By Roger Terry
Several years ago, I had a revelation. No, not that kind of revelation. I drink too much caffeine to merit one of those. Rather, I was reading the Book of Mormon when suddenly a light went on. I knew who Abinadi was.
We know little about Abinadi except that he was apparently one of those brave souls who marched off with Zeniff to reclaim the land of Nephi, the homeland the Nephites had forsaken in the days of King Mosiah I. The land was now controlled by the Lamanites, but for reasons that became clear over time, the Lamanite king was willing to allow Zeniff’s colony to take up residence there.
Abinadi didn’t seem to make any headlines while Zeniff was alive. He must have lived a quiet life until Zeniff’s unruly son Noah had been king long enough to corrupt the people. At this point, Abinadi shows up prominently in the record. And it is here where his mystery begins to unravel. Mormon informs us that “there was a man among them whose name was Abinadi” (Mosiah 11:20), so he didn’t come from the outside. He was one of them.
He began to prophesy that if the people didn’t repent, they would be brought into bondage, which wasn’t a very popular message, especially with King Noah. Abinadi was eventually captured and brought to the palace where he delivered a scathing message to King Noah and his priests. He was then burned at the stake. But he did have one convert—a young priest named Alma, who later established the Church of Christ among the Nephites.
But who was this Abinadi character? Where did he get his authority? Where did he learn the scriptures?
I was reading the last few verses in the book of Omni, which contains such narrative gems as,
Now I, Chemish, write what few things I write, in the same book with my brother; for behold, I saw the last which he wrote, that he wrote it with his own hand; and he wrote it in the day that he delivered them unto me. And after this manner we keep the records, for it is according to the commandments of our fathers. And I make an end.” (Omni 1:9)
Please try to contain your applause.
But Chemish’s grandson, Amaleki, had a bit more to say, writing about the flight of King Mosiah I and his people from the land of Nephi and how the Nephites found the people of Zarahemla. Amaleki also recorded that he grew old and was about to die childless, but since King Benjamin, Mosiah’s son, was a righteous man, he decided to give the plates to him.
Before he passed the plates along, however, he added a couple of verses about Zeniff’s colony and how they went back to possess the land of Nephi. And in the very last verse, he recorded what is generally viewed as a superfluous sidenote: “And I, Amaleki, had a brother, who also went with them; and I have not since known concerning them” (Omni 1:30).
This is where the light went on. Why on earth would Amaleki record this bit of family trivia? “I had a brother.” He didn’t even record his brother’s name. Well, a couple of pages earlier we read that Amaleki’s father was named Abinadom. And Abinadom had a son whose name we don’t know. Or do we? Could it be Abinadi? Could it be that Abinadom had two sons whose names were both four syllables long, started with “A,” and ended with “I”—Abinadi and Amaleki? Why not? Parents are weird like that.
From the little we know, the chronology of it works out. Amaleki was born in the days of Mosiah I. He grew old before Benjamin died. His brother ran off with Zeniff during Benjamin’s reign, possibly during the early part of his reign, when Benjamin was younger and still wielding the sword of Laban in a war against the Lamanites (Omni 1:13). It was apparently not long after this war that Zeniff took his colony back to the land of Nephi. If Abinadi was a little younger than Amaleki, he would have probably outlived Zeniff and still been around to cause Noah some dyspepsia. And of course, we know from Arnold Friberg’s painting that Abinadi was no spring chicken when he confronted Noah.
Seriously, there is no evidence in the record that Abinadi was as old as Friberg painted him, but a careful reading of his words suggests he was a mature man with a sound and seasoned understanding of scripture.
So there it is. Abinadi, I believe, was the son of Abinadom. If so, he was a descendant of Jacob, keeper of the small plates of Nephi. And apparently Abinadi read them a lot. Enough to remember what they said decades later when he faced down a king.