In my last post, I made reference to King Benjamin’s speech, and just had to follow up with some more information. One excellent source providing possible evidence for ancient origins of the Book of Mormon is King Benjamin’s Speech, edited by John W. Welch and Stephen D. Ricks (Provo, Utah: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1998, 661 pages). The book is an impressive collection of essays with extensive references and documentation exploring the richness of King Benjamin’s dramatic farewell address in the early chapters of Mosiah.
In King Benjamin’s Speech, Chapter 4, “Benjamin’s Sermon as Traditional Ancient Farewell Address,” John W. Welch and Daryl R. Hague show that King Benjamin’s farewell address may qualify as the best existing example of an ancient farewell speech rooted in early biblical tradition. Non-LDS scholar William S. Kurz has examined numerous ancient farewell speeches and identified 20 elements that appear commonly (no one speech has all 20). Sixteen of the elements are directly present in Benjamin’s speech, and two others are implied. No other ancient farewell speech has a greater number of these elements. Further, Benjamin’s speech is well focused on the most important elements typical of Old Testament traditions. For details, see William S. Kurz, “Luke 22:14-38 and Greco-Roman Biblical Farewell Traditions,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 104: 251-268 (1985); also see William S. Kurz, Farewell Addresses in the New Testament (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1990), both as cited by Welch and Ricks, p. 115).
According to Kurz, as summarized by Welch and Ricks (pp. 91-94), the 20 common elements from ancient farewell addresses are:
- The summons. The speaker calls people together to here his last instructions.
- The speaker’s own mission or example. The speaker reviews his life and what he has done, and urges his listeners to follow his example.
- Innocence and discharge of duty.
- Impending death. The speaker states that death is near, but shows courage rather than fear, sometimes commending his soul to God.
- Exhortation. Listeners are urged to follow commandments they have been given by the speaker, to be courageous, etc.
- Warnings and injunctions. Consequences of sin are discussed to help the people.
- Blessings. In conjunction with the warnings, blessings are also offered (e.g., for obedience).
- Farewell gestures. Though more common in Greco-Roman literature, acts such as kneeling can be farewell gestures.
- Tasks for successors. Final orders given to the listeners, often conferring specific responsibilities.
- Theological review of history. Reviewing the past to show the works of God (e.g., the Creation, delivery from captivity, etc.).
- Revelation of the future.
- Promises. Biblical farewell speeches commonly include reference to eternal glory (e.g., Christ in Luke 22 and Mattathias in 1 Maccabees 2).
- Appointment or reference to a successor.
- Bewailing the loss. Friends and followers may mourn the speaker.
- Future degeneration. Warnings about the disobedience of future generations are made. The speaker is not responsible for this, however.
- Covenant renewal and sacrifices.
- Providing for those who will survive. Instructions are given to maintain guidance and comfort for people after the death of the aging leader.
- Consolation to the inner circle. The speaker comforts his closest associates.
- Didactic speech. Review of principles to teach listeners what to do.
- Ars moriendi or the approach to death. Dealing with the approach of the leader to death itself, this element is less common and is found only in a writing of Plato and perhaps implicitly in Josephus.
More of these elements are present in King Benjamin’s speech than in any other Biblical farewell address, making it arguably the best example on record of an ancient farewell speech in the ancient Jewish style.
Welch and Hague also point out that Benjamin’s speech is soundly aligned with the most important aspects of ancient biblical farewell speeches:
Kurz has singled out four of his twenty elements as fundamentally characteristic of addresses in the Old Testament and the Old Testament Apocrypha, as opposed to the Greco-Roman tradition: (1) the speaker’s assertion of innocence and fulfillment of mission, (2) the designation of tasks for successors, (3) a theological review of history, and (4) the revelation of future events. All four of these characteristically Israelite elements appear prominently in Benjamin’s speech. Furthermore, Benjamin emphasizes the covenant relationship between God and man, and his text ends with an express covenant renewal. No preoccupation with death occurs here, as it does in the Greco-Roman texts. Benjamin’s speech is not only one of the most complete ancient farewell addresses known anywhere, but it also strongly manifests those elements that are most deeply rooted in early biblical tradition.
For Benjamin’s assertion of innocence, see Mos. 2:15 (cf. Mos. 2:12-14 and 2:27-28). For tasks for successors, see Mos. 1:15-16, 2:31, and 6:3. A theological review of history is found in Benjamin’s review of his administration (Mos. 2, such as verses 11, 20, 31, 34, 35) and his references to Moses and the Israelites (Mos. 3:13-15). Future events are prophesied in Mos. 3: 1,2,5-11, where the coming of Christ is foretold.
Other farewell speeches in the Book of Mormon were given by Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Mosiah, Mormon, and Moroni. Adding King Benjamin’s makes seven total. Each of them have over half of the 20 elements identified by Kurz, though King Benjamin’s speech is the most complete, more complete than any single biblical speech. I find that impressive.
As is shown in other chapters in Welch and Ricks, the speech also offers beautiful chiasms, follows patterns from ancient Jewish festivals, follows ancient patterns of assembly and atonement symbolism, etc. These elements add intellectual plausibility to the claim that the Book of Mormon is an ancient Semitic document, written by ancient prophets with Hebraic roots. None of this “proves” that the Book of Mormon is true, but does make it even more difficult to explain the Book of Mormon as Joseph Smith’s fabrication.