Source:Echoes:Ch11:3:King Benjamin's farewell address

The Words of Benjamin as a Classic Ancient Farewell Address

The Words of Benjamin as a Classic Ancient Farewell Address

Scholars have recently taken an interest in similarities in the farewell speeches of many ancient religious and political leaders. Certain themes appear consistently in these addresses given by people such as Moses and Socrates at the end of their lives. It almost seems as if these ancient speakers were following a customary pattern. Interestingly, these themes are found to an equal or greater extent in the farewell speeches of the Book of Mormon.

William S. Kurz has published a detailed study comparing twenty-two addresses from the classical and biblical traditions.15 He has identified twenty elements common to farewell addresses in general. Of course, no single speech contains all twenty, and some contain more than others. Moses' farewell speech, for example, contains sixteen such elements (see Deuteronomy 31–34); Paul's, fourteen (see Acts 20); and Socrates', eleven.

It is remarkable that King Benjamin's oration contains at least as many elements of the ancient farewell address as any of Kurz's examples do. Fortunately, Benjamin's speech was recorded in full and was precisely preserved, and the report of his final address is even more detailed than such addresses in the Bible, allowing for rigorous scrutiny. Sixteen elements of the ideal ancient farewell address appear directly in Benjamin's speech, and others may be implied.

Kurz has also found that in Greek or Roman writings, the dying speaker, usually a philosopher or statesman, was concerned with suicide, the meaning of death, and life after death. However, in biblical farewell addresses, the speaker, typically a man of God, focused on God's plan, his people, and covenants, or on theological interpretations of history. Kurz signals four of the elements as particularly common to Hebrew farewell addresses: the speaker (1) proposes tasks for successors, (2) reviews theological history, (3) reveals future events, and (4) declares his innocence and fulfillment of his mission. These elements all appear in the Benjamin account. Furthermore, the emphasis in Benjamin's address, as in the Israelite tradition, is on God's relationship to man, the speech ending with a covenant renewal. At the same time, no trace of the prominent Greek or Roman preoccupation with death occurs in Benjamin's remarks. Benjamin's speech thus fits illustriously into the Israelite tradition of farewell addresses. Indeed, it is the most complete example of this speech typology yet found anywhere in world literature. Yet the profile of this ancient Hebrew literary genre remained unrecognized and unanalyzed until only a few years ago.[1]


  1. John W. Welch, "A Steady Stream of Significant Recognitions," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 11, references silently removed—consult original for citations.