By John A. Tvedtnes
The immediate situation that prompted Mosiah II to institute a system of judges to govern the Nephites was the departure of his four sons. The people asked that Aaron be appointed king, but he and his brothers had gone to the land of Nephi to preach to the Lamanites and had renounced their claims to the monarchy (Mosiah 29:1-6].1
Mosiah had other reasons for abolishing the monarchy. One of these was the iniquity that resulted from King Noah's reign over the Nephites who lived in the land of Nephi and who had recently emigrated to the land of Zarahemla, where Mosiah reigned (Mosiah 29:17-24]. But most of the reasons Mosiah gave his people had no precedents in Nephite history. Rather, they appear to have been prompted by Mosiah's knowledge of the Jaredite history that he had recently translated (Mosiah 28:11-19].
In his message to the people, Mosiah noted that "he to whom the kingdom doth rightly belong has declined, and will not take upon him the kingdom. And now if there should be another appointed in his stead, behold I fear there would rise contentions among you. And who knoweth but what my son, to whom the kingdom doth belong, should turn to be angry and draw away a part of this people after him, which would cause wars and contentions among you" (Mosiah 29:6-7].
Such a situation had never occurred among the Nephites, but it was common among the Jaredites for brother to rebel against brother or father and draw away part of the people to wage war (Ether 7:4-5, 15-17; 8:2-3; 9:11-12; 10:3, 8-10, 14, 32; 11:4, 15-18]. Indeed, the idea in Mosiah 29:7 of "drawing away" supporters is known in the Book of Mormon only from the Jaredite record (Ether 7:4, 15; 9:11; 10:32].
Mosiah stressed that the wickedness of King Noah had caused the people to come into bondage (Mosiah 29:18-19]. This is also a common theme in the book of Ether. For example, at the time kingship was first established among the Jaredites, the brother of Jared warned that it would lead to captivity (Ether 6:22-23]. During the history of the people, a number of kings were conquered by their own son or brother and made to serve in captivity (Ether 7:5, 7, 17; 8:3-4; 10:14-15, 30-31; 11:9, 18-19, 23; 13:23].
One of Mosiah's justifications for allowing the people to elect their judges was that "it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right" (Mosiah 29:26]. But he noted that "if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land" (Mosiah 29:27). Since the Nephites had not experienced such "great destruction" on "this land," Mosiah must have had the destruction of the Jaredites in mind.
Significantly, Joseph Smith did not dictate the story of the Jaredites until long after he dictated the book of Mosiah, so during that earlier effort he could not have known the historical details of Jaredite kingship. That these two widely separated records agree in such details evidences the authenticity of the account of Mosiah's having translated the book of Ether and becoming acquainted with its contents. It also is further evidence of the internal consistency of the Book of Mormon.
1. See the discussion in Daniel C. Peterson, "Priesthood in Mosiah," in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate Jr., eds., The Book of Mormon: Mosiah, Salvation Only through Christ (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1991), 205-8.