Abstract: Aminadab, a Nephite by birth who later dissented to the Lamanites, played a crucial role in the mass conversion of three hundred Lamanites (and eventually many others). At the end of the pericope in which these events are recorded, Mormon states: “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 6:36), whereas he “began to withdraw” his Spirit from the Nephites “because of the wickedness and the hardness of their hearts” (Helaman 6:35). The name Aminadab is a Semitic/Hebrew name meaning “my kinsman is willing” or “my people are willing.” As a dissenter, Aminadab was a man of two peoples. Mormon and (probably) his source were aware of the meaning of Aminadab’s name and the irony of that meaning in the context of the latter’s role in the Lamanite conversions and the spiritual history of the Nephites and Lamanites. The narrative’s mention of Aminadab’s name (Helaman 5:39, 41) and Mormon’s echoes of it in Helaman 6:36, 3 Nephi 6:14, and elsewhere have covenant and temple significance not only in their ancient scriptural setting, but for latter-day readers of the Book of Mormon today.
Like the mention of a woman named “Abish” in Alma 19:6,1 Mormon’s abrupt, threefold mention of a man named “Aminadab” in Helaman 5:39-41 draws attention to an individual whose life and legacy might otherwise have remained anonymous and thus forgotten. As noted elsewhere, the mention of Abish is remarkable since she is one of few women and servants in the Book of Mormon whose personal name is given.2 While it is not evident from the text that the man Aminadab [Page 84]was a servant, neither is it evident he was a leader — unless calling the attention of the multitude and answering their questions constitutes such evidence (Helaman 5:37-41). Mormon tells us he was merely “one among” those in that prison, though “a Nephite by birth.”
Nevertheless, Mormon emphasizes the fact he considers crucial — namely, that Aminadab was a “dissenter” (“they that were in the prison were Lamanites and Nephites who were dissenters,” Helaman 5:27; he had “belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them,” 5:35), hardly an auspicious characterization, given what Mormon has recorded up to this point in his history regarding notorious religio political dissenters like Zerahemnah,3 Amalickiah,4 Ammoron,5 Coriantumr26 and others.7 Mormon shows that Aminadab differs from those earlier dissenter predecessors in that his rebelliousness and unwillingness to believe became righteousness, faith, and willingness, and he facilitates the acquisition of these same qualities by many others, both Lamanites and Nephites.
Mormon introduces and incorporates Aminadab — his name, biography, and salient role in the conversion of three hundred Lamanites and Nephite dissenters (and subsequently many others) — into his narrative in such a way as to give the impression that he is drawing on Aminadab’s eyewitness knowledge of those events. For example, Mormon describes some of what was seen in the prison from Aminadab’s own perspective (Helaman 6:36), including details only Aminadab himself could have known. Aminadab’s words are preserved and properly attributed (6:41). He knew Aminadab’s backstory (6:35). Indeed, the fact that Aminadab’s name is known and remembered suggests that Mormon (and probably others) considered it important.
In other words, Mormon draws on an account of these of events recorded by Aminadab himself or accesses the record of someone who preserved Aminadab’s account. Aminadab, though only briefly [Page 85]mentioned in the text and only in this pericope, plays a pivotal role in Lamanite and Nephite spiritual history. Thus, while Mormon clearly considered Aminadab’s name and biography important, additional textual evidence throughout Helaman 5–6 suggests that all this is more than just historical reminiscence on the part of Mormon and his source(s).
In this article, I propose that Mormon’s mention of the name Aminadab in Helaman 5:39-41, like his mention of the name Abish in Alma 19:6, served an important narratalogical function. Mormon, like his source, appears to have been aware of the Hebrew meaning of Aminadab — “my kinsman is willing” or “my people is/are willing” — and the ironic importance of the meaning of this name in the context of the socio-religious shifts of that epoch: the Nephites, from whom Aminadab had dissented, becoming an increasingly wicked people (like Nephite dissenters had in previous generations)8 and the Lamanites and Nephite dissenters with them becoming more righteous. This narratological trajectory reaches its apex in Helaman 6:39, where Mormon says of the “people” of the Lamanites that the Lord poured out his blessings “because of their easiness and willingness to believe in his words.” Although this remark at 6:36 occurs at some remove in the text from the mention of Aminadab in 5:39-42, it constitutes a seemingly deliberate echo of his name. Aminadab was not only a fitting name for the figure who bore it — in view of his personal story of repentance and conversion — but also because of the role he played in the conversion of so many others — a “people” who became “willing.”
“My Kinsman Is Willing” / “My People Are Willing”
The name “Aminadab” is a Semitic/Hebrew name with a straightforward etymology. Aminadab, Amminadab,9 or Amminadib,10 taken as a [Page 86]theophoric11 name — as names in the Ancient Near East commonly were — denotes “My kinsman is willing”12 — i.e., Yahweh as “my (divine) kinsman” [ʿammî] “is willing [nādāb].”13 However, Aminadab can also be taken as a non-theophoric name, meaning, “my (non-divine) kinsman is willing,” “my people are willing”/“noble,” or “my kin are willing”/“noble” (ʿammî “my people” + nādāb “willing”). This range of possible meanings is important to what shall be discussed below.
Aminadab is one of a handful of nādāb names born by Israelites in the scriptures, including Abinadab (“my father is willing/generous”),14 Nadab (“willing,” “generous,” “noble”),15 and its longer form Nedabiah (“Yahweh is willing,” “Yahweh is generous,”16 “Yahweh is noble”).
The onomastic elements of “Aminadab” or “Amminadab” occur together (“Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves [bĕhitnaddēb ʿam]” — Judges 5:2). They also occur together in Psalm 110:3, a temple hymn in which it is said of the Davidic king, “Thy people shall be willing [ʿammĕkā nĕdābōt] in the day of thy power.”17 The Persian-era Chronicler, perhaps having some reference to Psalm 110 in its temple context, emphasizes the “willingness” of David and the people in making offerings for the [Page 87]building of the temple as preparations were made,18 a project later carried out and completed by his son Solomon. In 1 Chronicles 29 the verb *ndb occurs seven times alone,19 repeatedly in juxtaposition with the noun ʿam: “Then the people [haʿam] rejoiced, for that they offered willingly [ʿal–hitnadĕbam], because with perfect heart they offered willingly [hitnadĕbû] to the Lord: and David the king also rejoiced with great joy” (1 Chronicles 29:9); “But who am I, and what is my people [ʿammî], that we should be able to offer so willingly [lĕhitnadēb] after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee. (1 Chronicles 29:14); “I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered [hitnadabtî] all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people [ʿammĕkā] which are present here, to offer willingly [lĕhitnadeb] unto thee” (1 Chronicles 29:17).
In all this, the Chronicler insists, the people of Israel in David’s time met the Mosaic Law’s “willingness” requirements in their sacrifices and offerings. In Exodus 25:2, the Lord had commanded Moses: “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly [yiddĕbenû] with his heart ye shall take my offering.” Similarly, the Book of Ezra’s description restored cultic practices at the newly-rebuilt temple in Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile (the temple of Zerubbabel) specifically mentions the freewill offering, suggesting its importance: “And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered [mitnadēb] a freewill offering [nĕdābâ] unto the Lord” (Ezra 3:5). These biblical passages suggest a close connection — perhaps an ideal connection — between the identity of Yahweh’s “people” and their “willingness,” all this in the context of temple. In the end, what else would (or should) distinguish a “people of the Lord” from other people other than their “willingness” to bear his name, to keep covenant and his commandments, and to do his will?
Aminadab: Man of Two “Peoples”
As a Nephite dissenter, Aminadab was a man of two peoples: the Nephites, whose culture and religion had been his prior to his dissention, and the Lamanites, whose culture he had adopted. Mormon recognized [Page 88]the fact that Aminadab, on this occasion, serendipitously bridged the two cultural/religious worlds, serving as an instrument in the Lord’s hand in converting the Lamanites and other Nephite dissenters in the prison:
Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them. And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld. And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi. And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse? Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God. And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us? And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you. And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed. (Helaman 5:35-42)
The phrase “now there was one among them” recalls Mormon’s introduction of several other important figures into his narrative: Alma the Elder,20 Zeezrom,21 and Abish.22 Alma, Zeezrom, and Abish had belonged to groups who were not living according to the Lord’s commandments, and all three became converted to the Lord, undergoing full personal [Page 89]transformations. Moreover, all three became instruments in the Lord’s hand in bringing about the conversions of many others: Alma founded a church, Zeezrom helped reconvert many Zoramites, and Abish participated in the conversion of many other Lamanites. The language here suggests that Aminadab belongs to this class of persons and that his role was similarly important. Mormon also plays on the name Aminadab (see below), as he does the names of these three.23
Mormon stresses that Aminadab was both “a Nephite by birth” and a “dissenter” from “the church of God.” In other words, he had evidently repudiated both his cultural and religious heritage. Mormon also describes what Aminadab saw on this occasion in great detail — even from the latter’s own perspective in Helaman 6:36, so much so that we get the impression that Mormon drew directly on Aminadab’s own account or reminiscence of this event. Aminadab “saw through the cloud of darkness” (6:36). This “cloud of darkness”24 evokes the theophanic cloud which was said to surround Yahweh and which Yahweh was said to reside (Psalm 97:2, 1 Kings 8:12/2 Chronicles 6:1) … as well as the “cloud” in the storm-god imagery sometimes used to describe Yahweh’s presence in the Hebrew Bible (see Psalm 104:3; Isaiah 19:1; Jeremiah 4:13; Ezekiel 38:9). The cloud that initially veiled the Lord from the brother of Jared (Ether 2:4-15; 14) and through which the Lord “stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger” as “the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared” (Ether 3:6; cf. 3:19-20) functioned similarly.
Aminadab himself does not behold a theophany, per se, but he is a key witness to the theophany that Nephi and Lehi themselves “beheld” (i.e., “some being whom they beheld”). While perhaps he does not see through the veil25 in precisely the same way that the brother of Jared does on Mount Shelem in Ether 3, nevertheless Aminadab sees enough (and has enough spiritual insight) to recognize the sacred nature of what was transpiring [Page 90]and has enough wherewithal to draw the attention of the Lamanites and Nephite dissenters to Nephi and Lehi and the theophany that the latter were experiencing. The fact that Aminadab quickly recognized what was happening suggests that his knowledge of the gospel (as taught among the Nephites) and of spiritual things had been great and that not all had been forgotten.
“Who Is It with Whom These Men Do Converse?”
The Divine Kinsman of Helaman 5
In the ancient Zeniffite prison26 in the land of Nephite about three hundred Lamanites and Nephite dissenters — Aminadab among them — heard the voice of God declare: “Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants, which I have sent unto you to declare good tidings” (Helaman 5:29). Mormon then describes the divine voice as “not a voice of thunder, neither … a voice of great tumultuous noise, but … a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper” (5:30; cf. “a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, v. 46), language (that evokes or depends upon 1 Kings 19:12 and 1 Nephi 17:4 (i.e., “a still small voice,” Heb. qôl dĕmāmâ daqqâ, literally: “voice of a thin whisper”) and language that foreshadows his description of the voice of the Father in 3 Nephi 11 (see Helaman 5:30-31; cf. 5:46).27 The voice then comes again, declaring “Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand; and seek no more to destroy my servants” (Helaman 5:32). Mormon states that the voice came a third time “and did speak unto them marvelous words which cannot be uttered by man” (5:33). The Lamanites and Nephite dissenters are immobilized by the “the cloud of darkness” and the “fear” that it produced (5:34).
Thereupon, Aminadab counsels the men in the prison: “you must repent and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ.” Aminadab, as a Nephite dissenter and lapsed member of the church that had originally been (re)established28 by Alma the Elder, understood the meaning of the voice’s reiterated command, “repent.” He also apparently understood the importance of repentance in the context of the doctrine of Christ (2 Nephi 31–32)29 as evident in his counsel that they “cry unto [Page 91]the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ.” Aminadab knew that crying unto the voice would instill faith in the one whom he had formerly understood to have the power to dispel darkness (see, e.g., Lamoni’s experience in Alma 19:6 and Alma’s experience as recounted in Alma 36:17-20; cf. 26:3, 15). Thus, Aminadab’s counsel has the added effect of centering their understanding of the phenomena — and thus the Lamanites’ and dissenters’ nascent faith — in Christ.
They heed Aminadab’s counsel with marvelous results: “the cloud of darkness [is] dispersed” and they are all “encircled about … by a pillar of fire” (Helaman 5:42-45; cf. Alma 26:15). They become — like Nephi and Lehi — partakers of and participants in the theophany.30 It is important to note here that the one to whom the voice belonged — Christ — is also the source of the ensuing blessings: Christ dispersed the overshadowing cloud of darkness, Christ sent the encircling (i.e., embracing) theophanic “fire” (Helaman 5:43; cf. Alma 26:15) — the one in whom “there should come every good thing” (Moroni 7:19-22), the “redeemer” and “rock” in whom Nephi and Lehi believed (cf. Helaman 5:9-12).
Here we recall that Aminadab’s name means both “my kinsman is willing”/“generous”/ “noble” and “my people [kin] are noble.” There is ample evidence in the Israelite onomasticon for Yahweh’s being considered the “divine kinsman” of Israel. Yahweh was conceived as [Page 92]a divine father,31 a divine brother;32 in other words, a kinsman.33 The concept may be tribal in origin.34 Frank Moore Cross observes:
The Israelite league was … a religious organization or society. Priestly families, linked by genealogy to create a priestly “tribe,” were set aside [i.e., “set apart”] to conduct rituals and sacrifices to preserve religious lore. The league was called ʿam Yahweh, which we generally translate the ‘people of Yahweh.’ However, … ʿam(m) is a kinship term, and for our purposes here is perhaps better translated the ‘kindred’ of Yahweh. Yahweh is the god of Israel, the Divine Kinsman, the god of the covenant. … The ʿam Yahweh, ‘kindred of Yahweh,’ in some contexts must be translated ‘the militia of Yahweh,’ and in some contexts the ʿam Yahweh is a community of worshipers, a cultic association.35
The “kinship” relationship between Yahweh and Israel is presupposed in statements made throughout the Book of Mormon that the Lord (Yahweh) would “redeem his people.”36 Such a statement occurs in Helaman 5:9-10, where Helaman identifies Jesus Christ as Yahweh the kinsman redeemer:
O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world. And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he [Amulek] said unto him [Zeezrom] that [Page 93]the Lord [Yahweh] surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.
Helaman’s statement to his sons, Nephi and Lehi, constitutes an important backdrop against which the theophany and the miraculous conversions of Helaman 5 take place. The Hebrew divine epithet gōʾēl (“redeemer”) or (“kinsman redeemer”) implies kinship with the redeemed.37 The mere presence of the name Aminadab in the text of this narrative and in the context of Helaman’s declarations to Nephi and Lehi (Helaman 5:9-12) draws potential attention to Yahweh (“the rock of our redeemer who is Christ, the Son of God,” 5:12) and his role as the divine ʿam (kinsman”) in relationship to his ʿam (“people,” “kin”) and his showing himself “willing” or “generous” in that role (see Helaman 5:43-45).
The divine voice speaks again in Helaman 5:47: “Peace, peace be unto you because of your faith in my Well Beloved, which was from the foundation of the world.” It is the divine kinsman — the divine “kinsman” for whom Aminadab conceivably had been named38 — who speaks. The repetition “peace, peace” here corresponds to the twofold repetition of “repent, repent” in Helaman 5:29, 32.
The term “peace,” in fact, indicates that repentance has taken place and that peace has been created between Yahweh and the Lamanites (and Nephite dissenters) in prison, just as “peace” is created between Gideon and Yahweh in Judges 6:23-24. The initially diffident Gideon who had sought a confirmatory sign that it was in fact Yahweh or his messenger that was speaking with him, was terrified at the theophanic fire and the sight of the divine messenger upon seeing them, since such theophanic manifestations were potentially fatal.39 Yahweh himself voices the reassurance that Gideon needs: “And the Lord [Yahweh] said unto him, Peace be unto thee [šālôm lĕkā]; fear not: thou shalt not die. [Page 94]Then Gideon built an altar there unto the Lord, and called it Jehovah-shalom [Yahweh-šālôm = “He creates peace”40]: unto this day it is yet in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites” (Judges 6:23-24). Robert Boling suggests, on analogy with Frank Moore Cross’s etymology for Yahweh-ṣĕbāʾôt (“He creates the [heavenly] hosts,”41 frequently rendered “Lord of Hosts” or “Lord of Sabaoth”)42 that the name Jehovah-Shalom means “He creates peace.”43 Just as Yahweh — the Savior himself — created lifesaving peace between himself and Gideon (cf. the lifesaving “at-one-ment” [tĕkuppār] of Isaiah’s “sin” during the theophany that attended his calling to be a prophet [Isaiah 6:7)]) ,44 he also created “peace” between himself and Aminadab and the three hundred in the prison (“peace, peace be unto you”) by virtue of their faith and the atonement (“because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world”).
With the “peace” or atonement necessary for surviving a theophany thus created, all three hundred men become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) or “partakers of the heavenly gift” (4 Nephi 1:3; Ether 12:8) as they participate in the divine council as it descends to them45: “And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens [Page 95]open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them” (Helaman 5:48). The participation of these “men” in, and their instruction (their being “ministered unto”) by, the divine council constitutes a kind of endowment.46 Like prophets Isaiah,47 Lehi,48 and Ezekiel49 in the divine council, they become endowed with the knowledge of God and commissioned to go forth and bear an incontrovertible testimony of him. They become empowered to “minister unto the people” (Helaman 5:50) — they become “ministering angels” like the angels who ministered to them in the divine council.
The some three hundred witnesses subsequently all receive a kind of prophetic or angelic commission: they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt” (Helaman 5:49; cf. Isaiah 6:9: “go and tell this people [ʿām]”). Their subsequent “go[ing] forth and minister[ing] unto the people [cf. Hebrew haʿam]” indicates their “willingness” in response to this commission. Like Isaiah, Abraham, and the Lord himself, they were commissioned in a divine council setting — in this instance, they do not ascend into heaven, but rather the divine council (or a portion thereof) descends to them, as it does to Isaiah (Isaiah 6). Their response to their commissioning compares well to the response “here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27; Isaiah 6:8) or “here am I” (Genesis 22:1, 11; 1 Samuel 3:4-21, see especially 3:4-6, 8, 16). They have become “angelicized” — that is, divinely-sent messengers from the divine “kinsman” to their own “people” — their kindred. They will emerge as “willing” messengers who instilled “willingness” in the kinsfolk who hear their message.
“They Did Go Forth and Did Minister unto the People” (Helaman 5:50): The Making of a Willing People
The Lamanites and Nephite dissenters in the prison — perhaps in no small part because many of them were Nephite dissenters — became a missionary juggernaut . Commissioned to “go forth” and minister, they taught and bore testimony effectively and gained converts quickly:
[Page 96]And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt. And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people [cf. haʿam] declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received. And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers. And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession. (Helaman 5:49-52)
The Lamanites readily recognized the “greatness of the evidences which they had received,” which suggests both teachability and willingness. The “greatness of the evidences” consisted in the greatness of the testimonies that these Lamanites and dissenters bore: they were testimonies of surpassing faith. Jesus himself specifically cites these Lamanites as examples of “faith” and offering the “broken heart and a contrite spirit” that became the required sacrifice when the Mosaic cultic requirements were “done away” (see 3 Nephi 9:20).50 These Lamanites had been “willingly” offering the true sacrifice — the sacrifice of a “broken heart and a contrite spirit”51 — even before the coming of the Christ (cf. Psalm 51:16-17).52
A Tale of Two Peoples: The Lamanites Become
a Righteous People vis-à-vis the Nephites
Mormon’s focus in the material that follows the theophany and miracles of Helaman 5 is clearly the state of the “the people” (Hebrew haʿam).After the theophany and the concomitant conversion of so many [Page 97]Lamanites and Nephite dissenters, the collective spiritual trajectory of the Lamanites trends upward for more than a generation:
And it came to pass that when the sixty and second year of the reign of the judges had ended, all these things had happened and the Lamanites had become, the more part of them, a righteous people [ʿam, or “kin” insomuch that their righteousness did exceed that of the Nephites, because of their firmness and their steadiness in the faith. For behold, there were many of the Nephites who had become hardened and impenitent and grossly wicked, insomuch that they did reject the word of God and all the preaching and prophesying which did come among them. (Helaman 6:2)
The description “firmness and … steadiness in the faith” plays on and overturns the pejorative “unbelief” (cf. Hebrew lōʾ ʾēmun, Deuteronomy 32:20) frequently ascribed by the Nephites to the Lamanites.53 The Lamanites had become the more righteous — the more willing — people. On the other hand, the adjectival descriptions of many of the Nephites as “hardened,” “impenitent,” and “grossly wicked” describe the diametric opposite of a “people” who are “willing.” This unwillingness is exemplified in their wholesale rejection of the word of God, preaching, and prophecy. To the joy of the unified “people of the church,” however, opposite conditions prevail among the Lamanites:
Nevertheless, the people [cf. Hebrew ʿam] of the church did have great joy because of the conversion of the Lamanites, yea, because of the church of God, which had been established among them. And they did fellowship one with another, and did rejoice one with another, and did have great joy. And it came to pass that many of the Lamanites did come down into the land of Zarahemla, and did declare unto the people of the Nephites the manner of their conversion and did exhort them to faith and repentance. Yea, and many did preach with exceedingly great power and authority, unto the bringing down many of them into the depths of humility, to be the humble followers of God [Page 98]and the Lamb. And it came to pass that many of the Lamanites did go into the land northward; and also Nephi and Lehi went into the land northward, to preach unto the people. And thus ended the sixty and third year. (Helaman 6:3-6)
Mormon’s use of the phrase “people of the church” illustrates that there was at this time, as had been developing for several generations, a sociology that transcended the traditional Nephite/Lamanite divisions. The “church” or “the people of the church” were comprised now of large numbers of ethnic Lamanites.54 The Lamanite testimonies were difficult, if not impossible to dismiss. There were so many witnesses all testifying of the same thing, all of whom had gone from a state of radical “unbelief” to “preach[ing] with exceedingly great power and authority.” This same total reversal was, in part, what made Alma and the sons of Mosiah such impressive and powerful missionaries in their generation.
Moreover, Mormon here stresses that the missionary activity undertaken in the sixty-third year of the reign of the judges in “the land northward” was a concerted effort: the Lamanites and Lehi and Nephi are all the subject of the verb “preach.” Their united “preach[ing] unto the people [cf. ʿam]” made a more righteous “people” out of both ethnic groups. Unprecedented unity and prosperity followed.
In spite of — and evidently because of — the almost-utopic prosperity (“peace”) of the Nephites and Lamanites described in Helaman 6:7-9 (cf. the benediction of “peace, peace” in Helaman 5:47),55 wickedness sets in again rather quickly among the Nephites. That same Cezoram, the judge whom the increasingly wicked Nephites had chosen in place of Nephi the son of Helaman (Helaman 5:1-4, note the emphasis there on the people: “voice of the people,” “a stiffnecked people”), is assassinated. However, instead of choosing a righteous judge, the people chose that man’s son, who is also subsequently assassinated:
[Page 99]And it came to pass that in the sixty and sixth year of the reign of the judges, behold, Cezoram was murdered by an unknown hand as he sat upon the judgment-seat. And it came to pass that in the same year, that his son, who had been appointed by the people in his stead, was also murdered. And thus ended the sixty and sixth year. And in the commencement of the sixty and seventh year the people began to grow exceedingly wicked again (Helaman 6:15)
Two chief judges chosen and appointed by “the people,” whose wickedness had so greatly wearied Nephi that he resigned his office (cf. Helaman 5:1-4), are assassinated in rapid succession by wicked members of Kishkumen and Gadianton’s secret combination. The instability of the Nephite leadership situation reflects the moral instability of the people and their rapid oscillation between wickedness and righteousness. The Nephites’ “willingness” at this stage of their history is best evident in their proclivity toward collective wickedness — extreme wickedness.
Mormon, with the benefit of hindsight,56 recognized that Cainitic secret combinations were lethal to a “people”: “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 (Helaman 6:25). While making this record, Mormon himself had been a firsthand witness to the destruction of his own people, in no small part due to the Gadianton robbers (see Mormon 1:18-19), and the Nephites had long had the lessons of the destruction of the Jaredites available for their profit and learning. Mormon leaves no doubt here as to the “authorship” of these secret combinations:
And also it is that same being who put it into the hearts of the people to build a tower sufficiently high that they they might get to heaven. And it was that same being who led on the people who came from that tower into this land; who spread the works of darkness and abominations over all the face of the land, until he dragged the people down to an entire destruction, and to an everlasting hell. (Helaman 6:28)
Satan works hard on the heart (i.e., anciently, the seat of thoughts and emotions) since it is particularly susceptible to his corrupting influence [Page 100](see, e.g., Deuteronomy 29:19). In fact, Mormon states that Satan “is the author of all sin” and that “he doth carry on his works of darkness and secret murder, and doth hand down their plots, and their oaths, and their covenants, and their plans of awful wickedness, from generation to generation according as he can get hold upon the hearts of the children of men (Helaman 6:30). At the end of the Book of Helaman Mormon reports that “notwithstanding the signs and the wonders which were wrought among the people of the Lord, and the many miracles which they did, Satan did get great hold upon the hearts of the people upon all the face of the land.”57
It should be noted here that Exodus 35 illustrates the connection between the “heart” and “willingness” (being nādāb). According to this text, the building of the wilderness tabernacle — Israel’s first temple — was enabled, or at least facilitated, by the “willingness” or “generosity” of the Israelites themselves to donate the required materials: “whosoever is of a willing heart [nĕdîb libbô], let him bring … an offering of the Lord; gold, and silver, and brass” (Exodus 35:5); “And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing [nādĕbâ] … both men and women, as many as were willing hearted [nĕdîb lēb], and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered[,] offered an offering of gold unto the Lord” (35:21-22); “The children of Israel brought a willing offering [nĕdābâ] unto the Lord, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the Lord had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses” (Exodus 35:29).
One people — the Lamanites — was willing, the other — the Nephites — was not. Willingness opens the path to increased faith and righteousness; unwillingness and hardheartedness ultimately result in destruction. For their part, the only “willingness” that many of the wicked Nephites demonstrated was in “build[ing] up unto themselves idols of their gold and their silver” (Helaman 6:31), the very opposite of the “willingness” described in Exodus 35.[Page 101]
“Because of Their Easiness and Willingness
to Believe” (Helaman 6:36)
The Nephites’ ancestor Nephi, the son of Lehi, also connected the “heart” with “willingness.” In expounding the “doctrine of Christ” Nephi testified:
I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism … then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 31:13; cf. v. 10)
Mormon records that the voice of Christ explicitly stated that “the Lamanites” in the prison had, “because of their faith in [Christ] at the time of their conversion, [been] baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:20). In other words, the “baptism of fire” had “come” to these Lamanites (and Nephite dissenters) because of their “willingness” to have faith in Christ and take upon them his name. Thus they, like Nephi and Lehi, “sp[o]ke with the tongue of angels” (and with angels).
This point finds marvelous confirmation at the end of Mormon’s excursus on the primeval origins of secret combinations and their relationship to the problem of the Gadianton robbers, to whom the Nephites had lent much support. There, Mormon summarizes the trajectories of both the Nephites and the Lamanites, the latter emerging as the more righteous people, the more “willing” people, and the people who are legitimated as the Lord’s people by their reception of the Holy Ghost:
And it came to pass that all these iniquities did come unto them in the space of not many years, insomuch that a more part of it had come unto them in the sixty and seventh year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. And they did grow in their iniquities in the sixty and eighth year also, to the great sorrow and lamentation of the righteous. And thus we see that 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 [Page 102]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 6:32-36)
Here Mormon affirms the key connection between the “heart” and “willingness” described above: the Nephites hardened their hearts, while the Lamanites (and their hearts) were “easy” and “willing” to believe. The Lamanites emerge as a people upon whom the Lord could pour out his Spirit as well as his blessings and favor “because of their easiness and willingness,” a description that recalls the name Aminadab and its meaning: “my people are willing.” Terminology rendered “willingness” occurs only here in Helaman 6:36 and in Mosiah 29:37-38,58 suggesting that Mormon’s word choice here was deliberate. The Lamanites had become like the righteous and “willing” Nephites of Mosiah II’s time, while the Nephites of Aminadab’s time had become the very “people” that Mosiah had warned against (see Mosiah 29:26-27; Helaman 5:2-3).
We recall that Aminadab was a man of both the Nephite and Lamanite “peoples.” Ironically, it was his second people, the Lamanites who were “willing” while his first people, the Nephites — who had been favored by the Lord for centuries — by implication became unwilling. Mormon appears to have recognized that irony. Indeed, there is something marvelous about a Nephite dissenter whose name denotes “my kinsman is willing” or “my people are willing” giving spiritual direction to Lamanites and other Nephite dissenters who upon their conversion preached and testified to an increasingly hardhearted and unwilling Nephite nation, who saw themselves as the “good[ly]”59 or “fair ones”60 and believed the myth of inherent “chosen-ness.”
It is perhaps worth noting that the 1981 and 2013 LDS editions of the Book of Mormon provides a footnote for the word “willingness” in Helaman 6:36 that references Exodus 25:2. As noted above, the word translated “willingly” in Exodus 25:2 is a form of the word nādāb (yiddĕbenû). The concept of a “people [who] are willing,” then, fittingly [Page 103]punctuates an episode in which the key player ambiguously named “My kinsman is willing” or “My people are willing” (Aminadab) opens the way for Nephi and Lehi’s theophany-attended miracles to exert their maximum effect. The narrative deliberately exploits the ambiguity of the ʿammî-element in Aminadab to emphasize not only the “willingness” or “generosity” of the Lord, the divine “kinsman” who poured out his spirit abundantly on the Lamanites and Nephite dissenters, but also to emphasize how “willing” they became and the subsequent “willingness” of those who converted because of their testimonies.
As if to further emphasize the point, Mormon then cites a concrete example of just how “willing” or “generous” the Lamanites had become vis-à-vis their Nephite counterparts. He juxtaposes the Lamanite solution with the Gadianton problem to the Nephite non-solution:
And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites. And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations. And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God. And thus we see that they were in an awful state, and ripening for an everlasting destruction. And it came to pass that thus ended the sixty and eighth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. (Helaman 5:37-41)
The Lamanites “hunted” the Gadianton robbers, not for the purpose of doing violence to them or exacting revenge, but in order to “preach the word of God,” recalling Mormon’s earlier description about the “virtue of the word” (Alma 31:5).61 The results are nothing short of miraculous: [Page 104]the Gadianton’s are “utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites,” making them an even more righteous and “willing” people. The Nephites not only “did build [the Gadianton robbers] up” but actively participated in or “join[ed]” their program of “seducing” the righteous. The result was an unjust and wholly corrupt government.
While the Lamanites preached the word of God “among the more wicked part of them [the Gadianton robbers]” the Nephites also began “at the more wicked part of them” but instead “buil[t] … up” and “support[ed]” them until the entire nation was overspread with that evil society. The Lamanites and Nephites more or less hold in this pattern until the time of the coming of the Savior’s ministry among “the people of Nephi who were spared, and also those who had been called Lamanites, who had been spared” (3 Nephi 10:18) as evident by Mormon’s comment in 3 Nephi 6:14, which I will now treat at length.
A People “Willing with All Diligence”: Aminadab’s Legacy
Amid the general apostasy that preceded the cataclysmic upheavals in the New World concomitant with the Savior’s death at Jerusalem, which is described in 3 Nephi 8-10, Mormon states that there was only one people that remained true and faithful — and that group was not the Nephites. Notwithstanding the breaking up of governments (3 Nephi 7) and even the breaking up of the church that had enjoyed a continuous existence since the time of Alma the Elder, one group of converted Lamanites remained faithful:
And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord. (3 Nephi 6:14)
Note here that Mormon describes them not only as “firm, and steadfast, and immovable” — a formula found elsewhere in connection [Page 105]with Laman and Lemuel and their descendants62 — but also characterizes them as “willing with all diligence.” Mormon’s use of the term “willing” here harks back to his use of “willingness” at the close of Helaman 5–6. His use of “willing” further recalls the name Aminadab (“my people are willing”) and the chain of events that led to the Lamanites and the Nephite dissenters becoming a “willing” people over against the Nephites who became increasingly hard-hearted (i.e., unwilling) and wicked.
Just as Ammon left a legacy of faithfulness as an instrument in the Lord’s hands in the conversion of thousands of Lamanites, Aminadab too — albeit in a somewhat smaller capacity — left a legacy of having served as an indispensable instrument in the conversion of many souls and the improvement of many lives. Mormon and his sources were eager to recognize Aminadab in that role.
Pragmatics and Conclusion: “Who Then Is Willing to Consecrate His Service This Day unto
the Lord?” (1 Chronicles 29:5)
This concept of “willingness” is fundamental to true covenant obedience. As documented by Moroni, the Lamanite-Nephite sacrament prayers included language in which the partakers “witness” or “testify” to the father of their “willingness”:
O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he hath given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen. (Moroni 4:3)
In similar language, the Lord revealed to Alma the Elder regarding the members of the nascent church: “Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in in my name shall they be called; and they are mine” (Mosiah 26:18). This ideal was fully achieved generations later when the Savior established his church among the Nephites and Lamanites with the result that “were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 1:17).
[Page 106]The “willingness” of the Lehite people, for a time, achieved this ideal as they lived what Latter-day Saints often term the law of consecration as instituted by the Savior: “And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another” (3 Nephi 26:19); “And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4 Nephi 1:3).63 Today, as anciently, covenant obedience and “willingness” are most evident in the degree to which we keep (or do not keep) the law of consecration.
Finally, we recall David’s words as reported by the Chronicler: “Who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the Lord?” (1 Chronicles 29:5). The answer to that question for the Lord’s people must collectively be “We!” and individually “Here am I.” Willingness to put everything on the altar, like Abraham (Genesis 22), is the great ideal to which the temple and its covenants leads us today, for we still “must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham, who was commanded to offer up his only son. For all those who will not [i.e., are not willing to] endure chastening, but deny me, cannot be sanctified.” (D&C 101:4-5). If we are to be the Lord’s “people” — the kin of the divine kinsman, our Redeemer — we must be “willing” to serve him “at all hazards.”64 Aminadab and the three hundred in the Zeniffite prison became a willing people and helped numerous others become likewise. Latter-day Saints today should be inspired by their example and strive to follow it.
The author would like to thank Suzy Bowen, Daniel C. Peterson, Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, Tim Guymon, Parker Jackson, and Heather Soules.[Page 107]