“There Was No Contention Among All His People”

Culture/Redaction: This verse is also most likely a synopsis of Mormon’s source material, and it provides significant information about his editorial procedures. First, the coronation and reign of a new king would have been the most important political event of the period, no doubt reflected as such in the source document. Mormon does not omit it, but he almost certainly assigns it diminished importance. With due caution, we can work forward from Benjamin’s address and backward from Mormon’s summary to conjecture about Nephite/Zarahemlaite society at this point.

From Benjamin’s sermon, we know that he labored with his own hands to be sure that his people would not be oppressed. He was also very concerned about the social stratification created by wealth and instituted the new covenant, at least in part, to eliminate strife resulting from such stratification. No doubt, the historians who recorded events in after Benjamin’s sermon and during Mosiah’s early reign were keenly conscious of the social dimensions of the covenant. Thus, it seemed to have been important for them to record that the people, including Mosiah, tilled the soil. Since this society was an agricultural one, the information seems completely unremarkable. The Book of Mormon seldom mentions farming, harvests, or weather unless there was some kind of famine-causing disaster or to differentiate the Nephites from the “uncivilized” culture of the Lamanites (Enos 1:20-21). Why, then, would the original historians have recorded these events at all, and why, in particular, would they have impressed Mormon enough to include them?

It seems reasonable to me that the original writers were spelling out the social consequences of the social covenant. It is unlikely that every merchant or trader took up farming as an exclusive occupation; rather, farming symbolizes the social leveling that occurred when even the king would till the ground. Thus, while the three years of peace may have spelled, to the war-weary Mormon, a lack of armed conflict with their neighbors, the mention of tilling seems to describe a social reorganization that eliminated class stratification. If there is no social distance between the king and the peasant, then there is no distinction throughout the society. Thus, the political peace from armed conflict against the Lamanites is matched by internal peace as the people accept and implement the spiritual and social covenant.

Text: This verse closes a chapter in the 1830 edition, but the chapter break fits in a different organizational category than those Mormon created for Benjamin’s address. In this case, he is clearly beginning a new story: the expedition undertaken to find those who had returned to the land of Nephi years earlier.

This break may signal Mormon’s awareness that one major story has ended and another has begun, rather than the organization of his source. That material seems to have been organized year by year, rather than event by event, a known feature of at least later Mesoamerican documents. Many of the extant codices use year markers to separate scenes and actions. Perhaps the most interesting example is the “Anales de Cuauhtitlan” (Annals of Cuauhtitlan), translated into Spanish from a circa 1570 Nahuatl document. It is organized, as its name suggests, by the passage of time, covering hundreds of years. Typically, it announces a year, then summarizes events that occurred in that year. Several years are listed without any events. It would appear that the author of the “Annals of Cuauhtitlan” is copying the overall structure from a pre-Columbian document, else there would be no reason for the empty years. It suggests that structuring by years was a native literary tradition.

Such annual structure is less clear in the Book of Mormon, but the similarities are suggestive and become particularly marked during the reign of the judges. Apparently Mormon felt free to change the organizational structure of his source to meet his own literary needs.

Brant Gardner -

Brant Gardner

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

References