Mormon 1:1-4 — Who was Mormon? — LeGrand Baker

Mormon 1:1-4 —  Who was Mormon?

2 And about the time that Ammaron hid up the records unto the Lord, he came unto me, (I being about ten years of age, and I began to be learned somewhat after the manner of the learning of my people) and Ammaron said unto me: I perceive that thou art a sober child, and art quick to observe; [and then he placed the Nephite royal archives in the custody this little boy.] (Mormon 1:1-4).

The question is: Who was this ten year old boy, and by what right could he claim possession of this priceless collection of the political and religious archives, and of the most sacred royal and priesthood regalia of the entire Nephite civilization?

The first time Mormon identifies himself to us he writes, “I am Mormon, and a pure descendant of Lehi (3 Nephi 5:20).” Later, he tells us, “And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (Mormon 1:5).”

Nephi was the first king and founder of the royal Nephite dynasty.

When Mormon’s son Moroni first identifies himself to us, he also defines himself by his relationship to the origin of the Nephite royal family. He writes: “Behold, I am Moroni; … I am the son of Mormon , and my father was a descendant of Nephi (Mormon 8:12-13).

Mormon also tells us he is the heir to the royal line when he briefly gives us the history of the records he abridged.

10 Wherefore, it came to pass that after Amaleki [the head of the house of Jacob] had delivered up these plates [small plates of Nephi] into the hands of king Benjamin, he took them and put them with the other plates, which contained records which had been handed down by the kings, from generation to generation until the days of king Benjamin.
11 And they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands (Words of Mormon:10-11).

It seems quite clear that both Mormon and Moroni are telling us that they are the hereditary Nephite kings, even though that title had not been used for many generations.

If that is the way they choose to identify themselves, then we have the right to ask, “Does the Book of Mormon trace its kingship and priesthood authority in one family from Lehi to Moroni?” The answer is “Yes.” However, there seems to be three breaks in the family line with Mosiah I, Alma I, and even Mormon himself. Each of those has to be understood in its own context to see family continuity.

The Lord promised Nephi that he would be a ruler and teacher (king and priest) over his people, and in writing his sacred memories on the small plates, Nephi carefully documents the origin of the new dynasty he founded. (I have discussed that in “1 Nephi 2:19-22 – Origin of Nephi’s Dynasty” in the “scriptures” section of this website.)

Even though we have no record of the kings between the time of Nephi and Mosiah I, we can know that Mosiah I was a legitimate heir to the throne—probably a younger brother of the reigning monarch—because he had access to, and apparently absconded with, the royal genealogies on the brass plates and large plates of Nephi; and the royal regalia including the sword of Laban and the Liahona (Omni 1:11, Mosiah 1:16, Alma 37:38). These were the official symbols of kingship and priesthood, and would be passed down through the ruling family for the full thousand years of Nephite history.

When Mosiah I left the land of Nephi, he was accompanied by the head of the House of Jacob who carried with him the family genealogy contained on the small plates of Nephi, and perhaps also other regalia and temple implements of the legitimate Nephite priesthood authority. The official Jacob line ended in Zarahemla when “Amaleki, the son of Abinadom” inherited the family records, but had no children, and his brother had gone with Zeniff to reclaim the land of Nephi. Because there was no legal heir of Jacob who could inherit the that family’s sacred genealogy and historical record, Amaleki gave the small plates to King Benjamin (Omni 1:25;Mosiah 7:9, 9:1).

So now the archives of the king, who was both the political and spiritual leader of his people, contained not only the large plates of Nephi, and the brass plates, but the sacred writings of Nephi as well.

The first apparent break in the Nephite royal family genealogy was the ascension of Mosiah I, but that one is easily dealt with because he has the royal records and is acknowledge as king, so that was really no break at all.

The next apparent break in the royal succession is between Mosiah II and Alma I. King Mosiah gave Alma all of the royal histories, genealogies, and regalia of the Nephite kings. As is apparent from what we know of the Nephite culture, the king’s surrendering the implements of kingship and priesthood to one who was not a legal heir would have been absolutely out of the question. So now our challenge is to bridge the royal gap between Mosiah II and Alma I.

To establish Alma’s lineage we must first address the question of Zeniff’s right to lead the Nephite colony back to reclaim the land Nephi.

There is evidence that Zeniff was a younger son of Mosiah I and King Benjamin’s younger brother. The evidence is first circumstantial, then circular, but it is probably valid, nonetheless.

The circumstantial evidence is, first of all, that Mosiah would never send a commoner to reclaim and then to reign in the land of Nephi. When they got to the land of Nephi, Zeniff was acknowledged as king. He was accompanied by a younger heir to the house of Jacob, and they rebuilt and used the temple. Either Zeniff was a usurper of the first order or he was a legitimate heir to the kingship. And Mormon never suggests a problem with his legitimacy.

There is a roughly contemporary and similar situation in the Old Testament. When Cyrus sent Jews back to reclaim the land of Jerusalem he sent a prince named Zerubbabel to lead the colony and rebuild the temple (1 Chronicles 3:15-19, Ezra 5:1-2). That is the way it was done. If Zeniff were not a legitimate heir to the throne, he could not go to the land of Nephi and claim to be its rightful king.

The other evidence that Zeniff was a prince is that he had a royal education. The quality of one’s education has always (except to a lesser degree in our own time) been sure evidence of political, economic and religious rank. The Nephite culture was no different from that.

When Mormon introduces us to King Benjamin, he tells us that the king had three sons, “And 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 1:1-2).” The “language of his fathers” would have included at least Hebrew and Egyptian, otherwise his sons could not have read the brass plates or the small plates of Nephi. Princes must know how, not just to read but also to understand, the secrets of the state and the mysteries that only kings had a right to know. Therefore, the princely education was always the dominion and the evidence of royalty.

When Zeniff begins his short autobiography, the very first thing he says is that he has a royal education. “I, Zeniff, having been taught in all the language of the Nephites, and having had a knowledge of the land of Nephi, or of the land of our fathers’ first inheritance…. (Mosiah 9:1)” So the second circumstantial evidence is that Alma’s grandfather had a royal education (OK, so that bit about their relationship was a leap of logic that needs to be dealt with. Just hang on and we’ll get there.)

The circular evidence that Zeniff was a prince is based on that logical leap, but it is still the strongest evidence of all: Mosiah II could not have given the rule of the Nephite nation to just anyone. Mosiah could never have acknowledged Alma as a legitimate claimant to the Nephite throne if Alma’s grandfather had not also been a legitimate heir to the kingdom.

Now our next problem is to establish that Alma was, in fact, a young Nephite prince. The first evidence is that Mormon tells us so. When Mormon introduces us to Alma, he describes Alma’s heritage with the same words as he describes his own. He writes, “But there was one among them whose name was Alma, he also being a descendant of Nephi. And he was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken (Mosiah 17:2).”

In a footnote in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, Stephen and I examined the evidence that Alma was a prince — a younger brother of King Noah.

There are several indications that Alma was a young prince. Evidence of his age is found when his son Alma II spoke to the people of Zarahemla, saying:

5 And behold, after that, they were brought into bondage by the hands of the Lamanites in the wilderness; yea, I say unto you, they were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word; and we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also (Alma 5:5).

So “they” were brought into bondage, and “we” came out. When Luke wrote “we” and “they” in Acts, it is taken as a key to knowing when he was and was not with Paul’s party. If that same principle can be applied here, it says that when they were brought into bondage Alma II was not with them, but he was when they came out—indicating that he had been born while they were there.

It was customary that a boy be married by the age of 18 to 20, but if one were not a “young man,” he could not sit in the councils of the Israelites, until he was 32, married, and had a child. If Alma II were his father’s oldest child, or at least his oldest son, and born when his father was in his early twenties, then Alma I may have been only in his late teens when he heard Abinadi. That was too young to sit in the king’s Council unless one was a prince.

Another indication of Alma’s high rank (and probably of his popularity among the people) is that Noah did not arrest him, as he would have done a commoner, but rather sent someone to assassinate him.

Probably the strongest evidence is that after he got to Zarahemla and the king’s sons refused to accept the throne, Alma was next in line for the throne. That could only be true if Zeniff, the king of the Nephites in the land of Nephi, were also a Nephite prince, and if Alma were his son and Noah’s younger brother, and, therefore, a legal heir to both Nephite thrones. {1}

After Alma and his people came to Zarahemla and he was made Chief Judge he did not have the title of king, but he did have all of the authority of the royal office, including his status as High Priest of the Church.

In pre-exilic Israel the king was both head of government and the head of the state religion. That is evident by the facts that Solomon dedicated the Temple and offered sacrifices. Later the temple appears to have been the “royal chapel” during the reign of Isaiah’s friend King Hezekiah. We see the same relationship of church and state in the reign of King Benjamin who presided at the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Alma’s innovation was that he organized the religion into a more structured “church.” We know they worshiped the Savior, but we know almost nothing about how the church organization worked except that it served to keep Alma and his friends together even when they were under bondage in the wilderness. The church had priests and teachers to whom Alma had given authority. They performed baptisms, and held meetings. We also know they lived the Law of Moses. (However, we do not know what they meant by “the Law of Moses.” The version of the Law that we have in our Bible was severely edited by post-exilic Jews who changed the Law to fit their new circumstances as part of the Persian empire.)

King Mosiah acknowledged the value of Alma’s church organization and gave him royal authority to continue it after he came to Zarahemla. So latter, when Alma was Chief Judge, he, like the kings before him, had all the powers of both the kingship and the High Priesthood.

Alma II again divided the royal authority between the political and ecclesiastical. Alma retained his High Priest responsibilities in the Church, and those powers were passed down through the heirs of his family until Nephi III. When the Savior came to the Nephites he established a new Church that no longer adhered to the Law of Moses, and he also established a political theocracy. He made Nephi III head of both church and state. That authority remained intact and with the family for four generations until the time of Ammaron who gave all of the archives and regalia to the boy Mormon. Now we are confronted with our original question: How did Mormon fit into the ruling family and by what right did Ammaron turn the entire royal archives over to the keeping of a ten year old boy?

Again, the evidence that Mormon was legitimate heir to the kingship and priesthood of the royal family is very firm even though the evidence we are given might be considered as only circumstantial.

The history of the sacred records and regalia is the key to understanding who Mormon was. He tells us they had remained in the custody of Nephi’s heirs, from father to son for the full thousand years of Nephite history. Mormon tells us he is heir of the Nephite kings when he gives us the history of the royal archives and says, “they were handed down from king Benjamin, from generation to generation until they have fallen into my hands (Words of Mormon:10-11).”

The details of their more recent history was that from Nephi III they were passed to his son Nephi, then to his son Amos. Amos died and put them in the custody of his brother Ammaron. By that time, the Nephite apostasy had become so widespread that the records were no longer safe where they had been kept. Then, as Mormon tells us,

48 And it came to pass that when three hundred and twenty years had passed away, Ammaron, being constrained by the Holy Ghost, did hide up the records which were sacred—yea, even all the sacred records which had been handed down from generation to generation, which were sacred—even until the three hundred and twentieth year from the coming of Christ.
49 And he did hide them up unto the Lord, that they might come again unto the remnant of the house of Jacob, according to the prophecies and the promises of the Lord. And thus is the end of the record of Ammaron (4 Nephi 1:48-49).

The sacred records which Ammaron hid were the dynastic archives of Nephi’s royal family. But, if we can judge by the stories and quotes from original documents which are found in our Book of Mormon (like 1 Nephi, Alma’s journal, and the official history kept by Nephi III), we can know that Ammaron’s archives also included official state and church records as well. These records were preserved in a massive collection of metal plates that were eventually re-hidden by Mormon and preserved in secret cave.

We know that because two months before his death in 1877, Brigham Young described the contents of that cave. He explained that he wanted Latter-day Saints to know and remember what had happened to the plates of the Book of Mormon. The following paragraph is the account of Joseph’s returning the plates to Moroni as Brigham Young reported that Oliver Cowdery told it to him:

This is an incident in the life of Oliver Cowdery, but he did not take the liberty of telling such things in meeting as I take. I tell these things to you, and I have a motive for doing so. I want to carry them to the ears of my brethren and sisters, and to the children also, that they may grow to an understanding of some things that seem to be entirely hidden from the human family. Oliver Cowdery went with the Prophet Joseph when he deposited these plates. Joseph did not translate all of the plates; there was a portion of them sealed, which you can learn from the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. When Joseph got the plates, the angel instructed him to carry them back to the hill Cumorah, which he did. Oliver says that when Joseph and Oliver went there, the hill opened, and they walked into a cave, in which there was a large and spacious room. He says he did not think, at the time, whether they had the light of the sun or artificial light; but that it was just as light as day. They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed, and on it was written these words: “This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.” I tell you this as coming not only from Oliver Cowdery, but others who were familiar with it, and who understood it…. {2}

Now we return to Mormon’s story. We have learned that he has custody of that entire royal archives, but we still have not addressed the original question is: Who was this boy and by what right did Ammaron entrust the safety and preservation this priceless collection of the most sacred royal and religious archives and regalia of the entire Nephite civilization into the hands of a mere child? The answer is obvious—he was a prince— but now we need the evidence to substantiate that.

At the beginning of his own autobiography he tells us:

1 And now I, Mormon, make a record of the things which I have both seen and heard, and call it the Book of Mormon.
2 And about the time that Ammaron hid up the records unto the Lord, he came unto me, (I being about ten years of age, and I began to be learned somewhat after the manner of the learning of my people) and Ammaron said unto me: I perceive that thou art a sober child, and art quick to observe;
3 Therefore, when ye are about twenty and four years old I would that ye should remember the things that ye have observed concerning this people; and when ye are of that age go to the land Antum, unto a hill which shall be called Shim; and there have I deposited unto the Lord all the sacred engravings concerning this people.
4 And behold, ye shall take the plates of Nephi unto yourself, and the remainder shall ye leave in the place where they are; and ye shall engrave on the plates of Nephi all the things that ye have observed concerning this people (Mormon 1:1-4).

The hill Shim was the strategic location chosen by the Jaredites to fight their final battle. {3} It is likely that the Nephites recognized its military value and also had a fortification there and that Ammaron thought that would a safe place to keep the royal archives. Later on, Mormon moved the archives to a the cave in the hill Comorah where they still are. Mormon explained,

22 And it came to pass that the Nephites did again flee from before them, taking all the inhabitants with them, both in towns and villages.
23 And now I, Mormon, seeing that the Lamanites were about to overthrow the land, therefore I did go to the hill Shim, and did take up all the records which Ammaron had hid up unto the Lord (Mormon 4:22-23).

Later, he tells us,

6 And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni (Mormon 6:6).

Even though Mormon does not use the word, we know from what he does tell us that he was a prince who, in his maturity, had all of the powers of the ancient kings.

We know that he had a royal education and could read the Egyptian on small plates as well as the full range of the dialects of the evolution of the Nephite language from its original Hebrew to the Reformed Egyptian of his own time. Even in translation, we can detect that linguistic evolution by the changes in literary styles from Nephi to Alma, to 3 Nephi, and to Mormon in Moroni 7. In considering the extent of those changes, it is a useful comparison to see the thousand-year evolution in the English language from Chaucer to Shakespeare and the King James Bible, to Victorian literature, to modern television-standard American English. There is no reason to believe that the Nephite language did not change in just as dramatic a way, especially when one recognizes the infusion of not just Egyptian, but also Mulekite, Jaredite, and even Greek names interwoven into the Book of Mormon history. If there were non-Hebrew names then there must have also been non-Hebrew words in the language, perhaps much like modern English that is a conglomerate of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, French and German, and even African.

So we know without being told that Mormon could read Hebrew and Egyptian as well as the variations and dialects that evolved in the language during the thousand years of Nephite history. He must have had a brilliant mind as well as an amazing education.

The apparent break in the Book of Mormon’s genealogical record between Amos, Ammaron, and Mormon is probably accounted for in one of two ways: Either because Amos’s son, Mormon (young Mormon’s father) was away in the back country when Amos died so Amos placed the archives in his brother’s custody until Mormon could return. Or (and this may be the more likely), Amos had no sons so his brother inherited the royal prerogatives, and young Mormon was Ammaron’s grandson.

We know almost nothing about Mormon’s father, or why Ammaron gave the royal archives into the boy’s custody, rather than into his father’s. Mormon tells us only this:

5 And I, Mormon, being a descendant of Nephi, (and my father’s name was Mormon) I remembered the things which Ammaron commanded me.
6 And it came to pass that I, being eleven years old, was carried by my father into the land southward, even to the land of Zarahemla (Mormon 1:5-6).

After that, we are left to assume that his father either died of natural causes or was assassinated, because when war broke out five years later, Mormon’s father (who by his brithright should have commanded the Nephite armies) is not even mentioned.

Young Mormon was about the same age as Joseph Smith when Joseph received the First Vision, when Mormon also received a similar calling from the Savior himself. However, he does not give us the details Joseph does; Mormon reports only:

15 And I, being fifteen years of age and being somewhat of a sober mind, therefore I was visited of the Lord, and tasted and knew of the goodness of Jesus (Mormon 1:15).

I think Mormon has just described his own sode experience. Even though we have no way of knowing how similar those two experience were, I am quite content in believing that those same words might also serve as an accurate, albeit very abbreviated, remembrance of Joseph’s First Vision.

Mormon continues his narrative:

1 And it came to pass in that same year there began to be a war again between the Nephites and the Lamanites. And notwithstanding I being young, was large in stature; therefore the people of Nephi appointed me that I should be their leader, or the leader of their armies.
2 Therefore it came to pass that in my sixteenth year I did go forth at the head of an army of the Nephites, against the Lamanites; therefore three hundred and twenty and six years had passed away (Mormon 2:1-2).

His language is very explicit. He does not say that at age sixteen he was given actual command of the armies. What he says is that he was appointed “their leader” and that he went “at the head of an army.” This sounds very much like the situations in medieval Europe when armies fought hand to hand. The young king or the heir-apparent went before the armies as the token commander (kind of like a mascot to encourage the army, but that’s probably not a very good word to describe his official capacity.)

I read Mormon’s words to say that same thing, because, in contrast to that language, when he had grown older he reported he “had led them many times to battle (Mormon 3:12).” And then, for second time, he actually command of all of the Nephite armies. He wrote:

1 And it came to pass that I did go forth among the Nephites, and did repent of the oath which I had made that I would no more assist them; and they gave me command again of their armies, for they looked upon me as though I could deliver them from their afflictions (Mormon 5:1).

Mormon was also the prophet and head of the Christian Church. We know that by the introduction to his address recorded by his son in Moroni 7. He began by saying:

2 And now I, Mormon, speak unto you, my beloved brethren; and it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy will, because of the gift of his calling unto me, that I am permitted to speak unto you at this time.
3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven (Moroni 7:2-3).

Who was Mormon? He was by right of heritage the king and religious leader of the Nephite nation. And by right of his faithfulness to that heritage, he was prophet and president of the Church that the Savior established when he came to America.

Mormon was a magnificent historian who wrote with dedication, clarity, and purpose, and who instilled both that purpose and dedication into his son Moroni.

And he and his son are my heroes !



{1} Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, first edition, p. 692 footnote 741; second edition, p. 489-90 footnote 752.

{2} Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 19:38-39.

{3} Shim was the Jaredite name for the hill where their last battle was held as is shown in this passage from the book of Ether:

3 And the Lord warned Omer in a dream that he should depart out of the land; wherefore Omer departed out of the land with his family, and traveled many days, and came over and passed by the hill of Shim, and came over by the place where the Nephites were destroyed, and from thence eastward, and came to a place which was called Ablom, by the seashore, and there he pitched his tent, and also his sons and his daughters, and all his household, save it were Jared and his family (Ether 9:3).


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