17 And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
18 But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory; and they are written, but not in these plates.
19 And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king.
Amaleki, the last writer on the small plates of Nephi, relates a cautionary tale about the importance of written records. About 450 years after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, the king of the Nephites, Mosiah, was warned by God to take his people further away from their enemies, the Lamanites. Like their ancestors had done before, they abandoned their homes and traveled through the wilderness to an unknown destination in search of peace.
To their surprise, they found another civilization with a similar pedigree to their own. The people of Zarahemla had also immigrated from Jerusalem at about the same time that Lehi and his family left, just before the Babylonian captivity. However, they had not fared so well as the Nephites.
- “They had had many wars and serious contentions.”
- “Their language had become corrupted.”
- “They denied the being of their Creator.”
Amaleki attributes all of these societal ills–contention, erosion of the language, and loss of faith–to one cause: the lack of written records. “They had brought no records with them,” he says.
The people of King Mosiah taught them their language, after which King Zarahemla recited the oral history of his people. King Mosiah then did the obvious thing: he wrote the history which Zarahemla had just recited, so that it could be preserved without having to be remembered.
King Mosiah’s son Benjamin took an important lesson from this experience. Years later, he taught his sons that the brass plates which Lehi’s family carried to the promised land saved them from the same kind of societal corrosion which Zarahemla’s people had experienced:
My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates….
I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief.
Today, I will be grateful for the written words which are available to me, particularly the word of God, written by prophets. I will remember that written words have a permanency and power far beyond spoken words, and I will take advantage of the written texts which are available to me, to increase my unity with other people, to refine my ability to communicate effectively, and to build my faith in Jesus Christ.