Mosiah 28:1-29:47

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Home > The Book of Mormon > Mosiah > Chapters 25-29 > Chapter 28-29
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Relationship to Chapters 25-29. The relationship of Chapter 28-29 to the rest of Chapters 25-29 is discussed at Mosiah 25-29.


Message. Themes, symbols, and doctrinal points emphasized in Chapter 28-29 include:


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  • Mosiah 28-29: Collapse of hereditary leadership. While the establishment of a "rule of the judges" is often interpreted to be a political advance for the Nephites, it can also be seen as the failure of Mosiah to maintain the stability of a heriditary ruling lineage. While the rule of the judges gave people a say in the management of the government, it also created a power vaccuum and political schisms that lasted over 100 years and eventually led to the collapse of Nephite civil society. For three generations (Mosiah, Benjamin, Mosiah), leadership of the combined Nephite/Zarahemlaite region had fallen to "kings" which, in modern anthropological terms, were probably more akin to "big men" or possibly "chiefs". These leaders seemed to rule a small group of people mostly through their own charisma, and we are told that they labored for their own support--ie, they probably didnt have a large court supported by taxes or conscripted labor. While these leaders had managed to keep leadership within the family for three generations, when the Sons of Mosiah left, this arrangement was no longer possible, and rather than turn leadership over to a possibly competing elite lineage (perhaps descendents of Zarahemla?), Mosiah alters the management of the government. It is difficult to reconstruct from the text how these "judges" differed from chiefs--though perhaps we should see these judges more as "chiefs". If so, what we may be seeing here at the end of Mosiah is the transition from a rank or big man based society, or perhaps a small stratified chiefdom, expanded to become a complex chiefdom with a main chief ("chief judge") ruling over regional chiefs ("judges"). Whatever the actual structure of the Nephite polity at this point, the collapse of the previously stable Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah lineage rulership, and transition to the new "rule of the judges" did not seem to go smoothly, as a series of dissenters would try to wrest control of the area from the judges for the next 100 years.
Good thoughts. I imagine that the Jaredite record, newly translated (though only available in a stripped-down edition, apparently) probably had some influence on these affairs. Did Mosiah's reading of the record give him some concerns about what kingship would quickly become if Nephite civilization grew any larger? Did the people's reading of the record have anything to do with the movements back toward kingship (Amlici, Amalickiah)? Did the sons of Mosiah and Alma form their secret combination with explicit reference to Jaredite practices? How much of these few chapters are dependent on one's careful understanding of Jaredite society? I don't tend to follow the Central America reading of BoM geography, but if one does, the influence of the Olmecs among both Mayan and the broader Mexican peoples may be incredibly suggestive on this point.
I generally consider that, as suggested, the influence of the Jaredite record on the transition to judges is important to note. Not only does the Jaredite record highlight the weaknesses of monarchy, but the establishment of the kingdom Ether 6:22-27 parallels Mosiah's experience with trying to pass the kingdom on to his sons. Mosiah 29:1-8 Of course the Bible also discourses on the folly of establishing kings. 1 Sam. 8:10-18 The Old Testament does not consider the shift from judges to kings to be a positive move. At the same time, a Republic is not exactly what the people had before. The judges were more of a semi-theocratic rule, though at the same time, they required popular support. The expressly Republican elements of Mosiah's shift are rather interesting and give greater cause to compare their society's struggles with ours than any other government in the scriptures. One element I find interesting is the rising influence and danger from corrupt lawyers and judges. The destruction of the wicked in the city of Ammonihah, where the lawyers seemed to be the antagonists, was apparently necessitated/provoked by their studying to overthrow the government. Alma 8:17 Of course, it's the secret combinations that eventually tear thing apart via their assassinations and intrigues.
I think it is important, as indicated, to remember that these judges are not modern democratically elected leaders as we might too easily consider them, but rather apparently elected presidents for life perhaps most similar to a modern African model. While we don't know very much about how lesser judges were appointed, there doesn't seem to be a regular election cycle involved here, only votes for new rulers upon the current ruler's death. It isn't also clear who got to vote, how the vote was taken, or what is meant by the "voice of the people". In anthropological terms, when a ruler requires the "voice of the people" to stay in power, it is usually considered that the leader does not have enough power to maintain rulership by the use of military force. In modern terms, we might consider such polities as a "weak state", but it might be that the Book of Mormon is describing something that doesn't even reach that level. While it seems like the "Chief Judge" had some level of authority over multiple cities, it isn't clear exactly what that level of authority actually consisted of. Are we talking about a loose confederation of affiliated cities? Whatever the political situation, we don't seem to be talking about a stable government for very long hear, as cities pass back and forth in allegiance to various political alliances over the course of the next 100 years. I'm not sure anyone has done justice yet to the complexity of the political landscape reported in the Book of Mormon. While most readers of the Book of Mormon probably don't give this all much thought, surely the Monarchy to Republic model of a good state (Nephites) contrasted with a despotic bad state (Lamanites) is a gross oversimplification.
I totally agree that far too little--and far too simplistic--attention has been paid to the political themes of the Book of Mormon. At one time, I wondered if it wasn't worth looking into writing a few articles or even a book on the subject. It certainly deserves some closer attention, and most especially in the Book of Mosiah. I'd like to see more work done here on it, that's for sure. Perhaps I'll have to get some things started (or return to some things I've started before).
Once upon a time I wrote a sociopolitical analysis of the Book of Mosiah for an anthropology class at BYU. Maybe its time to see if I still have that laying around somewhere. -- Joe, Rob, Sean
  • Mosiah 29:11-15. I think it must be remembered that Mosiah has just spent years interpreting the Jaredite record. He does not have actual experience with wicked kings possible unremarkable ones through the 200 year Nephite history to date and then Mosiah, Benjamin and then himself. His father and grandfather Mosiah were great reformers who left a wicked and hostile environment in the Land of Nephi to come to Zarahemla and teach that people and eventual rule over them. I don't think he wanted to see his people ever to settle back to the mediocrity and wickedness of previous generations. They needed to do there part as Iam sure they did as they homesteaded the new land. He also didn't want to fall into the generations of progressively wickeder kings as there were in Jaredite times. There was a pattern of:
  • people's law
  • small governable groups
  • lower judges and higher judges
  • law by the people
  • a vote
  • and representation for the offending party
  • with an assumption of innocence until proven guilty
This goes all the way back to Moses' time and was afforded to Nehor and Amlici
  • Mosiah 29:16: Kings in the Old Testament. Although kings are mentioned frequently in the Pentateuch, they are usually associated with Gentiles not associated with the Israel or the Abrahamic covenant. One possible exception to this is Melchezidek who is referred to as a king in Gen 14:18. Another exception is in Deut 17:15, 15 and Deut 28:36 where the first prophecies of a king (or kings) appear. In the Book of Judges, Abimelech (the son of Gideon, one of the judges) is made king in Judg 9:6, but this is a short-lived affair and it's not very clear there what exactly the difference was between a "king" and a "judge". It is not until the Israelites beg Samuel for a king in 1 Sam 8:5 which leads to the Saul being anointed king of Israel (see 1 Sam 9:16ff and 1 Sam 10:22-24). Both Moses and Samuel warned that Israel's kings would lead to problems (see esp. Deuteronomy chapters 17 and 28 and 1 Samuel chapters 8 and 12). The problems associated with these kings becomes especially transparent in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Around 920 BCE, the Israelite monarchy split into the Kingdom of Israel under Jeroboam and the Kingdom of Judah under Rehoboam (see 1 Kgs 12). These kingdoms were eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (around 720 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 7-12, among others; see also 2 Kgs 17:3-6) and Babylonians (around 590 BCE, prophesied by Isaiah in Isa 13-14; see also 2 Kgs 25:1-9).
  • Mosiah 29:25: The laws given by our fathers. "The laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord" The reference to the laws here is interesting in terms of how it finesses the issue of the law's origin. First, the law is linked to "the voice of the people" who choose judges in order to enforce the law. Second, the law is associated with "our fathers." Finally, the law is linked at some point in the distant past, apparently, with God, who gave it to our fathers. Notice the claims that are not made: the law is not authored by the people, the law is not derived by the legal exegesis of scripture, the law is not seen as being directly dictated by God. Rather, the law seems to be based on a tradition that is sanctified by some hazily defined divine origin.
The use of the word "correct" here is also suggestive. The Book of Mormon frequently speaks of "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites, which seems to consist of a counter narrative of the Lehite exodus from Jerusalem, in which Nephi stole the right of government from his older brothers. (See,e.g., Mosiah 10:12, Alma 26:24, Alma 37:9) By calling the "laws of our fathers" "correct" Mosiah may be drawing an implicit contrast with the "incorrect traditions" of the Lamanites. If so, then the costrast of laws with tradition is interesting in that it seems to link the concept of law to a particular narrative. The primacy of narrative in Nephite legal discussions can be seen in other passages, particularlly Alma 30, the one place in the Book of Mormon where a legal rule is derived from a scriptural text. The text in question, however, is a narrative rather than a legislative passage from the Old Testament. (See Alma 30:7-8)
  • Mosiah 29:38: Nephite understanding of kingship. This verse offers a vital clue to how the Nephites understood kingship as a form of government. Under a king, it was apparently not the case that "every man" would "have an equal chance throughout all the land." What that seems to mean, according to the following phrase, is that "every man" was not responsible "to answer for his own sins." The role of the king was, in Nephite society, then, to represent in a single person the whole of the nation: if the kingdom was righteous, so was the king, and if the kingdom was wicked, so was the king (a sort of dialectic between king and kingdom seems implied, rather than a one-way causality). The king, and a unique embodiment of the whole people, carried all the sins of the people, as well as all of the glory: everything was on the head of the king. When Mosiah offers here to change the manner of government, the people become "exceedingly anxious" to answer for their own sins. Each person is given, ultimately, the opportunity to be a king and a priest over a limited domain (this seems, in the end, to be the point of King Benjamin's speech). The king carries the weight (burden/glory), and each is willing to carry his (or her?) own. (It might be noted that this understanding of the monarchy makes quite a gap between the spirit of the Book of Mormon and the American attitudes toward the Revolution.)
  • Relationship of personal responsibility to Davidic kingship. This is a topic I'm very interested, particularly as related to the Davidic Covenant. Avaraham Gileadi makes a big deal about this aspect of the Davidic Covenant, that it puts all the responsibility on the king (prefiguring Christ's atonement). I was skeptical about this idea at first, but am becoming a bit less skeptical. I'd like to study this out more. In particular, I'd like to know: (1) if the passage/parable in Judges can be tied to this in any way, (2) how (if?) the warnings about kings from Samuel fit into this, (3) how (if?) messianic prophecies in the OT address this notion of individual vs. communal responsibility (see also the discussion of communal agency in Joshua 2...).

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  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Verse 4 says the feelings described in v. 3 are given by the Spirit of the Lord. Would the Spirit give anyone the same feelings? If so, might the absence of such feelings indicate an absence of the Spirit?)
  • Mosiah 28:3-4: Alma the younger had endured endless torment (Mosiah 27:29), but there is no indication that the sons of Mosiah had, even though they did suffer. What might give them the feelings described in verse 3?
  • Mosiah 28:18: Reading of a group of people who were destroyed might sober us or even make us sad, but it usually wouldn’t make us “mourn exceedingly.” Why do you think Mosiah’s people reacted in this way? What kind of knowledge did they get which caused them to rejoice?
  • Mosiah 29:7-9: Aaron has just been converted in a miraculous manner, and he is obviously serious about his conversion. His mission is evidence of that. Nevertheless, here we see Mosiah worried that being king might destroy him. Does he lack confidence in his son? If so, why? If not, how do you explain Mosiah’s remarks?
  • It may have been a hypothetical question on Mosiah's part although as you continue to read in Alma I find it interesting that Ammon is selected as the leader to the mission to the Lamanites and is the one to bless/anoint each missionary as they separate to their assignments. Either Aaron was extremely humble and let his brother lead or Aaron felt less qualified to lead. It is not the first time in the scriptures that the eldest has that issue but it is very commendable and different that Aaron allowed and encouraged his younger brother ie Hyrum and Joseph not Jacob and Esau and encouraged his father to form a new and better form of government.
  • Mosiah 29:12ff: What is necessary in order to have a king? Are the judges that Mosiah suggests as rulers the same or similar to the judges of ancient Israel, or is this a different system of government?
  • Mosiah 29:13: Mosiah tells us that the problem with kings is that sometimes they are unjust. How does having judges instead of kings ameliorate this problem? (Compare vv. 28-29.)
  • Mosiah 29:16: In the Old Testament the king is often understood as a shadow of the Messiah, one who typifies the Savior. Is he suggesting here that, because of our iniquity, that type and shadow doesn’t work?
  • Mosiah 29:16: How is a "king" different from any other type of ruler? If Mosiah is not trying to abolish rulership, what exactly is he trying to accomplish?
  • Mosiah 29:21: What is the definition an "iniquitous" king?
  • Mosiah 29:21: Are there Old Testament precedents for dethroning an iniquitous king, or is this something that comes from the Nephite's American experience?
  • Mosiah 29:21: How is the word contention used here? Does it just mean arguing, or is it something more? How does the use of the term here compare with the way it is used earlier in the Book of Mosiah and elsewhere in the Book of Mormon?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is meant by "friends in iniquity"? Are these friends kept in iniquity because of the king, is the king brought to iniquity by his friends, or do they mutually reinforce each other?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does keeping guards have to do with being an "iniquitous king"?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What is the role of tradition in governance? Why would it be iniquitous for a ruler to tear up the laws of those who have come before? Does the tradition have weight in and of itself, or is the problem here only when unrighteous kings break the laws established in righteousness?
  • Mosiah 29:22: What does it mean to trample under your feet the commandments of God? Does this just mean to break the commandments, or is there something more implied?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Mosiah here claims that an unrighteous king a) enacts laws, b) sends them forth, c) punishes those who violate his laws, including d) destroying them, and e) sending armies against them. Are these all prerogatives of a righteous king as well? Are these practices in and of themselves unrighteous, or just when they are used to sustain iniquitous laws or practices?
  • Mosiah 29:23: Can righteous kings send armies against his own people, or just against foreign enemies?
  • Mosiah 29:24: Why does Mosiah consider unrighteous rulership to be an "abomination"? What does abomination mean, and how is it different from any other type of unholy or impure practice?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Does this verse tell us that the judges were elected democratically, or does it mean something else? What evidence can you give for your conclusion?
  • Mosiah 29:25: Is the law referred to in this verse the Law of Moses or some other body of law?
  • Mosiah 29:26: Given the Nephite experience so far, the record they have of Israel before Lehi left, and what they have just read in the Book of Ether, how can Mosiah say this? All the evidence seems to indicate that it is quite common for the majority to desire what is wrong, doesn’t it?
  • Mosiah 29:26: What does it mean to "do your business by the voice of the people"? Is this actual democracy or something else?
  • Mosiah 29:27: Does this verse answer the question just asked about v. 26? How are we to understand these verses as they apply to us today?
  • Mosiah 29:27: What does it mean for God to "visit you with great destruction"?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What is meant here by judges? How are Nephite judges different from kings? How are these judges different from judges described in the Old Testament?
  • Mosiah 29:28: What does it mean to have a judge judged by a higher judge?
  • Mosiah 29:29: What are the difficulties and opportunities afforded by having lower judges judge higher judges "according to the voice of the people"?
  • Mosiah 29:29: How is this system of judges different from other modern judicial systems?
  • Mosiah 29:30: How can King Mosiah establish a democracy by fiat? Is this what he is really trying to do, or is something else going on here?
  • Mosiah 29:31: Israelites also had this belief, that the wickedness of the king caused the wickedness of the nation. It was the flip side of the belief that the king typified the Messiah. What bearing does this belief have on our understanding of government? Why might the ancient Israelites and King Mosiah have believed that a wicked king caused a wicked people?
  • Mosiah 29:31: We don’t usually believe that a wicked CEO in a company is necessarily a bad leader for the company. Why would a wicked national leader necessarily be a bad leader for the country? In other words, how do the two kinds of leadership differ, if they do?
  • Mosiah 29:32: To what inequality is Mosiah referring? What are the implications of there being an inequality of iniquities between rulers and their people?
  • Mosiah 29:33: Is Mosiah arguing that it is too difficult to be king, even for a righteous person, so no one should ask someone to be his or her king? Why would that argument be different for a king than for any other leader?
  • Mosiah 29:33: What exactly are the burdens of kingship that Mosiah is talking about here? Is it just the complaining of his people, or are we talking about some kind of divine kingship whereby the sins of the people are thought to fall upon the king, who is then required to expiate them? How might this relate to Ancient Mesoamerican concepts of divine kingship, whereby the king was required to ceremonially shed his own blood for his people?
  • Mosiah 29:34: What does it mean for each person to "bear his part"? His part of what?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Two things seem to have most impressed Mosiah’s people to give up their desire for a king: they wanted each person to have an equal chance and they wanted each person to answer for his or her own sins. What kinds of things has Mosiah been talking about that would have led them to the conclusion that each should have an equal chance at something or other? To what do you think they want each person to have an equal chance?
  • Mosiah 29:38: How is their desire to have each person answer for his or her own sins a response to Mosiah’s teaching? Why wouldn’t each person be responsible under a king? Is this, perhaps, reflection of the Israelite understanding of the king (see v. 31)?
  • Mosiah 29:38: Are Mosiah's actions here more about establishing democracy for democracy's sake, or for some other purpose?
  • Mosiah 29:39: What are the liberties that "had been granted unto" the people here?
  • Mosiah 29:41: What is meant here by throughout the land? Does this just refer to the Land of Zarahemla, or all of the cities and villages inhabited by the Nephites (v.44)?
  • Mosiah 29:41: How does this reorganization of the Nephite polity represent a true change between how the various cities and villages are governed in relation to each other?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Does this tell us that Alma held two offices or that the office of chief judge and that of high priest were the same, as for example in the United States the President and the Commander in Chief of the Armed Services aren’t two different offices? What is the relationship between the organization of the political and religious leadership in Nephite society at this time?
  • Mosiah 29:42: Alma judged righteously and there was peace throughout the land. Is that a cause and effect relation? If so, how so?
  • Mosiah 29:47: What does it mean for Alma to be the "founder" of their church?


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