You are here

Mosiah 8


Out of Bondage through Covenants

      Jarom -- Mosiah



Mosiah 8:7 I Caused That Forty and Three of My People Should Take a Journey . . . [to] Find the Land of Zarahemla:


     Previous to the arrival of Ammon, King Limhi had sent an expedition of men to find the land of Zarahemla, but they "were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days" (Mosiah 8:8). How could they get lost?

     King Limhi's people were descendants of a Nephite group that had returned with Zeniff to the land of Lehi-Nephi only about 60 years previous. If Limhi's grandfather was Zeniff, who originally came from Zarahemla, Limhi’s people must have known something of the way back because Zeniff had made the trip at least three to five times or more, depending on the frequency and scope of his spy activities (Mosiah 9:1-6). Perhaps the Limhi expedition knew the general direction and approximate time of travel to the land of Zarahemla but did not know the exact route. The Limhi expedition probably had some standard measurement for distance and direction in order to arrive at their destination because at one point, they "supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla" (Mosiah 21:26). According to John Sorenson, the maximum believable limit for their travels seems to be three times the distance from the local land of Lehi-Nephi to the land of Zarahemla. The party was "diligent" (Mosiah 8:8), so if they had gone beyond this limit, they probably would have realized that they were lost. Had the expedition traveled to the west of Zarahemla, they might have gone through wilderness, Lamanite country (Alma 22:28). If they had traveled just east of Zarahemla they would have been in "the east wilderness," which also might have been Lamanite country (Alma 50:9,11). The text simply says that in their search, the Limhi party traveled in "a land among many waters" (Mosiah 8:8). To reach any candidate for a land of "many waters," the expedition would have had to pass by both the land of Zarahemla and the narrow neck of land (which was located somewhere between the land of Zarahemla and the final battlegrounds of the Jaredites) without realizing they had done so.

     Upon wandering into the Jaredite battlegrounds, the search party found, among other artifacts, Jaredite records. Where did the expedition find them? Were they deposited in Ether's cave? Were they located in the hill that Ammaron and Mormon later used to deposit their records (the hill Shim -- Mormon 1:3)? Or were they someplace else?

     Finally, if the search party found their way back to the land of Lehi-Nephi and still hadn't stumbled onto the real land of Zarahemla, did they use the same landmarks to mark their course for the return trip as they had used on their initial search? And if so, what sort of geographical landmarks had they used to navigate? Perhaps in searching for Zarahemla, the Limhi expedition might have located the head of the wrong river. By following a large river from its head in the tops of the mountain wilderness which separated Zarahemla from Lehi-Nephi to where it emptied into the sea, a group of explorers eventually would end up in a lowland basin with water, swamps, and lagoons everywhere.

     Assuming a Mesoamerican setting, an area that qualifies itself in distance, location, movement, and size is the area where river systems drain from the Chiapas Mountains into the Gulf of Mexico. The average rainfall in the area is among the highest in the world. The sea-level area accompanied with the high rainfall, causes lagoons of water, creating a swampland setting and making travel through the area very difficult. It extends from the Tabasco region on one side of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (the proposed narrow neck of land) to the Veracruz region (proposed Jaredite lands) on the other. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See also Mosiah 21:25-27, which gives details of this same expedition]


Mosiah 8:7 I Caused That Forty and Three of My People Should Take a Journey . . . [to] Find the Land of Zarahemla:


     Mormon notes that "king Limhi had sent, previous to the coming of Ammon1, a small number of men [43 men -- Mosiah 8:7] to search for the land of Zarahemla" (Mosiah 21:25). This Limhi Expedition probably had some standard of distance and direction because at one point in their travels they found "a land which was covered with dry bones; yea, a land which had been peopled and which had been destroyed; and they . . . supposed it to be the land of Zarahemla" (Mosiah 21:26). According to John Sorenson, the maximum believable limit they could have traveled seems to be three times the distance from Lehi-Nephi to the land of Zarahemla because the party was "diligent" (Mosiah 8:8). If they had gone overly far, they would not have supposed that they had reached the land of Zarahemla but would have possibly realized that they had been off course. [John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, F.A.R.M.S., p. 222]      If we combine an approximate distance with the approximate time traveled, we could estimate how long Limhi's expedition was gone and thus be able to ascertain about when it was that king Limhi sent the 43 men. In Mosiah 7:5 it says that in search of Zarahemla, Ammon "wandered" between the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi and still covered the distance in "forty days" (Mosiah 7:5). Alma, with "flocks and herds" took a little more than 21 days to cover the distance (Mosiah 18:1-5, 23:3, 24:20, 24:25). Using these times for a minimum and a maximum we get the following:

Minimum time for going and returning:

21+ days = the number of days going

21+ days = the number of days returning

42+ days = an estimated minimum time for the duration of travel for the Limhi Expedition

Maximum time for going and returning:

3 x 40 days = 120 days going

3 x 40 days = 120 days returning

240 days (about 8 months) = an estimated maximum time for the journey of the Limhi Expedition

     The Limhi Expedition might have wandered in the trip going out, but coming back, it probably would have traveled much faster if they were returning over known terrain. According to the chronology in Appendix A, the Limhi Expedition was probably sent out about 7-8 months before Ammon arrived, took about 4-6 months to complete their search, and returned just a few months before the arrival of Ammon and his brethren. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Mosiah 8:8 The Space of Many Days . . . Yet Were They Diligent:


     According to Charles Bagley, the geographic situations that confront us are certainly important in any evaluation that my be made of the Limhi expedition. The probability that it could have originated in South America and extended as far as New York State is very remote. But it is equally unlikely that it all took place within a couple of hundred miles or so of the city from which it started. There is strong evidence that they traveled a distance much greater than the time required than that needed to get to Zarahemla. "The space of many days" (Mosiah 8:8) given as the time required to accomplish this journey is indefinite. But the phrase, "yet were they diligent" suggests that it could have been a very long one. How far they could have gone is answered in documented reports of similar journeys.

     The Lewis and Clark expedition (May 14, 1804 to Sept. 23, 1806) is one example. "The journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific and back again, 8000 miles, occupied two years four months and nine days." (New Standard Encyclopedia). Of the 45 members of the original party all survived but one. They had been given up for lost and their return was quite as unexpected as could have been that of Limhi's forty-three scouts. Although Lewis and Clark were well provisioned with food, boats, horses and money, some of these, particularly the horses, were more of a hindrance than a help at times. A less encumbered party could have made better time, some believe. [Charles S. Bagley, "The Limhi Expedition, unpublished, September 1985. pp. 9-11] [See the commentary on Mosiah 21:25]

     Note* Dividing 8000 miles by 28 months gives an average of roughly 286 miles per month. At least some of this travel can be attributed to waterways. Using the estimated maximum time (8 months) and minimum time (40 days) and the proposed time (4-5 months) calculated for the Limhi expedition from the previous commentary, we can then substitute the Lewis and Clark distances which yield the following:

     Maximum distance = 2288 miles

     Minimum distance = 375 miles

     Proposed distance = abt. 1300 miles or a little over 600 "wandering" miles each way.

[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]      


Mosiah 8:8 The Space of Many Days . . . Yet Were They Diligent:


     John Sorenson notes that according to R.E.W. Adams,123 Cortez and his troops traveled across the water-logged base of the Yucatan peninsula, averaging a little more than ten miles per day (having to construct many bridges). [John L. Soresnon, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book, F.A.R.M.S., 1992, p. 401]

     Note* This would amount to roughly 300 miles a month, which is not too far off from the average given above of 286 miles per month for the Lewis and Clark expedition. Given the proposed time for the Limhi expedition (4-5 months), the proposed distance would about remain the same--1300 miles or a little over 600 "wandering" miles each way. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]


Mosiah 8:7 43 Men had been sent to find Zarahemla. (Illustration): Journeys indicating distances. [John L. Sorenson].

Geographical Theory Map: Mosiah 8:7; 21:25 43 Men Had Been Sent to Find Zarahemla (Year 479-480)


Mosiah 8:8 Having Traveled in a Land Among Many Waters:


     King Limhi's men told about discovering numerous ruins of buildings and bones of men, which lay northward in "a land among many waters" (Mosiah 8:8). According to Jerry Ainsworth, the expression many waters in the Book of Mormon refers to the waters of the sea (see 1 Nephi 13:10-17), as it does in the Old Testament (see mayim rabbim, "many waters," Isaiah 17:12-13). Land being among the waters of the ocean is a precise description of this land in Mesoamerica. Sections of land were actually dispersed among the waters of the ocean. In fact, an ancient Hebraic meaning of the term ca-mr-ah is equal mixture of land and water.

     This area I have been describing, one of water-covered land or marshland extended from the city of Tampico, across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and up to the Laguna de Terminos, at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula (see illustration). This area was called Tlapalco, which in the old Nahuatl language means "wet or flooded land."

     When the Spaniards arrived in what is now called Veracruz, they named half of this wet area (from Tampico to the Isthmus) the state of Veracruz. The remaining section of wetlands (from the Isthmus to the Yucatan) was named Tabasco, which has the same meaning as in the Nahuatl language: wet or flooded land. Eighty percent of the state of Tabasco is surrounded by wetlands or water.124 These were lands among the waters of the ocean, which is precisely how Mosiah 8:8 describes the land.

     Satellite photography and other topographical evidence from the area of Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico southward shows that this lands's early inhabitants (the Jaredites) built terraces, canals, and reservoirs along the eastern seaboard. These were used for capturing and raising fish, transporting foodstuffs, raising crops, etc., and they are a conspicuous feature of a civilized people's utilizing the land's natural water resources. [Jerry L. Ainsworth, The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni, pp. 66-67, 118-119] [However, see the commentary on Helaman 3:5]


Mosiah 8:8 Having traveled in a land among many waters (Illustration): Map 4 Prior to the landing of the Spaniards, the States of Vera Cruz and Tabasco were known as Tlapalco-"Flooded or Wet Lands" [Jerry L. Ainsworth, The Lives and Travels of Mormon and Moroni, p. 67]


Mosiah 8:8 A land among many waters (Illustration): Tabasco & Campeche (The land of many waters)] [Merrill Oaks, "Some perspectives on Book of Mormon Geography," Slide #97]


Mosiah 8:11 The Blades Thereof Were Cankered with Rust:


     If according to Mosiah 21:26, Limhi's expedition supposed a land littered with rusted blades and other items to be the land of Zarahemla, could they mistake the rust and deterioration of approximately 70 years for that of 500 years? In other words, if the Limhi expedition truly stumbled upon the remains of the final Jaredite battles, and if they believed these battles happened no more than 70 years previous, what does that say about the relationship between the Mulekites and the Jaredites? If, as we have always believed, the Mulekites landed after the Jaredites were destroyed, how do we explain the report of the Limhi expedition? If the Mulekites had truly landed in the Americas just after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., then the Mulekites had lived near or among the Jaredite population for nearly 400 years until Mosiah1 happened upon the people of Zarahemla, who were descendants of Mulek and his people. This Mulekite-Jaredite relationship would explain the Jaredite proper names and story details found later on in the book of Alma relative to the kingship struggles. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Alma 2:1, 2:11]


Mosiah 8:11 The Blades Thereof Were Cankered with Rust:


     The text says King Limhi's Scouts found the Jaredites ruins (including rusty swords) about 121 B.C. (see Mosiah 8:7-11). Glenn Scott asks the question: How long could those rusting blades have lasted in the hot, humid climate of the Gulf coast? Obviously not the 460+ years from the arrival of the Mulekites until Limhi's scouts found them. What then is the last possible date for those last Jaredite battles?

     When King Mosiah I led the Nephites down to the land of Zarahemla, around 250-200 BC, the Mulekites brought a great stone (stela) to him to translate, which described the end of Coriantumr and his nation (Omni 1:20-21). Even if those battles were as late as 200 BC, it would mean those blades had been exposed to the elements for almost eighty years!

     There is other evidence the Jaredites and Mulekites coexisted for more than 300 years. One is that a number of obviously Jaredite names show up in the land of Zarahemla, especially among the Mulekites (Helaman 1:15). Obviously Jaredite names include: Coriantum, Morianton, Corianton, Gadianton, Nehor, Shiblon, Shim, and of course, Noah (obviously brought from the Old World by the Jaredites). Even Nephite weights and measures had Jaredite names (Nibley 1988, 242-246). Other Olmec (Jaredite) traits found among the Maya (Mulekite/Nephties) were: the growing of maize; carved images; mathematics; astronomy; and of course the Calendar Round. [Glenn A. Scott, Voices from the Dust, p. 129]


Mosiah 8:11 No One in the Land That Is Able to Interpret the Language or Engravings [on the 24 Plates]:


     After giving a brief history concerning the circumstances surrounding the discovery of twenty-four gold plates filled with engravings, King Limhi asserts that "there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or engravings that are on the plates [the 24 plates of Ether]" (Mosiah 8:11) Moreover, he asks Ammon if he knows anyone that can translate these records. Ammon replies,

           I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, . . . behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God. (Mosiah 8:13)


     This commentary leads to conjectures about intercultural contact and literacy between the Jaredites, Mulekites, and Nephites:

     1. Perhaps there had been no contact between the Jaredites , the people of Zarahemla or the people of Mosiah. A Mesoamerican setting would make the absence of contact difficult because between 600 B.C. and 200 B.C., there was established trade between the Olmec areas (proposed Jaredite locations) and the Highland Maya areas near Kaminaljuyu (proposed local land of Nephi).

     2. Perhaps Ether wrote in an ancient language on the 24 plates which could only be understood by other prophet-historians by means of special instruments, or "interpreters." For example, the Lord instructed the brother of Jared concerning his experiences: "ye shall write them and shall seal them up, that no one can interpret them; for ye shall write them in a language that they cannot be read" (Ether 3:22). This is similar to the Nephite prophet-historians Mormon and Moroni (see Mormon 9:34 -- "none other people knoweth our language").

     3 If the ability to read and write records was reserved for royal Jaredite kings or historians (including Ether and Coriantumr, then perhaps the people of Zarahemla (assuming they knew the Jaredites) were never given the opportunity to learn the official Jaredite scribal language. For example, after the final battles of the Jaredites, Ether and Coriantumr were apparently the only royal survivors. Omni 1:20 refers to a large stone which was brought to Mosiah with engravings. This stone "gave an account of one Coriantumr and the slain of his people and "Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons" (Omni 1:21), yet it was not the people of Zarahemla who apparently wrote on the stone, nor translated the stone. The engravings were translated by the Nephite king Mosiah, who translated them "by the gift and power of God" (Omni 1:20).

     4. Perhaps over some 400 years, the people of Zarahemla had lost the skills of reading and writing (see Omni 1:17 -- "their language had become corrupted and they had brought no records with them").

[Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See the commentary on Omni 1:20-21; Mosiah 28:20; Ether 3:22-28; 4:5]


Mosiah 8:12 The People Who Have Been Destroyed, from Whence These Records Came:


     According to Hunter and Ferguson, the Mesoamerican historian Ixtlilxochitl correlated the ancient Mexican calendar with New Testament history, having learned the latter from the Catholic missionaries and soldiers in Mexico. The correlations and parallels between his account and the Book of Mormon on the events which occurred on the fourth day of the month in A.D. 34, “when Christ our Lord suffered," are very striking, to say the least. Ixtlilxochitl double-checks his date, stating it was 166 years since the calendar was corrected and adjusted at the great council meeting. That meeting was held in 132 B.C., as has been shown. Thus, 166 years after 132 B.C. is the year A.D. 34. His other check, "270 years since the Ancient Ones had been destroyed," also conforms. Ixtlilxochitl's chronology indicates that the descendants of the settlers from the Great Tower (the Jaredites?) met their fourth and final calamity in 236 B.C., and 270 years thereafter falls at A.D. 34. [Milton R. Hunter and Thomas S. Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, p. 298]


Mosiah 8:13 He Can Look, and Translate All Records That Are of Ancient Date:


     Ammon says he knew of a man who could "look and translate all records that are of ancient date . . . and the same is called a seer" (Mosiah 8:13). According to Brant Gardner, the key to understanding what Ammon is saying here is the word "ancient." That is, we are dealing with "ancient" records. To understand the importance of the ancient text, we need to understand the way the past was conceived in ancient Israel and in ancient Mesoamerica (and likely in many other parts of the ancient world). History was not simply something that had happened, but a glimpse at cycles that had occurred and will occur again.

     For Israel, "the unifying principle [acted] like a magnet in evoking a pattern amongst iron filings. It created a pattern of history out of all its complexities, a pattern which disclosed the previously hidden purpose of God."125 Thus for Israel, the past revealed the form of the future. One of the manifestations of this patterning of life and history can be seen in the numerous ways in which the Exodus became the model for subsequent events, including Lehi and his family.

     In Mesoamerica, all time ran in repeating cycles. The creation myth that was shared among the Maya and Nahua told of recurring cycles of destruction and new creations in which the destruction/renewal of the sun was the principle event. The serendipitous arrival of the Spanish in a Mesoamerican cyclical year which symbolized change and renewal allowed them to be seen as a predicted return of the god, Quetzalcoatl. Sadly, however, the greatest repetition of the past was not Cortez' arrival becoming the triumphal return of Quetzalcoatl, but the eerie way that the destruction of the Aztec kingdom repeated the destruction of ancient Tula--an event also linked indelibly to Quetzalcoatl in Nahua mythology.

     A seer, therefore, was one who could not simply read about the past, but have the past revealed to him--to have the "real truth" of the past revealed, not simply the record of the past. With a conception of the past that linked it to the future, a seer was then one who could see the future because he could see the past, whereas a prophet saw only the future that was revealed to him. As a seer would have the larger patterns available to his prophecy.

     Notice how king Limhi immediately understands this concept by his response to Ammon: "a seer is greater than a prophet" (Mosiah 8:15). It is then that Ammon amplifies what the king has said. [Brant Gardner, "Book of Mormon Commentary,", pp. 14-15]


Mosiah 8:13 The Things Are Called Interpreters:


     “Interpreters” as mentioned in Mosiah 8:13 are also a part of Jaredite history (Ether 4:1-7). However, we do not know how or why "the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla" (Mosiah 8:14) received his set. In Mosiah 18:13, Ammon simply states that the king had them in his possession, as if they had always been a part of Nephite history. Yet Nephi does not mention bringing "interpreters" or any such thing from Jerusalem, and Ammon’s comment is the first time we hear about them. Mormon does not even insert an explanation. Ether’s 24 plates were with king Limhi at this time, so apparently the "interpreters" which Ammon spoke of were not a part of Ether’s 24 gold plates. Further complicating the puzzle, the first edition of the Book of Mormon names "Benjamin" as the king of Zarahemla who had the interpreters and not Mosiah (see page 200). So how did the interpreters come into the possession of Mosiah2 or Benjamin? [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [For a discussion of the possible scenarios, see the commentary on Mosiah 28:20]


Mosiah 8:15 The King Said That a Seer Is Greater Than a Prophet:


     It is interesting that it was "the king" who said that "a seer is greater than a prophet" (Mosiah 8:15). But Who was that king? Was it the "king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla"--king Benjamin? or king Mosiah? Or was it king Limhi? According to Hugh Nibley, it is very interesting that the oldest and highest office held by a Pharaoh was that of the wr m3 or wr m3w. It's written with an eye, and with the two stones under it. You write it this way and these things are the two stones he used to see with. He was the high priest of Heliopolis--the oldest center, the original center in Egypt. The high priest of Heliopolis was the On of the Bible, as the name shows. This was the ancient observatory, and he was the great seer, the great observer. He saw everything with these two stones. As I said, that's the oldest title that Pharaoh had, and it's the "great seer of Heliopolis" because he had the gift of seers and the two stones. It's an old tradition that he is referring to here. It comes up in a very striking way in the book of Ether, which comes later on and is archaic.

     Question: So is it possible that Mosiah had a seer stone or something before they found the stones with the bow? Answer: Yes [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 2, pp. 32, 202-203]


Mosiah 8:19 Doubtless a Great Mystery Is Contained within These Plates:


     Upon his arrival at the land of Lehi-Nephi, Ammon was brought to meet with king Limhi. Among the things which king Limhi brought up in their recorded conversation was the existence and possible translation of the 24 plates which were brought back by an expedition of men. King Limhi pointedly asks Ammon: "Canst thou translate?" . . . Knowest thou of any one that can translate?" (Mosiah 8:11-12). Ammon then launches into an elaborate explanation about the king of Zarahemla having "interpreters" and being a "seer" (Mosiah 8:13-18). At the end of this explanation, king Limhi "gave thanks to God, saying: Doubtless a great mystery is contained within these plates, and these interpreters were doubtless prepared for the purpose of unfolding all such mysteries to the children of men.

     One might ask, What is a "mystery"? And why would king Limhi suppose a "great mystery" was contained within the plates? According to John Welch, the word mysteries seems to refer to priesthood [covenants] or temple ordinances. Benjamin unfolded the "mysteries of God" to his people by speaking to them at the temple (Mosiah 2:9). [John W. Welch, "The Temple in the Book of Mormon," in Temples of the Ancient World, pp. 364-366] [See the commentary on 1 Nephi 1:1; Alma 12:9]

     According to Kevin and Shauna Christensen, although many explanations could be made for the possible meaning of the "great mystery," the only other reference to "a great mystery" in all the scriptures comes in Paul's discussion of the love husbands should have for their wives when the two are joined into one flesh (Ephesians 5:28-32). That is, the "great mystery" has to do with marriage [or covenant marriage], for the term mystery should not be understood as something generally unknown, but refers specifically to the temple mysteries. Such a context for the specific notion of "a great mystery" implies a hunger for greater knowledge of the temple [covenant] ordinances and mysteries. [Kevin and Shauna Christensen, "Nephite Feminism Revisited: Thoughts on Carol Lynn Pearson's View of Women in the Book of Mormon," in FARMS Review of Books, Volume 10, Number 2, 1998, pp. 30-31]