Thursday, June 13, 2013

Abinadi: Master of Disguise (Howlers #3)

“The hero of this tale is a fearless prophet by the name of Abinadi who got himself into a lot of trouble by denouncing the evil deeds of the wicked king Noah. King Noah finally swore to kill Abinadi, so the prophet hid out for two years to escape the king’s wrath. We read in Mosiah 12:1 about how he surfaced again: `And it came to pass that after the space of two years that Abinadi came among them in disguise, that they knew him not, and began to prophesy among them, saying–Abinadi, go and prophesy unto this my people . . . .’ And how long do you think that disguise lasted?”
                                                Latayne Colvett Scott, The Mormon Mirage (1979), 88.

Alan Goff provides another perspective on Abinadi’s disguise:

After hiding from King Noah for two years, the prophet Abinadi came before the people in disguise, identified himself by name, and then delivered a message of condemnation to the king and his people. Some might wonder why Abinadi would go to the trouble of disguising himself only to identify himself shortly afterward. Recent scholarly studies of the biblical narrative may help shed light on this curious episode.

One example is an article by Richard Coggins that examines five biblical stories involving kings, prophets, and disguises (1 Sam. 28:3–20; 1 Kgs. 14:1–20; 20:35–43; 22:29–37; 2 Chr. 35: 20–24).  Each narrative relates a confrontation between a king and God’s prophet or spokesman. Sometimes the king or his wife dons the disguise in an unsuccessful effort to deceive God. At other times God’s prophet wears and then discards the disguise as part of his divine message.

According to Coggins, “the disguise story ends in each case with the same warning: defeat of the people in battle, and death of the king.” He also notes that it is an “unacceptable line of kingship” that is condemned by the prophetic word. All of the kings or their heirs in the biblical disguise stories meet with brutal deaths, and in each case the dynasty fails.

In this light, it isn’t hard to guess what will happen to the wicked and unrepentant King Noah. Abinadi predicts that Noah’s people will be brought into bondage and that the armies “shall be slain; and the vultures of the air, and the dogs, yea, and the wild beasts, shall devour their flesh” (Mosiah 12:2; 21:7–12). He also correctly predicts King Noah’s violent death by fire (Mosiah 12:3). Although Limhi served as king for a brief time afterward, Noah’s royal line ended as Limhi and his people were assimilated into Mosiah’s kingdom.

Coggins notes that the number and the distinctive character of the biblical disguise scenes suggest that they work typologically to make a fundamental theological point: “Nothing is hidden from God’s sight; he is presented as controlling the situation, often . . . in unexpected ways.” Because the Book of Mormon has roots in the Old World, Abinadi’s disguise may have conveyed a similar message. If so, the disguise may have been a prop to allude to the blindness of the people. While Abinadi was disguised, the people “knew him not” (Mosiah 12:1). King Noah did not know the Lord (Mosiah 11:27), and the people were blinded to God’s prophetic message (Mosiah 11:29). Noah and his supporters may have sought to hide or disguise their sins, but the Lord had seen their abominations (Mosiah 11:20) and would soon reveal them to other nations (Mosiah 12:8).

However, once the disguise was discarded, Abinadi’s divine message was clearly revealed to the people, just as “the time shall come when all shall see the salvation of the Lord; when every nation, kindred, tongue, and people shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just” (Mosiah 16:1). Thus the disguise may have symbolized God’s ability to reveal and fulfill his word, notwithstanding the blindness of the people.

As in 1 Kings 20, where a prophet disguises himself “to ensure that his message would be conveyed unmistakably to the king,”  Abinadi’s use of a disguise in accord with an apparent Old Testament pattern can be seen as effectively foreshadowing Noah’s demise.  

Goff’s article was originally published in “Abinadi’s Disguise and the Fate of King Noah,” Insights: An Ancient Window 20/12 (2000): 2. For additional readings see also Goff, “Uncritical Theory and Thin Description: The Resistance to History,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 7/1 (1995):  170-207; Richard Coggins, “On Kings and Disguises,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 50 (1991): 55-62.

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