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Only at this point do modern readers begin to read Mormon’s masterwork. His introduction was lost, and the history covered by that beginning was replaced by the small plates. Even though they covered the same time period, they did so with a different purpose, and with different motivations behind what they wrote. Only beginning with Mosiah do we get to read the work that Mormon spent so much time and effort on to create for us.
The beginning of the book of Mosiah has been lost. It has been suggested that there are two lost chapters based on the numbering in the printer’s manuscript, but that numbering begins with the book of Omni and an erroneous numbering of Words of Mormon as chapter II of Omni, with Mosiah becoming chapter III. Oliver Cowdery created those numbers after the fact, and, therefore, that cannot tell us how many chapters we are missing.
The way that Mormon created chapters tells us that we are unlikely to know how many chapters might have been missing, but we can know what content was missing. The book of Mosiah is named for Mosiah1, who became king in the land of Zarahemla. It is probable that the book began with his seating as king. Whether or not the exodus from the city of Nephi and finding the people of Zarahemla would have been included in the book of Mosiah, or at the end of the book of Nephi (which is the only other named book that we know of), cannot be known. Speculation would suggest that it came at the end of the book of Nephi as Mormon typically begins named books with the seating of the ruler for whom the book is named. Presumably, that followed large plate conventions.
Because the beginning of the book of Mosiah was lost along with the rest of the content on the 116 pages, we do not have a book header for the book of Mosiah. It is the only book that Mormon edited which does not have a book header. The reason would be that it was lost, not that he did not include it. Mormon’s consistency clearly indicates that it was originally included.
Because what we have retained of the book of Mosiah begins with Benjamin, we have lost the entirety of what Mormon might have wanted to say about the reign of his father.
King Benjamin Educates His Sons
1 And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.
The phrase “there was no more contention in all the land” typically comes as a conclusion rather than a beginning. It is probable that this really was a concluding sentiment and referred to the lost descriptions of the wars and contentions that king Benjamin had to deal with that were recorded at the end of Words of Mormon.
This verse has an unusual doubling of the idea that there is no contention. The first looks backwards to the resolution of conflict: “And now there was no more contention.” The second looks forward to the end of Benjamin’s reign: “king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.” Unlike similar statements in the small plates, this foreshadowing cannot tell us anything about when the original book of Mosiah was written. The phrase is Mormon’s, and Mormon clearly wrote long after the events.
Why would Mormon double this idea of a lack of contention? We can understand it best if we remember the promise of the land. Righteousness and safety, or peace, go hand-in-hand. Mormon is telling his readers that king Benjamin was righteous. He defeated contentions and wars, and that ushered in not only a righteous people, but also a peaceful time.
The next reason for the peace will be demonstrated in the event that Mormon elected to describe next, which was the gathering of the people of Nephi in Zarahemla for a major discourse from the king to all of his remaining people.
2 And it came to pass that he had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord.
3 And he also taught them concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, saying: My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
Verse 2 introduces Benjamin’s sons. Mosiah2 will become the next king. We know little about Helorum, and nothing specific about Helaman. However, it is interesting that both the name Nephi and the name Helaman are used for three individuals in the Nephite record, both tying for the most appearances of the same name for different people.
Verse 2 also notes that they were “taught in all the language of his fathers, that they might become men of understanding.” Where the similar language used by Nephi and Enos was somewhat ambiguous, it appears to be less so here. They learn” all the language of their fathers.” They do so that “they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies.” That last statement appears to be directed towards the ability to read the plates of brass. In this case, therefore, learning all the language was required to be able to read the plates of brass.
That understanding is emphasized in verse 3 where, in addition to language, they are specifically taught about the records on the plates of brass. These were the foundation of their understanding of God, so it was imperative that a true person of learning must know concerning Yahweh and his commandments and prophecies as contained on the plates of brass.
4 For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates; for he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings, and teach them to his children, that thereby they could teach them to their children, and so fulfilling the commandments of God, even down to this present time.
Nephi spends much of a chapter on the important event of returning to Jerusalem for the plates of brass. It is certain that some version of that account was on the record that Mormon created to describe the Nephite origin story. This verse presupposes the value, not only the current value, but the blessing of the possession of this set of plates. Benjamin is echoing the reason that the Lord commanded Lehi’s sons to return for them, an echo that would not have been easily understood without having already been written in Mormon’s abridgement.
Most interesting is that he brings up teaching and language again. This time, Benjamin says of Lehi: “he having been taught in the language of the Egyptians therefore he could read these engravings.” This suggests that the plates of brass, a record kept in Egypt, was written in Egyptian and the ability to read Egyptian was required to read the plates of brass. This, therefore, suggests that when Benjamin’s sons are taught “all the language of [their] fathers” (in verse 2), it specifically referred to learning to read the Egyptian text on the plates of brass.
5 I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren, the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct.
6 O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
7 And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers.
8 And many more things did king Benjamin teach his sons, which are not written in this book.
When Benjamin says: “were it not for these things,” he means the plates of brass. They were acquired by miracle and represent both the connection to the ancient house of Israel and also to their authority to teach Yahweh’s commandments. Without the scriptures, the Nephites would not have been able to use the unchanging text to clarify and interpret the law according to their circumstances. They would have had to adopt more and more of the customs of the surrounding lands, something that had already happened to the people of Zarahemla before the Nephites merged with them.
Benjamin speaks first of the plates of brass, but then added the plates of Nephi. For Benjamin, this was the large plates. Even though he had the small plates by this time, the record of the kings and, therefore, the one most on the mind of kings, was the large plates of Nephi, not the small plates. There is little evidence that the small plates were read by subsequent record keepers, and less evidence that they quoted from them. We remember that Mormon was surprised to find them. He did not appear to know that they existed.
The admonition to study the scriptures diligently and to keep the commandments will become very relevant when we read Benjamin’s discourse. Mormon adds these instructions to Benjamin’s sons, precisely because they fit into the context of the reason for the public discourse.
The Kingdom is Conferred Upon Mosiah
9 And it came to pass that after king Benjamin had made an end of teaching his sons, that he waxed old, and he saw that he must very soon go the way of all the earth; therefore, he thought it expedient that he should confer the kingdom upon one of his sons.
10 Therefore, he had Mosiah brought before him; and these are the words which he spake unto him, saying: My son, I would that ye should make a proclamation throughout all this land among all this people, or the people of Zarahemla, and the people of Mosiah who dwell in the land, that thereby they may be gathered together; for on the morrow I shall proclaim unto this my people out of mine own mouth that thou art a king and a ruler over this people, whom the Lord our God hath given us.
Benjamin waxes old, but he hasn’t begun to be old. That seems like a strange distinction, but “began to be old” is used to describe one about to die. For Benjamin, it may mean that he was aged, but we will learn that he lives for three more years. Where the transfer of kingship would typically come as the previous king is dying, Benjamin will instead abdicate. Because this description comes from Mormon, it may be his reasoning of why Benjamin would have called his son to be king. However, there are other elements that we will see which suggest that there was perhaps a different motivation.
Mosiah2 is brought before the king, who declares that Mosiah2 will be announced as the king and ruler over the people of the land of Zarahemla. This is to occur during a gathering of the people. That the gathering and transference of the title had an even greater reason can be seen when we understand that Benjamin did much more than seat his son as the next king.
11 And moreover, I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I do because they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord.
12 And I give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out, except it be through transgression.
As we read Benjamin’s discourse, it will be this event that becomes more fully discussed, and which provides a greater impact than the change in the ruler. The question is why it is needed. What might a name do?
In the ancient world names were often descriptive of the person, particularly collective names. The identification with the name indicated who one was. Knowing that one was of the house of Israel meant that those people were distinguished against all of those who were not of that lineage. However, it wasn’t the lineage, but rather the religion and the practices involved.
The name that Benjamin would give them was specifically to distinguish his people from all the people which Yahweh had brought from the land of Jerusalem. This is very specific. It does not refer to the existing populations into which the early children of Jerusalem had merged. It did not designate the Jaredites. It refers to only two peoples, both of whom were living side by side in the city of Zarahemla. The division between the two peoples had created the contentions that preceded this event. Benjamin is suggesting that they abandon their divisive loyalties to the past and join into a newly unified people. It is a tremendous effort, especially at the end of a difficult internal dissention. It will work, but only for a little while.
13 Yea, and moreover I say unto you, that if this highly favored people of the Lord should fall into transgression, and become a wicked and an adulterous people, that the Lord will deliver them up, that thereby they become weak like unto their brethren; and he will no more preserve them by his matchless and marvelous power, as he has hitherto preserved our fathers.
14 For I say unto you, that if he had not extended his arm in the preservation of our fathers they must have fallen into the hands of the Lamanites, and become victims to their hatred.
These verses become more poignant when we realize that they describe the recent past. This is not a generalized comment about the promise of the land. Benjamin is discussing what has recently happened. Benjamin declares that their recent victory follows the evidence of the past where Yahweh had preserved the Nephites. Had Yahweh not fulfilled his part of the covenant of the land’s promise, then the Lamanites would surely have been victorious.
On the heels of his statement that he would give the people a new name (from verse 11) this discussion of what would happen if the Nephites were not righteous becomes the reason that the new name is desirable. The division had led to contention and therefore unrighteousness. With a new name, they could become a new people and therefore be one. If they are one people, there will not be internal divisions. If that new name is accompanied by a rededication to follow the commandments, then they would not have the temptation to become weak as part of their own society, rather than only the world around them.
15 And it came to pass that after king Benjamin had made an end of these sayings to his son, that he gave him charge concerning all the affairs of the kingdom.
16 And moreover, he also gave him charge concerning the records which were engraven on the plates of brass; and also the plates of Nephi; and also, the sword of Laban, and the ball or director, which led our fathers through the wilderness, which was prepared by the hand of the Lord that thereby they might be led, every one according to the heed and diligence which they gave unto him.
17 Therefore, as they were unfaithful they did not prosper nor progress in their journey, but were driven back, and incurred the displeasure of God upon them; and therefore they were smitten with famine and sore afflictions, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty.
18 And now, it came to pass that Mosiah went and did as his father had commanded him, and proclaimed unto all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla that thereby they might gather themselves together, to go up to the temple to hear the words which his father should speak unto them.
Mormon has completed the important message of this part of the event, so he turns to synopsizing the events. Mormon moves through them quickly. Benjamin stops speaking of what he will do during the meeting before the gathered people and instructs Mosiah in the things of kingship.
Benjamin also transfers to Mosiah2 the physical objects that represent the Nephite ability to rule. These include the plates of brass, the large plates of Nephi, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona (although the text has not given us that name yet). These sacred objects will continue to be passed from ruler to ruler. They become the physical image of the right to rule, connecting the New World to the legacy of the Old World, and the mystique and mystery of having crossed the ocean to come to this new place to rule.
Although we have a chapter ending here in our current editions, there was no chapter ending at this location in the 1830 edition.
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