This explanation clarifies Mosiah’s meaning of equality. A reconstruction of the original phrasing would be: “… that there should be an equality among all men; that they should let no pride nor haughtiness disturb their peace; that every man should esteem his neighbor as himself, laboring with their own hands for their support.”
Mormon’s “equality” is not as concerned with treatment before the law as it is with leveling social hierarchies. Just as Benjamin had been concerned with his people’s social unity, so Mosiah is concerned with maintaining a single society rather than one characterized by divisions. The record does not mention social stratification, but it had been a problem for Benjamin and appears to resurface here as well. Verses 5–6 enjoin the people to “labor with their own hands for their support.” The social stratification that commonly occurred in Nephite society stemmed directly from economic pressures that resulted in new social categories of differential status. Like his father, Mosiah is attempting to prevent the rise of elites who lived on the labor of others. In ancient Mesoamerica, such elites would not have been employers who provided jobs in the first place but a group who considered themselves entitled to the fruit of others’ labors, a view shared, for a variety of reasons, by the laborers themselves.
In the intercity wars that were a constant threat (or present reality) among the Classic Maya, the conquered presented tribute in regular amounts and at regular intervals to the conquering king. Such wealth moved from the king to the nobility. But in addition to tribute was some version of taxation of the unconquered population—an elite population that exacted “tribute” in the form of taxes or donations from a subservient population. While Mosiah’s proclamation may have implied a prohibition of intercity warfare, the focus is obviously internal. That threat comes from the creation and maintenance of an elite class. This time period, according to archaeological studies, saw the formation of the hierarchical structures that later flourished as Classic forms of kingship and social hierarchy. Thus, the Book of Mormon shows echoes in Nephite society of the greater social pressures developing in the surrounding world.