Arp examines the narrative surrounding Limhi and his people, showing the strategies used within the Book of Mormon to characterize him as a flawed but faithful individual impacted by the tyranny of his father.
In this article, Nathan J. Arp provides a thorough discussion of the story of Limhi, arguing that Mormon’s treatment of the story reflects a specific narrative strategy showing how God intervened on behalf of Limhi’s people. Interestingly, Mormon’s perspective contrasts with Limhi’s, with Mormon often framing Limhi in unflattering ways, and Limhi seeing Zeniff, rather than his father, Noah, as largely to blame for the plight of his people. Nevertheless, Limhi is presented as trying to do what’s right in spite of his faults, and Mormon leaves us, the readers, to interpret Limhi’s actions for ourselves.
Mormon, on the other hand, makes it clear that Noah deserves the blame for the bondage of Limhi’s people, highlighting his faults (i.e., similar to those of Solomon and Rehoboam that split Israel in two) and showing how he led the people astray. Having become thus corrupted, the people were prepared to present Abinadi to the king, presumably so he could be put to death. Limhi, in contrast, seems sympathetic to his father’s perspective, overlooking his faults and ignoring his cowardly behavior.
Mormon makes clear narrative choices that emphasize these points, adding editorial commentary, using an unconventional structure, and interpreting the records encountered within the narrative (e.g., the Zeniffite record). This extends to the contrast Mormon draws parallels between the people of Limhi and those who follow Alma, as well as to God’s ultimate deliverance of Limhi’s people. Limhi appears to agree with this latter emphasis, prophesying that God would provide that deliverance. Limhi’s faith and willingness to repent helps redeem his clear weaknesses, both for himself and his people.
As Arp concludes:
“Mormon’s characterization strategies described here are a credit to his art and support the hypothesis that he is an inheritor of the poetics of Biblical narrative. These narrative strategies also suggest that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient record. His narrative strategies not only characterize the people in his narrative, but also characterize him…He saw God’s hand in his people’s history, and he went to great lengths to teach his reader how to see it too.”
Arp’s work sharpens my view of Limhi as one of the most relatable people in the Book of Mormon. He’s a flawed leader, one thrust into his role before his time, with clear loyalty to a father with even greater flaws, faced with difficult choices for his people. Not all of us will be asked to lead a kingdom, but nearly all of us will be faced with similar choices—of how to face our various responsibilities in the light of divided and potentially questionable loyalties. Those loyalties may be tough for us to delineate and evaluate. We may work to rationalize them in the same way that Limhi apologized and rationalized on behalf of Noah. But that Limhi ultimately places his trust in God, securing deliverance for his people, gives us hope that we can do the same—that we can, through Christ, cut through the confusion and oppression imposed on us by our demons long enough for us to escape them.