[Editor’s Note: We are pleased to present the second installment from a book entitled Labor Diligently to Write: The Ancient Making of a Modern Scripture. It is being presented in serialized form as an aid to help readers prepare for the 2020 Come Follow Me course of study. This is a new approach for Interpreter, and we hope you find it helpful.]
Chapter 1 – Mormon Preparing
Chapter 2 – Mormon Organizing
● Records on Plates in the Archive
● Records on Other Media in the Archive
Chapter 3 – Mormon’s Use of the Archive
● Mormon’s Use of Outline (Synoptic) Headers
● Mormon’s Alternative Sources
● Mormon’s Named Books and their Sources
● Years as an Organizational Framework
● Mormon’s Outline
footnotes for Chapters 1 – 3
Chapter 4 – Mormon Making Chapters
● Mormon’s Chapter Beginnings
● Mormon’s Chapter Endings
Chapter 5 – Mormon, Writing
● Mormon’s Admonition to His Future Audience
● Mormon’s Interaction with his Text
● Mormon’s Use of Repetitive Resumption
● Mormon Writing About War
● Mormon Writing About History
● Mormon’s Explanation for the Nephite Demise
footnotes for Chapters 4 & 5
Chapter 7 – Nephi, Preparing
● Upon Plates Which I Have Made (1 Nephi 1:17)
● Nephi’s Plausible Training as a Scribe
Chapter 8 – Nephi, Organizing
● Nephi Ending Chapters
● The Anomalous Chapter Endings
● Nephi Beginning Chapters
● Making Two Books
● The Synoptic Header for 1 Nephi
footnotes for Chapters 6 – 8
Chapter 9 – Nephi, Writing
● Applying His Training
● Nephi’s Interpretation of Scripture
Chapter 10 – Final Considerations about Writing
● Paragraphs without Paragraphs
● And It Came to Pass/And Now
● Behold/And Now, Behold
● Antithetical Construction — But
● Two Men and Their Two Stories
Chapter 11 – 1 Nephi
● 1 Nephi Chapter I (1–5)
● 1 Nephi Chapter II (6–9)
● 1 Nephi Chapter III (10–14)
● 1 Nephi Chapter IV (15)
● 1 Nephi Chapter V (16–19:21)
● 1 Nephi VI (19:22–21)
● 1 Nephi VII (22)
footnotes for Chapters 9 – 11
Chapter 12 – Book of 2 Nephi
Section 4 – Making Mormon’s Books
Chapter 13 – Book of Mosiah
Chapter 14 – Book of Alma
Chapter 15 – Book of Helaman
Chapter 16 – Book of 3 Nephi
Chapter 17 – Book of 4 Nephi
Chapter 18 – Book of Mormon
Chapter 4: Mormon Making Chapters
Modern readers are so accustomed to books with chapters that we do not find it strange to see chapters in the Book of Mormon. In many ancient writings, the physical limitations of the writing medium limited the text, and there was no need for chapters. It is possible that in the Old World, chapters may have evolved only after a writing medium that could contain more text than a scroll became available. One researcher has suggested that between 3,000 to 5,000 words would fit on a scroll and that number of words also describes the size of a typical chapter.78 As for dating the origin of chapters, we begin to see Egyptian documents with chapters in the second millennium bc.79
[Page 48]The evidence we have from the dictation of the Book of Mormon underscores that chapters were original to the plates — both for the small and large plates. Royal Skousen’s examination of the original manuscript suggests that, just as with breaks between books, there was something Joseph saw as he translated that caused him to indicate to his scribe that there would be a break, later marked as a chapter.80
Mormon learned the concept of creating chapters either from his possible scribal education or at least from seeing chapters on the large plates.81 From a writer’s viewpoint, the problem with chapters is when they should end. Mormon created a large enough number of chapters that we can examine them to deduce the logic he used to decide when to end a chapter and begin another.
As I noted in the section on “Mormon’s Alternative Sources,” our modern copies of the Book of Mormon do not always reflect the chapters that Mormon created. In 1879, Orson Pratt created a new edition of the Book of Mormon that has become the foundation for all subsequent Latter-day Saint editions. David J. Whittaker explained:
But, for all his study of the text of the Book of Mormon, for all his published defenses of it, and for all of his official assignments (including that of Church historian from 1874 until his death in 1881), his most lasting contribution was probably as editor of the 1879 edition of the Book of Mormon. Three decades earlier he had been responsible for helping prepare the important 1849 edition. But in the 1879 edition, he made the most extensive format changes to that point. He made smaller chapters, dividing the larger books; numbered verses; and added extensive references, including biblical citations, cross-references, and his own explanatory footnotes. These format changes, probably his greatest legacy to the [Page 49]modern Church, evidence his desire to make the scriptures more accessible to other Book of Mormon students.82
The result of Pratt’s changes to chapters is a much larger number of modern chapters than in the 1830 edition.83 The change is most noticeable in Alma, which had thirty chapters in the 1830 edition but now has sixty-three. Some of the changes were obviously made to have the chapters quoting Isaiah in 2 Nephi, and those following the Sermon on the Mount in 3 Nephi, line up with the chapters and verses as they appear in our Bibles.
The reasons for making the changes in other chapters are less obvious, but they are sufficiently pervasive that other than the books that were originally single chapters (Enos, Jarom, Omni, Words of Mormon, 4 Nephi), the only book that maintained the original chapter divisions is Moroni. In most cases, Pratt kept the original chapter boundaries from the 1830 edition, dividing them into smaller chapters within. However, there are nine locations where Pratt removed an original chapter boundary so text from two different chapters became part of the same newly created chapter.84
The 1879 edition was created after the schism which divided the Utah church from the one that remained in Illinois. Non-Utah-based churches who accepted the Book of Mormon continued using the original chapters, requiring a verse-translation apparatus if scholars from the different branches read works citing the Book of Mormon from a different tradition. For example, in a well-known verse, Alma exclaims: “O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!” In the Latter-day Saint [Page 50]editions of the Book of Mormon (post 1879), this is Alma 29:1. In the Restored Covenant Edition from the Community of Christ (following the original chapters but with versification added), it is Alma 15:52.
When attempting to understand how Mormon created his text, it is therefore essential to deal with the original 1830 chapters, as those represent Mormon’s decisions rather than the post-1879 chapters which reflect Orson Pratt’s. As noted in the section on “Mormon’s Alternative Sources,” when discussing the way Book of Mormon writers organized their text, I will use Roman numerals to indicate the chapters as they are represented in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. Chapter references for the corresponding post-1979 Latter-day Saint editions are listed in parentheses after the Roman numeral. Thus, Mosiah I (1–3) indicates that the original first chapter of Mosiah in the 1830 edition comprised all the text from current Mosiah chapters 1 through 3. When citing verses, I will use the current LDS chapter and verse system.
Mormon’s Chapter Beginnings
It is characteristic of Mormon’s style to begin a chapter with narrative rather than quotation. His writing contains both. Sometimes he took material from his sources and created the narration of the source events. Sometimes he copied from his sources. While Mormon might end a chapter with quoted material, he rarely begins a chapter with quoted material.
There are some apparent exceptions to beginning a chapter with narrative rather than a quotation. There are chapters which begin with quoted material, or a quotation from a writer/speaker. Rather than demonstrate exceptions to Mormon’s style, however, they will serve to highlight his essential consistency. The chapters that begin with quoted material are: Mosiah VI (6), Alma V (7), VII (9), X (13:10–15), XVII (36– 37), XVIII (38), XIX (39–42), 3 Nephi X (21:22–27:22), and XIII (27:23–29).
In each of these exceptions, the first verse of the chapter is a quotation, not a narration. However, Mosiah IV (6) and all the exceptions in Alma (save chapter X) have chapter headers which serve as the linking narrative. The more precise function of the headers is to indicate a new source, but they are part of the narrative connections that Mormon included so that his readers would understand the flow of the text. They function as the beginning of the chapter. In modern editions, they have been moved to a location prior to the indication of the chapter, and this makes less obvious their narrative function. This leaves us with only three exceptions to the rule that Mormon begins with narration.
[Page 51]Alma IX (12–13:9) quotes Alma2, and Alma2 ended a section of his sermon with amen. As we will see when discussing chapter endings, a testificatory amen was the highest priority on the list of elements that create a chapter break. In this case, Mormon is still quoting from the same discourse, and begins chapter X (13:10–15:19) with the continuation of Alma2‘s discourse. While Mormon may have placed the chapter break intentionally, I actually suspect the chapter break existed in Alma2‘s own record, and Mormon copied the chapter break along with the rest of the text. The chapters in 3 Nephi are also places where Mormon is copying heavily. These chapter breaks don’t fit any category that Mormon used, and I suggest that the anomaly is again due to the copying process. I will discuss these chapter breaks in the section entitled “The Anomalous Chapter Breaks.”
There is a reason why Mormon begins his chapters with narration — he is telling a story. That story has a theological purpose, but it is a chronological story. Mormon must tie all the pieces of the story together, and he does so to make sure his readers do not get lost. Interestingly, there are times when he adds narration into the middle of what appears to be a continuous sermon. At the end of Mosiah VII (11–13:24), we have Abinadi speaking before the priests in Noah´s court. At the beginning of VIII (13:25–16), Abinadi is still speaking.85 Nevertheless, Mormon begins that chapter with “And it came to pass that after Abinadi had made and end of these sayings, that he said unto them.”86 Perhaps Mormon did not copy some of the available text. The chapter break and the beginning narration might be a subtle signal that some material was not included.
Similarly, the Savior is speaking at the end of 3 Nephi V (11–13:24). At the beginning of VI (13:25–14), Mormon writes, “And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen and saith unto them.”87 Even though the same person is speaking during the same occasion, there is something that was noted in Mormon’s source that indicated a closure of a sermon and some action that came later. Mormon does not tell us how long the time between might have been, but there is an ending and a beginning, even though the same [Page 52]person is speaking. Mormon tracks the missing time and perhaps actions that would have been in the original by creating his linking narrative.
Finally, there are some important specifics in the way Mormon begins chapters. The most common beginning sentence starts “now it came to pass.”88 Beginning with Alma I (1–3), the initial sentence of the chapter will not only have “now it came to pass,” but also the declaration of the year in which the following text occurred. For example, Alma II (4:1) begins: “and it came to pass in the commencement of the firth year.”
Exceptions to the beginning phrase “now it came to pass” do occur. In most of those, we have only “now” and the “it came to pass” is missing (Mosiah IV (6), XIII (28:20–29), and Alma IX (12–13:9)89). There are two cases where we have “and it came to pass” without the “now” (Mosiah VIII (13:25–16), Alma 30 (63)).90
From the context of the chapter beginnings with “now” without “and it came to pass,” I suggest that Mormon is using the two phrases in particular ways. “Now” is a narrative ligature that connects the previous chapter to the subsequent. While “and it came to pass” is also a ligature, it serves a time-based function not present with “now.” “And it came to pass” indicates the passage of time between chapters, and “now” indicates something Mormon considered to be a continuation of the action of the previous chapter, when Mormon is using “now” during the narration of the story. When “now” appears in exposition, such as speeches, it introduces something new. The two uses are similar. In both cases, “now” is introducing something new, but in narration, it is part of the temporal linking of the story, and therefore indicates things happening about the same time rather than in a separate sequence.
The exception to these posited rules for Mormon’s chapter beginnings is 3 Nephi XIV (30). That chapter ends 3 Nephi and is Mormon’s direct address to his future audience. It neither occurs within the narrative sequence, nor in the time sequence. It is Mormon speaking in his own time. Therefore, neither the “now” nor the “and it came to pass” were appropriate.
[Page 53]The consistency of the way Mormon begins chapters allows us to suggest that when we see any chapter in Mormon’s edited material that does not begin with “now,” or “now it came to pass,” that we may recognize that chapter as a direct quotation from his source. There are two exceptions. The first is 3 Nephi XIV (30), and the second is Mosiah I (1). Our current Mosiah 1:1 is: “And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.” Although we do have a “now” at the beginning, the conditions that surround Mormon’s chapters that begin with “now,” but not “and it came to pass” do not apply here. It is not a continuation of an event, but a summary of information. It is not the type of sentence Mormon used to begin chapters.
We can find the phrase “continual peace” at the beginning of a chapter. However, as we see in Mosiah V (7:1), it is accompanied by the expected “and it came to pass.” At the end of Mosiah IV, Mormon wrote: “And there was no contention among all his people for the space of three years (Mosiah 6:7). There is nothing about the current first verse of Mosiah that suggests that it began a chapter. Indeed, the absence of “and it came to pass” would make it an anomalous beginning without the kind of explanation that allow the other exceptions to be fit into the overall pattern.
Of course, the problem isn’t with Mormon’s text but with the fact that we lost his text. The 116 pages of the book of Lehi apparently also included at least one chapter of Mosiah. The missing “and it came to pass” that would be expected at the beginning of a chapter suggests that we also lost the beginning of the chapter we know as Mosiah 1.
Mormon’s Chapter Endings
Mormon had only three reasons to begin a chapter: to shift to a new storyline, to change the source text (which also changed the storyline), or because something triggered the end of the previous chapter, even if the storyline had not been completed. Most of Mormon’s chapters began because a triggering event caused him to close the previous chapter.
Testificatory Amen Endings
The presence of the word amen is a strong but not exclusive trigger for a chapter ending. When the text quotes a prayer, the amen is included as part of the text of the prayer and was considered a description rather [Page 54]than an oath.91 Thus 3 Nephi 11:25 and 3 Nephi 13:13 both include amen, but as part of a description of prayer. Alma 31:18 ends the description of the Zoramite prayer with amen, but it does not trigger a chapter break.
The word amen itself was not the trigger to end a chapter, but rather the function of the word. When amen served in the function of an oath, or testament, of the person giving a sermon, or the author testifying to what he had written, it triggered the end of a chapter, even if the story being told in that chapter had not yet ended. This includes both when Mormon copied a sermon which ended in a testificatory amen as well as when he testified of his own insertion into the text.
It is probable that this was a tendency inherited from the large plate tradition, as we find it in Nephi. 1 Nephi II (6–9) ends with amen. Similarly, amen ends 1 Nephi III (10–14) and 1 Nephi VII (22), which is the end of the book of 1 Nephi. In 2 Nephi, amen ends chapters III (3), IV (4), VI (9), VII (10), XIII (31), and XV (33), which is the end of the book of 2 Nephi.92 Finding that kind of consistency in Nephi’s writing suggests that he also used that means of creating a chapter when he wrote the large plates. Therefore, it was a feature that would likely have been modeled on the large plates Mormon consulted.
The first extant amen ending in Mormon’s edited text occurs in Mosiah I (1–3). It comes at the end of a part of Benjamin’s discourse that Mormon copied. A similar coped amen at the end of a sermon is found at the end of Mosiah III (5). Mosiah VI (9–10) is the end of the direct quotation from the record of Zeniff, and Zeniff terminates his personal account with “And now I, being old, did confer the kingdom upon one of my sons; therefore, I say no more. And may the Lord bless my people. Amen (Mosiah 10:22).” Mosiah VIII (13:25–16) quotes Abinadi, and the amen ending is part of Abinadi’s speech.
[Page 55]In Alma, the amen comes at the end of copied speeches, where the original speaker ended by declaring amen: Alma IV (6), V (7), XIV (23–26), XV (27–29), and XIX (42–43). In Helaman, Mormon concludes his own inserted testimony with amen in IV (11–12). Similarly, 3 Nephi II (3–5) ends with Mormon’s testimony, punctuated by amen.
Mormon ends his record at the end of his eponymous book with Mormon III (6–7). Appropriately, he ends with amen. Moroni continued the trend, ending the book of Mormon IV (8–9) with amen. Interestingly, in his editing of the book of Ether, Moroni only uses amen when he inserts his own testimony into the abridged record. This occurs at the end of Ether I (1–4), II (5), V (12), and at the end of VI (13–15), which ends the book of Ether.
The conceptual force of “amen” and a closing testament was strong enough that Mormon often had to move narrative material that ended the story of the sermon or testimony to the beginning of the next chapter. Alma chapter VI (8) illustrates this transition:
And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever. And thus I have spoken. Amen. (Alma 7:27)
Chapter VI (8)
And now it came to pass that Alma returned from the land of Gideon, after having taught the people of Gideon many things which cannot be written, having established the order of the church, according as he had before done in the land of Zarahemla, yea, he returned to his own house at Zarahemla to rest himself from the labors which he had performed.
And thus ended the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
And it came to pass in the commencement of the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Alma departed from thence and took his journey over into the land of Melek, on the west of the river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness. (Alma 8:1–3)
The division between chapters V (7) and VI (8) occurred because there was a sermon that ended with amen at the end of V (7). When Mormon began chapter VI (8) he started with the aftermath of the [Page 56]sermon; Alma returned from Gideon. A modern writer would have appended the verses from chapter VI (8):1–2 to the end of chapter V (7). Mormon’s editorial principle of ending a chapter when there was a testificatory “amen” prevented him from keeping the whole historical event in the same chapter.
Although a testificatory amen was the strongest trigger to end a chapter, there are some important exceptions that will be examined in the “Anomalous Chapter Endings” section.
A significant feature of Mormon’s writing style was the inclusion of large sections of material apparently copied directly from his sources. The largest quotation was from Alma’s personal record, as noted in the section on outline headers and chapters. Mormon quoted letters, which may or may not have been included on the large plates.93 Most often, however, he quoted sermons. Most of his quoted material provided theological instruction, and Mormon preferred to copy that information rather than restate it.
These sermons are presented in a context, and it is usually Mormon who supplies the text that provides the historical context. There were certainly large plate texts that described history, but Mormon rarely quotes from those. He prefers to write the summarized historical context himself. As he is writing, there are therefore two very different types of things he does. One is to produce, and the other is to copy.
While he might consult the large plates when producing text, it is also possible that once he read and understood the story, he simply retold it. However, when he copied, he was physically interacting with the plates. Perhaps for that reason, when a sermon ended and Mormon returned to narration, he typically ended the chapter after the quotation. The next chapter began with narration. This occurs even when there is narration that is required to end the story that led to the inserted sermon before the next topic begins.
Mosiah chapter II (4) ends at the end of a section of king Benjamin’s discourse. Chapter III (5) opens with Mormon’s narrative description of what the people did as the aftermath to that part of the sermon. In a thematically conceived chapter, this material might have been in the same chapter, but Mormon ends chapter II because there is an end to the [Page 57]copied sermon. Physically, he stops interacting with the large plates and begins to write without direct reference to the plates.
It is important to note that while Mormon ends chapters at the end of sermons, he also includes sermons in the body of chapters without ending the chapter. This was not an automatic trigger as was the testificatory amen. Rather, Mormon ended with the sermon when the basic story came to an end. The sermon closed the story, and the short aftermath was located at the beginning of the next chapter.
Chapters and Years
When Mormon began writing the book of Alma, he had a new conceptual structure to help him organize the events he would describe. It is not surprising that editing a source text that was organized by years would also influence the organization of the edited text. It may even be assumed that the principle means of textual organization on the large plates was by year (beginning with the book of Alma). That organizational structure influenced the way Mormon created his chapters, but not exclusively, and not with precision. It appears that Mormon had a hierarchy of features that might create chapter divisions. Changes in sources, sermons ending with amen, and sermons themselves appear to be the most important. When one of these was not present, Mormon used years as chapter boundaries.
What becomes interesting about Mormon’s use of years as boundaries is that they follow a pattern that differs from simply marking a different year. Mark A. Wright noticed that Mormon was very sensitive to units of five years.94 An interesting feature of this sensitivity is that it influenced chapter endings and beginnings but was adapted to the particulars of the history Mormon related. Depending upon the story being told, at times the chapter ended after the fifth-year boundary with the next year beginning with the sixth: sometimes it ended after the fourth-year and began the next chapter on the fifth.
Among the Maya, a five-year period was called a hotun, or “five- stone/year” (tun means stone but is also used for one of the types of years). It was a parallel to the term katun, or “twenty-stone/year,” which the Maya considered much as we would a decade. The Maya (and most Mesoamerican cultures) used a vigesimal system, or base twenty (counting fingers and toes rather than fingers only). Thus, twenty in that [Page 58]system carried the conceptual symmetry that we see in ten or multiples of ten.
The hotun (five-year set) is particularly important for historical records, for the Maya would erect a stela on hotun anniversaries which summarized events from the period just ended.95 It is very tempting to suggest that the Maya hotun stelae provided the conceptual model which influenced Mormon’s attention to five-year, or hotun periods, in his text. I am not suggesting a direct influence, but one that might have come as the result of other peoples’ adapting similar sensibilities given the similarities in both the numerical and calendrical systems in Mesoamerica.
In what follows I will borrow the term hotun to indicate a five-year period. While I do think there is a connection, I do not intend to suggest that the Nephites would have called it a hotun; I use it only as a convenient designation. I might have borrowed the Latin lustrum, which had a similar reference to a five-year period, but that is also an unfamiliar term, and has much less relevance to the Book of Mormon.
The transition between Mormon’s chapter V (7) and VI (8) was generated by a testificatory amen (Alma 7:27). Mormon adds the narrative that ends the story from chapter V (7) to the beginning of chapter VI (8). However, he also wants to note a hotun, so we are also given a year-ending and year-beginning.
And thus ended the ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
And it came to pass in the commencement of the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, that Alma departed from thence and took his journey over into the land [Page 59]of Melek, on the west of the river Sidon, on the west by the borders of the wilderness. (Alma 8:2–3)
This second story begins expressly in the tenth year. There is an overlap between the history behind the story and the use of years to delineate the story. While this principle appears in Mormon’s making of chapters, it is not one of the overriding concerns. It is more typical that Mormon pays attention to hotun periods and will use them as chapter divisions/beginnings when there are no other higher priority markers.
The division from Alma I (1–3) to Alma II (4) comes at a five-year division:
And thus endeth the fifth year of the reign of the judges. (Alma 3:27)
Now it came to pass in the sixth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, there were no contentions nor wars in the land of Zarahemla. (Alma 4:1)
Not only is the chapter break occurring at the end of the fifth year and the beginning of the sixth, but Mormon begins his chapter with the sixth year, even though nothing happens in that year.
A similar change occurs between Alma X (13:10–15) and Alma XI (16):
And thus ended the tenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. (Alma 15:19)
And it came to pass in the eleventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, on the fifth day of the second month, there having been much peace in the land of Zarahemla, there having been no wars nor contentions for a certain number of years, even until the fifth day of the second month in the eleventh year, there was a cry of war heard throughout the land. (Alma 16:1)
Alma XV (27–29) ends the 11–15-year hotun. Chapter XVI (30–35) begins with the sixteenth year. Like the division between chapters I (1–3) and II (4), chapter XVII (36–37) it is an empty year:96
[Page 60]And thus the people did have no disturbance in all the sixteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
And it came to pass that in the commencement of the seventeenth year of the reign of the judges, there was continual peace.
But it came to pass in the latter end of the seventeenth year, there came a man into the land of Zarahemla, and he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ. (Alma 30:4–6)
The change from Alma XI (16) to Alma XII (17–20) presents an interesting case. Alma XI (16) ends in the fourteenth year (Alma 16:21), but Alma XII (17–20) doesn’t mark the beginning with a year. Rather, it is account of the sons of Mosiah. Mormon marked the change in the source, but also made certain to close the previous record at the end of the fourteenth year. We do not find the fifteenth year mentioned until the middle of the chapter (Alma 28:7, 9). The sixteenth year is at the beginning of chapter XVI. In this case, the fifteenth year was important enough for its own chapters, but it is set off by marking the preceding and following years.
The end of the book of Alma sees a similar, but not precise, pattern: Alma XXII (50) begins in the twentieth year, Alma XXIII (51) in the twenty- fifth, Alma XXIV (52) in the twenty-sixth, Alma XXV (54) in the twenty-ninth, and both Alma XXVI (56) and XXVII (59) both cover the thirtieth year. Thus, Mormon used the hotun concept loosely, sometimes breaking before the beginning of a five-year period and sometimes at the end.
The final chapter of Alma begins in the thirty-sixth year and ends in the thirty-ninth. Helaman I begins in the fortieth year. It is highly likely that this is intentional, as we don’t have Helaman2 as the ruler — the reason for the book name change — until the forty-second year (Helaman 2:1– 2).97 I believe that the beginning of the book of Helaman was backdated to begin at a more auspicious katun 298 of the reign of judges.
Mark A. Wright has also noticed an interesting explicit marking of time found in 3 Nephi. Just as the Nephites reset their ethnocentric calendrical beginning year with the reign of the judges, they will reset it again from the time the sign of Christ’s birth was given in the New World. Mormon describes the change in Alma I (2):4–8:
[Page 61]And thus did pass away the ninety and sixth year; and also the ninety and seventh year; and also the ninety and eighth year; and also the ninety and ninth year;
And also an hundred years had passed away since the days of Mosiah, who was king over the people of the Nephites.
And six hundred and nine years had passed away since Lehi left Jerusalem.
And nine years had passed away from the time when the sign was given, which was spoken of by the prophets, that Christ should come into the world.
Now the Nephites began to reckon their time from this period when the sign was given, or from the coming of Christ; therefore, nine years had passed away. (3 Nephi 2:4–8)
Wright notes that the Nephite count ran explicitly to an even one hundred years of the reign of the judges and was only then backdated for the new beginning.99 The Nephites marked a new beginning, but not when the beginning occurred but rather only after finishing a more symbolic set of numbers (one hundred years= five katuns or twenty hotuns).
When Mormon makes sure that his count from the older system reaches one hundred before he begins the revision, even though the event happened earlier, we learn that Mormon is paying attention not only to years, but specific sets of years. Because they mark shorter periods, we see hotun sets more often than larger numbers. However, we also see katun sets (twenty years) and baktun sets (four hundred years). Mormon does not force these numbers onto his narrative, but sometimes bends time and narration to have the numbers and text align in significance.
The Anomalous Chapter Breaks
In addition to the times where there is a discernable reason for ending a chapter, there are some cases where the chapter breaks appear to contradict the typical rules for chapter endings. For example, the end of our modern chapter 33 of Alma ends with a quoted sermon and the copied amen. Because this occurs at the end of a modern chapter, it is easy to miss that there was no chapter break at this point in the pre-1879 Book of Mormon. The original chapter XVI included our chapters [Page 62]30–35, placing this amen in the middle of a chapter without creating a chapter break.
I suggest that the explanation for the anomalous chapter breaks is probably that Mormon is copying someone else’s text and replicating the way they created chapters. Thus, while the chapter breaks are anomalous for Mormon, he was not the one creating the chapter breaks.
In the case of the testificatory amen that did not create a chapter break in the original chapter XVI, that chapter is heavily copied from Alma2‘s personal record. Mormon is copying two sermons which followed each other — Alma2 and then Amulek. There is only a sentence between them: “And now it came to pass that after Alma had spoken these words unto them he sat down upon the ground, and Amulek arose and began to teach them, saying:” (Alma 34:1).
I suggest it is possible that Mormon missed the chapter break because he was still in the mode of copying from his text. Although this connecting text might have come from Mormon, Alma2‘s original had to have a very similar text. Mormon was still copying, changing only the word I from the original to Alma in the copy. Because he was copying and not returning to his own narrative, Mormon either didn’t notice the amen, or simply continued copying, leaving the amen as it was in Alma2‘s record.
A second example occurs when the original chapters VII (11:1–13:24) and VII (13:25–6) of Mosiah split in the middle of Abinadi’s sermon. The division makes so little sense to a modern reader that Orson Pratt combined the two sections of Abinadi’s speech so that it was all within the same chapter. 100 Orson’s logic makes much more sense to modern readers, but what caused Mormon to create a chapter ending at a place that so obviously (to a modern reader) doesn’t need it? The original chapter ending for Mosiah VII comes at a pause in Abinadi’s speech (Mosiah 13:24). When chapter VIII begins, we have Abinadi speaking again, with only the brief “And it came to pass that after Abinadi had made an end of these sayings that he said unto them” (Mos. 13:25).
The part of Abinadi’s sermon that ended in Mosiah 13:24 (and thus ended the original Mosiah VII) completed Abinadi’s quotation of the [Page 63]decalogue. It was a quotation within a quotation, and the conclusion of the quoted material from the brass plates appears to have been the cause. In this case, we don’t have enough information to know if Mormon copied the break from his source or created it because he felt that a break was required after the quoted material. Another similar chapter break may suggest that Mormon copied the break rather than creating it.
An intriguing chapter ending occurs at the end of 3 Nephi VI (11). The chapter ends because there is a quotation that has been completed (the Savior quoted Matthew 7:23–27). Chapter breaks do occur at the end of a quotation; however, 3 Nephi VII continues Jesus’s sermon. Considering that this quotation is of a text that was unknown to the Nephites, how was the determination made that there was an ending here?
I suggest that it was because there was something in the sermon that allowed the original recorder, Nephi3, to understand that there was a break, and that we are seeing Nephi3‘s chapter break which Mormon copied, similar to my suggestion that Mormon copied a chapter break in Alma2‘s record.
I see a similar implied ending that Nephi3 created and which Mormon copied in the division between 3 Nephi chapter IX (19–21:21) and X (21:22–23:13):
And I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.
[Original chapter break]
But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance. (3 Nephi 21:21–22)
When verse 22 begins with “But,” it clearly links that statement to the previous. There is a continuous thought, and read in the modern chapter, this is a continuous sermon. What is not as obvious is that verse 21 marks the end of the insertion of Micah 5: 8–15. However, it is not a simple copy, as verses 3 Nephi 21:19–20 are inserted into the Micah text.
There is certainly much to be said about the use of Micah and other post-600 bc scriptures in the Book of Mormon, but at this point my focus is on the chapter break. In this case, 3 Nephi 21:21 corresponds to Micah 5:15, and Micah 5:15 is the last verse in the chapter. Verse 22 in 3 Nephi begins with inserted discussion, which will work into the Savior quoting from Isaiah. Thus, the original chapter break between chapters IX and X occurs as a source break. A quotation from Micah ends, and [Page 64]discourse picks up. That concept follows the model that Mormon was using. The problem is that Mormon does this when he is making a shift between sources. In this case, Mormon is presenting one of the Savior’s discourses, and the entire discourse is being copied.
I suggest again that Mormon copied a chapter break that was on the large plates. The logic that Mormon used was probably one that was taught to those who would be official scribes, and we have in this case an example where that principle would have been used to create a break on the plates. It is unclear how the original writer understood that this was a subject change. For Mormon, he was copying from his source, and copied faithfully — including the chapter break.
The chapter break between the original 3 Nephi XII (26:6–27:22) and XIII (27:23–29) is even more difficult to understand:
Therefore, if ye do these things blessed are ye, for ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
[Original Chapter Break]
Write the things which ye have seen and heard, save it be those which are forbidden. (3 Nephi 27:22–23)
No change from quotation to discourse occurs at this point. There is a change in topic, where the previous chapter dealt with appropriate gospel actions, and the subsequent chapter begins with the command to write what has been taught. Nevertheless, for Mormon this was all a quotation from his original source and there is nothing in the way he typically copied material that suggests that he created this chapter break. Even more than the break between original chapters IX and X noted above, this break strongly suggests that it existed on the plates, and as Mormon copied, he replicated the chapter break as it had been on the large plates.
[Page 65]Chapter 5: Mormon Writing
When Moroni described what his father had written, he called it “an abridgment of the record of the people of Nephi” (Title Page). Mormon himself similarly referred to what he had written: “after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi…” (W of M 1:3). Nevertheless, Mormon doesn’t appear to use the term in the way we might expect.101 A modern reader expects that an abridgment makes a shorter but faithful version of a longer text. This is not what Mormon did. When Mormon wrote his eponymous book within his larger work, he said that “I write a small abridgment, daring not to give a full account of the things which I have seen” (Mormon 5:9). Mormon was writing his eponymous book in real time and not interacting with the plates of Nephi as a source. He didn’t need to, as he was the one who had both experienced and written that history. For Mormon, an abridgement was anything shorter than what the full account might have been. The numerous times we hear that Mormon cannot write but the hundredth part of Nephite history confirms his idea that he was abridging by giving a less voluminous account.102
Although the Book of Mormon was certainly a shorter record than the whole set of large plates, it was not a synopsis of what had been [Page 66]recorded on those plates. Perhaps we have no adequate word for what Mormon did, although David B. Honey reports a suggested phrase:
[T]he historical paradigm initially selected by the Book of Mormon authors to follow, [is] a paradigm or approach to the use of history that is as honorable as and more ancient than the question-asking and puzzle-solving disciplines of modern scientific historiography but one with a different aim and methodology. This paradigm is that of “exemplar historiography.”
The purpose of this paradigm is to advocate a particular point or to teach a lesson. “The function of this type of history,” according to Traian Stoianovich, “is to select the relevant example (paradeigma, exemplum), in the didactic sense of being illustrative of what the society, through the historian, desires to inculcate and what it wants to warn against.”103
Viewing the Book of Mormon as an exemplar historiography comes close to the essence of what Mormon saw as his task. Mormon had the entire Nephite archive available to him, and although he used the large plates of Nephi as the core structure of his account, Mormon both selected and molded accounts from several sources to serve his didactic purposes.
Grant Hardy described this aspect of Mormon’s writing:
Generally Mormon is a practitioner of narrative theology; that is, he relies on stories to convince readers of the power of God, the consequences of sin, the reality of prophecy, and so forth. He certainly has a hand in fashioning his narratives for didactic and aesthetic purposes, but he cannot distort the history too much since the cogency of his argument depends on the accuracy of his facts: we should believe certain things because they are demonstrated by actual events of the past.104
Mormon’s Admonition to His Future Audience
Because the lesson Mormon desired to teach his future readers is embedded in exemplar history, his readers are required to extract his message from the stories he included. Nevertheless, Mormon was not so subtle as to bury that intent too deeply. At times, he points out the moral [Page 67]lessons with “thus we see” statements, where Mormon makes certain that the exemplar is made obvious:
And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell. (Alma 30:60)
And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will. (Alma 42:7)
Thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one. (Alma 46:8)
And thus we see how merciful and just are all the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men; yea, we can behold that his words are verified, even at this time, which he spake unto Lehi, saying:
Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. (Alma 50:19–20)
And thus we see that the Nephites did begin to dwindle in unbelief, and grow in wickedness and abominations, while the Lamanites began to grow exceedingly in the knowledge of their God; yea, they did begin to keep his statutes and commandments, and to walk in truth and uprightness before him.
And thus we see that the Spirit of the Lord began to withdraw from the Nephites, because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts.
And thus we see that the Lord began to pour out his Spirit upon the Lamanites, because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words. (Helaman 6:34–36)
More examples exist. Mormon intended to teach that our own actions lead to either the promise or the curse, and he included multiple exemplars of both consequences and underscored them with his own conclusion — in case we missed what he saw as obvious.
[Page 68]Mormon’s Interaction with his Text
Mormon was not content to simply record history. Mormon’s history was written for a future audience, and Mormon shaped his message by the way he wrote, at times directly inserting himself into his recounting of history.
Narrator-voice and Author-voice
Mormon is the main narrator in the books he edited. Although he includes some texts from other writers where they were the narrators (such as Alma2‘s personal record), Mormon is responsible for the majority of the linking narrative in the events covered in the books from Mosiah to 4 Nephi. When writing his linking narrative, Mormon writes in the past. Even when quoting from sources that are written in the present tense (such as Alma2‘s sermons), Mormon describes the surrounding events in the past tense. I call this type of writing narrator-voice. That is, the narrator is writing about the past, and the descriptive writing is about the past.
Mormon also shifts out of narrator-voice and includes text that is more responsive to his task of writing to a future audience than about a past history. I call this author-voice because these occasions give us a glimpse of Mormon as he was writing. In these instances, the text speaks to a future audience, typically with Mormon discussing his intents and methods of writing.
The simplest of these author-voice insertions comes when Mormon highlights the moral he wants his readers to extract from the historical episode he has included. These were discussed in the section examining “Mormon’s Admonition to his Future Audience.” Sometimes, his insertion is not to highlight the lesson to be learned, but to foreshadow the lesson to come:
For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob. (Mosiah 23:23)
And the multitude heard not the words which he spake, therefore they did not bear record; but the disciples bare record that he gave them power to give the Holy Ghost. And I will show unto you hereafter that this record is true. (3 Nephi 18:37)
Mormon not only addresses his future audience, but emphasizes that the whole of his text has an intentional outline allowing him to know what will be written.
[Page 69]A unique instance of an author-voice insertion comes in Mormon’s editing of the story of Ammon and king Lamoni. The queen had summoned Ammon to the side of the king, who was in a spiritual sleep. The spirit overcame both the queen and Ammon, and as Ammon lay helpless on the floor, others arrived:
Now, one of them, whose brother had been slain with the sword of Ammon, being exceedingly angry with Ammon, drew his sword and went forth that he might let it fall upon Ammon, to slay him; and as he lifted the sword to smite him, behold, he fell dead.
Now we see that Ammon could not be slain, for the Lord had said unto Mosiah, his father: I will spare him, and it shall be unto him according to thy faith — therefore, Mosiah trusted him unto the Lord. (Alma 19:22–23)
In verse 23, Mormon steps out of narrator-voice to explain the miracle that saved Ammon’s life. Mormon had not described this assurance to Mosiah when it must have been given, but simply references it.
A special case of Mormon’s authorial insertion comes when he not only inserts himself, but designates himself with a double identification: “I, Mormon.” We first encounter the declaration “I, Mormon” in Words of Mormon, verses 1, 9, and 11.105 The immediate declaration inherent in “I, Mormon” is that he has stepped out of narrator-voice and into author-voice. This is wholly understandable for Words of Mormon because the first half of the chapter explains why he added the small plates to his own record.
The phrase “I, Mormon” appears in a particular context, a context that includes a number of concepts that are expressed in the section where he adds “I, Mormon,” but not necessarily in a fixed order. That context is Mormon’s meta-discussion of his writing process. In Words of Mormon, he speaks of finding the small plates and desiring to preserve them. None of this information is in narrative-time. In fact, it is quite clearly interruptive of the narrative flow in its current location.
A second factor that is repeated in the “I, Mormon” statements is a declaration that he cannot write a “hundredth part” of the history. Thus, Words of Mormon 1:5 states: “I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.”
The next “I, Mormon” phrase is found in 3 Nephi 26: 12, where it occurs in each of the two sentences in that verse. In this case, “I, Mormon” [Page 70]statements come at the conclusion of the author-voice insertion. The insertion begins at 3 Nephi 26: 6 with:
And now there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the things which Jesus did truly teach unto the people;
But behold the plates of Nephi do contain the more part of the things which he taught the people.
And these things have I written, which are a lesser part of the things which he taught the people; and I have written them to the intent that they may be brought again unto this people, from the Gentiles, according to the words which Jesus hath spoken. (3 Nephi 26:6–8)
These verses are part of the inserted information wherein Mormon declares himself (3 Nephi 26:12). His self-declaration comes at the end of the insertion in which he notes that he cannot write the hundredth part and also mentions the physical plates of Nephi from which he is taking his record.
In 3 Nephi 5:8 Mormon notes that “this book cannot contain even a hundredth part of what was done among so many people in the space of twenty and five years.” Verses 10 and 11 specifically discuss the plate records. Importantly, 3 Nephi 5:12 says “and behold, I am called Mormon.” That isn’t precisely an “I, Mormon” statement, but is clearly the intent. In 4 Nephi, the “I, Mormon” phrase occurs in 1:23. Mormon discusses the plates in 4 Nephi 1:19–21 (but this occurrence lacks the declaration that he cannot write the hundredth part).
I should note that this changes when we read Mormon’s eponymous book. The “I, Mormon” statements in that book are autobiographical; they represent the author of the narrative. In that book there is no distinction between author and narrator.
Because this unique set of ideas recurs frequently, it appears to tell us just a little about Mormon’s mindset as he wrote. He clearly understood when he left narrator-voice and wrote in author-voice. For the times when he decided that he needed to discuss his writing process, he typically made sure that we understood who it was who created the Book of Mormon. For modern readers whose entire first half of our Book of Mormon has been replaced with text that Mormon didn’t write, it is perhaps a fitting reminder that his was the mortal mind behind all the text we have, even to the inclusion of the small plates that became the replacement for Mormon’s text when it was lost.
[Page 71]Inserting Information for a Future Audience
As discussed in the section “Mormon’s Outline,” Mormon had an outline and followed it. Most of the text involves either Mormon’s narrative retelling of Nephite history or copied material from other sources. There are times when Mormon inserts information which was not present in the text he was working with. This inserted information takes two general forms. One occurs when the inserted text is part of Mormon’s intended message and is typically a moralizing statement to make certain that his audience understands the reason Mormon has chosen a particular story (or perhaps told it in a certain way).
The second is seen when Mormon inserts material that he believes is important, but which interrupts the copied text or otherwise signals a break in the text and is discussed in the next section on “Mormon’s Use of Repetitive Resumption.”
The latter half of the book of Alma is filled with war. Mormon essentially tells his future readers why this emphasis on these particular battles were important to Mormon’s thesis:
And in these prosperous circumstances were the people of Nephi in the commencement of the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
And they did prosper exceedingly, and they became exceedingly rich; yea, and they did multiply and wax strong in the land.
And thus we see how merciful and just are all the dealings of the Lord, to the fulfilling of all his words unto the children of men; yea, we can behold that his words are verified, even at this time, which he spake unto Lehi, saying:
Blessed art thou and thy children; and they shall be blessed, inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But remember, inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord.
And we see that these promises have been verified to the people of Nephi; for it has been their quarrelings and their contentions, yea, their murderings, and their plunderings, their idolatry, their whoredoms, and their abominations, which were among themselves, which brought upon them their wars and their destructions.
[Page 72]And those who were faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord were delivered at all times, whilst thousands of their wicked brethren have been consigned to bondage, or to perish by the sword, or to dwindle in unbelief, and mingle with the Lamanites.
But behold there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni, yea, even at this time, in the twenty and first year of the reign of the judges. (Alma 50:17–23)
Mormon is not narrating Nephite history in these verses, he is using it to demonstrate the fulfillment of Lehi’s promise for the land. He specifically invokes Lehi and then emphasizes the contrast between the prosperity of the Nephites and the conditions that “brought upon them their wars and their destructions.” While many readers of Captain Moroni’s exploits in Alma see in them a glorification of that military chief captain, Mormon saw him restoring proper Nephite obedience before the Lord, having removed the contrary elements. Thus, “there never was a happier time among the people of Nephi, since the days of Nephi, than in the days of Moroni.” Mormon was correct that many readers might miss this message, so he made it explicit.
Mormon’s military descriptions have a specific purpose in his envisioned project; they carry a larger message about the literal fulfilment of Lehi’s promise. After a great slaughter of Nephites in Helaman, Mormon tells his audience:
Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.
And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—
And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own [Page 73]strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands. (Helaman 4:11–13)
There was a promise given to Lehi that had two prongs. Nephi recorded the Lord’s promise to his father: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence” (2 Nephi 1:20). At times, Mormon emphasizes the positive aspect of the promise. In this case, he emphasizes the negative side. In addition to pointing out that they invoked the curse through their rebellion, he emphasized that it was due to their own actions.
These moralistic summaries of the events Mormon wrote are part of the flow of the text. There is no real interruption of the narrative. Mormon clearly saw these statements as merely emphasizing the reason for which events had been selected and recorded in his record. When he finishes describing the intended moral, he moves directly on to the next event. Because there is no interruption, it is difficult to know whether these summaries were spontaneous or part of the intended text.
Mormon’s Use of Repetitive Resumption
There are times when Mormon understood that he had created a disruptive insertion in the text. These are defined by a technique that describes the way he returns to the originally planned text. As David Bokovoy explained: “Repetitive resumption refers to an editor’s return to an original narrative following a deliberate interlude. Old Testament writers accomplished this by repeating a key word or phrase that immediately preceded the textual interruption.”106 It is an Old-World literary technique that is not exclusive to the Old Testament.
Tzvi Abusch not only noticed the technique in Mesopotamian incantations but used it to discern when newer sections which had been interpolated into an earlier text. His critical analysis of the text itself was [Page 74]borne out by the discoveries of other copies of those incantations without the inserted text.107 For Abusch, there were two requirements to qualify as a repetitive resumption. The first is that there be a repetition of a phrase (the repetition itself). The second is that the material in between the repetitions not be directly related to the preceding text. In other words, in between the repeated phrases there is a text inserted which is not a natural continuation of the text up to the original phrase that is later repeated.
In Alma 8, Mormon is using Alma2‘s personal record as his source. As he begins the story of Alma2 and Amulek in Ammonihah, he inserts some information into the text that he sees as relevant, but which was not on Alma2‘s record:
So that when he had finished his work at Melek he departed thence, and traveled three days’ journey on the north of the land of Melek; and he came to a city which was called Ammonihah.
Now it was the custom of the people of Nephi to call their lands, and their cities, and their villages, yea, even all their small villages, after the name of him who first possessed them; and thus it was with the land of Ammonihah.
And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them. (Alma 8:6–8)
The repetition of coming to the city of Ammonihah brackets the insertion of the tangentially related text about how villages and cities received their names.
In Alma 30, Mormon is still working with Alma2‘s personal record. In the story of Korihor we find repetitive resumption used twice. The first is near the beginning of the story, and the second at the end.
But it came to pass in the latter end of the seventeenth year, there came a man into the land of Zarahemla, and he was Anti-Christ, for he began to preach unto the people against the prophecies which had been spoken by the prophets, concerning the coming of Christ.
Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.
[Page 75]For thus saith the scripture: Choose ye this day, whom ye will serve.
Now if a man desired to serve God, it was his privilege; or rather, if he believed in God it was his privilege to serve him; but if he did not believe in him there was no law to punish him.
But if he murdered he was punished unto death; and if he robbed he was also punished; and if he stole he was also punished; and if he committed adultery he was also punished; yea, for all this wickedness they were punished.
For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.
And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ. And after this manner did he preach: (Alma 30:6–12)
Alma2 wrote the story of Korihor, but Mormon inserted the information about the relationship of Korihor to the law. While the insertion is tangentially related to the story, it is nevertheless an interruption that explains an issue that was not discussed in Alma2‘s text.
At the end of the story of Korihor, the inserted information is less disruptive, and can only be conclusively attributed to Mormon by the bracketing repetition of the departure information in the return sentence:
And it came to pass that the curse was not taken off of Korihor; but he was cast out, and went about from house to house begging for his food.
Now the knowledge of what had happened unto Korihor was immediately published throughout all the land; yea, the proclamation was sent forth by the chief judge to all the people in the land, declaring unto those who had believed in the words of Korihor that they must speedily repent, lest the same judgments would come unto them.
And it came to pass that they were all convinced of the wickedness of Korihor; therefore they were all converted again unto the Lord; and this put an end to the iniquity after the manner of Korihor.
[Page 76]And Korihor did go about from house to house, begging food for his support. (Alma 30:56–58)
It is likely that Mormon understood the aftermath of the Korihor incident from Alma2‘s record, but Mormon wanted to move his narrative quickly into the story of the Zoramites. He probably condensed material from Alma2 to present the quick summary, and then moved back to his intended story. In this case, Mormon uses Korihor as the link to the story of the Zoramites. In the very next verse he notes:
And it came to pass that as he [Korihor] went forth among the people, yea, among a people who had separated themselves from the Nephites and called themselves Zoramites, being led by a man whose name was Zoram — and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead. (Alma 30:59)
The phrase “Korihor did go about from house to house, begging food for his support” is the essential tie that allows Korihor to “go about” into the land of the Zoramites. Mormon sets the stage for the Zoramites as villains by them having tread upon him “even until he was dead.” The phrase about going about from house to house not only indicated a return to the planned narrative, but it was a repetition that was also structurally required to move the text to the next story.
In the following example, Mormon inserts text marked by repetitive resumption.
And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken.
And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.
Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers; notwithstanding [Page 77]the promises of the Lord were extended unto them on the conditions of repentance.
Therefore, this was the cause for which the sons of Mosiah had undertaken the work, that perhaps they might bring them unto repentance; that perhaps they might bring them to know of the plan of redemption.
Therefore they separated themselves one from another, and went forth among them, every man alone, according to the word and power of God which was given unto him. (Alma 17:13–17)
Mormon at times used repetitive resumption when he was interrupting himself. In the following case, an aside was triggered by what he had just written, and the departure and return points are marked by repetitive resumption:
Therefore he took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, and also the plates of Nephi, and all the things which he had kept and preserved according to the commandments of God, after having translated and caused to be written the records which were on the plates of gold which had been found by the people of Limhi, which were delivered to him by the hand of Limhi;
And this he did because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed.
And now he translated them by the means of those two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow.
Now these things were prepared from the beginning, and were handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages;
And they have been kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he should discover to every creature who should possess the land the iniquities and abominations of his people;
And whosoever has these things is called seer, after the manner of old times.
Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language [Page 78]of the people and they were scattered abroad upon the face of all the earth, yea, and even from that time back until the creation of Adam.
Now this account did cause the people of Mosiah to mourn exceedingly, yea, they were filled with sorrow; nevertheless it gave them much knowledge, in the which they did rejoice.
And this account shall be written hereafter; for behold, it is expedient that all people should know the things which are written in this account.
[Original end of XII. The next verse was the beginning of a chapter in 1830, but in 1879 was shifted to become the final verse of chapter 28]
And now, as I said unto you, that after king Mosiah had done these things, he took the plates of brass, and all the things which he had kept, and conferred them upon Alma, who was the son of Alma; yea, all the records, and also the interpreters, and conferred them upon him, and commanded him that he should keep and preserve them, and also keep a record of the people, handing them down from one generation to another, even as they had been handed down from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem. (Mosiah 28:11–20)
The original intent was to end the chapter with the gathering of the records and sacred relics and giving them to Alma, which is repeated in the opening sentence of the original chapter XII. However, as Mormon wrote about the records, he mentioned the plates of Ether, and that triggered his insertion of information about the translation of those plates. This example can be seen both as a standard use of repetitive resumption and as an intended use of the chapter break as the interruption (which did not occur because of the spontaneous addition of the information about the translation of the plates of Ether).
Finally, there are cases of repetitive resumption that are anomalous. There are two that are clearly repetitions, but without an inserted text:
And king Mosiah did cause his people that they should till the earth. And he also, himself, did till the earth, that thereby he might not become burdensome to his people, that he might do according to that which his father had done in all things. And there was no contention among all his people for the space of three years.
[Page 79]And now, it came to pass that after king Mosiah had had continual peace for the space of three years, he was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, or in the city of Lehi-Nephi; for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla; therefore, they wearied him with their teasings. (Mosiah 6:7–7:1)
And now all the study of Ammon and his people, and king Limhi and his people, was to deliver themselves out of the hands of the Lamanites and from bondage.
And now it came to pass that Ammon and king Limhi began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves out of bondage; and even they did cause that all the people should gather themselves together; and this they did that they might have the voice of the people concerning the matter. (Mosiah 21:36–22:1)
Each of these examples fit the requirement of the repeated phrase, but they are both missing any inserted text. I suggest that the important aspect of both is that they both occur around a chapter break (both in the modern edition and in the 1830 edition, representing a chapter Mormon created). I suggest that Mormon considered the chapter break as the interruption, and possibly because there was some time between writing the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next. There is no reason for the repetition if the repeated information had occurred in the same writing session.
There are two very important examples of repetitive resumption which I have not yet discussed. They become relevant to the themes of how Mormon manipulates history and names and are included in those discussions.
Mormon Writing About War
Mormon selected the stories he told both by inclusion and exclusion. It is obvious that Mormon included information about war, but he did so unevenly. In Alma chapters 2 and 3 Mormon describes the Amlicite rebellion. He gives multiple details of the war, including a description of how the Amlicites had voluntarily marked themselves. After finishing with the battle itself, Mormon declares:
Now we will return again to the Amlicites, for they also had a mark set upon them; yea, they set the mark upon themselves, yea, even a mark of red upon their foreheads.
[Page 80]Thus the word of God is fulfilled, for these are the words which he said to Nephi: Behold, the Lamanites have I cursed, and I will set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed, from this time henceforth and forever, except they repent of their wickedness and turn to me that I may have mercy upon them.
And again: I will set a mark upon him that mingleth his seed with thy brethren, that they may be cursed also.
And again: I will set a mark upon him that fighteth against thee and thy seed.
And again, I say he that departeth from thee shall no more be called thy seed; and I will bless thee, and whomsoever shall be called thy seed, henceforth and forever; and these were the promises of the Lord unto Nephi and to his seed.
Now the Amlicites knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God when they began to mark themselves in their foreheads; nevertheless they had come out in open rebellion against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall upon them.
Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation. (Alma 3:13–19)
Mormon is quite explicit about the lesson that he wants his readers to learn from the story of the Amlicite rebellion. Contrast this with the battle that followed immediately after the Amlicite defeat.
Now it came to pass that not many days after the battle which was fought in the land of Zarahemla, by the Lamanites and the Amlicites, that there was another army of the Lamanites came in upon the people of Nephi, in the same place where the first army met the Amlicites.
And it came to pass that there was an army sent to drive them out of their land.
Now Alma himself being afflicted with a wound did not go up to battle at this time against the Lamanites;
But he sent up a numerous army against them; and they went up and slew many of the Lamanites, and drove the remainder of them out of the borders of their land.
[Page 81]And then they returned again and began to establish peace in the land, being troubled no more for a time with their enemies.
Now all these things were done, yea, all these wars and contentions were commenced and ended in the fifth year of the reign of the judges. (Alma 3:20–25)
Mormon recorded two significant battles that resulted in “tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world” (Alma 3:26) but gives details only for the Amlicite rebellion. For Mormon, the details of war are only mentioned when they serve as exemplars of his greater purpose. If there is no new point to be made, the war is noted, but only briefly.
This difference of emphasis is even more dramatic in Mormon’s relation of the two wars that involved the people of Ammon and the land of Jershon. Soon after the people of Ammon relocated to Jershon, the Lamanites attacked. In the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges, there was a terrible battle with the Lamanites:
And now it came to pass that after the people of Ammon were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon, and the armies of the Nephites were set round about the land of Jershon, yea, in all the borders round about the land of Zarahemla; behold the armies of the Lamanites had followed their brethren into the wilderness.
And thus there was a tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem; yea, and tens of thousands of the Lamanites were slain and scattered abroad.
Yea, and also there was a tremendous slaughter among the people of Nephi; nevertheless, the Lamanites were driven and scattered, and the people of Nephi returned again to their land.
And now this was a time that there was a great mourning and lamentation heard throughout all the land, among all the people of Nephi—
Yea, the cry of widows mourning for their husbands, and also of fathers mourning for their sons, and the daughter for the brother, yea, the brother for the father; and thus the cry of mourning was heard among all of them, mourning for their kindred who had been slain.
And now surely this was a sorrowful day; yea, a time of solemnity, and a time of much fasting and prayer.
[Page 82]And thus endeth the fifteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi; (Alma 28:1–7)
A war which produced a “tremendous battle; yea, even such an one as never had been known among all the people in the land from the time Lehi left Jerusalem” is not described. There are no heroes. There are no tactics. There are no battle scenes. There is only the report of the battle and its terrible aftermath. Mormon certainly includes scenes of war, but not for the sake of the description of alone. As an editor, Mormon saw that the wars merited a fuller description when there were lessons that could be drawn from that description. When Mormon details wars and battles, he isn’t seeking only to describe the scene, but to describe the behaviors of the peoples involved. The Amlicites rebelled and chose to separate themselves from God. They invoked the curse without even understanding that they had done so.
Mormon will tell of the Amalickiahite rebellion beginning in Alma 46, but the story isn’t only about Amalickiah but also Moroni — two men set as opposites and representing the two poles of the promise, both the choice of unrighteousness and the righteous response. When Mormon provides extensive descriptions of the war in which Captain Moroni was involved, his purpose was more to set Moroni as an exemplar than to examine military strategy. Helaman’s stripling warriors are in the story not because of their battle prowess, but because of the lessons to be learned about their parents, their own choices, and the protection purchased by the faithfulness of parents and sons. Mormon’s wars are not about war, but about people and their choices.
Mormon Writing About History
Mormon dealt with history, but he had no intention of being an historian.108 Like many Old Testament writers, Mormon saw history as the loom upon which the image of God’s intent would appear as the warp and weft of time filled in the picture. Mormon was very clear about why he wrote as he concluded his work. He spoke to the Lamanites as a remnant of the house of Israel, and declared:
[Page 83]Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.
For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them. (Mormon 7:8–9)
Moroni summarized his father’s intent more succinctly in the Title Page: “Which is to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever — And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.” Mormon’s testament of Christ was intended to support the prophesied book which we know as the Bible, which he considered the other testament of Christ.
History clearly plays its part in helping Mormon achieve his purpose, and that purpose is not pointed toward the past, but toward the future. It is a tapestry created from the events of the past, designed to illustrate the future of God’s plan for the house of Israel.109
Mormon used the backbone of Nephite history to frame the story he intended to tell, but he was the artist applying the clay (the stories of his people’s past) to the structure.110 David B. Honey described Mormon’s task: “The fact that the work has been edited out of various other records leads us to conclude that the redactor, Mormon, must have been guided by certain editorial principles by which he decided which records were important to copy, excerpt, or summarize and which data were judged [Page 84]either essential, superfluous, or unnecessary to include.”111 Mormon’s stated purpose tells us that his selection criteria were not historical, only that they were framed by history. History provided the sequencing of events and the events themselves. However, which events were told, how they were applied to the historical framework, and in some cases, how Mormon transformed them, all combine to create the work that Mormon intended would cause us to “repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you” (Mormon 7:8).
Fitting Names into Narrative Types
One of the most important instances of repetitive resumption explains an otherwise anomalous text. In Alma 11 (latter half of VIII), Mormon provides a discussion of the weights and values among the Nephites. This explanation should not exist in a contemporary document written for a contemporary audience — what one assumes to be general knowledge need not be explicitly described. That principle highlights the anomaly of this long explanation. Using the concept of repetitive resumption, we can determine that Mormon intentionally inserted this information in a text that otherwise did not discuss it.
Alma2 describes going to Ammonihah, finding Amulek, and then their debate with Zeezrom. The full story crosses from Alma chapter 10 to 11 in our modern editions of the Book of Mormon, but the whole story was contained in the single original chapter VIII.
Now the object of these lawyers was to get gain; and they got gain according to their employ.
[Chapter 11, not an original chapter break]
Now it was in the law of Mosiah that every man who was a judge of the law, or those who were appointed to be judges, should receive wages according to the time which they labored to judge those who were brought before them to be judged.
Now if a man owed another, and he would not pay that which he did owe, he was complained of to the judge; and the judge executed authority, and sent forth officers that the man should be brought before him; and he judged the man according to the law and the evidences which were brought against him, and thus the [Page 85]man was compelled to pay that which he owed, or be stripped, or be cast out from among the people as a thief and a robber.
And the judge received for his wages according to his time — a senine of gold for a day, or a senum of silver, which is equal to a senine of gold; and this is according to the law which was given….
[Continues through verse 19]
Now, it was for the sole purpose to get gain, because they received their wages according to their employ, therefore, they did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ, that they might get money according to the suits which were brought before them; therefore they did stir up the people against Alma and Amulek. (Alma 10:32–11:20. Formatted to emphasize the repeated phrase as opposed to the inserted, indented, material.)112
The repetition of the phrase about getting gain tells us when Mormon returns to the original text (which he is taking from Alma2‘s personal record). When Alma2 wrote about this incident, his expected audience already had the cultural knowledge necessary to understand the names of the relative values. When Mormon wrote, he knew his audience would be at least distant in time, if not space.113 Therefore, Mormon inserted the definitions.
This long insertion served two purposes. The first was to aid Mormon’s readers in understanding the value of the bribe being offered. The second, and the reason that it is as extended as it is, is that the names of the different values would be borrowed in Mormon’s text to have a meaning beyond a simple name. Gordon C. Thomasson first noted this phenomenon. He explains:
Metonymy or metonymic naming involves “naming by association,” a metaphoric process of linking two concepts or persons together in such a way as to tell us more about the [Page 86]latter by means of what we already know about the former. For example, to call a potential scandal a “Watergate” is to suggest volumes in a single word. Similarly, if we call an individual a Judas, a Benedict Arnold, or a Quisling, rather than giving his or her proper name, we can in one word convey an immense amount of information about how we at least feel toward that person.114
Thomasson then specifically applies this concept to Mormon’s inserted list of values:
In Alma 11 we find a seeming digression from the topic of the text in the complex discussion of Nephite weights and units of measure and equivalents. Conspicuous, now, among the names of the units of value given is that of an ezrom (Alma 11:6, 12). It is a quantity of silver. Immediately after the discussion of money we find the person who is called Zeezrom. This appears to be a compound of the word Ze, which we can translate “This is an” as a prefix, and the word ezrom. Zeezrom is distinguished by having offered 10.5 ezrom of silver to Alma and Amulek if they would deny their testimonies … His name would translate “this is a unit of silver.” Besides linking him with his actions, the name links him into a typological complex with those who would sell their signs and tokens for money and to Judas’s selling/betraying Christ for thirty pieces of silver. If this is not metonymic naming I am anxious to learn what it might be. Lest the likelihood of Zeezrom being a metonym be underrated, I subsequently noted that the largest Nephite weights and units of measure, the antion of gold (Alma 11:19), appears in later chapters of the text of Alma, first in referring to a chief ruler of Ammonihah — one Antionah (a big man in status and self-esteem, Alma 12:20) — and later to the big- money town or pride-in-wealth city of Antionum (Alma 31:3), home of the nouveau riche bourgeois Zoramites (note they take upon themselves the name of an ex-servant, Zoram).115
Mormon inserts a list of values so that we modern readers might understand something of the value of the bribe, but also that we would have the context in which to understand the intended connotations of names that Mormon used in his text. Based on our modern understandings, in [Page 87]Thomasson’s words: “we often take names far too lightly. As a result we miss much of what a truly polysemous text (having multiple meanings or significations) such as the Book of Mormon may communicate.”116 Mormon at times used names for his own purposes, and the name he used for an individual may or may not have been the name by which contemporaries knew the person.117 This inserted list of values assists us in understanding their metonymic meaning.
The concept of metonymic naming provides a context in which we see the names for values turned into names of people or places. It is a literary technique Mormon used frequently, but which is absent in the small plates. The crucial difference is that the small plates were written by the authors who lived the events they record. There is no reason to believe that they did not use their own names, or that any other name listed was anything other than the actual name of that person.
When Mormon writes, it may be safest to assume that most names are listed for some reason related to the story he was telling. That is not to suggest that all names would be metonymic. Mormon would have used his own name. Naming his son Moroni for the great Captain Moroni suggests that both of those men bear their actual names.
Mormon understood and made a point of highlighting, the divisions in Zarahemla that resulted from the uneasy merging of two different peoples with different languages, religions, and by extension, politics. The resulting conflict was certainly behind the civil war that would have been discussed in greater detail in the lost chapter or chapters of Mosiah. During the reign of Mosiah2, the people of Limhi and the people of Alma1 returned to Zarahemla. Mormon notes: “And now all the people of Nephi were assembled together, and also all the people of Zarahemla, and they were gathered together in two bodies” (Mosiah 25:4).
It is quite certain that those two bodies of people were the descendants of Nephi and the descendants of Mulek. Tensions in Zarahemla always tended to divide along those lines. This is a division that Mormon subtly underscores using names. The Hebrew root of the name Mulek would have been mlk, with the meaning of “king.” As Mormon creates names, he uses names with a mlk root to designate that the bearer was part of the anti-Nephite and pro-king (meaning a Mulekite king) faction in Zarahemla.
In Alma 46 we are introduced to Amalickiah: “Now the leader of those who were wroth against their brethren was a large and a strong [Page 88]man; and his name was Amalickiah. And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power” (Alma 46:3–4). Amalickiah is based on the mlk root. Note that he is both “against their brethren,” and that he was “desirous to be king.”
More complicated is the interesting case of the Amlicites and Amalekites. Royal Skousen notes that Joseph likely pronounced Amlicites Amlikites. In fact, “the first two occurrences in [the printer’s manuscript] of Amlicites (in Alma 2:11–12) are spelled Amlikites.118 He then notes:
There is one additional Book of Mormon name, Amalekite, that could be included in the above list of names taking the form am-l-k. The printer’s manuscript (and every published edition) uses the term Amalekite(s) to refer to a group of religious apostates, 14 times in Alma 21–27 and 5 times in Alma 43. Yet the original manuscript and other evidence suggests that these Amalekites were not an otherwise unidentified group of religious dissidents, but were in fact Amlici’s own group, the Amlicites.119
J. Christopher Conkling accepts Skousen’s suggestion and notes that: “Chronologically, the Amlicites and Amalekites fit together perfectly; they never overlap.”120 However, Benjamin McMurtry provides what I believe is a much more careful examination of the posited two different groups:
The first textual reference to either of these groups is the appearance of Amlici in Alma 2:1. The rise of Amlici was in the commencement of the fifth year of the reign of the judges. Amlici gains a following, and they call themselves Amlicites (Alma 2:11). They do battle with the Nephite armies. Amlici is killed by the sword of Alma the Younger, and his followers are defeated and scattered. This all occurs in the fifth year of the judges.
The first textual reference to the Amalekites occurs in Alma 21:2: “Now the Lamanites and the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a great city, which was called Jerusalem.” We [Page 89]must not fall into the trap of thinking that because this story appears nineteen chapters after the story of the Amlicites that it takes place at a later time. The text reveals that Alma 21 takes place “when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites” (Alma 21:1). This separation took place “in the first year of the judges” (Alma 17:6). The Amalekites very likely existed long before the first year, due to the fact that their city was already “great” when it was first discovered by Aaron in the first year of the judges. They continued to be a distinct people until the eighteenth year of the judges (Alma 43:4, 6).121
McMurtry’s solution is to posit the two as different peoples with similar names. I suggest that Mormon is using names for his own textual purposes rather than providing the names by which those people were known to others. Mormon gave apostate groups a generic designation of Amlicite/Amalekite with at least the implied meaning of apostate-of-Zarahemlaite-lineage.122
Mormon does not use the name as a pejorative, but as a lineage/ cultural designation. Names with that root can have a positive influence, providing that they accept Nephite religion and political dominance. Living among apostates in Ammonihah, there is a righteous descendant of Nephi (Alma 10:3): Amulek. I suggest that Mormon is indicating that regardless of heritage, he had been part of the apostate religion, but had been converted (see Alma 10:5–8).
Mormon’s use of mlk-root names for apostates should be read as a generic designation rather than as personal names. That use also suggests that when we see king-men in Mormon’s text that we are seeing the English translation of a mlk-root word. We should see king-men as a political party with roots in the descendants of Mulek. The specific use [Page 90]of this designation is intended to create a direct antithetical parallel with the Nephite-supporters, the freemen.
And it came to pass that those who were desirous that Pahoran should be dethroned from the judgment-seat were called king-men, for they were desirous that the law should be altered in a manner to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land.
And those who were desirous that Pahoran should remain chief judge over the land took upon them the name of freemen; and thus was the division among them, for the freemen had sworn or covenanted to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government. (Alma 51:5–6)123
Parallel to the implications of divisiveness that was inherited from the mlk-ites, Mormon also weaves in a theme of the destructive inheritance of the Jaredites among the Nephite nation. Even without a genealogical connection, Mormon makes certain that he includes the information that the last Jaredite king, Coriantumr, comes to and lives with the people of Zarahemla. Then, the next time we see that name: “And they came down again that they might pitch battle against the Nephites. And they were led by a man whose name was Coriantumr; and he was a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was a dissenter from among the Nephites; and he was a large and a mighty man” (Helaman 1:15).
A different type of subtle manipulation of names might be present in the unusual string of fathers and sons with the same names. The succession of Nephite dynasties, beginning with Alma2, is quite complex. Continuation of the political line from father to son becomes rarer, and in 3 Nephi the government is completely dissolved, only to implicitly reappear in 4 Nephi. These dynastic/book changes are precisely the place where the most curious naming trend in the Book of Mormon occurs. At the end of the book of Mosiah, we have Alma1. His son, Alma2, begins the book of Alma, but it ends with his son Helaman1 keeping the records. The book of Helaman begins with Helaman2 and ends with his son, Nephi2. The book of 3 Nephi begins with Nephi3 — as does the book of 4 Nephi.
From a cultural standpoint, the succession of same-named fathers and sons is an anomaly. Without the artificial addition of numbers to separate [Page 91]names, we have Amos the son of Amos, the son of Nephi the son of Nephi, the son of Helaman the son of Helaman, and the son of Alma the son of Alma. In the ancient world, it was not uncommon for a grandparent/grandchild to share a name, but it was very rare for a parent/child to have the same name. In a world without surnames and without the concept of the clarifying junior/senior, having a parent and child with the same name would lead to too much confusion. Yet we have that precise issue not once, but four times with four sets of same- named father/son pairs.
Joseph Spencer noticed an important pattern in these books and names:
[W]hile each book in Mormon’s history recounts a particular succession, each break between books also marks a succession. At the same time, Mormon softens the impact of these breaks by having all cross-book successions be those in which the successor shares his name with his father…
That Mormon highlights dynastic continuity even at points of historical transition makes clear his interest in maintaining the essential progression of the trajectory of Christian preaching that underlies his history.124
I suspect that I see the data he noticed in a slightly different light, but the recognition of the pattern is an important contribution. Combined with the understanding that Mormon uses names for textual purposes, this allows us to see a reason for the naming patterns that would otherwise be unattested in much of antiquity.
Mormon discussed the explicit division between church and state when Alma1 was required to adjudicate a case of religious apostasy. This was a difficult problem, because it dealt with religious principles, but religion and politics had always been nearly synonymous in Nephite society. Thus, it is possible that Alma1 was adjudicating a case of treason. He took the case to the Lord, who told him to forgive upon repentance, and if there were no repentance, to blot their names from church records. There was no indication that there was a political penalty. The creation of a church had created a situation where there was the possibility of the separation of church and state, and this case confirmed the division (see Mosiah 26:5–36).
What Mormon is tracing then, is a dual system. On one line is the political succession and on the other the religious succession. Even as the political dynasties undergo turmoil, the fact that the same-named [Page 92]religious figures straddle the dynastic changes allows Mormon to suggest that there was a continuation of the religious line even as there was political turmoil.125 Thus, these father/son names have an important function in the text that is unlikely to have occurred naturally by using those father’s and son’s given names.
The appearance of the name Nephi in this sequence may have served a particular textual function. Not only do we have Nephi2 and Nephi3 providing the continuity across differently named books, we have them at an important ending and beginning. The change in book names might imply a discontinuity in the ruling line, but 3 Nephi makes it clear that there was not only a discontinuity, but a dissolution. Nephi3 lives during a time when the Nephite government ceased to exist and all who had been part of the larger government returned to the rule of their separate tribes. When we again have Nephites reforming, what better name to have represent the emergence of the new people than Nephi (Nephi3).
A final interesting example of Mormon’s manipulation of names comes from Mormon’s inclusion of Alma2‘s final instructions to his three sons. Mormon took these instructions from Alma2‘s personal record, and therefore made a conscious decision to include them. They have little historical significance, and do not move Mormon’s narrative along. Nevertheless, Mormon saw something important in them.
I suggest that at least a major reason for including them can be discerned from the names of the sons. I suggest that Mormon provided the names to fit with their stories and that the names we see were not those their parents gave them. Just as Zeezrom and Antionah referred to real people who probably were not known by those names, I believe that Mormon replaced the names of Alma2‘s sons with metonyms to reinforce a specific, intended lesson for his readers.
The oldest son, Helaman, bears a name previously given to one of king Benjamin’s sons (Mosiah 1:2). It is, therefore, a good, strong Nephite name. Helaman received the plates, and nothing in the instructions Alma gives him suggests that he was anything less than a faithful Nephite.
The next son is Shiblon. Shiblon has an ambiguous name. It is the name of a unit of measure (Alma 11:15), and therefore has a positive connotation. However, Shiblon was also the name of a Jaredite king (Ether 1:11–12). [Page 93]Shiblon is basically a good son, but in Alma’s final blessing, note how Alma suggests that Shiblon might be spiritually ambiguous:
And now, as ye have begun to teach the word even so I would that ye should continue to teach; and I would that ye would be diligent and temperate in all things.
See that ye are not lifted up unto pride; yea, see that ye do not boast in your own wisdom, nor of your much strength.
Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness.
Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom.
Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy — yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times. (Alma 38:10–14)
Right after the admonition to be diligent and temperate, Alma lists the things that might tempt Shiblon to not be diligent or temperate. Those things are descriptions of apostasy. Apparently, Shiblon was a good son, but with the possibility of being tempted into apostasy.
The third son bears the name Corianton. That name is not otherwise attested in the Book of Mormon, but it shares the basic form Coriant-um, a Jaredite king (Ether 1:13–14). Similarly, Coriantor was also a Jaredite king (Ether 1:6–7). Of course, there is also Coriantumr, who was the last Jaredite king as well as the name of a prominent Nephite dissenter (1:15).
As suggested by his name, Corianton is the son who did apostatize (for a time). Alma tells Corianton that one of the things he did wrong was: “thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom” (Alma 39:2). That doesn’t seem so bad, but it is also the very thing Alma warned Shiblon against (Alma 38:11). As the child with the most obviously Jaredite name, it is unsurprising that he was the one to cause the greatest problem and to become an actual apostate rather than only have the potential to become one, as is suggested for Shiblon.
The names of Alma’s sons so directly correspond with the information we read about them that it would require an incredible coincidence to have those be the names their parents gave them.126 Given that we see [Page 94]Mormon intentionally creating names in other places, and even including a description of weights and measures so that we might understand them, it is best to see these names for their metonymic function.
Fitting History into Types
As Mormon begins to relate Nephite history at the beginning of the reign of the judges, the very first story he selected to tell was of “a man brought before [Alma2] to be judged, a man who was large, and was noted for his much strength” (Alma 1:2). Mormon tells first of his apostate teachings, and then of the slaying of Gideon, which was the crime for which he appeared before Alma2. Not until Mormon tells us that he was condemned to die does he tell us the name of the criminal: Nehor (Alma 1:15). This introduction is unusual not only for withholding the name, but also that his false teachings were emphasized even over the crime for which he was executed.
I believe that we can surmise that in the first year of the reign of the judges that there was such a large, strong, man brought before Alma2. We may accept that he killed Gideon. It is the name that is interesting, and perhaps intentionally created for narrative effect.
Nehor is both a Jaredite land and city (Ether 7:4, 9). Mormon uses Jaredite names in the way that old Hollywood westerns used black hats. In Mormon’s text, any person with a Jaredite name should be examined to see how they fit into Mormon’s narrative. In the case of Nehor, it is a complicated relationship with a religion. Knowing that Nehor murdered Gideon tells us that he is a bad man. Having a religion associated with his name tells us that it is a bad religion, an apostate religion.127
Mormon calls this apostate religion the order of Nehor, or order of the Nehors.128 Mormon describes Ammonihah as a city whose people subscribed to the “profession of Nehor” (Alma 15:15). When Ammonihah was destroyed, it was called “Desolation of Nehors” (Alma 16:11).129
[Page 95]The chronology of the order of the Nehors is even more convoluted when we find that the Amalekites and the people of Amulon had built a city named Jerusalem in which they “had built synagogues after the order of the Nehors; for many of the Amalekites and the Amulonites were after the order of the Nehors” (Alma 21:4). Benjamin McMurtry notes:
We must not fall into the trap of thinking that because this story appears nineteen chapters after the story of the Amlicites that it takes place at a later time. The text reveals that Alma 21 takes place “when Ammon and his brethren separated themselves in the borders of the land of the Lamanites” (Alma 21:1). This separation took place “in the first year of the judges” (Alma 17:6). The Amalekites very likely existed long before the first year, due to the fact that their city was already “great” when it was first discovered by Aaron in the first year of the judges. They continued to be a distinct people until the eighteenth year of the judges (Alma 43:4, 6).130
Mormon is using the name of Nehor to describe religious practices that were well established prior to the time that Nehor is introduced into the narrative. Not only do we have Nehorite Amalekites before Nehor, but an analysis of the teachings associated with the order of Nehor shows that the court of king Noah followed the same basic religion. 131
Mormon created a subtle theme which associated apostate religion with the remnants of the Jaredites. Mormon used the Jaredite name for both the condemned man and the religion so that his readers would clearly understand that neither the man nor the religion was to be admired.
Making History into Prophecy
When Mormon selected material from Alma2‘s personal record, he included not only information about Alma2‘s preaching, but also the accounts of the missionary work of the sons of Mosiah. Why did Mormon concern himself with this mission to the Lamanites? As a Nephite, and particularly a Nephite living at during the final days of the Nephite nation, his view of the Lamanites would have been as enemies. It was a Lamanite army that was pursuing his fleeing Nephites, and a Lamanite army that would destroy them at Cumorah.
[Page 96]Mormon’s experience with the Lamanites stands in stark contrast to the converted Lamanites from the missionary labors described in the book of Alma. Why does Mormon include those stories? As with all of Mormon’s editorial choices, suggesting that history required him to include the information is too simple. Mormon did not write because the history had occurred, but for what the history could teach to future readers. Mormon’s purposes looked forward, not backward.
Mormon declared that purpose rather clearly in his final statement, which we have as Mormon chapter 7:
And now, behold, I would speak somewhat unto the remnant of this people who are spared, if it so be that God may give unto them my words, that they may know of the things of their fathers; yea, I speak unto you, ye remnant of the house of Israel; and these are the words which I speak:
Know ye that ye are of the house of Israel.
Know ye that ye must come unto repentance, or ye cannot be saved.
Know ye that ye must lay down your weapons of war, and delight no more in the shedding of blood, and take them not again, save it be that God shall command you.
Know ye that ye must come to the knowledge of your fathers, and repent of all your sins and iniquities, and believe in Jesus Christ, that he is the Son of God, and that he was slain by the Jews, and by the power of the Father he hath risen again, whereby he hath gained the victory over the grave; and also in him is the sting of death swallowed up.
And he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead, whereby man must be raised to stand before his judgment-seat.
And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.
Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall [Page 97]come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.
For behold, this is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.
And ye will also know that ye are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. Amen. (Mormon 7:1–10)
When Mormon closes his writing, he tells us why he wrote. He wrote to a specific people, those who remained after there were no more Nephites (Mormon 7:1). He wrote to the Lamanites. What did he hope for them? That they would repent and believe in Christ (Mormon 7:5). He very clearly says, in verse 9, that “this is written for the intent that ye may believe that” (“that” being the Bible’s testament of Christ). That is his reason for writing.
If his reason for writing looked forward to repentant and converted Lamanites, then it is clear that he included the missionary labors of the sons of Mosiah to demonstrate that it was possible that the gospel could touch Lamanite hearts, and not only convert them, but make a righteous people of them. He promised as much when he wrote: “All these things had happened and the Lamanites had become, the more part of them, a righteous people, insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites, because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith” (Helaman 6:1).
The past evidence of the true conversion of the Lamanites was intended to foreshadow the future conversion of the Lamanites, to whom Mormon wrote and to whom his hopes extended. In spite of witnessing the Nephite demise, Mormon’s message is optimistic for the future.
Mormon’s Explanation for the Nephite Demise
It is inconceivable that Mormon could witness the end of the Nephites and not have those events influence his worldview and his message. How many times did Mormon ask himself how a people with such promise could come to such an end? Along with his testimony of the Savior, Mormon wrote to provide his answer to that question.
[Page 98]For Mormon, it was impossible to understand the end without understanding the beginning. Hence, he began with the story of Lehi and his family leaving Jerusalem and coming to the New World. After that beginning, he used history as the natural framework for his story. Although we do not have Mormon’s version of early Nephite history, we can be certain of some things that were included. One that he surely emphasized was the Nephite foundational promise. Nephi recorded that his father said:
Wherefore, I, Lehi, have obtained a promise, that inasmuch as those whom the Lord God shall bring out of the land of Jerusalem shall keep his commandments, they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever. (2 Nephi 1:9)
When we finally see that promise in Mormon’s writings, it is as a reference and not new information. In the story of Alma and Amulek at Ammonihah, Mormon quotes Alma saying: “Behold, do ye not remember the words which he spake unto Lehi, saying that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land? And again it is said that: Inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord” (Alma 9:13). Alma clarifies what he means by being cut off from the presence of the Lord:
But behold, I say unto you that if ye persist in your wickedness that your days shall not be prolonged in the land, for the Lamanites shall be sent upon you; and if ye repent not they shall come in a time when you know not, and ye shall be visited with utter destruction; and it shall be according to the fierce anger of the Lord.
For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people. I say unto you, Nay; he would rather suffer that the Lamanites might destroy all his people who are called the people of Nephi, if it were possible that they could fall into sins and transgressions, after having had so much light and so much knowledge given unto them of the Lord their God; (Alma 9:18–19)
One reason Mormon includes the story of Alma and Amulek at Ammonihah is to stand as historical confirmation of the fulfillment of [Page 99]the negative side of the Nephite foundational promise. While peace and prosperity were promised, they were conditional upon following God’s teachings. The negative aspect of the foundational promise was that failure to follow God’s teachings would result in destruction. Therefore, when Mormon tells of the destruction of Ammonihah not once, but twice — once from the Lamanite perspective and once from the Nephite perspective — we can be certain that there was a larger purpose than merely relaying history, for Mormon didn’t need to tell that tale twice. He was directing our attention to the importance of this event.
If repetition signals something to which Mormon wanted his readers to pay attention, then the story of the plates of Ether was particularly important. Mormon recounts the basic story three different times. The first recounting is when Ammon meets Limhi, and Limhi brings records to Ammon “which contained the record of his people from the time that they left the land of Zarahemla” (Mosiah 8:5); he also “brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings.” (Mosiah 8:9). At that time, Limhi asks if Ammon knows someone who might translate (Mosiah 8:12).
The second story is found in Mosiah 21 where Mormon tells how those twenty-four plates were obtained (Mosiah 21:25–27). That recounting also indicates that “Limhi was again filled with joy on learning from the mouth of Ammon that king Mosiah had a gift from God, whereby he could interpret such engravings” (Mosiah 21:28).
Finally, we get the plates of Ether again when Mosiah translates them with the “two stones which were fastened into the two rims of a bow” (Mosiah 28:12–13). Mormon could have found a more compact way to tell this story: instead he told it three times in three different settings. The record of Ether is at the heart of Mormon’s sub-theme, explaining how and why the Nephites would be destroyed. It is interesting that as important as the theme was, it was sufficient to reference it rather than retell it. Mormon intentionally uses only the moral of their story without the elaboration of their story. That task he promises (Mosiah 28:19), but perhaps understood all along that he would leave it to Moroni.
The development of historical Christianity included the elaboration of the role of Satan to the point where all wrongness might be attributed to Satan. Mormon does not blame Nephite woes on Satan; he blames the Jaredites.132 They were his model from history of how a nation might be utterly destroyed. More than that, Mormon creates the case that their history actively affected the Nephites. Mormon carefully links the Jaredite secret [Page 100]combinations to destruction, then links both Jaredites and the destruction of governments to the secret combination he calls the Gadianton robbers.
This thread that will run through Mormon’s account begins with the translation of the plates of Ether. Note how Mormon describes the translated record that Mosiah read to his people: “Now after Mosiah had finished translating these records, behold, it gave an account of the people who were destroyed, from the time that they were destroyed back to the building of the great tower” (Mosiah 28:17). Mormon copies this text to make explicit the important lesson of those twenty-four plates. They were “an account of the people who were destroyed.”
As Mormon elaborated his text, these descriptions are associated with the Gadianton robbers. In Mormon’s turning of history into story, the Gadianton robbers personified the Jaredite secret combinations. The ties between the Jaredites are reinforced by similar language, such as murders, robbings, and plunderings, but most importantly by linking both the Gadiantons and the Jaredites to the same geography. The Nephites’ ancestral enemies, the Lamanites, always entered Nephite lands from the south. Mormon links the Gadiantons with the land northward — the Jaredite homeland. This was a conceptual homeland. Although Mormon describes the north that will be the ultimate source of the Nephites’ demise, we should not expect that he was dealing with actual, historical geography. That both the Gadiantons and Jaredites came from the lands northward was the connection. Our modern interests in locating Book of Mormon peoples on a map were not Mormon’s concerns, and we should not assume that the historical geography of the Jaredites was the equivalent of the lands northward that Mormon describes. His interest was not in accurate geography, but rather in symbolic geography.
While copying material from Alma2‘s personal record, Mormon came to Alma 22:27: “And it came to pass that the king sent a proclamation throughout all the land, amongst all his people who were in all his land.” He stopped copying and inserted his own information. He marked his return to Alma’s record by repeating this information in Alma 22:35: “And [Page 101]now I, after having said this, return again to the account of Ammon and Aaron, Omner and Himni, and their brethren.” There is a chapter break, and then: “Behold, now it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people” (Alma 23:1). Mormon both declared that he was returning to the original text and used the repetition of the departure point as he reengaged the copied text.
In between the repeated information, Mormon provides a geography lesson. Part of the intent was to help his readers understand the physical extent covered when the proclamation was sent among all the Lamanite king’s lands. However, Mormon also provides an essential definition. He wrote: “the land which they called Bountiful … bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla” (Alma 22:29–30). The land Desolation is directly tied not only to the Jaredites but specifically to the destroyed Jaredites.
Mormon’s inserted explanation was triggered by the need to explain Lamanite lands, but it expanded to a general description of the lands pertinent to the Nephites. For Mormon, that included a description of the place, and the association, of the northern lands. I consider it probable that Mormon created the name Desolation for the land northward, specifically for use in his story. It is a word he used before in a parallel context. In Alma 16, a chapter Mormon wrote using the large plates rather than Alma2‘s personal record, Mormon says: “And now so great was the scent thereof that the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years. And it was called Desolation of Nehors; for they were of the profession of Nehor, who were slain; and their lands remained desolate” (Alma 16:11). Mormon used his authorial license to rename Ammonihah to the more symbolic “Desolation of Nehors.” Mormon clearly intends that his readers see Desolation — whether Ammonihah or the land northward — as the land of a destroyed people.133
During the great war discussed at the end of the book of Alma, Mormon tells of a people led by a man named Morianton. Mormon reports that what they intended to do was very dangerous, and so he reports that they were stopped. Without telling us why, Mormon writes: “Therefore, Morianton put it into their hearts that they should flee to [Page 102]the land which was northward, which was covered with large bodies of water, and take possession of the land which was northward. And behold, they would have carried this plan into effect, (which would have been a cause to have been lamented)” (Alma 50:29–30).
Mormon gives his readers no hint about why this journey north would have been much lamented. However, he drops a geographic hint that he will later elaborate. He says that northward there was a land “which was covered with large bodies of water.” We see that phrase in another passage where Mormon reports Nephites heading to northward lands.
The departure phrase comes in Helaman 3:3: “And it came to pass in the forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land.”
The return is declared explicitly and also repeats the information from that marked the departure point for the insertion:
And now I return again to mine account; therefore, what I have spoken had passed after there had been great contentions, and disturbances, and wars, and dissensions, among the people of Nephi.
The forty and sixth year of the reign of the judges ended;
And it came to pass that there was still great contention in the land, yea, even in the forty and seventh year, and also in the forty and eighth year. (Helaman 3:17–19)
In between, Mormon inserted specific descriptions of both the geographic and ecological features of the land northward. It was a land of many waters, and it was a land so devoid of trees that buildings were made of cement.
Significantly, Mormon also says of the land northward:
And now there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people, by many of this people, which are particular and very large, concerning them.
But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, [Page 103]and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.
But behold, there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites.
And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites. (Helaman 3:13–16)
When Mormon speaks of “this people,” we might think that he is referring to the Nephites under the reign of Helaman. I suggest that “this people” refers specifically to those who have gone north. Mormon notes that there is much that could be said about them and that there were histories kept. Those texts speak of “their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations.” Those are themes he associates with the north and with the Gadianton robbers.
Mormon noted that many of the people of Ammon had gone north. They were known as a particularly righteous people, and he has them at least symbolically carry the ability to record history to the north. However, Mormon then describes what happened to the Nephites in the north: “they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites” (Helaman 3:16).
Later in the book of Helaman, Mormon reports on efforts to preach the gospel in the land northward:
Behold, now it came to pass in the sixty and ninth year of the reign of the judges over the people of the Nephites, that Nephi, the son of Helaman, returned to the land of Zarahemla from the land northward.
For he had been forth among the people who were in the land northward, and did preach the word of God unto them, and did prophesy many things unto them;
[Page 104]And they did reject all his words, insomuch that he could not stay among them, but returned again unto the land of his nativity. (Helaman 7:1–3)
The dangerous nature of the lands northward is reiterated in 3 Nephi:
And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation.
And there were a great many thousand people who were called Nephites, who did gather themselves together in this land. Now Lachoneus did cause that they should gather themselves together in the land southward, because of the great curse which was upon the land northward. (3 Nephi 3:23–24)
Although little Nephite history involved the lands northward, Mormon nevertheless made sure to emphasize them. When he did, it was their dangerous aspects that were emphasized. Not only does he generally see the lands northward as cursed, but they bring the curse of the destruction of civilizations with them. Attempts to preach the word of God fail in the north. Even when good people go north, they are not heard from again (such as the people of Hagoth), or they are described as having become as corrupt as the others in that dangerous land.
Regardless of the actual history behind what Mormon wrote, he wrote so that his readers would understand that he saw danger in the land northward. He also specifically provided geographic clues so that his assumed readers — those he believed would have had some of his own cultural understanding — would be able to identify the particular north-people who would become Mormon’s Gadianton robbers at the end of Nephite history. They were a people from the north bringing with them the destruction of society.134 In Mormon’s mind, it was no coincidence that the Nephite nation met its end after it had been forced into the land northward. Mormon understood the symbolism when he equated the hill Ramah, around which the Jaredites gathered to meet their final destruction, and Cumorah, which fulfilled that very same function for the Nephites.
Lest we miss Mormon’s message, he made it clear:
[Page 105]And behold, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi.
Behold I do not mean the end of the book of Helaman, but I mean the end of the book of Nephi, from which I have taken all the account which I have written. (Helaman 2:13–14).
The Hebrew word, meaning “truly,” is transliterated into Greek in the New Testament, and thence to the English Bible. It is found many times in the Book of Mormon. The Hebrew infinitive conveys the notions “to confirm, support, uphold, be faithful, firm.” In antiquity the expression carried the weight of an oath. By saying “amen” the people solemnly pledged faithfulness and assented to curses upon themselves if found guilty (Deuteronomy 27:14–26). And by saying “amen” the people also sealed their praises of God (1 Chr. 16:36; Psalms 106:48; Romans 11:36; 1 Peter 4:11).
The Maya monuments, and especially those of the stela type, seem to have been used, perhaps primarily, to mark the passage of time, stelae being erected at intervals of every hotun (1,800 days) or multiples thereof as every lahuntun (3600 days) or katun (7200 days) throughout the Old Empire, approximately 200 to 600 A.D.
To appreciate how the Book of Mormon was compiled as the Lord directed the prophet-writers, we must first appreciate the fact that not everything available to the writers was included in the book. Again and again the reader is reminded of the immense amount of material the prophets had to work from and the small amount of space they had to work with.
Now behold, it is these secret oaths and covenants which Alma commanded his son should not go forth unto the world, lest they should be a means of bringing down the people unto destruction.
Now behold, those secret oaths and covenants did not come forth unto Gadianton from the records which were delivered unto Helaman; but behold, they were put into the heart of Gadianton by that same being who did entice our first parents to partake of the forbidden fruit— (Helaman 6:25–26)