The Book of Omni
The custodians and authors of the small plates of Nephi during this period were Omni the son of Jarom, Omni's son Amaron, Amaron's brother Chemish, Abinadom the son of Chemish, and Amaleki the son of Abinadom.
Chapter Outline of Omni
A brief outline of the book of Mosiah, worth committing to memory, is as follows:
Omni 1 Mosiah leads the Nephites out of the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla.
Omni Chapter 1
Omni 1 Mosiah leads the Nephites out of the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla.
1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy-
verse 1 Omni was the son of Jarom. He was custodian of the small plates of Nephi for forty-four years from about 361 BC to 317 BC. He apparently regarded himself less a prophet and more a warrior. He spent most of his life defending the people of Nephi from the Lamanites.
It is interesting that Omni's motivation in writing upon the small plates of Nephi is the same as that of his father Jarom (see Jarom 1:1). He desired to continue the family journal or "book of remembrance."
2 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done.
verse 2 "I of myself am a wicked man" While it is not for us to judge the candor or modesty in Omni's confession, we can observe that he probably did not possess the Spirit of the Holy Ghost since his three-verse entry into the Book of Mormon contains nothing of a spiritual nature.
Perhaps if we learn a lesson from him, it would be because of his honest and unblinking self-honesty (see also Abinadom's candor in verses 10-11).
3 And it came to pass that two hundred and seventy and six years had passed away, and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed. Yea, and in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away, and I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers; and I conferred them upon my son Amaron. And I make an end.
verse 3 This verse likely consists of two entries made six years apart.
The expression "in fine" may be interpreted as "finally" or "in conclusion" or "in summary."
verses 4-5 We will learn that Amaron's entire five-verse entry onto the plates was probably made on the day he delivered the plates to his brother Chemish. Amaron was custodian of the plates from 317 BC to 279 BC.
4 And now I, Amaron, write the things whatsoever I write, which are few, in the book of my father.
verses 5-7 We learn in these verses that the Lord's promise in Jarom 1:9 (see the commentary for that verse) is two-edged. The positive "edge" or version is found in Jarom 1:9: If the people keep the commandments, they will prosper in the land. The negative version is found in these verses: If they do not keep the commandments, they will not only fail to prosper, but the Lord will also allow their destruction by their enemies.
5 Behold, it came to pass that three hundred and twenty years had passed away, and the more wicked part of the Nephites were destroyed.
6 For the Lord would not suffer, after he had led them out of the land of Jerusalem and kept and preserved them from falling into the hands of their enemies, yea, he would not suffer that the words should not be verified, which he spake unto our fathers, saying that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not prosper in the land.
verse 6 We have previously discussed this covenant of the Lord with the Book of Mormon people: "Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land" (1 Nephi 2:20). This verse contains the corollary to that promise of the Lord: "Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall not prosper in the land" italics added).
7 Wherefore, the Lord did visit them in great judgment; nevertheless, he did spare the righteous that they should not perish, but did deliver them out of the hands of their enemies.
8 And it came to pass that I did deliver the plates unto my brother Chemish.
9 Now I, Chemish, write what few things I write, in the same book with my brother; for behold, I saw the last which he wrote, that he wrote it with his own hand; and he wrote it in the day that he delivered them unto me. And after this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers. And I make an end.
verse 9 Chemish has the distinction of having written only a single verse onto the small plates of Nephi. He wrote into the record less than any other of the Book of Mormon's authors.
Chemish and his son Abinadom will have possession of the plates for about sixty-nine years from 279 BC to about 210 BC.
For commentary on the Hebrew name of the name Chemish, see the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
10 Behold, I, Abinadom, am the son of Chemish. Behold, it came to pass that I saw much war and contention between my people, the Nephites, and the Lamanites; and I, with my own sword, have taken the lives of many of the Lamanites in the defence of my brethren.
11 And behold, the record of this people is engraven upon plates which is had by the kings, according to the generations; and I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy; wherefore, that which is sufficient is written. And I make an end.
verse 11 "plates which is had by the kings" These are, of course, the large plates of Nephi. A plural verb are might be better here, though one might argue that the singular verb is refers to "the record of this people."
"according to the generations" Each king in succession has written or had written in turn the history of his reign onto the large plates of Nephi.
Abinadom mentions that he knows of no "new" revelations or prophecies beyond those which have been recorded previously on the small plates of Nephi. It seems likely that Abinadom was not spiritually positioned so as to receive revelations from the Lord. He seems content with the idea that no new revelations are needed.
12 Behold, I am Amaleki, the son of Abinadom. Behold, I will speak unto you somewhat concerning Mosiah, who was made king over the land of Zarahemla; for behold, he being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness-
verse 12 Perhaps the book of Omni should have been called the book of Amaleki, since this childless record keeper wrote over half of its thirty verses. Amaleki's contribution to the Book of Mormon is substantial. In nineteen verses he will introduce three entirely new groups of people in the book. These include the Mulekites, the Jaredites, and the Zeniffites. More about these later.
The Mosiah in this verse is often referred to as "Mosiah I" to distinguish him from his grandson, Mosiah, the son of King Benjamin. The latter Mosiah is similarly, but infrequently, referred to as "Mosiah II." Little is known of the elder Mosiah's genealogy. We may be inclined to assume that he was a descendant of Nephi, but there is no good evidence to indicate that the Nephite kingship necessarily passed down from father to son among Nephi's descendants. Amaleki, of course, is a descendant of Jacob.
Much of Amaleki's writings are concerned with the dramatic and important historical events that occurred during his lifetime. At this point please read the Narrative Historical Summary of the book of Omni. It is likely that Amaleki took possession of the plates some time before 210 BC. He will eventually deliver them up to King Benjamin in about 130 BC. The date of Mosiah's departure from the land of Nephi is not known but has been suggested to be about 210 BC.
"Mosiah [was] warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi" This excursion was not likely undertaken electively by Mosiah and his people. Apparently there was immediate danger, likely imposed by the Lamanites, which threatened them. The Nephites in the land of Nephi at this time were likely being "scourged" by the Lamanites because of the Nephites' disobedience (see Jacob 3:3-4).
John W. Welch has done some interesting research on the Hebrew word Mosia (pronounced moe-shee-ah). This work is reported in the article, "What Was a 'Mosiah'?" in Reexploring the Book of Mormon (Deseret Book Company and FARMS, 105-07). He suggests that Mosia is a Hebrew title which is found in the Hebrew versions of the Old Testament in several places (Deuteronomy 22:27; Deuteronomy 28:29; Judges 12:3; Psalm 18:41; and Isaiah 5:29), but the word was never transliterated into the English by the King James translators. The word, therefore, does not appear in the English versions of the Old Testament and could not have been known to Joseph Smith. An examination of all occurrences of this term in the Hebrew Bible suggests an individual with the following traits: (1) The Mosia is a victorious hero appointed by God. (2) He liberates a chosen people from oppression, controversy, and injustice after they cry out for help. (3) Their deliverance is usually accomplished by means of a nonviolent escape or negotiation. (4) The immediate result of the coming of a mosia was an escape from injustice and a return to a state of justice where each man possesses his rightful property.
We will learn that King Mosiah I was a God-appointed hero, a savior and rescuer, who delivered the chosen people of Nephi from danger by leading them in an escape from the land of Nephi. It is unknown whether he was called Mosiah before he functioned as a mosia of his people or whether he gained this well-earned title afterward, perhaps as a royal title.
"and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him" It is likely that a significant number of Nephites, perhaps even a majority, chose not to travel with Mosiah, but rather remain behind in the city of Nephi.
The word "wilderness" is found three time in this verse and in the verse that follows. All three refer to the narrow strip of wilderness which divided the land of Nephi from the land of Zarahemla. See the illustration Hypothetical Map of the Book of Mormon Lands. See also Notes on the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
13 And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord; and they were led by many preachings and prophesyings. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla.
verse 13 "they were led by many preachings and prophesyings" This contingent of Nephites led by Mosiah were apparently a spiritually literate people who possessed a knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught previously by Nephi.
"they were admonished continually by the word of God" One of the meanings of the word admonish, from Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is, "to instruct or direct." For alternate meanings of this same word, see the commentary for Mosiah 26:6.
"they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla" The word "down" suggests that Zarahemla was at a lower elevation than the land of Nephi. We know that the direction from the land of Nephi to the land of Zarahemla is roughly north.
The name Zarahemla likely derives from a Hebrew word meaning "seed of compassion" or "child of grace, pity, or compassion" (see John A. Tvedtnes, Ensign [October 1986], 65). Perhaps the Mulekite leader was given this name because his ancestor had been rescued when the other sons of King Zedekiah were slain during the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem.
14 And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.
verse 14 This is the first mention of the people of Zarahemla. We commonly, of course, refer to them as Mulekites. The terms Mulekite or Mulekites is not used even once in the Book of Mormon, however. We will not actually read the name Mulek, from whom many of them descended, until Mosiah 25:2. Mulek was a son of King Zedekiah of Judah. His name is clearly of Hebrew origin. Mulek means "little king" or simply "king" (see the commentary for Mosiah 25:2 for more information on the name Mulek).
Is Mulek ever mentioned in the Bible? For a review of Jerusalem at the time of King Zedekiah and for an exciting explanation of why there is good reason to believe that Mulek might be, in fact, mentioned in the Bible, see the supplemental article, Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi.
The people of Zarahemla were a culturally and spiritually degenerate people. Their Hebrew language had been badly corrupted, and they had neither scriptures nor prophets to guide them. Thus, they formed quite a contrast with the people led by Mosiah.
"Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly" Their leader was a man named Zarahemla. It is likely that the people of Zarahemla had relatively recently arrived in the area where Mosiah found them, as no ancestral name other than Zarahemla was applied to the land. Zarahemla could have had a father or grandfathers with the same name, however. The people of Zarahemla may have represented only a small segment of the descendants of Mulek and those who came with him. Nowhere is Zarahemla referred to as a king of his people. Perhaps he was something like a "chief" over this limited group of people.
15 Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.
16 And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth.
verse 16 "they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters" Their journey in the wilderness may have taken them from Jerusalem to a sea port. A port in Egypt seems most likely since Egypt was an ally of Mulek's father, and the ports of Israel and Phoenicia at the time were controlled by Babylon. The "hand of the Lord" might well have been the Phoenicians who were the premier sailors of that era and frequented Egyptian ports (John L. Sorenson, "The 'Mulekites'," BYU Studies volume 30, number 3, 1990, 8-9).
The Book of Mormon text does not suggest the route which the Mulekites took to the New World. However, it is likely they went west through the Mediterranean and then across the Atlantic Ocean. We may well wonder why any ancient Phoenician seaman would have dared to make this journey into the unknown. Likely a good sum of money was involved, and there is considerable evidence for other ancient ocean crossings. Also the prevailing winds and currents from the strait of Gibraltar would have taken them to the Caribbean (Ibid., 9-10). It is likely that the sailing crew that brought them to the New World would not have been able to return since the return journey is not facilitated by the prevailing winds and currents. Thus the crew may well have settled with them and were numbered among the Mulekites.
The evidence for the Mulekites' landing on the gulf coast of Mesoamerica is compelling: "First, the immigrant group's discovery of the last Jaredite survivor could only have been near the east sea (Ether 9:3 puts the position of the final battleground near that sea). Second, the city of Mulek was located only a few miles from the east sea (Alma 51:26), and we may suppose that this was where the newcomers settled first (compare Alma 8:7). Third, the River Sidon probably enters the east sea no great distance from this city of Mulek, suggesting a plausible route along which the ancestors of Zarahemla and his people 'came . . . up into the south wilderness' (Alma 22:31) to their city on the upper river where the Nephites later found them" (Ibid., 10.) See the map Book of Mormon Lands, a Proposed Setting.
The Mulekites had probably landed in the New World by 575 BC.
In addition to the Jaredites, the Lehites, and the Mulekites, recent archaeological evidences have suggested that many others came as well, although how, when, and where they came from remains obscure. Since 1975 archeologists have reported ancient inscriptions in west European or North African writing systems from remote locations throughout much of the United States and Canada. These discoveries were initially received by the archaeological community with much skepticism, but in recent years their skepticism has begun to disintegrate. In 1996 John L. Sorenson and Martin H. Raish re-published an updated exhaustive Bibliography, Pre-Columbian Contact with the Americas across the Oceans, (FARMS, Provo, Utah) initially published in 1990.
17 And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
verse 17 "they had become exceedingly numerous" Dr. John L. Sorenson has seen this expression as evidence that the Mulekites combined with "others" on their arrival in the New World. "From the thumbnail sketch of their history in Omni we cannot tell much, but their becoming 'exceedingly numerous' under such difficult pioneer circumstances sounds unlikely on the grounds of natural increase alone." Speaking of the Mulekites' journey to the New World, Dr. Sorenson said, "It is likely that there would not have been women aboard for most or all of the crew. For those men to reproduce, as is implied in the expression 'exceedingly numerous,' they would have had to find and take 'native' or 'other' women" ("When Lehi's Party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 17).
"they had had many wars and serious contentions" One wonders whether the Mulekites had fought among themselves or whether they encountered hostile indigenous peoples in the area in which they settled.
"their language had become corrupted" While the Jews in Mulek's party would have spoken mainly Hebrew, it is possible that there was a diversity of languages among the crew. This may have been a factor in the corruption of their language. Another factor may well have been the Mulekites' intermarrying with and otherwise joining with the indigenous people that were here at the time of their coming ashore (see the commentary for verse 21 which suggests there may have been Jaredite survivors among others). Thus, their languages may have become blended.
18 But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory; and they are written, but not in these plates.
verse 18 What language did the Nephites speak at the time of Mosiah? What was "the language of Mosiah"? In the first centuries after Lehi's landing, the Nephites and probably the Mulekites likely maintained their Hebrew speech. However, when Mosiah's group of refugees left the land of Nephi and came upon the land of Zarahemla, some 390 years had passed, and it was about 210 BC. Sufficient time had passed that their languages had diverged, and the two groups spoke distinct languages. They were unable to understand each other. It seems likely that "the language of Mosiah" was Hebrew or some derivation thereof. There are some intriguing questions for which we do not have the answers. For example, were all of the Mulekites taught Mosiah's form of Hebrew or only their leader Zarahemla? It does seem a bit unlikely that all of the Mulekites learned Hebrew. Perhaps there was sufficient intercourse among the more common peoples that some universal hybrid form of language-a so-called "lingua franca"-developed. It is interesting that Benjamin, a generation later, was able to speak to all his people so that they understood.
Once they were able to communicate, Zarahemla gave from memory a genealogy of his fathers to Mosiah. We learn in Mosiah 25:2 that Zarahemla descended from Zedekiah through Mulek (see also Helaman 8:21).
Zarahemla's genealogy was written down, but not on the small plates of Nephi. Where was it written down? Probably on the large plates of Nephi. We know that this group of Nephite migrants did have with them the large plates of Nephi as well as the small plates of Nephi since both sets were later delivered to Mosiah's son, King Benjamin. We know that the prophet Amaleki took with him the small plates of Nephi, but how did they obtain the large plates of Nephi? They were held in the possession of the Nephite king in the land of Nephi. Presumably Mosiah obtained them. But how did he obtain them? Was he the secular king of the Nephites before the group left the land of Nephi? The text is not clear on this point. It does seem likely that Mosiah was senior descendant of Nephi and thus the king of the Nephites in the land of Nephi.
19 And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king.
verse 19 Even though Zarahemla was leader of his people, it seems likely that either the Mulekites did not have a tradition of strong leadership or perhaps Zarahemla was not an especially strong leader. This might explain how easily Zarahemla and the Mulekites acquiesced to Mosiah's leadership.
It is certainly plausible that all of the people who descended from those who brought Mulek to the New World were not bonded together into a single ethnic group. They may have become quite scattered. Perhaps this is why there is no name such as "Mulekite" ever given to them in the Book of Mormon text. The group led by Zarahemla and discovered by Mosiah may have been just one of several factions.
The political amalgamation described in this verse did not actually result in a complete cultural integration of the two groups. We will find evidences in the remaining Book of Mormon text that the two groups were usually counted separately (see, for example, Mosiah 25:4; Helaman 8:21). By 4 Nephi 1:37-38, however, when the total of all Book of Mormon peoples are divided into seven tribes, there is no mention of the Zarahemlaites. Presumably by then they had become so fused with Nephite society, that they were not identifiable as a separate group.
The willingness of those Zarahemlaites in the land of Zarahemla to accept Mosiah as their king suggests that this was more than a political alliance. Their accepting Mosiah's rule suggests that they accept the religion of the Nephites as well.
20 And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God.
verse 20 Who engraved this large stone? It would have been engraved by those Mulekites who discovered Coriantumr. It was probably engraved in the city of Mulek. This is the only mention of this stone. One wonders what happened to it.
Coriantumr, as we will learn later, was the leader of one of two great armies of Jaredites that had fought for years resulting in the annihilation of the warriors in both the Jaredite armies. He had eventually killed the leader of the other army, Shim. Though he was wounded in the process, he became the sole survivor of the Jaredite armies.
21 And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.
verse 21 "They" refers to "the engravings" in the previous verse. The discovery of Coriantumr by the Mulekites was prophesied earlier by the prophet Ether (Ether 11:20-21; Ether 13:20-22).
Let us not make the mistake of thinking that Coriantumr was the last living Jaredite. "In Book of Mormon terms it is extremely unlikely that the entire Jaredite population without exception showed up to be exterminated at the hill Ramah, as Latter-day Saints sometimes have inferred from the words of Ether [Ether 13:20-21]. All in the organized armies may have done so, but inevitably there would have been survivors in remote byways at least" (John L. Sorenson, "The 'Mulekites'," BYU Studies volume 30, number 3, 1990,, 12).
"he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons" This is the only use of the term "moon" for month on the small plates of Nephi. The words "month" and "months" will appear on Mormon's abridgment-the plates of Mormon-some sixteen times. It is likely that the Nephites utilized the lunar calendar in which the year consisted of twelve months or moons and 354.367 days (Randall P. Spackman, "Introduction to Book of Mormon Chronology: The Principal Prophecies, Calendars, and Dates," a FARMS reprint).
We are never told when the great final battle of the Jaredites occurred; when Jaredite civilization ended, and when Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla. We do know that this account was made by the prophet Amaleki prior to the time when he delivered the small plates of Nephi to Benjamin in 130 BC. The people of Zarahemla left Jerusalem at the time of its destruction in 586 BC (Omni 1:15-16; Helaman 8:21). Thus, we may conclude that Coriantumr killed Shiz between the time of the Mulekites arrival in the New World in about 586 BC and 130 BC. Brother John L. Sorenson, an LDS anthropologist specializing in Mesoamerica, proposes a date of about 580 BC which coincides with the dramatic fall of the Olmec civilization which he reckons to be at about that same time ("The Years of the Jaredites," FARMS Preliminary Report, 1969). Another prominent LDS anthropologist, Bruce W. Warren, has also tried to correlate the fall of the Jaredites with the fall of the Olmecs. He has argued for a later date, about 301 BC (New Evidences of Christ in Ancient America, Provo, Utah: Stratford Books, 1999, 22-23).
22 It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward.
verse 22 "It" refers to the "large stone" in verse 20.
"his first parents came out from the tower" In Book of Mormon usage, the word tower relates to the "great tower" that was built, according to Genesis 11, in the land of Shinar, or Mesopotamia (see Ether 1:3; Ether 1:5; Ether 1:33) a few generations after the great Flood, and is commonly referred to as "the tower of Babel." It was a giant platform with stepped, sloping sides, called in the Babylonian (Akkadian) language ziqqurratu and commonly rendered as ziggurat. Although the symbolism of ziggurats is not completely understood, they focused attention heavenward and are thought to have represented, among other things a holy mountain, representing the connection between heaven and earth, as true temples are meant to do. These structures were thought of as artificial mountains where deity could dwell and appear to mortals in sacred privacy. The attempt to build "a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven" (Genesis 11:4; cf. Title Page; Helaman 6:28) indicates not that these people were foolishly attempting to climb to heaven but rather that they wanted to build a prominent tower that rose high into the sky. Unfortunately, there are no contemporary historical accounts of this episode, and the brevity of the biblical account leaves many questions unanswered. For example, the people involved are never named, nor can a precise date be given. The city in which the tower was being built is generally accepted as Babylon based on Genesis 11:9. Post-biblical Jewish traditions that Nimrod built the tower developed from the note in Genesis that Nimrod founded several cities in Mesopotamia, including Babylon (Genesis 10:9-10). One Babylonian tradition credits the god Marduk with founding and naming the city.
All six references to the tower of Babel in the Book of Mormon occur in relation to the Jaredites, whom the Lord directed to leave the area of the tower and to travel to the Americas (Ether 1:38-43). The tower is mentioned in a Jaredite inscription on the stone referred to in this verse and in Ether's record of the Jaredite people (Mosiah 28:17). Moroni said that as he edited Ether's record, he dispensed with the portion that dealt with the creation of the earth "even to the great tower" (Ether 1:3) but provided a partial account of what was available "from the tower down unto [the Jaredites] were destroyed" (Ether 1:5). Although the Book of Mormon references corroborate the basic account in the Bible, they do not provide any significant additional historical information, except that Helaman 6:28 contains the theological observation, not specified in the Bible, that Satan motivated the people to build this tower.
It may seem strange to modern readers that bulky earthen platforms could be termed "towers" by Book of Mormon scribes. Yet when the Spanish invaders saw the Mesoamerican temple platforms, they immediately called them torres ("towers"), so height, not shape, must have been the main criterion.
Among Book of Mormon peoples, these towers served different purposes. King Benjamin's tower enabled many of the people to hear his farewell address (see Mosiah 2:7) and to more effectively participate in his son Mosiah's coronation.
Towers built and controlled by families or kin groups were used as places of personal worship, as shown by Nephi's (the son of Helaman) praying from the top of his own tower (see Helaman 7:10-11). The equivalence of such towers to mountains and the Old World ziggurats is clear: Nephi (Lehi's son) and the brother of Jared ascended mountains to pray (see 1 Nephi 17:7; Alma 31:13; Ether 3:1; Ether 4:1), anticipating the later practice among Book of Mormon peoples of worshipping in sanctuaries built for that purpose (see Alma 15:17; Alma 31:12-18).
In addition to affording strategic views of potential enemy attack (see Mosiah 11:12-13), towers among both Nephites and Lamanites were marks of an influential community. They served as rallying points for local governments (see Alma 48:1), and like European cathedrals, they asserted the renown and political power of the community. Accordingly, when Captain Moroni subdued the king-men, who had defied the authority of the Nephite government, the defeated survivors of the movement were "compelled to hoist the title [flag] of liberty upon their towers, and in their cities" as a sign of submission (see Alma 51:7-8; Alma 51:13; Alma 51:17; Alma 51:20). Any settlement deserving to be labeled a city would have had a tower, and larger cities might have had many. The ability of a ruler to muster manpower and organize resources to construct a tower-the bigger the better-communicated his administrative ability, power, and glory (adapted from John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1985], 171-74).
"severity of the Lord" This is an interesting phrase which, in all scripture, is unique to this verse. A related expression is "severity of God" which is found only in Romans 11:22. One might define the phrase as meaning something like "rigorous judgments of the Lord."
We will read in the book of Ether of the battles of mass destruction that occurred among the Jaredite peoples (Ether 13-15).
23 Behold, I, Amaleki, was born in the days of Mosiah; and I have lived to see his death; and Benjamin, his son, reigneth in his stead.
verse 23 Amaleki notes that he "was born in the days of Mosiah," but he does not say where he was born nor specify which "days of Mosiah" he meant-those in the land of Nephi or those in the land Zarahemla. If he was born in the land of Nephi, he was numbered among those who left the land with Mosiah and would have witnessed firsthand the events he wrote about.
From the time of Mosiah's departure from the land of Nephi in about 210 BC to Amaleki's delivering the plates to King Benjamin in about 130 BC was some eighty years. This observation does not prove anything, but if Amaleki was born in the land of Nephi, then he was quite young, probably not more than his twenties, when the Nephites departed the land of Nephi with Mosiah.
24 And behold, I have seen, in the days of king Benjamin, a serious war and much bloodshed between the Nephites and the Lamanites. But behold, the Nephites did obtain much advantage over them; yea, insomuch that king Benjamin did drive them out of the land of Zarahemla.
verse 24 If you are not familiar with the story of Zeniff, who led a group of Nephites who departed Zarahemla about 200 BC to return to the land of Nephi and reclaim their "homeland," then please take a few moments now to review that story in the Narrative Historical Summary of the book of Mosiah. Pay particular attention to the summary of the record of Zeniff beginning in the fifth paragraph of that summary. The complete story of this people is reported in Mosiah 9-22. It is noteworthy that Zeniff's expeditions were not commanded by the Lord as was the expedition of Mosiah and his people who came out of the land of Nephi. Zeniff's resulted from the personal desires of men to return to the lands of their inheritance.
The Lamanites' attack on Zarahemla described in this verse likely occurred about 160-150 BC. King Laman's son led the attacks, and they probably came about the same time as the second attack on the Nephites in the city of Nephi during the reign of Zeniff or the two attacks during the reign of King Noah, since the Lamanites were otherwise peaceful toward the Zeniffites and Nephites during this period. The Lamanites' motivation for these attacks seemed to be their fear of growing Nephite strength. In addition, there existed the Lamanite tradition of hatred toward the Nephites which had its origins in the belief that Nephi had wronged his elder brothers. Also, the Lamanites may have also been angered by the fact that the Nephites had moved the records of the people from the land of Nephi.
King Benjamin's victory seems to have unified Zarahemla and established it as Nephite territory. The defeat of the Nephite king Noah established the land of Nephi as Lamanite territory. After these wars there remained only the two independent kings, the Nephite king Benjamin in Zarahemla and the Lamanite king, the son of Laman, in the land of Nephi.
verses 25-26 These verses establish the fact that Amaleki was a man of great faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and a faithful preacher of the gospel.
25 And it came to pass that I began to be old; and, having no seed, and knowing king Benjamin to be a just man before the Lord, wherefore, I shall deliver up these plates unto him, exhorting all men to come unto God, the Holy One of Israel, and believe in prophesying, and in revelations, and in the ministering of angels, and in the gift of speaking with tongues, and in the gift of interpreting languages, and in all things which are good; for there is nothing which is good save it comes from the Lord; and that which is evil cometh from the devil.
verse 25 The large plates of Nephi were handed down from Nephi himself to each Nephite king in turn. Thus they would have automatically passed from Mosiah I to his son Benjamin. The small plates, on the other hand, were handed down through the family of Nephi's brother Jacob. After Amaleki finished the plates, having no son to whom he might deliver the plates, he decided to give them to King Benjamin. Undoubtedly they were highly prized by Benjamin who would have certainly read them eagerly and thrilled in their contents. When Benjamin took possession of both sets of plates it marked the first time both sets had been possessed by one man since the time of Nephi, an interval of over three hundred years.
"and believe in prophesying" Here is a profound principle that has been emphasized previously: All true religion is revealed religion. All influence which prompts us toward fulfilling our eternal potential and cautions us against distracting worldly influence comes from the Lord through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. Thus, "there is nothing good save it comes from the Lord."
26 And now, my beloved brethren, I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying, and endure to the end; and as the Lord liveth ye will be saved.
verse 26 "ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel" Amaleki spells out clearly for all to hear, particularly, perhaps, the Jews, that Jesus Christ is the "Holy One of Israel," the God of the Old Testament.
"offer your whole souls as an offering unto him" This phrase connotes complete submission to the Savior and is worth contemplating.
"as the Lord liveth ye will be saved" Amaleki puts this promise in the form of a binding and sacred oath. To be "saved," of course, means to be exalted.
verses 27-30 Here Amaleki mentions the journey of those Nephites who returned to the land of Nephi about 200 BC under the leadership of Zeniff to claim the "land of their inheritance." You have just reviewed this story in the Narrative Historical Summary of the book of Mosiah. Zeniff, as you will recall, was a righteous man and not the "stiffnecked man" referred to in verse 28.
27 And now I would speak somewhat concerning a certain number who went up into the wilderness to return to the land of Nephi; for there was a large number who were desirous to possess the land of their inheritance.
28 Wherefore, they went up into the wilderness. And their leader being a strong and mighty man, and a stiffnecked man, wherefore he caused a contention among them; and they were all slain, save fifty, in the wilderness, and they returned again to the land of Zarahemla.
29 And it came to pass that they also took others to a considerable number, and took their journey again into the wilderness.
30 And I, Amaleki, had a brother, who also went with them; and I have not since known concerning them. And I am about to lie down in my grave; and these plates are full. And I make an end of my speaking.
verse 30 It is interesting to learn that a brother of Amaleki was one of those who went with Zeniff. We sense a note of sadness in Amaleki's statement, "I have not since known concerning them." Amaleki likely had a great affection for his brother.
"these plates are full" This observation was apparently intended to be taken literally. We know, however, that it was not literally true. There was just enough room remaining for the prophet Mormon, in about AD 385, to enter onto the small plates an editorial comment which we now refer to as the Words of Mormon.
Why did not Jacob or his descendants add any new gold plates to those Nephi fashioned? Perhaps they lacked the resources or technology. More likely, however, the Jacobite authors regarded the plates as Nephi's record. They were a sacred legacy to which they were entitled to add only sparingly.
The writings of Amaleki make at least three contributions:
1. As a historical link, they are the source of all that is known about king Mosiah (Omni 12-23); they document the merger between Nephites and the people of Zarahemla (Omni 1:19); and they tell of two attempts by Nephite groups to regain an inheritance in the land of Nephi-the first a failure, and the second a qualified success (Omni 1:27-30; cf. Mosiah 9:1-4).
2. Amaleki's recording of God's commandment for the righteous Nephites to depart out of the land of Nephi (Omni 1:12) verified the fulfillment of a prophecy uttered by Jacob more than three hundred years before (Jacob 3:4).
3. Amaleki's writing places a final and appropriate admonition near the end of the small plates of Nephi for the readers to come unto Christ (Omni 1:26). This is consistent with the commandment given by his ancestor Nephi that the small plates were to persuade readers to "come unto" Christ (Omni 1:25-26; cf. 1 Nephi 6:4; 1 Nephi 6:6; Jacob 1:1-3; Jacob 7:27). Amaleki sealed his plea to come unto Christ and his testimony of how to accomplish it with a promise attested by a sacred oath: "As the Lord liveth ye will be saved" (Omni 1:26).