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Words of Mormon 1
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Words of Mormon 1
Why Mormon Included the Small Plates
Words of Mormon 1:1–2
1 And now I, Mormon, being about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni, behold I have witnessed almost all the destruction of my people, the Nephites.
2 And it is many hundred years after the coming of Christ that I deliver these records into the hands of my son; and it supposeth me that he will witness the entire destruction of my people. But may God grant that he may survive them, that he may write somewhat concerning them, and somewhat concerning Christ, that perhaps some day it may profit them.
The book named “Words of Mormon” is temporally out of place. It sits in between the end of the small plates and Mormon’s work abridging the large plates. In addition to being out of sequential order, it is out of writing order. Mormon says that he is about to deliver his record, which is the Book of Mormon, to his son, Moroni. Mormon is clear that it is written after most of the destruction of the Nephites. Since both Mormon and Moroni survived the final battle, it may be assumed that it was written at that time. It is likely the very last thing Mormon wrote for his book.
With a title of “Words of Mormon,” it is also a self-declared anomaly. This isn’t a named book in Mormon’s work. It isn’t part of the small plates, although the first half of Words of Mormon speaks of the small plates. This is exactly what it says it is. It is a few words written as an introduction. It was sufficiently hard to classify that when Oliver Cowdery was writing in the chapter numbers; he originally had it as chapter II of Omni, and the first book of Mosiah as chapter III. He realized his mistake and fixed the names. Nevertheless, it highlights this writing’s anomalous status.
Mormon Finds the Small Plates
Words of Mormon 1:3
3 And now, I speak somewhat concerning that which I have written; for after I had made an abridgment from the plates of Nephi, down to the reign of this king Benjamin, of whom Amaleki spake, I searched among the records which had been delivered into my hands, and I found these plates, which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin, and also many of the words of Nephi.
After the introduction of when he wrote, Mormon indicates that he wants to address what he wrote. In this case, he tells a story. When he was making his abridgement, he came to the story of king Benjamin he must have read about Amaleki giving king Benjamin the small plates. He searched the archive for them and found the set that we know as the small plates of Nephi. There is important information about Mormon’s sources contained in this terse description, which we can tease out of that description.
The first is an inference about the state of the various records in the archive. Mormon had hidden the Nephite archive in the hill Shim to preserve them. In the Nephite year AD 375, Mormon removed the records from the hill Shim as they were about to be driven from the land. This suggests that there was some haste in their removal.
The haste of the removal explains why the archive was not well-ordered as Mormon was writing. Because they were hastily retrieved and likely brought to their new location with some haste, they were disorganized. Hence Mormon had to search the archive to find what he wanted because it was not in an easily known location.
The next important aspect of the archive is that the large plates of Nephi is a name that was given to multiple sets of plates. The best guess would be that an archivist made a large number of plates, and that more were made after those were filled, much as we have seen with the small plates. In the case of the story of king Benjamin, some of the record was physically on one set of plates, and the subsequent information was on a separate physical record. That is the reason that Mormon had to go looking for the rest of the information. While logic might tell us that there could not have been a single bound set of plates that was the large plates of Nephi, the multiple bound sets of plates would appear to be confirmed with this information.
Words of Mormon 1:4–6
4 And the things which are upon these plates pleasing me, because of the prophecies of the coming of Christ; and my fathers knowing that many of them have been fulfilled; yea, and I also know that as many things as have been prophesied concerning us down to this day have been fulfilled, and as many as go beyond this day must surely come to pass—
5 Wherefore, I chose these things, to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi; and I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people.
6 But behold, I shall take these plates, which contain these prophesyings and revelations, and put them with the remainder of my record, for they are choice unto me; and I know they will be choice unto my brethren.
It is hardly surprising that the contents of the plates impressed Mormon. Although he had the large plates record what Nephi had created, here was another record written by the founder of the Nephite nation providing a different perspective. It was perhaps the equivalent of finding a second book of Mark that covered the events of Jesus’s life from a different perspective, offering new information and new contexts. Of course Mormon was impressed.
More difficult to understand is when Mormon says, “I chose these things, to finish my record upon them, which remainder of my record I shall take from the plates of Nephi.” The problematic word is remainder. The first impression we have when reading that is that Mormon will put these plates with his record and then continue writing. That cannot be correct because Mormon has already indicated that his record is essentially finished, and he is about to give it to Moroni. What might he mean?
First, we should accept Mormon’s declaration that he is writing after the destruction of his people and that he will finish his record with these small plates. He will add them at the end of his record, and then give them to Moroni. What then of the statement that the remainder of his record would be from the large plates? The first definition of this word in Webster’s 1828 dictionary is “any thing left after the separation and removal of a part.” That might make sense if the translation is suggesting that the remainder is what is left after the small plates are removed. Thus, for a modern reader, remainder might indicate the rest.
The next problem is the verb tense of “I shall take from the plates of Nephi.” This is probably influenced by what will be the second half of Words of Mormon, discussed beginning in the next verses.
Words of Mormon 1:7–9
7 And I do this for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me. And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.
8 And my prayer to God is concerning my brethren, that they may once again come to the knowledge of God, yea, the redemption of Christ; that they may once again be a delightsome people.
9 And now I, Mormon, proceed to finish out my record, which I take from the plates of Nephi; and I make it according to the knowledge and the understanding which God has given me.
The addition of the small plates came not only because they impressed Mormon, but because he was impressed that there was a greater purpose that he did not understand. We have that purpose in our Book of Mormon, for the small plates provide the beginning history of the Nephites. Mormon had written that story just as he wrote about kings Mosiah1 and Benjamin—and Mosiah2 and Alma1, and so on. The beginning of Mormon’s book was lost, and the small plates provided a substitute, an alternate version, of that beginning.
Verse 9 is the transition from the discussion of the small plates into a section of Words of Mormon that bridges the short gap between the small plate history and the remaining text from Mormon’s work.
Words of Mormon 1:10–11
10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki had delivered up these plates into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.
11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands. And I, Mormon, pray to God that they may be preserved from this time henceforth. And I know that they will be preserved; for there are great things written upon them, out of which my people and their brethren shall be judged at the great and last day, according to the word of God which is written.
Mormon’s final comments about the small plates place them in the context of the Nephite archive. Amaleki gave them to Benjamin and Benjamin then added them to the collection of records kept in the Nephite archive. His final testimony of them is that they contain great things, and that they should be preserved. Mormon did not understand the purpose in the Lord’s command to include them, but perhaps Mormon saw that as one of the ways that they would be preserved. He had prophetic revelation that his record would remain, but perhaps concomitant with that understanding was that the rest of the Nephite archive would not survive. Thus, the small plates were preserved because they were included with Mormon’s record.
Reprise of Mosiah1’s History
Words of Mormon 1:12–14
12 And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.
13 And it came to pass also that the armies of the Lamanites came down out of the land of Nephi, to battle against his people. But behold, king Benjamin gathered together his armies, and he did stand against them; and he did fight with the strength of his own arm, with the sword of Laban.
14 And in the strength of the Lord they did contend against their enemies, until they had slain many thousands of the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did contend against the Lamanites until they had driven them out of all the lands of their inheritance.
What was retained of the book of Mosiah begins with king Benjamin enjoying a time of peace. The context of his speech requires the history of the contentions that had recently ended, else we might not fully understand why he gave that discourse. Verse 12 notes that king Benjamin “had somewhat of contentions among his own people.” Contentions are internal, and wars external. We don’t get the specifics but understanding the nature of the confluence of the Nephites with the people of Zarahemla, we can reasonably understand that the contentions arose over issues surrounding that merger, and probably the different politico-religious beliefs that accompanied it. In the ancient world, there was no significant difference between religion and politics, hence those two elements would have been combined in the contention.
After the internal contentions, king Benjamin had to contend with Lamanite armies. Verse 13 declares that he wielded the sword of Laban. It is highly likely that this was a symbolic gesture since the sword was over four hundred years old and a sacred relic. It would not have seen actual combat. The intent of the war was the expulsion of the invading Lamanites.
Words of Mormon 1:15
15 And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes;
Modern readers might read that there were false Christs and miss what that meant in the Nephite cultural context. At one and the same time, there are several “false Christs.” What might they have been? They were certainly not the expected atoning Messiah. That Christ was not expected for around two hundred more years according to Nephite prophecy.
In a Mesoamerican context, we may see the false Christs by understanding both the Nephite understanding of who this Messiah would be, and what the surrounding culture understood. For the Nephites, it was God himself who would come down to earth as the atoning Messiah (see Mosiah 13:34). Therefore, a Christ appearing on earth was the same as God appearing on earth.
In Mesoamerican cultures, there was a concept of God impersonators. These were men, at least typically men, who donned the regalia that was distinctive of a particular god and represented the presence of that god on earth. Thus, a false Christ would be one who falsely attempted to appear as a god on the earth. Based on what was the probable religion of the people of Zarahemla, such god impersonators would be a natural representation of that older religion and would have influence over the older elements of the newly combined people.
Words of Mormon 1:16–18
16 And after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes; and after there having been much contention and many dissensions away unto the Lamanites, behold, it came to pass that king Benjamin, with the assistance of the holy prophets who were among his people—
17 For behold, king Benjamin was a holy man, and he did reign over his people in righteousness; and there were many holy men in the land, and they did speak the word of God with power and with authority; and they did use much sharpness because of the stiffneckedness of the people—
18 Wherefore, with the help of these, king Benjamin, by laboring with all the might of his body and the faculty of his whole soul, and also the prophets, did once more establish peace in the land.
The discussion of the state of king Benjamin’s people began with contention. It is probable that what we see in these ending verses is either a continuation of the same contention, or a new instance of a contention with similar causes in the divided community. After defeating an external enemy, king Benjamin had to deal with several internal contentions. Finally, with great effort, king Benjamin is able to quell the internal contention. This preface of external and internal conflict is the essential historical stage upon which king Benjamin will give his important discourse.
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