Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

BoM Lesson 17 (Limhi)

“A Seer . . . Becometh a Great Benefit to His Fellow Beings”

Mosiah 7–11

LDS manual: here


To point out that prophets are of no real benefit to humanity.


For this lesson, there’s a subplot. We’re in the city of Zarahemla. Zarahemla was a bustling metropolis teeming with people, which somehow left no traces for modern archaeologists to find. Which is strange, because Joseph Smith told them where it was: Guatemala.

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Anyway, some years previous, some of the Nephites left Z-town to find the land of Nephi. Ammon heads up an expedition to find them, and runs across Limhi and his people. Limhi’s problem is that his people are enslaved by the Lamanites.

Now how did they come to be enslaved? Simple. God allowed it because they killed someone (and that someone turned out to be Abinadai).

Mosiah 7:25 For if this people had not fallen into transgression the Lord would not have suffered that this great evil should come upon them. But behold, they would not hearken unto his words; but there arose contentions among them, even so much that they did shed blood among themselves.
7:26 And a prophet of the Lord have they slain; yea, a chosen man of God, who told them of their wickedness and abominations, and prophesied of many things which are to come, yea, even the coming of Christ.
7:27 And because he said unto them that Christ was the God, the Father of all things, and said that he should take upon him the image of man, and it should be the image after which man was created in the beginning; or in other words, he said that man was created after the image of God, and that God should come down among the children of men, and take upon him flesh and blood, and go forth upon the face of the earth —
7:28 And now, because he said this, they did put him to death; and many more things did they do which brought down the wrath of God upon them. Therefore, who wondereth that they are in bondage, and that they are smitten with sore afflictions?

Okay, killing someone is bad, even if it is a trinitarian. But there’s something revealing in this passage.

Mosiah 7:29 For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them.

Let’s think about this. God’s a big guy; he’s bigger and smarter and stronger than those puny humans whose worship he demands. But if he doesn’t get it, he’s going to subject them to suffering, slavery, and affliction. What kind of being is this?

But there’s more: He didn’t just afflict them for their transgressions — he also put them through a famine for being “slow to remember” him.

Mosiah 9:3 And yet, I being over-zealous to inherit the land of our fathers, collected as many as were desirous to go up to possess the land, and started again on our journey into the wilderness to go up to the land; but we were smitten with famine and sore afflictions; for we were slow to remember the Lord our God.

It’s like you’ve got to focus your attention on him all the time. What a demanding narcissist! (I was going to say attention whore, but I realised that I didn’t want to demean sex workers by comparing them to God.)

Main ideas for this lesson

Prophets, seers, and revelators

Limhi has a problem: He has these gold plates — everyone did back then — and he needs them to be translated.

Mosiah 8:12 And I say unto thee again: Knowest thou of any one that can translate? For I am desirous that these records should be translated into our language; for, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of a remnant of the people who have been destroyed, from whence these records came; or, perhaps, they will give us a knowledge of this very people who have been destroyed; and I am desirous to know the cause of their destruction.

Then there’s a bit of back-and-forth where Ammon and Limhi try to figure out who outranks whom in God’s hierarchy. Just the kind of thing enquiring minds want to know!

Mosiah 8:13 Now Ammon said unto him: I can assuredly tell thee, O king, of a man that can translate the records; for he has wherewith that he can look, and translate all records that are of ancient date; and it is a gift from God. And the things are called interpreters, and no man can look in them except he be commanded, lest he should look for that he ought not and he should perish. And whosoever is commanded to look in them, the same is called seer.
8:14 And behold, the king of the people who are in the land of Zarahemla is the man that is commanded to do these things, and who has this high gift from God.
8:15 And the king said that a seer is greater than a prophet.
8:16 And Ammon said that a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have, except he should possess the power of God, which no man can; yet a man may have great power given him from God.
8:17 But a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them, and also things shall be made known by them which otherwise could not be known.
8:18 Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings.

Glad they sorted that out.

So, given that prophets / seers can translate documents, how have prophets done at this job?

Since Joseph Smith, the translation history has been, shall we say, scarce. And that’s funny, because Joseph Smith was an avid translator. And by translate, I mean ‘make stuff up’. You couldn’t wave an ancient papyrus under his nose without him attempting to come up with a translation.

Take the Kinderhook plates. They were fakes, but Smith didn’t seem to recognise that. He offered a translation anyway.


And then there’s the Book of Abraham.

Back in 1835, Smith declared that some ancient documents that had fallen into his possession were written by none other than Abraham himself, and he produced a translation. Champollion’s decipherment of Egyptian, while published until 1832, wasn’t well-known, and it would have been difficult for anyone to catch Smith out on his inventions.

However, we know now the contents of the papyri, which turned out to be ordinary funerary documents. Smith’s supposed translation turned out to be wrong on everything.


Imagine how amazing that would be if God had provided a correct translation. What a stunning confirmation of Smith’s prophetic powers! But no.

Enough about translation. How about seeing the future? Even here, church leaders get it wrong.

The LDS Gospel Doctrine manual says:

“[Many years ago] the Brethren warned us of the disintegration of the family and told us to prepare. . . . “

I suppose they’re talking about The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It says:

“Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”

Many things could be described as “the disintegration of the family”, but subsequent LDS Church rhetoric would strongly suggest that we’re talking about gay marriage.

Since the publication of the Proclamation, gay marriage has become the law of the land in many countries. So are they suffering “the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets”?

Not quite. They’re actually doing quite well. Many are on this year’s list of World Happiness Report.


Say what you want about correlation and causation, but we don’t even need to go there. The fact that the most “troubled” nations (in LDS terms) are doing quite well is enough to defeat the predictions of prophets (ancient and modern) that the “disintegration of the family” causes calamities.

And let’s just make a point here:

The world’s happiest countries are also the world’s least religious countries according to a new report released by the World Happiness Index.

Science Alert reports that every year, the World Happiness Index surveys numerous people from various countries around the world in search of, as the name implies, which country has the happiest population. This year’s winner is Denmark, followed closely by Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. The US ranked 13th.

The report shows that the world’s happiest countries are also the world’s least religious countries. The happiest countries also tend to be fairly homogeneous nations with strong social safety nets.

What else did prophets fail to foresee? Well, I don’t think they foresaw the slowdown of conversion rates.

RNS: What do you make of the 2015 Statistical Report which shows a slowing rate of LDS growth?

Martinich: Annual membership growth has steadily declined in the last 25 years. It used to be 4-5% a year, and now it’s only 1.7%. I don’t think it will decrease much more than to 1.5%, though.

This was supposed to be the rock that rolled out of the mountain to fill the whole earth. And instead it’s like this slinky.


So let’s get real here. A prophet — seer, what have you — is not “a great benefit to his fellow beings”. He’s a parasite who teaches wrong things, creates nothing useful, and bills people 10% for the pleasure.

Additional lesson ideas

Things that didn’t exist

This reading contains a lot of things that simply didn’t exist in this place at that time.

Swords and cimeters

Mosiah 9:16 And it came to pass that I did arm them with bows, and with arrows, with swords, and with cimeters and with clubs, and with slings, and with all manner of weapons which we could invent, and I and my people did go forth against the Lamanites to battle.

No swords or cimiters dating from this era have been found.

Apologists like to say that swords didn’t have to be metal. They could have been obsidian or wood. But obsidian and wood don’t rust, do they?

Mosiah 8:9 And for a testimony that the things that they had said are true they have brought twenty-four plates which are filled with engravings, and they are of pure gold.
8:10 And behold, also, they have brought breastplates, which are large, and they are of brass and of copper, and are perfectly sound.
8:11 And again, they have brought swords, the hilts thereof have perished, and the blades thereof were cankered with rust; and there is no one in the land that is able to interpret the language or the engravings that are on the plates. Therefore I said unto thee: Canst thou translate?


Mosiah 9:9 And we began to till the ground, yea, even with all manner of seeds, with seeds of corn, and of wheat, and of barley, and with neas, and with sheum, and with seeds of all manner of fruits; and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land.

Wheat and barley did not exist in the Americas at this time. It’s as though Joseph Smith (or whoever) didn’t bother to do any research, and just threw in the names of things he was familiar with — along with some made-up words.


Mosiah 11:8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;

I threw this one in because I like saying ziff. Let’s hear it for neologisms!

1 Comment

  1. Too bad God doesn’t use his omnipotence to “hedge up the ways” of people committing actual evil. Nah. Just for people who forget to slavishly worship him.

    If the Mormon/Christian god exists, he can be omnipotent, but omnibenevolent he ain’t.

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