Source:Nibley:CW06:Ch23:2

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Thirty eight points of the Year-Rite found in the Book of Mormon

Thirty eight points of the Year-Rite found in the Book of Mormon

Let us mark the various details descriptive of the rite in the Book of Mormon, numbering them as we go. The first thing King Benjamin did in preparation was to summon his successor, Mosiah, and authorize him (for it is always the new king and never the old king that makes the proclamation) to
    1. "make a proclamation throughout all this land among all this people, . . . that thereby they may be gathered together; for on the morrow I shall proclaim unto this my people out of mine own mouth that thou art a king and a ruler over this people, whom the Lord our God hath given us. And moreover,
    2. I shall give this people a name, that thereby they may be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem" (Mosiah 1:10-11:{{{4}}}). Then
    3. "he gave him charge concerning all the affairs of the kingdom" (Mosiah 1:15) and consigned the three national treasures to his keeping: the plates, the sword of Laban, and the Liahona, with due explanation of their symbolism (Mosiah 1:16-17). Obedient to Mosiah's proclamation,
    4. "all the people who were in the land of Zarahemla . . . gathered themselves together throughout all the land, that they might go up to the temple to hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them" (Mosiah 1:18; 2:1, in which the formula is repeated). There was so great a number, Mosiah explains,
    5. "that they did not number them," this neglect of the census being apparently an unusual thing (Mosiah 2:2). Since these people were observing the law of Moses and their going up to the temple was in the old Jewish manner,
    6. "they also took of the firstlings of their flocks, that they might offer sacrifice and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses" (Mosiah 2:3). The "firstlings" mark this as
    7. a New Year's offering, and just as the great Hag was celebrated after the Exodus in thanksgiving for the deliverance from the Egyptians, so the Nephite festival was
    8. to "give thanks to the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Jerusalem, and who had delivered them out of the hands of their enemies" in the New World (Mosiah 2:4).The multitude
    9. pitched their tents round about the temple, "every man according to his family . . . every family being separate one from another" (Mosiah 2:5). (This is the Feast of Tabernacles practice according to the Talmud.)
    10. Every tent was erected "with the door thereof towards the temple" (Mosiah 2:6). This, then, was a festival of the "booths." Throughout the ancient world, whether among the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans, Slavs, Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Indians, Arabs, Hebrews, etc., the people must spend the time of the great national festival of the New Year living in tents or booths, which everywhere have taken on a ritual significance. In theory, these people should all have met "within the walls of the temple," but because of the size of the crowd the king had to teach them from the top of
    11. a specially erected tower (Mosiah 2:7). Even so, "they could not all hear his words," which the king accordingly had circulated among them in writing (Mosiah 2:8). This formal discourse begins with
    12. a silentium, that is, an exhortation to the people to "open your ears that ye may hear, and your hearts that ye may understand, and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view" (Mosiah 2:9).The people were there for
    13. a particularly vivid and dramatic form of instruction unfolding to view the mysteries of God. Then Benjamin launches into his discourse with a remarkable discussion of the old institution of divine kingship.
    14. Throughout the pagan world the main purpose of the Great Assembly, as has long been recognized, is to hail the king as a god on earth;11 Benjamin is aware of this, and he will have none of it:
I have not commanded you to come up hither that ye should fear me, or that ye should think that I of myself am more than a mortal man. But I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have
    1. been chosen by this people, and consecrated by my father, and was suffered by the hand of the Lord that I should be a ruler and a king over this people (Mosiah 2:10-11).
So far he will go in the traditional claim to divine rule, but no farther: he has been elected by acclamation of the people, as the king always must at the Great Assembly,12 and the Lord has "suffered" him to be a ruler and a king. In all this part of his speech concerning his own status, Benjamin is plainly aware of the conventional claims of kingship, which he is consciously renouncing:
I say unto you that as I have been suffered to spend my days in your service . . . and have not sought gold nor silver nor any manner of riches of you (Mosiah 2:12).
This is a reminder that
    1. the king at the Great Assembly everywhere requires all who come into his presence to bring him rich gifts as a sign of submission. Benjamin leans over backwards to give just the opposite teaching: "Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another. . . . And even I, myself, have labored with mine own hands that I might serve you, and that ye should not be laden with taxes" (Mosiah 2:13-14). Here again he deliberately and pointedly reverses the conventional role of kings: "and of all these things
    2. . . . ye yourselves are witnesses this day. . . . I tell you these things that ye may know that I can answer a clear conscience before God this day (Mosiah 2:14-15; italics added).
"This day" is the formally appointed time for settling all accounts between the king and the people, as it is for making and concluding all business contracts—not only the New Year, but specifically the Great Assembly of the New Year in the presence of the king is everywhere the proper time to enter and seal covenants, while restating the fundamental principles on which the corporate life of the society depends.14 Benjamin states these principles with great clarity, "that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought not ye to labor to serve one another? . . . And, if I . . . merit any thanks from you, O how you ought to thank your heavenly King!" (Mosiah 2:16-19).
Here King Benjamin tells the people that they are there not to acclaim
    1. "the divine king," but rather "your heavenly King, . . . that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and, caused that ye should rejoice, and . . . live in peace one with another— . . . who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, . . . even supporting you from one moment to another" (Mosiah 2:19-21). Fifteen years ago in an article on the Year-Rite, the author described how the king on that occasion would
    2. scatter gifts to the people "in a manner to simulate the sowing of the race itself on the day of creation, with all the blessings and omens that rightly accompany such a begetting and
    3. amid acclamations that joyfully recognize the divine providence and miraculous power of the giver."15 These are the very two motifs...emphasized by Benjamin in the sentences just quoted. He continues in this vein, reminding his people that they are completely dependent on one source for all the blessings of life and for life itself, that in and of themselves men are entirely without power, "And I, even I, whom ye call your king, am no better than ye yourselves are; for I also am of the dust" (Mosiah 2:25-26). Then comes
    4. the king's farewell, when he declares that he is "about to yield up this mortal frame to its mother earth" (Mosiah 2:26), "to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God" (Mosiah 2:28). "I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might declare unto you that I can no longer be your teacher, nor your king" (Mosiah 2:29). Now one of the best-known aspects of the year-drama is the ritual descent of the king to the underworld—he is ritually overcome by death, and then ritually resurrected or (as in the Egyptian Sed festival) revived in the person of his son and successor, while his soul goes to join the blessed ones above.16 All this, we believe, is clearly indicated in King Benjamin's farewell. The "heavenly choir"
    5. is a conspicuous feature of the year-rite, in which choral contests have a very prominent place, these choruses representing the earthly counterpart of "the choirs above."
And now comes the main business of the meeting: the succession to the throne. Benjamin introduces his son to the people and promises them that if they "shall keep the commandments of my son, or the commandments of God which shall be delivered unto you by him"
    1. prosperity and
    2. victory shall attend them, as it always did when they kept the commandments of the king (Mosiah 2:30-31). In this passage Benjamin shows very plainly how he is shifting from the conventional formulae—"ye have kept my commandments, and also the commandments of my father . . . keep the commandments of my son"—to a humbler restatement and correction: they are really the commandments of God. The people will have prosperity and victory (the two blessings that every ancient king must provide if he would keep his office) provided they remember "that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father" and (24) preserve the records and traditions of the fathers (Mosiah 2:34-35). If they do that they will be "blessed, prospered, and preserved" (Mosiah 2:36), "blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true" (Mosiah 2:41). Also they should keep "a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression" (Mosiah 2:40). After this
    3. blissful foretaste of "never-ending happiness" which is always part of the year-rite,18 King Benjamin proceeds to look into the future, reporting a vision shown him by an angel in a dream (Mosiah 3:1-2).
    4. Divination of the future is an essential and unfailing part of the year-rite and royal succession everywhere, especially in the Old World,19 but again Benjamin gives it a spiritualized turn, and what he prophesies is the earthly mission of the Savior, the signs and wonders shown the ancients, being according to him "types and shadows showed . . . unto them concerning his coming" (Mosiah 3:15). The whole purport of Benjamin's message for the future is
    5. that men should be found blameless before the Great King, who will sit in judgment (Mosiah 3:21), exactly as the king sat in judgment at the New Year. On the theme of eternity,
    6. the closing sound of every royal acclamatio, King Benjamin ended his address, which so overpowered the people that they "had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them" (Mosiah 4:1). This was the kind of proskynesis at which Benjamin aimed!
    7. The proskynesis was the falling to the earth (literally, "kissing the ground") in the presence of the king by which all the human race on the day of the coronation demonstrated its submission to divine authority; it was an unfailing part of the Old World New Year's rites as of any royal audience. A flat prostration upon the earth was the proper act of obeisance in the presence of the ruler of all the universe. So on this occasion King Benjamin congratulated the people on having "awakened . . . to a sense of your nothingness . . . [and] come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, . . . and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, . . . for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world" (Mosiah 4:5-7). The King then discourses on man's nothingness in the presence of "the greatness of God" (Mosiah 4:11), and the great importance of realizing the equality of all men in the presence of each other. This is
    8. a very important aspect of the year-rites, which are everywhere supposed to rehearse and recall the condition of man in the Golden Age before the fall, when all were brothers and equals. Benjamin does not mince matters: "For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have. . . . And now, if God, who has created you . . . doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right. . . . O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another" (Mosiah 4:19-21). The second half of chapter 4 is taken up entirely with the theme of how the whole population can be secured in the necessities of life. When this speech was finished the people approved it by
    9. a great acclamatio, when they "all cried with one voice," declaring, when the king put the question to them, that they firmly believed what he had told them, and that they "have great views of that which is to come" (Mosiah 5:1-3). Then they took a significant step, declaring, "We are willing
    10. to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things . . . all the remainder of our days" (Mosiah 5:5). To which the king replied: "Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant" (Mosiah 5:6). Then Benjamin gave them
    11. a new name, as he promised his son he would:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; . . . therefore I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives (Mosiah 5:7-8; italics added).
As we noted above, the year-rite everywhere is the ritual begetting of the human race by a divine parent.25
Next Benjamin makes the interesting remark that whoever complies "shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called" (Mosiah 5:9), all others standing "on the left hand of God" (Mosiah 5:10). At the Great Assembly when all living things must appear in the presence of the King to acclaim him,
    1. every individual must be in his proper place, at the right hand or left hand of God. "Retain the name," Benjamin continues, "written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also the name by which he shall call you" (Mosiah 5:12). "If ye know not the name by which ye are called," he warns them, they shall be "cast out," as a strange animal is cast out of a flock to whose owner it does not belong (Mosiah 5:14). To avoid this, the king "would that . . .
    2. the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his" (Mosiah 5:15; italics added).
All this talk of naming and sealing was more than figurative speech, for upon finishing the above words "king Benjamin thought it was expedient . . . that he should take the names of all those who had entered into a covenant with God to keep his commandments" (Mosiah 6:1). And
    1. the entire nation gladly registered (Mosiah 6:2). Some form of registering in the "Book of Life" is typically found at every yearly assembly.28 Having completed these preliminaries, the king "consecrated his son Mosiah to be a ruler and a king over his people . . . and also had appointed priests to teach the people . . . and
    2. to stir them up in remembrance of the oath which they had made."29 Then he
    3. "dismissed the multitude, and they returned, every one according to their families, to their own houses" (Mosiah 6:3).[1]

Notes

  1. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), Chapter 23, references silently removed—consult original for citations, some paragraphing and formatting changed for readability.