Evidence #373 | October 3, 2022

Benjamin's Masterful Oration

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Scripture Central


King Benjamin’s speech manifests a number of impressive rhetorical qualities that are difficult to ascribe to Joseph Smith.

According to John W. Welch, “In the histories of most cultures, certain speeches stand out as particularly stirring orations that distill, shape, and propel the spirit of their critical times. Benjamin’s was such a speech.”1 Welch comments at length on twelve different features that reveal the quality of Benjamin’s words, which he summarizes as follows:

This speech (1) poses the ultimate human choices in bold relief, it (2) employs a compelling and profound ethical logic, it (3) gives unmistakable instructions to enable success, it (4) addresses practical themes in touch with real life, it (5) reveals eternal doctrines of central importance, it (6) uses eloquent and impressive words and phrases, it (8) manifests purposeful and effective organization, it (9) is presented with authority and humility, it (10) influences readers by its sincere farewell setting and its use of other impressive forms of speech, it (11) attracts attention through dramatic presentation, and it (12) stands as a monument in Nephite religious history. Undoubtedly, other qualities could also be mentioned. All these impressive features are found in an oration that contains only about 5,000 words and was translated and dictated by Joseph Smith in approximately a day and a half.2

The sophistication of Benjamin’s speech, recorded in the first chapters of the book of Mosiah, raises the question of whether Joseph Smith could have produced it using his own abilities. According to Bruce A. Rosenberg, students on the American frontier “had little formal education and even less training in formal rhetoric or public speaking.”3 This is consistent with Joseph’s own description of his formal learning opportunities: “suffice it to say I was mearly instructtid in reading writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which constituted my whole literary acquirements.”4

The historical record indicates that Joseph Smith’s experience with public discourse, in particular, was likewise minimal.5 As noted by Richard Bushman, Joseph “is not known to have preached a sermon before the Church is organized in 1830. He had no reputation as a preacher.”6 Thus, it is doubtful that anything in his formative years would have prepared him to craft such a stirring address. “If he engaged in such preparations,” writes Brian C. Hales, “the absence of data is ironic, since developing storytelling abilities [or oratory skills, more broadly speaking] generally requires audiences, but no such audiences are identified.”7


As concluded by Welch,

Few orations are of supreme merit. The best ones manifest a fluent command of language, superior powers of thought, logical consistency, quickness and brilliancy of conception, control of rhetorical expedients, personal magnetism, and control of the feelings as well as an appeal to the judgment of audience. … Benjamin does all this; and even though his text is outstanding in print, it must have been superb when delivered.8

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Benjamin’s speech is that its excellence isn’t manifested in clever turns of phrase or pretentious eloquence. Rather, it moves the audience towards genuine faith and repentance through wise counsel and penetrating insights. “Benjamin makes his points so clearly that people may mistake his brilliance for something less,” writes Welch. “But it is the mark of all masters to make difficult feats look easy and to employ complex forms so fluently and fluidly that they draw no attention to themselves but flawlessly convey the intended message and result.”9

King Benjamin's Speech, by Walter Rane

Speaking of its result, Benjamin’s speech had a clear and enduring influence on subsequent Nephite writers,10 and his words are still being delivered today among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is regularly taking place in family home evenings, Sunday School lessons, Sacrament talks, general conference addresses, and other public and private settings.11 His sayings are frequently marked in scriptures, posted as sticky notes on fridges, and memorized by those who find them to be of great worth.

If Joseph Smith created this speech using his own ability, he produced one of the most remarkable and enduringly influential discourses in recorded history. However, as a seasoned monarch trained in the literary traditions of his forefathers, the man described as King Benjamin in the text of the Book of Mormon itself seems a much better candidate to have authored the stirring words recorded in the early chapters of the book of Mosiah.

John W. Welch, “Benjamin’s Speech: A Masterful Oration,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 55–88.

Mosiah 2–5

Mosiah 2–5

Literary Features
Book of Mormon

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