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Annual Great Assembly

As I mentioned in the last evidence of the ancient origin of the Book of Mormon, another area that could be covered is the yearly Great Assembly that took place in those ancient cultures. I have decided to discuss that in this article that again shows that the Book of Mormon is not a book written by Joseph Smith in the 1820's. I will quote from Hugh Nibley.

"Years ago the author [Hugh Nibley] . . . in the ignorance of youth wrote a 'doctoral dissertation' on the religious background and origin of the great Roman games. Starting from the well-known fact that all Roman festivals are but the repetition of a single great central rite, he was able to show that the same great central rite and the same typical national festival was to be discovered among half a dozen widely scattered cultures of the ancient world. He has developed this theme through the years in a number of articles and papers read to yawning societies. And all the time it never occurred to him for a moment that the subject had any bearing whatsoever on the Book of Mormon! Yet there can be no doubt at all that in the Book of Mosiah we have a long and complete description of a typical national assembly in the antique pattern. The King who ordered the rites was steeped in the lore of the Old World king-cult, and as he takes up each aspect of the rites of the Great Assembly point by point he gives it a new slant, a genuinely religious interpretation, but with all due respect to established forms. Our own suspicion is that this is not a new slant at all, but the genuine and original meaning of a vast and complex ritual cycle whose origin has never been explained--it all goes back in the beginning to the gospel of redemption. Were it not for the remarkable commentaries of Benjamin, we would never have known about the great Year Rites among the Nephites where, as in the rest of the world, they were taken for granted."

"The knowledge of the Year Drama and the Great Assembly has been brought forth piece by piece in the present generation. One by one the thirty-odd details noted in the course of our discussion have been brought to light and associated in a single grandiose institution of the royal assembly or coronation at the New Year, an institution now attested in every country of the ancient world. There is no better description of the event in any single ritual text than is found in the Book of Mormon"

"In the writer's [Hugh Nibley] opinion, this . . . presents the most convincing evidence yet brought forth for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. Very likely the reader will be far from sharing this view, since the force of the evidence is cumulative and based on extensive comparative studies which cannot be fully presented here. Still the evidence is so good, and can be so thoroughly tested, that we present it here for the benefit of the reader who wishes to pursue the subject further. Since Gressmann, Jeremias, Mowinckel, and many others began their studies at the start of the century a vast literature on the subject of the Great Assembly at the New Year and the peculiar and complex rites performed on that occasion has been brought forth. Yet nowhere can one find a fuller description of that institution and its rites than in the Book of Mormon. Since 'patternism' (as the awareness of a single universal pattern for all ancient year rites is now being called) is a discovery of the last thirty years, the fact that the now familiar pattern of ritual turns up in a book first published almost 130 years ago [1830 to 1960] is an extremely stimulating one. For it is plain that Mosiah's account of the Great Year Rite among the Nephites is accurate in every detail, as can be checked by other year-rites throughout the world."

I will list the over 30 items outlined in the Book of Mormon that show that this ceremony is an accurate presentation of the Great Assembly as practiced throughout the ancient world. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Book of Mormon, the Book of Mormon is made up of 15 books and the account that I will be referring to will be taken from the beginning of the Book of Mosiah which is the eight of the books in the Book of Mormon.

When King Benjamin "waxed old, and 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." (Mosiah 1:9) Now the transfer of kingship is the central act of the great rite to which we referred above, no matter where we find it.

1. The first thing King Benjamin did in preparation was to summon his successor, Mosiah, and authorize him (for it is always the new king and never the old king that makes the proclamation)

2. "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"(Mosiah 1:11)

3. "he gave him charge concerning all the affairs of the kingdom,"(Mos. 1:15)

4. "all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla . . . gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them."(Mos. 1:18-2:1)

5. There was so great a number "that they did not number them,"(Mos. 2:2) This neglect of the census being apparently an unusual thing. (as is verified by comparison with other great assemblies.)

6. Since these people were observing the law of Moses and their going up to the temple was in the old Jewish manner, "they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses."(Mosiah 2:3)

7. The "firstlings" mark this as a New Year's offering.

8. Just as the great HAG was celebrated after the Exodus in thanksgiving for the deliverance from the Egyptians, so the Nephite festival was "to give thanks to the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, and who had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies"(Mosiah 2:4)

9. The multitude pitched their tents round about the temple, "every man according to his family . . . every family being separated from one another"(Mos. 2:5) (This is the Passover practice according to the Talmud)

10. Every tent was erected "with the door thereof towards the temple"(Mos. 2:6) This is the festival of "booths" that was practiced throughout the ancient world, among the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans, Slavs, Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Indians, Arabs, Hebrews, etc.

11. In theory, these people should all have met "within the walls of the temple" but because of the size of the crowd the king had to teach them from the top of a specially erected tower. (Mosiah 2:7) There are many ancient parallels to this, of which the best-known perhaps is the annual sermon delivered by the Caliph to the whole believing world from the high wooden minibar.

12. This formal discourse begins with a SILENTIUM, that is, an exhortation to the people to "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view."(Mosiah 2:9)

13. The people were there for a particularly vivid and dramatic form of instruction "unfolding to view" the mysteries of God.

14. Throughout the pagan world the main purpose of the Great Assembly, as has long been recognized, is to hail the king as a god on earth; Benjamin is aware of this, and he will have none of it; "I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; . . ."(Mosiah 2:10-11)

15. "yet I have been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord, that I should be a ruler and a king over this people . . ."(Mosiah 2:11) So far he will go in the traditional claim to divine rule, but no farther: he has been elected by acclamation of the people, as the king always must at the Great Assembly.

16. "I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service . . . and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you"(Mosiah 2:12) This is a reminder that the king at the Great Assembly everywhere requires all who come into his presence to bring his rich gifts as a sign of submission.

17. "ye yourselves are witnesses THIS DAY . . . I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God THIS DAY." (Mosiah 2:14-15) "This day" is the formally appointed time for settling all accounts between the king and the people, as it is for making and concluding all business contracts--not only the New Year, but specifically the Great Assembly of the New Year in the presence of the king is everywhere the proper time to enter and seal covenants.

18 & 19. King Benjamin tells them that they are there not to acclaim "the divine king" but rather "your heavenly King . . . that God who has created you, and kept and preserved you, and caused that ye should rejoice, and . . . live in peace one with another . . . Who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day . . . even supporting you from one moment to another"(Mos. 2:20-21) It has been described that during the Year Rite the king would scatter gifts to the people "in a manner to simulate the sowing of the race itself on the day of creation, with all the blessings and omens that rightly accompany such a begetting and amid acclamations that joyfully recognize the divine providence and miraculous power of the giver." These are the very same two motifs emphasized by King Benjamin.

20. Then comes the king's farewell when he declares that he is "about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth."(Mos. 2:26), "to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God."(Mos. 2:28) ". . . I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might declare unto you that I can no longer be your teacher, nor your king."(Mos. 2:29) One of the best-known aspects of the Year-drama, is the ritual descent of the King to the underworld--he is ritually overcome by death, and then ritually resurrected or (as in the Egyptian Sed festival) revived in the person of his son and successor.

21. The "heavenly choir" is a conspicuous feature of the Year Rite, in which choral contests have a very prominent place, these choruses representing the earthly counterpart of "the choirs above" (Mosiah 2:28)

22 & 23 Benjamin introduces his son to the people and promises them that if they "shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him, ye shall prosper in the land, and your enemies shall have no power over you"(Mos. 2:31) The people will have prosperity and victory (the two blessings that every ancient king MUST provide if he would keep his office) if they remember that "they are eternally indebted to your Heavenly Father"(Mos. 2:34)

24. Preserve the records (Mos. 2:34)

25. After this a blissful foretaste of "never-ending happiness" which is always part of the Year Rite.

26. Divination of the Future is an essential and unfailing part of the Year Rite and royal succession everywhere in the Old World. Benjamin proceeds to look into the future, reporting a vision shown him by an angel in a dream. (Mos. 3:1-2)

27. The whole purport of Benjamin's message for the future is that men should be found blameless before the Great King, who will sit in judgment (Mos. 3:21) exactly as the King sat in judgment at the New Year.

28. On the theme of eternity, the closing sound of every royal ACCLAMATIO, King Benjamin ended his address. (Mos. 3:26-27) This so overpowered the people that they fell to the earth. The PROSKYNESIS was the falling to the earth (literally, "kissing the ground") in the presence of the king by which all the human race on the day of the coronation demonstrated its submission to divine authority; it was an unfailing part of the Old World New Year's rites.

29. The King then discourses on man's nothingness in the presence of "the greatness of God"(Mos. 4:11) and the great importance of realizing the equality of all men in the presence of each other. This was a very important aspect of the Year Rites, which are everywhere suppose to rehearse and recall the condition of man in the Golden Age before the fall, when all were brothers and equals.

30. When this speech was finished the people approved it by a great ACCLAMATIO, when they "all cried with one voice,"(Mos. 5:1-3)

31. Then they took a significant step, declaring, "we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his command- ments in all things . . . all the remainder of our days . "(Mos. 5:5)

32. Then he gave them a new name, as he promised his son he would. (Mos. 5:7-8) At the Great Assembly when all living things must appear in the presence of the King to acclaim him every individual must be in his proper place, at the right hand or left hand of God. Next Benjamin remarks that all that comply "shall be found at the right hand of God, for he knows the name by which he is called,"(Mos. 5:9), all others standing "on the left hand of God." (Mosiah 5:10)

33. To avoid being cast out the king "would that . . . the Lord Omnipotent, may seal you his."(Mos. 5:15)

34. "king Benjamin thought it was expedient . . . that he should take the names of all those who had entered into a covenant with God to keep his command- ments."(Mos. 6:1) And the entire nation gladly registered. Some form of registering in the "Book of Life" is found at every yearly assembly.

35. Having completed these preliminaries, the king "consecrated his son to be a ruler and a king over his people . . . and also had appointed priests to teach the people . . . and to stir them up in remembrance of the oath which they had made" then he "dismissed the multitude, and they returned, everyone according to their families, to their own houses."(Mos. 6:3)

How could Joseph Smith or anyone in the 19th century come up with this ancient pattern that fits so many aspects of the yearly Great Assembly?

Hugh Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon (Deseret News Press: 1957)256-66

Hugh Nibley, "The Hierocentric State," Western Polit. Quart. 4 (1951) 226-253

H. Frandfort, "State Festivals in Egypt and Mesoptamia," Jnl of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes XV (1952)

articles by E. Burrows, C. N. Deedes, and A. R. Johnson, in S. H. Hooke (ed.) The Labyrinth (London: SPCK, 1935)

M. Gaster, Thespic, Ritual, Myth and Drama in the Near East (New York: Schuman, 1950)

The Assembly of Animals and Men in the Presence of the King and the Genies, ed. F. Dieterici (Leipsig, 1881), p. 52

A. F. Silverstone. "God as King," Jnl. Manchaster Egypt & Or. Soc. XVII (1932) 47-49

Farrarius, in the VI Vol. (1697) of J. G. Graegius, Thesaurus Antiquitatum Romanarum

Nathan Ha-Babli, "The Installation of An Exilarch," Ch. X of B. Halper, Post- biblical Hebrew Literature (Philadephia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1943), pp. 64-68

A. Wensinck, "The Semitic New Year and the Origin of Eschatology," in Acta Orientalia I (1925), 172