MOSIAH 18-24

“None Could Deliver Them but the Lord”

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Some feel this is a plausible sight for the Waters of Mormon

With Mosiah 18, the Book of Mormon gets very complicated with its narratives.  In Mosiah 7, we leave the story of King Mosiah2 and his people in Zarahemla and begin the story of Ammon who leads an expedition to the land of Lehi-Nephi from Zarahemla.  Ammon’s expedition finds an earlier expedition that had left Zarahemla to find the Land of Lehi-Nephi;  it is  King Limhi and his people in the land of Lehi-Nephi that Ammon finds.  King Limhi is thegrandson of Zeniff, the  leader of the earlier Zarahemlite expedition to the land of Lehi-Nephi.  King Limhi is also the son of King Noah who we later find out condemns Abinadi to death by fire.  Added to those two stories, Mormon then adds a flash-back of Zeniff’s story when he [Zeniff] leaves Zarahemla for  the land of Lehi-Nephi; this story is found beginning in Mosiah 9.   This flash-back that Mormon adds, takes us eventually up to the death of the prophet Abinadi and then to the story of Alma, one of wicked King Noah’s priests.  Now, added to those three running stories, is the story of Alma.  We were first introduced to Alma in Mosiah 17:2.   The narrative of Alma is picked up again in Mosiah 18 that was left off in Mosiah 17:4.     We now have four different running narratives.   How did Joseph Smith keep all these stories straight while dictating the Book of Mormon with his face buried in a hat looking at a seer stone?

In the following chapters we will see how many of Mormon’s direct comments point out explicitly where prophecies have been fulfilled.    He also uses other features of editing to reinforce this theme – the contents of the embedded documents he chooses to include to the allusive wording he employs in telling stories.   For instance, in the prophet Abinadi’s preaching shortly before his martyrdom, to the Nephite colony established by Zeniff, there are at least seven instances where his predictions are picked up later in the narrative.

Prophecies provide connections between larger episodes, and even between books, as when Mormon spends considerable effort in Alma 3 demonstrating how the Amlicites’ adornment for battle fulfilled prediction made by Nephi several centuries earlier (Alma 3:13-18; 2 Nephi 5:22-23)

We will also hear Mormon’s voice – sorrowful, humane, moralistic, and precise which can be heard in three sorts of passages.  One of thes is in the short editorial interruptions that are scattered throughout his abridgment of the Large Plates.   These may not be particularly revealing remarks, but  the do show Mormon as a deliberate, conscientious editor.  Some comments connect the narrator to his readers more directly  with phrases such as: “I will show unto you…” or “I would that ye should see…”  These editorial interruptions are distributed evenly throughout  Mormon’s history, and they can be categorized as follows:

  1. Omissions
  2. Editorial promises
  3. Notes on sources
  4. Resumptions
  5. Summaries
  6. Explanatory details
  7. Noticesof fulfilled prophecies
  8. Narative foreshadowing
  9. Intensifying exclamations
  10. Moral generalizations

(Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon:  A Reader’s Guide, pgs. 97, 98)

Throughout this post, I will point out when Mormon uses one of the above editorial interruptions.

18:4 Which king gave the name of the place “Mormon”?  Zeniff? Noah? Limhi?

18:7  It is this part of the Book of Mormon that inspired Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to inquire about baptism.  Doctrine and Covenants 13 records the ordination of Joseph and Oliver to the Aaronic Priesthood at the hands of John the Baptist.  After which, the two baptized each other.   It is recorded as being May 15, 1829.  So, by mid-May Joseph and Oliver had reached this far with the Book of Mormon translation.

18:10  Some have tried to use the idea of pre-Christian baptism as being anachronistic.    There are some deficits to this argument.    The first is found in doing a cursory reading of the New Testament.   John the Baptist was baptizing prior to the establishment of Christianity.

Catacombs of San Callisto: baptism in a 3rd-century painting

Like orthodox Jews, the Qumran sectarians baptized for reasons of ritual purity. But their Manual of Discipline, or the community rule, also stated that a person could not become clean if he failed to obey God’s commandments. “For it is through the spirit of God’s true counsel concerning the ways of man that all his sins be expiated,” observes the Manual, “and when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water, it shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God.”

The following comes from Christianity Today:

Members of the Qumran community also had a clear apocalyptic vision of the future. Having endured centuries of foreign rule, these Jews longed for freedom from oppression, and their writings pine for the arrival of Israel’s messiah. The Manual requires that those wishing to enter Qumran “shall go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, Prepare in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a path for our God.” John the Baptist quoted the same passage from Isaiah in his call to baptism in the Jordan River.

Some scholars think John the Baptist may have been a member of the Qumran sect. His ministry did center in the same area. But even if he wasn’t, John’s message was compelling to those familiar with the desert ascetics: “I baptize you with water of repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandal I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

The second problem deals with Alma’s priesthood.  Did he have authority to baptize?  If so, how did he receive it?   Of note,  the Book of Mormon has mentioned nothing about priesthood authority up to this point.   Is it possible that Alma held a view similar to Martin Luther’s view of a “Priesthood of All Believers”?   Or, did he indeed have priesthood, but had been living unworthily up until he heeded the call of Abinadi?   The text just doesn’t say.

18:13  compare with Ether 3:14  This speaks more to Moroni than to Mormon’s editing.  In Ether 3:14, it appears that Moroni is not instructing as much as he is is suggesting by juxtaposition that the Jaredites shared the Nephite understanding of the Christ.

18:14   Why does Alma also immerse himself when he baptizes Helam?   Those familiar with early LDS history will know that baptism within our tradition was not only a sacramental ordinance necessary for salvation but also served other purposes.    Those that had already been baptized would sometimes get re-baptized for the following reasons:   To cure an illness, to repent, and to show one’s recommitment to the LDS church (such as with the reformation that preceded the Mt. Meadow Massacre)

18:17, 18  Here we get a mention of authority.   It is interesting that in Mormon’s direct quote of Alma, he mentions nothing about authority.  It is only in Mormon’s editorial commentary, hundreds of years later, that authority is mentioned.   It must be remembered that by the time Mormon is writing,  there have been others that mention priesthood authority.    Could Mormon be redacting something back into the text because he also sees a problem with Alma not mentioning priesthood authority?

18:30, 31,  34  It appears that Mormon was the name given to: a body of water,  a geographical place, a forest.  It also appears that Mormon (the place/waters/forest) was not too far from Zarahemla – for Alma’s work is “done in the borders of the land.”   According to vs. 30 and 34 a “forest” is different from a “wilderness”

Why the repetition of the word “Mormon”?  The mesmerizing almost incantatory repetiion seems to indicate that our narrator would rather have been living with Alma’s people than with his own hard-hearted contemporaries.

Prophecy and Fulfillment

In Chapters 19-15 of Mosiah, Mormon will show at least seven predictions/prophecies being fulfilled.   Prophecies provide connections between larger episodes, and even between books.   If chronology forms the backbone of Mormon’s history, prophecy is the ligament that holds it together.  It should be noted that Mormon has a vested interest in linking prophecies and their realizations; the Book of Mormon presents an extended “argument from fulfilled prophesy,” that is, readers are assured that if all of these predictions have come to pass as foretold, so too will those that are as yet unfulfilled, including many that concern their own lives at the time when the Book of Mormon would be published, as well as in the final judgment day.

19:5; 11:12;  2 Nephi 5:16  This is the same tower and temple.   Most likely it is the same temple that Nephi built.

19:9-11 Noah’s strategy is to retreat as quickly as possible.    Noah is not the embodiment of aggressive evil; rather he is lazy, gluttonous, easy-going,eager to please, and he tries to avoid confrontation at all cost.  He is hypersensitive to criticism (Mosiah 11:27; 17:8, 11-12).  He worries that Abinadi’s preaching will “stir up my people to anger one with another, and to raise contentions among my people.” (Mosiah 11:28)    In short, Noah’s vices were exactly those that would have arisen from growing up with a nonjudgmental, tender-hearted, overly optimistic father.

19:12  We learn later in this chapter that this group included not only King Noah, his priest, but also others.   The group did not include Noah’s son, Limhi.

19:13-15, 25-28 Fulfillment of prophecy  of Mosiah 11:21

19:14,15; Jacob 3:7; 1 Nephi 18:19 Here we learn something quite interesting about how the Lamanites viewed women.

19:15  Why do the Lamanites want King Noah?

19:16  It is in this very complicated flash back that we are re-introduced to King Limhi whom we first meet in Mosiah 7:9 

19:20 This is in fulfillment of Abinadi’s prophecy in Mosiah 12:3; 13:10; 17:18 This example can serve as a reminder that there is more to the subject of embedded documents that just noting where Mormon incorporates such sources and speculating as to which of their inherent characteristics most impressed him.  To do so is to reduce his editorial efforts to a simple either/or decision:  Should I include this document or not?   But it is also instructive to track how he integrates documents into his narrative – where he places them, how he sets the scene for firsthand accounts or follows up on them later, whether they move forward or disrupt particular story lines, and whether they reinforce or call into question themes in the main narrative.  Mormon reveals a great deal bout his historiographical inclinations through his handling of primary sources, and we can see how he employs this technique to strengthen the coherence of his history, to avoid discussing certain subjects, or to highlight a resonant implication.

The phrase “death by fire” occurs six times in the Book of Mormon, and is always in relation to the martyrdom of Abinadi:  Mosiah 17:15, 18, 20; 19:20; Alma 25:9, 11

19:23, 24 That they had slain the king”  “And they told Gideon what they had done to the king.”  Why is essentially the same statement repeated in two sequential verses?

19:24 “Ended the ceremony”   Interesting choice of words.  We know from earlier parts in the Book of Mormon, that when two cultures met, they often shared stories and records with each other.   Is this sharing some sort of ceremony?  Did this occur here as well?  Is this how we know of what occurred in the wilderness with King Noah, his priests, and the others?  Compare with Omni 14-22 (the people of Zarahemla and Mosiah’s people exchange foundation stories.  Jaredite stone brought to King Mosiah)  Mosiah 7:17-32(Limhi sharing his people’s story with Ammon) Mosiah 8:1-4(Ammon sharing story of the Zarahemlites with the people of Limhi) Mosiah 8:5 (Limhi’s people’s records shared with Ammon’s people) Mosiah 8:9 (Jaredite record shared with Ammon)

Mosiah chapter 20  Now Mormon introduces a fifth  narrative.  It is the narrative of King Noah’s priests.  He touches it here briefly and then leaves it, re-introducing it again at Mosiah 23:31-35

20:8 This is the same tower mentioned in Mosiah 19:5 

20:11 The word “Dragons”  is an anachronism.    What other mystical beast could have been used to describe the ferocity with which the people of Limhi fought?

Compare 20:21 with Mosiah 12:1-8

21:4  & 12:2,5 “Yea all this was done that the word of the Lord might be fulfilled.”   This is a deliberate editorial interruption  by Mormon that falls under the category of Notices of fulfilled prophecies.

21:7 “..put on their armor..”

“The ritual war costume with symbolic elements borrowed from the formerly powerful central Mexican city of Teotihuacan in the fourth century may have been too unwieldy to wear in combat. Much like today’s generals wear their dress uniforms and medals only for ceremonial display, the ruler may have donned this costume for war dances, processions, and displays of war captives in the sacred center of the city. It is documented, however, that the Aztec emperor dressed in full regalia on the battlefield in order to be recognized by his troops and to inspire them. Perhaps the Maya king did the same. The long apron and layers of clothing would have provided the ruler with some protection against injury. The few surviving sculptures that depict rulers actively capturing prisoners, however, show them wearing lighter clothing more sensible for battle; sometimes they wear a quilted cotton vest for armor and jaguar-pelt leggings for protection. They often wore elaborate jaguar headdresses, and their shields sometimes carried the symbol of the jaguar sun god, a Maya deity of war and the Underworld.

Reconstruction of Aztec armor. This would have post dated King Limhi and his people

Warriors went into battle with shields. In the Usumacinta River region, flexible shields, folded and carried over the shoulder, were made out of woven mats. Others were shaped of wood and covered with deerskin; they were painted with emblems of lineages or war deities and decorated with feathers. Quilted cotton jackets, sometimes extending to the knees, served as armor. Even the Spanish eventually replaced their own heavy, and unduly hot, metal armor with quilted cotton, which was effective against Mesoamerican weapons.

A few Maya, perhaps war captains, wore helmets with various emblems on them; at Chichen Itza, pillbox helmets with bird insignia were popular. The Classic Period Maya wore more elaborate wooden and cloth headdresses, many of which were animal effigies that might have represented the animal spirit, or way, of the warrior. Rulers, for example, often claimed jaguars as their way. Many Classic Period warriors, however, were depicted with jaguar headdresses, perhaps indicating a specific warrior lineage or even that they were members of a military order. The Aztecs had two such orders: the Jaguar and the Eagles; admission was gained by the number of prisoners a warrior captured. The Late Postclassic highland Maya had an avian military order, and some native documents describe the great warriors as eagles; the Cakchiquel Maya described Qhiche warriors as covered with feathers and wearing metal crowns with precious stones. While some warriors may have been resplendent on the battlefield, the common Maya soldier fought with little clothing other than loincloth and body paint, based on battle scenes in the few Maya murals that remain.” ( Lynn V. Foster, Peter Mathews; Handbook To Life In The Ancient Maya World, pg 146)

21:4;  25:9; Mormon 1:19  Here Mormon interrupts his narrative to note when Abinadi’s predictions were fulfilled. This is an example of the editorial interruption called Notices of fulfilled prophecies.  The authenticity of his revelations and God’s justice are also confirmed.   These sorts of lessons belong to the first, didactic level of the text.  Yet Mormon also shapes his account to suggest that the narrative of Abinadi’s life and death could be profitably read as a parallel to other stories, where similarities and differences might yield additional meaning.  In fact, on of the messages Mormon hereby conveys is that some of these recurring patterns are at God’s initiative and are not simply the result of his own editorial choices.

21:24 This repeats the account of Mosiah 7:7-14.  Later we learn this is the same prison that the brothers Nephi and Lehi were thrown into in 30BC (Helaman 5:21)  This is one of the few explicit connections between narratives that Mormon makes, but the two incidents do not actually exhibit many parallels.   The two incidents are so different that it is difficult to compare them.  Indeed, Mormon’s note in Helaman appear to be an antiquarian’s excited observation of geographical coincidence rather than a hint at thematic relevence.   Or, it may be intended to throw off our expectation that this account would be parallel  to the story of Alma and Amulek’s imprisonment at Ammnonihah about 82 BC

21:27  This is the end of the history of the people of Zeniff which began in Moisah 9:1

21:28 Here the account of Ammon and Limhi’s conversation about seers is resumed and the flashback ends.   This account of their conversation was left beginning in  Mosiah 8:21 with the account of Zeniff’s personal record beginning in Mosiah 9:1   It was a lengthy flashback that Mormon uses to paraphrase the records read (ritual?) by Ammon in Moisah 8:5

Early versions of the Book of Mormon read “King Benjamin had a gift from God…”  The names were switched in the 1837 version, presumably to correct  a chronological difficulty [related verse, Ether 4:1 , was changed for the same reason in 1849], but there are other ways to explain the chronology and so the earlier readings are probably correct.  See Royal Skousen, Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon, Part Three [Provo, UT:  FARMS, 2006], 1418-21

21:19  Was the sorrow a result of Ammon’s reading (aloud?) the history of the people of Zeniff, as recounted at Mosiah 8:5?

21:33  Here we get the idea of priesthood authority again, but it is not part of an embedded text.  Instead, it is part of Mormon’s editorial commentary.

21:35 “An account of their baptism shall be given hereafter.”  This is a type of explicit editorial interruption employed by Mormon that was mentioned at the beginning of this post which is called Editorial promises. 

22:8, 15-16 How does an army exactly lose the tracks of a large, slow-moving party that included women and children as well as animals?  Was there a torrential downpour, a washed-out bridge, a deadly altercation within the Lamanite army, a significant injury or illness?   Perhaps God was involved in some way or another (later in Alma 1:8, Gideon is described by the narrator as someone “who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage.”) Mormon does not provide any more details.  He simply moves on with his history, having made his point that God’s purposes can be accomplished through both ordinary competence and miraculous intervention.

22:9-14  The people of Limhi escape and return to Zarahemla.  We last heard of Mosiah2 and his people in Mosiah 7:2

22:14 “And he also received their records, and also the records which had been found by the people of Limhi.”   Again we see this ceremony of exchanging records.

22:15, 16 The story of the Lamanite army is continued at Mosiah 23:30

Mosiah 23-24  An account of Alma’s People  

23:1 This narrative is picked up from Mosiah 18:35

23:7 The reference that Alma is quoting is uncertain.

23:15  This is an example of an editorial interruption by Mormon that is called a Summary. 

23:23 This is an example of an editorial interruption by Mormon that is called a Narrative foreshadowing. 

23:22-24; 22:1  It appears that the people of Limhi are able to “deliver themselves out of bondage”  by fairly ordinary means.  Not so with the people of Alma.  Mormon in fact seems a so uncomfortable with this seemingly unjust turn of events that he works hard to shape his readers’ impression of what they are about to hear.  The people have to appeal to the Lord

The fact that Mormon tells these stories one right after the other encourages us to think of them as a pair, as does some distinctive language he employs.   In both cases, we read how the “gather(ed) their flocks together, ” “depart(ed)..into the wilderness, ” and “after being many/twelve days in the wilderness…they arrived in the land of Zarahemla..and (King) Mosiah received them with Joy.”  (Mosiah 22:10, 11, 13, 14;  Mosiah 24:18, 20, 25)  In addition, the idea that none could deliver them but God apears only four times in the Book of Mormon, each time associated with the peoples of Limhi and Alma (Mosiah 11:23;  23:23; 24:21; Alma 36:2)

There is thus a similarly happy outcome for both groups, but also a significant difference:  extraordinary faith begets extraordinary results.  The second deliverance (brought about through a divinely induced sleep) is obviously more miraculous than the first.

23:28, 29 “The Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites.”   This is an interesting commentary.  Before it was the women that softened the hearts of the Lamanites (compare to Mosiah 19:15)  It seems that Mormon is building up the story to show that it is God who will deliver the people of Alma.

23:30 This narrative is continued from Mosiah 22:16

23:33, 34  Again we see women pleading before the Lamanites and the Lamanites having compassion.  Does Mormon deliberately tell the story this way so as to not show God’s hand in sparing of the priests’ lives?      These are the wives that had been kidnapped in Mosiah 20:5  

23:35  Here we get the story of the Lamanites that were chasing the people of Limhi, King Noah’s priests and their Lamanite wives, and the  story of Alma and his people all coming together.    We now have only two running narratives.  Mosiah2 and his people in Zarahemla and the people of Alma that are being ruled by the Lamanites.

24:4 “And thus the language of Nephi began to be taught among all the people of the Lamanites.”   This to me is a very striking sentence.   The people of Zarahemla and Lehi-Nephi understood eachother despite being separated for at least two generations.   The Lamanites who did have intercourse with the people of the land of Lehi-Nephi, did not speak the same language.  Why?

24:13  The covenant spoken of here was first made in Mosiah 18:10, 13 “Stand as witnesses” is a formula that occurs only in these two verses in the entire Book of Mormon.  The exclusivity of these verses shows deliberate editing by Mormon.

24:23   “Get thee out of this land.”   and “Therefore get thee out of this land.” (Alma 27:12)  are very similar.  These are the only places in the Book of Mormon where this similar language is used.

24:24 Nothing more is known of what happened to the Lamanites in the valley.

24:25 Now we get the meeting of Alma’s people with Mosiah’s and Ammon/King Limhi’s people. There are three separate narratives that have now come together.     Any records shared?  I wonder if chapter 25 will say anything on the subject.


Miguel is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.

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