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TitleMosiah 9
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsGardner, Brant A.
Book TitleBook of Mormon Minute
PublisherBook of Mormon Central
CitySpringville, UT
KeywordsMosiah (Book)

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Mosiah 9

Mosiah 9: Header

The Record of Zeniff—An account of his people, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time that they were delivered out of the hands of the Lamanites.

Comments

This is the first time we have seen Mormon’s record have a chapter header. There are two probable chapter headers in 1 Nephi that were not typeset that way, one before 1 Nephi 1, and the second before 2 Nephi 6. John Gilbert, the compositor for the first edition of the Book of Mormon, and the one who created the sentences and paragraphs, recognized this one as a header and set it off. He was clearly correct.

Mormon announces that he is taking his account from the record of Zeniff. As we saw in the Comments on Mosiah 8:5, the record of Zeniff appears to cover the records of Zeniff, Noah, and Limhi. Mormon only notes that he is beginning with the record of Zeniff.

As is typical for Mormon, he announces when he takes material from a non-large plates source. However, he does not similarly mark the return to the large plates as a source. The book of Mosiah will be an excellent demonstration of how Mormon handles his movements between his standard large plates source and the secondary sources he uses as supplements.

Zeniff Resettles the Land of Nephi

Mosiah 9:1

1 I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance, and having been sent as a spy among the Lamanites that I might spy out their forces, that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed.

Comments

Mormon typically narrates the material he takes from the large plates. When he uses secondary sources, as he does in this case, he will sometimes copy, and other times narrate. We will see both methods as he works through the story of the people of Zeniff in the land of Nephi.

At the beginning we find the declaration that it is “I, Zeniff” who is writing. Mormon is copying the record of Zeniff, and as far as can be known from what he copied, it is the full record that Zeniff created. The much shorter version of this story is found in Omni 1:27-31. We have much more information in this account. While Zeniff notes that he was not the leader of the expedition, he does identify himself as one of perhaps several expedition members who wanted to change the mission from one of destructive revenge to one of reclaiming the lost land. Interestingly, the shortened version in Omni notes that the group wanted to possess the land, which refers to the second expedition rather than the first. As suggested in the comments on Omni 1:27–30,  this difference appears to be due to the type of information Amaleki had available to him, which was more hearsay than what we get in Zeniff’s firsthand account.

Mosiah 9:2–3

2 Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with them; but he being an austere and a blood-thirsty man commanded that I should be slain; but I was rescued by the shedding of much blood; for father fought against father, and brother against brother, until the greater number of our army was destroyed in the wilderness; and we returned, those of us that were spared, to the land of Zarahemla, to relate that tale to their wives and their children.

3 And yet, I being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers, collected as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land, and started again on our journey into the wilderness to go up to the land; but we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.

Comments

A division occurs between the original, but unnamed, leader of the first expedition and Zeniff (and those who sided with him). The leader intended to continue in his vindictive purpose, but Zeniff and others wanted to return to the land and take up residence. They would not be able to do that after a bloody raid on the Lamanites. Therefore, the group first erupted into two parties, then erupted into bloodshed.

Zeniff says that he was overzealous to inherit the land. At this early stage, the idea that he was overzealous appears to refer to the haste that led to them being spiritually unprepared for the task. He notes that they were “smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.” The promise of the land still applied to them, and perhaps in being overzealous, Zeniff and the others did not pay sufficient attention to their covenant with Yahweh. Therefore, they suffered consequences.

Mosiah 9:4–6

4 Nevertheless, after many days’ wandering in the wilderness we pitched our tents in the place where our brethren were slain, which was near to the land of our fathers.

5 And it came to pass that I went again with four of my men into the city, in unto the king, that I might know of the disposition of the king, and that I might know if I might go in with my people and possess the land in peace.

6 And I went in unto the king, and he covenanted with me that I might possess the land of Lehi-Nephi, and the land of Shilom.

Comments

As the people of Zeniff return to the land of Nephi, they camp outside the city. As Ammon would do later (although it is a story that has already been told), Zeniff took four men into the city, intending to meet with the king.

When Zeniff comes into the city there is no indication that they are detained. There is no indication that there is a language barrier. This is the land from which the Nephites had fled not too many years earlier, and there were certainly many who remained in the area who continued to speak the Nephite language.

One of the things that may have eased the possible fears of having this particular group return is that many of the people of Nephi who had remained with Mosiah1,, had fled. That meant that there were cultural and linguistic traditions in place which Zeniff’s people would find comfortable, and which the ruling Lamanites would not find that different. It is also important to remember that at this point in Nephite history, the word Lamanite was no longer used primarily as a lineage designation, but rather with the definition of non-Nephite. Therefore, there may not have been an assumption of enmity solely based on ancient history.

Mosiah 9:7–9

7 And he also commanded that his people should depart out of the land, and I and my people went into the land that we might possess it.

8 And we began to build buildings, and to repair the walls of the city, yea, even the walls of the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom.

9 And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land.

Comments

The offer from the Lamanite king is remarkable. His own people abandon their lands to allow Zeniff and his people to come in and settle. The fact that people were displaced, as well as the information in verse 8 that they began to build buildings and repair walls, suggest that they were given an area that had perhaps fallen into disuse. The idea that the Nephites from Zarahemla were given their old homeland of the city of Nephi cannot be supported by the textual evidence.

The city is called Lehi-Nephi, which may or may not have been the name at the time the people of Zeniff arrived. It is certainly more of a Nephite name, and so specific to Nephite interests that it would have been unlikely to have been preserved under a Lamanite regime.

After the people of Zeniff arrive, they plant and “did begin to multiply and prosper in the land.” We saw this type of comment in 1 Nephi 18:24 and 25, where Nephi similarly marks the new prosperity by noting that they had the means to live. That is similar to what happens in this verse. The new people were able to grow the crops needed in order to live.

The fact of the planting is more important than finding references to wheat and barley, or to determining the meaning of neas and sheum. There is no accepted correlation between neas, sheum, and known grains. We may only speculate that they are consumable grains based on the rest of the list in which they are included.

Conflict Between Zeniff’s People and the Lamanites

Mosiah 9:10–12

10 Now it was the cunning and the craftiness of king Laman, to bring my people into bondage, that he yielded up the land that we might possess it.

11 Therefore it came to pass, that after we had dwelt in the land for the space of twelve years that king Laman began to grow uneasy, lest by any means my people should wax strong in the land, and that they could not overpower them and bring them into bondage.

12 Now they were a lazy and an idolatrous people; therefore they were desirous to bring us into bondage, that they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands; yea, that they might feast themselves upon the flocks of our fields.

Comments

All three of these verses are clearly written long after the events. They corroborate Zeniff’s declaration that he was overzealous to obtain the lands, and these verses begin to explain the reason. They are certainly written about an enemy and are not intended to be objective. Zeniff could only assume that the reason that king Laman allowed Zeniff’s people into the land was to subjugate them. While possible, it required great effort in relocating people who had already been there, and then waiting a long time for the benefit. On the other hand, king Laman must have seen a benefit, else he would not have gone through the effort. Still, it took twelve years for the Lamanite plan to begin to be effective.

Verse 12 suggests that the Lamanites were lazy and idolatrous. That they were idolatrous was quite probable. That they were lazy could not have been true. An agricultural people could not survive on laziness. What Zeniff means is that they desired to receive tribute payments from dependent cities. For the Lamanite king, it is very possible that this was the intent, and it was likely mirrored in the purely Lamanite settlements that were also beholden to the Lamanite king. Perhaps taxation was what it was called when one’s own people paid to support the government. When other cities paid to support the overking, it was tribute, or in the word that Zeniff’s people will use, bondage.

The statement that “they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands; yea, that they might feast themselves upon the flocks of our fields” is a rather accurate description of the effect of tribute payments from a dependent city to the ruling city.

Mosiah 9:13–16

13 Therefore it came to pass that king Laman began to stir up his people that they should contend with my people; therefore there began to be wars and contentions in the land.

14 For, in the thirteenth year of my reign in the land of Nephi, away on the south of the land of Shilom, when my people were watering and feeding their flocks, and tilling their lands, a numerous host of Lamanites came upon them and began to slay them, and to take off their flocks, and the corn of their fields.

15 Yea, and it came to pass that they fled, all that were not overtaken, even into the city of Nephi, and did call upon me for protection.

16 And it came to pass that I did arm them with bows, and with arrows, with swords, and with cimeters, and with clubs, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons which we could invent, and I and my people did go forth against the Lamanites to battle.

Comments

Zeniff attributes official Lamanite sanction to what is described as a raid on a soft target. Whether or not King Laman was behind this raid, the results were clear. There was a raid and Lamanites fell upon farmers in the field and killed them. Their flocks and harvest were taken.

The result is that the people who survived come to Zeniff for aid. This is certainly what was expected, and it was expected that Zeniff would need to retaliate. That retaliation is understandably deadly.

The list of armaments includes both distance and close combat weapons. The bow was certainly known later in Mesoamerica, but it might be a translation term for the atlatl, or spear-thrower. The arrows used in an atlatl are certainly similar to arrows, although longer. The slings were a common distance weapon. Recent finds in Guatemala have found forts with piles of smooth stones clearly ready for the defenders on the wall to use in their slings.

The Mesoamerican sword was an obsidian-lined club that was incredibly sharp. One story from the Conquest tells of a Quiché warrior decapitating a horse with a single blow from his obsidian-bladed sword. Artistic representations of curved weapons that might have been described as cimeters have also been found.

Mosiah 9:17–19

17 Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle against the Lamanites; for I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.

18 And God did hear our cries and did answer our prayers; and we did go forth in his might; yea, we did go forth against the Lamanites, and in one day and a night we did slay three thousand and forty-three; we did slay them even until we had driven them out of our land.

19 And I, myself, with mine own hands, did help to bury their dead. And behold, to our great sorrow and lamentation, two hundred and seventy-nine of our brethren were slain.

Comments

Zeniff leads his people against the Lamanites. It is unknowable whether Zeniff was aware of who was responsible for the raid. Since all enemies were designated Lamanites, his retaliation could have been against anyone who might have been called an enemy. Ironically, this same mistake of blaming a whole people for what some of them did will happen again in the story of the priests of Noah and the daughters of the Lamanites.

In this case, the people of Zeniff are successful in their retaliation. They suffered significant loss, but even worse was that this appears to begin the rapid deterioration of the originally peaceable relationship between the people of Zeniff and the local Lamanites.

There is no break at this point in the original edition of the Book of Mormon. All of Zeniff’s personal writings formed a single chapter.

Scripture Reference

Mosiah 9:1-19