Mosiah 2

 


MDC Contents

   

Mosiah 2:1

1 And it came to pass that after Mosiah had done as his father had commanded him, and had made a proclamation throughout all the land, that the people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them.

Historical: Because the introduction to this occasion is explicitly connected with the Law of Moses (Mosiah 2:3) we may legitimately look to the scriptures for an explanation of the type of festival to which the people were invited. Szink and Welch have examined the possible connections, and link Benjamin’s speech to the "Autumn Festival Complex." Specifically they note:

Of the three annual festival times in ancient Israel, the autumn festival complex was the most important and certainly the most popular in ancient Israel. In early times apparently was called the Feast of Ingathering. According to many scholars, the various components of the autumn festival were celebrated as a single season of celebration in the earliest periods of Israelite history. Its many elements were not sharply differentiated until later times, when the first day of the seventh month became Rosh ha-Shanah (New Year), followed by eight days of penitence, then followed on the tenth day of the month by Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and on the fifteenth day by Sukkot (Festival of the Tabernacles), concluding with a full holy week" (Szink, Terrence L. and John W. Welch. "An Ancient Israelite Festival Context." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS, 1998 p. 159).

The authors discuss their reasons for relating King Benjamin’s situation to the historical Israelite festivities, and there are important correlations. What is also important, however, are the differences, a subject to treated in their examination. As we examine this gathering, we will look at both aspects of King Benjamin’s gathering. Given the 476 years that have passed since the departure from Jerusalem (Mosiah 6:5) we should expect that there would be some changes to the nature of the festivals, and in particular, some type of interaction with customary festivals of the New World which would surely have been known, and probably practiced by the Zarahemlaites prior to their union with the immigrant Nephites.

One point of conjunction between the Israelite and New World practices occurs in the New Year celebration. As noted, the autumn festivals included the New Year celebration. Indeed, we will also examine this particular speech in the context of a special type of New Year celebration from an Old World context. Prior to that, however, we should also note the Mesoamerican background for new year’s celebrations. The changing to a new year was also heralded with great ceremony. However, there is another very important type of New Year celebration that may enter into Benjamin’s New World accounting. To understand the possible Mesoamerican context, we must take a short side trip into the Mesoamerican calendar, with which the Zarahemlaites were most certainly familiar, and the Nephites would have had difficulty avoiding:

"The 260-day cycle, already in use during Preclassic times, formed a basic part of all Mesoamerican calculations. Among the Mexica, this cycle was known as the Tonalpohualli…; the Maya called it the Tzolkin. This cycle was composed of 20 day signs, which ran consecutively, combined with a number from 1 to 13 as a prefix. A day would be designated, for example, as 5 Atl (water) or 8 Tochtli (rabbit) in the Tonalpohualli. In order for the exact day 5 Atl to come around again, 260 days would have to elapse (or 20 x 13, since there is no common denominator). This 260-day cycle is not based on any natural phenomenon and we do not know how to account for its invention.

In addition to the Tonalpohualli or Tzolkin, another cycle ran concurrently, resembling our solar year of 365 days. This was made up of 18 months of 20 days each (18 x 20 = 360), plus 5 additional days of apprehension and bad luck at the end of the year. Days were numbered from 0 to 19. The Mexica called the 360-day year the Xihuitl, and the 5-day period of bad luck the Nemontemi. The equivalent Maya periods were named the Haab (360 days) and Uayeb (5 days)" (Weaver, Muriel Porter. The Aztecs, Maya, and their Predecessors. Seminar Press, 1972, p. 103).

These two independently running calendars both began again every 260 and 360+5 days. However, every 52 years they both coincided:

"The Tzolkin and the Haab ran concurrently, like intermeshed cog-wheels, and to return to any given date, 52 years, or 18,980 days, would have to elapse (because both 365 x 52 and 260 x 73 = 18,980). In other words, the Tzolkin would make 73 revolutions and the Haab 52, so that every 52 calendar years of 365 days one would return to the same date. A complete date in this 52-year cycle might be, for example, 2 1k 0 Pop (2 1k being the position of the day in the Tzolkin, 0 Pop the position in the Haab). Fifty-two years would pass before another 2 1k 0 Pop date returned.

One cannot overemphasize the significance of this 52-year cycle for Mesoamerican peoples. It is called the Calendar Round or Sacred Round. Aside from the Maya and Mexica we know it was in use by the Mixtecs, Otomis, Huastecs, Totonacs, Matlazinca, Tarascans, and many other groups (Figure 14). The cycles of time are believed to have been primarily divinatory in purpose. When these coincided, it was an event of great importance, marked by special ceremonies and perhaps by the enlargement of architectural structures.

It was expected that the world would end at the completion of a 52-year cycle. At this time, among the Mexica in the Valley of Mexico, all fires were extinguished, pregnant women were locked up lest they be turned into wild animals, children were pinched to keep them awake so that they would not turn into mice, and all pottery was broken in preparation for the end of the world. In the event the gods decided to grant man another 52 years of life on earth, however, a nighttime ceremony was held in which the populace followed the priests through the darkness over a causeway to the top of an old extinct volcano that rises abruptly from the floor of the basin of Mexico, known today as the Hill of the Star, the hill above Ixtapalapa. There, with all eyes on the stars, they awaited the passage of the Pleiades across the center of the heavens, which would announce the continuation of the world for another 52 years. When the precise moment came, a victim was quickly sacrificed by making a single gash in his chest and extracting the still palpitating heart. In the gory cavity the priests, with a fire drill, kindled a new flame that was quickly carried by torches across the lake to the temple in Tenochititlan, and from there to all temples and villages around the lake. This was known as the New Fire Ceremony among the Mexica, and in some way this same completion and renewal of each 52-year cycle was recognized by all Mesoamericans. It was probably rare for a person to witness more than one of these celebrations in his lifetime, so undoubtedly it was an event approached with great anticipation and relived many times after its passing." (Weaver, Muriel Porter. The Aztecs, Maya, and their Predecessors. Seminar Press, 1972, p. 103-4).

For our purposes, we note that the 52 year cycle is not only extremely significant, but also the occasion at times marked by the "enlargement of architectural structures." (Weaver, 1972, p. 103). Once again we return to the possible beginning of the temple in Zarahemla. The building of this new temple on an auspicious beginning of a 52 year cycle would both fit the context, and provide a powerful symbolic marking of both the new "century" and new "covenant" for the people.

Another alternative for the special occasion is the Old Testament concept of the Jubilee year. Every seven years was a Sabbatical, and every seven Sabbaticals was the Jubilee. Szink and Welch describe the relevant context for seeing this particular festival as a Jubilee year:

"The jubilee text of Leviticus 25 compares closely with two sections of Benjamin’s speech.’ Leviticus 25 reflects the words and phrases associated with the jubilee in ancient times. A considerable density of phrases and ideas from these chapters can be found in the latter portions of Mosiah 2 and 4, sufficient to indicate a textual dependency of Benjamin’s words on these or similar jubilee texts. The main parallels between these passages and Benjamin’s speech can be outlined as follows:

· Benjamin’s "return the thing" (Mosiah 4:28) recalls "return every man unto his possession" (Leviticus 25:10).

· His injunction "Ye will not have a mind to injure one another" (Mosiah 413) echoes "Ye shall not oppress one another" (Leviticus 25:14, 17).

· At the jubilee, it was required: "He shall reckon with him" (Leviticus 25:50; compare 15—16). Similarly. Benjamin said: "Render to every man according to that which is his due" (Mosiah 4:13).

· "And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea though he be a stranger or a sojourner; that he may live with thee" (Leviticus 25:35) has the same import as "Ye. . . will succor those that stand in need, ... ye will not.., turn him out to perish" (Mosiah 4:16).

· "I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth" (Leviticus 25:38) implies the same conclusion as "Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have" (Mosiah 4:19).

· The promise in Leviticus reads: "Wherefore ye shall do my statutes and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety And the land shall yield her fruit" (Leviticus 25:18—19); and in Benjamin, "If ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land" (Mosiah 2:22).

These relatively specific parallels, coupled with similarities in the overall tone and concerns of the jubilee texts and Benjamin’s speech, indicate Benjamin’s intense feelings about helping the poor, establishing God’s covenant among his people, being conscientious in walking in the paths of righteousness, and realizing man’s utter dependence on God for life and sustenance. These may well be attributable to the heightened sense of these principles felt by the ancient Israelites during the jubilee season.

A further parallel, expressing the spirit behind all sabbatical and jubilee laws, is found in Deuteronomy 15:9: "Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand; and thine eye be evil against thy poor brother, and thou givest him nought; and he cry unto the Lord against thee, and it be sin unto thee." This compares closely with Benjamin’s injunctions to his people to impart freely of their substance to the poor without grudging (see Mosiah 4:22—25)." (Szink, Terrence L. and John W. Welch. "An Ancient Israelite Festival Context." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS, 1998 p. 195-6).

We now have two legitimate explanations for the background of Benjamin’s speech. It may be on a jubilee year, or it may be on a Mesoamerican "century." Which was it? It is possible that the true answer is "both." Jubilee years occur every 50th year (after the seventh set of seven years). The Mesoamerican "century" occurred every 52 years. With the close proximity of the cycles, it would not be unexpected at all for the two to become merged into a single ceremony. The process of adaptation of religion is called syncretism, and most religions which come into close contact with other religions (particularly dominant ones) will exhibit some form of syncretism, whether mild or extensive.

In modern Christian practice there are any number of cases of syncretism, particularly where a symbolism is borrowed from another context. An early example is the Christian appropriation of the figure of the youth with a ram on his shoulders, the pagan figure representing Humanity (Crossan, John Dominic. The Essential Jesus. Harper Collins. 1995, p. 13). Later (and more current) examples would be the Yule log and the Christmas tree, both appropriations from pagan religions. The point is not the borrowing, for that is normal, but rather the importance of realizing that the borrowing can occur within the context of continued faith. The modern Christian is fully capable of enjoying an Easter with standard symbols of rabbits and eggs, without understanding the relationship of the rabbits and eggs to ancient pagan spring fertility symbols.

In this same way, we may suppose that Nephite/Zarahemlaite culture also borrowed some from the surrounding cultures (as would be quite evident in their architecture). Thus we would have a unique combination of events behind King Benjamin’s speech. The hypothesis would be that he has the unique opportunity to live at the important juncture of a New Year/New "Century" time period, that also correlates to an actual or assimilated Jubilee year. This auspicious combination of events provides both the background for the specific ceremonies, the details of the speech, and for the occasion of the building/renewal of the temple that is posited for Zarahemla at this point in time. It also helps explain why King Benjamin chose to name Mosiah II as king three years before King Benjamin’s death (see Mosiah 6:4-5). While King Benjamin does indicate that he is old (see Mosiah 2:30), a survival of three years after this ceremony suggests that he was not physically near death, but rather selected this particular time to both name the new king, and name his people precisely because it fit into a time of renewal – a new century.

Mosiah 2:2

2 And there were a great number, even so many that they did not number them; for they had multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land.

Socio-political: Either this verse is simple hyperbole to state that there were lots of people, or something more is going on. In this case, we must remember that these are Mormon's words, and he is writing based on the text in front of him. Note the phrasing. There are lots of people "even so many that they did not number them." The people are not numbered because there are many, but specifically because there are so many. This appears to indicate that some type of counting did occur from time to time, and that this time the number was so great that the count was not taken.

Just as a census was recorded in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:1-5) so we may have a record of a periodic census here. Similarly, the Roman census was for the purpose of taxation (Luke 2:5) and it is probably that the Zarahemlaite census may have had the same purpose. Mesoamerica had a very long tradition of dependent towns paying tribute to a city center. While Zarahemla was not as large nor as prosperous as Nephi, it apparently had increased significantly in influence during Benjamin's reign, and this congregation of the population exceeded the normal counts of those who would attend the ceremonies in the central town.

Other possibilities would follow Old Testament censuses (Ex. 30:12; Num. 1:1-4, 26; 2 Sam. 24; 1 Chron. 21). "Generally the purpose was to prepare for war, but censuses were also taken as preparation to serve God (Num. 4:1-3, 21-23). In 1 Chron. 23, some kind of census appears to have been associated with David making his son Solomon the king, a situation somewhat analogous to Benjamin’s coronation of Mosiah. (Coutts, Alison V.P., et al. "Complete Text of Benjamin’s Speech with Notes and Comments." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS, 1998 p. 506).

The next interesting thing about this count is that it appears that this gathering is exceptional. There would have been public gatherings all along, but this one was special, and drew larger than expected crowds. Why?

We can understand that the coronation of a new king is an exceptional occurrence, and that alone might suffice to explain the large crowds. However, we must also remember the brief glimpses we have had into the circumstances of Benjamin's reign. It has not always been as peaceful as it is now, and Benjamin has forged a new society out of the conflicts generated from the combination of Nephite and Zarahemlaite under his father, Mosiah I. In addition, Benjamin has indicated a ceremony of naming. He will be giving the people a new identity. With the addition of the fascinating possibility of the archaeological situation, we may have Benjamin proclaiming this unification not only at a temple, but at the specific temple on which the people have begun to work (and on which their collective labor will continue to be required).

If we couple these circumstances with the probability of a Jubilee Year/New Century, this occasion is fraught with multiple meanings for the assembled crowds, and the very nature of their existence and identity will be effected by the ceremonies they are attending.

Mosiah 2:3

3 And they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses;

Mosiah 2:4

4 And also that they might give thanks to the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, and who had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies, and had appointed just men to be their teachers, and also a just man to be their king, who had established peace in the land of Zarahemla, and who had taught them to keep the commandments of God, that they might rejoice and be filled with love towards God and all men.

In addition to coming for a speech, the people are coming for a communal religious rite. The Law of Moses provides not only for individual worship, but community worship. Community acts both reinforce the purpose of the religious event, but they also help to cement the people through their communal participation.

"The typical New Year, like most festivals [prescribed in the Old Testament], evidently began with burn offerings of animals of "the first year." "In the seventh month, in the first day of the month… ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord" (Leviticus 23:24-25)" (Szink, Terrence L. and John W. Welch. "An Ancient Israelite Festival Context." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS, 1998 p. 164).

The sacrifices not only strengthen the supposition that this is a New Year ceremony, but also give us information about the scale of this communal rite: "And they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings." The critical question is "who are they"? We note that the verse follows directly the discussion of those who are coming to the ceremony, and not the priests who are in the town. It appears that the people are bringing animals to sacrifice. While there would be only a single animal sacrificed for each family group at the most, still there must have been a very large number of animals slated for sacrifice. Given the nature of Book of Mormon religion, it is probable that the meat of the sacrifices (at least a good portion of it) will be eaten by the people who are bringing the animal for sacrifice.

Mosiah 2:5

5 And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple, they pitched their tents round about, every man according to his family, consisting of his wife, and his sons, and his daughters, and their sons, and their daughters, from the eldest down to the youngest, every family being separate one from another.

Anthropological: We will examine the question of the tents after the next verse. In this verse we are given some important organizational information about Benjamin's people. The first important piece of information is that when the people come, they come as kin groups. In a politically and religiously important ceremony, they come officially, and officially means in family groups. This is a different type of gathering that coming to market. In a market atmosphere we would not expect the entire family. That the family comes indicates both the importance of the event and the fact that the basic organizational mode of society is still kinship based.

The next type of information we can derive from the presented information is a little bit of the organization and ranking of the family. Nephite society at this time is patriarchal, as evidence by the emphasis on the man as head of the family. It is his family, his wife, his sons, his daughters. Of course this is no surprise as Hebrew society is also patriarchal, but this text confirms the continuation of the practice in the New World.

We may also suppose that they also continue the law of primogeniture, the inheritance of the oldest. Notice that the children are specifically ranked from oldest to youngest. This suggests both an attention to that age order, and a significance that is attached to it. This serves to confirm the hypothesis (again not surprising) that Mosiah II is the eldest son of Benjamin.

Historical: The gathering by families echoes the Feast of Tabernacles: "The Mosaic law specified that "all… males shall appear before the Lord God" (Exodus 23:17), and in Deuteronomy the entire family was expected to participate: "And thou shalt rejoice in they feast, thou, and they son, and thy daughter, and they manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates" (Deuteronomy 16:14; compare 31:10-12) (Szink, Terrence L. and John W. Welch. "An Ancient Israelite Festival Context." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS, 1998 p. 184).

Mosiah 2:6

6 And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them;

Anthropological: "What was a Nephite "tent"? Would the crowd have been seated in sprawling shelters like Arabs? The term tent is used some 64 times in the Book of Mormon, so the question may deserve attention.

Biblical translators have usually rendered the Hebrew root 'hl to English as "tent"; however, it has a rather wide range of possible meanings. Sometimes it referred to full-fledged tents on the pattern of those used by desert nomads of southwestern Asia; but to semi-nomads like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the term could also mean "hut" as well as "tent." In later usage, as the Israelites became sedentary village or city dwellers, its meanings were extended further. For example, in Psalm 132:3 and Proverbs 7:17 the related word 'ohel means "canopy (over a bed)," while in the New Testament, John 1:14 says literally "he pitched his tent among us" to communicate the thought "he lived among us." A Hittite account has the god Elkunirsha living in a "tent" made of wood. In writings from South Arabia in Lehi's day and also in classical Arabic, languages closely related to Hebrew, the root stood for "family" or "tribe" as well as tent. In the related Semitic language of the Babylonians, a word from the same root meant "city," "village," "estate," or "social unit," and even formed part of the word for bed. An Egyptian equivalent could be read as "hut, camel's hair tent, camp." Furthermore, Dr. Hugh Nibley reminds us that "throughout the ancient world . . . the people must spend the time of the great national festival of the New Year living in tents." But for this occasion Israelites came to use makeshift booths made of branches, as fewer and fewer of their town-dwelling numbers owned genuine tents. The Nephites, of course, routinely lived in permanent buildings (see, for example, Mosiah 6:3). Alma's people "pitched their tents" after fleeing to Helam, but then they "began to build buildings" (Mosiah 23:5). Military forces on the move are said to have used tents (Alma 51:32, 34; 58:25), but it is nearly unbelievable that the entire Lamanite army referred to in Alma 51 lugged collapsible tents on their backs through tropical country hundreds of miles from the land of Nephi. Far more likely they erected shelters of brush or whatever other materials could be found in the vicinity, referring to those or any other temporary shelters by the traditional word for tent. Farmers in parts of Mesoamerica still throw together simple brush shelters when they stay overnight at their fields in the busiest work season, and at the time of the Spanish conquest, Bernal Diaz reported that the soldiers of their Indian allies "erect their huts" as they move on campaign. So when we read that Benjamin's subjects sat in their tents listening to his sermon, we should understand that they might have been under shelter a good deal different from what comes to mind when we hear "tent" (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1975, p. 160).

Of course one of the questions which should be asked is why they would put up their tents. Of course the answer is shelter, but that begs the question. Why do they need shelter?

It is, of course, possible that they are simply for sleeping arrangements, and that they are shelter for possible showers at night. However, the note that they specifically fact the "door" towards the temple so that they might hear Benjamin's speech suggests that they are to be used during the day, not simply for nighttime sleeping. It is entirely possible that they "tents" stem from the specifics of the Feast of Tabernacles, so named because of the shelters built for that occasion. Szink and Welsh suggest that "they all remained in their tents during the speech, surely for ceremonial reasons. If it had not been religiously and ritually important for them to stay in their tents, the crowd would have stood much closer to Benjamin and been able to hear him…" (Szink, Terrence L. and John W. Welch. "An Ancient Israelite Festival Context." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS, 1998 p. 184).

While the ceremonial aspect of the "tents" is certainly compelling, there is also a very pragmatic reason for them. Given the proposed geographic location of Zarahemla is that they "tents" are for shelter from the sun. Ceremonial plazas large enough to hold most of the people who have come to hear Benjamin are, perforce, cleared land. This is in great contrast to the lush green vegetation that would surround the cleared space. Under the trees the shade ameliorates the hot sun, and the shade and breeze can keep conditions pleasant. In an open area, particularly one in a plaza with worked stone, the bright sun could easily get unbearably hot in certain seasons. A "tent" or lean-to would provide shade.

Native homes in this area are typically built of sticks planted in the ground and rising vertically. There is typically a door, but no other opening. The homes have thatched roofs, and no filler in the spaces between the vertically placed sticks. These homes are remarkably cool, with sufficient sun and breeze coming through the openings between the sticks to keep the interior of the home pleasant, even when outside conditions are less so. While the "tents" would not be permanent, a temporary shelter on the same principles would provide the same benefits.

Mosiah 2:7

7 For the multitude being so great that king Benjamin could not teach them all within the walls of the temple, therefore he caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them.

Archaeological: In the context of Mesoamerican ceremonial centers, this description of the building of a tower is somewhat out of place. Mormons have usually appealed to the tower at the site of Palenque, but that site is much later than the close of the Book of Mormon, and therefore very much too late to be an example for Benjamin's speech. Additionally, it is quite clear that this is a temporary tower, not a permanent one. It is built because he "could not teach them all within the walls of the temple." Combined with the apparent arrival of larger numbers of people, it would appear that the original plan called for the teaching within the walls of the temple, and only when it was apparent that they would not all fit was the tower erected. Since the information that a tower would be necessary came only upon the gathering of the people, a tower to meet that exigency would necessarily be built of easily obtainable building materials, and just as reasonably be temporary rather than permanent.

The tower is also interesting because it should not be necessary. A tower elevates Benjamin so that he may see over the crowd, and so that his voice might be isolated from the hum of the crowd. However, temples in Mesoamerica were used for that precise purpose, with some excellent acoustics in some of the ceremonial centers where speaking from a temple would be heard on other temples, or within the ceremonial courtyard. In the Mesoamerican context, then, the gathering at the temple should have already provided the benefits of a tower. Why did Benjamin build one? Again we can appeal to the tantalizing hypothesis that the Santa Rosa temple is being built as the ceremonial cementing of the peoples, and that it is around this base of a temple that the people are gathered. The temporary tower would be needed because the "temple" is not yet completed!

Historical: Stephen D. Ricks suggests that the tower is related to the Israelite practices of coronation: "A society’s most sacred spot is the location where the holy act of royal coronation takes place. For Israel, the temple was that site. So we read that during his coronation Joash stood "by a pillar [of the temple], as the manner was" (2 Kings 11:14)" (Ricks, Stephen D. "Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6" In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS 1998, p. 244). Ricks then suggests that Benjamin’s tower might correspond to a dais – specifically relying upon a reading of the "pillar" by which Jooash stood: "De Vaux connects these pillars with the "brasen scaffold" that Solomon built (2 Chronicles 6:13), upon which he stands and kneels "before all the congregation of Israel," and from which he offers the dedicatory prayer for the temple; further, de Vaux suggests that the phrase near the pillar be translated "on the dais" (Ricks, 1998, p. 246).

While this is an interesting possibility, the apparent suggestion of the text in Mosiah is that the function was both for communication, and that the structure was temporary and created after the assembly of the crowd. That would argue against the tower-as-dais possibility. In the context of a Mesoamerican town with an existing temple, the temple itself would be sufficient to serve as such a "tower-dais". The creation of the tower should be seen for its purposes of communication, not sacred space. The sacred space was the temple around which they gathered.

Demographic: The assembled people of Zarahemla would have been both from the central city proper as well as the outlying lands, so we are examining a population that is larger than what would have typically lived inside a Mesoamerican ceremonial center. There is little to go on to estimate the number of the attendees, since the census was not taken. Sorenson suggests as possible number of around 25,000, based on the ability of John Wesley to preach to "20,000 people in the open in England, which suggests that the size of the assembly in Zarahemla was perhaps a little larger" (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS, 1985, p. 157).

Mosiah 2:8

8 And it came to pass that he began to speak to his people from the tower; and they could not all hear his words because of the greatness of the multitude; therefore he caused that the words which he spake should be written and sent forth among those that were not under the sound of his voice, that they might also receive his words.

Even with the addition of the tower, all of the gathered people would not be able to hear, therefore Benjamin causes the speech to be written. Again there is more information in this verse than would first appear.

One of the interesting questions we might ask is why a large group of people would hang around if they could neither hear, nor probably see, the person they came to hear and see. The answer is that this occasion is more that the speech. For many of them, the celebration and the chance to visit with friends (not to mention the feasting) would be reason enough to come and stay. The audience would have had multiple reasons for coming to the speech. Many of them were fulfilled even when they could not hear nor see.

The second piece of information is that the speech was written down expressly so that the people could have his words. We know that Nephite society was literate, but we do not know the extent of the literacy. It would be a very unusual society in the ancient world where there was a very high literacy rate, and particularly in Mesoamerica among those who were farmers in the fields. While the writing of the speech might mean that it was distributed so that many could read it, this would also require a large number of copies and a large amount of material on which to write, in addition to a significant amount of time.

Given the probable illiteracy of the general populace, the difficulty in mass producing writing, and the fact that the material on which the speech would be written had to have been manufactured locally or traded for, it is more likely that there were a limited number of copies created so that emissaries from the king could read the speech to the gathered people in the hamlets.

Mosiah 2:9

9 And these are the words which he spake and caused to be written, saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.

Editorial: Mormon gives a very direct introduction to the text he is copying. It is very clearly a copy from the plates, and very clearly the text that Benjamin "spake and caused to be written." Since the speech was written officially, we may suppose that we have the official copy, with no editing from Mormon, and subject only to Joseph Smith as a translator (however he may or may not have affected the translation). We may also presume that because this is an official written text that care would have been taken in its construction, and that we might find evidence of such care not normally seen in spontaneous oral discourse. Indeed: "A stunning array of literary structures appears in Benjamin’s speech, purposefully and skillfully organized. Benjamin’s use of chiasmus, all types of parallelisms, and many other forms of repeating patterns adds focus and emphasis to the main messages and the persuasive qualities of this text" (Welch, John W. "Parallelism and Chiasmus in Benjamin’s Speech." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS 1998, p. 315).

Rhetorical: Benjamin begins his speech by declaring that they will be hearing divine words. He invokes the divine when he notes that the "mysteries of God will be unfolded". This tells his audience that he is speaking on behalf of God, and that through Benjamin God's will is to be proclaimed.

Scriptural: Benjamin unfolds "mysteries of God" in the sense that this is information that is either new to the people, or is being reinforced afresh. Because God is different from us, we may expect that we do not understand all that God does or intends ("Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts"). Whenever a prophet explains the will of the Lord, the "mysteries" are being unfolded. The ways and thoughts of the Lord are being made known to us.

Vocabulary: "The phrase "this day" may be very significant in the scriptures. This solemn and emphatic concept appears, for example, in the famous covenantal text at the end of the book of Joshua: "Choose you this day whom ye will serve.... Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.... So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day" (Joshua 24:15— 25). It seems that words of this nature were especially used in antiquity in reference to religious or ceremonial holy days.

The words "this day" appear eighteen times in the Book of Mormon. Six occurrences are regular expressions meaning "at this time," and one in Alma 30:8 quotes Joshua 24:15. But the remaining eleven all appear in conjunction with holy Nephite gatherings at their temples.

King Benjamin uses the phrase "this day" five times in his monumental speech, and each time it occurs at ritual and covenantal highpoints in the text: He enjoins the people to give heed to "my words which I shall speak unto you this day" (Mosiah 2:9). He calls the people as "witnesses this day" that he has discharged his duties as king according to the law and has a pure conscience before God "this day" (Mosiah 2:14—15; compare Deuteronomy 17:14—20). He declares "this day" that his son Mosiah is their new king (Mosiah 2:30). He affirms that "this day [Christi hath spiritually begotten you" (Mosiah 5:7). These usages are important covenantal markers. It seems likely that Benjamin is using this phrase not as a mere literary embellishment, but as a term with legal and religious import.

…further corroboration for these pointed uses of "this day" in the Book of Mormon can be found in Hebrew literature. In Hebrew the word etzem is significant. It appears, for example, in Exodus 12:17, "Ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day [b’etzem hayom hazeh] have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt." Abraham Bloch has recently concluded that "this descriptive word was not a mere literary flourish" but a technical term of art with some unknown special significance.

For further insight, Bloch turns to the medieval Jewish jurist Nahmanides, who "noted with great amazement that etzem [‘self-same’J was used only in connection with the observance of Yom Kippur [the Israelite festival of the Day of Atonement] and Shavuot [the biblical festival of the Firstfruits, or Pentecost]." The implication is that this term was used to indicate that these high holy days in and of themselves produced a binding legal effect or holy religious status.

Evidently, in Nephite language and rhetoric, the phrase "this day" often indicated the covenantal and legal status of a holy day, much as "this day," "today," or "this selfsame day" did in Hebrew" (Welch, John W., Donald W. Parry, and Stephen D. Ricks. "This Day." In: Reexploring the Book of Mormon. FARMS. 1992, pp. 117-9).

Mosiah 2:10

10 I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man.

This verse can be read in connection with Mormon’s brief statement that there had been false Christ’s with whom Benjamin had to content (Words of Mormon 1:15). As noted in the discussion of that verse, in the Mesoamerican context it would be very much in keeping with the native religion to have men who impersonated and represented the gods. Benjamin had to work hard to remove those contentions from his people, and he is here reminding them of that fact. He very specifically references those "false Christs" when he declares that "ye should [not] fear me, [n]or that ye think that I of myself am more than a mortal man." The declaration of his mortal state is an important aspect of Benjamin’s address because it places him in direct contrast to the "false Christs" or the god-impersonators. Although king; although a prophet who may speak for God (as he has just declared), Benjamin declares himself human, and therefore qualitatively different from the pagan religion he has recently cleansed from his people and lands.

The second context for this statement relies on the same deification of person, but rather than specifically relate to the "false Christs," Benjamin may also be referring to the nature of Mesoamerican kingship. The best evidence for kingship among the Maya shows the distinct necessity of connecting to not only a royal, but a divine, lineage (Schele, Linda, and Mary Ellen Miller. The Blood of Kings. George Braziller, Inc. 1986, p. 103). This may be the better of the readings, as the rest of Benjamin’s introduction appears to serve as a way to distinguish Benjamin for other kings with whom Benjamin’s people were clearly familiar.

Mosiah 2:11

11 But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.

Benjamin clearly draws the lines around the nature of the Nephite king. He is human even though rightfully consecrated through his lineage and ruling through the power of God. While God is declared to be behind the throne, he is not declared to sit on the throne.

Anthropological: It is interesting that the nature of kingship among the Zarahemlaites is sufficiently tenuous that Benjamin notes that he rules because "I have been chosen by this people." Of course he also notes that he rules by lineal right ("consecrated by my father") and as with all things, by the grace of God. Nevertheless, there is no apparent assumption of regnal privilege here. Benjamin rules at the sufferance of the population.

This revelation of Benjamin’s dependence upon his subjects for the right to rule fits with general anthropological understanding of many ancient or less complex civilizations. Most societies have rules that are intended to be obeyed. The issue comes in the ability to enforce those rules. Radcliffe-Brown describes the options open to societies, which may be paraphrased as; 1) a moral sanction where each person in the community would express their displeasure with the person, 2) a ritual sanction where the force of religion is brought upon the guilty, making them "unclean" or otherwise unfit for joining with the community, or 3) a penal sanction, where some person or persons empowered by the society inflicts punishment under law (Radcliffe-Brown, A.R. Structure and Function in a Primitive Society. The Free Press, 1968, pp.214-215).

King Benjamin indicates in verse 13 that he has not suffered that his people be imprisoned. More that a simple "advantage" of his kingship, it may also be an indication that King Benjamin lacks Radcliffe-Brown’s third option of some accepted law-enforcer. We have no indication of a standing army, nor of any type of police in Nephite society at this time. While arguing from silence is dicey at best, in this case the corroboration comes from Benjamin’s indication of his rulership through the sufferance of his people. Benjamin rules at their pleasure precisely because he has no other means of enforcing his rule. He cannot call in a loyal standing army. At this stage in the development of the Nephite society, King Benjamin wears the "king" title as much more of a formality than an indicator of power.

Mosiah 2:12

12 I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service, even up to this time, and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you;

Anthropological: Benjamin is describing a social relationship between the king and the people. That Benjamin has been in the service of the people is expected. He is the king, it is his job to serve his people. However, it is also an expectation of many kings that they may enjoy their position based on the labor of their people. In this light, Benjamin clearly notes that he has not "sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you."

While we can take Benjamin at his word that he has not sought wealth at the expense of this people, and that he has not levied taxes (verse 14), it is also clear that he must have required something of the people. He cannot rule without some form of goods from the people to the central government. The most obvious case is the ceremonial architecture of the town. The people are met at a temple with walls. Neither the temple nor the walls were built exclusively by Benjamin – nor by any other single person. Such building projects require large amounts of labor which perforce removes people from other pursuits. It may well be that the majority of the building would have occurred in times of less intensive agricultural need (as is most logical as food takes precedence over building) but we should understand that while Benjamin did not enrich himself that does not mean that there were no communal requirements on the people. Benjamin’s point is not the absence of requirements, but that they have not been burdensome. In verse 14 Benjamin notes that it was his intent: and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne."

The evidence of building alone underscores that there were some demands upon the people. Benjamin is not pretending that they have had no responsibilities to the king, but that those responsibilities have not been "grievous" nor for the intent of enriching the king.

Mosiah 2:13

13 Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another, nor that ye should murder, or plunder, or steal, or commit adultery; nor even have I suffered that ye should commit any manner of wickedness, and have taught you that ye should keep the commandments of the Lord, in all things which he hath commanded you—

Sociological: It is not insignificant that the rest of King Benjamin’s catalog of his administration should follow the statement that he had not sought riches at the expense of his people. It is very possible that King Benjamin intends verses 12 and 13 to be similarly contrastive to other Kings as are verses 10 and 11. In verses 10 and 11 Benjamin sets himself apart from the Kings who declared themselves divine, and in verses 12 and 13 Benjamin contrasts the nature of his administration as different from that of the "other" Kings – specifically in the common aspects of the "other" kingdoms which he does not suffer in his own realm. Each of the elements listed makes the most sense in his context if the people understand that these things are common expectations in other city/city-states, and that they are unique in their opposition to them.

"The use of dungeons or prisons was apparently tolerated in Israel (see Jeremiah 37:15; 1 Nephi 7:14), generally in the land of Nephi (see Mosiah 17:5), in the land of Ammonihah (see Alma 14:18,23), and among the Lamanites (see Helaman 5:21); by by special dispensation, the use of prisons was not allowed in Zarahemla under King Benjamin or in other lands by special royal decrees (see Alma 23:2) (Welch, John W. "Benjamin, the Man: His Place in Nephite History." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS 1998, p. 40).

The decree in Alma 23:2 was a special protection for sons of Mosiah and other missionaries in Lamanite lands. That such a special decree was needed highlights the more common use of the prison or dungeon among the Lamanites. There does not appear to be any significant difference in the usage of "dungeon" or "prison," since they may be both referenced in the same context in Alma 8:30.

Similar to the special protection of the sons of Mosiah highlighting the more common usage, the message of King Benjamin is that a well known form of punishment has been spared his people through his own decree. The people clearly knew what prisons were, and King Benjamin has reminded them that they have not had to be subject to them. Since we know that Benjamin’s reign was not always peaceful, he had some other way of dealing with lawbreakers – most likely banishment (see Words of Mormon 1:16 on the defections to the Lamanites).

Likewise, the threat of slavery had to be a real option, or Benjamin’s prohibition of it would be nothing to brag about. Mesoamerica practiced slavery, with firm attestation among both the Maya and the Aztec. For Maya slavery (geographically closer to Zarahemla, though the best sources are much later in time) slavery may have been practiced in both the Classic and Postclassic depending on how certain iconography is read (Morley, Sylvanus. The Ancient Maya. Stanford University Press, 1956, p. 159). We should be careful, however, about reading too much of US history with slavery into ancient Mesoamerican practice; "the term is evocative, and it may well be that Maya slavery was less exploitative, and more like the villeinage of medieval England, or the patron-client relationship with mutual obligations that Tambiah notes for medieval Southeast Asia" (Hammond, Norman. "Inside the Black Box: Defining Maya Polity." In: Classic Maya Political History. School of American Research and Advanced Seminar Series. 1996, p. 265). In any case, slavery was clearly seen as distasteful, and ascribed to King Benjamin’s credit that it was avoidable in the land of Zarahemla.

The prohibitions against murder and stealing may be nothing more than the standard social laws. However, since most societies will prohibit murder and stealing, it may also be that Benjamin is making a specific contrast to something else. While I cannot offer a reference for stealing, it is possible that the prohibition against murder may have come as a reaction against Mesoamerican human sacrifice, a practice which often accompanied the nature of Mesoamerican slavery (Morley, 1956, p. 159; Duran, Fray Diego. Book of the Gods and Rites of the Ancient Calendar. University of Oklahoma Press, 1971, pp. 138, 175, 204). Assuming the context of Benjamin setting himself apart from the other Kings, this becomes a plausible scenario.

Plunder and adultery may also have somewhat different connotations in a Mesoamerican setting. Plunder comes from the spoils of conquest over another people. While the people of Benjamin have been subject to wars which would have resulted in the plunder of Zarahemla, Benjamin is apparently not only forbidding the plunder, but the initiation of the war out of which the plunder would have been a nearly natural consequence. The case of adultery may send us back to Jacob’s issues with multiple wives. Benjamin would appear to have continued the "one man, one woman" rule, which would certainly contrast with neighboring cultures.

As a summation, Benjamin notes that he has not suffered that they should "should commit any manner of wickedness." While unstated, this is still in the line of contrasting their society with other neighbors who do commit all "manner of wickedness." In the tradition of ancient societies, the self definition of King Benjamin’s people included their understanding that they are different from the "others," a practice that we have seen as early as Enos (who was probably so taught by his father).

Textual: A possible confirmation that these specific legal prohibitions began as a contrast to Lamanite (in the wide sense) society is found in the proclamation of the king of the Lamanites after his conversion by the sons of Mosiah II "Alma 23:3 …that they ought not to murder, nor to plunder, nor to steal, nor to commit adultery, nor to commit any manner of wickedness). The very ordered repetition here and the presence of the sons of Mosiah suggests that this legal list became a code for Nephite law (Welch, John W. "A Masterful Oration." In" King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS 1998, p. 61 notes the repetition of the phrases and suggests that it is due to the importance given this text in future years). The repetition of the same (or nearly the same) legal list in Mosiah 29:36, Alma 30:10, and Helaman 6:23 indicates both that the language of Benjamin’s speech became normative for his people, but that these principles became a legal code for the Nephites (see especially Alma 30:10).

It is also important to note that the usage in Mosiah 29:36 follows in the context once again of the iniquity of unnamed kings:

Mosiah 29:31 For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings…35 And he also unfolded unto them all the disadvantages they labored under, by having an unrighteous king to rule over them; 36 Yea, all his iniquities and abominations, and all the wars, and contentions, and bloodshed, and the stealing, and the plundering, and the committing of whoredoms, and all manner of iniquities which cannot be enumerated—telling them that these things ought not to be, that they were expressly repugnant to the commandments of God.

Mosiah 2:14

14 And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes, and that there should nothing come upon you which was grievous to be borne—and of all these things which I have spoken, ye yourselves are witnesses this day.

There is a direct correlation between Benjamin’s statement that he has "labored with mine own hands" and "that ye should not be laden with taxes." The operation of government has correlated expenses, even in a non-monetary economy such as the Nephite/Zarahemlaite community. Benjamin was able to take enough time away from the business of government to raise his own food. This suggests a less complex political organization, which will change over time to the point where Benjamin’s son will probably be unable to make such a claim of independence from the production of the community (Sorenson, 1985, p. 192).

Benjamin ends this defining section of his discourse by declaring the congregation as the witnesses. King Benjamin has begun his discourse by defining his reign, first in contrast to cultural expectations, and secondly by the benevolent experience of his people with his reign.

Mosiah 2:15

15 Yet, my brethren, I have not done these things that I might boast, neither do I tell these things that thereby I might accuse you; but I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day.

Literary/Historical: There are three clauses in this verse. The first to are negatives, and the third a positive statement that is related to the first two. There is important and crafted information in these three clauses.

In the first clause, Benjamin indicates that he has not given the political/legal legacy of his reign as a reason for boasting. Certainly he has presented all of these items as the benefits of Benjamin’s rule. They are all intended to be positives. Because they are the foundational elements of Benjamin’s definition of Nephite law (as witnessed by the formulaic usage of the legal prohibitions discussed above in verse 13) they are certainly points on which Benjamin takes pride, but not public accolade.

The next clause is the most fascinating, because Benjamin indicates that he has not given his regnal legacy to accuse his people. In what sense would these apparently good features accuse his people? Once again we must remember that the current peace Benjamin’s people enjoy has not been the consistent feature of his reign. Rather, Benjamin has had to contend mightily with "contentions." One of the results of the contentions was that many of his people defected to the "Lamanites"(Words of Mormon 1:16). Reading between the lines, we see Benjamin surviving a near civil war (or words if not combat) wherein some of the lines of contention were drawn between the religious/political system of the Lamanites (indicated by the false Christs and false prophets) and that of the Nephites traditional religion. In the context of this civil war, we may presume that Benjamin’s audience contains many who had at least some sympathies to the losing side, even though they remained in Zarahemla. It is in this emotionally charged context that Benjamin specifically states that he is not accusing. To create a paraphrase for this clause, Benjamin is telling those who might have been ambivalent in the "contentions" that while he stands for one type of political/religious system, he does not actively accuse them of preferring the Lamanite system (remember that Lamanite is by now a collective term not always related to the lineal Lamanites). This specific clause exists to continue to calm the waters of a people who have undergone tremendous stress.

The final clause tells his people the positive reason for declaring his reign. Benjamin wants a clear conscience before God. Because God is behind his throne, it is to God that Benjamin is ultimately accountable. At the end of his career, Benjamin asserts that he has done his best. This clause not only gives his purpose, but clearly declares to his audience that Benjamin will be relinquishing rule. This is a benediction on his reign.

Mosiah 2:16

16 Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

Mosiah 2:17

17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

Rhetorical: Benjamin repeats his assertion that his catalog of the features of his reign is not meant to boast. This repetition allows him to shift the focus back to God, rather than possibly dwell on the "accusation" that isn’t an accusation. If there were any such feelings in the gathered people, Benjamin has moved beyond them, and uses this repetition to refocus on himself and his regnal relationship to God. Once again, Benjamin asserts that his efforts in their behalf have not come from desire for personal gain, but rather from God.

It is in the second clause that he extends this relationship with God to his people. He is laying an important foundation for the rest of his sermon, because he will be requiring his people to rename themselves as part of a newly renewed covenant with God. To prepare for that, Benjamin establishes their ability to enter into a personal relationship with God, just as Benjamin has, just as they have with Benjamin.

In an ancient society that was culturally primed to accept either the king as deity, or at the very least a special relationship between king and deity, Benjamin removes the exclusivity from that relationship. Where the gathered people might have been culturally primed to believe that lineage and rank were the things that created the relationship, Benjamin assures them that the special relationship may be based upon actions available to all.

It is for this reason that he tells them that he is teaching them "wisdom." Here is something that is important, but perhaps not clearly understood. Once again in contrast to the surrounding kings, Benjamin teaches that the true relationship to deity comes in the one’s efforts on behalf of others. Here is something that is available to all, regardless of lineage or rank, regardless of poverty or wealth. Benjamin has, through the use of his personal example, created a tangible way in which the assumed exclusive relationship of king and deity may be expanded to all, and may be easily enjoyed by all.

Scriptural: How is it that "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God"? First, we must make certain that we understand that the implication here is one of a relationship – a relationship between servant and master. In such a relationship there are benefits that accrue to each party in the relationship. While the servant is certainly subject to the will of the master, the servant yet has the right and responsibility for goods and actions that might otherwise be unavailable to him. It is the responsibility of the master to provide appropriately for the servant, and the responsibility of the servant to fulfil the will of the master.

In the divine relationship, we are servants of the Lord when we enter into his service. With the Lord as our master we also have access to abilities and possibilities otherwise beyond our reach. We willingly exchange our complete freedom for the greater possibilities available through the master. In our modern world that places such an emphasis on freedom we can easily miss this part of the meaning. For us, it is similar to someone who works for a great firm. The employee willingly exchanges his "freedom" to be elsewhere for the compensations of the firm. In accomplishing the goals of the firm, the employee may also gain experience and increase talents in ways not previously available. While the analogy certainly has problems in the case of poor employers, just as it would with a wicked master, when the relationship is built with the eternal Master, the master/servant relationship is one of great benefit.

Therefore, Benjamin is inviting all of his people to enter into a personal servant/master relationship with God, just as Benjamin has. He indicates that the key action needed to accomplish this is to act as a servant – and in this case, Benjamin asserts that a servant of God would serve his fellow beings. This interesting formulation is echoed in two different concepts that Jesus taught during his ministry. First, Jesus also condensed the essential relationship to God into a single concept – that of Love: "Matt. 22:37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Secondly, the command to serve one’s fellow beings is also a theme from Jesus’ earthly ministry: "Matt. 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

If God-like love is understood, it can be the entire basis for one’s relationship to God (the purpose of the Law and the prophets) because such a love will govern ones actions as though it were God. Service falls out of such a love. For Benjamin’s people who have been schooled in the law of Moses (Mosiah 2:3), Benjamin is refocusing them much as Jesus did – away from the particulars of the law and into the heart of it.

Mosiah 2:18

18 Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another?

Mosiah 2:19

19 And behold also, if I, whom ye call your king, who has spent his days in your service, and yet has been in the service of God, do merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!

Rhetorical: Benjamin is moving is logic forward very carefully. Beginning with the incontrovertible evidence of his work in service of his people, Benjamin is moving from the known past into the proposed new covenant. In that covenant, the people must accept a new or renewed relationship with God, so Benjamin is moving from the physical to the spiritual, from the tangible earthly king to the spiritual celestial king.

Verse 18 picks up on the theme of service in verse 17, and notes that this is an achievable goal. If Benjamin can serve them, surely they can serve one another. Benjamin is not asking anything of them that he has not already done, and to which they themselves were solemn witnesses (see verse 14).

Benjamin continues the logic by moving in a different direction through the servant/master relationship. He has begun by describing the relationship from master to servant – describing that which is required of the servant. Now he examines the relationship from the standpoint of the servant, viewed up to the master. Just as the people are grateful to Benjamin for the services he has provided (here not the work of his hands, but the removal of burdens "grievous to be born"). Benjamin moves that concrete example up to the level of the heavenly master. If Benjamin is the servant of the heavenly king, and the people give thanks to Benjamin, they should really be giving thanks to the heavenly King, for that is the master Benjamin serves. Rather than build a society based on the earthly king as master, Benjamin is moving the relationship to the heavenly king – with all benefits and responsibilities.

Mosiah 2:20

20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—

Mosiah 2:21

21 I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

Rhetorical: The essence of Benjamin’s argument is in the first and last clauses of these two verses (this single sentence!). Even were they to give all thanks and praise, they would be "unprofitable servants." What is Benjamin’s reason for making the relationship appear impossible? Why tell them that after all they can do that they are "unprofitable"?

Once again we must remember that in the master/servant relationship there are actions and benefits that flow both ways through the relationship. A master may have a servant whose talents are such that the servant becomes indispensable to the master. In modern sports terminology, there may be a "franchise player" who is so valuable to the team that he must be treated with special rules. In this case the "franchise player" is a "profitable" servant because he contributes tremendously to the benefits that flow to the team owners. Benjamin is simply proclaiming that the benefits that flow from God to his people are so great that no servant may ever be "profitable" in that his contributions would begin to equal the benefits from the master. Benjamin is teaching the principle of grace, couched in terms of the servant/master relationship.

In Luke, the Savior uses these very terms to teach his apostles: "(Luke 17:5-10; 5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. 7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? 8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? 9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. 10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do."

The Savior uses the very same servant/master relationship to help explain to the apostles what they need to do to increase their faith (the reason the parable was given, see Luke 17:5). While modern readers might wince at the nature of the master/servant relationship, Jesus simply accepts it as the way things work, and uses that common example to teach a point. The point is that the servant has obligations, and receives benefits for fulfilling those obligations. However, a servant who only fulfills the obligations is "unprofitable."

In Jesus’ parable the point is to show the apostles a way to increase their faith, for Benjamin the same relationship is used to emphasize the grace of the eternal master. In both cases, it is the understanding of the relationship that allows the readers to access the meaning of the speaker.

Mosiah 2:22

22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

Benjamin now proceeds to explain how it is that they are unprofitable servants. This section begins here, and extends through verse 25. First, Benjamin must describe the requirements of the master, as each master does require action on the part of his servant(s). This great God, this heavenly master and King, only "requires of you… to keep his commandments." At this point, we understand that Benjamin’s people have been taught what these commandments are. Benjamin is not teaching them what the commandments are, but rather the nature of their personal relationship to God. They know the commandments. They only must keep them.

In exchange for the keeping of the commandments, this great master has promised that "ye should prosper in the land." The benefits do not flow simply to the master, but they also flow to the people. They are promised that they will prosper – a benefit they know that is in the power of their Master to provide (and not incidentally a covenant that has been made before with the Nephites). Benjamin emphasizes the immutability of God. God does not change his promises. As Benjamin notes, since God has promised that they will prosper if they keep the commandments, they may be assured that they will prosper if they keep the commandments – for God will keep his word (his covenant).

Mosiah 2:23

23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

Although God requires little of us, he provides us with great blessings. Not only does he promise prosperity in this land, but he has "granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him." Not only our prosperity, but our very existence comes from this eternal master.

Mosiah 2:24

24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

Here is Benjamin’s attempt to explain the problem between grace and works. Without specifically alluding to the theological question, yet Benjamin works on the answer. Benjamin teaches that when we do as God commands, God immediately blesses us. Thus we are never in God’s debt, for we have the original debt of our very lives, and anything we do as his servant yields yet another blessing. We are unable "catch up" to the blessings we receive of God. While some blessings might seem to be "earned" the overall set of blessings can never be earned.

The principle Benjamin is teaching was more clearly stated in the Doctrine and Covenants: "D&C 130:20 There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— 21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." While a true principle, it deals only with one aspect of the relationship between we as servants and our eternal Master. These verses describe what Benjamin does – that when we do something we are immediately blessed (Benjamin’s "immediately" is a rhetorical device indicating that the blessing is assigned to us – we understand that sometimes there are circumstances in life where the blessing certainly does not appear to be "immediate"). Benjamin is combining this principle of action with the overarching grace of God, and therefore is much closer to Nephi’s definition: "(2 Ne. 25:23 … it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do").

Mosiah 2:25

25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.

Rhetorical: The crowning argument in the exposition of the nature of the unprofitable servant is the obvious fact that man cannot compete with God as a purveyor of blessings. Benjamin noted that God has created us, and uses that image now to show the ultimate dependence of man upon God. Man is not even as much as the "dust of the earth" – not because we have no value, but because we cannot create even that, and God has! We must not make the mistake of thinking that Benjamin thinks man of no worth. His example is not about the absolute value of man, but rather his position as a servant in relationship to his master. We are not even "as much as the dust of the earth" because we were "created of the dust" and it is our God, our master, who created both the dust and us.

Mosiah 2:26

26 And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I am also of the dust. And ye behold that I am old, and am about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth.

Rhetorical: Benjamin neatly ties up this argument by returning to his beginning remarks. He once again uses himself as a focus. In this case, he uses the assumption of difference between subjects and their king to make a point. Even though he is king, even though in privilege and rank he may be superior to them, yet he also is "of the dust." He too is a creation of God, and he is just as much an unprofitable servant as are they. Benjamin has opened up to his people the nature of the servant/master relationship, assured them that they are capable of fulfilling it, described some of the blessings that flow from it, and indicated that they will always be in a position of thankfulness to their God (their master) because of his abounding grace. He seals this description by including himself in it.

We may miss the significance of Benjamin’s words because we are a modern audience. An ancient audience would assume that their king was infinitely superior to them. In many societies the populace were forbidden to touch the person of the king, and in some societies, were forbidden to even look upon him. This reverence for the person of the king in many ways provided the religious sanction as a tool for governance. In any case, it would not be unusual at all for Benjamin’s people, particularly the Zarahemlaites proper who had apparently become even more Mesoamericanized that the Nephites, to see Benjamin as more than a man (remembering his clear affirmation that he was only a man). It is in this context that Benjamin’s placing of himself on the same level as his people before God should be seen. This was a startling declaration, one that certainly had to have perked the ears of his audience.

Mosiah 2:27

27 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you.

The ending sentence of verse 26 where Benjamin describes himself as old and nearing death should be read in conjunction with verse 28, as it is the immediate prelude to his point. After his excursion into the discussion of the servant/master relationship as it applies to the people of God, Benjamin returns to the purpose of his assembly. Regardless of what his people will do, Benjamin must fulfill his obligation as a servant and dispatch his duty (see earlier, verse 15).

Benjamin very clearly restates his position as a servant of God in that he is the purveyor of the commands of God to his people.

Scriptural: Benjamin clearly indicates that his position as a leader carries with it responsibilities. For all we who serve in some leadership capacity, we have responsibilities and obligations, just as Benjamin did. Just as Benjamin as the servant of God was required to faithfully carry out God’s will for those for whom Benjamin had stewardship, so too do we have similar obligations. As with any servant, we will be judged (at least in part) on the ways in which we have fulfilled the obligations God has put upon us with respect to others.

Mosiah 2:28

28 I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.

Mosiah 2:29

29 And moreover, I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might declare unto you that I can no longer be your teacher, nor your king;

Benjamin declares two reasons for the assembly. First, he must discharge his duty to God, and secondly, he will abdicate his throne, as well as his position as "teacher." The abdication of the throne will be an important event in this discourse, but will take much less time and effort than the discharge of Benjamin’s spiritual goal of successfully discharging his responsibilities before God. Before Benjamin can relinquish his title of "teacher" he will continue to teach throughout this sermon.

Mosiah 2:30

30 For even at this time, my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you; but the Lord God doth support me, and hath suffered me that I should speak unto you, and hath commanded me that I should declare unto you this day, that my son Mosiah is a king and a ruler over you.

The passing of the kingship is already accomplished. Benjamin declares his successor, and now dwells on the teaching and discharge of his obligations. It is tempting to read "my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly" as a consequence of Benjamin's age (verse 26). Remembering that Benjamin is to live three years beyond this point, and that he is in the process of delivering a powerful sermon at the direction of a messenger of God, it is more probable that he trembles because of the effects of the Spirit on his physical body. Later, the spirit will descend upon his people with such power that they will be unable to speak it (Mosiah 4:20). In spiritual anticipation of the great transformation of his people, Benjamin is more likely trembling with power of the spirit than frailty of age.

Mosiah 2:31

31 And now, my brethren, I would that ye should do as ye have hitherto done. As ye have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father, and have prospered, and have been kept from falling into the hands of your enemies, even so if ye shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you.

Having fulfilled the first of his purposes by naming Mosiah as his successor, Benjamin now turns to his major purpose in assembling the people. He will be giving them a new covenant, creating a new and formal relationship between the people and their God. He begins by discussing their role with respect to their new king. His very first commandment is that "I would that ye should do as ye have hitherto done." These are people who have elected to remain with Benjamin rather than defecting to the Lamanites. Therefore we may presume that for the most part they have agreed with Benjamin’s rule, and have followed the law he has laid down. Benjamin invokes that same willingness to follow upon his son’s reign. Just as the people followed Benjamin, he requires of them that they follow his son, Mosiah.

Benjamin uses history as the teacher for the lesson of following those commands. He starts with the temporal – the prosperity they have had by following the commandments of Benjamin and Mosiah I. It is interesting that the major evidence of prosperity is that they have not fallen into the hands of enemies. What does victory in battle have to do with prosperity? Aside from the obvious "prosperity" of retaining one’s independence, in Mesoamerica there was a very close economic tie between loosing a war and having a decrease in "prosperity." The tribute system required the goods of the conquered, and therefore decreased that which was available for the community (we will see this problem intensely in the story of Zeniff and his followers).

In keeping with his theme of involving God as a heavenly king, Benjamin links the "prosperity" under Mosiah I and Benjamin to God’s promise of prosperity if the people would obey. Thus he has declared the continuation of the dynasty, required his people to continue in their support, and turned the ultimate allegiance to the eternal king, God.

Mosiah 2:32

32 But, O my people, beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah.

After abjuring his people to follow in their current path, Benjamin reminds them to take care lest the contentions rise again. Once again we are not told specifically what those contentions were, but since Benjamin links the contentions to the "evil spirit" we may continue to assume that they dealt with religion (and since religion was intimately associated with rulership, they dealt also with politics).

We do not have the text wherein Mosiah I taught about the "evil spirit." Of course this may not have been a single occasion, but rather a consistent teaching. Why does Benjamin specifically relate the idea of the "evil spirit" being taught to them by Mosiah I? He does not say, but we may speculate. Mosiah I is a Nephite king in a Zarahemlaite city – a city which had "lost its religion", meaning that it was no longer the Old Testament religion, but probably something closer to the Mesoamerican models around them. Therefore, it is possible that this specific "evil spirit" was a new conception to the people of Zarahemla, and it needed to be taught for them to understand.

It has been suggested that the Mesoamerican pantheon might have a counterpart to Satan. In a U.A.S. Newsletter, Dee F. Green suggested Tezacatlipoca as a Satan figure, primarily because he is seen in opposition to Quetzalcoatl, whom Green sees as a Savior figure (Green, Dee F. "A Counterpart of Satan in the Mesoamerican Pantheon." U.A.S Newsletter 60.50). While this issue is much too complex to encapsulate, a very basic point must be made that Mesoamerican deities are not clearly good nor evil. Each can be both, and in the late Aztec mythology from which the Quetzalcoatl/Tezcatlipoca tales derive, we can find both good and ill associated with each. The Maya deities appear to exhibit this same tendency, so it is quite likely that there was no Mesoamerican deity upon which Mosiah I could model the "evil spirit." He was teaching that concept precisely because it was not commonly understood among the more acculturated Zarahemlaites.

Vocabulary: The term "list" should be read as "inclination" rather than "listen." (Coutts, Alison V.P., et al. "Complete Text of Benjamin’s Speech with Notes and Comments." In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS, 1998 p. 535).

Mosiah 2:33

33 For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge.

Benjamin teaches that there is a "wo" attached to obeying the evil spirit. This should be seen in direct contrast to the "prosperity" that comes from obeying God. In each case, the human action has an accompanying response from the extra-human (God or the evil spirit). Benjamin also describes what that "wo" is. Allowing for repentance, Benjamin notes that the "wo" occurs in a case where repentance had not occurred (remaineth and dieth in his sins). In this case the "reward" for obeying the evil spirit is "damnation to his own soul." This appears to be a "wo" directed specifically at Benjamin’s people, for it appears to require that they understand the will of God, and elect to go against it. This is a punishment that is particular to Benjamin’s audience, because they have been taught the commandments of God and are apparently living them pretty well at this time (verse 31’s "I would that ye should continue to do as ye have hitherto done").

Mosiah 2:34

34 I say unto you, that there are not any among you, except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; and also have been taught concerning the records which contain the prophecies which have been spoken by the holy prophets, even down to the time our father, Lehi, left Jerusalem;

Mosiah 2:35

35 And also, all that has been spoken by our fathers until now. And behold, also, they spake that which was commanded them of the Lord; therefore, they are just and true.

Benjamin reminds the people that they have been taught these things. This is nothing new, but rather a review, a recommitment. It is interesting that he notes that all except perhaps the little children have been taught these things. While he specifically mentioned his father’s teaching, for all but the youngest to know these things, they have clearly been taught over and over again since the time of Mosiah I. Nevertheless, Benjamin is going to develop an argument that creates literary tension between young children and grown men. He will contrast the "men" who might follow evil with the "young children" who do not. This is the beginning of this recurring theme.

Benjamin reviews not only the general doctrine, but the source of the doctrine. Benjamin’s sources are the "fathers" and the "records." Both of these sources teach the commandments of God. It would appear that Benjamin had a similar relationship to scripture that the modern church has, where the text is authoritative, but so are the pronouncements of the prophets, even when they are not found in the scriptures themselves.

Mosiah 2:36

36 And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom's paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—

Benjamin continues to explain the reason his people are particularly under the potential penalty of damnation should they follow the evil spirit. The first requirement is that they should know the commandments of God, and he lays before them the evidence that they do. Knowing these things, and then electing to act contrary to them is an election to "withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord."

It is probably that Benjamin very purposefully uses the phrase "Spirit of the Lord" in this context as a contrast to "evil spirit." He is creating an easily understood polarization between God "the good spirit" and the evil spirit.

Mosiah 2:37

37 I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.

The "man that doeth this" is one who has received the gospel (verse 36). That is the important predication for this example. If we receive, understand, and believe in the gospel, and then elect to follow the evil one, that choice is what brings us "out in open rebellion against God." We rebel precisely because we were once on God’s side, and have chosen the opposite course.

When we are in such a state of rebellion, the spirit of God necessarily withdraws from us. God has no place in us, not because he chooses not to, but because we make no room for him, having chosen another "god" instead.

Vocabulary: We are familiar with the image of the body as a temple, an image also used in the New Testament (John 2:21; 1 Cor. 6:19). The image is appropriate in ancient Israel because of the sanctity of the temple, and imagery that certainly carried over to the Nephite temples in the New World. In the New World, however, the imagery may have had extended meaning, as the "contentions" Benjamin has fought so hard against – those religious rebellions that were listening to the "evil spirit," would have had competing temples if I am correct in ascribing those contentions to the surround Mesoamerican religions. Thus the "unholy temple" for Benjamin would have a dual meaning – not only the physical body of the person who has turned away, but the competing temple to which that person likely has turned.

Mosiah 2:38

38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

Mosiah 2:39

39 And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

The imagery of the a never-ending fire was available to Benjamin from the small plates of Nephi (2 Ne. 9:16, Jacob 6:10). The closest match to Benjamin’s statement is Jacob 6:10; "And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment." The clearly common phrases between Benjamin and Jacob "never-ending torment/endless torment" and the "unquenchable" fire. While we cannot be absolutely certain that Benjamin takes his cue from Jacob, it is quite possible since Benjamin received the small plates directly from Amaleki, and surely would have read them after receiving them.

We start with Benjamin’s conclusion in verse 39 that "mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment." First, it is very clear that Benjamin is talking about torment, and a final judgement. For the type of person Benjamin is describing, the consequence of his/her action is a "never-ending torment". As with Jacob, Benjamin likens this torment to being burned by fire. While that is certainly a dreadful image, the real import of Benjamin’s description is not to scare through the fear of the result, but rather to describe the type of person to whom such a torment would apply.

First, Benjamin very specifically limits this type of punishment to one who is both unrepentant, and dies "an enemy to God." These are two different conditions. One may be unrepentant of many sins, but not necessarily be an "enemy to God." Verse 37 describes the "enemy to God" as one who is in open rebellion – in other words, one who has known the gospel, and has turned against it. It is this person who has elected to turn against God that becomes a willing enemy to God.

It is important that Benjamin also notes that being an enemy to God is not the sole criteria for assigning a soul to this eternal torment. That "enemy" must also be unrepentant - dying in the state of enmity to God. Thus Benjamin is discussing a grievous sin, but not one from which there is no repentance. Presumably, one’s individual agency would allow for repentance.

The next fascinating aspect is Benjamin’s very clear understanding of the way in which this torment occurs. We might expect that God would assign the torment as the just dessert for one who dies as an enemy to God (thereby remaining an enemy while even closer to God’s presence in the next life). Nevertheless, that is not what Benjamin describes: "the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever."

The torment is internal, not external. It is self-imposed, not levied by a vengeful and wrathful God. The pain and anguish are not literal fires, but are rather like and unquenchable fire. Benjamin is placing the blame for the application of the penalty of judgement squarely on the shoulders of the sinner. The torment is not less, the difference is from whence it is assigned. In this, Benjamin presages the Doctrine & Covenants which also has the individual playing a large role in their final judgements in the next life:

"D&C 88:22 For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.

23 And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.

24 And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory; therefore he is not meet for a kingdom of glory. Therefore he must abide a kingdom which is not a kingdom of glory."

Not only does each person "abide" the kingdom for which they can "abide" the law, but they are also essentially open to all celestial rewards: "D&C 88:31And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness. 32 And they who remain shall also be quickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received."

As Benjamin points out, the punishment is brought on by one’s own choices, not the least of which is the choice to not repent.

Mosiah 2:40

40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.

Rhetorical: Note that at the end Benjamin is addressing "those that have fallen into transgression" without actually accusing anyone. Without saying who might be in transgression, Benjamin has simply painted the picture of the fate of those who might be in transgression. Adding this mild reprimand to the contentions that have already been noted, we may see his vocative "O, all ye old men, and also…." in a different light.

Benjamin begins by addressing "all ye old men." He then runs down the age tree with the young men, and ends with "you little children who can understand." I suggest that he has done this purposefully, and that is main target is indeed the "old men" and that the young men and children are added to diminish the apparent emphasis on the "old men." Consider how this would sound in an oral discourse, with pregnant pauses; "O all ye old men…….and also ye young men… and you little….." The placing of the old men first, and the probable pause thereafter, gives the "old men" a wake up call, because they are being directly addressed, almost as when we hear out name and our ears perk. When Benjamin adds the other age groups, that shocking and potentially accusatory initial address is softened.

Now, why wake up the "old men" (other than our visions of a High Priests group on a Sunday Afternoon)? With the contentions that had been resolved, the main conflict appears to have been between God’s religion and the religion of the land. That "old religion" of the land would have been the natal religion of the "old men" of the Zarahemlaites, and as their "native" religion, the old men would be more likely to have desires to continue it that the younger ones. Thus Benjamin is continuing to attack the root causes of the contentions, and eliminate them by declaring those who would support that "old religion" to be enemies to God, and subject to the penalties he has just described – penalties coming from their own choices, and therefore avoidable by their own choices.

Nevertheless, Benjamin’s purpose is one of harmony, not division. While clearly wishing to eradicate the remnants of the "contentions" Benjamin does not want to be heavy handed in pointing a finger at a part of his people. For those who might recognize themselves, it has been sufficient. For all the rest, the inclusion of the "young men" and "little children" allows this initially pointed remark to be diffused. Benjamin has managed, at the same time, to be both direct and indirect, both specifically accusatory and generally cautionary.

Mosiah 2:41

41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

Rhetorical: This verse is a transition from the immediately finished theme of the fate of the enemies of God among them, or dissented away from them, and is a preparation for the next, and more important theme, the spiritual application of these principles. Although the current text of the Book of Mormon creates a break in the discourse with a chapter ending here and beginning again in chapter 3, the 1830 edition has no such break.

It is important to understand this as a whole discourse rather than broken into chapters, as the next chapter contains the real message of Benjamin’s discourse. To this point, he is in preparation. He has been moving his audience through their own immediate past in preparation for their immediate future.

       
      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999