Evidence #10 | September 19, 2020

Flashbacks (Mosiah 9–24)

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The book of Mosiah contains two flashback sequences, both of which are skillfully executed.

Flashback Sequences in the book of Mosiah

The book of Mosiah contains two flashback sequences, one following close after the other. The first flashback starts in Mosiah 9, after a search party sent from Zarahemla (led by a man named Ammon1) meets up with King Limhi and his people. This flashback gives readers the backstory of Limhi’s people, recounting how Limhi’s grandfather Zeniff came to possess the land, how Limhi’s wicked father King Noah martyred the prophet Abinadi, and how Limhi himself ruled in righteousness but suffered oppression at the hands of the Lamanites. The flashback sequence ends in Mosiah 21:23, when it returns to the story of Ammon and explains why Limhi initially thought Ammon and his men were some of King Noah’s priests.

The second flashback sequence begins after Limhi and his people, with the aid of Ammon, returned to the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 21:2322:16). It describes the aftermath of what happened to Alma and his followers, and how they—like the people of Limhi—eventually escaped to the land of Zarahemla. It also lets readers know what became of King Noah’s priests. This second flashback sequence can be seen as tying up some loose threads from the first flashback, while simultaneously offering a parallel narrative to the escape of Limhi’s people.

Complex Content, Smooth Transitions

Despite their complexity, these flashbacks are integrated rather seamlessly. For instance, Limhi’s short summary of his people’s history found in Mosiah 7 consistently agrees with details spread throughout the much lengthier flashback sequence that follows in Mosiah 9–21 (see Appendix). When the flashback resumes, it picks up right where it left off—discussing the discovery of a Jaredite record and Mosiah’s gift to translate, except this time from the perspective of King Limhi and his people (see Mosiah 21:24–28; cf. Mosiah 8:6–21).2

Although the second flashback, recorded in Mosiah 23–24, begins rather abruptly, it also picks up precisely where a narrative thread from the first flashback left off. At this point, the last readers have heard about Alma and his people is that they “were apprised of the coming of the king’s army; therefore they took their tents and their families and departed into the wilderness” (Mosiah 18:34). The beginning of the flashback sequence reports this very event, adding that they were “warned of the Lord” (Mosiah 23:1).

Alma and his people escape from the Lamanites and the wicked priests of Noah (Mosiah 24:18–20). Image via ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

The conclusion of the second flashback sequence is also handled smoothly. Mormon reports that King Mosiah gathered his people together and “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” (Mosiah 25:5–6). It becomes rather apparent at this point that Mormon intentionally used a flashback sequence to juxtapose these exodus narratives which are jointly addressed in Mosiah’s speech to his people.

Purposes

Together, these flashbacks fulfill a number of important narrative purposes, including at least the following:

  1. They introcude readers to the origin of the book of Ether, recorded on 24 gold plates, which contained a history of the Jaredites.3
  2. They record the prophecies of Abinadi, which are important to the Nephite nation for generations to come.
  3. They introduce readers to Alma the Elder, who established a church and a lineage of prophets and leaders that become crucial to the Nephites and the history of the Book of Mormon. 

These flashbacks aren’t merely a creative way to tell a story. It seems, rather, that they establish the founding events that led up to the reign of the judges and the bulk of Nephite history that Mormon was about to record.

Conclusion

These non-linear narratives seem to have been well planned and skillfully executed. Careful analysis reveals the guiding hand of an expert historian who by carefully and selectively drawing upon and arranging content from various source texts, was able to tell both a historically accurate and religiously significant narrative. These flashbacks offer good examples of the Book of Mormon’s narrative complexity and textual consistency.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did Mormon Include Flashbacks in His Narrative? (Alma 21:13),” KnoWhy 129 (June 24, 2016).

Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 104–105.

Mosiah 9:1–21:23Mosiah 23:1–24:5

Mosiah 9:121:23

Mosiah 23:124:5

        Topic

Limhi’s Historical Summary (Mosiah 7)

First Flashback  (Mosiah 9–21)

Zeniff’s Overzealousness

7:21 And ye all are witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being over-zealous to inherit the land of his fathers

9:3 And yet, I [Zeniff] being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers

The Cunning and Craftiness of King Laman

7:21 therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff

9:10 Now it was the cunning and the craftiness of king Laman, to bring my people into bondage

Zeniff and Laman Enter into a Treaty

7:21 therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yielded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about

9:2 Therefore, I contended with my brethren in the wilderness, for I would that our ruler should make a treaty with them

 

9:6 And I went in unto the king, and he covenanted with me that I might possess the land of Lehi-Nephi, and the land of Shilom.

Laman’s Intent is to Put Zenniff’s People into Bondage

7:22 And all this he did [yielding up the land], for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage.

9:10 Now it was the cunning and the craftiness of king Laman, to bring my people into bondage, that he yielded up the land that we might possess it.

The Nephites Pay Tribute to the Lamanites

7:22 And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites, to the amount of one half of our corn, and our barley, and even all our grain of every kind, and one half of the increase of our flocks and our herds; and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives.

19:15 Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would deliver up king Noah into the hands of the Lamanites, and deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed, one half of their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year.

Mourning for Slain Nephites

7:24 Yea, I say unto you, great are the reasons which we have to mourn; for behold how many of our brethren have been slain, and their blood has been spilt in vain, and all because of iniquity.

21:8–9 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did beat them, and drove them back, and slew many of them. And now there was a great mourning and lamentation among the people of Limhi, the widow mourning for her husband, the son and the daughter mourning for their father, and the brothers for their brethren.

A “Great Evil” Afflicts the Nephites Because of Their Transgressions

7:25 For if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them.

12:13 And now, O king, what great evil hast thou done, or what great sins have thy people committed, that we should be condemned of God or judged of this man?

 

12:29 Why do ye … cause this people to commit sin, that the Lord has cause to send me to prophesy against this people, yea, even a great evil against this people?

Contentions among the Nephites

7:25 But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves.

19:3 And the lesser part began to breathe out threatenings against the king, and there began to be a great contention among them.

 

19:20–21 And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.

The Nephites Slay a Prophet (Abinadi)

7:26 And a prophet of the Lord have they slain; yea, a chosen man of God, who told them of their wickedness and abominations

17:20 And now, when Abinadi had said these words, he fell, having suffered death by fire; yea, having been put to death because he would not deny the commandments of God, having sealed the truth of his words by his death.

Abinadi Taught That Christ Was God, the Father of All Things

7:27 And [Abinadi] said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things

15:2–3 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—The Father, because he was conceived by the power of God

God Will Come Down among Men

7:27 And [Abinadi] said unto them that … God should come down among the children of men

15:1 And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people.

Christ Will Take upon Himself Flesh

7:27 And [Abinadi] said unto them … that God should … take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth

15:2 And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the Son of God

  • 1 This Ammon should not be confused with Ammon, the son of Mosiah, who led the missionary effort to spiritually reclaim the Lamanites (see Mosiah 27:34).
  • 2 This interesting and subtle shift in perspective is noted in Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010), 104.
  • 3 This detail was obviously important to Mormon because he promised to give an account of the Jaredite record later on in his abridgment (see Mosiah 28:17–19). But Mormon apparently ran out of time, so his son Moroni fulfilled his father’s editorial promise. Evidence that Moroni was specifically aware of Mormon’s promise in Mosiah 28 comes from the wording of the Title Page of the Book of Mormon, which was most likely written, or at least given its final form, by Moroni. See John W. Welch, “Introductory Pages of the Book of Mormon,” John W. Welch Notes, online at bookofmormoncentral.org.  
Complexity
Narratives
Flashbacks (Mosiah 9–24)
Book of Mormon

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