Exploring and Explaining the Intertextual Relationship between King Benjamin and Abinadi

Exploring and Explaining the Intertextual Relationship between King Benjamin and Abinadi

Adam Anderson

Adam Anderson was a sophomore studying English when this paper was presented.

The sources of intertextuality in the Book of Mormon are typically easy to trace.[1] Jacob’s words echo Lehi’s, Alma pulls phrases and concepts from Abinadi, and both Mormon and Moroni borrowed from the ancient prophets they were editing. In all of these cases, a logical and readily available source can be identified and located within the confines of the intricate Book of Mormon timeline. Mormon and Moroni had unprecedented access to source documents, Alma recorded Abinadi’s powerful dying sermon, and Lehi and Jacob were father and son. To claim that these Book of Mormon prophets were alluding to and directly quoting one another creates no mystery of source. The phrasal quotations and thematic influences can be traced through a causal chain of events consistent with the Book of Mormon text. It is only logical to assume, therefore, that other, less apparent intertextual occurrences also possess traceable sources. Finding these traces is the challenge of firmly establishing a link between the discourses of King Benjamin and Abinadi.

Though the speeches of King Benjamin and Abinadi exhibit phrasal and thematic commonalities, they were delivered to two separate groups of people—groups who presumably had no contact with each other. Ammon, who went in search of the lost people of Lehi-Nephi, to whom Abinadi’s discourse was delivered, “wandered many days in the wilderness” (Mosiah 7:4) and “suffered hunger, thirst, and fatigue” (7:16). The route between the people of Zarahemla (to whom King Benjamin preached) and the people of Lehi-Nephi was perilous and unknown, and the groups were completely isolated. So then, who influenced whom, and how? Was Abinadi somehow present at King Benjamin’s discourse, or did Abinadi die before King Benjamin delivered his final address? Were they contemporaries? Perhaps there is a third party, a common source for both of them, a heavenly messenger who appeared to them and delivered the same divine injunction, or perhaps whoever passed away first appeared to the other. But before we seriously explore the question of source for the intertextual relationship between King Benjamin and Abinadi, the relationship itself must be established.

The similarities in the discourses of King Benjamin and Abinadi begin at a phrasal level, with allusions and direct quotations peppering their speech, and continue at a thematic and theological level. Examining both forms of similarities is essential to understanding the relationship between the two and, therefore, the direction of influence. Table 1 contains a list of phrases unique to the discourses of King Benjamin and Abinadi.

Commo​n Phrases between Abinadi and King Benjamin[2]





Prepared from the foundation of the world

Mosiah 4:6; 15:19


Enemy to God

Mosiah 2:38; 16:5


He shall be called

Mosiah 5:9; 15:2


Christ the Lord

Mosiah 5:15; 16:15


I say unto you, wo be unto

Mosiah 4:23; 12:26


Moreover I say unto you that

Mosiah 1:13; 2:29; 13:28


But this much I

Mosiah 4:30; 13:10


And behold, I say unto you

Mosiah 4:12; 15:18


Be saved except

Mosiah 4:8; 13:32


Concerning the coming

Mosiah 4:30; 13:33; 15:11


Know of their surety

Mosiah 1:6; 17:9


Though this list is not exhaustive, it is illustrative. These phrases originate with King Benjamin or Abinadi (the specific timing of their discourses will be explored later), some never appearing again in the Book of Mormon text. The individual phrases are too lengthy to be mere coincidence, and as a whole, too numerous to be taken lightly. However, several stand out.

The seven-word phrase “prepared from the foundation of the world” first appears in Mosiah chapter 4 verse 6 and is used by both King Benjamin and Abinadi to reference Christ and his forthcoming Atonement. After it is used by Abinadi, it is repeated by Alma the Elder, who was present at the trial; his son Alma the Younger; and subsequent prophets who had access to the records and writings of both.

In addition, the word “foundation” appears only ten times in pre-Benjamin Book of Mormon texts, with only two of those instances in the figurative sense meaning “the action of establishing, instituting, or constituting on a permanent basis.”[3] Both times, the figurative sense is coupled with the prepositional phrase “of the world,” indicating a specific moment of time, just as it is used by King Benjamin and Abinadi. Jacob states that the righteous “shall inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world” (2 Nephi 9:18), while Nephi speaks of a “way [that] is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world” (1 Nephi 10:18). At first glance, these phrases are remarkably similar, differing only cosmetically with the addition of some short phrases between “prepared” and “from the foundation of the world.” However, taken in context, the phrases take on a wholly distinct and unique meaning.

Jacob speaks of a specific place, the kingdom of God, having been founded, while Nephi speaks of a “way” that was opened at the world’s foundation. Though at their core these concepts are related to Christ’s sacrifice, they are little more than allusions to the event. King Benjamin and Abinadi, however, speak explicitly of the Atonement, referring to “the atonement which has been prepared” (Mosiah 4:6) and the “redemption which [Christ] hath made for his people” (Mosiah 15:19), respectively. This shift in context represents a shift in theology and focus, a shift from an organizational, creative God, a God who founds heavens and paths, to a God of sacrifice. Its presence in the texts of King Benjamin and Abinadi indicates a commonality of thought unlikely to have developed independently.

But my argument for their status as intertextually connected discourses does not depend on one phrase alone. Also unique to King Benjamin and Abinadi are the phrases “enemy to God”; “He shall be called,” referring specifically to Christ; and “Christ the Lord.” Each of these is spoken only by Abinadi, King Benjamin, and by the angel who appears to King Benjamin. These phrases, though not as lengthy as “prepared from the foundation of the world,” are less common to other speakers in the Book of Mormon, both before and after Abinadi and King Benjamin deliver their addresses. However, the intertextuality of the two runs deeper than common phrases.

On a larger scale, both seemed to exhibit similar philosophy of discourse, as evidenced by their actions in response to their audiences. King Benjamin and Abinadi seem to be keenly aware of their discourses’ effect on their listeners. Their sermons can be divided by the interjections of and responses to those present. King Benjamin’s discourse has three distinct sections: (1) Mosiah chapters 2 and 3 serve as King Benjamin’s introduction; (2) the crowd responds in chapter 4, and King Benjamin begins the second section of discourse, which lasts until chapter 5; and (3) the people then “cry with one voice” and King Benjamin concludes by entering the crowd and himself into a covenant. Abinadi’s sermon can be similarly divided, using crowd response as the means of division: Abinadi (1) gives an introduction in chapter 12, (2) is then thrown in jail and begins the next section of his discourse in verse 25, and (3) concludes his preaching in chapter 17 as he is brought back for sentencing. Both Abinadi’s and King Benjamin’s discourses were informed by how they were received by their audiences. King Benjamin’s is punctuated by an increasingly humbled people, and Abinadi’s is interrupted by an increasingly hostile one.

Exhibiting a solidarity in discourse methodology, both King Benjamin and Abinadi attempted to move their audiences in similar ways. They first tried to humble them. King Benjamin warned that the unrepentant would “shrink from the presence of the Lord” due to a “lively sense of [their] own guilt,” suffering “pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever” in order to satisfy the “demands of divine justice” (Mosiah 2:38). In parallel fashion, Abinadi warned the inhabitants of Lehi-Nephi that “because of their iniquities, shall be brought into bondage, and shall be smitten on the cheek; yea, and shall be driven by men, and shall be slain; and the vultures of the air, and the dogs, yea, and the wild beasts, shall devour their flesh” (Mosiah 12:2).

            Next, after the people of Zarahemla “viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth” and “cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy” (Mosiah 4:2), and after Abinadi was rejected and thrown in jail (Mosiah 12:9), Abinadi and King Benjamin called their audiences to action. Abinadi read the priests the commandments of God, which he “perceive[d] . . . [were] not written in [their] hearts” (Mosiah 13:11) and King Benjamin exhorted his people to repentance (Mosiah 4:10), charity (Mosiah 4:22), and sober living (Mosiah 4:30).

            The last section of each discourse is a call to covenant. King Benjamin’s people entered into a “righteous covenant” of obedience and fidelity to God’s commandments, which were the “words which King Benjamin desired of them” (Mosiah 5:6). Abinadi, on the other hand, was not so lucky, and the covenant connection is harder to spot at first glance. It could be found in Alma’s flight, preaching, and eventual baptism of thousands, described as a “covenant” (Mosiah 18:10) and arguably a direct result of Abinadi’s bold message. But it may also be found in its absence.

            While King Benjamin’s audience progresses along the path to righteousness and peace, the wicked priests of Noah seem to progress toward condemnation. First, they reject Abinadi the prophet, throwing him in prison. Then they reject his message, desiring to “slay him . . . for he is mad” (Mosiah 13:1). Eventually, they reject the covenant offered to them, instead receiving the promise that their children will suffer “the pains of death by fire” and that they “shall be afflicted with all manner of diseases,” be “smitten on every hand, and shall be driven and scattered to and fro” (Mosiah 17:15–17). Because of their iniquities, they enter into a type of anti-covenant “sealed . . . by [Abinadi’s] death” (Mosiah 17:20).

            These thematic, structural, and phrasal intertextualities establish a clear connection, but the source, the rhyme and reason for that connection, remains hidden. What cannot be ignored in this search for a source is the angel who speaks to King Benjamin. Not only does this angel share several common phrases with King Benjamin and Abinadi, such as “enemy to God,” “Christ the Lord,” and “moreover I say unto you that,” but he shares a significant thematic resemblance to Abinadi’s sermon, as shown in the table below, drawn from Dr. John Hilton’s work on the subject.

Thematic Similarity between King Benjamin’s Angel and Abinadi[4]

Words of the angel, reported by King Benjamin

Words of Abinadi

“[v. 19] The natural man is an enemy to God. . . . [v. 24] At the judgment day . . . they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil. And if they be evil . . . they have drunk damnation to their own souls.

[v. 20] The time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.

[v. 17] Salvation can come . . . only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord.” (Mosiah 3:17–25)

“[v. 5] He that persists in his own carnal nature . . . [is] an enemy to God . . . [v. 10] shall . . . be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil . . . ; and if they be evil [they receive] the resurrection of endless damnation.

[v. 1] 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; . . . [v. 13] only in and through Christ ye can be saved; . . . redemption cometh through Christ the Lord.” (Mosiah 16:1–15)



            So, then, what do we make of this angel’s insertion into our established intertextuality? “Is it possible that this angel is none other than our friend Abinadi?”[5] or is it someone else entirely?[6] The precise identity of the angel depends on where the events fit in the Book of Mormon timeline. If Abinadi was martyred before King Benjamin delivered his sermon, it follows that he could have appeared to King Benjamin as an angel. If, however, the order of the sermons were reversed, it would, of course, have been impossible for Abinadi to deliver the angelic message received by King Benjamin.

            Though Book of Mormon chapter headings give approximate years for both events, the actual text is silent regarding the dates. Further study is warranted in order to verify the specific order of events. We learn from Mosiah 6:5–7:5 that King Benjamin lived for three years after his discourse, and that three years after King Benjamin’s death, his son King Mosiah granted that an expedition of “sixteen strong men might go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi to inquire concerning their brethren.” Forty days later, the expedition successfully located their lost brethren, meaning contact was reestablished between the two groups no more than six years after King Benjamin’s farewell address. If, then, Abinadi delivered his discourse less than six years before Ammon arrived in the land of Lehi-Nephi, he could have heard, and been influenced by, King Benjamin’s address. If, however, more than six years’ time passed after Abinadi’s address, it would have been very difficult for him to have been influenced by events transpiring after his death, and the flow of influence would have to be in the opposite direction—from Abinadi to King Benjamin.

            After Abinadi delivered his address, the sequence of events, though specific dates are never mentioned, can be easily traced and the times estimated. As reported by King Limhi, the king at the time of Ammon’s discovery of the people of Lehi-Nephi, the necessary sequence of events[7] following Abinadi’s death is as follows:

1.      Alma the Elder, having fled the court of King Noah, amasses after “many days” a “goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon” (Mosiah 18:7).

2.      The Church grows from 204 members to approximately 450 (see Mosiah 18:16, 35).

3.      King Noah sends an army after the followers of Alma, which returns without murdering anyone. (see Mosiah 18:33–19:1).

4.      The Lamanites invade and take the city. Many flee into the wilderness, King Noah among them (see Mosiah 19).

5.      Limhi has two years of peace (see Mosiah 19:29).

6.      The priests of Noah kidnap Lamanite daughters. The Lamanites invade again but are driven back. Peace is restored for “many days” see (Mosiah 20–21:1).

7.      The Lamanites begin to slowly encroach upon the land (see Mosiah 21:2–3).

8.      The Nephites go to battle three times against the Lamanites and are sorely defeated (see Mosiah 21:6–12).

9.      The Lord is slow to hear their cries, but they begin to “prosper by degrees in the land, and began to raise grain more abundantly, and flocks, and herds” (Mosiah 21:16).

It is in this state of abundant living that Ammon finds the people of Limhi six years after the death of King Benjamin in Zarahemla. However, these nine events more than likely took place over a span of more than six years. Only one specific time period is mentioned, that of King Limhi’s two-year peace, but there are two additional time spans of “many days,” and one in which the people of Limhi “prosper by degrees,” harvesting incrementally greater crops, which presumably takes several years of growing seasons. Stretching the meaning of the phrase “many days” to its absolute limit, the listed events took nine years at the very least, with thirteen years a more likely, though still extremely conservative, time frame. We can therefore conclude that Abinadi was dead before King Benjamin gave his address to his people.

            In addition to this timeline approach, we read in Mosiah 29:45–46 that Alma was eighty-two at the time of his death, and Mosiah, who had reigned for thirty-three years, died at the age of sixty-three.5 Using some simple math (Mosiah’s age minus thirty-three), we can theorize that Mosiah was thirty at the time of his father’s famous address, an event coinciding with Mosiah’s coronation (Mosiah 6:3); and Alma must have been forty-nine, a far cry from the “young man” (Mosiah 17:2) he is reported to be by Mormon during Abinadi’s discourse.

            So, now that we have concluded that Abinadi is deceased at the time of King Benjamin’s address, how are we to account for their previously proven intertextuality? The connection between King Benjamin’s angel and Abinadi seems uncanny and is worth reexamining. They are thematically resonant, share several unique phrases, and even have the same theological approach to the law of Moses, as seen below:

The Angel and Abinadi on the Law of Moses

The angel


“Yet the Lord God saw that his people were a stiffnecked people, and he appointed unto them a law, even the law of Moses.

And many signs, and wonders, and types, and shadows showed he unto them, concerning his coming; and also holy prophets spake unto them concerning his coming; and yet they hardened their hearts, and understood not that the law of Moses availeth nothing except it were through the atonement of his blood.” (Mosiah 3:14–15)

“And moreover, I say unto you, that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.

And now I say unto you that it was expedient that there should be a law given to the children of Israel, yea, even a very strict law; for they were a stiffnecked people, quick to do iniquity, and slow to remember the Lord their God.” (Mosiah 13:28–29)


Nowhere else in the Book of Mormon is the purpose of the stiffneckedness of the Jews given as the law of Moses. Speaking on this theological difference between Abinadi and earlier Book of Mormon prophets, Joseph Spencer writes, “For Nephi, the Law of Moses organizes itself into a coherent order through its very giftedness. But for Abinadi, the Law of Moses, left to itself, falls apart into a self-disseminating mass of legislative attempts to curb what would, without the Law, inevitably be the falling apart and self-dissemination of Israel itself.”[8] The law, to Abinadi, is a series of commandments dead in and of itself. To him, it is a lesser law given to an idolatrous people on account of their unworthiness. To Nephi, and to later Book of Mormon prophets, the law is a gift of special and intrinsic worth, pointing gladly to the coming of Christ. Abinadi’s view on the law of Moses is not only unique among the Book of Mormon prophets; it is, as we see in the table, the same as the angel’s.

            As we determine that it is more likely that Abinadi was the angel that appeared to King Benjamin, several other similarities come to light. Their similarly bombastic style and imagery, speaking of “types” and “shadows” of things to come (Mosiah 3:15; 13:10), or of “famine” (Mosiah 12:4) and “hunger” (Mosiah 3:7) and smitings (Mosiah 12:6) and scourgings (Mosiah 3:9), indicates a level of semantic similarity difficult to achieve should they be separate people.

            And yet, even if the angel and Abinadi are one and the same, it does not account for the entirety of the intertextual connections between King Benjamin and Abinadi. The texts, as discussed earlier, have similar macro structures, indicating a solidarity in discourse philosophy and method. Additionally, at least one phrase, “prepared from the foundation of the world,” appears only in the texts of King Benjamin and Abinadi, but never in King Benjamin’s account of the angel’s message. There is, therefore, one possibility remaining.

            As King Benjamin took the throne, he established a lasting peace in the land by preaching the gospel with the help of “holy prophets who were among his people” (Words of Mormon 1:16). If Abinadi was one of these “holy prophets,” if he studied with or was tutored by King Benjamin, their similarities in structure and method cease to be problematic. Their methodology and theological understandings were honed by and with one another. They heard, critiqued, and reviewed each other’s discourses, crafting a school of thought that shaped their most famous addresses. Though at first seemingly in defiance of Occam’s Razor, this proposition of contemporaneity subtly solves several problems and answers several questions neatly and completely.

            Viewing Abinadi as a contemporary to King Benjamin helps to explain why it was he who appeared to him. The Lord abounds in tender mercies, and perhaps one of King Benjamin’s prayers heard by the Lord (Mosiah 3:4) was the question of what happened to his prophet-friend called away so long ago.

            This theory of contemporaneity also explains why the people of Zarahemla “wearied [King Mosiah] with their teasings” about their brethren who went up to the land of Lehi-Nephi (Mosiah 7:1). Had Abinadi helped establish peace in the land of Zarahemla, been a student or a peer of King Benjamin, and suddenly disappeared on a mysterious prophetic call, it only would have served to confirm that the people of Lehi-Nephi were alive somewhere.

            I do not come to this conclusion, this theory of contemporaneity, lightly. I am led there by the evidences present in the text, depending on the assumptions that (1) the texts of King Benjamin and Abinadi are connected theologically, thematically, and textually; (2) this connection could not have occurred by Abinadi simply hearing King Benjamin’s address, on account of his being dead at the time it was delivered; and (3) the angel who appeared to King Benjamin was Abinadi. However, this does not account for the whole of the intertextual connection between the two discourses. The most logical and likely solution is that, before Abinadi’s eventual departure to the land of Lehi-Nephi, King Benjamin and Abinadi were contemporaries who studied, taught, and learned together, shaping their style of discourse in the same furnaces and settings and coming, in the end, to the same conclusions.


[1] I would like to specially thank Dr. John Hilton III, without whom I could not have written this paper. Not only have I cited and used his work extensively in the formulation of my own opinions, but our classroom discussions were instrumental in inspiring me to continue my dive into the wonderful rabbit hole of scriptural analysis. Most importantly, however, Dr. Hilton showed me a new way to look at the scriptures, one that I will never forget, and one that has already and will continue to shape my life in new and wonderful ways. Thank you, Dr. Hilton, for teaching me that scripture scholarship is not a secular morass of impenetrable theological dissertations, but a rewarding and spiritual journey of self-discovery well worth the effort.

[2]John Hilton III, “Unraveling the Relationship between Abinadi and King Benjamin ,” unpublished essay e-mailed to author, October 26, 2013, 3.

[3] “foundation, n.,” Oxford English Dictionary Online (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2013), accessed November 30, 2013, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/73932?rskey=slqLUw&result=1.

[4] John Hilton III, “Unraveling the Relationship,” 4.

[5] Todd Parker, “Abinadi: The Man and the Message,” http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=965&index=1...

[6] John Hilton III, “Unraveling the Relationship,” 4.

[7] John Hilton III, “Unraveling the Relationship,” 5. Though it should be noted that my timeline differs slightly from Dr. Hilton’s.

[8] Joseph M. Spencer, An Other Testament (Salem, OR: Salt Press, 2012), 161.