Rhetorical Analysys of a Popular Book of Mormon Sermon
King Benjamin was a very ruler who was very literate in the rhetoric of persuasion and unification. He inspired his people by utilizing his skills of language and preparation. He deliberately used these literary and experiential tools with the purpose of “giv(ing) (his) people a name, that thereby they (would) be distinguished above all the people which the Lord God hath brought out of the land of Jerusalem” (Mosiah 1:11) and to announce his resignation from the throne, saying in chapter two verse 29, “that I might declare unto you that I can no longer be your teacher, nor your king.”
He shows his mastered literacy in public speaking through the stage upon which he speaks, the personal connection with the people he had meticulously nurtured over years of care, and by logically reminding everyone that he is the only source of knowledge and guidance who is capable of imparting unto them this saving
The authority which king Benjamin holds is the first thing he clearly wants his people to know. Even before he began his discourse, the wise King Benjamin “caused a tower to be erected, that thereby his people might hear the words which he should speak unto them.” (Mosiah 2:7) Although the function of the tall tower given here is to simply expand the reach of his words, the subtext would also suggest that he constructed the podium so that all of the people there would see his power and greatness. If this were not the case, he wouldn’t trouble himself nor his people with the task of building the tower when he already had plans to have his words recorded, replicated, and distributed to all “those that were not under the sound of his voice, that they might also receive his words.” (Mosiah 2:8) He clearly and deliberately stands out from the crowd to show his dominance over the crowd
He makes a point of his greatness and the dependency which his people have on him in verse nine, “saying: My brethren, all ye that have assembled yourselves together, you that can hear my words which I shall speak unto you this day; for I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me, and 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, italics added) He commands them to listen to him specifically and not just “his words” or some other third person symbol of authority. No, it’s as if he is saying, “I am the prophet. I am your source of truth and guide unto salvation.”
Not only does he establish his authority by the stage on which he prophesies and by the knowledge which he imparts, but he also proves his divine appointment as their king. He says that not only his father gave him the right and responsibility to rule but ultimately it was the King of Kings that called King Benjamin to his power.
“I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind; yet I have 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; and have been kept and preserved by his matchless power, to serve you with all the might, mind and strength which the Lord hath granted unto me.” (Mosiah 2:11)
Chosen by people vs Consecrated by father vs suffered by lord
I this one verse, King Benjamin lists three ways by which he has the authority to ruler over them. He says he was “chosen” by them to be their King but it appears that he was placed upon the throne in the exact same way King Banjamin’s son is at the end of this sermon. I believe in this context “chosen” means that he found favor with the people and they accepted him.
He also mentions that he was “consecrated by his father”, and “suffered by the hand of the Lord that (he) should be a ruler and a king over this people”. To be consecrated means to be ordained to a sacred office. It shows that when King Benjamin became King there was some sort of ordinance and the transfer of power was without conflict. His father may have deliberately given him the power but God did not. King Benjamin is careful to say that he “was suffered” by the Lord to be in that position meaning that the Lord didn’t necessarily put him there, but He did allow him to be there. To suffer may also mean that he experienced many difficult things which prepared him to rule the kingdom. This may lead the audience to believe that because God has given the King so many trials and challenges than he must be qualified for the job.
We are quick to accredit the head of state when a nation prospers. One of the first things we learn when the discourse begins is of the prosperous state of the audience. The text indicates that the people “had multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land.” Mosiah 2:2) A booming economy is the ideal characteristic sought after by Kings and Presidents alike. As is the case in the United States, government officials will take credit for any increase in size or production of the economy and will blame all setbacks on the person who made the decisions before them. It’s rare to have a case in which the actual catalytical leader is known. However, this is the case as presented by the scriptures. King Benjamin has been in control for a significant amount of time and everyone is represented is if they all agree that their King’s reign has been nothing but beneficial.
In this instance, this may not be ethos deliberately used by king Benjamin to persuade his people, but it sure is written to convince us that he is a good leader who knows what is best. We have no evidence that would lead us to believe that King Benjamin is anything but a perfect leader.
Although he is the head of state and he stands high upon a tower, King Benjamin attempts to make himself equal, or on the same level as his people. This is a significant characteristic of King Benjamin which is a literary device to develop empathy for him as a leader. The architype hitherto framed has been one of a dominating, omniscient ruler. Because of this, his commitment to compassion and service comes as a shock. It breaks the mold of what we know about Kings and almost instantly communicates to us, the audience, that this must be a King loved by all his people. It never says that in the text but we immediately relate and are attracted to the goodness of King Benjamin even though he has been developed very little as a character in the narrative up until this point.
Disclaiming that he is “subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind” (Mosiah 2:11) seems to be a trademark of a politician. He presents himself as wise, powerful, caring, and flawless; but in the case of a mistake he establishes this clause as a scapegoat from all judgment. It is refreshing to know that one who so many people likely hold on a pedestal in reality is human too but the way that he chooses to say he is like them too doesn’t quite fit the rest of his message. It’s as if he is above human nature and only adds this as a way of connecting more to his audience.
He doesn’t pretend to be ignorant to his Kingship, that would pluto his authority which he carefully constructed through his ethos. Instead, he acknowledges that it is not common for one of his stature to be interacting and laboring with the poor as he does. Yes, there is a sense of flauntiness emanated from King Benjamin, a self-righteousness and “be-like-me” type of personality. I think that may be why he transitions his prose to a more logical explanation.
“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?” (Mosiah 2:18)
If and then. “If ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.” (Mosiah 2:22) Alright, so now the protagonist in question makes his position absolutely clear. Verses 18 and 22 are presented as the indisputable truths, as if nobody would dare to disagree with them. King Benjamin relies on self-evident truths and commonly held believes to further secure his arguments.
In closing, the wise King Benjamin is wise because of his mastered use of language and presentation and not because he presented anything new or exciting. Everything was said before or common knowledge but thanks to the spectacle which he made out of his address, he was able to mesmerize the audience and persuade all of us to believe that he was the greatest leader of all time. His evidences for such claim were appealing and convincing and affirmed his position as one of the greatest rulers in of us the scriptures.