BMGD #17: Mosiah 7-11

April 23, 2012 | 5 comments
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Note:  Because of the flashbacks and multiple locations, groups, and leaders in the Book of Mosiah, I think things get a little hard to follow for some people (including, um, me). Here‘s a helpful chart. 

CHAPTER 7
 1 And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings.

Webster’s 1828 on teasing:  “Combing; carding; scratching for the purpose of raising a nap; vexing with importunity.”

This is the only use of “teasing” in scripture.

This is, presumably, the group from Omni 1:27.

Does the continual peace have any relation to his desire to find out what happened to these people?  Does the lack of communication lead to teasing and, if so, why?

 2 And it came to pass that *king Mosiah granted that sixteen of their strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi, to inquire concerning their brethren.

In the Bible, numbers are sometimes symbolic.  (Generally, however, 16 is not high on the list of symbolically used numbers, as 3, 4, 7, and 12 are.)  The only other BoM use of 16 is Ether 3:1, where the brother of Jared moltens (is that a word?) 16 stones for the Lord to touch to give him light.  In this passage, does 16 have a symbolic element and/or relate to Ether 3:1?

“Brethren” is rather charitable, given that these people took off after causing contention and civil insurrection.

3 And it came to pass that on the morrow they started to go up, having with them one Ammon, he being a strong and mighty man, and a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was also their leader.

Why do you think the fact that Ammon was a descendant of Zarahemla was mentioned? Do we know why a person from Zarahemla would be so very concerned about these other Nephites?

 4 And now, they knew not the course they should travel in the wilderness to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi; therefore they wandered many days in the wilderness, even forty days did they wander.

The combo of wandering and 40 suggests to me a reproduction of the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness under Moses.  If that is alluded to here, what might we learn from comparing these incidents?  Is Ammon a Moses?

5 And when they had wandered forty days they came to a hill, which is north of the land of Shilom, and there they pitched their tents.

Tents:  just a fact or a symbolic meaning?

 6 And Ammon took three of his brethren, and their names were Amaleki, Helem, and Hem, and they went down into the land of Nephi.

The idea of taking a subgroup of three away from the larger party is reminiscent of Jesus with his disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, in the home at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, or in Gethsemane.  Are any of those comparisons useful?

 7 And behold, they met the king of the people who were in the land of Nephi, and in the land of Shilom; and they were surrounded by the king’s guard, and were taken, and were bound, and were committed to prison.

 8 And it came to pass when they had been in prison two days they were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.

 9 And he said unto them: Behold, I am Limhi, the son of Noah, who was the son of Zeniff, who came up out of the land of Zarahemla to inherit this land, which was the land of their fathers, who was made a king by the voice of the people.

The following text sounds as if it had been written down by a transcriber in the court.

 10 And now, I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate?

Does it strike you as odd that a king would be with his guards outside the gate?

Why does the king’s location outside of the city speak to the boldness of Ammon et al?

 11 And now, for this cause have I suffered that ye should be preserved, that I might inquire of you, or else I should have caused that my guards should have put you to death. Ye are permitted to speak.

suffered = allowed

 12 And now, when Ammon saw that he was permitted to speak, he went forth and bowed himself before the king; and rising again he said: O king, I am very thankful before God this day that I am yet alive, and am permitted to speak; and I will endeavor to speak with boldness;

Is speaking with boldness in this context a good thing?  (How) does it relate to the boldness in v10?

“Saw” is a little unusual–didn’t he “hear”?  Could this be significant?

 13 For I am assured that if ye had known me ye would not have suffered that I should have worn these bands. For I am Ammon, and am a descendant of Zarahemla, and have come up out of the land of Zarahemla to inquire concerning our brethren, whom Zeniff brought up out of that land.

 14 And now, it came to pass that after Limhi had heard the words of Ammon, he was exceedingly glad, and said: Now, I know of a surety that my brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla are yet alive. And now, I will rejoice; and on the morrow I will cause that my people shall rejoice also.

Does this verse show Limhi to have been a jerk to have bound them in the first place?

 15 For behold, we are in bondage to the Lamanites, and are taxed with a tax which is grievous to be borne. And now, behold, our brethren will deliver us out of our bondage, or out of the hands of the Lamanites, and we will be their slaves; for it is better that we be slaves to the Nephites than to pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites.

In this verse, are bondage and taxation two ways of saying the same thing or two different things?

This verse provides some interesting context for considering what it means to say that Limhi is a king.

What principles can you glean from his position that it would be better to be Nephite slaves than pay tribute to the Lamanites?  Is this true, or is it hyperbole?  And why would he say this when, as far as we know, the Nephites do not practice slavery?  (And, at the very least, isn’t this a bad opening position–shouldn’t he have tried to get them to rescue him without committing his people to slavery unless that were absolutely necessary?)

Is there a similarity here with the parable of the prodigal son, where he says at one point that he’d rather be his father’s servant?

 16 And now, king Limhi commanded his guards that they should no more bind Ammon nor his brethren, but caused that they should go to the hill which was north of Shilom, and bring their brethren into the city, that thereby they might eat, and drink, and rest themselves from the labors of their journey; for they had suffered many things; they had suffered hunger, thirst, and fatigue.

I’m almost wondering if “hunger, thirst, and fatigue” is something of a term of art in the BoM:

1 Ne 16:25:  daughters of Ishmael:  “we have wandered much in the wilderness, and we have suffered much affliction, hunger, thirst, and fatigue”

Alma 17:5:  sons of Mosiah:  “Now these are the circumstances which attended them in their journeyings, for they had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue,”

Alma 60:3:  Moroni:  “And now behold, I say unto you that myself, and also my men, and also Helaman and his men, have suffered exceedingly great sufferings; yea, even hunger, thirst, and fatigue, and all manner of afflictions of every kind.”

Mosiah 3:7:  King Ben, about Jesus:  “And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death;”

 17 And now, it came to pass on the morrow that king Limhi sent a proclamation among all his people, that thereby they might gather themselves together to the temple, to hear the words which he should speak unto them.

Does this verse encourage us to find parallels to Ben speech from the beginning of the book?  (This article explores the possible parallels.)

 18 And it came to pass that when they had gathered themselves together that he spake unto them in this wise, saying: O ye, my people, lift up your heads and be comforted; for behold, the time is at hand, or is not far distant, when we shall no longer be in subjection to our enemies, notwithstanding our many strugglings, which have been in vain; yet I trust there remaineth an effectual struggle to be made.

Webster’s 1828 effectual:  “Producing an effect, or the effect desired or intended; or having adequate power or force to produce the effect.”

Do you think Ammon was perhaps panicking a little when he heard it announced that he was there to deliver them?  (“Um, guys, I didn’t really agree to . . .”)

This statement is so . . . tepid.  What does it tell you about Limhi?

Cf. 8:2-3, where we learn that Ammon speaks, but not what he said.  What purpose is served by the preservation of Limhi’s words and not Ammon’s?

Usually a lifted head would be associated with a stiff neck, as in pride.  Is that what Limhi intends here?  If so, is it good or bad?

 19 Therefore, lift up your heads, and rejoice, and put your trust in God, in that God who was the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; and also, that God who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, and caused that they should walk through the Red Sea on dry ground, and fed them with manna that they might not perish in the wilderness; and many more things did he do for them.

What’s the purpose for recounting ancient history here?

Is Ammon a Moses figure?  Can you learn anything useful by comparing them?

 20 And again, that same God has brought our fathers out of the land of Jerusalem, and has kept and preserved his people even until now; and behold, it is because of our iniquities and abominations that he has brought us into bondage.

How do we know when our afflictions are the result of iniquities or not?

 21 And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—

Does “over-zealous” imply that “zealous” is good?

Webster 1828 zealous:  “Warmly engaged or ardent in the pursuit of an object.”

This verse begins with the idea that the audience members are all witnesses.  That concept seems to me to get lost in a digression.  Is this significant?  (What were they witnesses of anyway, when Zeniff was two generations ago?)

Is Limhi’s assessment of Zeniff as overzealous a fair one?  (This seems a particularly important question given the continual issue in the BoM of people [un]fairly reading history in order to further current political issues.)

Can you think of examples where someone today might be “overzealous” in pursuit of a(n otherwise worthwhile) goal?  (This is a great talk on this topic.)

 22 And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage. And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites, to the amount of one half of our corn, and our barley, and even all our grain of every kind, and one half of the increase of our flocks and our herds; and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives.

Is the first sentence strictly true, or is it from the PR department? (I’m never a fan of announcing other people’s motives.)

Presumably they all know (too well) exactly how much they are paying in tribute.  What, then, is Limhi’s purpose in reciting it?

 23 And now, is not this grievous to be borne? And is not this, our affliction, great? Now behold, how great reason we have to mourn.

Is “mourn” the word you would have expected here?

 24 Yea, I say unto you, great are the reasons which we have to mourn; for behold how many of our brethren have been slain, and their blood has been spilt in vain, and all because of iniquity.

 25 For if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them. But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves.

Does this verse imply that all people who live under oppressive political regimes are in that situation because of transgression?

We know of three instances of “bloodshed” within the community of Zeniff:  the first is when they separate from Ben’s people.  The second is the blood shed when some of Noah’s men turn on him and kill them.  The third is killing Abinadi.  Do you think Limhi is referring to one of these events, or to events unknown?  (The death of Abinadi seems like the obvious candidate for causing the Lord’s wrath, but describing a prophet’s death as the result of contention seems not quite right.  Also, v26-28 kinda sorta make it sound as if the death of Abinadi is a separate complaint from what is being discussed in this verse.)

 26 And a prophet of the Lord have they slain; yea, a chosen man of God, who told them of their wickedness and abominations, and prophesied of many things which are to come, yea, even the coming of Christ.

Who is this prophet?  Why is he not named?  (Most LDS scholars think that he is Abinadi, because the narrative fits.  But if that is the case, what is accomplished by not naming him?)

 27 And because he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth—

“The God” sounds a little awkward.  Why might it have been used here?

“Image” is a very interesting word in this verse.  Usually in the OT, “image” and “idol” are translations of the same word.  (This gets interesting in the creation where Adam is in the image of God.  That’s the usual word for idol.  Not a bad thing, but means that Adam should be doing God’s work, just as idolaters think that their idol will do the word of their god.)  Does it mean that Christ was not really a man, like an idol is not really a god?

What does “face of the earth” accomplish here?

28 And now, because he said this, they did put him to death; and many more things did they do which brought down the wrath of God upon them. Therefore, who wondereth that they are in bondage, and that they are smitten with sore afflictions?

What about this preaching described in v27 would have made the people want to kill this prophet?

Why is a high tax rate paid to an unfriendly king an appropriate consequence for killing a prophet?

The question here could be read as rhetorical or even snarky.  What effect did Limhi want to have on his audience by phrasing it this way?

Brant Gardner calls attention to a shift from “this people” in v25 to “they” in this verse.  Do you think this shift was sloppiness on Limhi’s part, or a deliberate move?  If deliberate, what was he trying to accomplish?

29 For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them.

Webster 1828 succor:  “Literally, to run to, or run to support; hence, to help or relieve when in difficulty, want or distress; to assist and deliver from suffering; as, to succor a besieged city; to succor prisoners.”

Webster 1828 hedge:  ” To inclose with a hedge; to fence with a thicket of shrubs or small trees; to separate by a hedge; as, to hedge a field or garden.”

What does the image of a hedge suggest to you about what God is doing here?

NB that he is “quoting” the Lord.  Is this ‘lost scripture’?  Is it a new revelation to Limhi?  (If v30 and v31 are a continuation of the Lord’s words from the same source, it suggests that the source has an Old World origin, where we know that the actual east wind was harmful.  This gets really interesting if we speculate that Zeniff and Co. took a copy of the brass plates with them into the wilderness.)

 30 And again, he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind; and the effect thereof is poison.

I think we get the symbolic idea of what sowing filthiness means, but what does it mean on a literal level?

chaff = the useless husk that surrounds the grain

 31 And again he saith: If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the east wind, which bringeth immediate destruction.

There are many OT references associating the east wind with destruction:  it is what causes the famine in Egypt in Joseph’s dream, the source of the locusts that Moses brought up during the plagues, and the cause of the parting of the Red Sea.

“Immediate” is somewhat surprising, since we frequently talk about the consequences, both positive and negative, of our behavior as sometimes taking a long time to manifest.

 32 And now, behold, the promise of the Lord is fulfilled, and ye are smitten and afflicted.

 33 But if ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence of mind, if ye do this, he will, according to his own will and pleasure, deliver you out of bondage.

This is the second time he has mentioned trust.  Why was that such an important concept in this context?  Is it because Zeniff’s overzealousness showed a lack of trust?

This verse suggests that, at least in mortality, punishment from the Lord is always temporary, conditional on the repentance of the person involved.  Is this accurate?

How does “according to his own will and pleasure” work in this sentence?  What is the difference between that phrase and saying that the Lord is capricious?

Limhi is a pretty decent guy.  How’d he end up that way with Noah for a dad?

CHAPTER 8
 1 And it came to pass that after king Limhi had made an end of speaking to his people, for he spake many things unto them and only a few of them have I written in this book, he told his people all the things concerning their brethren who were in the land of Zarahemla.

NB that the original translation did not have a chapter division here.

Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Limhi to let Ammon speak “concerning their brethren . . . in . . . Zarahemla” instead of Limhi sharing second-hand information?  Why do you think Limhi spoke instead of turning the microphone over to Ammon, especially since Ammon appears to rehash the same material in the very next verse?

I read a verse like this as an invitation to go back to ch7 and ask, “So why was this material included, when so much other material was left on the cutting room floor?”  A verse like this one might seem like mere housekeeping, but it functions as a reminder of the importance of the material that was included.  As Brant Gardner points out, this is particularly interesting given that pretty much everything mentioned by Limhi in the last chapter ends up being discussed in greater, clarifying detail at some other point in the Book of Mosiah.  So . . . why include a second copy in ch7?

 2 And he caused that Ammon should stand up before the multitude, and rehearse unto them all that had happened unto their brethren from the time that Zeniff went up out of the land even until the time that he himself came up out of the land.

 3 And he also rehearsed unto them the last words which king Benjamin had taught them, and explained them to the people of king Limhi, so that they might understand all the words which he spake.

Makes me wonder what parts of Ben’s speech needed explaining . . .  Of course, Ben’s words were not addressed to the people of Limhi, but to people living in an entirely different religious, social, and political context.  I wonder if some of Ammon’s ‘splainin had to do with bridging that gap.  (And the gap-bridging is not, of course, a straight up endeavor, but rather one fraught with complication.  Given that Ammon was hired for this job because he was “strong,” one wonders about his authority or capability to ‘translate’ Ben’s words appropriately.)

I wonder if “rehearsed” is a technical term for oral transmission.  (And, of course, given the obsession with written records in the BoM, that would be nicely ironic.)

 4 And it came to pass that after he had done all this, that king Limhi dismissed the multitude, and caused that they should return every one unto his own house.

Compare this verse with Mosaiah 6:3, where King Benjamin dismisses people after his own speech.  Do you see any interesting similarities or differences?

 5 And it came to pass that he caused that the plates which contained the record of his people from the time that they left the land of Zarahemla, should be brought before Ammon, that he might read them.

I’m a little surprised that Ammon didn’t read these records *before* the big public speeches.

Are you surprised that Zeniff’s people kept plates?

What’s the purpose of this verse?  Is it just setting up v6 (and, if so, how does it do that)?

 6 Now, as soon as Ammon had read the record, the king inquired of him to know if he could interpret languages, and Ammon told him that he could not.

Webster 1828 interpret ” To explain the meaning or words to a person who does not understand them; to expound; to translate unintelligible words into intelligible ones; as, to interpret the Hebrew language to an Englishman.”

What I find interesting about that is that it does not comport with modern usage; we’d call that “translating,” not interpreting.

Do you have any sense as to why Limhi pivots from the issues concerning his own people to these plates?  Is there some sort of a connection?

 7 And the king said unto him: Being grieved for the afflictions of my people, I caused that forty and three of my people should take a journey into the wilderness, that thereby they might find the land of Zarahemla, that we might appeal unto our brethren to deliver us out of bondage.

This is almost a perfect inversion of Ammon’s journey.  (It also explains why Limhi immediately jumped to the idea that Ammon & Co. were there to deliver them.)  But was Ammon’s motive to rescue them?  On a strictly literal reading, he was sent out because people were teasing Mosiah about the missing people.  What can you learn from comparing the two journeys?

 8 And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.

So if we think of the comparison between Ammon’s journey and this journey, do we then conclude that Limhi’s people are to be compared with the Jaredites here?  What could we learn from that comparison?

I’m wondering if the reference to the hosts of Israel has any function beyond the numerical (and, I assume, hyperbolic)–What might happen to the reader as a result of thinking about the hosts of Israel here?

 9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.

Again with the comparison:  Limhi’s people had records, these people have records.

 10 And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.

 11 And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates. Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?

We know that the sword of Laban was something of a relic and symbol of authority for the Nephites; do these swords have a similar role in their own collection?

NB that he says ‘translate’ and not ‘interpret’ here; is this significant?

NB that the breastplates (v10) are in perfect condition but the swords (v11) are not.  Note also that we have two references to their plates (v9, v11) sandwiching mention of their defensive (v10) and offensive (v11) military equipment.  Remember that this is a most condensed record, with only the important things included.  What are we supposed to learn from the differing conditions of the swords and breastplates, and why was this worth including in the record?

 12 And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate? For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction.

So this idea of artifacts is similar to the BoM itself–the recursiveness here is most interesting . . .

While we can understand the curiosity here, it seems a little off in context:  here’s a guy, Limhi, whose people are in terrible bondage and he has just met the person who he hopes will be his deliverer.  They have a lot of work to do!  (As Limhi himself suggests above, a great struggle yet to happen.)  So I find it odd that Limhi would then pivot to this academic question about these old records.  Of course, it is interesting and relevant to us, but why to him?

 13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.

“Wherewith” means “which with.”

Should the last line of the verse more properly be “called _a_ seer”?  Does the fact that it is written this way suggest that “seer” is being used as an adjective?

I think we commonly think of a seer as someone who can see the future.  The point of this verse is that a seer can translate ancient records.  What are the implications of this?

This verse defines a seer as one who has been commanded to look at some object which allows that person to translate ancient records.  How does that comport with our modern understanding of the word?

The idea of objects with sacred significance is, perhaps, an uncomfortable one for moderns (and even modern Mormons).  Yet here they are, tied to the gift of seership.  Do we need to reconfigure our understanding of sacred objects?

Are there things at which we ought not look?

Given that we sustain the FP and Q12 as seers, does that mean that they fulfill the role of seer as described in this verse?

Brant Gardner:

At the end of the verse is the simple definition of the seer as the possessor of the interpreters. Look, however, at what the interpreters do. Of course the seer can use them to “translate all records that are of ancient date…”, but they are so powerful that their use must be restricted. They operate only on command of God, for if they were to work all of the time, one might “look for that he ought not…” It is this statement that shows the true nature of the interpreters as the tool of the revelator. If the interpreters dealt only in ancient languages, what kind of out of control linguist might we imagine? What destruction to his soul might occur if one translated a Hittite grocery list? The power of the interpreters is not simply in translation, but rather in revelation. One without the spirit might see in them information that he would be tempted to use unrighteously. One might understand that which he should not. Through the past, one might see the future clearly enough to abuse that vision.  Citation

Remembering that Ammon is a “strong man” with no particular authority, what do you make of his words?  Is it strictly accurate to say that the gift of seership allows the seer to understand -all- ancient records?

 14 And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.

Why would this assignment be a “high gift”?

Ammon, in v13-14 seems very familiar with all of this.  Had his king been acting as a seer?  If so, why don’t we hear about that?

 15 And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.

Is this Limhi speaking?  Or is this Ammon continuing to speak, and telling us what the king of Zarahemla said?  Why does he say this?  Is he right?

What does ‘prophet’ mean in this context?

 16 And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.

What does “the power of God” mean in this verse?  (Wouldn’t the ability to see or prophesy be an example of the power of God?  What is this power that no man can have?)

What is the definition of a prophet here, if a prophet is not necessarily a seer?

Is this hyperbole, or is being a seer really the greatest gift from God?

Does “a seer is a revelator and a prophet also” mean that the act of seeing necessarily constitutes revealing and prophesying?  (But wouldn’t that depend on the content of the ancient text seen?)  Or does it mean that if one person is given the gift of being a seer, he is also given the (completely separate) gifts of being a revelator and a prophet?

 17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.

I don’t think we usually think of a seer has being able to see the past, but just the future.  How might this backward-seeing ability be significant?  What scriptural examples are there of it?  It makes sense in the context of this discussion of a seer translating/interpreting ancient writings, but in other contexts, we might think of a seer as only able to see the future.  Of what benefit is it to be able to see the past?

What does “all things” mean in this verse?

 18 Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.

What do you see in v15-18 that should shape your relationship with the living prophet?

Where does faith fit in to the seeing process?

Is seeing through a seer stone a miracle?

How are people benefited by a seer?

 19 And now, when Ammon had made an end of speaking these words the king rejoiced exceedingly, and gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.

How the heck does he know what the plates say?  He turns out to be right, but at this point, he has no way of knowing if the plates contain anything interesting.  Might this be another example of the “overzealous” pattern of his people?

 20 O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people; yea, and how blind and impenetrable are the understandings of the children of men; for they will not seek wisdom, neither do they desire that she should rule over them!

See this article for more on wisdom.

Where on earth does this come from?  Limhi has just sought wisdom (=the translation of the plates) and been told he will get it.  So is this bit about people not seeking wisdom just a little self-aggrandizement?

Is the “blindness” in this verse meant to contrast with the vision of the seer?  Is Limhi saying that he (and his people) are blind because they are not seers?  But is he then saying that he (and his people) don’t seek wisdom?  Clearly, he is here when he is looking for an interpreter of the plates.

Is there meant to be a contrast between being ruled by wisdom and being ruled by the Lamanites?

 21 Yea, they are as a wild flock which fleeth from the shepherd, and scattereth, and are driven, and are devoured by the beasts of the forest.

What do you make of Limhi’s response (v20-21) to Ammon’s teachings?  Is it what you would have expected?

What does this observation have to do with the events of ch8?

I can imagine two contexts for this comment:  one is the party Limhi sent out, that was “scattered” in the sense of wandering in the wilderness and not finding what they were after (=Zarahemla).  The other is the destroyed civilization that they found, if we assume that the bones and empty city was, at least metaphorically, “devoured by the beasts of the forest.”  But I don’t feel that either of these is a really good fit.  So what is going on here?

CHAPTER 9

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.

 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.

It is somewhat unusual to have such a major transition covered just with a header and not with actual text explaining what is going on.  Might there be a reason for this?

Our usual BoM intro refers to parents and language and teaching.  Therefore, Zeniff’s record is somewhat startling for omitting any mention of his parents.  Why might this have happened?

What’s interesting about this is that Zeniff is giving us a bit of history that we don’t get from the “main” account, where we learned that Mosiah was told to flee, but we don’t learn that they were sending back spies and planning to destroy the Lamanites.

We might have expected that the record we’d get now would be the one that Ammon and Limhi were just discussing, that is, the Jaredite record, and not Zeniff’s record.  What does it do to the reader if s/he expects Jaredites but gets Zeniff?

In addition to Zeniff’s record, we have another record of these events at the end of the book of Omni, recorded by Amaleki (during the time of King Benjamin):

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. 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. And it came to pass that they also took others to a considerable number, and took their journey again into the wilderness. And I, Amaleki, had a brother, who also went with them; and I have not since known concerning them.  Omni 1:27-30

A few things about this:

(1) I’m intrigued by the fact that Zeniff is so eager to give us exact numbers, but Amaleki says “a certain number” (although later we get 50).

(2) Zeniff makes it sound like he’s the ringleader; Amaleki makes it sound like a bunch of people wanted to do this.

(3) Amaleki characterized Zeniff as a strong and mighty and stiff-necked man.  Zeniff just calls himself “overzealous.”  Remembering that Amaleki is the authorized record keeper, do you suspect that Zeniff is, perhaps, sugar-coating his character and that, even to the end, he still isn’t quite willing to entirely take responsibility for what has happened and his role in it?

(4) Why do you think Amaleki didn’t include Zeniff’s name?

I’m pretty sure this is the first reference we get to Nephites assigned to spy on the Lamanites.  What might we learn from this?  Does it legitimate spying (and, if so, is that somehow relevant to individuals, or just to governments)?  Or does it delegitimate it, since his spying seems to led to him being sympathetic to the Lamanites, which leads to the various downfalls related in his story?

Can you make any interesting comparisons with the OT spies in Joshua 2?

This is most interesting–they end up having a whole host of problems for which the root cause is that Zeniff “saw that which was good” in other people.  (Is the issue that his assessment that they are “good” is incorrect?  Or was he right?) Thoughts on how this might apply to us?  Shouldn’t we be seeing the good in other people?

I think the meaning of “Lamanite” is a little confusing here.  Given that these “Lamanites” are in the land of Nephi, and that Zeniff’s knowledges of Nephite language is helpful to his spying mission, I presume that these Lamanites are actually the Nephites-who-were-Jacobites-but-who-didn’t-follow-Mosiah and not “real” Lamanites.  They have become Lamanites in the sense that they are not a part of the righteous remnant.

 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.

Just to be clear on what is happening here:  the spy Zeniff comes back and says, “hey, let’s not kill them–they’re good!”  The ruler wants Zeniff killed for this, but Zeniff argues (or fights?) back, resulting in a fight that ends with most of the army in the wilderness being destroyed.  The survivors straggle home to tell the tale.

“Austere” is an interesting word.  I wonder if what it is hinting at is this:  in v1, Zeniff thought the Lamanites were “good.”  If these Lamanites are actually Nephites who didn’t listen to Jacob’s warnings about riches, then perhaps what Zeniff calls “good” is actually “rich.”  And maybe this leader, because he is “austere,” is not as impressed by riches as Zeniff is.

There is certainly an irony here that Zeniff is accusing this leader of being blood-thirsty, but it is Zeniff’s own disobedience and rabble-rousing that leads to bloodshed here.  Another layer of irony:  Zeniff, in attempting to avoid a war (against the Lamanites), creates one (within his own army).

The “brother against brother” line is easy to make sense of:  two biological brothers could be fighting.  But what, then, would “father against father” mean?  It suggests not that the men were each other’s fathers (in the way that men can be each other’s brothers), but that the men involved were fathers.  Why mention this?

My radar always goes up when there is a reference to women in the BoM.  This one is pretty unusual.  It is also fairly horrible–these women are presumably the newly-minted widows, and the situation is even more terrible given that the fighting was “brother against brother.”  Zeniff and the other survivors have to go to these women and say that even though they were sent out on the same side as the dead men, they turned against them and killed them.

We always want to draw neat little moral lessons from the scriptures, but this one is so complicated.  I could conclude from these verses that you shouldn’t try to make peace when you have a chance to make war.

 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.

NB that Limhi also said that Zeniff was overzealous.  How can we tell the difference between being zealous and being overzealous?  Can you think of an experience where you realized that you were being overzealous?

So . . . what exactly did Zeniff do wrong:  see the good in people?  Try to countermand his king?  Participate in a civil war?  Rally people to his side?  Led a group to enter a treaty with the Lamanites? Be slow to remember God (as a separate matter from all of the above)?

We don’t get a lot people clearly naming and owning and recounting their flaws in the scriptures.  (We actually do get a fairly large collection of flaws, but they are usually presented to us via a third party, a narrator.)  What effect does this kind of record have on the reader?

 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.

Is it somehow symbolic or significant that they end up in the same place?

 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.

There’s a sense in which he is duplicating Ammon’s journey here (I should perhaps say that Ammon duplicated Zeniff, since Ammon occurs later in time, but the way the text is written with the flashback, Zeniff is duplicating Ammon.)  What useful parallels can you draw between the two?

 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.

If we want to read this allegorically, what does this covenant/treaty represent?

Unless something was abridged, he got a much better welcome than Ammon did.  What might you conclude from this?

 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.

Can you discern the king’s motive here?  (Yeah, I know I just said that we weren’t supposed to speculate about motives.)  Compare v10 (which makes it sound like he planned bondage from the beginning) but also v11 (which makes it sound like he didn’t necessarily plan it from the beginning, but did it because he feared the power of the people after twelve years).

 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.

 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.

 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.

Is this strictly true, or is it the PR department, or is it how things happened to turn out, even if that wasn’t king Laman’s original intention?  (Why else might a king kick his own people out of a land [v7] to give it to someone else, when apparently it even had improvements, even if they did need repair [v8]?)

So I’m struck by the comparison with what happens with the Zarahemla people back in Omni, where the people led by Mosiah I go into the land of Zarahemla and join in with the people there.  What kinds of comparisons can you make?  Why did that turn out so well but this incident turned out so disastrously?

It is interesting that he is called “king Laman.”  (See notes above re meaning of “Lamanites” in this chapter.)  It hasn’t been that long since Enos railed against the Lamanites, and now, apparently, the king is, either by throne name or birth name, known as “Laman.”

 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.

Twelve years:  symbolic?

If you read v6, 10, and 11 allegorically instead of historically, what would you conclude about how evil works? (My thoughts:  things that look too easy may be traps, Satan has things that we want, there is a wrong way to go about a right thing, negative effects are not always immediate, etc.)

NB that these are the same fears that led Pharoah to want to exercise tighter control over the children of Israel.

Do you take this verse to mean that King Laman’s intentions were initially good, and only later did he decide to mistreat the people after he began to perceive them as a threat?

Is king Laman’s assumption of the people of Zeniff’s military threat realistic?  (After all, only twelve years ago he invited them in.)  Or, is it possible that Zeniff is misunderstanding of misstating king Laman’s position here?

 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.

Again:  strictly true, or a missive from PR?

If I was right that, in v1, what Zeniff interpreted as the “good” of the Lamanites was actually wealth, then there is a nice little irony that as soon as the people of Zeniff begin to enjoy that wealth, then the very same wealth makes them a target of Lamanite covetousness.

Is there  a link between being lazy (which is an attitude toward work) and being idolatrous (which is the result of an attitude toward God)?

 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.

I’m curious about “stir up,” which makes me think of a megaphone and a soap box, when you’d think a king would just order his army to war.  Am I misunderstanding the meaning of “stir up” here?

Is there any significance to the fact that contentions is mentioned after war?  (You’d think the contentions would come logically and chronologically before the war.)

 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.

Skousen reads “take of” instead of “take off” their flock here.

 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.

 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.

A sad irony:  this was the guy who, in the beginning of the chapter, didn’t want to fight the Lamanites.  Now (he thinks that) his hand has been forced.

 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.

I’m curious about “in the strength of the Lord” after everything we know about the wrong decisions they have made.  What are we to conclude from this?  Is it because they decided to remember the Lord finally?

 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.

Why was it important for Zeniff to let us know that he personally helped bury the dead?

NB that v18-19 pay more attention to the Lamanite dead than the Nephite dead.  What do you make of this?

CHAPTER 10

 1 And it came to pass that we again began to establish the kingdom and we again began to possess the land in peace. And I caused that there should be weapons of war made of every kind, that thereby I might have weapons for my people against the time the Lamanites should come up again to war against my people.

 2 And I set guards round about the land, that the Lamanites might not come upon us again unawares and destroy us; and thus I did guard my people and my flocks, and keep them from falling into the hands of our enemies.

 3 And it came to pass that we did inherit the land of our fathers for many years, yea, *for the space of twenty and two years.

So . . . does this cause you to reread his overzealousness at the beginning of ch9?  Things didn’t really turn out so bad after all, did they?

 4 And I did cause that the men should till the ground, and raise all manner of grain and all manner of fruit of every kind.

 5 And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land—thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years.

Skousen would omit the second “and work” here on a conjectural basis.  This is one of the few times that I would like to vociferously dispute his reading, on the grounds that it should be obvious that women work and work.

The BoM rarely pays attention to what the women were doing.  Why is this passage an exception to that rule?

What does the “and I did cause” mean in this verse and in v4?  What precisely would he have done, exactly?

The end of this verse makes it sound as if the content of v4-5 were the cause of their peace in the land?  How might this be possible?  If it is, what exactly led to the peace:  the king coercing labor?  The king coercing gender-assigned labor?  Or what?

 6 And it came to pass that king Laman died, and his son began to reign in his stead. And he began to stir his people up in rebellion against my people; therefore they began to prepare for war, and to come up to battle against my people.

 7 But I had sent my spies out round about the land of Shemlon, that I might discover their preparations, that I might guard against them, that they might not come upon my people and destroy them.

Can’t help but find some irony in that Zeniff got his start (at least, in our record he got his start) as a spy who went rogue.

 8 And it came to pass that they came up upon the north of the land of Shilom, with their numerous hosts, men armed with bows, and with arrows, and with swords, and with cimeters, and with stones, and with slings; and they had their heads shaved that they were naked; and they were girded with a leathern girdle about their loins.

Why were the details in this verse included?

“They had their heads shaved that they were naked” does not compute, especially since they had a leather loin covering (so they were not naked).  Presumably it means that their heads were naked.  Why might this be worth mentioning?

 9 And it came to pass that I caused that the women and children of my people should be hid in the wilderness; and I also caused that all my old men that could bear arms, and also all my young men that were able to bear arms, should gather themselves together to go to battle against the Lamanites; and I did place them in their ranks, every man according to his age.

Does the hiding in the wilderness mean that they didn’t think they could defend their cities?  (Wouldn’t you normally hide the vulnerable population in the fortified city?)

Why was this verse included in the record?  Perhaps because it seems particularly irrelevant, we might wonder why the idea that the fighters were arranged by age is mentioned.  Could it possibly have any relationship to the arrangement by families at Ben’s speech?  (This might be too much of a stretch, but I’m wondering if the idea is that age and gender are the keys to organization when we are at war, but family is the primary organization for peace and worship.)

 10 And it came to pass that we did go up to battle against the Lamanites; and I, even I, in my old age, did go up to battle against the Lamanites. And it came to pass that we did go up in the strength of the Lord to battle.

I mentioned above that Zeniff seemed unusually introspective with his comments on his overzealousness; here, he seems rather martyr-ish or melodramatic or something with his “I, even I, in my old age” line.  What can you learn from Zeniff’s character?

 11 Now, the Lamanites knew nothing concerning the Lord, nor the strength of the Lord, therefore they depended upon their own strength. Yet they were a strong people, as to the strength of men.

NB that Ammon was described as a “strong man” when he was introduced.

What’s interesting and sad about this is that these “Lamanites” are not that far removed from the audience of Jacob’s speech in Jacob 2, and yet here they know nothing of the Lord (unless this is more hyperbolic PR).

 12 They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;

Interesting contrast here–remember that before Ben’s speech, the people gave thanks that they had been taken out of Jrsm before it was destroyed.  I think it was William Faulkner who said, “The past isn’t dead.  It isn’t even past.”  Righteous or wicked, they were all acting according to their beliefs of what happened in the past.

 13 And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea, and all this because that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore he was favored of the Lord, for the Lord heard his prayers and answered them, and he took the lead of their journey in the wilderness.

See v17 for more Lamanite revisionist history.  The BoM makes frequent mention of the role that false information about history played in making the Lamanites resistant to true teachings.  What are the lessons for us from all of this?  How can we know if our history (both sacred and secular) and our interpretation thereof is accurate?

 14 And his brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord.

 15 And again, they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him.

 16 And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.

This raises the question of why they would even have wanted the plates.  I think it points to the fact that they were not simply wicked, but rather were plenty religious, they just disagreed with Nephi’s interpretation of religious things.

 17 And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.

So . . . did Zeniff just conveniently forget these troubling facts when he was a spy and urging his people not to kill the Lamanites?  And then when he took a bunch of people and entered a treaty to live among them?  What did he see among the Lamanites that caused him to blank out their nefarious nature, and then choose to live among them?  (I don’t think “overzealousness” quite explains it.)  Has his view changed now that he has more experience with the Lamanites?  Or is he, perhaps, just as guilty of one-sided, not-entirely-true, revisionist history as they are?

This verse ends a relatively long passage (going back to v12) that covers the (false) Lamanite beliefs. Why would it have been important to include this in the record?

NB that these “Lamanites” appear to include the descendants of the people who followed Nephi away from Laman and Lemuel, but did not follow Mosiah away from the wicked Nephites (see Omni 1:12).  It is somewhat amazing to think of this group of people, whose ancestors chose to go with Lehi, whose ancestors chose to go with Nephi, but who then chose to align themselves with the Lamanite view of the world.

I think it is easy to read a verse like this and think about all of the Bad Things that Other People think about us.  It is a little harder to read this verse and consider the Bad Things that we think about Other People.  Probably not a question I’d be brave enough to ask in Sunday School, but a great one for private reflection:  What do I believe about other groups of people that is based on a convenient (for me) interpretation of history?

So I’ll confess to being a Howard Zinn, Joshua Freeman, and James W. Loewen fan before I say that I find the BoM’s repeated emphasis on the (ab)uses of history fascinating.  You can’t, I think, walk away from this book thinking that history is an objective set of facts, but rather that history is always a narrative motivated by the desires of the teller.  This would be true for the “good” guys as well–they recount history not because they are history nerds but because they see it as a way to get people to trust God.  Note that in this verse, the study of history is not some ivory tower affair, but rather the prime mover for their attitude toward the Nephites, which is then manifested in war and plunder.

 18 For this very cause has king Laman, by his cunning, and lying craftiness, and his fair promises, deceived me, that I have brought this my people up into this land, that they may destroy them; yea, and we have suffered these many years in the land.

Wait–if v17 is correct, then shouldn’t king Laman have tried to murder Zeniff’s people?  Why, instead, did he actually make a treaty with them and let them live in peace for 12 years?  (Of course, their military defeat may have necessitated that.)  But the larger point is this:  if the goal was to destroy them, why drag it out with the treaty and the settlement and all that?  Why not just kill them right away?

Brant Gardner:

Finally, how is it that Zeniff knows so much about the reasons behind a Lamanite attack? Does he confer with king Laman? No. What we have are Zeniff’s suppositions, not facts. Those suppositions are filtered through the antipathy and distrusting separation between Lamanite and Nephite. Citation

I agree with Gardner here and find it very interesting to consider the implications if we assume that we have an unreliable narrator here.

 19 And now I, Zeniff, after having told all these things unto my people concerning the Lamanites, I did stimulate them to go to battle with their might, putting their trust in the Lord; therefore, we did contend with them, face to face.

If you agree with the Gardner quote from v18, then Zeniff has done exactly what he is accusing the Lamanites of doing:  he has created a historical narrative of questionable accuracy in order to motivate people to go to war.  (Irony alert.)

 20 And it came to pass that we did drive them again out of our land; and we slew them with a great slaughter, even so many that we did not number them.

 21 And it came to pass that we returned again to our own land, and my people again began to tend their flocks, and to till their ground.

There are many references in Zeniff’s record to the daily work of the people (agricultural pursuits).  They seem to always be juxtaposed to warfare.  I am wondering if there is a deeper meaning to this.

 22 And now I, being old, *did confer the kingdom upon one of my sons; therefore, I say no more. And may the Lord bless my people. Amen.

Why doesn’t he tell us the son’s name here?  (Note:  it is Noah.)

Grant Hardy:

In Mosiah 9-10, we find the personal memoirs of Zeniff, the founder of a colony in the Land of Nephi.  He wrote these two chapters toward the end of his life, and to me they seem to recount a slow transition from youthful idealism to a mature, wary realism.  At every turn, Zeniff’s good intentions and willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt turn out badly.  In the first verses, he tries to convince the leader of his expedition to not destroy the Lamanites and the result is a massacre among his fellow Nephites.  As part of a second expedition, Zeniff establishes a treaty of peaceful coexistence with the Lamanites, which is broken twelve years later when the Lamanite king attempts to enslave the Nephite colony.  Zeniff ends his days by militarizing his people with weapons, spies, and slaughter—the very tactics that he had so forcefully rejected as a young man.  And since Zeniff appoints his son Noah as his successor—wicked king Noah—his last act is, once again, to put his trust in someone unworthy of it. Citation

CHAPTER 11
1 And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons; therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.

Note that there is a change from the end of ch10, which was Zeniff’s own record, to this record, which appears to be an abridgement.  (One wonders who kept the record during the time of Noah.)    One of the interesting effects of this is that we get a very clear moral judgement on Noah right off the bat (in this verse), whereas we have to work a little harder to discern the moral in Zeniff’s story.

Why do you think the scriptures use the metaphor of walking for righteousness?

Jim F.:  “If something about his background might account for Noah’s wickedness, what can you imagine it might be?”  Zeniff didn’t seem to be such a bad egg; how does he end up giving his kingdom to Noah, especially when he had other sons?

I find it interesting that Zeniff is regarded fairly highly in this verse (in contrast with his son) when the last two chapters were chock-full of his mistakes.

 2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.

Is it possible for one person to cause another person to commit sin?

What do you make of putting “keeping the commandments” into opposition with “walking after the desires of his own heart”?  Is that unique to bad guys like Noah, or is it universal?

What does this verse teach you about your desires?  (In other words, is it always right to place following your own desires in opposition to keeping the commandments of God?)

So of course no king is ever going to keep a record that says, “And then, I forced everyone to sin.”  So Mormon is probably reading between the lines of the records from Noah’s reign in order to put this story together.  (That would make a fun “fan fiction” for the BoM:  write the records that survived from Noah’s court.  I suppose if Alma wrote, then they’d be pretty straightforward, though.)

While it isn’t mentioned in this verse, we’re about to get an earful about their economic sins.  So like with Jacob, polygamy (which is also condemned there) goes along with economic sin.  Is there a message in this–either in the linking of polygamy and wealth-seeking, or in the mention of themes found in Jacob, as if Jacob’s warning found their fulfillment in Noah’s wickedness?  (One link might be that keeping all of those women required him to levy a big tax.)

 3 And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.

How might this be related to the 50% tax that the Lamanites would levy on Noah’s son’s generation?

 4 And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.

Just a quick note to those who use v3 to suggest that a 20% tax rate is obviously evil:  it isn’t clear that Noah did anything wrong in v3 (the OT tradition is supportive of kings gathering resources–what we would call a tax–to help the poor and well as in the BoM).  The wrong may appear in this verse, where the tax money is used for personal needs.

 5 For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts.

I’m interested in the parallel between the uses of priests and the uses of history.  One wants both priests and history to be objective parties, but this verse, and the Lamanite use of history, suggests that both can be perverted to support pre-determined desired outcomes.

I’m wondering if part of the lesson here is that the priests were supposed to be functioning as a check on the behavior of the king.  If so, what might we learn from this?

 6 Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.

What can you learn from comparing Noah and Benjamin as kings?  Given that you are not a king (or queen), how is this material relevant to you?

 7 Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them.

What would our cultural equivalent of flattery leading to idolatry be?

 8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;

The other buildings with nice ornaments that we hear about in the scriptures are the temples/tabernacles, which makes for an interesting inversion . . .

 9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.

 10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.

 11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people.

 12 And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom, and also the land of Shemlon, which was possessed by the Lamanites; and he could even look over all the land round about.

Contrast with Benjamin’s tower–what are the crucial differences?

(I’m sorry, but this verse makes me think of Yertle the Turtle.)

 13 And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land; and thus he did do with the riches which he obtained by the taxation of his people.

Usually in the scriptures, the “watchman on the tower” image is a positive one.  Many places in the BoM speak positively of preparing defenses, which would include watch towers.  And today, even the most ardent small-government people recognize the need for defense expenditures. Why, then, is this a part of Mormon’s litany of complaint against Noah?

 14 And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.

I’m wondering if the contrast between Noah’s wives and concubines and the priests’ harlots means that he had forbidden the priests to marry.

I’m curious about the image of placing a heart upon riches.  Usually in the Bible, they use heart where we would use mind.  What would it mean to place your mind upon your riches?  You obviously have to spend some amount of time thinking about your financial security; how and where do you draw the line?

The only other scriptural use of the phrase “riotous living” (which, by the way, is one of my favorite phrases and it would be fun to imagine it as the title of a home magazine) is in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15).  What can you learn from comparing these two stories?

 15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he builtwine-presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people.

 16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.

 17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.

 18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.

 19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.

This is reminiscent of Cain’s wives.

Where does the agency of the people come in if they are acting because of the wickedness of their leaders?

Jim F.:  “How does Noah’s attitude about war compare with Moroni’s? Could Noah say, as did Moroni, that he and his soldiers are fighting for religion, their freedom, their peace, their wives, and their children (Alma 46:12)? Why or why not? If he could say something like this, how does he differ from Moroni? How do we avoid being like Noah? ”

Note that their military adventures get quite a bit of airtime along with their other sins.  This may just be Mormon’s fingerprint, but I wonder what else we can glean from the presentation of Noah’s sins–are there patterns?  Relationships?

 20 And it came to pass that there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi; *and he went forth among them, and began to prophesy, saying: Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people, thus saith the Lord—Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms; and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.

Why is there no background information given for Abinadi?  (John A. Tvedtnes suggests that he might have been one of the priests that Noah deposed–I’m not sure if Noah’s lack of knowledge of who Abinadi is in v27 supports or refutes that theory.  It is also possible that Noah is speaking more metaphorically there.)

At this point it seems that v1-19 has mostly been a build-up to the introduction of Abinadi.  If you reread those verses, in what ways do they set the stage for him?

I’m curious about the word “prophesy” in this verse:  read what Abinadi says in this verse (and the next)–does it meet what you usually consider the definition of prophesying?

What work is “and thus hath he commanded me” accomplishing in this verse?

Note that “thus saith the Lord” is repeated. What effect does this emphasis have?

This question may need to wait until the end of Abinadi’s story, but is there any indication as to how he is able to avoid the wickedness around him?

 21 And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.

You can just see the people saying, “Repent?  Well, that’s a good idea, but you’d have to be pretty naive to think that a big ol’ wall of repentance will stop the Lamanites from attacking us.  What stops the Lamanites is their belief that we’ll pound them if they attack, and that belief stems from us being super-fortified with walls and arms.  Repentance has nothing to do with it.”  See this article for more on this theme.

 22 And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God, and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.

When the scriptures describe God as “jealous,” no one is a literalist.  Is that wrong?  What does it mean to say god is jealous?  In what situations, if any, is it appropriate for a person to be jealous?

What exactly does “visiting the iniquities” mean?

 23 And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.

Skousen reads “turn to” instead of “turn unto” here.

It is easy to lose the message here since we know how the story ends, but it is a remarkable indication of the Lord’s mercy toward these very wicked people that the Lord was willing to (1) send them this message and (2) make it possible for them to repent and be delivered. It is easy to read this speech as a condemnation (and, in a sense, it is), but it is also an invitation.

 24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.

 25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me.

In the OT, sackcloth and ashes are symbols of mourning.  (It is kind of fun to imagine modern versions of this:  “except they repent with funeral potatoes and stiff black clothes . . .”)

Donald W. Parry identifies the following chiasmus in this text:

A Behold, thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me, saying, Go forth, and say unto this people,
B thus saith the Lord—
C Wo be unto this people, for I have seen their abominations, and their wickedness, and their whoredoms;
D and except they repent I will visit them in mine anger.
E And except they repent and turn to the Lord their God, behold, I will deliver them into the hands of their enemies; yea, and they shall be brought into bondage; and they shall be afflicted by the hand of their enemies.
F And it shall come to pass that they shall know that I am the Lord their God
G and am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of my people.
H And it shall come to pass that except this people repent
H and turn unto the Lord their God
G they shall be brought into bondage;
F and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.
E Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
D And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God
C I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions;
B and thus saith the Lord,
A and thus hath he commanded me.  Citation

26 Now it came to pass that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto them they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life; but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.

I bet there’s a really good story here . . .

Reread Abinadi’s message, looking for what would have made them angry.

Brant Gardner:

We might assume that it was the officials who were wroth, but it appears that it was the people themselves who rejected Abinadi. In verse 26 it is apparently the people to whom Abinadi was preaching who sought his life. Noah does not appear to hear of Abinadi until after this event, witnessed by the following verse. Thus it is convenient to blame Noah for the apostasy of the people, but their bondage was brought on by their own decisions, and not simply the rule of Noah. Citation

 27 Now when king Noah had heard of the words which Abinadi had spoken unto the people, he was also wroth; and he said: Who is Abinadi, that I and my people should be judged of him, or who is the Lord, that shall bring upon my people such great affliction?

The question about Abinadi seems fair (as there is no background given–see verse 20), but why is he asking that about the Lord?

Implicit in the structure of this verse is a comparison between Abinidi and the Lord; this is most ironic.

 28 I command you to bring Abinadi hither, that I may slay him, for he has said these things that he might stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people; therefore I will slay him.

NB how the desire to avoid contention is being perverted here as a cover to kill a prophet.  In what ways might we falsely claim the banner of “but we’re just avoiding contention!” in order to shut down someone who shouldn’t be?

 29 Now the eyes of the people were blinded; therefore they hardened their hearts against the words of Abinadi, and they sought from that time forward to take him. And king Noah hardened his heart against the word of the Lord, and he did not repent of his evil doings.

Does this verse, with the blind and hard references, seek to compare Abinadi with Isaiah?  (If so, what is interesting about that is that it might imply that Abinadi had a theophany we don’t know about, but I admit that that is a stretch.)

Who is doing the blinding here–the Lord?  Noah?  The people themselves?

Does the final sentence indicate that Noah had not hardened his heart before this time?  (That’s somewhat hard to believe, but if he hadn’t then what would that phrase mean here?)

General thoughts:

(1) We have some stories with interesting overlaps here:

–Ammon’s journey to the Land of Nephi

–Zeniff’s journey to the land of Nephi

–Limhi’s people sending people out to Zarahemla (which they fail to find, but they find Jaredite remains)

–Limhi anticipating a journey to Zarahemla

And then the text draws out attention to parallels between these journeys and Lehi’s and Moses’ exoduses.  What should we conclude from the similarities and differences between these journeys?

(2) Many scholars have noted parallels between King Ben’s speech and Limhi’s speech and/or Noah’s lifestyle as king.  What can you learn from comparing them?

(3) The order of the Book of Mosiah is really weird, with flashbacks and digressions.  There’s more to come on this topic in future weeks as we press through Mosiah, but at this point, note that we get Ben’s speech, then the contemporaneous Limhi, then a flashback to Zeniff’s record, then the barest of introductions to the Jaredites.  Should we assume that the ordering of material is significant?  If so, what are we to learn from this flashback?

5 Responses to BMGD #17: Mosiah 7-11

  1. Ardis E. Parshall on April 23, 2012 at 8:39 am

    on the grounds that it should be obvious that women work and work

    Ha!

    A marvelous aid, as usual, Julie, and one that will need another closer reading by me. Thanks.

  2. Jim W on April 25, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    It’s taken me a few days to read through this. I am not a fan of Howard Zinn, but I do appreciate the questions you asked and the supplementary material. It’s a great format, and a great approach to scripture study. Mosiah is one of my favorite books in the Book of Mormon. Thank you.

  3. heather b in SC on May 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    As usual, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your excellent and thought provoking commentary. I may be teaching a class, and it’s so hard for me to communicate all that I’ve studied in the past anyhow, but I always feel like I’m taking a step by step class when I read through your notes. So many more things pop out to me than before, no matter how many times I’ve read the sections in question. No more “boring old” GD class for us in our ward… I can really answer and correlate thanks to reading the notes and helps your provide. I am certainly not a scholar, and don’t profess to be one, but I’ve studied many topics… being able to study this one in more depth makes a great deal of difference in my life. So… I may not be commenting every week or anything, but know that I’m lurking and studying your words every week, and that in my hectic world (disabled mom, two partially disabled kids, heavy duty antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease,and a move int he next month) my class at church isn’t getting neglected, and I’m not pulling my hair out in frustration. Just thought I’d make sure you know how grateful I am for your time in doing this for us each week, and for your considerable talents in making the scriptures more accessible to me, so that I may better bless my class and my family and home. Love and thanks-HB

  4. Julie M. Smith on May 5, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Thank you very much, heather b!

  5. Aaron P on May 6, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Julie, I also wanted to know as an instructor I love your commentary and humor, in addition to all sorts of scholarly insight your commentary brings. I will be using work and work in today’s gospel doctrine lesson!