The Book of Mosiah
We now begin our study of Joseph Smith's translation of the plates of Mormon. These plates are comprised of:
1. Mormon's abridgment of the large plates of Nephi, including his abridgment of his own history entered onto the large plates of Nephi (Mormon 1-5);
2. some unabridged writings of Mormon directly onto the plates of Mormon (Mormon 6-7); and
3. the unabridged writings of Mormon's son, Moroni (Mormon 8-9, book of Ether, and book of Moroni).
The book of Mosiah, with its twenty-nine chapters, covers a period of only about forty years from 130 BC to 91 BC. Those authors whose writings have been abridged by Mormon to form the book of Mosiah include: king Benjamin, Zeniff, Mosiah-the son of king Benjamin-and the senior Alma. Before beginning your study of the text, please read carefully the Narrative Historical Summary of the book of Mosiah.
Chapter Outline of Mosiah
A brief outline of the book of Mosiah, worth committing to memory, is as follows:
Mosiah 2-5 King Benjamin's Speech
Mosiah 3 The Natural Man
Mosiah 9-22 Account of the People of Zeniff, Noah, and Limhi
Mosiah 11-17 The Preaching and Martyrdom of Abinadi and the Conversion of Alma
Mosiah 23-24 The Senior Alma and his People in the Wilderness
Mosiah 27 The Rebellion and Conversion of the Younger Alma and the Four Sons of Mosiah
The book of Mosiah begins with a father, king Benjamin, instructing his sons, as was the custom in ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Mosiah Chapter 1
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.
verse 1 The author of these initial materials in the book of Mosiah is king Benjamin. Note, however, that Benjamin is not the first person or persona in these writings. The first person in the book of Mosiah, and indeed in the remainder of the books in the Book of Mormon is no longer the author of the individual books. Who is the first person? He is the one who abridged the record, the prophet Mormon.
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.
verse 2 "he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman" Benjamin's kingship will soon be bestowed on his son Mosiah. It is never explicitly stated that Mosiah was Benjamin's firstborn son, but this seems likely since his name here is mentioned first.
"he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers" Benjamin's three sons were taught to read and write the form of writing in which the small and large plates of Nephi were written. What language was this? If you have not yet read the article, The Language of the Book of Mormon, then please do so now. The language of the large and small plates is Hebrew, written using a reformed or cursive style of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The large and small plates of Nephi, plus the brass plates of Laban, constituted the "standard works" of the Church of Jesus Christ among the Nephites. The brass plates contained the word of the Lord from the creation down to the ministry of Jeremiah. The large and small plates of Nephi contained "the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem" (see verse 6).
"the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers" These prophecies were available to the sons of king Benjamin in the large and small plates of Nephi, two of their "standard works."
"which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord" "Which" refers to the "prophecies," and "them" refers to "their fathers."
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.
verse 3 Here in this verse, Mormon records the beginning of a quotation of King Benjamin's.
We have previously discussed the meaning of the expression "mysteries of God." In general we might say that mysteries are spiritual truths which may be grasped only through divine revelation. We might divide them into two types:
1. A mystery may be a point of doctrine that is not understood by an individual because that individual simply has insufficient knowledge of the matter. The point of doctrine may be basic and not particularly sacred, speculative, or secret. To one man a point of doctrine may be a mystery, but another may understand the doctrine, and to him it is not a mystery. This type of mystery is available by revelation from the Holy Ghost based on one's obedience.
2. Also a mystery may be a point of doctrine that is unusually sacred or esoteric, and one should not speak freely about it. Usually the Lord has not given a complete revealed explanation of this type of mystery, nor is it necessarily his intent to do so. Here in verse 3, definition (1) applies.
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.
verses 3-4 Mormon is still quoting king Benjamin, which quotation continues through verse 7. We are taught explicitly that the brass plates of Laban were written in the Egyptian language. Perhaps they were written in the same language used by the Book of Mormon authors-Egyptian-type glyphic script with a distinct set of glyphic characters constructed for writing Hebrew text with Hebrew manners and culture. A recent suggestion has been made that the five books of Moses may have been written on the brass plates in Egyptian, but that "the prophets" (Isaiah, Malachi) on the brass plates were probably written in Hebrew (see Thomas A. Wayment, "The Hebrew Text of Alma 7:11," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 2005, 14:98). See also the commentary for Alma 7:11.
verse 4 "that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God" Parents are commanded to teach gospel truths to their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Moses 6:58-62; D&C 68:25).
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.
verse 5 "have his commandments always before our eyes" Here is a vital principle. Unless you the reader "have his commandments [the scriptures] always before [your] eyes," you also are in danger of dwindling in unbelief.
The expression "traditions of their fathers" refers to the oral traditions passed from generation to generation by the Lamanites. These unwritten doctrinal and historical traditions invariably became altered in the passing. They are summarized in the commentary for Enos 1:14 and Mosiah 10:12-17.
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.
verse 6 Benjamin testifies of the truth and value of the scriptures. "These sayings" are Benjamin's teachings in verses 3 through 5 above. "These records" are the brass plates of Laban.
"the plates of Nephi" In this case this expression refers to both the large and the small plates of Nephi. Obviously the materials contained upon the plates of brass and upon both the large and small plates of Nephi were somehow made available to the Nephite people and became their scriptures.
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.
verse 7 Trite though they may seem, here are the grand keys to exaltation: study the scriptures and keep the commandments.
"promises which the Lord made unto our fathers" We have discussed previously the Lord's promise to the Book of Mormon people: "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper" (1 Nephi 2:20). There is also a corollary to that promise: "Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not prosper in the land" (Omni 1:6).
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.
verse 9 It is interesting to note that Benjamin conferred the kingdom on his son Mosiah fully three years before Benjamin's death (see Mosiah 6:5). This was a practice not unheard of in ancient Israelite culture (see the commentary for Mosiah 6:5). During these three years Mosiah and his father may have administered the kingdom jointly.
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.
verse 10 "throughout all this land among all this people" Benjamin instructs his son Mosiah to announce his speech to take place the following day. He is to announce throughout the land to all the people. Just what size land is referred to here? The phrase "land of Zarahemla" may refer to at least two and sometimes three different land areas. First, there is the greater land of Zarahemla, bordered on the south by the narrow strip of wilderness, on the east and west by the East and West Seas, and on the north by the land Desolation. Second, the text may refer to the local land of Zarahemla, that land which immediately surrounds the city of Zarahemla. Finally, on occasion, the expression land of Zarahemla may be used to refer to the city of Zarahemla. Likely examples of this latter usage are found in Alma 2:15 and in Alma 15:18. In the verse we are now discussing, Benjamin likely has reference to the local land of Zarahemla including the city of Zarahemla and that land immediately surrounding the city.
Note that at the time of king Benjamin, the "people of Zarahemla" (the Mulekites) and the "people of Mosiah" (the Nephites) are still counted separately.
"whom the Lord our God hath given us" It is interesting to note that the king in ancient Israel was thought to be chosen by God (Stephen D. Ricks, "The Ideology of Kingship in Mosiah 1-6," a FARMS reprint, August 1987). It is obvious that Benjamin believed that God had called Mosiah to be king. It was traditional that the eldest son succeed his father, though the king had his prerogatives if he felt God wanted otherwise. As previously mentioned in verse 2 of this chapter, we are never told that Mosiah was Benjamin's eldest son, though it is likely since his name is mentioned first in verse 2 of this chapter.
In our commentary of Mosiah 1-6, we will comment on some other features of the Nephite concept of kingship and how closely it correlates with that of the ancient Israelite view of kings.
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.
verse 11 "that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people" In English we would be more likely to say, "that thereby they may be distinguished from all the people." The construction in this verse is awkward English but excellent Hebrew (John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 90).
12 And I give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression.
verses 10-12 These are most intriguing and provocative verses. Benjamin's people will gather "on the morrow." Two of the purposes of the gathering, as explained in verse 10, are to announce Benjamin's retirement and bestow the kingship on his son Mosiah. Another purpose is mentioned in verse 11: "I shall give this people a name, that they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem." What exactly is going to happen to this people gathered at the temple? What great blessing are they about to receive? Keep in mind that these people are not spiritual novices. They are already a baptized and commandment-keeping people who had been "diligent" in "keeping the commandments of the Lord." Yet they are about to receive a blessing which will render them unique among all Book-of-Mormon peoples. What is this great blessing? We will learn in Mosiah 5:7-9 that the name to be given to the people is that of the Savior Jesus Christ. Benjamin's people will hereafter be called, as long as they continue in righteousness, by the name Christ. This title will symbolize a sacred covenant between the Lord and his people (Mosiah 5:7). This covenant, involving a great spiritual endowment of power and knowledge, seems likely a covenant or set of covenants similar to those entered into by members of the Church today in the temple, the temple endowment. The temple endowment and the other covenants made available to us in the temple, result in a special covenant relationship between man and the Lord that "never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression." Blotted out means removed.
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.
verse 13 All covenants with God impose an obligation upon the covenant maker. The loftier the covenant, the more binding the obligation. Since Benjamin's people are about to enter into a covenant which will render them "highly favored," they must beware lest they fall into transgression. If they were to fall, the Lord would "deliver them up" to spiritual destruction.
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.
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.
verse 15 "he gave him charge concerning all the affairs of the kingdom" It is apparent that in this verse Mosiah is given charge over the temporal affairs of the kingdom. In the next verse he will be given charge over the kingdom's spiritual affairs.
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.
verse 16 Benjamin passed on to his son the records, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona. These three items have been regarded as the three tokens of Nephite kingship (Gordon C. Thomasson, "Mosiah: The Complex Symbolism and the Symbolic Complex of Kingship in the Book of Mormon," a FARMS reprint).
"plates of Nephi" Mosiah would have been given charge over both the small plates of Nephi and the large plates of Nephi.
In addition to the items mentioned here in verse 16, Mosiah was also given (or subsequently obtained) a set of "interpreters." For a discussion of the interpreters, see the commentary for Mosiah 8:13 and Appendix A, The Process of Translating the Book of Mormon Plates in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2. With the interpreters he would later translate the twenty-four gold plates comprising the record of the Jaredites (see Mosiah 8:13; Mosiah 8:19; Mosiah 28:11-17). Do we have access to this translation today? We probably do not. Rather we have the book of Ether which is probably Moroni's independent translation of the twenty-four Jaredite plates. Alternatively, it is possible that the book of Ether is Moroni's abridgment of king Mosiah's translation of the Jaredite record.
All of these items (the small plates of Nephi, the large plates of Nephi, the sword of Laban, the Liahona, and the interpreters) will be passed along to Alma the younger, then to Alma's son Helaman. From Helaman, they will be passed along the line of prophets, eventually to Mormon and Moroni. Moroni will eventually bury Mormon's abridgments of the large plates of Nephi, the small plates of Nephi, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona where they would later be discovered by Joseph Smith (D&C 17:1). Also Moroni will bury a set of the interpreters, the Urim and Thummim, fastened to a breast plate. Apparently these interpreters were the same as those used by the brother of Jared. Whether or not Mosiah's interpreters were the same as those later delivered to Moroni and then to Joseph Smith is unknown.
Mosiah chapters 1-6 include the account of the coronation of Benjamin's son Mosiah. Brother Stephen D. Ricks has compared Mosiah's coronation with the coronation ceremonies of the Hebrews and other ancient near eastern cultures recorded in the Old Testament and other texts ("The Coronation of Kings," a FARMS reprint, July 1989). He cites a few similarities which will be mentioned in the commentary for these chapters. An example is found in this verse. In ancient Israel, during the coronation of a new king, various tokens of kingship were regularly bestowed upon the new monarch. In the Old Testament, these included such things as a "copy of [the] law" which the king was required to read (Deuteronomy 17:18-19), the diadem or crown, and other material symbols of power. In this verse these various objects were given to Mosiah as symbols of his power and leadership.
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.
verse 17 The prophet Mormon comments upon the travails and the cause of those travails experienced by the families of Lehi and Ishmael as they sojourned in the wilderness before coming to the New World (see particularly the commentary for 1 Nephi 16:35).
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.
verse 18 "the temple" Just when this temple was built in Zarahemla and by whom we are not informed. Probably it was built by the senior Mosiah, the father of Benjamin, during his reign as king over the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla. This temple is actually the second Nephite temple, as the first had been built centuries before by Nephi himself in the land of Nephi (see 2 Nephi 5:16).
It is interesting to note that in ancient Israel the temple site always served as the site of coronations (Ricks, 1989). We will note, as we continue our study of the Book of Mormon, that the entire Nephite society was quite temple-centered. Nephite kings made important announcements at the temple (Mosiah 2:5-6; Mosiah 7:17). When the resurrected Jesus Christ visited the Nephites, he appeared to them at their temple in the land Bountiful (3 Nephi 11:1-10). Even the wicked king Noah spent extravagant amounts of money to furnish the temple.