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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Death and Perspective

Reading Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon today, I was most touched by the portion where the clairvoyant Cassandra waxes poetic about her impending doom.  She says:

Why am I then so pitiful?  Why must I weep?

…I will go through with it.  I too will take my fate. 

I call as on the gates of death upon these gates

to pray only for this thing, that the stroke be true,

and that with no convulsion, with a rush of blood

in painless death, I may close up these eyes, and rest.  (1286-1294)

 

I’m not sure if such an attitude predicts Roman Stoicism or is simply fatalistic, but her frank courage in facing an imminent and ignominious death reminds me of a few of the prophets in the Book of Mormon, men who similarly looked down the barrel of immediate demise and never blinked.  Unlike Cassandra, though, their motivating characteristic is in no doubt: they trusted God implicitly and thus had no reservations about going full speed ahead on the errands to which He had appointed them.

Take three representative examples.  First, Abinadi.  As this lone, wild man confronted the court of wicked King Noah, a prisoner, surrounded by those who had chosen to hate him and set themselves against him, he withstood their taunts and tempts with nothing more than teaching and testimony.  At one point, he speaks the truth so boldly that he radiates holiness, stunning his would-be adversaries.  He remarks on this condition, their physical inability to reach out and kill him, but then says, “But I finish my message: and then it matters not whither I go, if it so be that I am saved” (Mosiah 13:9).  Before continuing his doctrinal dissertation, he then adds that what they do to him would be a type of how they themselves would die. 

Abinadi knew that he was being preserved by divine power, but he also knew that such protection was temporary, that it would only last until the mission was done.  If that had been me, I might have been tempted to draw out the lesson a little bit!  Abinadi, however, calmly and confidently finished his message, knowing full well that after he’d delivered it, the Lord would then let him suffer the death his listeners were so eager to mete out.  Did he resent that?  Was he afraid?  No.  As he’d said, being saved is all that matters. 

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