Because Amaleki states that he was “born in the days of Mosiah” (Omni 1:23), it implies that he had already begun his reign. However, it may simply be a synonym for Mosiah1’s general lifetime.
Redaction: After so many writers who have had nothing to say, Amaleki has very important information, but he compresses it to a tight summary, not a running narrative as the events occurred. If my hypothesis is correct that Amaleki was very young when the exodus occurred, it would explain why his account is retrospective.
The fact that none of Amaleki’s record recounts present events and the general brevity of the account suggest that he followed the example of his forebears in creating his account at a single sitting near the end of his life. There are no breaks in style or narrative that would suggest he left the material and returned to it. It also reads as though he composed as he wrote, rather than first composing, then writing. He doesn’t relate how he came to witness these events, and the book’s ending in particular has the feeling of someone who is wandering through his own narrative rather than closing with a purposeful and powerful message, as Nephi, for instance, had done.
Nevertheless, Amaleki does echo Nephi’s separation from his brothers. Yahweh warned both Nephi and Mosiah1. Both flee to a new location with “as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord” in Mosiah1’s case and “and all those who would go with me. And all those who would go with me were those who believed in the warnings and the revelations of God” in Nephi’s case (2 Ne. 5:6). Did Amaleki also see a parallel in Mosiah1’s flight to a new territory that was already occupied and an unrecorded similarity in Nephi’s journey?
History: One of the most significant events in Nephite history is recorded tersely in the second half of verse 12, and once again, we must draw on reasoned speculation to fill in the gaps. Amaleki states that the Lord commanded Mosiah1 to take his people away from the land of Nephi. First, Mosiah1 is obviously a prophet. Equally important, Mosiah1 does not appear to be of Jacob’s lineage. Prophets are called by Yahweh and are not consigned to a particular lineage.
Second, Mosiah1 became king over Zarahemla. Amaleki does not describe Mosiah1’s status in the city of Nephi. We might assume that he was also king in Nephi, but I argue that he was not. Jacob 1:11 explains that the kings of Nephi “were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings.” It seems unlikely that, once adopting a regnal name, a ruler would revert to his birth name. Mosiah1’s name is obviously his personal name. Furthermore, the tradition of referring to the ruler as “Nephi the ____th” completely disappears from the Book of Mormon after this point. Perhaps the throne name had disappeared earlier—no ruler is identified by any name between Jacob and Amaleki—but there seems to have been no reason to change the tradition before Amaleki unless the Lamanite destruction of the “more wicked part” (Omni 1:5) occasioned a change in the nature of Nephite kingship.
The most reasonable explanation is that Mosiah1 was a prophet, but not the king. The command to flee came to him as prophet, as it had come to Lehi in Jerusalem and to Nephi in the land of their first inheritance. Those who follow Mosiah1 are, like Nephi’s followers, “as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord.”
Obviously some chose to stay behind in a city continually under siege from various Lamanite groups. This relentless, hostile pressure suggests two reasons for the Lord’s command at this point: (1) The Lamanites were planning an attack that would have overwhelmed the city. The Lord therefore instructed the righteous (those who would obey the prophet) to flee to save their lives, or (2) The Nephites decided to relieve the Lamanite pressure by making concessions to the Lamanite culture, notably, an official capitulation by the rulers. Given the conflation of politics and religion in the ancient world, the environment would have been untenable for the righteous.
While the first hypothesis is more straightforward, the second better explains why the king does not lead the exodus. Had the king of the Nephites gone with Mosiah1, Amaleki would almost certainly have recorded it and the right of kingship would have continued with that King Nephi upon entering Zarahemla. Assuming that this analysis is correct, then the king’s absence must be explained. Either he is dead, or he chooses to remain behind. It would be unusual to have a king endangered when his preservation was possible, so we may reasonably assume that the king chose not to leave.
When we return to the undercurrent of acculturation that flows through Nephite history and the tension between the righteous and the wealthy, a break between the religious (those who heed Yahweh’s call and follow Mosiah1) and the worldly/wealthy (who follow the king) is quite understandable. The tension finally erupted into division. Unlike the event that precipitated the break between Nephi and his brothers (the death of Lehi), no single event is identified to which we can ascribe this particular division. However, the increased warfare suggests that the cause is Lamanite pressure: a pressure that is resolved in victory, defeat, or accommodation. As I read the evidence, it was accommodation. A possible confirmation of this hypothesis comes from Zeniff, a Nephite who returns to the land of Nephi. His record indicates some of the reasons he wants to return: “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.… ” (Mosiah 9:1). Zeniff is selected as a spy because he speaks the language of the Nephites, a requirement that would hardly be important unless that remained the language of the people in the land of Nephi. This suggests that a people into whom Zeniff could easily blend were in possession of the city of Nephi.
Archaeology: Why did Mosiah1 choose to go in the direction he did? Yes, Yahweh was leading him, but it was also a natural direction. As Sorenson notes, the Book of Mormon never mentions traveling south out of Nephi.
The more northerly direction (through the wilderness area) was a known trade route. Trade routes are difficult to trace archaeologically, but they may be presumed when an identifiable trade good moves from one location to another. In the case of Kaminaljuyú (Sorenson’s city of Nephi), a major export was obsidian, which had a nearby source and was even worked in Kaminaljuyú.
The volcanic processes that produce obsidian are so distinctive that pieces can be accurately traced to their source, even from many miles away. The Kaminaljuyú obsidian is known as El Chayal. El Chayal obsidian was traded down the coast during the early years of the Book of Mormon period; but at Mosiah1’s time period, a distribution channel had been developed that traded El Chayal obsidian into Veracruz, northwest of Kaminaljuyú. Thus, an established route and the assurance of friendly town(s) to the northwest help explain Mosiah1’s flight in that direction.