Archaeological: In the context of Mesoamerican ceremonial centers, this description of the building of a tower is somewhat out of place. Mormons have usually appealed to the tower at the site of Palenque, but that site is much later than the close of the Book of Mormon, and therefore very much too late to be an example for Benjamin’s speech. Additionally, it is quite clear that this is a temporary tower, not a permanent one. It is built because he “could not teach them all within the walls of the temple.” Combined with the apparent arrival of larger numbers of people, it would appear that the original plan called for the teaching within the walls of the temple, and only when it was apparent that they would not all fit was the tower erected. Since the information that a tower would be necessary came only upon the gathering of the people, a tower to meet that exigency would necessarily be built of easily obtainable building materials, and just as reasonably be temporary rather than permanent.
The tower is also interesting because it should not be necessary. A tower elevates Benjamin so that he may see over the crowd, and so that his voice might be isolated from the hum of the crowd. However, temples in Mesoamerica were used for that precise purpose, with some excellent acoustics in some of the ceremonial centers where speaking from a temple would be heard on other temples, or within the ceremonial courtyard. In the Mesoamerican context, then, the gathering at the temple should have already provided the benefits of a tower. Why did Benjamin build one? Again we can appeal to the tantalizing hypothesis that the Santa Rosa temple is being built as the ceremonial cementing of the peoples, and that it is around this base of a temple that the people are gathered. The temporary tower would be needed because the “temple” is not yet completed!
Historical: Stephen D. Ricks suggests that the tower is related to the Israelite practices of coronation: “A society’s most sacred spot is the location where the holy act of royal coronation takes place. For Israel, the temple was that site. So we read that during his coronation Joash stood ”by a pillar [of the temple], as the manner was“ (2 Kings 11:14)” (Ricks, Stephen D. “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6” In: King Benjamin’s Speech. FARMS 1998, p. 244). Ricks then suggests that Benjamin’s tower might correspond to a dais – specifically relying upon a reading of the “pillar” by which Jooash stood: “De Vaux connects these pillars with the ”brasen scaffold“ that Solomon built (2 Chronicles 6:13), upon which he stands and kneels ”before all the congregation of Israel,“ and from which he offers the dedicatory prayer for the temple; further, de Vaux suggests that the phrase near the pillar be translated ”on the dais" (Ricks, 1998, p. 246).
While this is an interesting possibility, the apparent suggestion of the text in Mosiah is that the function was both for communication, and that the structure was temporary and created after the assembly of the crowd. That would argue against the tower-as-dais possibility. In the context of a Mesoamerican town with an existing temple, the temple itself would be sufficient to serve as such a “tower-dais”. The creation of the tower should be seen for its purposes of communication, not sacred space. The sacred space was the temple around which they gathered.
Demographic: The assembled people of Zarahemla would have been both from the central city proper as well as the outlying lands, so we are examining a population that is larger than what would have typically lived inside a Mesoamerican ceremonial center. There is little to go on to estimate the number of the attendees, since the census was not taken. Sorenson suggests as possible number of around 25,000, based on the ability of John Wesley to preach to “20,000 people in the open in England, which suggests that the size of the assembly in Zarahemla was perhaps a little larger” (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS, 1985, p. 157).