Book of Mosiah

by Alan Goff

The book of Mosiah is religiously rich, symbolically meaningful, chronologically complex, and politically significant. Although its disparate events range from 200 to 91 B.C., they are unified particularly by the theme of deliverance and by the reign of the Nephite king Mosiah2.

Several groups figure prominently in this history: (1) the main body of Nephites under King Benjamin and his son Mosiah2, together with the people of Zarahemla (Mulekites), who outnumbered their Nephite rulers and neighbors; (2) the people of Zeniff, who failed in their attempt to reoccupy the Nephites' homeland, the land of Nephi; and (3) the people of Alma1, who broke away from the people of Zeniff and became the people of Alma, followers of the martyred prophet Abinadi. The last two groups returned to Zarahemla shortly after Mosiah became king.

The book of Mosiah is drawn from several underlying textual sources: Benjamin's speech (124 B.C.); the record of Zeniff (c. 200-120 B.C.), including Alma's record of Abinadi's trial (c. 150 B.C.) and of his people (c. 150-118 B.C.); and the annals of Mosiah (124-91 B.C.).

BENJAMIN'S SPEECH (CHAPS. 1-6). The coronation of Mosiah occurred in a setting similar to the traditional Israelite assembly at the temple, together with sacrifices, covenant renewal, confessions, pronouncements regarding Christ's atoning blood, and admonitions to serve God and help the poor. King Benjamin died, and Mosiah reigned. He sponsored Ammon's expedition to find the people of Zeniff (7:1-8:21).

RECORD OF ZENIFF (CHAPS. 9-22). About seventy-five years earlier, Zeniff had established his colony; he fought two wars, and his wicked son Noah succeeded him. Twice, the prophet Abinadi delivered a condemnation of Noah; Abinadi rehearsed the Ten Commandments, quoted Isaiah 53, and discoursed on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the resurrection. As he was suffering death by fire, Abinadi prophesied that his death would prefigure Noah's. One of Noah's priests, Alma1, believed Abinadi's preaching, fled into the wilderness, and assembled a group of converts who escaped together from Noah's soldiers. Meanwhile, a military officer named Gideon opposed Noah, the Lamanites attacked, and Noah fled and was subsequently executed by his own people in the manner that Abinadi had predicted. Noah's son, Limhi, was left to reign for many years as a vassal king in servitude to the Lamanites. At length, Limhi and his people were delivered and escaped to Zarahemla.

ALMA'S RECORD (CHAPS. 23-24). The followers of Alma1 practiced baptism and placed strong emphasis on unity, loving one another, and avoiding contention. In a speech that presaged Mosiah's final words establishing the reign of the judges, Alma1 refused to become a king, wanting his people to be in bondage to no person. Nevertheless, they came under cruel bondage to the Lamanites, now led by some of Alma's former associates, the evil priests of Noah. Several years later, the people of Alma were miraculously delivered.

THE ANNALS OF MOSIAH (CHAPS. 25-29). The Nephites, the people of Zarahemla (Mulekites), the people of Limhi, and the people of Alma1 were unified under Mosiah as king, with Alma as high priest. Alma was given authority to organize and regulate churches, but many members apostasized and persecuted the righteous. Among the wicked were his son Alma2 and the four sons of Mosiah. When they were confronted by an angel of the Lord, they repented and were converted. Mosiah translated the Jaredite record, passed the Nephite records and sacred artifacts to Alma2, and installed Alma2 as the first chief judge according to the voice of the people.

The narratives in the book of Mosiah emphasize the theme of deliverance from bondage, whether physical or spiritual. In his address, Benjamin speaks of spiritual deliverance through the atoning blood of Christ, emphasizing mankind's dependence on God and its responsibility to the poor (both themes or typologies are similarly shaped in the Bible by the Exodus tradition). The account of the conversion of Alma2 is a notable case of deliverance from spiritual bondage by calling upon the name of Jesus Christ (Mosiah 27; Alma 36). Two groups are delivered from physical bondage and oppression: Limhi's people and the converts of Alma after their enslavement by the Lamanites. As in the Exodus pattern, they "cried" to the Lord, who heard and delivered them from bondage. An emissary named Ammon expressly compared the deliverance of the people of Zeniff to the exodus of Israel from Egypt and of Lehi from Jerusalem (Mosiah 7:19-22, 33).

The book of Mosiah establishes several pairs of comparisons in a manner similar to a literary technique often used in the Bible: Alma1 and Amulon are examples of good and bad priests; Benjamin and Noah are contrasting exemplars of noble and corrupt kingship. The extreme contrast between these kings is cited by Mosiah at the end of his reign to explain the wisdom in shifting the government of the Nephites from kingship to a reign of judges (Mosiah 29).

The Jaredite record is mentioned three times (Mosiah 8:9; 21:27; 28:11-19). In an attempt to get help from Mosiah's settlement, Limhi dispatched a search party; it did not find Mosiah, but found human remains, weapons of war, and twenty-four gold plates. The party returned this record to Limhi, who gave it to Mosiah, who translated it using two stones called "interpreters" (see Urim and Thummim). The record told of the rise and fall of the Jaredites (see Book of Mormon: Book of Ether).

(See Basic Beliefs home page; Book of Mormon home page)

Bibliography

Tate, George S. "The Typology of the Exodus Pattern in the Book of Mormon." In Literature of Belief, ed. N. Lambert, pp. 245-66. Provo, Utah, 1981.

Thomasson, Gordon C. "Mosiah: The Complex Symbolism and the Symbolic Complex of Kingship in the Book of Mormon." F.A.R.M.S. Paper. Provo, Utah, 1982.

Tvedtnes, John A. "King Benjamin and the Feast of Tabernacles." In By Study and Also by Faith, ed. J. Lundquist and S. Ricks, Vol. 2, pp. 197-237. Salt Lake City, 1990.

 

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