The Book of Mosiah is very different from Jacob, or 1st or 2nd Nephi. The storyline goes all over the place- the book is named after a king that doesn’t give a speech in the book, and begins with an address by Mosiah’s son Benjamin. Following Benjamin’s address in 124 B.C., the reader is introduced to Ammon and a group of hardy men who go “up” to the land of Lehi-Nephi to try and find a colony that was started by Zeniff many years earlier (see Omni 1:29-30 and Mosiah 9:3-9).
These men find Limhi, the son of Noah, who was the son of Zeniff, who started the colony in the land of Nephi around 200 B.C. We read in chapters 9-10 how the Lamanites hated the Nephites in this region, and that Zeniff was tricked into settling in this area in the Americas (Mosiah 9:3-12). After Zeniff gives us his account of how he wound up in such a predicament, the reader is taken to the account of his son, Noah, a wicked king of the Nephites in the land of Nephi who was warned and taught by the prophet Abinadi (Mosiah 11-17). As I will demonstrate later in this post, these chapters constitute the main message of the Book of Mosiah: that Christ is the very Father and the Son, the One who is the deliverer of us all from that which holds us captive, the author of our salvation. King Noah rejects and kills Abinadi, but not before the reader is introduced to an unlikely hero in the man Alma, one of King Noah’s priests.
Alma takes a small group of followers to the Waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18), and later to Helam, a short journey of 8 days (Mosiah 23), when he was warned by the Lord to depart. In between chapters 18 and 23 the reader is shown several events that run through different groups in heading in various directions: Gideon pursues King Noah as the Lamanites come to destroy the Nephite colony (Mosiah 19), the Lamanite daughters are taken captive by the wicked priests of Noah who escaped earlier (Mosiah 20), Limhi, the son of Noah, fights against the Lamanites, but is defeated and subject to their tribute in order to preserve his people (Mosiah 21). I appreciate the statement that “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” (Mosiah 21:36). This is the theme that acts as a bright and unmistakable string in a tapestry, woven throughout the text.
Finally Limhi and Ammon escape from bondage by peaceful means in Mosiah 22. This escaping using nonviolent methods is repeated again and again: by Alma and his people as they find Zarahemla (Mosiah 23-24), by Mosiah (Mosiah 1 – see Omni 1:12), by Alma’s initial escape from Noah (Mosiah 18:4-5), and his later retreat to Helam (Mosiah 23:1-5), as well as Mosiah’s decision to end the ruling of the Nephites by kings (Mosiah 2- see Mosiah 29).
The reason I add Mosiah’s decision to change the government to one based on representatives rather than kings to the many “deliverances” in the book of Mosiah is that he sees into the future and when he makes the statement, “let us be wise and look forward to these things, and do that which will make for the peace of this people” (Mosiah 29:10). Mosiah knew that kings are a dangerous thing: “Ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of blood” (Mosiah 29:21).
This final decision in the book of Mosiah constitutes to me the greatest peaceful deliverance in the entire book, as the death toll avoided from this one decision would surely be greater than that of the followers of Alma, Limhi, and the first Mosiah combined! The Book of Ether is a testament to that fact- by the followers of Jared choosing to institute a government ruled by kings in Ether 6, we read that two million lives were lost in the struggle that ensued following this one ruinous decision (Ether 15:2)!
Why is the Book of Mosiah presented this way?
I remember when I first had the opportunity to teach from the Book of Mosiah. I remember thinking, “Why is this written this way? It seems as if the author is wandering all over the place, through space and time, showing us heroes and villains, skipping from one story to the next!”
I believe that one of the reasons why Mosiah was written the way we read it today is that the author was presenting the events to us in such a way as to preserve these stories as a chiasmus. What is a chiasmus? The dictionary defines this as, “a reversal in the order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases, as in, “He went to the country, to the town went she.” 1
“Why Chiasmus? In the very long time before we started to write things down in lap-top computers, people had to rely on their memories. Think of throwing stuff in a box. If you just toss it in, it is jumbled, not compact, and things get broken. If you pack the box, however, you can make sure that all available space is used safely and well: that objects fit together; the ones you need often are on top, and that nothing gets lost.
Just so with memory. It needs a little help to get along, and early peoples used ‘mnemonic devices,’ usually involving an imagined space into which they put things to be remembered. . . Here’s where chiasmus came in.
Chiasmus was a kind of formula that allowed each normal object to be mirrored in a double. The double was ‘stored’ in a disguised form, present but concealed. As the sequence progressed, the double relationship intensified . . . , and in subsequent scenes the meaning of the doubled elements was revealed.” 3
Having explained what and why chiasmus was used, I believe that the person who put together the text of Mosiah as we have it today did so to show us an organized arrangement in the text. By analyzing this book as it appears in this form, we begin to see a pattern:
By visually analyzing the text, we begin to see that Abinadi’s address is central to the Book of Mosiah. Chapters 13-16 form the apex, or the main point of this chiasm, thus causing us to see Abinadi’s message of a suffering servant, a peaceful delivering messiah, as central not only to his prophetic message, but to the entire text of Mosiah. Indeed, this is what the word Mosiah means: a peaceful deliverer, or savior. John Welch has this to say about the term mosiah:
Interestingly, the term môšiac applies perfectly to the Mosiahs in the Book of Mormon. King Mosiah I was a God-appointed hero who delivered the chosen people of Nephi from serious wars and contentions by leading them in an escape from the land of Nephi (see Omni 1:12-14). It is unknown whether he was called Mosiah before he functioned as a môšiac of his people or whether he gained this well-earned title afterward, perhaps as a royal title, but either is possible.
Indeed, the themes of God’s salvation and the deliverance of his people are strong in the book of Mosiah. It tells of one môšiac after another. Alma was a God-inspired môšiac who peaceably saved his people from king Noah and the Lamanites. Zeniff tried to return to the land of Nephi to repossess the rightful property of the Nephites. His efforts failed, however, and his grandson Limhi eventually functioned as a môšiac by leading his people in their escape back to Zarahemla. At the end of the book of Mosiah, the reign of judges was established, a fitting development for a people that had been well served by môšicim for over a century. Thus, the book of Mosiah, like the book of Judges in the Old Testament, appears to have been meaningfully named.
Finally, the Hebrew term môšiac also was used as a divine title. God was and is such a savior, who would come down and bring salvation (see Mosiah 3:9). The Book of Mormon adds support to Sawyer’s idea that the divine title môšiac was also at home in a cultural context. It seems to preserve traces of a broader usage when it says that “the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation” (Mosiah 3:20; italics added), “in other words a Savior of the world” (1 Nephi 10:4).
Ultimately this term, as a divine title, was applied exclusively to God. As Isaiah 43:11 states, “I . . . am the Lord; and beside me there is no môšiac.” Likewise, the angel to Benjamin affirmed the unique work of the Savior, the only way and means whereby salvation comes to mankind (see Mosiah 3:17). Thus, in several respects, the Book of Mormon usage of this term is quite remarkable, meaningful, and wholly consistent with Hebrew usage. 4
Young students of the scriptures truly enjoy “seeing” this book for what it is. I have found it useful to have them color a map of the various journeys throughout this text in order that it becomes “real” to them. These people were just like us, with many of the same desires, fears, and faith. I have used several different maps to teach Mosiah over the years, and I like the one I have shown throughout this post the best. This map was put together by a friend of mine on her website 5, and you can download it from her site here. The map is black and white so that students can color it if they choose.
Thanks for reading!
1. Dictionary.com – see “Chiasmus”. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/chiasmus
2. John W. Welch, Book of Mormon Authorship: New Light on Ancient Origins, chapter 2: Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon. See also: John Breck, The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and Beyond Edition 2, St Vladimirs Seminary, 2008. Jeff A. Benner, Hebrew Parallelism (Chiasmus).
3. Richard Grant, Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon: A Remarkable Literary Art.
4. John W. Welch, Reexploring the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1992], 107.