Evidence #150 | February 9, 2021

Abinadi’s Disguise

Post contributed by

 

Scripture Central

Abstract

The account of Abinadi wearing a disguise and preaching against King Noah has parallels with biblical stories that similarly feature kings, prophets, and disguises.

Abinadi’s Disguise

When Abinadi first preached repentance unto the people of King Noah, they were “wroth with him, and sought to take away his life” (Mosiah 11:26). After hearing reports of Abinadi’s prophecies, King Noah himself sought to slay Abinadi, but the “Lord delivered him out of their hands” (v. 26). Two years later, Abinadi again preached unto the people, but this time he “came among them in disguise, that they knew him not” (Mosiah 12:1). Angered by Abinadi’s prophecies of impending captivity, afflictions, and destruction, the people bound and carried him before King Noah for judgment (vv.1–9).

Abinadi being taken to King Noah. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Disguises in Biblical Narratives

This story has several parallels with biblical narratives that also deal with prophetic messengers, kings, and disguises. These include (1) King Saul disguising himself in order to receive guidance from the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28), (2) a prophet disguising himself in order to condemn King Ahab for not executing a Syrian King (1 Kings 20), (3) an Israelite king disguising himself to avoid harm in battle, only to be slain by an archer (1 Kings 22), (4) Josiah disguising himself in order to meet with an Egyptian Pharaoh (2 Chronicles 352 Kings 23), and (5) Jeroboam’s wife disguising herself to visit a blind prophet concerning her son’s illness (1 Kings 14).

King Saul disguised to meet the Witch of Endor. Saul and the Witch of Endor by Johann Heinrich Fussli. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Biblical scholar Richard Coggins has pointed out that in these narratives, “one of the parties disguises himself (or in one case herself), but the disguise is penetrated, and God’s will is conveyed in a form which is liable to be quite unacceptable to the one seeking it.”1 Coggins argues that the appearance of prophetic disguises in several Old Testament stories, all from the same historical period, is “surely not simply a matter of coincidence.” Rather, with the use of a prophetic disguise, “a theological point is being made.”2 These biblical narratives typically depict a contest or conflict between God and an earthly king, and in each case, they don’t end well for the king. As explained by Alan Goff, “All of the kings or their heirs in the biblical disguise stories meet with brutal deaths, and in each case the dynasty fails.”3

Parallels between Disguise Stories

“In this light,” writes Goff, “it isn’t hard to guess what will happen to the wicked and unrepentant King Noah.”4 Typical of the narrative pattern, Noah was burned to death by his own people, and his dynasty ended after the reign of his son (Mosiah 19:20).5 Yet the parallels go well beyond the similar fates of the kings involved. For example, Goff has identified a substantial cluster of similarities between King Noah and Jeroboam, which is summarized in the following chart.6

 

Parallel

Jeroboam

Ahab

Noah

1. Disguise narratives

1 Kings 14

1 Kings 20

1 Kings 22

Mosiah 12:1

2. Idolatry

1 Kings 12:28–30

1 Kings 14:9–11

1 Kings 16:31–33

1 Kings 21:25–26

Mosiah 11:6–7

3. Sons die because of wickedness

1 Kings 14

1 Kings 15

2 Kings 10:1–11

 

4. People are scattered

1 Kings 14:14–15

2 Kings 17:22–23

 

Mosiah 12:11–12

Mosiah 12:2

5. Plant Simile

1 Kings 14:14–15

 

Mosiah 12:11–12

6. Eaten by dogs and fowls

1 Kings 14:10–11

1 Kings 21:19, 24

1 Kings 22:37–38

Mosiah 12:2

7. Caused the people to sin

1 Kings 12:30

1 Kings 14:16

2 Kings 17:21

1 Kings 19:18

Mosiah 11:2

Mosiah 29:18

8. Dismissal of priests and appointment of new ones

1 Kings 12:31

1 Kings 13:33

2 Chronicles 13:9

2 Chronicles 11:14–15

 

Mosiah 11:5–6

9. Garment Reference

1 Kings 11:28–31

1 Kings 14:14

1 Kings 21:21

Mosiah 12:3

10. Kings walked in the way of wickedness

1 Kings 15:26 (Nadab walked in his father’s way)

1 Kings 16:25–26 (Omri)

1 Kings 16:30–31 (Ahab)

Mosiah 11:1

11. Killing of prophet(s)

1 Kings 13:8–32

1 Kings 18:4, 13

1 Kings 19:1

Mosiah 17:12–20

12. Confrontation between prophet and king’s priests/prophets

1 Kings 13:11

1 Kings 18:17–40

1 Kings 22:6–28

Mosiah 12:17–37

13. King as builder

1 Kings 12:25

1 Kings 22:39

Mosiah 11:8–9, 13

14. King and whoredoms

 

2 Chronicles 21:13

Mosiah 11:2, 6, 14

Mosiah 12:29


Parallels with the other biblical narratives could be cited, but the above sample should be sufficient to demonstrate the point. According to Goff, “The allusive character of these stories is so much a part of the meaning that any reading failing to take the allusions into account can’t be considered adequate.”7

Of particular interest is the theme of blindness. Right before commenting on Abinadi’s disguise, the narrator reports that the “eyes of the people were blinded” (Mosiah 11:29), perhaps indicating that Abinadi’s disguise typifies the inability of wicked people to discern between truth and error. Goff concluded that the “disguise theme is particularly apt for the Abinadi-Noah story because the blindness and deception in stories of Israelite and Judahite kings comment on the blindness of the Israelite people and their kings who try to sever their own power from the God who granted that power.”8

The theme of spiritual blindness comes to a head when Abinadi delivers his prophetic message to Noah and his court. Just as Noah’s guards were about to take Abinadi and put him to death, his face shone with exceeding luster, even as Moses’ did while in the mount of Sinai, while speaking with the Lord” (Mosiah 13:5). This echoes the account in Exodus when a similar fear and awe came over the Israelites after Moses came off of Mount Sinai: “the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him” (Exodus 34:30). To protect them from his luster, Moses had to “put a veil on his face” (v. 33).

Moses covered with a veil. Mosiac at San Lorenzo da Brindisi.

In a way, when Abinadi’s face started to shine in King Noah’s court, it’s as if his disguise—similar to Moses’ veil—had been completely lifted, resolving the themes of spiritual blindness in the narrative by demonstrating to all present that Abinadi was indeed a prophet like unto Moses.9

Conclusion

Clearly, there is more to Abinadi’s disguise than meets the eye. Hiding beneath the surface, the text pursues its own thematic purposes by developing a complex network of allusions to biblical disguise stories that also feature kings and prophets. “Whoever wrote the Book of Mormon text,” Goff concluded, “seems to have had a sharp eye for detail and is far beyond any contemporary readers in subtlety and knowledge of the Bible.”10

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Abinadi Use a Disguise? (Mosiah 12:1),” KnoWhy 310 (May 8, 2017).

Alan Goff, “Abinadi’s Disguise and the Fate of King Noah,” Insights 20, no. 12 (2000): 2.

Alan Goff, “Uncritical Theory and Thin Description: The Resistance to History,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7, no. 1 (1995): 170–207.

Mosiah 11:20–29Mosiah 12:1Mosiah 13:1–8

Mosiah 11:20–29

Mosiah 12:1

Mosiah 13:1–8

Literary Features
Book of Mormon

© 2024 Scripture Central: A Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved. Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-5294264