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Interpreting Interpreter
Contrasting Mosiah’s Dynasties

This post is a summary of the article “Prophet or Loss: Mosiah1/Zeniff, Benjamin/Noah, Mosiah2/Limhi and the Emergence of the Almas” by Val Larsen in Volume 60 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Larsen argues that the Book of Mosiah frames a strong contrast between the family lines of Mosiah (i.e., Mosiah1, Benjamin, Mosiah2) and Zeniff (i.e., Zeniff, Noah, Limhi), with each pair of kings mirroring each other in ways that highlight the spiritual follies of Zeniff’s family line. In doing so, Larsen proposes sexual symbolism in the context of Benjamin’s sermon that contrasts righteous sexuality with the wanton whoredoms of King Noah.


The Summary

In this article, Val Larsen explores how the Book of Mosiah treats its two generational lines of kings—specifically, the line of the first King Mosiah and the line of Zeniff. These parallel histories show how rejecting the counsel of God and his prophets can lead to disastrous circumstances, and helps prepare for the emergence of Alma and his son as the successors of Nephite leadership. Larsen frames these as direct contrasts between each generational set of kings, including:

As Larsen concludes:

In all his writings, Mormon’s main theme is the Messiah, and his main purpose is to testify of Christ… But Mormon makes his main narratives resonate more powerfully by embedding them in smaller frame narratives… The core message developed by the interaction of these frame and embedded narratives is the importance of being led by prophets… In the absence of prophets, scholars reading scripture become our source for knowledge of God and his will… Unless we have the ongoing guidance of God that living prophets provide, we are bound to go astray as individuals and as a people.


The Reflection

Larsen presents fruitful insights comparing these sets of kings, and it’s clear to me that Mormon intended to draw clear contrasts between them, not least of which between Benjamin and Noah. There’s no mystery about which figure we as readers are supposed to emulate and which behaviors we ought to eschew. And in Limhi’s case, despite being presented in a much more positive light than Noah, his foibles and failings are given prominent emphasis in the text, as explored thoroughly in another recent Interpreter paper.

But within the well-furnished room of his paper, Larsen has outlined a bit of an elephant. Though his article is about much more than the sexual symbolism he proposes, it’s certainly the most unique of his offerings here, and it’s a hard set of ideas to just skirt past without comment. Sexual symbolism is incredibly common in ancient literature, and we shouldn’t dismiss the idea of its presence in the Book of Mormon. But I don’t think many readers are used to looking for that symbolism, particularly in King Benjamin’s sermon. Its implicit nature means that we have to do a fair amount of squinting in order to see it, which suggests a bit of caution may be warranted. Larsen’s framing, though interesting, seems to be entirely optional. To (misattributingly) paraphrase my good friend Dr. Freud, sometimes a tower is just a tower. It’s admirable that Larsen uses Benjamin to draw such noble lessons on the righteous application of the procreative power. But we can also give emphasis to Benjamin’s many other rich lessons as highlighted by Larsen—on selfless service, on the importance of covenant, and on taking Christ’s image into our own countenance.

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