Abinadi’s Influence on King Benjamin

One fascinating aspect of the Book of Mormon is its intertextuality—or in other words, how different Book of Mormon prophets use each other words. While we might not realize it, better understanding intertextuality can really deepen our understanding of the Book of Mormon.

I love Abinadi—I even titled my book The Founder of our Peace based on his words. I grew to love Abinadi’s words even more once I realized the large influence he had on future Book of Mormon prophets. I’d like to share one aspect of this influence with you (see this book chapter for many more details and footnotes for those who like that level of detail). Or, if this post is already seeming too complicate, watch the video version.

One of the prophets that seems to have been influenced by Abinadi was King Benjamin. Notice the similarity in their words:

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Abinadi cannot have influence King Benjamin, because King Benjamin comes before Abinadi. Maybe King Benjamin influenced Abinadi.” We may think this because King Benjamin delivers his farewell address in Mosiah 2–5, and Abinadi testifies before King Noah’s court in Mosiah 12–17. In this post, I hope to convince you that contrary to what many of us have assumed, Abinadi speaks several years before King Benjamin.

Though the sermons of King Benjamin and Abinadi are close in terms of the chapters where they appear in the Book of Mormon, they took place in two different locations; Benjamin’s in the land of Zarahemla, and Abinadi’s in the land of Nephi. John Sorenson estimates that it is 180 miles between these locations and would take approximately twenty-two days to travel between them—if one knew the way.

It appears that there was no communication between the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla and those in the land of Nephi at the time of Benjamin. Amaleki, in reporting on a brother who went to the land of Nephi said, “I have not since known concerning” him (Omni 1:30). Decades later, King Mosiah “was desirous to know concerning the people who went up to dwell in the land of Lehi-Nephi, . . . for his people had heard nothing from them from the time they left the land of Zarahemla” (Mosiah 7:1).

Given the distance that separated the two groups of Nephites and the explicit reported lack of communication between them, it would seem that the discourses of King Benjamin and Abinadi would have no relationship. But consider phrases like “Enemy to God,” “Salvation cometh to none such,” “Time shall come . . . every nation, kindred, tongue and people,” and many others that appear in scripture only in the words of King Benjamin and Abinadi (see above image). A careful analysis, including the proximity of unique phrases, indicates that there are so many connection between the words of these two prophets that there must be some type of relationship between the sermons. 

So who spoke first? King Benjamin or Abinadi?

Based on the Nephite timeline presented by Mormon, King Benjamin gave his address in about 124 BC (Mosiah 6:4). In contrast, no explicit dating information is given about when Abinadi spoke. Nevertheless, through contextual clues we can approximately determine this information. Alma1 died in 91 BC at the age of eighty-two (see Mosiah 29:46). Thus, Alma1 was born in 173 BC. He was a “young man” at the trial of Abinadi (Mosiah 17:2). Unless the definition of “young man” is stretched to include one who is fifty years old, Abinadi clearly spoke before King Benjamin’s address in 124 BC. If we assume “a young man” was about twenty years old, Abinadi would have spoken in 153 BC, approximately thirty years before King Benjamin. See my note at the end of this post if you want to see even more evidence that Abinadi spoke first–you can also see the chapter headings.

The Influence of an Angel?

When we revisit the textual connections between Abinadi and King Benjamin, an interesting possibility arises. Most of the connections between the two discourses come not between King Benjamin’s words but from the words of an angel who spoke to King Benjamin. In Mosiah 3:3, King Benjamin states, “And he [an angel] said unto me” (Mosiah 3:3) and commences a lengthy quote. The strongest connections between King Benjamin’s and Abinadi’s discourses occur when Abinadi’s words are compared with Benjamin’s quotation of an angel.

Could Abinadi have been the angel who spoke to King Benjamin?

While such an assertion must be extremely tentative, it is interesting to note that (1) Abinadi had passed away before King Benjamin speaks, (2) there are clear textual connections between their words, and (3) Abinadi and King Benjamin do not appear to have had any contact. While there are other possible explanations for the connections, it’s interesting to reflect on whether Abinadi could have been that angelic messenger. Whether or not he was the angel, his words clearly influenced King Benjamin.

Abinadi’s influence on the text of the Book of Mormon may be underestimated by some. As a pivotal prophet who spoke 450 years after Lehi left Jerusalem he is responsible for the conversion of Alma1. Alma1 and his posterity would keep the sacred records and guide the church for the next 470 years. Abinadi, living chronologically halfway between Lehi and Mormon, thus radically shaped the second half of Nephite history, including King Benjamin’s discourse. Read more about the textual legacy of Abinadi.

**

Want more evidence that Abinadi spoke first?

Three years after King Benjamin’s address (121 BC), Mosiah II gives permission for Ammon and fifteen other individuals to go learn what had happened to those who had left with Zeniff (Mosiah 7:1–2). Ammon and his brethren travel for forty days and eventually come in contact with Limhi (Mosiah 7:4, 7). As Limhi tells Ammon what has happened to his people, he mentions several events, all of which take place after the death of Abinadi but before Ammon’s arrival.

  1. Alma1 preaches for “many days” and gathers a number of people first to the waters of Mormon and then to the land of Helam (Mosiah 18:7, 23:19).
  2. Sometime thereafter the Lamanites attack the Nephites, the Nephites put Noah to death, and the Lamanites take control of the Nephite territories (Mosiah 19:1–27). Limhi becomes the ruler at this time.
  3. Next, there are two years of peace (Mosiah 19:29).
  4. The priests of Noah kidnap the daughters of the Lamanites, leading to a war between the Lamanites and Nephites (Mosiah 20:1–26).
  5. “Many days” after this war the Lamanites begin again to persecute the Nephites (Mosiah 21:1–3).
  6. This persecution leads to three attempts on the part of the Nephites to attack the Lamanites, none of which are successful. These three battles have an unspecified duration (Mosiah 21:6–12).
  7. After these three battles, Limhi’s people “did humble themselves,” (Mosiah 21:14), but “the Lord was slow to hear their cries” (Mosiah 21:15). They prosper “by degrees” and “begin to raise grain more abundantly, and flocks and herds” (Mosiah 21:16). While a time period is not given, it seems that raising grain and flocks more abundantly would take a period of months or years, not days or weeks.
  8. Between the time period of raising grain and flocks abundantly and the time that Ammon came to the land (an unspecified duration) “there was no more disturbance between the Lamanites and the people of Limhi” (Mosiah 21:22).

In determining whether Abinadi or Benjamin speaks first, the key question is as follows: collectively speaking, do the above eight events take more than three years to occur? If they did, then Abinadi died before King Benjamin gives his speech, thus eliminating the possibility that Abinadi’s sermon is a derivative of King Benjamin’s. While it is not certain that the above-listed events took more than three years, it seems likely. Two additional contextual clues add to this conclusion.

First, after Limhi’s people escape the Lamanites, the Lamanites discover Alma1’s people and put them in bondage. While we do not know how long Alma1’s people are in bondage, it is likely not for an extensive period of time. We can make this assumption based on the events reported in Mosiah 25:1–7. These verses recount that after Alma1 and his people join Mosiah’s people, Mosiah convenes a gathering of “all the people of Nephi” and “Mosiah did read, and caused to be read, the records of Zeniff to his people…and he also read the account of Alma and his brethren” (Mosiah 25:4–6). In reaction to hearing this account “his people who tarried in the land were struck with wonder and amazement” (Mosiah 25:7). Thus it stands to reason that the people had not previously heard the account of Limhi’s people. If they had, why would they hear it again? And why would they be “struck with wonder and amazement?” Based on this premise, not much time elapses between the Limhi’s people coming to Zarahemla and Alma1’s return. If there had been a long period of time (perhaps more than one year) Mosiah likely would read the account of Limhi to his people (given that he would not have known Alma1’s people existed).

A related clue that the time period between the death of Abinadi and Limhi’s people returning to Zarahemla is greater than three years is found in Mosiah 24:8. We read that “Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children” (Mosiah 24:8). Amulon and his fellow-priests leave their Nephite wives and children behind when they flee with King Noah (Mosiah 19:13, 20:3). However, after abducting the daughters of the Lamanites they marry them and have children with their kidnapped brides (Mosiah 23:33, Mosiah 24:8, Alma 25:7). How much time would need to elapse before the children of Amulon would be capable of persecute Alma1’s children? If we assume that Amulon’s children had to be at least five years old to be able to persecute other children, a minimum of six years (corresponding with events 4–8 above) would be needed between the kidnapping of the daughters of the Lamanites and Alma1’s captivity.

These two indicators work together. If Limhi’s people arrive at Zarahemla several years before Alma1’s, then Amulon’s children could grow old enough to persecute Alma1’s children while they are in the land of Helam. But, if Alma1’s people arrive in Zarahemla shortly after Limhi’s, then at least four years must have passed between the kidnapping of the daughters of the Lamanites and Alma1’s people falling into captivity. Taken together, these contextual clues demonstrate that Abinadi died at least eight years before King Benjamin’s discourse. If the periods of war and peace described above were of a significant duration, the time period between the two could be much greater.

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