Evidence #55 | September 19, 2020

Wordplay on Benjamin

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The author of King Benjamin’s speech seems to have understood both the Hebrew meaning behind Benjamin’s name (“son of the right hand”) and the relevant texts and symbolism pertaining to ancient coronation and enthronement ceremonies.
King Benjamin by Jeremy Winborg.

Matthew L. Bowen has proposed that the early chapters of Mosiah repeatedly feature a wordplay on King Benjamin’s name.1 In Hebrew, ben means “son” (words for “child” and “daughter” also come from this root), and the Hebrew word jamin is traditionally thought to mean “right hand.” Thus the name “Benjamin” (ben-jamin) can appropriately mean “son of the right hand.”2 This definition may help explain the focus on children in the early chapters of the book of Mosiah, as well as King Benjamin’s discussion of spiritual rebirth and being enthroned on God’s right hand.3

In Mosiah 1:1–2, King Benjamin and his sons are in introduced to readers in a way that is similar to the introductions given by Nephi, Enos, and other prophets. In each case it appears that the authors used wordplay to connect the introduced characters to the influence and teachings of their fathers.4

Nephi, whose name likely stems from an Egyptian word (nfr) meaning “good,” mentioned that he was “born of goodly parents” and that he had a “great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God,”(1 Nephi 1:1).5 Enos, whose name is a Hebrew poetic form of the word “man,” similarly drew attention to his father, describing him as a “just man” (Enos 1:1).6 In Mosiah 1, the term “sons” is used 9 times, most often by King Benjamin (“son of the right hand“), who specifically used the phrase “my sons” to address his children. These similar wordplays found in similar formulaic introductions are highlighted in the following chart:

1 Nephi 1:1

Enos 1:1

Mosiah 1

I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

Behold, it came to pass that I, Enos, knowing my father that he was a just manfor he taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it

2. And it came to pass that [King Benjamin] had three sons; and he called their names Mosiah, and Helorum, and Helaman. And he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers

3. My sons, I would that ye should remember …

5. I say unto you my sons

6. O my sons, I would that ye should remember …

7. And now my sons, I would that ye should remember…

8. And many more things did king Benjamin teach his sons

9. And it came to pass that after king Benjamin had made an end of teaching his sons

Later in Benjamin’s speech, the wordplay on his name is made even more apparent when he taught that those who righteously keep their covenants shall become the “children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7) and that eventually they “shall be found at the right hand of God,” (v. 9). This language, as well as several other statements in King Benjamin’s speech, seem to allude to biblical passages, such as Deuteronomy 14:1–2; 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalms 2:7; 110, that deal with ancient Israelite coronation and enthronement contexts.

God Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand by Pieter de Grebber (1645) via Wikimedia Commons.

In doing so, King Benjamin effectively used the enthronement of his own son—the “son of his right hand”—as an occasion to teach about the blessings of heavenly enthronement that await all the righteous.7  Bowen explained, “it is the application of royal coronation/enthronement texts to the people themselves—making them all potentially kings and queens, sons and daughters at the right hand—that makes Benjamin’s speech so revolutionary.”8

Conclusion

Bowen’s analysis suggests that the author of the early chapters in Mosiah understood both the Hebrew meaning behind Benjamin (“son of the right hand”) and the relevant texts and symbolism pertaining to ancient Israelite coronation and enthronement ceremonies.

Book of Mormon Central, “Why Did King Benjamin Say That His People Would be Sons and Daughters at God’s Right Hand? (Mosiah 5:7),” KnoWhy 307 (May 1, 2017).

Matthew L. Bowen, “Becoming Sons and Daughters at God’s Right Hand: King Benjamin’s Rhetorical Wordplay on His Own Name,” Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture 21, no. 2 (2012): 2–13.

Stephen D. Ricks, “Kingship, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1–6,” in King Benjamin’s Speech: “That Ye May Learn Wisdom,” ed. John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1998), 233–276.

John W. Welch, “Democratizing Forces in King Benjamin’s Speech,” in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch and Melvin J. Thorne (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1999), 110–126.

Mosiah 1:1–9Mosiah 5:6–12

Mosiah 1:1–9

Mosiah 5:6–12

Linguistics
Wordplays
Wordplay on Benjamin
Book of Mormon

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