“The Lamanitish Women, Whose Name Was Abish”

Brant Gardner

Abish had been a believer before Ammon arrived, due to a vision. The text is ambiguous whether she had a vision of her father or whether her father had a vision which he related to her, though Oliver Cowdery seems to have interpreted this as her father’s vision. (See “Variant” below.) This brief phrase explains why she experienced the Spirit without being overcome by the newness of it. It seems obvious that Yahweh had prepared her so that she could interpret this mass physical effect of the Spirit.

Abish, as a Lamanite in a city without any known connection to the Nephite culture, should have espoused her people’s beliefs. How does she (or her father) understand the vision so that the mass conversion is intelligible to her? It is entirely possible, of course, that the vision had no particular precedent other than Yahweh’s response to righteous desires. And possibly, some traditional understanding of the Nephite religion lingered. Although they were not believers, possibly Abish and/or her father at least understood the central role of the Messiah and the need for faith and repentance. And finally, Abish is only one generation removed from Limhi’s departure from the land of Nephi. Limhi’s generation would have been her father’s generation. Had Abish and/or her father had some contact with the Limhites or Alma1’s people? Had the vision come in response to sincere questions about the God of these people?

Variant: The original manuscript is not extant at this point. When Oliver Cowdery first copied this phrase, he wrote “on account of a remarkable vision of her fathers.” Cowdery immediately changed the text to the singular, father. Skousen notes that Cowdery typically included the possessive plural after “of,” creating a double possessive. In this case, he corrected it. While not entirely definitive, it suggests that his understanding of the phrase would have been that it was Abish’s father who has seen the vision and related it to her, a reasonable assumption for a firmly patriarchal society.

Redaction: Abish is one of the very few named women in the Book of Mormon. The preservation of her name is even more remarkable; not only was she a woman, but she was a servant. Both factors would virtually guarantee her anonymity. Even the queen is not named, despite her much more important role. Thus, Abish must have played a more significant role in the original record than she does in Mormon’s account.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4