1 And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.
Textual: Mormon and Moroni's Gross Structural Editing of the Book of Mormon; Chapters and Books
From Words of Mormon to the end of the Book of Mormon we have a text that has been crafted principally by Mormon, but with additional material added by Moroni. When examining Mormon as an editor, there are multiple questions to ask about his thought processes in the development of the text. There are many facets to Mormon's editing, but at this point we shall concentrate only on the largest editorial choices. Why does Mormon change chapters, and what initializes the changes in Books?
John H. Gilbert, the first printer of the Book of Mormon commented on the manuscript from which he had to typeset the Book of Mormon:
"Every chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mar, from beginning to end." (cited in Mackay, Thomas W. "Mormon as Editor: A Study in Colophons, Headers, and Source Indicators." In: Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (Fall 1983), p. 2 of internet copy. Original pp. 90-109).
The niceties paragraphs and verses are later additions to our text, but the chapter breaks do show up in the manuscript. Therefore, we must assume that there was something in the plates that dictated the break from the close of one chapter to the beginning of a new one. Skousen suggests:
"Evidence suggests that as Joseph Smith was translating, he apparently saw some mark (or perhaps extra spacing) whenever a section ended, but was unable to see the text that followed. At such junctures, Joseph decided to refer to these endings as chapter breaks and told the scribe to write the word "chapter" at these places, but without specifying any number for the chapter since Joseph saw neither a number nor the word "chapter." (Skousen, Royal. "Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon." In: Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1. FARMS 1994 p. 137).
Examining the chapter breaks leads to a typology of the kinds of changes that initialized a chapter break. Of course the typology is not particularly clean, because chapters include different types of material. For instance, one of the most common chapter breaks occurs when an embedded discourse ends, and narration picks up. In between the end of the text and the beginning of the narration, we have a chapter break. However, this doesn't mean that chapters are always created with this transition occurs. It only suggests that this type of change was used as one of the markers for a chapter break.
It is probable that chapters are always to be considered topical units, but still the types of boundary topics or texts can provide some information on the editorial process.
Types of Chapter Breaks
Note: The occurrences are always listed with the two chapters, as we are looking at the transition from one to the next. The first two numbers are from the 1830 edition. The numbers in parentheses are the modern chapter breaks that correspond to the original divisions (following the excellent chart found in Mackay, 1983). It is, of course, the original divisions that show Mormon's editing. The modern chapters come from modern editors.
1) Transition From Inserted Speech To Narrative.
Usually with the inserted speech ending the chapter, although sometimes the narrative shifts to inserted text at the beginning of the next chapter. The division is frequently marked with a final Amen for the end of the chapter.
Mosiah 1/2 (3/4); Mosiah 2/3 (4/5); Mosiah 3/4 (5/6); Mosiah 6/7 (10-11); Mosiah 8/9 (16/17); Alma 2/3 (4/5); Alma 3/4 (5/6); Alma 4/5 (6/7); Alma 5/6 (7/8); Alma 6/7 (8/9); Alma 8/9 (11/12); Alma 14/15 (26/27); Alma 15/16 (29/30); Alma 19/20 (42/43); Alma 26/27 (58/59); Helaman 2/3 (6/7); 3 Nephi 2/3 (5/6); 3 Nephi 4/5 (10/11) [End of Mormon's interjection, resuming the account]; 3 Nephi 11/12 (26:5/26:6); 3 Nephi 12/13 (27:22/27:23); Mormon 3/4 (7/8) [shift between Mormon's testimony, closed with Amen, and the return to narrative]; Ether 1/2 (4/5); Ether 2/3 (5/6); Ether 3/4 (8/9) [Moroni's interjection closes 3, narrative returns in 4]; Moroni 1/2 (1/2); Moroni 6/7 (6/7); Moroni 9/10 (9/10)
2) Break Between Two Different Discursants Or Between Two Speeches By The Same Discursant
Alma 7/8 (9/10); Alma 9/10 (13:9/13:10); Alma 17/18 (37/38) [addressing a different son]; Alma 18/19 (38/39) [addressing a different son]; Alma 27/28 (60/61); Alma 28/29 (61/62); Helaman 4/5 (12/13)
Special note for 3 Nephi. In the reporting of the Savior's discourses, we have blocks that appear to correspond to themes, and the break in the themes makes the chapter separation. We have the same speaker, the same time period, but different embedded speeches with different themes.
3 Nephi 5/6 (13:24/13:25); 3 Nephi 6/7 (14/15); 3 Nephi 7/8 (16/17); 3 Nephi 8/9 (18/19); 3 Nephi 10/11 (23:13/23/14); 3 Nephi 13/14 (29/30); Moroni 7/8 (7/8); Moroni 8/9 (8/9)
3) Break On Year Markers
This suggests two things, first that the text is collected based on the interesting information for certain years, and that the source text was organized by year, so that such a transition was normal.
Alma 1/2 (3/4); Alma 10/11 (15/16); Alma 22/23 (50/51); Alma 23/24 (51/52); Alma 24/25 (53/54); Alma 25/26 (55/56); Alma 29/30 (62/63); Helaman 1/2 (2/3); Helaman 3/4 (10/11); 3 Nephi 1/2 (2/3); 3 Nephi 3/4 (10/11); Mormon 1/2 (3/4)
4) Obvious Change Of Source Material
Mosiah 5/6 (8/9) [insertion of the record of Zeniff]; Mosiah 10/11 (22/23); Mosiah 11/12 (28:19/28:20); Alma 11/12 (16/17); Alma 12/13 (20/21); Alma 13/14 (22/23) [in this case, the transition marks the end if Mormon's editorial remarks and a return to the original source]; Alma 16/17 (35/36); Alma 20/21 (44/45)
5) Simple Change Of Subject
These are the least obvious of the chapter divisions.
Mosiah 4/5 (6/7); Mosiah 7/8 (13:24/13:25); Mosiah 9/10 (21/22); Mosiah 12/13 (28:19/28:20); Alma 21/22 (49/50); 3 Nephi 9/10 (21:21/21:22); 3 Nephi 12/13 (27:22/27:23); Mormon 2/3 (5/6); Ether 4/5 (11/12); Moroni 2/3 (2/3); Moroni 3/4 (3/4); Moroni 4/5 (4/5); Moroni 5/6 (5/6)
Book introductions are easily noted in the 1830 edition, because most chapters are preceded by an italicized synopsis of the chapter to come. The synopsis headings were part of the original manuscript, and there is no reason to believe that they were not on the plates. In the sections that Mormon edits, all Book introductions from Alma to 4 Nephi (though not numbered "4" in 1830) have these introductions.
The Books that do not have them are; Mosiah, Mormon, Ether, and Moroni. Both Ether and Moroni are Moroni's editing, and he does not add the introductions. Of the books Mormon edits, only Mosiah and Mormon are lacking the synoptic headers.
It is very easy to explain why the book of Mormon (as distinguished from the Book of Mormon) does not have the synoptic header. To write a synoptic header, one must know the material to come. While editing the plates of Nephi, Mormon had that requisite foreknowledge. When he wrote his own book, however, he did not have that foreknowledge. It is possible that the headers were also inserted later by some authors (Jacob's header appears to require knowledge prior to writing that was only added after the probably close of the original record), but it this still fits into the "live" writing of the book of Mormon. He may not have had the time to return to the beginning of his text to write the synopsis, and Moroni does not continue that practice.
The Case of Mosiah Chapter 1
The first chapter of Mosiah in our current text does not begin in any expected way. In the first place, we are missing the introductory material that Mormon included with all other books he edited. This strongly suggests that our Mosiah chapter 1 was not the beginning of the book of Mosiah. Skousen's examination of the manuscripts indicates that what we have as Mosiah 1 was originally Mosiah III, or the third chapter of the book of Mosiah rather than the first (Skousen, Royal. "Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon." In: Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1. FARMS 1994 p. 138).
This same evidence indicates that while this was not a new book it was a new chapter. Based on the nature of chapter breaks, can we make any inference about what is missing? Unfortunately, the beginning verse of our current Mosiah 1 appears to be much more of a conclusion than a beginning. In more modern editing procedures, we might want to see "And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days" as the concluding section to a description of those contentions.
Mosiah V (current chapter 7) also begins with a statement of peace, but that beginning does not have the reference to anything as obviously previous as the contentions, so that chapter break does not necessarily help us. This first verse, and the very direct connection to the contentions briefly mentioned in Words of Mormon 1:12 and 17-18 suggest that Mormon is writing to directly connect the small plate material into the beginning of this chapter of Mosiah. We may suppose, therefore, that at least one of our missing chapters is being summarized in Words of Mormon 1:12-18. Since this is the record of Mosiah and not Benjamin, however, we may also speculate that the original first chapter dealt with Mosiah and his removal from Nephi to Zarahemla. This change in ruler occasioned by the change of location, would be sufficient reason to begin a new dynastic record, and to begin with the new ruler's name, Mosiah. While the principles governing book naming are not clear, it is abundantly clear that book names do not change with every change of ruler (we have Mosiah I, Benjamin, and Mosiah II in this book of Mosiah - see also Tvedtnes, John A. "Colophons in the Book of Mormon." In: Rediscovering the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1991, p. 36). Therefore, the change of the name to Mosiah from whatever it was before (we know that it began with the book of Lehi, but do not know if there was anything between the book of Lehi and the book of Mosiah) we may suggest a dramatic change, such as a new dynasty.
Skousen's suggestion for the possible fit between our current Mosiah 1 and the Words of Mormon is an interesting possibility, and perhaps the best explanation of the nature of the very specific tie between Words of Mormon and the beginning of our current Mosiah 1:
"All of this leads me to believe that the lost 116 pages included not only all of Lehi, but also part of Chapter I of the original Mosiah. Joseph Smith retained from the summer of 1828 some small portion of the translation (D&C 10:41) and may have added a few additional pages in March 1829 (D&C 5:30), just prior to Oliver Cowdery's arrival in the following month. In all, these pages probably included the following portions from the beginning of the original Mosiah; the rest of chapter I, all of chapter II, and perhaps the beginning of chapter III. In fact, these few pages could have been part of the original manuscript that was placed in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1841. If so, the could well have been crossed out so as not to repeat the end of Amaleki's account (from the book of Omni in the small plates) and the material Mormon covered in his transitional "The Words of Mormon." (Skousen, Royal. "Critical Methodology and the Text of the Book of Mormon." In: Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1. FARMS 1994 p. 139).
Since Joseph Smith did not know of the small plates text until later (D&C 10:38-42), and because Words of Mormon is clearly both an appendage to the small plates as well as a transition into our current Mosiah 1, the small plates must have been physically inserted just before Mosiah III (1). What this suggests is that when Joseph was translating the plates, either through explicit or unconscious direction, he did not translate the plates continuously, but skipped over the physical plates corresponding to the small plates (our 1 Nephi - Words of Mormon). The Lord then instructed him to return to them later.
This would not be at all surprising, as it appears that there is only the most tenuous relationship between the physical plates and the direct translation process. An 1879 interview with Emma Smith provides important information:
" Q. What is the truth of Mormonism?
A. I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.
Q. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
A. He had neither manuscript or book to read from.
Q. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
A. If he had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.
Q. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
A. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen table cloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.
(Cited in Welch, John W. and Tim Rathbone. "The Translation of the Book of Mormon: Preliminary Report on the Basic Historical Information." FARMS reprint. 1986, p. 14).
While this is a late remembrance and subject to the vagaries of memory, it is important to not that there is no direct evidence here (nor from any other description) of the continual use of the physical plates in the translation. Indeed, what Emma remembers is that he translated by means of the seer stone in a hat (not allowing for any consultation with the physical plates) and that the plates were often (but not always!?) on the table - wrapped in a cloth!
Assuming the accuracy of this description of the physical process, the actual organization of the physical plates would not have been noticed by Joseph Smith, and there is no reason to be surprised that the included small plate material was skipped over.
2 And it came to pass that he had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord.
3 And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
Anthropological: These verses provide some tremendously important information, but they do so in such as way as to be so 'matter-of-fact' that it is easy to miss the significance of the statements. A quick and superficial reading of the verses tells us that Benjamin was a good father in that he taught his children, and particularly taught them the gospel. While true enough, such a reading misses the real import of the text.
First, we note that Mormon indicates that Benjamin's sons are being taught the words of two different record traditions. The second is actually named, and its naming serves to identify the first by elimination. Verse 3 tells us very specifically that the sons are taught from the brass plates. Since this named record tradition follows the teaching about the words of the fathers in verse 2, by default we may assume that they are also taught from the large plate tradition. Since "the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord" are specifically not those on the brass plates, and are specifically "delivered by the hand of the Lord," we may infer that the Mormon means that they were taught in the traditions of the prophets who were contained on the plates of Nephi. The plates of Nephi are part of the set of items transmitted upon the bestowal of kingship, as we will see later, so they are quite literally "delivered." The phrase "by the hand of the Lord" would be the recognition that the preservation of the plates was under the care of the Lord, a condition most recently demonstrable with the exodus of Mosiah 1 from Nephi.
Second, it is important that Mormon mentions that"...he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers." We have noted previously that the word "language" in the Book of Mormon has ambiguous connotations, at times possibly covering both language proper and the larger category of culture. In this case, however, it may be most appropriately language proper, for we are told that part of the reason that they were taught was " that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers,"
The cultural meaning might still explain "men of understanding," but the he final phrase ties the teaching of "language" to the words of the large plates. They learn the language specifically to be able to "know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers." We may therefore assume that by "language" the minimum possible interpretation is that they were taught to read. Certainly a literate person would qualify as one of the "men of understanding" and also allow them to read the "prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers." While this minimal reading is certainly accurate as far as it goes, I suggest that the teaching of the language of the fathers was more literal, and included a language as well as a capacity to read it. This will become most clear in the next verse.
At this point, however, it is sufficient to note that the teaching of language was thought to be of such unusual significance that it was mentioned even in Mormon's abridgement. What is never of sufficient importance to mention is that a child learns the spoken language of the parents. That is expected. What is unusual, however is the teaching of a second language, hence the need to mention this special learning for the sons of Mosiah. Precisely what they were learning comes from verse 4.
Editorial: Verses 1 and 2 are wholly Mormon's words. They are based remotely upon the data on his source plates, but these verses are a summary statement recounting what was surely detailed data on the plates of Nephi into the shortest of summaries. This editorializing continues until the middle of verse 3 where we have a citation of a discourse of Benjamin to his sons.
Mormon has selected this discourse because it shows one of the ancient ones describing the value of the information on the plates. Mormon would be very sensitive to such value as his task in creating an abridgement was to preserve that value for future generations. He therefore saw this discourse as directly relevant to the purposes he had in creating his plates, and included the citation from the source material.
Mormon's textual set up for this citation is the quick recounting of the necessary historical background against which the discourse makes sense, but the purpose is to preserve the discourse, not recount history. That we may extract historical/anthropological data from his introduction is felicitous, but is an artifact of commonplace information to Mormon, not data that he was consciously attempting to communicate. Indeed, virtually all of Mormon' choices will be governed by spiritual rather than historical criteria (using those concepts in their modern sense).
4 For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.
Textual: These are the words of Benjamin. It is an embedded text from the source. While we cannot be certain that there is no abridgement of the discourse itself (neither here nor in future examples) we may presume that the embedded discourse tend to remain intact, and that any alterations by Mormon will be noticeable as his interjections. The embedded speeches are fairly clearly marked with noticeable changes in subject and or tense to represent the speaker in the original document.
Anthropological: Verse 4 is directly tied to the conception of language and learning the words of the fathers. In particular, Benjamin highlights the importance of the brass plates, but ties the importance of the plates to the importance of learning "language." Lehi was "taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings [brass plates]."
In the context of Benjamin's discourse to his sons we learn that the records are important, and that what they contain should be learned. To pass this information on, Lehi had to learn the "language of the Egyptians." In the context of what must have preceded this specific discourse based on Mormon's abbreviation, this discourse is set in the context of learning language for the purpose of reading the brass plates (as well as the large plates). Within that context, Mormon's inclusion of the learning of language must be seen as important information which provided the necessary background for this discourse. That necessary background was not a child simply learning the language that was spoken around him, but rather the very specific teaching of a language with which they would not otherwise be familiar.
Concerning the language of the plates, we are still in the conundrum of the separation of language from script, where there exists some possibility that the script represents a different language (commonly supposed to be Hebrew language and Egyptian script). Of course the script could also represent "Egyptian" language. In any case, the substitution of one script for another over a known language is not a particularly difficult task. Much more difficult is the change in language itself, and I prefer this second reading of the situation. Regardless of the current spoken language, the language (plus script) was not natural to the learning of the sons of Benjamin in Zarahemla, and therefore required specific learning so they might be both "men of understanding" and be able to read the brass plates just as Lehi did (and by extension the large plates, which may be presumed to have been created on the model of the brass plates with which Nephi was clearly familiar and emotionally and spiritually attuned).
It has been noted previously, but bears repeating, that the experience with the brass plates was a watershed event in young Nephi's life, and the plates would have had even greater import for him than for his father. The fact that the brass plates were engraved on metal and that they required "the language of the Egyptians" to read both provide the likely model for the plates that Nephi forged, both for creating a record on metal as well as the language (which would have been sacralized for him, whatever the possible pragmatics of its origin on the brass plates). It is even quite likely that the physical dimensions of the plates of Nephi would have followed the model of the brass plates.
5 I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.
Scriptural: The words of the prophets can keep present the dealings of God with man, and bring them to our ready remembrance. Having such records allows us to better follow the will of God.
Anthropological: Benjamin provides some important information here that should be analyzed. He first indicates that the ability to read the records of the prophets has allowed them to continue to believe, in contrast to "our brethren, the Lamanites." In this particular case, however generalized the term Lamanite has become, it is beneficial to Benjamin's argument to make sure that he references the original Lamanites. He is thus creating a very wide gulf between current Nephite and current Lamanite with respect to religion, and he credits the difference directly to the Nephite retention of the sacred records. At the time of the historical separation of Nephite and Lamanite, the records would have been the brass plates, and whatever perishable record Lehi had made (both records appear to have gone with Nephi).
The Lamanites would be deprived of the brass plates, which deprived them of much of what we consider the Old Testament. They would have missed Nephi's writings entirely simply because Nephi does not begin them until after the split has occurred. Benjamin takes for granted the loss of true religion to the Lamanites, and places that blame on their inability to read the accounts (not because they could not read in this case, but because they do not have the text to read from).
As a second problem, Benjamin notes that not only have they lost their religion, but that they: "even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct."
Benjamin's argument to his sons emphasizes the necessity of reading the plates (learning the language of the Egyptians!) so that they do not become like the Lamanites and lose their religion. What is missing in this discourse is the reason that the reading of the plates should be so essential. To understand what is behind this assertion, we need to make certain things clear.
First, the Lamanites would not have originally been illiterate, and they simply did not have the brass plates which went with Nephi. Secondly, the original Lamanites could have maintained their religion through oral means. The oral mode of institutional memory is quite capable of remembering tradition, particularly a tradition such as a religion that dictates action as well as belief. Indeed, the Lamanites do have an active oral tradition, but it is specifically this tradition of their fathers that prevents them from adopting the Nephite ways, even when those ways are taught to them.
Societies all change over time, and the literate ones simply have the record of those changes. Some variation in the traditions between Nephite and Lamanite might be attributable to written versus oral recollections of the Old Word religion, but that is in and of itself an insufficient answer. Had the Lamanites cared to remember, it would have been possible to remember much more than it appears that they did. Our knowledge of the operation of oral cultures suggests that it was cultural change more than a lack of a particular written record that caused the divergence between the two. The best explanation of the wide divergence was the greater degree of adoption of native culture by the Lamanites, an adoption so complete that the Nephites appropriated the name of the Lamanites as a generic label for all other peoples, for all of that "new" influence that was apparently to readily adopted by the Lamanites, the Zarahemlaites, and resisted with such effort by the Nephite prophets.
6 O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
Once again note that Benjamin's first emphasis is on the brass plates, and only secondarily on the plates of Nephi. One of reasons for this particular emphasis (is spite of the absence of clearly brass plate material outside of the citations of Isaiah) is that Benjamin is highlighting the continuation of the Old World religion among the Nephites with the loss of that religion among the Lamanites. As the direct tie to that Old World, the brass plates both contain the literal and symbolic ties to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
7 And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers.
Scriptural: Benjamin concludes this part of his discourse with a summary of his reason for teaching language and the brass plates to his sons (Mormon's interjection in the next verse makes it clear that this is not the last of Benjamin's teachings). The reason for learning to read the brass plates is directly related to the keeping of the commandments, and those are directly related to the promise from the Lord to the Nephites, that this land would be theirs and they would prosper if they did keep those commandments (1 Nephi 4:14, 2 Nephi 1:20).
8 And many more things did king Benjamin teach his sons, which are not written in this book.
9 And it came to pass that after king Benjamin had made an end of teaching his sons, that he waxed old, and he saw that he must very soon go the way of all the earth; therefore, he thought it expedient that he should confer the kingdom upon one of his sons.
Textual: Mormon indicates the end of his selection from the source material. He also indicates that this selection occurs within a larger context of the teachings of Benjamin to his sons. Since we are told that the next event of importance is the conferral of the kingdom, this teaching of Benjamin may have been a formal discourse for the princes of his kingdom. It would appear that it comes later in life, and is perhaps an explanation of learning they have already received rather than an explanation of why the will learn this language in order to read the plates.
We may also presume that Benjamin's teachings to his sons would have contained moral lessons as well from which we might have profited, such as Lehi's discourses to his sons, or Alma the Younger this his sons. Nevertheless, Mormon selected only this one section. For Mormon, the emphasis on the importance of the record was the most important of those teachings, a point with which he would particularly resonate as he was charged with abridging and preserving them.
10 Therefore, he had Mosiah brought before him; and these are the words which he spake unto him, saying: My son, I would that ye should make a proclamation throughout all this land among all this people, or the people of Zarahemla, and the people of Mosiah who dwell in the land, that thereby they may be gathered together; for on the morrow I shall proclaim unto this my people out of mine own mouth that thou art a king and a ruler over this people, whom the Lord our God hath given us.
Political: Mosiah is the first named son in the list of sons given in verse 2. That primacy of position and the confirmation of the calling of Mosiah as the next king allows us to assume that Mosiah is the first born son of Benjamin. While we have no such information about Benjamin, from this example we may also presume backwards to Mosiah I. With the establishment of the new dynasty, Mosiah I kept the general lineal principles of kingship. The throne should pass from father to first son. Since this is very standard mode of transferring power, we may be confident that it is accurate for the Nephites at this point in time.
It may be important that at this point in the history of Zarahemla Benjamin finds that he must make a distinction between the people of Zarahemla and the people of Mosiah. It would be very natural that the two groups would keep their own kin groups separate, but these designations do not indicate kinship but political allegiance. The people of Zarahemla retain the name of their last ruler, who is surely passed on by this time. The lineal "Nephites: are designated by the term "people of Mosiah." This must refer to Mosiah I, as Benjamin has not yet appointed Mosiah II as his successor.
Once again we are required to read between the lines of the text. Benjamin has had controversy and conflict during his reign, though at this very point in time he as peace (verse 1). Even at this date (comprising the end of the life of Mosiah I and most of Benjamin's life - perhaps at least 60 years given the typical life span in the Book of Mormon and the overlap between Mosiah I and Benjamin) we have two identifiable political factions, one retaining the identity of Zarahemla and one the identity of Mosiah (and interestingly not Nephi). This division in the people becomes the background against which Benjamin's coming proclamation will make sense (see verse 11), and potential (or past) divisions between the two groups may also explain the need to declare Mosiah II as king "from mine own mouth." The clear pronouncement in a public forum would be calculated to decrease potential divisions and disagreements about succession.
Editorial: Mormon has skipped from one embedded speech to another. The interstitial text is descriptive of the situation, and the speech is allowed to stand on its own. So far in Mosiah the best information we may deduce about the nature of the original plates of Nephi is that in style they tend to the first person.. Of course this fairly logical for speeches, but we must remember that speeches had to be recorded, and it is not likely that we have them precisely as given. It is more likely that the first person nature of the plates of Nephi reflect the importance of the focal character, the king. Speeches and other discourses are given in the first person, reflecting very much the original, but very likely containing some differences due to later redaction and possibly editing.
Actual recorded speech is never as smooth as the written (excepting where authors attempt to write the oral forms). Thus when we find these clean first person discourses, we may know that the plates of Nephi are being cited, but should be cautious in presuming that we have the word for word speech of any of the speakers.
11 And moreover, I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I do because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord.
12 And I give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression.
Political: Benjamin declares that he intends to name this people with a new name. Why does he do this? The very clear hint lies in his own description. He is naming them to " be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem." That sounds fine, but what does it mean?
There are only three known groups who have come from the land of Jerusalem, the Lamanites, Nephites, and Zarahemlaites. It is quite unlikely that Benjamin is referring to the Lamanites in this statement. The Zarahemlaites have no kin ties to the Lamanites, and would know them as they knew all of their "others" - as outsiders and potential enemies (or perhaps trading partners). Even the Nephites would have no need of a name to distinguish them as "above" the Lamanites, as they have considered themselves superior from the beginning, with remnants of their low opinions showing in Enos 1:20 and Jarom 1:6.
Benjamin is giving a new name to the combined people of Zarahemla and the people of Mosiah, so that this new people will be greater than "all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem" or precisely the separate people of Zarahemla and the people of Mosiah. Benjamin is making a bold political move designed to preserve the internal peace he as created, and he intends to perpetuate it by restructuring the political world inside the city of Zarahemla. While kin divisions will certainly remain, Benjamin intends to erase political divisions and unify the people.
This new naming is very clearly tied to religious principles. Benjamin specifically states that it can occur because "they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord." In the context of Words of Mormon 1:16-18, Benjamin sees this political move as specifically related to the resolution of the internal religious conflicts that Mormon summarized. We should not surprised by the combination of political and religious motives in the ancient world. The separation of the two is recent, for however much it defines North American perceptions. In the ancient world, however, reality was defined through religion, and the political reality was occupied because the leader could demonstrate (or at least claim) the sanction of God.
Archaeological: At this point it is worth remembering one of the most fascinating features of the Santa Rosa archaeological site that Sorenson proposes is a good candidate for Zarahemla. One temple had a very unusual feature. Under the plaster floor was found a distinct division between two types of gravel. In the words of one archaeologist:
"To the north the gravel was broken and to the south it was rounded. I supervised that excavation and, upon noting the difference, carefully searched the gravel, finding no mixture whatever. Not only does the difference suggest two sources of materials but it may be taken to imply two separate groups, each working on its section. Further, the medial line runs roughly east-west." (Brockington, Donald L. The Ceramic History of Santa Rosa, Chiapas, Mexico. BYU. New World Archaeological Foundation. 1967, p. 60-61.)
This suggests a very tempting scenario (albeit pure speculation) in the light of Benjamin's stated purpose for his discourse. This discourse will be given at the temple (v. 18). Suppose that this is not an old temple, but perhaps a new one, one that has been commissioned for this new enterprise. As part of Benjamin's coronation of Mosiah, we reidentifies his people, making of two a single people. As part of this ceremony, the new unity is physically symbolized by the ceremonial laying of the gravel, which is covered by a unifying plaster. The separation is no longer visible, symbolically buried in the temple, and conceptually buried in the new name.
13 Yea, and moreover I say unto you, that if this highly favored people of the Lord should fall into transgression, and become a wicked and an adulterous people, that the Lord will deliver them up, that thereby they become weak like unto their brethren; and he will no more preserve them by his matchless and marvelous power, as he has hitherto preserved our fathers.
The new name is concomitant with a new covenant. The new covenant is very close to a restatement of the Lord's covenant to the Nephites (see 1 Nephi 4:14, 2 Nephi 1:20). Compare Lehi's statement of the promise to Benjamin's formulation of his covenant:
2 Ne. 1:20
20 And he hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.
Benjamin is proclaiming that although he is creating a new people "above" the old peoples who emigrated from Jerusalem, the promise of the Lord follows righteousness, and is therefore renewed in this new people. Thus it is a new people, but in religious covenant, and continuation of their mutual status as the people of God.
14 For I say unto you, that if he had not extended his arm in the preservation of our fathers they must have fallen into the hands of the Lamanites, and become victims to their hatred.
Benjamin's final statement is an argument from history in support of the continuation of the covenant. Even in the new people, the covenant relationship with God is retained. Benjamin's proof is the historical preservation of both the people of Mosiah and the people of Zarahemla from Lamanites (to be understood here as the generic outsider/enemy).
15 And it came to pass that after king Benjamin had made an end of these sayings to his son, that he gave him charge concerning all the affairs of the kingdom.
16 And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him.
17 Therefore, as they were unfaithful they did not prosper nor progress in their journey, but were driven back, and incurred the displeasure of God upon them; and therefore they were smitten with famine and sore afflictions, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty.
Editorial: Mormon returns to condensed narrative from the embedded discourse. In the next verse he describes the official bestowal of authority on Mosiah, but in this last discourse simply gives Benjamin's instructions on the nature of the coming meeting. Why did Mormon select that passage for citation, and condense the more ceremonial transfer of symbols? The answer must lie in the importance of the new covenant. Until this point in time, there were people of Mosiah and people of Zarahemla. Mormon is highlighting the unification of those two remnants of Israel into a new single people, represented under a refreshed covenant that carried over from the previous peoples.
Political: The transition from verse 16 to 17 is critical to understanding the nature of verse 17. When Benjamin gives Mosiah "charge concerning the affairs of the kingdom," we are seeing the transferal of power from Benjamin to Mosiah. Along with the important affairs, the political realities and exigencies, Benjamin delivers some specific items: "the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director."
These are all ties to Jerusalem. They are physical proofs of the preservation of the people by God. As historical relics they would be one thing. They are not simply historical, however, but embued with highly charged religious meaning. For Benjamin, it is the religious meaning that is most important, witnessed by the definition he gives of the director. Benjamin highlights the religious meaning of the director, not the historical one. In the combined world of religious politics, these sacred relics serve as the physical reminders of the sacred covenant between the people and God. They are the physical witnesses of God's fulfillment of that promise.
The essence of these relics lies in Benjamin's discussion of the Liahona, a director that shows the way, but only upon conditions of righteousness. A righteousness that is the condition of the covenantal promise Benjamin makes.
18 And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.
Textual: The break between our current Mosiah 1 and 2 is not part of the 1830 text. When Mormon edited this section, he did not consider it finished until the end of our chapter 3, which ends at the closure of one of Benjamin's formal discourses.
While not a chapter break, this is still clearly a textual break. The next verse will be:
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.
Note that there is a repetition between verse 1:18 and verse 2:1. In 1:18 Mosiah "went and did as his father had commanded him" and in 2:1 we have "after Mosiah had done as his father had commanded him." Additionally, in both verses we have first the intent to have the people gather, and then the fulfillment of the gathering. This duality of the themes suggests that this is not Mormon's transition, but rather one from the plates. The entire section concerns Benjamin, not Mosiah, and the original preserves Mosiah's actions as the order of Benjamin, and the faithful fulfillment of that order. Even though there is no first person, the preserved structure of these two verses is strongly suggestive of a formal writing, which is not necessarily a hallmark of Mormon's editorial interjections. These verses are likely part of the original, just as the embedded speech is.
|by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999|