Mosiah 7:8-11 — LeGrand Baker — King Limhi
There are some things about the story of Ammon’s meeting king Limhi that cause me to wonder what is really happening. In fact it is the things that are out of place or odd which tend to re- enforce the historicity of the account. The story sounds very plausible, but only if the king is not telling the truth. What king Limhi said is this:
9 …Behold, I am Limhi, the son of Noah, who was the son of Zeniff, who came up out of the land of Zarahemla to inherit this land, which was the land of their fathers, who was made a king by the voice of the people.
10 And now, I desire to know the cause whereby ye were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate?
11 And now, for this cause have I suffered that ye should be preserved, that I might inquire of you, or else I should have caused that my guards should have put you to death. Ye are permitted to speak. (Mosiah 7:9-11)
There are a number of things out of place with both his speech and his actions. First of all, he introduces himself. He would not have done that unless he knew his prisoners were strangers to his realm.
Second, He says he would have killed them for getting too close to his royal person, but then he treats them like ambassadors, rather than like common criminals. If he took them captive simply because they had broken protocol and “were so bold as to come near the walls of the city, when I, myself, was with my guards without the gate,” it would not follow that they would be treated with dignity when they “were again brought before the king, and their bands were loosed; and they stood before the king, and were permitted, or rather commanded, that they should answer the questions which he should ask them.”
It is apparent that the king is posturing. He is afraid. People who are afraid either act cowed or they act the part of the bully. He is doing the latter. He puts the men in prison for two days, brings them out, unties them, gave them permission to stand, introduces himself – not in terms of his authority, but in terms of the legitimacy of his authority – then “commands” that they answer his questions.
He is sending a double message: One is that he is boss around here, the other is that he is afraid.
So, why should he be afraid? Because he recognized who they were – or at least he recognized they were somebody important – and that they represented either the external help he had been seeking, or else that they represent some new external threat. It would have been easy for him to discover that much. Ammon was a prince, a descendant of that Zarahemla who was king only three generations before, when Mosiah I came into the land. He was a trained warrior, “a strong and mighty man.” No doubt he carried himself like a prince, had the manners of a prince, dressed like a prince, and spoke like a prince. Unless he had taken to wearing the clothes of a commoner, his dress would have given him away, but the thing that would have been most telling would have been his speech. The Lamanites had apparently lost much of their original language. (Mosiah 24:4) But in the land of Nephi, the Lamanites were the dominant culture. After three generations, the transplanted Nephites in Limhi’s kingdom would have adopted some Lamanite words and pronunciations. So even though Ammon spoke the same language as Limhi, the accent was probably different, and Ammon’s diction would have been perfect – that in itself would have been enough to give him away. It would have been easy for Zeniff to know he was dealing with a prince.
What would really be interesting for us to know is in which language Limhi addressed Ammon when he spoke.
The question of language is this: Zeniff, Limhi’s grandfather, began his short autobiography by declaring his royalty: “I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites…” (Mosiah 9:1 ) Knowing ALL the language of the Nephites was possibly reserved to Nephite royalty. One of the first things we learn about King Benjamin’s family is that “he caused that they should be taught in all the language of his fathers, that thereby they might become men of understanding; and that they might know concerning the prophecies which had been spoken by the mouths of their fathers, which were delivered them by the hand of the Lord.” (Mosiah 1:2) They had to know Egyptian or they could not read the Brass Plates. As far as we know, Egyptian was not spoken as the common language of the Nephites. Their names tend to be Hebrew even though Mormon later calls their language “reformed Egyptian.” In Limhi’s time, more than 400 years after they left Jerusalem, it is likely that they spoke some kind of mixture (like English is a mixture of German, French, Latin and the languages native to the British Isles). It is also likely that classic Egyptian had become the sacral – priestly – royal language – like Latin was the sacral and cultural language of medieval Europe.
Abinadi’s reference to Isaiah suggests that Limhi took copies of the sacred records with him. But given ancient people’s inclination to write sacred things in sacred script or sacred language, it is certainly possible that Limhi’s scriptures were in Egyptian. And it is equally possible that Ammon, the prince, also could read and speak classic Egyptian.
All this round about reasoning is to try to fit some pieces into the picture so it will make sense.
This is what I am guessing: Limhi found these non-local people, threw then in prison while he investigated where they came from, and also so he could impress them that he was king and not to be messed with. While they were in prison, he learned, perhaps from their clothes, but more likely from their accent and the conversations among themselves while they were in prison, that he was dealing with Nephite/Mulikite royalty. He then brought them into the throne room, treated them with dignity, and perhaps confirmed their identity by addressing Ammon in Egyptian – which he knew to be the sacred language of the Nephites and which language he knew the Lamanites could not possibly have known. If Ammon responded in Egyptian, and that was the key Limhi needed to know Ammon really was the person he represented himself as being.
If that is what happened, and Ammon could understand and converse in Egyptian, that would account for Limhi’s sudden change of attitude and total trust in these strangers.
As you know without my telling you, all that stuff came out of my imagination, and I have no evidence that it is true. But if it even approximates what happened, it might account for the otherwise unexplainable actions and words of king Limhi.