“And Thus They Were All Equal”

Brant Gardner

Mormon is continuing his descriptions of the good things about the Nephite church. Notice that the very specific “good things” are defined economically.

When these good things are contrasted with the “bad things” of the non-churchmen, the differences will continue to be defined economically rather than theologically. No matter what else Mormon is telling us, he is highlighting the fact that the major controversy between churchmen and non-churchmen was a particular attitude towards a social system of economics. The churchmen advocated an egalitarian society, and the non-churchmen advocated a stratified society.

The specifics of the economic issue appear to focus on the role of the priests. It was priestcraft that was given as the social crime of Nehor (apparently more socially significant than his murder of Gideon). Here, Mormon defines the “good” of the Nephite society by examining the economic actions of the priests. After the priest has preached, he “returned again diligently unto [his] labors.” Benjamin had made a point of describing how he had labored with his own hands for his own support (Mosiah 2:14; Alma also established that priests in the church should labor with their own hands for their support, Mosiah 18: 24). These priests follow those traditions, and preach, and then work with their own hands. Mormon then gives the “moral” of this description, just in case we might miss it: “for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.” The moral of Mormon’s description is the equality of the people. As was discussed in the analysis of Benjamin’s sermon, this equality was not simply moral, but economic and social. Nephite religion emphasized a social and economic equality.

When Mormon summarized this virtue of the priests he returns to another Benjaminic theme, that of sharing of substance. This sharing is again a facet of the egalitarian lifestyle, and inimical to social divisions. What is most curious, however, is the very specific notice of what did not happen. The priests “did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.”

This is not simply a comment on the virtues of neat dress as opposed to high fashion. As we saw with Nehor, the wearing of costly apparel was part and parcel of the social and economic system that was in conflict with the Nephite religion and culture. Mormon is very clearly noting that the Nephites were very good people, in spite of the fact that they did not wear the costly apparel. The nature of Mormon’s comparisons between the faithful churchmen and their ideological opponents is even more clear in the next few verses.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon