Cover image: Jacob and Enos, by Scott Snow.
In this week’s readings, we will cover almost three hundred years of Nephite history. Enos begins in 420 B.C., and the book of Omni ends about 130 B.C. The editor of the entire Book of Mormon, Mormon the prophet, writes a connecting chapter and summarizes the history leading up to the coronation of Mosiah, who succeeds his father, King Benjamin. Most of our other readings contain only a few decades of history, at most. So, put on your seat belts, because we will be traveling at light speed. . . Well, almost.
Temple Covenants and the Small Plates
In their podcast on Jacob 1-4, Scott and Maurine Proctor included a marvelous insight, new to me, about the role of the small plates and their correlation to the covenants we make in the temple. I would like to repeat them once again for your perusal and pondering:
Since this book starts at the temple, we want to talk for a minute about the temple themes in the small plates of Nephi. . . Yet, this is not the only reason we have these small plates of Nephi, which include the books from 1 Nephi to Omni. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “After reading Nephi, Jacob and Isaiah, we know two things in bold powerful strokes—(1) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, [and this is given to us in the mouth of three witnesses] and (2) that God will keep his covenant promises with the remnants of the house of Israel. These two themes constitute the very purpose of the Book of Mormon.” These, of course, are also temple themes. In a new book, called The Covenant Path, author Valiant K. Jones suggests something profound. “If Christ and covenants are the primary themes of the Small Plates, is it possible that this portion of scripture might also contain direction on the specific covenants that God would have us enter into as we seek to come unto Christ?”
What are those specific covenants?
In the April 2019 general conference, Elder David A. Bednar reminded us, quoting President Ezra Taft Benson, “We should not disclose or describe the special symbols associated with the covenants we receive in sacred temple ceremonies. Neither should we discuss the holy information that we specifically promise in the temple not to reveal.”
At the same time, Elder Bednar said, “We may discuss the basic purposes of and the doctrine and principles associated with temple ordinances and covenants…Across the generations…the doctrinal purposes of temple ordinances and covenants have been taught extensively by Church leaders…Information…is available about following the Savior by receiving and honoring covenants to keep the law of obedience, the law of sacrifice, the law of the gospel, the law of chastity, and the law of consecration.” (Elder David A. Bednar, “Prepared to Obtain Every Needful Thing” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2019/04/54bednar?lang=eng )
So Valiant K Jones suggests, “As I have studied the Small Plates of Nephi, I have come to recognize that, underlying the two main themes of Christ and covenants, there is, indeed, a sacred pattern of subthemes that I believe outline the instructions and covenants that the Lord would have us commit to follow as we become like the Nephites of old, a covenant people. I call these the covenant path themes of the Small Plates of Nephi.” He said, “These covenant topics present themselves as subthemes within the Small Plates, one for each book.”
So, for instance, he says the sub-theme of 1 Nephi is obedience and sacrifice. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” Nephi says, and that rings in our ears. He says it and then he does it.
Then the covenant theme of 2 Nephi is the law of the gospel. The covenant theme of Jacob is chastity. The covenant theme of Enos is prayer. Jarom is about family history and Omni, and, of course, King Benjamin, are about consecration. What a surprise! These small plates are about temple covenants, and in order. That is profound. The scriptures teach us about our temple covenants and the temple illuminates the scriptures. We are taught deeply and well, lest we are prone to error.
In order to understand what’s going on in the book of Enos, we must first examine the context of Enos’s sudden hunting trip. Let’s look at the last verse of Jacob 7 and see why Enos might have a lot on his mind. Jacob tells us that he knows that he “must soon go down to [his] grave,” and he calls his son Enos to him and gives him the plates. He gives him charge of the record, and repeats to him what Nephi had told him to do when he gave Jacob the plates. His words are recorded in Jacob 1:2-4. Nephi told Jacob to “write upon these plates a few of the things which [he] considered to be most precious,” and that he “should preserve these plates and hand them down unto [his] seed, from generation to generation.” He should be sure to include “preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying,” that he should engrave these on the plates. He should do this “for Christ’s sake, and for the sake of our people.” Nephi had been shown what would happen to his people, and he had experienced “great anxiety” because of this knowledge. He knew that these records were essential “to persuade them to come unto Christ” (Jacob 1: 7)
Put yourself in the position of Enos. We don’t know his age, but at any age, his is now a heavy responsibility. He has just experienced a major paradigm shift! In my mind, I liken it to being called as a patriarch, or a prophet. No wonder he needs to retire to the forest for some “alone time.” He has a lot to think about. Many people, when they are called to a new responsibility, have feelings of inadequacy. I do not get the feeling that Jacob would have asked his son to record sacred scripture unless he felt Enos was a man of God. Enos retires to the forest in order to get even closer to God. He wants to make sure that despite his inadequacies, his actions are pleasing to God. We can learn much from what he tells us in this one chapter if we take the time to “liken” these scriptures to ourselves.
Enos 1:1, 3 It is very clear from these verses that Enos’s present position has been greatly influenced by his father Jacob. The book of Enos teaches much about the role of good parents – children must know parents are just. The main job of parents is to teach their children. Mosiah 1:2 tells us what righteous King Benjamin taught to his sons – how to read and understand the scriptures, that they might become “men of understanding,” and “know the prophecies of God.”
Enos tells us that his father Jacob taught him using a good balance between nurture and admonition. What images do these two words bring to mind? Nurture carries the connotation of caring, embracing, and listening. Admonition connotes warning, disciplining, and consequences. What is the end result if these are not kept in balance? If a child has too much nurturing, he becomes spoiled. If he has too much admonition, he will rebel.
Enos 1:3 Parents must often speak of Christ, eternal life, and of the joy the gospel brings. Deuteronomy speaks of keeping the gospel always before our eyes (which resulted in the Jews wearing frontlets – phylacteries) – and writing the gospel on our doorposts – (resulting in the Jews use of the mezuzzah on their doorposts.) Parents must create an atmosphere of the words of the scriptures as a constant presence in the home.
What are some of the ways that Jacob has influenced his son?In teaching him of the ways of the Lord, his words sunk deep into Enos’s heart. What do you think that means? Perhaps what parents teach is often received as a “spiritual time bomb” – parents’ words don’t penetrate the minds of their children immediately. They need time to “sink in.”
Enos 1:2, 4 Notice some key phrases: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God” and “my soul hungered”. In Genesis 32 we read that Jacob “wrestled all night with a messenger of God” in order to receive a blessing. We’re going to read in a few weeks that Alma the Younger “labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer” (Alma 8:10). Joseph Smith had a similar experience prior to receiving the First Vision. When President Kimball was called to be an apostle, he wrote, “The past 85 nights, the breaking of day has found me on my knees” (Conference Report, Oct. 1943, 15–19). What’s going on here? Why are we having all of this spiritual fighting?
Once again we come face to face with the idea that there is a price to be paid to enter the presence of God. This type of exertion is not restricted to prophets as they are about to receive the prophetic mantle. It is a requirement that each one of us must face. Enos’s day and a half of prayer is symbolic. It could be likened to months and months of persistent effort with prayer. In referring to these verses Pres. Kimball has told us:
If you have not, I sincerely hope that the time will soon come when, as others before you have, you will struggle in the spirit and cry mightily and covenant sincerely, so that the voice of the Lord God will come into your mind, as it did to Enos, saying: “. . . thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed. Because of thy faith in Christ . . . I will grant unto thee according to thy desires. . . . (Enos 5, 8, 12.)
Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 211 -212.
Enos 1:6 How do you think that Enos knew “that God could not lie”? He had experience with him in the past. Then, in much the same way that Lehi had reacted after he partook of the fruit, and Nephi had as he had climbed his mountain, Enos now turns his heart to others, first to his brethrenand then to his enemies, hoping that they can partake of a similar experience.
Enos 1: 10 How does revelation come? President Nelson has asked us to answer the question, “How do you hear the Lord?” One of the most frequent ways the Lord communicates with us is elucidated in D&C 8:2-3 The voice of the Lord is heard “in [our] mind and [our] heart.” There are various ways that we receive revelation. It is similar to the many ways that we have allergic reactions – some get rashes, while others have weepy eyes and drippy noses. Some people have dreams, and some actually hear voices. At the risk of providing what my children call TMI, I feel prompted to share one of my experiences.
While I was a stake missionary after I returned from my mission to Hong Kong, my companion got me a job house- sitting at the home of a man in her ward who was going to take his family on a vacation to Europe for a week during spring break. The man was a little eccentric – he collected wind-up clocks. So, picture me as a 25-year old single girl with 432 ticking clocks living in that house for a week. It was like a scene from “Man’s Search for Happiness.” Way to make me aware that my biological clock was ticking! One night I knelt down to pray next to the grandfather clock in my bedroom. I was feeling pretty desperate after all that ticking. I said in my prayer, “Heavenly Father,” I have tried to be a good girl. I have tried to serve you with my whole heart. I even went on a mission! WHERE IS MY HUSBAND?” As I paused for a minute, I heard a voice in my head say, “Your husband is in San Francisco.” I was shocked! I said, “Could you repeat that please?” No answer. Of course, no answer! But the next day, my companion, invited me to dinner at her family’s house. Her mother served these delicious sourdough rolls and I asked about them. She said, “Oh, they are Sara Lee brand and are called “San Francisco Rolls.” That day at church, I saw my former high school teacher, whose ward met in the same building as ours. She said, “Diana, what are you going to do this summer during your break from teaching school?” I told her I didn’t know yet. She said, “My brother is the bishop of the Stanford Ward in San Francisco. He could help you find an apartment and a roommate. Don’t you think that sounds fun?” I was being bombarded by SAN FRANCISCO. A month before, my good friend had written me a letter from San Francisco where she lived with her dental school student husband. She had told me there were lots of cute, single dental students at the dental school, and I should check it out. Until then, I had not even considered the possibility of doing so. Now I did! And the rest is history. . .
Enos 1:23 Enos declares that the only way he can motivate his people to obedience is through “continually keeping them in the fear of the Lord.” Parents also have different ways of motivating children to obey – fear, guilt, and rewards. But each of these methods is temporary, and we must eventually get to the level of motivation by love.
I love this quote from President Ezra Taft Benson:
“When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.” (Ezra Taft Benson, quoted in Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience — Life’s Great Challenge,” Ensign, May l998, 82).
If we are successful in making obedience our quest, then we can say, like Enos, “I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and I shall stand before him and see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of my Father” (Enos 1:27).
Remember what we said about what motivates people to obedience? In Jarom 1:12, continued pricking of their hearts did not result in long term obedience. Love is the only thing that really motivates.
President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) gave counsel on this topic:
Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, if you wish them to love the truth and understand it, if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! And prove to them that you do love them, by your every word or act to them. For your own sake, for the love that should exist between you and your [childen]—however wayward they might be, … when you speak or talk to them, do it not in anger; do it not harshly, in a condemning spirit. Speak to them kindly: get down and weep with them if necessary, and get them to shed tears with you if possible. Soften their hearts; get them to feel tenderly towards you. Use no lash and no violence, but … approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned. (Gospel Doctrine, 316)
I enjoyed the new insights provided in Matthew L. Bowen’s article, “I Kneeled Down Before My Maker”: Allusions to Esau in the Book of Enos, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 27 (2017): 29-56).
The Book of Enos is a brief literary masterpiece. When examined closely, it reveals literary allusions to Old Testament characters, and many examples of Hebrew word play. He uses the word “wrestled,” which brings to mind the third great patriarch Jacob, his father’s namesake and his wrestle with a divine man and having his name changed to Israel. Hugh Nibley observed that the Hebrew verb translated as wrestled, can just as well mean embrace, and that “it was in this ritual embrace that Jacob received a new name and the bestowal of priestly and kingly power.” (See Hugh W. Nibley (The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, 2nd ed. [CWHN 16; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 2005], 434)
The name Enos, Hebrew ʾĕnôš, denotes “man.” This is a synonym for the word Adam [“man,” “humankind”]. With the references in this book to “hunting” and “hungering,” our thoughts naturally turn to the other “hungering hunter” in the Old Testament, Jacob’s twin brother Esau. In the Genesis account of their birth, Esau is described as a “man of the fields,” and Jacob is described as a “plain man.” Actually, this is a grossly inadequate rendering, because the Hebrew ʾîštām means much more than a “plain man.” One biblical scholar renders this expression “moral person.” Jacob was a “man of integrity.” Biblical texts associate the related term tāmîm with “perfect” or “unblemished” animals acceptable for sacrifice. In fact, the word is used in Job 1:8 to describe Job as a “perfect and upright man, one that feared God and escheweth evil.”
Thus, Jacob and Esau represent two opposite types of men. Genesis 25:29-34describes the incident where Esau, exhausted and famished from a long hunting trip, finds Jacob cooking a red lentil porridge (pottage), and entreats him to feed him immediately, as he was faint. Jacob asks him to sell him his birthright in exchange, which he knew he had already forsaken because of his marriage to foreign wives. Esau replies, “Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” And Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, and he “did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.” Clearly, at that moment, his focus was on satisfying his hunger for food, and not on spiritual matters.
Enos and Esau serve as literary foils – highlighting each other’s opposite natures, much like displaying diamonds on black velvet. The narrative shows Esau’s focus on “the physical, the human, and the earthly.” (Bowen, 34) He clearly prizes “physical things over spiritual things and temporal well-being over eternal well-being.” (Bowen, ibid.) Enos, while also hunting in the forest, is seen to be doing a lot more praying than hunting. However, having allowed the words of his father (Jacob) to “sink deep within [his] heart,” which caused his “soul” to “hunger.” This hunger was not a physical or bodily hunger that needed to be satisfied, but a spiritual hunger. This hunger of the soul made him like his father’s namesake Jacob, who had faith in the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham, in contrast to the physically hunger of Esau. Enos had cultivated “faith in Christ” (Enos 1:8), from the teachings of his father Jacob, his uncle Nephi, and his grandfather Lehi. “For this reason, Enos would receive the kind of birthright and blessing that Esau had despised (at least at first).” (Bowen, ibid.)
His spiritual hunger brings Enos to “kneel down before [his] maker.” Bowen points out that the “denominative verb “kneel” (brk, which is probably related or derived from the verb bārak, “bless”) recalls both the blessing and the birthright from the Jacob-Esau story. Moreover, the expression “before” (Hebrew lipnê, literally “to the face”) immediately recalls Enos’s previous statement about his “wrestle which he had [wrestled] beforeGod.”
Bowen points out:
When Enos states “I kneeled down before my maker,” he appears to quote Psalm 95: “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel [nibrĕkâ] before the Lord our maker [ʿōśēnû]” (Psalm 95:6). Enos thus alludes to an important temple text that is elsewhere alluded to throughout the Book of Mormon. The literary genius of Enos’s incorporation of Psalm 95:6, however, is his making the phrase “before the Lord our Maker” a reference to Isaac’s promise in Genesis 27:7 and Jacob’s experience at Peniel.
We should further note Enos’s possible allusion to and adaptation of the Genesis narrator’s description of Esau’s “cry[ing] [wayyiṣʿaq] with a great and exceeding bitter cry [ṣĕʿāqâ],” which plays on, or alludes [Page 41]to, the name Isaac (yiṣḥāq). Esau’s “cry” evokes the opposite emotion suggested in the meaning of Isaac’s name “may he laugh” or “may he rejoice” (Genesis 18:12-15; 21:6-9; 26:8).43 Enos makes a twofold reference to “crying” for his own soul: “I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him” (Enos 1:4).
In response to his own lengthy “cry” to the Lord, Enos informs us that “there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed” (Enos 1:5). The Lord’s promise to Enos, “and thou shalt be blessed [(gam) bārûk tihyeh],” echoes Isaac’s reported statement regarding Jacob, “[I] have blessed him [wāʾăbārkēhû] and he shall be blessed [gam bārûk yihyeh]” (Genesis 27:33). It also recalls the blessing that Jacob procured through his “wrestle”: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26); “And he blessed him there” (Genesis 32:29). (Bowen, 40)
Bowen makes further allusions through wordplay on the name of Esau, which is derived from the Hebrew word for “to make, to do.” Enos uses this verb when he asks, after hearing that his sins have been forgiven, “Lord, how is it done?” (Enos 1:7) He makes allusion to this word again in the Lord’s ensuing promise, “it shall be I unto them according to their faith” (Enos 1:18).
Enos’s use of the Jacob/Esau rivalry and eventual reconciliation suggests not only his hope for an eventual resolution between the Nephites and the Lamanites, but an assurance that they will receive the records which he is faithfully compiling. The traditional Lamanite charge that Nephi (and his descendants/people) had “robbed them” of their property and right to the government (Mosiah 10:16-17; Alma 54:17) which was their birthright echoes Jacob’s “supplanting,” “usurping,” or “robbing” Esau (Genesis 27:36).
Enos, like his father Jacob and unlike Jacob his ancestor, would not have the blessing of reconciliation with the Lamanites during his lifetime. However, he found peace and his “soul did rest” with the divine assurance that the long- awaited reconciliation would happen in the Lord’s “own due time” (Enos 1:16-17). It would happen through the record he was entrusted to safeguard.
Omni, Jarom, Chemish, and Abinadom
The small books of Enos, Jarom, and Omni contain 8 scribes, 1/3 the total of 24 in the whole Book of Mormon! Their writings cover 350 years of history. If all the Book of Mormon writers would have written in this much depth, the Book of Mormon would have been a 20-page pamphlet! Many cultural details are found in these writings – including internal evidence for the truth of the Book of Mormon. Jarom 8 contains 15 “ands.” This is poor English, but excellent Hebrew!
In Omni 1:12 we see that the righteous people in the land of Nephi eventually left with Mosiah, and joined the Mulekites in the land of Zarahemla. These people had received this nickname, although not in the Book of Mormon, because they had escaped to the promised land with Mulek, son of king Zedekiah of Jerusalem. [See 2 Kings 25:1-10 for the story – There is a repetition of the word “all” in verses 1, 4, 5, and 10. It a characteristic in Semitic writing to include this word – col. And yet in verse 7 the word all is not used. Why? Because Mulek was saved and taken with a group of people to the promised land.] Thus with the seed of Manasseh through Lehi, and the seed of Ephraim through Ishmael, was added the seed of Judah through the Mulekites.
Omni 1:14 records that the people “did rejoice exceedingly” that Mosiah had brought “the brass plates, which contained a record of the Jews.”
Verse 17 records that these people “had brought no records with them,” and “their language had become so corrupted,” that Mosiah’s people could not understand them. Because of the absence of bringing any records, they had also suffered spiritually, for “they denied the being of their Creator.” To remedy this, verse 18 records that “Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language,” and the people of Zarahemla united together with the people of Mosiah, and Mosiah became their king. He was able to translate the engravings on the “large stone” they had found “by the gift and power of God.” (See verse 20) These records tell of Coriantumr, who “was discovered by the people of Zarahemla,” and dwelt with them for “nine moons” and of his people who came out from the Tower of babel and whose languages were confounded by the Lord. Naturally, these people were interested in hearing “the rest of the story.”
And so, to an eager audience, in verse 26, Amaleki gives his brethren counsel to “come unto Christ” and “partake of his salvation.” He continues, “Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught the meaning of offering ourselves to the Lord: “Real, personal sacrifice never was placing an animal on the altar. Instead, it is a willingness to put the animal in us upon the altar and letting it be consumed!” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1995, 91; or Ensign, May 1995, 68) emphasis added.
On the same topic, Elder Maxwell later taught: “As you submit your wills to God, you are giving Him the only thing you can actually give Him that is really yours to give” (in Conference Report, Apr. 2004, 48; or Ensign, May 2004, 46).
I was intrigued by the ramifications offered by Clifford P Jones in his article, The Prophets Who Wrote the Book of Omni, Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 34 (2020): 221-244.
The brief small-plate accounts of Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki have caused some concern about their faithfulness. Omni’s words include his statement, “I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done” (Omni 1:2). Omni’s grandson Abinadom says, “I know of no revelation save that which has been written, neither prophecy” (Omni 1:11). (222)
In this paper, he analyzes the words of Omni and Abinadom in light of the words of Mormon. It proposes that the words written by these men can be harmonized with Mormon’s confirmation that they were prophets. [Mormon said that he included the small plates, “which contained this small account of the prophets, from Jacob down to the reign of this king Benjamin” (Words of Mormon 1:3).]
He states, “It seems unlikely that Omni’s brief entry on the sacred plates was intended to brand himself as an unrepentant sinner. It needn’t be read with that meaning. It seems more likely that the specific words he selected indirectly reflect repentance and a humble gratitude for God’s redeeming power… Omni’s confession begins with the words ‘I of myself’ (Omni 1:2). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term of oneself often means ‘by one’s own impetus or motion, spontaneously, without the instigation or aid of another.’ Omni’s statement that he is a wicked man may be true only because the term of myself requires us to view his wickedness without taking the Atonement into account. If so, Omni’s words are true, not only for himself but also for each of us who has sinned and repented. Like Omni, we can say (and should always remember): ‘I of myself am wicked and unworthy because on our own merits alone — without considering the grace of God — we are all unclean and unworthy” (Clifford Jones, 226). Jones reminds us that other Book of Mormon prophets made confessions similar to that of Omni.
Omni states, “I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers, and I conferred them upon my son Amaron. And I make an end” (Omni 1:3). These few words humbly testify of Omni’s obedience to Nephi’s commandments and this may suggest that he confessed and forsook his sins and served faithfully for decades as a prophet to his people while keeping the plates according to the commandments of his fathers. Enos told his son Omni to “write somewhat upon these plates to preserve our genealogy” (Omni 1:1) This sacred record was handed down from one generation to another, or from one prophet to another can certainly qualify as a genealogy. It was important to Omi to record this chain of custody.
He, and every writer on the small plates (except Chemish) mentions war. Omni records that he helped keep his people from falling into the hands of the Lamanites. Three of these men, Nephi, Omni, and Abinadom, are portrayed as personally fighting with the sword, and others may have done so. War was a persisting fact of life for these men. While war can harden some men, it can cause others to “humble themselves before God, even in the depths of humility” (Alma 62:41). In fact, some of the greatest prophets protected their people by taking up the sword – Moroni, King Benjamin, Nephi, Captain Moroni Helaman, Mormon, and Moroni.
Abinadom, the grandson of Omni, was faced with a dilemma – how to preserve the revelation and prophecy of his day without filling up the small plates. Being charged to record prophecy and revelation, realized that the space upon the plates was greatly diminished. By looking ahead to how his son Amaleki solved this dilemma, we can gain insight into Abinadom’s intentions.
Amaleki, the last writer on the small plates, left a record that, while brief, is longer than the combined records of Omni, Amaron, Chemish, and Abinadom. Since Amaleki had no descendant to receive the small plates. And knowing that King Benjamin, who was charged with keeping the other, large plates, was “a just man before the Lord” (Omni 1:25), he decided to deliver the small plates to King Benjamin, a worthy prophet. Before doing so, he leaves an account of how his father Abinadom was obedient to many important revelations.
Amaleki tells us he “was born in the days of Mosiah” (Omni 1:23), which would make him a contemporary with Mosiah’s son Benjamin (who became king). It also means their fathers, Abinadom and King Mosiah, were contemporaries. Amaleki writes a third person account of how his father, Abinadom, with King Mosiah, and with “as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord” (Omni 1:12) left the land of Nephi and went into the wilderness, where “they were led by many preachings and prophesyings, and they were admonished continually by the word of God, and they were led by the power of his arm through the wilderness, until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla” (Omni 1:13). Reading this, we realize that Abinadom hearkened to the voice of the Lord and was obedient to the prophecies and revelations received in his day. However, since the space on the plates was limited, he chooses not to record them, knowing they are recorded on the large plates kept by the kings. Like Nephi, Abinadom assumed that future readers would also have access to the records engraved on the large plates.
And thus we see, that both Abinadom and Mosiah were record keepers – Abinadom keeping the small plates, and Mosiah keeping the large plates. Amalaki might have chosen to include in his record on the small plates an abridgement of the history from the large plates which covered the days of his father and Mosiah in order to verify the righteousness inherent in the brief account which his father left. Clifford Jones states,
Amaleki’s account of events that occurred while his father Abinadom was an adult helps to clarify that Abinadom was very much aware of and valued “many preachings and prophesyings.” Abinadom and other obedient subjects of Mosiah were “admonished continually by the word of God, and they were led by the power of his arm” (Omni 1:13). Indeed, Abinadom, a prophet of God, probably participated in the preaching, prophesying, and admonishing. (Ibid., 233)
I had never before considered this reading concerning the writers of the small plates. According to the thesis of Clifford Jones,
The greater context of the Book of Mormon harmonizes better with an understanding that Omni, Abinadom, and the other writers of the book of Omni were prophets than with the assumption that they were not devout disciples of Jesus Christ. The Lord knew from the beginning that the small-plate record, including their words, would become the first part of the Book of Mormon (see Doctrine and Covenants 10). It would appear the Lord’s plan for these plates required a relatively small record with its few words focused on sacred things. (Ibid.)
Nephi included only an abridgement of his father’s record on the small plates, which only had a limited amount of room. He chooses not to include his father’s words on these plates, “for I desire the room that I may write the things of God” (1 Nephi 6:3). Althouigh Nephi records much more on these sacred plates than the other record, he acknowledges a need to limit his own record. He writes, “I cannot write but a few things which I know must surely come to pass, neither can I write but a few of the words of my brother Jacob. Wherefore the things which I have written sufficeth me, save it be a few words which I must speak concerning the doctrine of Christ.” (2 Nephi 31:1–2)
Jacob and his descendants were commanded to keep the small-plate record, but they were commanded to keep things brief and to write down only the extraordinary. In obedience to Nephi’s commandments, they carefully selected and limited the words they added to the record. Jones contends, “Shorter small-plate records don’t devalue these men as instruments in the Lord’s hands. We should resist the temptation to assume less zeal on the part of those with shorter small-plate records — especially shorter records that suggest obedience to Nephi’s commandments.” (Ibid., 239) Besides being commanded to keep the records, they were also mandated to make difficult choices about what they included, hopefully based on their personal inspiration. “An estimate based on the length of the English translation indicates that Nephi filled about 81% of the small plates with 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi. Jacob and Enos combined to fill another 16% of the plates, leaving only about 3% (about six pages of English text) to be shared among Jarom and all successors.” (Ibid., 239)
Amaleki, “concluding speaker” of the small pates, shares very little about his own life. He doesn’t mention his own revelations or prophecies, but he exhorts his readers to come unto Christ and be saved (see Omni 1:25– 26). Mormon’s record suggests that all those who were given charge over the small plates were prophets. Additionally, Mormon’s discussion about the reign of King Benjamin may allude to Amaleki’s efforts as a prophet. Jones writes, “Mormon tells us multiple ‘prophets’ and ‘holy men’ helped King Benjamin overcome false prophets and teachers and establish peace in the land (see Words of Mormon 1:16–18). Because Mormon has already identified Amaleki as a prophet, it seems likely that Amaleki was among those who participated in this effort.” (Ibid., 244) He concludes his article by saying:
Nephi commanded that the small plates be handed down “from one prophet to another” (1 Nephi 19:4). Mormon confirms that this commandment was kept when he refers to Jacob’s descendants who wrote on these plates as prophets (see Words of Mormon 1:3). The brief accounts left by Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki, when read in light of applicable scriptural context, support Mormon’s statement that these men were prophets of God.
The Words of Mormon
Why are the Words of Mormon at the end of the Small Plates, being 500 years out of chronological sequence?
When Mormon decided to include the small plates with the rest of his abridgment, he gave an explanation, as editor, for why this material was included (Words of Mormon 1:1–11).
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. (Words of Mormon 1:3)
Mormon records that after he had abridged the large plates of Nephi, which ended at the end of the reign of King Benjamin, he searched among the records which had been given to him, and he found these small plates, which contained essentially the same material that was contained in the material that he had just abridged. Which should he include – the record of Nephi, or of Lehi? The Spirit whispered, “Both.”
Mormon writes, “The things which are upon these plates pleasing me … I chose these things, to finish my record upon them” (Words of Mormon 1:4–5). “I shall take these plates,” Mormon said, “and put them with the remainder of my record.” He goes on to say that he includes these duplicate records “for a wise purpose” which he did not know. (Words of Mormon 1:6–7).
We should be so grateful that he heeded his spiritual promptings. How could the Lord have explained to him about Lucy Harris, and her demand to see the manuscript? Joseph had inquired of the Lord and was told that he should not give him the manuscript. Finally, when he asked the Lord the third time, permission was given if Martin would only show it to five members of his family and no one else. After Martin was given the 116 pages, Moroni appeared and took the Urim and Thummim and the plates for one year. Emma Smith delivered their first son, who died soon after birth. (June 15, 1828) She was so ill herself that Joseph had to tend her himself for three weeks. As soon as she was out of danger, she urged him to return home to Palmyra to inquire after the manuscript. While at the home of his parents, Martin Harris was sent for, and they supposed he would come to breakfast with the family. They waited for hours and still he did not come. Finally they saw him walking with a slow and measured tread towards the house, and instead of entering the gate, he sat on the fence for a long while before finally coming in. When Hyrum asked why he did not eat, he pressed his hands upon his temples and said, “Oh, I have lost my soul! I have lost my soul!” Joseph sprang from the table exclaiming, “Martin, have you lost that manuscript? Have you broken your oath, and brought down condemnation upon my head as well as your own?” When Martin replied that it was gone, Joseph clenched his hands and said, “Oh, my God! All is lost! All is lost!” He wept and groaned and walked the floor continually.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles affirmed that the portion of the Book of Mormon that comes from the small plates provides more information than was lost on the 116 pages:
At least six times in the Book of Mormon the phrase ‘for a wise purpose’ is used in reference to the making, writing, and preserving of the small plates of Nephi (see 1 Nephi 9:5; Words of Mormon 1:7; Alma 37:2, 12, 14, 18). You and I know the wise purpose—the most obvious one—was to compensate for the loss of the earlier mentioned 116 pages of manuscript.
But it strikes me that there is a wiser purpose than that. … The key to such a suggestion of a wiser purpose is in verse 45 of Doctrine and Covenants section 10. As the Lord instructs Joseph … he says, ‘Behold, there are many things engraven upon the [small] plates of Nephi which do throw greater views upon my gospel’ (emphasis added).
So, clearly, this was not … tit for tat, this for that—you give me 116 pages of manuscript and I’ll give you 142 pages of printed text. Not so. We got back more than we lost. And it was known from the beginning that it would be so. It was for a wiser purpose. We do not know exactly what we missed in the 116 pages, but we do know that what we received on the small plates was the personal declarations of three great witnesses [Nephi, Jacob, and Isaiah], three of the great doctrinal voices of the Book of Mormon, testifying that Jesus is the Christ. …
In fact, I think you could make a pretty obvious case that the sole purpose of the small plates was to give a platform for these three witnesses” (“A Standard unto My People” [Church Educational System symposium on the Book of Mormon, Aug. 9, 1994], 9–10; see LDS.org under gospel library/additional addresses/CES addresses).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell testified of the foreknowledge of God and how it builds our faith in Him:
Few doctrines, save those pertaining to the reality of the existence of God, are more basic than the truth that God is omniscient. …
… God is perfect in the attributes of divinity, and one of these is knowledge: ‘… seeing that without the knowledge of all things, God would not be able to save any portion of his creatures; for it is by reason of the knowledge which he has of all things, from the beginning to the end, that enables him to give that understanding to his creatures by which they are made partakers of eternal life; and if it were not for the idea existing in the minds of men that God had all knowledge it would be impossible for them to exercise faith in him.’ (Lecture 4, paragraph 11.) …
“God, who knows the beginning from the end, knows, therefore, all that is in between” (All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience , 6–7).
Most readers of the Book of Mormon know the story of Martin Harris and the lost pages of manuscript, and many of us are curious about what the 116 pages contained. Although this text is lost to us at present, we may be able to discern what they contained in part by reading the “retained portion,” or what the Lord called “that which you have translated, which you have retained” (Doctrine and Covenants 10:41, emphasis added).
This revelation given to Joseph after he lost the 116 pages suggests that some of the original translation may yet be preserved in our current Book of Mormon. Some scholars, like Jack M. Lyon and Kent R. Minson, believe they have identified what that retained portion was: Words of Mormon 1:12–18. (See Jack M. Lyon and Kent R. Minson, “When Pages Collide: Dissecting the Words of Mormon,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2012): 120–136.)
The idea behind this premise is that our current version of Mosiah starts in chapter 3 and Martin Harris lost most of the first two chapters of Mosiah with the rest of the 116 pages. But part of the original Mosiah 2 may have survived and mislabeled as part of Words of Mormon.
This proposal is based on a careful reading of Words of Mormon, combined with evidence from the printer’s manuscript. Many readers have been puzzled by the fact that the Words of Mormon seems to end in the middle of the chapter. Verse 11 reads, “And I know that [the plates] 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.” This seems to be a logical ending point of the first part of the text. And yet the chapter continues with something seemingly unrelated, “And now, concerning this king Benjamin—he had somewhat of contentions among his own people.” The narrative continues to talk about King Benjamin for the next six verses without coming to a conclusion.
The beginning of Mosiah is almost as unusual as the end of Words of Mormon. It does not include the usual introduction that is seen in the other books in the large plates (like the introduction to the book of Alma, for example). It just continues to talk about King Benjamin, seemingly where Words of Mormon left off. In fact, if one reads Words of Mormon 1:18, and Mosiah 1:1 together, they flow quite naturally:
. . . 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. And now there was no more contention in all the land of Zarahemla, among all the people who belonged to king Benjamin, so that king Benjamin had continual peace all the remainder of his days.
This smooth flow from Words of Mormon 1:18 into Mosiah 1:1 suggests that Words of Mormon 1:12–18 might have originally been part of the book of Mosiah. A copy of the original Book of Mormon manuscript that Oliver Cowdery made, called the printer’s manuscript, also suggests that this might be the case. Lyon and Minson observed:
As Oliver Cowdery copied the text of the original Book of Mormon manuscript into the printer’s manuscript, he encountered a problem early in the book of Mosiah … He had faithfully copied the chapter designation ‘Chapter III’ from the original manuscript, but where were Chapter I and Chapter II? The previous heading was ‘The Words of Mormon,’ with no other chapters intervening. Oliver fixed the problem as best he could, inking out the last two characters of ‘Chapter III’ (making it ‘Chapter I’) and inserting ‘Book of Mosiah’ above the line. (Lyon and Minson, “When Pages Collide,” 123.)
While it may seem unusual to lose only part of a chapter, this could be explained by the way the 116 pages were likely put together. Lyon and Minson have noted that “the original Book of Mormon manuscript was not a stack of separate pages.” It was actually made up of “gatherings of (usually) six large sheets of paper folded lengthwise and held together with string.” The 116 pages were probably “five such gatherings, four with six sheets (and thus twenty-four pages each) and one with five sheets (and thus twenty pages).” (Lyon and Minson, “When Pages Collide,” 127.)
Royal Skousen has concluded that the next gathering would have contained part of the original second chapter of Mosiah. Thus, when Martin took the first five gatherings with him, he left part of Mosiah 2 behind because it was on the next gathering, thus leaving a portion behind. (Royal Skousen, The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: FARMS and Brigham Young University, 2001), 34–36.)
Later, when Oliver was making the printer’s manuscript, he copied down Words of Mormon and then went straight into the remaining portion of Mosiah 2 without noticing at first, since it was on the beginning of the next gathering. He only noticed something was wrong when he got to the chapter break and found that the headings for Mosiah chapters 1 and 2 were missing. After altering chapter 3 to read chapter 1, he unknowingly left the remaining part of chapter 2 in Words of Mormon.(Lyon and Minson, “When Pages Collide,” 131.)
This being said, it is impossible to be certain whether Words of Mormon 1:12–18 is really part of Mosiah or not, and not all scholars agree with this theory. If it is credible, however, both the Words of Mormon and the book of Mosiah make a lot more sense. Suddenly Words of Mormon 1:1–11 forms a self-contained book with a logical introduction and conclusion. At the same time, it becomes clear that Words of Mormon 1:12–18 flows into Mosiah 1, making the earliest surviving chapter of Mosiah easier to understand.
Such a reading also shows the long-lasting effects of a righteous king and true prophets on the society. Mormon records in these verses all the things that King Benjamin, the son of Mosiah I, had done for his people. He had to deal with both internal and external pressures. First, Benjamin drove the Lamanites out of the land, fighting with his own armies and wielding the sword of Laban. After his armies had dealt with external threats, he then dealt with internal problems, such as false prophets. He finally succeeded in establishing peace in the land by laboring long and hard with the prophets. What amazing things could be accomplished if heads of state could work with prophets!
The writers of the Book of Mormon kept and preserved the records of their people so that we the future generation, would know of the dealings of the Lord with these people. The complexity and scope of the final writers of the Small Plates of Nephi is staggering! As a student of Hebrew, I found many internal evidences of this being translated from an ancient Semitic text, the use of the causative verb form, the repeated use of “ands” and “all” before nouns in sequence was a great strength to my already fervent testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon. These small books, although sometimes hastily read and even overlooked because of their brevity, provide amazing insights into the omniscience of God, and his love for all his children.