Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book of Mormon Names--Mosiah

In 1965, John Sawyer, a non-Mormon biblical scholar, published an article entitled, "What Was a Mosia" (Vetus Testamentum 15 1965: 475-86). This word, he noted, is Hebrew and is found in the Hebrew scriptures, but is never transliterated into modern English translations of the Old Testament as mosia.  John Welch has noted that mosia, when coupled with the theophoric element iah, would mean "the Lord is a mosia." ("What Was a Mosiah?" Reexploring the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992,105-7).  Sawyer's insights into the biblical usage of the word are interesting in light of themes and elements found in the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon.

1. Mosia is a word like "victor" or "savior" or "deliverer" (481-83).

The themes of physical and spiritual deliverance and salvation are central to the book of Mosiah.

2. The term was used in antiquity to refer to a hero appointed by God, who delivers an oppressed and afflicted people from injustice.

Sawyer explains, "It is a word invariably implying a champion of justice in a situation of controversy, battle or oppression" (475-76). "It is in a situation of injustice and in particular unjust oppression of the chosen people that a mosia is needed. This applies to situations of battle, and to situations of general lawlessness" (478). "The subject when mentioned is always God or his appointed hero" (478, 480). In the Book of Mosiah Benjamin, Zeniff, Alma, Gideon, Ammon, Mosiah II, and the sons of Mosiah are all heroes appointed by God to bring deliverance to his people. Later the sons of Mosiah, after having been delivered from sin (Alma 26:17-20), are instruments of God in bringing spiritual deliverance to the Lamanites (Alma 26:13-15). Sons of the Lamanite converts in turn become instruments of God in delivering the Nephites from their enemies (Alma 56-59).

3. The term designated a unique class or office in ancient Israel.

Sawyer notes that, in two instances, "It appears to have been the object of the verb l hakim. . . . This verb is found only with the following individuals: king, judge, prophet, priest, shepherd, watchman, father, son, satan and mosia. Thus mosia is separated from its more general synonyms and brought into a class of people who have a definite office or position in ancient Israel" (477). He further suggests that the term "belonged originally to some special sphere of life—the palace, the battlefield, the temple, the lawcourt, the market place, the family—and was later applied to wider contexts" (478). Mosiah I, Benjamin, Zeniff, and Mosiah II are all kings. Alma the Elder is a priest, and Alma the Younger became the first chief judge over the Nephites. King Benjamin delivers his speech from the temple (Mosiah 2:7), after being victorious in battle (Omni 1:24; Words of Mormon 1:13-14) and estab-lishing peace by preaching the gospel (Words of Mormon 1:15-18; Mosiah 1:1, 3).

4. The term was later applied specifically to God himself.

"We are suggesting, then, a development from a definite office within a definite sphere of life, to a title of God related anthropomorphically to the same sphere of life, and from there to a title of God in any general context" (485). The underlying message of the whole book of Mosiah is that, although God appoints servants, it is the Lord who is the true deliverer (Mosiah 11:23; 24:21; 25:16).

5. Those in danger or those who are unjustly oppressed "cry out" for help and receive deliverance from a mosia (476-77).

The people of Zeniff cry unto the king in times of danger (Mosiah 9:16-18), and also "cry mightily to the Lord" (Mosiah 9:17), as do the people of Limhi (Mosiah 11:23-25; 21:14-16) and the people of Alma (Mosiah 23:27-29; 24:10-17).

6. This deliverance is frequently, though not always, accomplished by nonviolent means.

"Thus we have seen that mosia appears most often, not in contexts of violence or physical danger, but in situations of injustice" (480). "His activity is sometimes verbal, rather than physical" (486). King Zeniff unsuccessfully opposes a needless attack upon the Lamanites (Mosiah 9:1-2). Through the counsel of Gideon, the people of Limhi are delivered by getting the Lamanites drunk, thus preventing bloodshed (Mosiah 22:1-16), and the Lord causes a deep sleep to come upon the Lamanites so that Alma's people may escape in peace (Mosiah 24:19-25).

7. The mosia is an "advocate" or "witness for the defense."

"The meaning of 'advocate' or 'witness for the defense' fits well" (485). "The mosia is one who appears on behalf of Israel in court" (481). "There was a place in ancient Israel for an 'advocate' or a 'witness for the defense,' as also for a 'witness for the prosecution.' " Sawyer asks, "If Satan was the one, was the mosia, at some time and in some part of the Middle East, the other?" (486). Alma was an advocate for Abinadi, for which he was cast out by Noah (Mosiah 17:1-4). Abinadi clearly teaches that the wicked who reject Christ and do not repent have no redeemer or advocate to defend them from the demands of justice (Mosiah 15:27; 16:12).

8. He is always on the side of justice.

According to Sawyer, "The main idea is intervening and contending on behalf of the right" (482) "The result of the coming of a mosia on the scene was escape from injustice, and a return to a state of justice where each man possesses his rightful property" (480). "The mosia is always on the side of justice" (486). The book of Mosiah teaches important principles regarding God's justice (Mosiah 15:8-9, 26-27). In the biblical ideal, "Final victory" means the coming of mosiim  "to rule like judges over Israel. The people will once again possess their own property and justice will be the foundation of the Kingdom of the Lord" (482). The whole purpose of the Zeniffite colony was to redeem their rightful land of inheritance (Mosiah 9:1, 6-7). The reign of the judges was seen by the people of Nephi as a joyous change in which "inequality should be no more" (Mosiah 29:32) and "every man should have an equal chance throughout the land" (Mosiah 29:38).

9. The oppressed and afflicted seek refuge from their enemies at the "right hand" of a mosia (483).

Zeniff's people call upon him for protection against their enemies (Mosiah 9:14-16). The righteous are promised a protected place at God's  "right hand" at the day of judgment (Mosiah 5:9; 26:23-24). The name Benjamin, incidentally, means "son of the right hand."

In many ways the book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon seems appropriately named.

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