In many ways, Benjamin's speech (Mosiah 1—6) is bound up with ancient and venerable literary and religious traditions, drawing heavily on and conforming extensively to customary Israelite patterns and practices. To our understanding of Benjamin's speech can be added yet another significant dimension. It involves the literary pattern that can be seen in the farewell speeches that were given by several ancient political and religious leaders near the end of their lives. William S. Kurz has studied a large number of farewell speeches found in the Bible and in classical literature from the Greco-Roman world.1 Kurz has abstracted from his collection of speeches twenty elements that appear regularly in most of these addresses. Because Benjamin's speech was also written and delivered in contemplation of Benjamin's own approaching death, the invitation seems natural, if not irresistible, to analyze Benjamin's discourse and several other farewell speeches in the Book of Mormon in terms of Kurz's list of typical farewell speech elements. The results of this study show that Benjamin's speech possesses as many or more of the characteristics of a traditional ancient Israelite farewell address than any other similar speech on record.
The Old Testament contains many reports of aging prophet-leaders who, at a time when it was obvious that they were about to die, called all or some of their people together one last time to teach them, to exhort them to righteousness, and to confer the responsibilities of leadership on their successors. Four of these accounts, which vary considerably in length, preserve what is known of the farewell speeches of Moses (Deuteronomy 31—34), Joshua (Joshua 23—24), David (1 Kings 2:1—10; compare 1 Chronicles 28—29), and Samuel (1 Samuel 12:1—25). In addition, several other farewell speeches were delivered by prominent religious and political leaders in the New Testament, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and Greco-Roman literature. Certain themes appear regularly in all these farewell addresses, as if the speakers were consciously striving to conform their words to a customary prototype or to the traditional expectations of their audiences.
Furthermore, these ancient farewell addresses may be divided into two groups, each with their own distinctive patterns: (1) the Greco-Roman speeches and (2) the biblical addresses. In comparing these two groups, Kurz has found that, in the Greco-Roman literary tradition, the dying speaker was usually a philosopher or statesman, such as Socrates in Plato's Phaedo, whose speeches "are concerned with suicide, the meaning of death, questions about noble deaths, and life after death."2 This emphatic preoccupation with death and dying, however, is absent in the biblical speeches. In biblical farewell addresses, the speaker is a man of God and his speech typically focuses on "God's plan, people and covenant, or on theodicy and theological interpretations of history."3 David's instructions to Solomon (see 1 Kings 2:1—10) and Mattathias's last words to his sons (see 1 Maccabees 2:49—70) provide strong examples of the biblical tradition in this regard.
Despite this one fundamental difference in focus between these two main groups of texts, Kurz has found that twenty elements can be identified in these speeches and that many of these elements are generally common to all farewell addresses. While no single speech contains all twenty elements, most contain many of them. For example, Moses' speech contains sixteen of these elements (see Deuteronomy 31—34), Paul's fourteen (see Acts 20), Mattathias's ten, and David's nine.
Kurz's analysis creates a useful literary tool for dissecting, comparing, and assessing the components of farewell speeches. While other scholars might wish to point out further elements in this genre or might place different degrees of emphasis on the various features, Kurz's treatment offers a serviceable description of the standard literature that has emerged in farewell speeches in general. His descriptions of the attributes typical of these kinds of speeches can be summarized as follows:
At least as complete as any farewell address that Kurz has analyzed is King Benjamin's speech.4 This speech and the events related directly to it comprise a lengthy primary account. It is longer and more detailed than any of the biblical farewell speeches; only the speech of Moses comes close to it. In Benjamin's speech, sixteen elements of the farewell address typology are directly present, with two others clearly implied. Only the elements of bewailing the loss and ars moriendi (the least common factor and one evidenced only in the Greco-Roman tradition) fail to appear in Mosiah 1—6. No other single speech manifests more features of Kurz's pattern, and thus Benjamin's speech may well be the best example on record of this ancient rhetorical form of speech.
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 his 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.
Benjamin delivered his address about three years before his death (see Mosiah 6:5). He called all the Nephites and Mulekites together to impart his final teachings and appoint his son king (see Mosiah 1:10—18). The following overview summarizes and illustrates the elements in Kurz's analysis of ancient farewell addresses as those factors appear in Benjamin's speech:
And it came to pass that after King Benjamin had made an end of teaching his sons, that he waxed old, and he saw that he must very soon go the way of all the earth; therefore, he thought it expedient that he should confer the kingdom upon one of his sons. Therefore, he had Mosiah brought before him. (Mosiah 1:9—10)
Following Benjamin's instructions, Mosiah "made a proclamation throughout all the land," and "the people gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them" (Mosiah 2:1; see also 2:9). Benjamin's stated purposes were to appoint his successor, give his people a new covenantal name, remind them that God had preserved them by his matchless power, and unfold to their view the mysteries of God (see Mosiah 1:10—13; 2:9).
Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them. (Mosiah 4:9—10; see also 2:9, 40—41, and 5:12)
And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them. But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not. (Mosiah 4:29—30)
Similarly, the words of the angel in Mosiah chapter 3 end with severe warnings and woes: "And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations; . . . therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls, . . . and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone" (Mosiah 3:25, 27). Several other sections in Benjamin's speech contain equally stern warnings (see Mosiah 2:32, 36—37, 39; 3:12; and 5:10—11).
In addition, Benjamin gave various injunctions to his people, especially including commands to care for the poor, the hungry, and the naked, both spiritually and temporally (see Mosiah 4:16—26). As a just king in ancient Israel, Benjamin had a particular responsibility to see that the weak and the poor in his society were cared for and not oppressed (see Psalm 72:1—4), and this helps to explain Benjamin's deep concern that his successors not ignore the needs of these vulnerable people. He also implored the assembly to care for their children's physical needs and to teach them to walk in the ways of the Lord (see Mosiah 4:14—15). His last words combined a final instruction with a message of comfort: "Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life" (Mosiah 5:15).
And again my brethren, I would call your attention, for I have somewhat more to speak unto you; for behold, I have things to tell you concerning that which is to come. And the things which I shall tell you are made known unto me by an angel from God. . . . For behold, the time cometh, and is not far distant, that with power, the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity, shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay. (Mosiah 3:1—2, 5)
Verses 5—10 contain further revelations about the future mission of Jesus Christ.
And thus saith the Lord: [These words] shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day. . . . And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls. (Mosiah 3:24—25)
Moreover, in Mosiah 4:14—15, Benjamin also spoke concerning the need to teach children properly, presumably in order to prevent future degeneration among his people.
A logical inference from the foregoing data is that Benjamin was aware of the ancient farewell speech tradition and followed its pattern consciously. This raises the question: which prior precedents did Benjamin know about as he designed and orchestrated his final farewell sermon? Three possibilities present themselves: (1) precedents from previous Book of Mormon prophets and leaders; (2) biblical examples known to him from the plates of brass; and (3) cases in additional texts found on the plates of brass.
Several farewell speeches are contained in the Book of Mormon. Indeed, it seems that it became almost mandatory for a Book of Mormon prophet near the time of his death to deliver his parting words to his posterity, his people, or to future readers. It exceeds the scope of this study to compare all the elements of these farewell speeches in depth, but even a cursory survey shows that most of Kurz's farewell speech elements are present in these seven final statements or discourses in addition to Benjamin's: Lehi (2 Nephi 1—4), Nephi (2 Nephi 31—33), Jacob (Jacob 4—6), Enos (Enos 1:27), Mosiah (Mosiah 28—29), Mormon (Mormon 6:17—7:10), and Moroni (Moroni 10:34).
Benjamin would have been aware of the farewell texts of Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, and Enos. After Benjamin, the tradition continued in the Book of Mormon, though it became much less distinct. Benjamin's speech must be viewed as a part of this longstanding, venerable Nephite literary and rhetorical tradition, which very likely drew much of its strength from biblical sources. Two tables show the elements of the farewell speech protocol included by both Book of Mormon and Old Testament prophets. Four Old Testament accounts are old enough to have been on the plates of brass: Moses (Deuteronomy 31—34), Joshua (Joshua 23—24), David (1 Kings 2:1—10; compare 1 Chronicles 28—29), and Samuel (1 Samuel 12:1—25). Table 1 examines Book of Mormon speeches, and table 2 compares Old Testament speeches with that of Benjamin.5 From the information on these tables we can examine the similarities and patterns found in the different records.
It is also possible that Benjamin was aware of other farewell speeches contained on the plates of brass that are not found in the Bible today. In a Hebrew text recorded at least as early as the time of Christ—and quite possibly containing materials that are considerably older—an account appears of a farewell speech delivered by an Israelite leader named Cenez.6 Without necessarily arguing that this precise text was found on the plates of brass, the speech of Cenez (which was not included by Kurz) provides an excellent example of yet another ancient Israelite farewell sermon and perhaps is the kind of additional material Benjamin might have known about and used as a model.
The history of Cenez tells of a prophet-warrior-leader who succeeded Joshua as the first judge in Israel. The precise spelling of his name is shrouded in obscurity, and versions of it such as Cenez, Zenez, and Zenec have been used in various Latin manuscripts. D. J. Harrington, translator of the text in Charlesworth's Pseudepigrapha, spells the name as Kenaz. The traditions about him were known well enough that he is mentioned by Josephus, who knew him as Keniazos.7 We shall call him Cenez, following the Latin manuscript (A).
According to Pseudo-Philo, Cenez ruled the Israelites for fifty-seven years—about the length of time that Benjamin probably reigned. During Cenez's lifetime he purged his people by burning all the self-confessing covenant-breakers. When the time came for him to die, Cenez called his people together in a large assembly and spoke to them about what the Lord was prepared to do for his people in the last days. Cenez reestablished God's covenant with the Israelites, and his priest Phinehas revealed to the people sacred things that had been shown one night to Phinehas's father in a dream.
In this text, the modern reader gets a close look at what an ancient Israelite farewell and covenant renewal assembly might have been like, or at least what one Jewish historian long ago understood it to have been. Because of the numerous points of similarity it has to the farewell and covenant-renewal assembly convened by Benjamin,8 this text is worth examining in detail. The following consists of chapter 28 of Pseudo-Philo as translated by D. J. Harrington in the Charlesworth volume, with a few of the ancient Latin phrases included and explained. The italicized phrases indicate points of contact with Benjamin's speech and are discussed following the text itself:
And when the days of Kenaz drew near for him to die, he sent and summoned all of them and Jabis and Phinehas the two prophets and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and he said to them, "Behold now the Lord has shown to me all his wonders that he is ready to do for his people in the last days (literally "the newest days," in novissimis diebus). And now I will establish my covenant (or "last will," testamentum) with you today so that you do not abandon the Lord your God after my departure. For you have seen all the wonders that came upon those who sinned and what they declared in confessing their sins voluntarily, or how the Lord our God destroyed them because they transgressed against his covenant. Now therefore spare those of your household and your children, and stay in the paths of the Lord your God lest the Lord destroy his own inheritance."
And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said, "If Kenaz the leader and the prophets and the elders command it, I will speak the word that I heard from my father when he was dying, and I will not be silent about the command that he commanded me while his soul was being taken away." And Kenaz the leader and the prophets said, "Speak, Phinehas. Should anyone speak before the priest who guards the commandments of the Lord our God, especially since truth goes forth from his mouth and a shining light from his heart?"
And then Phinehas said, "While my father was dying, he commanded me, saying, 'These words you will say to the sons of Israel, "When you were gathered together in the assembly, the Lord appeared to me three days ago in a dream by night and said to me, 'Behold you have seen and also your father before you how much I have toiled among my people. But after your death this people will rise up and corrupt its ways and turn from my commands, and I will be very angry with them. But I will recall that time that was before the creation of the world, the time when man did not exist and there was no wickedness in it, when I said that the world would be created and those who would come into it would praise me. And I would plant (or "I shall plant for myself," plantabo mihi) a great vineyard, and from it I would choose a plant (or "planting," "cutting," plantationem); and I would care for it (or "put it in different places," disponam) and call it by my name, and it would be mine forever (or "always," semper). When I did all the things that I said, nevertheless my plant that was called by my name did not recognize (or "perceive, or acknowledge as genuine," agnoscet) me as its planter, but it destroyed its own fruit (or "corrupted its fruit," corrumpet fructum suum) and did not yield up its fruit to me (or "did not bring forth its fruit," non proferat fructum eius).'"' And this is what my father commanded me to say to this people."
And Kenaz and the elders and all the people lifted up their voices and wept ("together," unanimiter) with great lamentation until evening and said, "Will the Shepherd destroy his flock for any reason except that it has sinned against him? And now he is the one who will spare us according to the abundance of his mercy, because he has toiled so much among us."
And when they had sat down, a holy spirit ("the Holy Ghost," spiritus sanctus) came upon Kenaz and dwelled in him and put him in ecstasy, and he began to prophesy, saying, "Behold now I see what I had not hoped for, and I perceive that I did not understand. Hear now, you who dwell on the earth, just as those staying a while (or "dwelling, or tarrying," commorantes) on it prophesied before me and saw this hour even before the earth was corrupted (corrumperetur; compare nine appearances of corrupt or corrupted in Jacob 5), so all of you who dwell in it may know the prophecies that have been fixed in advance (or "decided, determined at a previous time," predestinatas). Behold now I see flames that do not burn, and I hear springs raised up out of a sleep for which there is no foundation, and I perceive neither the tops of the mountains nor the roof of the firmament, but everything has no appearance and is invisible and has no place whatsoever. And although my eye does not know what it sees, my heart will find what to say. Now from the flame that I saw not burning, I saw and behold a spark came up and, as it were, laid for itself a platform. And the floor was like what a spider spins, in the pattern of a shield. And when this foundation had been set, behold there was stirred up from that spring, as it were, boiling foam; and behold it changed itself into another foundation, as it were. Now between the upper foundation and the lower there came forth from the light of that invisible place, as it were, the images of men; and they were walking around. And behold a voice was saying, 'These will be a foundation for men, and they will dwell in between them for 7,000 years.' And the lower foundation was solid material, but the upper was of foam. And those who went forth from the light of the invisible place, they will be those who will have the name 'man'" (or "of a man," eius hominis). And when he will sin against me and the time will be fulfilled, the spark will be put out and the spring will stop, and so they will be transformed."
And when Kenaz had spoken these words, he was awakened, and his senses came back to him, but he did not know what he had said or what he had seen. But this alone he said to the people: "If the repose of the just after they have died is like this, we must die to the corruptible world so as not to see sins." And when he had said these words, Kenaz died and slept with his fathers. And the people mourned for him thirty days.9
The farewell speech of Cenez seems to manifest twelve of Kurz's elements, as enumerated below:
1. The summons. Cenez himself summoned all his people, along with two prophets and the son of the priest.
4. Impending death. His assembly occurred at a time when it was "near for him to die."
5. Exhortation and 17. Providing for those who will survive. Cenez also admonished his people to spare those of their household and their children and to stay in the paths of the Lord.
6. Warnings and final injunctions. His people acknowledged his warning that the shepherd would destroy his flock only if it had sinned against God.
9. Tasks for successors and 13. Appointment of or reference to a successor. Phinehas's dying father commanded his son (successor) to speak his final words. His father commanded him to tell the people certain things.
10. Theological review of history. Only those who remain diligent in keeping the commandments and covenant of the Lord will be preserved. Cenez recalled in his speech the wonders that came upon those who had sinned and those who had fallen into idolatry and adultery. When they voluntarily confessed their sins, the Lord destroyed them by burning 6,110 transgressors, according to events mentioned earlier in Pseudo-Philo's history of the time of Cenez.
11. Revelation of the future. Following this response by the people, Cenez began to prophesy, saying, "Behold now I have seen what I had not hoped for, and I perceive that I did not understand. Hear now you who dwell on the earth." In the middle of Cenez's assembly, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, reported an extraordinary vision received by Eleazar as he was about to die. Phinehas had been commanded by his father to reveal these things to Israel, and Phinehas did so at a special time when the people were "gathered together in the assembly." Otherwise, Phinehas was to remain silent about this revelation until commanded to speak. Cenez announced that his purpose was to tell that which the Lord had shown to him, particularly all the Lord's wonders and that which he was ready to do for his people "in the last days."
14. Bewailing the loss. After his death, Cenez's people mourned for thirty days. Also, as in the allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5, Eleazar was told that the plant would not recognize God as its planter and would destroy its own fruit and not yield up fruit to God. Upon hearing these things the people of Cenez "lifted up their voices and wept with great lamentation until the evening."
16. Covenant renewal and sacrifices. Cenez was concerned to establish the covenant of God with the people on that day so they would not abandon the Lord after Cenez's departure.
19. Didactic speech. Much of his address takes on a didactic tone.
In addition to Cenez's conformity to the biblical tradition, many similarities can be found between the account of Cenez and the speech of Benjamin, including the following, which do not necessarily fit into any of Kurz's categories in particular:
Pseudo-Philo is a valuable text shedding light on the religious, cultural, and literary backgrounds of Benjamin's speech. The valedictory words of Cenez and others capture the essence of the traditional Israelite farewell sermon, through which the Western mind can more deeply appreciate yet another dimension of the salutatory words and deeds of King Benjamin. Some of the foregoing similarities may be coincidental, but taken together they form an impressive array. The items on this list—the theology, imagery, protocol, and ritual—point consistently in the same direction, to the Hebrew background and Palestinian provenance of Pseudo-Philo.13
This chapter has considered several ideas. Above all, Benjamin's speech is the most complete example of a typical Israelite farewell speech known today. Benjamin's address epitomizes this genre of traditional Israelite literature, as recently defined in scholarly studies. The account of the funeral speech of Cenez is probably the next best example in existence, followed by Moses' concluding words in Deuteronomy 31—34. Given the obscurity of this information in Pseudo-Philo before the turn of this century, the remarkable affinities between the farewell assembly and address of Cenez and the final speech of Benjamin become even more impressive and highlight even further the strong conformity and congruence between King Benjamin's speech and the farewell speeches found in the biblical tradition.