“The End of the Book”

Brant Gardner

Redaction: We can describe the conditions that surround some of Mormon’s decisions to make chapter breaks. (See Mosiah, Part 1: Context, Chapter 2, “Mormon’s Structural Editing of the Book of Mormon: Chapters and Books.”) They nearly always accompany a change in the speaker or the beginning or ending of quoted material. In this case, the chapter break seems anomalous, which may actually tell us more about Mormon’s intent that it might appear.

Without worrying about the chapter break for the moment, let’s examine the general narrative structure of this section of Mormon’s text, covering our chapters 1–6:

• From the beginning of the book of Helaman Mormon has been discussing two things: the cycles of contention and peace among the Nephites and the particulars of the Kishkumen/Gadianton band.

• Mormon ends the introduction of the Kishkumen/Gadianton band by describing a future discussion of the Gadiantons at the end of Nephi’s plates, not the end of Helaman’s book.

• Mormon began this section with the description of an emigration northward. He provides considerable details about the building materials in this northern land and the extent of its population.

• At the end of the emigration section, Mormon inserts a “real time” moral, underscoring the lesson of that brief history.

• At Helaman 3:17 Mormon explicitly returns to the historical framework discussing Lamanite invasions and successes, with Nephite retaliation.

• Nephi preaches to the Lamanites.

• Mormon discusses the Gadiantons’ takeover of the Nephite government.

The pattern of this section, including Mormon’s chapter breaks, is interesting. Mormon’s first chapter ends by introducing Kishkumen/Gadianton. The second chapter ends with the last item noted in our list: the Gadiantons’ overthrow of the Nephite government. Thus, there is a potentially important parallel between the first and second chapters. Both have contentions resulting in the Gadiantons’ illegal efforts. Is anything else about the intervening information important?

The most anomalous information in Mormon’s second chapter is the emigration northward. (See Helaman, Part 1: Context, Chapter 3, “The Gadianton Robbers in Mormon’s Theological History: Their Structural Role and Plausible Identification.”) Mormon is writing a carefully planned story on a difficult medium and does not provide details without a reason. In fact, he provides such skimpy information about so many genuinely intriguing episodes that any elaboration is a conspicuous signal to take it seriously. For instance, Hagoth’s story, including two sailings and the departure of other peoples to the land northward receives only five verses (Alma 63:4–9), while the northward journey in Helaman covers ten, including descriptive details of the land.

As I will be discussing in the commentary accompanying Helaman 3, Mormon describes this land northward with details dating from his own time, not Helaman’s. Thus, he is building into his narrative a reference to his own Gadiantons. He describes the land northward and finally returns to a parallel story of contention and the Gadiantons. There is a thread connects the land northward with its surrounding text. That connection is the Gadiantons.

When Mormon ends the first chapter, he has introduced the Gadianton robbers and announced that they will become very important “at the end of the book,” meaning the book he is writing about his own time. He begins the next section still looking forward to his own day but with the purpose of explaining the connection (those northbound emigrants) between these historical Gadiantons and those of his own time.

Because Mormon’s temporary focus is on his own day, he easily steps out of the historical record into present-time moralizing. When he returns to Helaman’s history, he again picks up the theme paralleling that of the first chapter—the cycle of contention and peace among the Nephites that escalates into conflict with the Gadiantons.

Mormon’s narrative structure communicates his overarching purpose in these two original chapters. (Mormon’s first chapter is our Helaman 1–2; his second chapter is our Helaman 3–6.) That purpose is to explain that Nephite contentions lead to the Gadiantons and that the Gadiantons destroy at least some aspect of Nephite government. This pattern parallels events in Mormon’s day. Escalating contentions lead to the Gadiantons’ rise to power, which leads in turn to the Nephites’ total destruction. Mormon is telling us to look for the parallels between the events of his day and the events just preceding the Messiah’s arrival in the New World. Both have something to do with the land northward.

Text: Mormon used “book” as we would, referring both to the book that is his source and the book that he is writing. When he writes that we will see more of Gadianton at “the end of the book,” he clarifies that he means the end of the book that he is writing, not his source book from Helaman.

This detail also reinforced the earlier deduction that Mormon organized his account before inscribing it on the plates. (See Mosiah, Context: Part 1, Chapter 2, “Mormon’s Structural Editing: Books and Chapters.”) Mormon is referring to a section he has not yet written as though it were already completed. I hypothesize that perhaps he has made a draft on a more perishable material before inscribing it.

This verse ends a chapter in the 1830 edition.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5