“I Shall Proclaim Unto This My People Out of Mine Own Mouth”

Brant Gardner

Culture: Mosiah is the first in this list of sons. That primacy of position and his confirmation as the next king allow us to assume that he is Benjamin’s first-born son. While we have no such information about Benjamin, we may conjecture that he was the first-born son of Mosiah1 who followed this general principle as he established his new dynasty. While Nephi was certainly not the oldest son, neither was his father a king. Except for the beginning of Nephite society, the kings and later the judges follow a father-to-oldest-son pattern in all but exceptional cases.

It is perhaps important at this historical point that Benjamin makes a distinction between the people of Zarahemla and the people of Mosiah. We might expect to find considerable separation between the two groups until two or three generations of intermarriage had had their effect; but as Benjamin makes quite clear, their peoplehood is not a matter of kin groups but of political allegiance. The people of Zarahemla retain the name of their last ruler, who has surely died by this time, while the lineal Nephites are designated as the “people of Mosiah.” This term refers to Mosiah1, as Benjamin has not yet appointed Mosiah2 as his successor.

A close reading of the text discloses that Benjamin is currently experiencing peace (v. 1), strongly suggesting that controversy and conflict have marked earlier periods of his reign. Given the typical lifespan in the Book of Mormon and the overlap between Mosiah1 and Benjamin, at least sixty years have passed since the arrival of the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla, yet two identifiable political factions still exist, one retaining the identity of Zarahemla and the other that of Mosiah. This division becomes the background against which Benjamin’s coming proclamation must be understood (v. 11), while potential (or past) divisions between the two groups may also explain why Benjamin needs to declare Mosiah2’s kingship “from mine own mouth.” The clear pronouncement in a public forum would decrease potential disagreements about succession—at least to the extent that Benjamin’s kingship is recognized as valid.

Redaction: Mormon moves from one embedded speech to another with no interstitial text. The speech stands on its own. So far in Mosiah, our best deduction from its form back to the original plates of Nephi is that they tend toward the first person. While this is a predictable form for speeches, they had to be recorded, and it is therefore not likely that we have exact transcriptions, especially given the inevitable lack of polish in oral speech. It is more likely that first person is a literary device to reflect the importance of the focal character, the king. No doubt those recording the discourses followed the original, but we have no reason to believe that they were not condensed, polished, and otherwise edited. In short, these clean first-person discourses signal quotations from the plates of Nephi, but we should be cautious in assuming that we have word-for-word dialogue from any of the speakers.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3