Mosiah 27:34-35 — LeGrand Baker — problems of royal succession
34 And four of them were the sons of Mosiah; and their names were Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner, and Himni; these were the names of the sons of Mosiah.
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.
After that, they asked their father for permission to go and preach to the Lamanites.
This is a more remarkable story that our 21st century culture is apt to see readily. A more typical account of the four sons of any king would conclude with one of them murdering the other three. Here are some examples of what I mean.
When Solomon became king, he promptly killed everyone who might have challenged his right to the throne. (1 Kings 1&2)
Nebuchadnezzar, the crown prince of Babylon, had just defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish when he learned his father had died. Consequently he could not follow up his victory by wiping out the Egyptian army. Rather, he had to return to Babylon, where he spent three years hunting down and killing all of his brothers, then, when his throne was secure, he and his army resumed the war.
One of the consequences of his victories was that he placed Zedekiah on the Jewish throne to rule as his underling. But Zedekiah later made an alliance with Egypt, so Nebuchadnezzar came back again, destroyed Jerusalem, captured Zedekiah, “And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon.” (2 Kings 25:7)
One does not kill just the king, but also anyone that might claim his throne. As a footnote to that story as it is told by Josephus, Whiston observed,
Burder remarks, this was done with the intention of rendering the king incapable of ever re-ascending the throne. Thus it was a law in Persia, down to the latest time, that no blind person could mount the throne. Hence the barbarous custom of depriving the sons and the male relatives of a Persian king, who are not to be allowed to attain the government, of their sight. Down to the time of Abbas, in 1642, this was done by only passing a red-hot copper plate before the eyes, by which the power of vision was not entirely destroyed, and person blinded still retained a glimmer of sight. (William Whiston, trans., The Complete Works of Flavious Josephus [London, The London Pringing and Publishing Company, Limited, 1876], p. 213 footnote. )
The point of those stories is this: A throne was a very dangerous kind of chair to sit on. And the simplest way to make sure one did not fall off of it, was to kill or disable anyone else who might want to be there.
Our Mosiah’s grandfather, Mosiah I, may have been in that same sort of situation. We have no detail except this:
… [Mosiah,] being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness— And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord….(Omni 1: 12b-13a)
We are not told what he was running away from, but there seems to be only two likely possibilities: Either the Lamanites were about to attack, or else he had an elder brother who was out to kill all the other boys in the family. (We know Mosiah was not the legal heir to the throne, because all the kings were named Nephi, and that was not his name.)
Mosiah II was very aware of this traditional way of salving the problems of succession. He later justified his new constitution by warning his people:
“And now if there should be another appointed in his stead, behold I fear there would rise contentions among you. And who knoweth but what my son, to whom the kingdom doth belong, should turn to be angry, and claim his right to the kingdom, and draw away a part of this people after him, which would cause wars and contentions among you, which would be the cause of shedding much blood.” (Mosiah 29, 7&9. I have constructed the statement using words in both verses.)
It is reasonable to believe that while his sons were going about to destroy the Church, they were keeping an eye on each other, knowing that when dad died, at least three of them would not live long, and each probably plotting the deaths of the others.
It that was true, and it is not at all unreasonable to believe it was true, then their conversions, and their desires leave their royal status and to go on missions together, would have been the least likely of all the expected conclusions to their story.