As I watched another series of Brant Gardner videos (1, 2, 3 4, and 5), I came upon this wonderful story about King Benjamin (which starts towards the end of three and finishes at the start of four). King Benjamin, at the end of his rule, gave a very important speech to his people that many Latter-day Saints know and love.
Before giving his speech, he has a tower constructed from which he can be heard by more people. He then proceeds to tell them things he is not and which has not done. He is not more than a mortal man. He has not required the people to pay tribute to him as king. He has not asked them to sacrifice people unto him. Then he explains to them that he is abdicating the throne, and that his son will take over, but they will not be his son's people. They will be Christ's people.
The Mesoamerican setting lends a great deal of explanation to this story, as Brant Gardner explains. The reason to point out he was mortal was because most kings in that area at that time were being treated as though they were gods on the Earth. There were also people who impersonated gods for a time. He set himself apart from that way of being. He likewise pointed out the things he had not required of his people because those other things did require tribute and sacrifices. And he wanted his people to be one people because they had previously been two groups brought together by circumstance but now formed into one nation.
Gardner then goes on to explain why King Benjamin had his tower built but Mosiah did not require one years later when he spoke to even more people (when he told them there would be no more kings). He speculates that it was because a temple had been built there in the meantime (perhaps it was under construction at the time Benjamin spoke). Does that make sense based on any evidence?
In the place where John Sorenson, the noted LDS scholar of Mesoamerican archaeology, places Zarahemla (the city where King Benjamin gave his great speech) which has been called Santa Rosa, a non-LDS archaeologist found a temple. At the bottom of the temple, he found a plaster floor, which seemed peculiar since most temples from that time period were simply filled with pottery and other things to fill them in. He had the floor dug up and found that beneath the floor were two varieties of stones: one group was smooth river stones and the other was sharp edged gravel. The two groups were completely separated so that no mixing of the stones occurred. The archaeologist speculated at that time that he believed two groups had made the floor by putting the stones down to symbolize their separate groups and then plastering it over to make show they had become one nation - just as King Benjamin was asking them to. So perhaps the people built the temple after King Benjamin's speech to signify what he was calling upon them to do.
What a fascinating way to take the Mesoamerican culture of the day - with divine kings abounding who demanded taxes and blood sacrifice contrasted against King Benjamin's people looking toward Christ instead - and shed a new light on an already beautiful passage of scripture. I do like how Brant Gardner concludes his remarks (on video five) by pointing out something very peculiar for a scholar to point out. He acknowledges that no scholar will ever prove the Book of Mormon is true. It simply is, and the Holy Spirit testifies of that truth to those willing to listen. Scholars can only hope to give us more appreciation of something we already know is true by helping us understand the motivations of the people and the setting in which they lived, thereby helping us see more of who they really were and appreciate all they did. I know that nothing I ever do will prove to anyone else that the Book of Mormon is true, but I certainly enjoy learning more about this beautiful book full of so much wonderful counsel for living life. I enjoy sharing what I learn with those I come in contact with. The only way anyone can know the Book of Mormon is true is to pray about it and receive an answer from the Spirit, like I did.