Mosiah Chapter 9
Mosiah 9-22 The account of the people of Zeniff, Noah, and Limhi in the land of Nephi.
This chapter begins the record of the Zeniffites referred to in Mosiah 8:5. Mormon obviously chose to include this account on the plates of Mormon. It is likely that he abridged the original plates of the Zeniffites and engraved an abbreviated rather than a verbatim version onto his plates. The account extends through Mosiah chapter 22. This record began about 200 BC. The Zeniffites will be rescued and led back to the land of Zarahemla after some eighty years, in 121 BC. Before beginning your study of these chapters, be certain you are familiar with the Narrative Historical Summary of the book of Mosiah.
The Record of Zeniff-An account of his people, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time that they were delivered out of the hands of the Lamanites. Comprising chapters 9 to 22 inclusive.
This heading was contained on the plates of Mormon except, of course, for the phrase "Comprising chapters 9 to 22 inclusive, which is a modern addition.
1 I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers' first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them-but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.
verse 1 Note that if Mormon did abridge this record, he left Zeniff as the first person. Zeniff will remain the first person through chapter 10 after which he died. Mormon then becomes the first person and remains so throughout the remainder of the record of the Zeniffites. Zeniff is obviously the author of the materials in chapters 9 and 10. Who is the author of the remainder of the Zeniffite record? We are not told. Perhaps it was a scribe in the king's court.
"I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites" Zeniff states how he is able to commence this record of his doings. In which language was his record engraved? We do not know. Was it the same "reformed Egyptian"-the glyphic form of Hebrew-in which the rest of the plates of the Book of Mormon were engraved? It seems improbable that it would be, as it would be a little surprising if the rescuer Ammon, one of the "strong men" of Zarahemla (Mosiah 7:2) and a descendant of the Mulekites, would have been able to read a record so recorded (see Mosiah 8:5-6)?
"having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them" It seems clear that this initial journey by Nephites from Zarahemla back up to the land of Nephi was a military excursion of armed men intended, at least in the eyes of its leader and some others, to win back the land of Nephi from the Lamanites by combat.
2 Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with them; but he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain; but I was rescued by the shedding of much blood; for father fought against father, and brother against brother, until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness; and we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children.
verse 2 "until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness" We are not told all of the reasons for the infighting that occurred among this Nephite army, though Omni 1:28 suggests that the leader of the excursion was responsible. Perhaps it was the same issue that was troubling Zeniff-whether to attack the Lamanites or enter into a treaty with them. Following the fighting, only fifty men remained alive (Omni 1:28).
By today's military standards and if this military excursion was sent from a central military command in Zarahemla to spy on the enemy (the Lamanites), it would seem that Zeniff perhaps should be judged as guilty of sedition, as he seems to have objected to his commander's orders. Perhaps he is fortunate that he was not tried by a military tribunal once he arrived back in Zarahemla.
3 And yet, I being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers, collected as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land, and started again on our journey into the wilderness to go up to the land; but we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.
verse 3 "I being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers" Apparently, by the time Zeniff wrote this account, he had had time to reflect on the appropriateness of the entire venture. There is no evidence in the text that the Lord ever inspired or even approved of this undertaking by Zeniff and his followers. The entire experience was the idea of Zeniff and perhaps some others. By his own admission, Zeniff and his adherents were "slow to remember the Lord our God."
It is suggested that one reason why Zeniff and his associates might have wanted to return to the land of Nephi is that the Chiapas depression, the likely site of the city of Zarahemla, is at a low elevation and is characterized by tropical moist heat. Highland Guatemala, the likely site of the land of Nephi, in contrast, has an almost perpetual spring-like climate.
4 Nevertheless, after many days' wandering in the wilderness we pitched our tents in the place where our brethren were slain, which was near to the land of our fathers.
5 And it came to pass that I went again with four of my men into the city, in unto the king, that I might know of the disposition of the king, and that I might know if I might go in with my people and possess the land in peace.
6 And I went in unto the king, and he covenanted with me that I might possess the land of Lehi-Nephi, and the land of Shilom.
verse 6 The lands of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom are the local lands surrounding the cities of the same name. We have already commented that the city of Nephi, founded originally by Nephi and his followers, now has a new name (see verse 8). It is the city of Lehi-Nephi. When was the name changed? We have commented previously that we are not told. It was sometime during the 400 years of Nephite control of that city.
7 And he also commanded that his people should depart out of the land, and I and my people went into the land that we might possess it.
8 And we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city, yea, even the walls of the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom.
verse 8 John A. Tvedtnes observed: "By the time the Lamanite king returned the cities of [Lehi-Nephi] and Shilom to the Nephites led by Zeniff (with the intent of bringing them into bondage), the city seems to have fallen into disrepair. . . . It is possible that the Lamanites were anxious to absorb Nephite dissenters precisely because they could make use of their skills (cf. Alma 21:2)" (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 32). Apparently the Lamanites never did become as skilled as the Nephites in building.
9 And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land.
verse 9 "seeds of corn" It would seem that the most staple food product throughout much of the Book of Mormon was corn. Corn, or maize, has been shown by archaeologists to be "native to the Americas; and evidence of corn appears as early as 500 BC" (Joseph L. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 171). See also the commentary for Mosiah 7:22.
For additional notes on the agriculture of the Book of Mormon people, see the commentary for 1 Nephi 8:1.
"and of wheat" As of this writing, modern archaeologists have found no evidence of pre-Columbian wheat in the Americas. Undoubtedly they will eventually find such evidence.
"and of barley" Until recently, barley also had never been reported to exist in the Americas prior to Columbus. In the December 1983 issue of Science 83, professional archaeologists reported finding what is apparently pre-Columbian, domesticated barley among the ruins of the Hohokam civilization in Arizona.
"with neas and with sheum" "Neas" are possibly avocado.
"Sheum" may well be a type of grain related to barley. Just in the last forty years we have learned that the most important cereal grain among the Akkadians (Babylonians) of Mesopotamia was called she'um (see R. F. Smith, "Some 'Neologisms' from the Mormon Canon," in 1973 Conference on the Language of the Mormons [Provo, Utah: BYU Language Research Center, 1973], 66). In Akkadian the word she'um meant "barley." In Old Assyrian, a neighbor tongue, the term signified "wheat." Since both wheat and barley are separately listed in this verse, she'um did not mean either of those two grains, but it could have been transferred to another seed or even a non-seed plant. Regarding seven little-known grain crops from Mesoamerica to which the name she'um might have been applied, see John L. Sorenson, "Viva Zapato! Hurray for the Shoe!" Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 6/1 :338-39). The Jaredites, who had originally lived in Mesopotamia, could have put the name on some cultivable plant they encountered in their new land. Some of their undocumented descendants may well have passed the name and whatever grain it labeled down to the Zeniffites.
10 Now it was the cunning and the craftiness of king Laman, to bring my people into bondage, that he yielded up the land that we might possess it.
11 Therefore it came to pass, that after we had dwelt in the land for the space of twelve years that king Laman began to grow uneasy, lest by any means my people should wax strong in the land, and that they could not overpower them and bring them into bondage.
verse 11 The pronoun "they" in this verse and in the following verse has no antecedent. It obviously refers to the Lamanites, however.
12 Now they were a lazy and an idolatrous people; therefore they were desirous to bring us into bondage, that they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands; yea, that they might feast themselves upon the flocks of our fields.
verse 12 "that they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands" Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines glut: "To swallow, or to swallow greedily; to gorge; to cloy; to fill beyond sufficiency; to sate; to disgust; to feast or delight even to satiety."
13 Therefore it came to pass that king Laman began to stir up his people that they should contend with my people; therefore there began to be wars and contentions in the land.
14 For, in the thirteenth year of my reign in the land of Nephi, away on the south of the land of Shilom, when my people were watering and feeding their flocks, and tilling their lands, a numerous host of Lamanites came upon them and began to slay them, and to take off their flocks, and the corn of their fields.
15 Yea, and it came to pass that they fled, all that were not overtaken, even into the city of Nephi, and did call upon me for protection.
verse 15 Note, again, that the terms "city of Nephi" and "city of Lehi-Nephi" are used interchangeably (see verse 8).
16 And it came to pass that I did arm them with bows, and with arrows, with swords, and with cimeters, and with clubs, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons which we could invent, and I and my people did go forth against the Lamanites to battle.
verse 16 What is a "cimeter"? It is probably a curved sword or saber which has its cutting edge on the convex side. Today it is more likely to be referred to as a "scimitar" or "scimiter." The primary distinction between a cimeter and a sword is that the former has a curved blade. This spelling of the word "cimeter" is unique to the Book of Mormon (see the commentary for Enos 1:20).
17 Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle against the Lamanites; for I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.
verse 17 "my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies" Regarding the pre-battle prayers of the Nephites, Gary L. Sturgess has written:
We do not know what "cry[ing] mightily to the Lord" meant, but it occurs so often in this context that we must understand it to be some kind of pre-battle ritual. Alma's son Helaman wrote to Moroni a decade or more after his father's departure: "We trust God will deliver us, notwithstanding the weakness of our armies, yea, and deliver us out of the hands of our enemies" (Alma 58:37). There would also appear to have been a ritual thanksgiving after a victorious battle in which Jehovah was praised for delivering the people. Alma 45:1 records fasting and prayer, as well as a form of worship that involved great rejoicing, "because the Lord had again delivered them out of the hands of their enemies." We find this same pattern of deliverance and rejoicing alluded to in Omni 1:6-7; Alma 49:28-30; Alma 62:48-52; and 3 Nephi 4:28-33 (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 4, Number 2, 126).
"we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers" This phrase should probably read "deliverances of our fathers" since Zeniff and his people had a few deliverances in their heritage. Lehi and his family were delivered from the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Nephi and others were delivered from the threats of Laman and Lemuel (2 Nephi 5). Mosiah, the father of Benjamin, had delivered the Nephites from the increasingly dangerous land of Nephi (Omni 1).
18 And God did hear our cries and did answer our prayers; and we did go forth in his might; yea, we did go forth against the Lamanites, and in one day and a night we did slay three thousand and forty-three; we did slay them even until we had driven them out of our land.
19 And I, myself, with mine own hands, did help to bury their dead. And behold, to our great sorrow and lamentation, two hundred and seventy-nine of our brethren were slain.