“I Shall Give This People a Name”

Brant Gardner

Culture: What is Benjamin’s reason for giving the two peoples a new name? The answer lies in his explanation that this new name will let them “be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem.” Only three groups are known to have come from the land of Jerusalem: the Lamanites, the Nephites, and the people of Mulek who are now the Zarahemlaites. (The Jaredites do not come from Jerusalem.) It is quite unlikely that Benjamin is referring to the Lamanites, because the Zarahemlaites have no kinship to the Lamanites and would lump them with all of the “others”—as outsiders and potential enemies or perhaps trading partners. Even the Nephites would have no need of a name to distinguish them “above” the Lamanites, as they have considered themselves superior from the beginning, with remnants of their low opinions showing in Enos 1:20 and Jarom 1:6. Rather, Benjamin is giving a new name to the combined people of Zarahemla and the people of Mosiah so that this new people will be greater than “all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem”—a new whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Benjamin is making a bold political move designed to preserve the internal peace he has created, perpetuating it by restructuring the political world within the city of Zarahemla. While kin divisions will certainly remain, Benjamin intends to erase political divisions and unify the people.

This new naming is clearly tied to religious principles. Benjamin specifically states that he can confer a new name upon them because “they have been a diligent people in keeping the commandments of the Lord.” In the context of Words of Mormon 1:16–18, Benjamin sees this political move as specifically related to the resolution of the internal religious conflicts that Mormon summarized. Although such a combination of political and religious motives is unusual to our modern world, it is characteristic of the ancient world. In that culture, reality was defined through religion, and the validation of a political reality was the leader’s persuasive claim or demonstration of Yahweh’s sanction.

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