Mosiah2 (c. 153—91 B.C.) ruled as a Nephite king during almost thirty-three years of Book of Mormon history. His reign was marked by an innovative separation of religious and civic functions and a popular political reform, reflecting the increased pluralism of Nephite society during this historical period.
Mosiah's people consisted of two groups, Nephites and Mulekites, who had voluntarily united under his grandfather, Mosiah1. They appear, to some extent, to have retained their separate identities (Mosiah 25:4). The Mulekites were the more numerous group, but the Nephite leaders were able to rule effectively, relying on covenant and commitment rather than force. The people entered into a sacred covenant by which they were promised deliverance and prosperity if they would keep their king's commandments, "or the commandments of God," which he would give them (Mosiah 2:31)—a commitment they honored during all of Mosiah's reign.
Mosiah learned the languages and regard for the sacred records of his ancestors from his father, Benjamin, and was a wise and patient man who knew the laws and prophecies contained in the Nephite records (Mosiah 1:2—3). Mosiah became king (c. 124 B.C.) three years before his aged father's death. The coronation, described in detail in Mosiah 1—6, exhibits several features similar to ancient Near Eastern coronations. The account of the coronation also provides valuable information about the religious and political patterns of the time (see Benjamin). Mosiah was in his thirtieth year when he began to reign. He walked "in the ways of the Lord," and like his father, he provided for his own temporal needs so that he would not become a burden to his people (Mosiah 6:6—7).
Challenges soon arose for Mosiah. Limhi's people arrived in Zarahemla and had to be assimilated into Nephite society. They brought with them the twenty-four plates of Ether, which Mosiah, being a seer, translated (Mosiah 28:10—19). This Jaredite record revealed an ominous lesson, for wickedness, oppression, and violence had led to the extinction of a people. In contrast, Mosiah promoted righteousness, equality, and harmony in his kingdom. When another group led by Alma1 arrived in Zarahemla, Mosiah authorized Alma to organize churches and gave him control over them, including the power to admit members to, or expel members from, that covenant community. The creation of this subgroup comprised of seven churches in Nephite society (Mosiah 25:23) allowed Alma's followers to live as they wished, but it also appears to have sowed seeds of civic tension.
At this time, an opposition group formed. Under a strident leader named Nehor, it rejected Alma's teachings and advocated the creation of a publicly supported priesthood. Mosiah's sons, Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni, together with Alma2 and a rising generation that had been too young at the time of Mosiah's coronation to understand the words of King Benjamin (Mosiah 26:1), joined these dissenters. They engaged in systematic religious persecution of the church, wreaking havoc among the Nephite community and with Mosiah's family and reputation. Mosiah dealt with the problem by prohibiting acts of religious persecution (Mosiah 27:2). He also sought divine help through fervent prayer and fasting to reform his sons. Angelic intervention (Mosiah 27:10—32) led to the spiritual transformation of these rebellious souls. Deeming it better soon thereafter to proclaim the gospel than to rule over the kingdom, none of his four sons would accept the Nephite throne.
Under these circumstances and near the end of his life, Mosiah effected a political reform that abolished Nephite kingship. His final speech in 91 B.C. justified righteous monarchs such as his father and himself, but warned against the overriding threats posed by wicked rulers (Mosiah 29:13—21).
In place of kingship, Mosiah created a unique system of judges subject to the voice of the people. From what is known about this legal reform, it appears that each judge was chosen by popular voice, "that every man should have an equal chance"; higher judges judged the lower judges, and a selected body of lower judges judged the higher judges (Mosiah 29:25—29, 38). This law set new precedents by providing that judges should be paid; it also established an Egyptian-style system of measures for exchanging various grains and precious metals (Alma 11:1, 4—19), prohibited all forms of slavery (Alma 27:9), imposed a severe punishment on those who would not pay their debts (Alma 11:2), and granted liberty of belief (Mosiah 29:39; Alma 30:11). The people accepted the law of Mosiah and selected their judges, including Alma2 as the first chief judge. The equity and justice of this prophet-king won for him the love of his people:
And they did wax strong in love towards Mosiah; yea, they did esteem him more than any other man; for they did not look upon him as a tyrant who was seeking for gain, . . . for he had not exacted riches of them, neither had he delighted in the shedding of blood; but he had established peace in the land, and he had granted unto his people that they should be delivered from all manner of bondage; therefore they did esteem him, yea, exceedingly, beyond measure. (Mosiah 29:40)
"The Coronation of Kings." FARMS Update. Provo, Utah, July 1989.
"The Law of Mosiah." FARMS Update. Provo, Utah, March 1987.
Nyman, Monte S., and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds. The Book of Mormon: Mosiah, Salvation Only through Christ. Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1991.