To open, we need some big picture structural discussion.
Mosiah 1 is not Mosiah 1. In fact, it is Mosiah 3, and the first two chapters are missing. How do we know this?
First, Book of Mormon books tend to be named after the first and major character, but Mosiah opens with… Benjamin, not his father Mosiah1.
Second, books usually present some kind of intro, but Mosiah starts in media res–
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.
Third, in the Printer’s Manuscript, today’s “Mosiah 1” was labeled “Chapter 3.” (“3” is crossed-out and “1” inserted.)
The image above is a screenshot from p.117 of the Printer’s Mss here.
Chapters 1-2 (which presumably talk about Mosiah1, the book’s namesake) were part of the 116 lost pages. According to Words of Mormon, and a theory widely held by many different people, the Book of Mormon originally started with the Book of Lehi, and continued to Mosiah. That’s what Joseph Smith started translating. What Words of Mormon 1:3 says, is that when Mormon had already abridged the Large Plates (with the Book of Lehi and then the Book of Mosiah) down to King Benjamin, he found the small plates, and tacked them on. If this is correct, then the Small Plates were at the back of the Book of Mormon plates, and were also translated last, but then placed in the front where they belonged chronologically. (Where were the Title Page and the Words of Mormon on the plates? Unclear.) Among others, see here.
That volume includes a lengthy almost-verse-by-verse commentary, here, with lots of good stuff throughout. At least in these initial chapters, I don’t have much to add, so I’ll summarize briefly with my own minor twists.
Benjamin has Mosiah2 make a proclamation for people to gather at the temple, with tents, in family groups. In private, Benjamin chooses Mosiah2, and passes on to him the tokens of kingship. Once the people gather, he declares him their new king. (The Book of Mormon does NOT represent a modern democracy, either here or under the judges.)
Benjamin’s speech at the temple is covenantal, ritual, and governmental. It is partly inspired/related by an angel (3:2ff) who appeared to Benjamin because he had “heard his prayers and judged his rightousness.” The connection between those two things is that praying with upraised hands, as the Israelites did, exposes the hands and heart to God, an invitation in essence to evaluate and judge one’s actions (hands) and intent (heart) and therefore grant the prayer, as happened with Benjamin. This was a frequent posture of public prayer in the Bible (e.g. Isaiah 1:15, 1Ki 8:22) and among the Israelites’ neighbors, as well as in the early LDS church. The sacrament prayer was sometimes offered with upraised hands, for example. See the article here (archived) from this volume.
The angel provides Mosiah with a bio of Jesus’ life and significance in 3:5-11, suggesting that some of it was new to Benjamin, or at least needed emphasizing. ( A similar summary bio/testimony is given in Alma 7:9-12.) Note that we should probably insert a comma, breaking up the series of titles “Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary” so that it reads, “Jesus, Christ (Messiah), the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning; and his mother shall be called Mary.” Christ is a title, not a name, strictly speaking (although in Hebrew, it appears that “name” carries broader meaning than in English.)
At the break between chapters 3&4, Benjamin pauses relating the angel’s message, and takes stock of the people, which is where we end today.
Most of chapter 3 appears to be verbatim quotes from the angel. Is it so? If an angel woke you up in the middle of the night, and told you 25+ verses, could you remember it verbatim? This is the angel’s words, as remembered by Benjamin as written down by someone, as edited by Mormon c. 400AD. So there is probably a bit of slippage, or at least, ancient audiences (if we can generalize) did not expect “verbatim quotes” to actually be verbatim quotes.
“Ancient readers knew this, and were not expected to believe that such speeches were merely reproductions of what was really said on a given occasion.”
-Steve Mason, writing about ancient history in Josephus and the New Testament, which is a bit removed from the Book of Mormon, obviously.
See my old post here.
As always, you can help me pay my tuition here, or you can support my work through making your regular Amazon purchases through the Amazon links I post. *I am an Amazon Affiliate, and receive a small percentage of purchases made through these links. You can also get updates by email whenever a post goes up (subscription box below). You can also follow Benjamin the Scribe on Facebook.