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Mosiah 19


Out of Bondage through Covenants

      Jarom -- Mosiah



Mosiah 19:1 The Army of the King Returned:


     It is interesting that after "having searched in vain" the army of King Noah apparently had no problems returning to the land of Lehi-Nephi when they could not overtake Alma and his followers (Mosiah 19:1). We can contrast the ease with which Noah's army returned home at this time with the problems of the Lamanite army which followed Limhi after he and his people escaped towards the land of Zarahemla. In Mosiah 22:16 it says that "after they [the Lamanite army] had pursued them [the people of Limhi] two days, they could no longer follow their tracks; therefore they were lost in the wilderness." And after being "lost in the wilderness for many days" (Mosiah 23:30), and after finding the priests of Noah in the land of Amulon (Mosiah 23:31) and stumbling upon the people of Alma in the land of Helam (Mosiah 23:35), they "promised unto Alma and his brethren, that if they would show them the way which led to the land of Nephi that they would grant unto them their lives and their liberty" (Mosiah 23:36).

     In view of the almost opposite circumstances which each army found themselves in, perhaps the factor of distance traveled away from their local land was not the most important factor or the only factor involved for both armies. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Mosiah 22:15-16]


Mosiah 19:2: The Forces of the King Were Small, Having Been Reduced:


     Mormon makes an interesting note that after the army of King Noah returned, "the forces of the king were small, having been reduced" (Mosiah 19:2). Why had these forces been reduced? Had their been a mutiny? Or had Noah made some bargains with his own people or the Lamanites in order to divert money or resources to other projects rather than fund a large army? There is no reference to any war having been fought. Perhaps the 450 people that followed Alma had made a significant difference in the population; however, if any of these 450 people were part of the army to begin with, how is it that Alma managed to keep his whereabouts a secret? Whatever the case, this reduction of Noah's army apparently allowed Gideon to lead a revolt (Mosiah 19:2-4). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Mosiah 19:3 Began to Breathe Out Threatenings against the King:


     According to Mosiah 19:2-3, there "began to be a division among the remainder of the people" and there "began to be a great contention" among the people of Noah. One has to wonder why Gideon and the others who began this revolt had not accompanied Alma. Perhaps there were a number of people like Gideon who might have embraced the teachings of Alma, but who did not go with Alma because of political or social reasons. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Mosiah 19:4 Gideon:


     In the Book of Mosiah, we encounter a man named Gideon (Mosiah 19:4), who leads a revolt against the wicked practices of king Noah, and with the help of Ammon, helps free the people of Limhi from bondage. It is interesting that in the Old Testament, we find an account of a great Israelite war hero named Gideon, who was from the tribe of Manasseh, and was chosen as a man of valour by an angel (Judges 6:11-12). With the help of the Lord, Gideon threw down the altar of Baal and cut down the grove that was by it (Judges 6:25-32). With the Lord's help, Gideon and 300 men also delivered Israel out from under the bondage of the Midianites and the Amalekites (Judges 6:33--7:21). "Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us . . . And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you" (Judges 7:22-23).

     Perhaps the name "Gideon" and the role he plays in the Book of Mormon is a coincidence; perhaps there was foreknowledge and expectation of Gideon's accomplishments by his Nephite parents; or perhaps this is an example of Metonymic naming (after-the fact editorial naming) by Mormon. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Metonymic naming in 1 Nephi 3:3]


Mosiah 19:4 Gideon:


     According to Gary Sturgess, the twin records of Zeniff and Alma appear to have been heavily influenced by the Old Testament book of Judges, which also bears a strong antimonarchist flavor. One of the heroes of the record of Zeniff, a man described in Mosiah 19:4 as having taken an oath to slay King Noah (and having very nearly done so), is named Gideon. Gideon, of course, was the name of one of the great deliverers of Israel in the time of the judges and is said to have refused the throne when it was offered to him. Judges also records a poem attributed to Jotham, one of Gideon's nephews, in which he warned against the institution of the monarchy (Judges 9:7-20).

     Some scholars have suggested that the present book of Judges was based, in part, on an earlier "Book of Saviors" or "mosi' im," of whom Gideon may have been one.166 If so, then the association between the record of Zeniff and the book of Judges is even closer, for the book of Mormon Gideon is quite clearly a savior or deliverer in this sense, as is Alma the Elder. Indeed, Gideon is described in precisely these terms: "Now the name of the man was Gideon; and it was he who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage" (Alma 1:8).

     Yet another link between the book of Judges and the record of Zeniff is the close association between the rape of the women of Shiloh recorded in Judges 21:15-25 and the kidnapping of the daughters of the Lamanites by the priests of Noah recorded in Mosiah 20. Given the possibility that the Limhites were influenced by the book of Judges, the question might be asked whether Gideon was not a name that had been deliberately acquired later in life for symbolic purposes. [Gary L. Sturgess, "The Book of Mosiah: Thoughts about Its Structure, Purposes, Themes, and Authorship," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Fall 1995, pp. 120-121, 128] [See the commentary on Mosiah 20:1]


Mosiah 19:4 Gideon:


     According to Alan Goff, in the biblical narrative of the Old Testament, the Israelites moved from leadership by judges to kings. As they did so they foolishly insisted they wanted a "king like all the nations." They rejected leadership by Yahweh, who provided ad hoc leaders through the period of judges when the Israelites needed to be delivered. Gideon, in the book of Judges, is one such mosiah ("savior" is what the Hebrew word means) who delivers or "saves" his people. After the deliverance Gideon explicitly rejects the kingship offered by the Israelites (see Judges 8:22-23), but there are ambiguous counterindications. He keeps a harem (see Judges 8:30, something only kings could afford) and names his son Abimelech, "my father is a king" (Judges 8:31). Abimelech himself becomes a king over Shechem for a short time (see Judges 9:6). Gideon is a narrative bridge between judges and kings--a proto-king. So it is noteworthy when a second Gideon emerges in the Book of Mormon to oppose King Noah (see Mosiah 19), and to help Limhi's people escape from captivity--therefore becoming a mosiah (see Mosiah 22:4). Later in the narrative, after the political transition to judges (see Alma 1:8-9; 2:1), Gideon will confront the would-be king-men and the allusion back to the earlier Gideon will be complete. Thus just as Gideon is a biblical bridge between judges and kings, Gideon in the Book of Mormon is a bridge in the political transition between kings and judges. The mistake the Israelites made in converting to leadership by kings (see 1 Samuel 8-12) was undone by wise rulers in the Book of Mormon (see Mosiah 23 and 29).

     As a comment on this narrative interplay, Goff notes that according to Robert Alter, in the Bible often "the juxtaposition of disparate materials that are purposefully linked by motif, theme, analogy and, sometimes, by a character who serves as a bridge between two different narrative blocks otherwise separated in regard to plot and often in regard to style and perspective or even genre" serves to connect stories. This is a device often used in "Numbers, Joshua, Kings, and, above all, in the Book of Judges, but [is] also discernible elsewhere.167 [Alan Goff, "Scratching the Surface of Book of Mormon Narratives," in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 12, Num. 2, 2000, pp. 73-74]


Mosiah 19:6 The King Cast His Eyes Round About towards Shemlon:


     From the tower near the temple, King Noah "cast his eyes round about towards the land of Shemlon, and behold, the army of the Lamanites were within the borders of the land" (Mosiah 19:6). This might imply not only that the land of Shemlon was not very far away from Lehi-Nephi, but that from a tower, one could observe troop movement at the very borders of the local land of Nephi. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Mosiah 19:6 Shemlon:


     According to Hugh Nibley, the name "Shemlon" (Mosiah 19:6) means east. . . . Thus the land of Shemlon means the lands to the east on the left side (as one faces south). [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 118, 158]

     Question* Does this definition fit any Book of Mormon geography models? What is the point of reference? In other words, where would the person be standing and facing south in order for Shemlon to be on his east? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes}


Mosiah 19:15 And thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites (Illustration): The Matricula de Tributos, another Aztec list, illustrates the political symbolism involved in the ritualized payment of tribute. Every item ticked off signaled submission to superior power, just as must have been the case when the Zeniffites turned over their tribute to the Lamanite king. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 114]


Mosiah 19:15 And thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year (Illustration): Types and amounts of tribute are listed in this tabulation from the Codex Mendoza. One prince, for example, had to submit annually to the capital 12,800 cloaks, 1600 loin cloths, 1600 women's tunics, 32,000 bundles of paper, 8000 bowls, and four bins of maize and beans. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 115]


Mosiah 19:16 One of the Sons of the King:


     Apparently Limhi was one of many sons of King Noah (Mosiah 19:16), but how old was he? In Mosiah 19:11-12, it says that when king Noah fled from the Lamanites and "commanded them that all the men should leave their wives and their children, and flee before the Lamanites" . . . but "there were many that would not leave them." Among those remaining behind and being captured by the Lamanites was Limhi (Mosiah 19:13-16) and thus it appears that we can probably say that he was old enough to be married and have children. Further confirmation of that fact is found in Mosiah 19:17 where it refers to Limhi as "being a just man." [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Geographical Theory Map: Mosiah 19:2-29 Lamanites Attack & Subjugate People of Limhi--Noah Flees (Year 462)


Mosiah 19:20 [They] Caused That [King Noah] Should Suffer, Even unto Death by Fire:


     According to Bruce Warren, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, there was discovered in 1959 at the ruins of Kaminaljuyu a stela (Stela 10) which might provide some evidence of King Noah. Stela 10 is really a royal throne with hieroglyphic writing that cannot be read at the present time, but the throne does depict a person who is dead by fire and a second figure of a king. [Bruce W. Warren, "Book Reviews," BYU Studies, Summer, 1990, p. 135]

     In the Book of Mormon, the time of 148-147 B.C. corresponds to the events surrounding the prophet Abinadi, King Noah, and his son Limhi. The following is a list of interesting things to consider:

     1. Three different calendars: According to Munro S. Edmonson (The Book of the Year: Middle American Calendrical Systems, 1988) three different calendar systems are recorded on Stela 10. The calendar systems are from (1) the local Kaminaljuyu calendar (upper left date), (2) the Olmec calendar (large head at the right center edge), and (3) the Teotihuacan calendar (lower center date). . . . All three different calendar systems record the same date of November 8, 147 B.C. (Gregorian calendar). The threefold repetition of the date manifest the extreme significance of the event described in the monument's inscription.

     2. A symbol of divine kingship: The human figure in the upper-left has a royal symbol over his eye (see Schele and Freidel 1990:115, Figure 3:14). This crown-like symbol over his eye is the symbol of "divine kingship," or the belief that the king possessed certain godlike attributes or abilities.

     Michael D. Coe, a renowned archaeologist, has described the bearded figure on the right as one of "several Izapan gods" (Coe 1987:49)

     Warren hypothesizes that the figure in the upper-left might be the old king, or King Noah. A belief in the apostate notion of "divine kingship" and the worship of Izapan gods further identify this figure with the idolatrous monarch described in Mosiah 11:6-7.

     3. The old King is dead: On the figure in the upper-left, the crown-like symbol is upside down, indicating that the figure is dead. It was customary for an aging king to choose and appoint a successor to the throne before his death, but as the stone indicates, at the time of the official appointment of the new king, the old one was already dead. King Limhi ascended the throne under identical circumstances (Mosiah 19:26).

     4. New Year festival: The lower figure parallels King Limhi, who was "captured" by the Lamanites but accedes to the Nephite throne in the city of Lehi-Nephi. The date of November 8 is significant because it is still today the approximate day of the harvest festival in Santiago Atitlan (a Maya village on the southern shore of Lake Atitlan 70 miles west of Kaminaljuyu) and represents the New Year and the time kings ascended to the throne. (Allen J. Christenson, "Maya Harvest Festivals and the Book of Mormon," in Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, pp. 1-31) It is interesting to note that the northern tribe of Ephraim celebrated their harvest date at about the same time.

     5. Three hundred days---captivity: Traces of some hieroglyphs are incised in the upper left corner, but a more complete inscription is incised at the lower center of the monument. All that can be said of the lower inscription is that it begins with a time count of 15 uinals or 300 days and contains the "capture" glyph. (James A. Fox, The Ancient Maya, 3rd edition, 1984:536). Bruce Warren hypothesizes that King Noah might have died by fire 300 days before this ascension date of November 8th (according to the "capture" glyph date) and his son Limhi soon "had the kingdom conferred upon him by the people" (Mosiah 19:26). However, Limhi's royal accession to the throne could not officially take place until the New Year, which was November 8, 147 B.C. In the meantime, the Lamanites had captured king Limhi and forced him to pay tribute.

[Bruce W. Warren, Ancient America Foundation Newsletter, October 1996, pp. 4-6] [See also Joseph Willard interview with Bruce Warren, "Monumental Evidence: Will Stela 10 Confirm Kaminaljuyu As the City of Nephi?" in Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. 1/1, Spring 1998, p. 5]


Mosiah 19:20 [They] caused that [king Noah] should suffer, even unto death by fire (Illustration): Stela 10, Kaminaljuyu might be evidence of the death of King Noah and the ascension of his son Limhi [Clate Mask, "And They Called the Place Bountiful," p. 36]


Mosiah 19:20 [They] caused that [king Noah] should suffer, even unto death by fire (Illustration): Figure 1: This is known as Stela 10 from Kaminaljuyu, Guatemala. It may represent the assent of King Limhi to the throne (Mosiah 19:26). [Joseph Willard interview with Bruce Warren, "Monumental Evidence: Will Stela 10 Confirm Kaminaljuyu As the City of Nephi" in Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. 1/1, Spring 1998, p. 5]


Mosiah 19:22 The Men of Gideon:


     Gideon sent men into the wilderness secretly, to search for king Noah and those that went with him. According to Hugh Nibley, the reader should note that the "men of Gideon" (Mosiah 19:22) is definitely a title here. It's referred to three times all of a sudden. We find in verse 24 that Gideon wasn't present with them. they weren't called the men of Gideon because they were his company. He was back home, and they called themselves the men of Gideon. It represented a regular party [of people who had rebelled against the king]. . . . Gideon's followers, as might be expected, had formed a party. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 124]


Mosiah 19:23 His Priests Had Fled from Them Farther into the Wilderness:


     Mormon notes that after King Noah was killed by his own people, "they were about to take the priests [of Noah] also and put them to death, and they [the priests of Noah] fled before them" . . . "fled from them farther into the wilderness" (Mosiah 19:21,23). How much "farther" into the wilderness did the priests go? Did the priests flee beyond the boundaries of the local land of Nephi, or did they flee to the borders of the general land of Nephi? If the priests of Noah fled a great distance, how did they come in contact with the daughters of the Lamanites (Mosiah 20:1-5)? And if they fled a great distance, how did these priests "come into the land of Nephi by night, and [carry] off [the people of Limhi's] grain and many of their precious things" (Mosiah 21:21)? The events and locations related to the flight of the priests of Noah present some geographical and chronological problems to be explained in further commentary. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Mosiah 20:1; 21:21]


Mosiah 19:24 After They Had Ended the Ceremony, They Returned to the Land of Nephi:


     In Mosiah 19:24 we have a strange statement that isn't explained in the text. It's included as if the reader should be fully aware of what was going on. In review, Gideon had sent men into the wilderness to search for king Noah and those that went with him, and they had encountered part of the group as they were about to return to the land of Nephi. The returning group explained to the men of Gideon that they had put king Noah to death and that the wicked priests had escaped farther into the wilderness. Then comes the strange statement: "And it came to pass that after they had ended the ceremony, that they returned to the land of Nephi, rejoicing, because their wives and their children were not slain . . ." (Mosiah 19:24).

     Hugh Nibley asks, What ceremony? From the commentary on "the Men of Gideon" (see Mosiah 19:22) we learned that they were a special party or alliance to bear the name even in his absence--the party of Gideon. Remember the party of Noah had left the town, and Gideon had come to catch up with them and punish their leader. Gideon couldn't leave Noah alone--he was on his heels all the time. So they were hostile parties who were opposed to each other. One was the refugees, and the other was the avenging party following them, so they were hostile. They couldn't go back home together until they had settled, smoked the peace pipe, and had the ceremony. You have to have a ceremony before you can reach peace with a hostile group. You either fight them or have the ceremony, so that's what they did. They had a peace ceremony. They always have that, but this is putting it so casually, as if Joseph Smith knew exactly what he was saying. They carried out certain rites of reconciliation here, which is very common and has to be done, as far as that goes. It's unthinkable to omit it. Then they went back and told Gideon himself all that they told the men of Gideon about the king, his old rival. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, p. 125]


Mosiah 19:24 After They Had Ended the Ceremony, That They Returned to the Land of Nephi:


     According to John Tvedtnes, in Mosiah 19:23-24 we read that after the Nephite soldiers slew king Noah they "ended the ceremony" before returning to their homes. What ceremony? Its nature is not described in the text. Is this an inadvertent error in Joseph Smith's writing, or is it further evidence of the authenticity of his translation? Examination of other ancient Near Eastern sources--including the Bible--not only provide evidence for the latter, they allow us to make a guess at what this ceremony was.

     Ritual purification of the manslayer is a practice not uncommon to many societies throughout the world. The law of Moses, while not allowing the murderer to live, required that the accidental killer remain in one of the cities of refuge until the death of the current high priest, whereupon he was free to continue his normal life (Numbers 35:9-28).

     The very act of touching a dead body brought ritual impurity in ancient Israel, calling for ablution (Numbers 19; 31:19). As a consequence, one would expect that soldiers returning from battle would undergo the purification rite, making them ritually clean.

     In the Book of Mormon, Jacob performed a rite that may, in fact, be related to the ritual purification in Mosiah 19. "I take off my garments, and I shake them before you," he said, "I shook your iniquities from my soul . . . and am rid of your blood" (2 Nephi 9:44). [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Nephite Purification Ceremony," in The Most Correct Book, pp. 176-177]


Mosiah 19:26 Limhi . . . Having the Kingdom Conferred upon Him by the People:


     According the John Tvedtnes, the choice of Limhi as the new king of the Nephites in the land of Nephi is one of a number of bits of evidence that might place the whole scenario of events in Mosiah 19 as happening during the feast of tabernacles. To be sure, Limhi's appointment would have been necessary because his father was dead. But one wonders at the timing of Gideon's attempt to overthrow King Noah in the first place. Was the feast of tabernacles chosen for the revolt, in order to enthrone a righteous man as the Lord's representative on earth? The text, even before mentioning Limhi's appointment as king, takes pains to mention Limhi's awareness of his father's iniquity and the fact that he deserved to die--though Limhi wanted to save him.

     The reader should note, for example that the Lamanite attack which had coincided with Gideon's rebellion was discovered by king Noah as he fought Gideon atop the "tower" near the temple in the city of Nephi (Mosiah 19:4-5). The tower may have been constructed, as the text previously has suggested in regard to the speech of King Benjamin (Mosiah 2:7-8), for the feast of tabernacles.

     Soon after the battle, Noah's priests came to capture Lamanite girls whom they saw dancing (Mosiah 20:1-5). The incident is so similar to the story in Judges 20:19-23 as to suggest that, in fact, the dance was at a sacred place and was part of the celebration of the feast of tabernacles.

     It also should be noted that the fall festivals of the month of Tishre, was a time when citizen soldiers in the ancient Near East returned home to engage in the fall harvest. Seen in this light, the events of Mosiah 19 seem to be further evidence that the Nephites and Lamanites continued to observe Old World traditions which are reflected in the law of Moses. [John A. Tvedtnes, "The Nephite Purification Ceremony," in The Most Correct Book, pp. 183-184, 186]


Mosiah 19:26 Limhi, being the son of the king [Noah], having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people (Nephite Record Keepers) [Illustration]: Nephite Record Keepers. Adapted from [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 155]


Mosiah 19:26 Limhi began to establish the kingdom (Major Nephite Leaders) [Illustration]: The Major Leaders During Nephite History. [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 160]


Mosiah 19:26 Limhi, Being the Son of the King, Having the Kingdom Conferred upon Him by the People:


     The reader should notice that although Limhi was a son of Noah, he had "the kingdom conferred upon him by the people" (Mosiah 19:6). Limhi presumably began to be a leader at approximately the same time Noah was killed. If the timetable below is close to being correct, then Limhi reigned for about 18 years before he led his people to the land of Zarahemla.

Year* (* From when Lehi left Jerusalem)

460      Alma flees into the wilderness to the waters of Mormon. (Mosiah 17:4)

462      Noah sends an army after Alma, Lamanites attack Noah, Noah flees and is killed, Limhi reigns.

      (Mosiah 18:34---19:26)

477      Mosiah2 begins to reign in Zarahemla. (Mosiah 6:4)

480      Three years of peace under Mosiah2. (Mosiah 7:1)

480      Mosiah2 sends Ammon to find the descendants of Zeniff's group. (Mosiah 7:2-3)

480      Ammon comes---Ammon and Limhi escape to Zarahemla. (Mosiah 7:3-7; 22:11-13)

[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Mosiah 20:5] [See Appendix A]