And so in this chapter we’re all finally caught back up into the same time frame, with Limhi and his people and Alma and the Church all now at Zarahemla with King Mosiah.
Firstly, something of a demographic note:
Now there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness.
And there were not so many of the people of Nephi and of the people of Zarahemla as there were of the Lamanites; yea, they were not half so numerous.
While leadership amongst the Nephites has remained amongst the Nephites proper (v. 13), we find here that they are actually outnumbered by those who are ethnically descendants of Mulek. Furthermore (and this will be of particular relevance in the book of Alma), both groups together are significantly outnumbered by those grouped under the term Lamanites.
I was struck by verses 5 & 6:
And it came to pass that Mosiah did read, and caused to be read, the records of Zeniff to his people; yea, he read the records of the people of Zeniff, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until they returned again.
And he also read the account of Alma and his brethren, and all their afflictions, from the time they left the land of Zarahemla until the time they returned again.
I guess what dawned on me is what would have happened if Zeniff and his people, and Alma and so on, hadn’t kept any records? Obviously Mosiah wouldn’t be able to read anything. This who communal experience they’re about to have wouldn’t happen. The knowledge, the teachings, the experiences and the wisdom gained from them contained in those records would be lost. I guess it underlined to me – as a number of passages in the book of Mosiah have, the importance of record keeping..
And now, when Mosiah had made an end of reading the records, his people who tarried in the land were struck with wonder and amazement.
For they knew not what to think; for when they beheld those that had been delivered out of bondage they were filled with exceedingly great joy.
And again, when they thought of their brethren who had been slain by the Lamanites they were filled with sorrow, and even shed many tears of sorrow.
And again, when they thought of the immediate goodness of God, and his power in delivering Alma and his brethren out of the hands of the Lamanites and of bondage, they did raise their voices and give thanks to God.
And again, when they thought upon the Lamanites, who were their brethren, of their sinful and polluted state, they were filled with pain and anguish for the welfare of their souls.
This passage reminds me a bit about some discussions I’ve had with people about the synchronised response to King Benjamin’s speech in Mosiah 5. There’s no reported speech here, so there’s no issue with that, and we have a range of feelings described. While the passage is speaking of all the people, the way these feelings are juxtaposed together leads me to think they can be mixed in multiple ways. One is as a sequential series of feelings; King Mosiah is, after all, sharing the records, and different parts of that story are likely to provoke a different response (and some of these responses are to specific events in the narrative being told). But I also think that – just as is true for us – it is likely that different people in the audience responded differently, that different parts of the account leapt out at them and made an impact. Some people may have been moved more to sorrow, while for others such feelings may have been dwarfed at their joy at seeing those delivered. I think the way this passage is narrated really communicates that mix of feelings amongst the audience. I don’t know of any particularly profound point that can be drawn from that, other than that as individuals, we’re likely to have different emotional responses, or find different things personally resonating, to anything we come across (including the scriptures themselves, which is presumably why a key aim with the “Come Follow Me” programme is that we not only study, but then share what we’ve learned with others.
The final passage that I’d like to comment on is in verses 19-21:
And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church.
Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly;
Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
This is an important transition step, amongst a bunch that will be happening over the next few chapters. For much of the immediate preceding history, the political and religious leadership has been the same: King Benjamin and Mosiah were both the political and religious leaders of their people, in much the same way that Moses, Joshua or even Nephi were. Zeniff too consecrated priests, as for that matter so did Noah, though obviously that didn’t go so well (Mosiah 11:5). Abinadi seems a bit of an exception, since he seems to come from outside the hierarchy and opposing the king, in a manner akin to Elijah or Elisha, and like them he did so alone. Alma then established the Church, but it was for a while a separate society and entirely self-governing. Here, however, we have a clear step to the Church being a distinct institution, with a distinct earthly leadership (namely Alma) from the state in the form of the monarchy, but co-existing alongside it at the same time. It’s interesting that this actually happens at a point when both the high priest of the Church and the king are inspired individuals; perhaps that’s what made this step possible (it’s undoubtedly part of the reason that the co-existence, at this point, is so smooth). As we’ll see over the next few chapters, this is part of a range of changes that are occurring in Nephite society at this time.