Who Was Abinadi?

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If you’ve read the Book of Mormon, you’ve likely seen this old painting; it’s of the prophet Abinadi confronting the court of corrupt King Noah. He appears here in stereotypical Old testament glory–white beard, defiant pose, an aging yet still powerful frame.

But nothing in the text warrants this flight of fancy–indeed, the Book of Mormon doesn’t describe Abinadi’s age or appearance at all. Before the sermonizing proper, the only clue we get about him is that he came from “among them,” presumably meaning that he was part of their society, and not an outsider like Samuel the Lamanite would be later.

This raises some interesting questions for me, and the answers might depend on his unknown age.

Was he of the generation of Zeniff, that first king of this group who had originally led them back into the old lands to establish a new colony there?

Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon analyzes this story and presents Zeniff as a naive and idealistic do-gooder, and then his son Noah as the kind of spoiled brat who might be the result of indulgent parenting by that naive and idealistic do-gooder.

In light of that analysis, if Abinadi was a contemporary of Zeniff–one who had emigrated into the wilderness with him from the established Zarahemla settlement–then he might have been as old as these paintings depict him as, and maybe he, too, was a zealous idealist. Seeing the noble values of his own generation, then, abused and broken under the lazy thumb of Noah would have been more than just disappointing–his always contrarian heart might have been moved to rebel against the status quo by following the examples of past prophets, just as he had done decades before when he followed Zeniff out into the wilderness to found their acsetic sect in the first place.

That scenario makes sense to me, but it seems there’s nothing in the text to confirm or deny it. Maybe Abinadi was a younger man, a contemporary of Noah himself, trying to reestablish a righteous society that he only dimly remembered from his own youth under King Zeniff.

Who knows? If any reader sees anything in the text that bears on this at all, please share.

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