit to his fellow beings" (verse 18). Mosiah as the revealer of the will of God is the one who can provide the wisdom God’s children require to safely maneuver through life.
|by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999|