Neurology in the Book of Mormon

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During his final sermon to his subjects, the Book of Mormon prophet and leader King Benjamin had all come gather at the temple. He was getting older and suffering some afflictions so he wanted to teach his people and pass the kingdom on to his son Mosiah.

One thing King Benjamin said has intrigued me for a number of years, particularly as I have received training in working with individuals with neurodegenerative disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease).

King Benjamin said: “I am like as yourselves, subject to all manner of infirmities in body and mind…. For even at this time, my whole frame doth tremble exceedingly while attempting to speak unto you; but the Lord God doth support me, and hath suffered me that I should speak unto you, and hath commanded me that I should declare unto you this day, that my son Mosiah is a king and a ruler over you.” (Mosiah 2:11,30).

That sounds just like Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor. Both of those are what we currently call movement disorders but both affect not only the body but also the mind. It is certainly possible that Benjamin was merely old and feeble (or just really nervous) but that is not particularly likely nor would it be noteworthy in the gold plates where space was at a premium. To me, it sounds much more like he suffered from a movement disorder. One thing that Benjamin said makes me lean towards Parkinson’s disease rather than essential tremor. He stated how God “suffered me that I should speak unto you.” The physical act of being there and speaking for an extended period was difficult for Benjamin but if he had Parkinson’s disease, not only might he shake but also his speaking would be affected. His voice would be softer and speaking would be much more effortful. This means it takes more energy for him to speak than for someone without Parkinson’s disease. However, Benjamin was sustained by God while he spoke so that he might be able to give his great sermon. What a sermon it was! Benjamin was faithful to the Lord and the Lord strengthened him. That does not mean he was cured of his shaking or his other difficulties but he received strength to persevere.

The shaking might have been some other disease or even nothing other than feebleness (not likely, King Benjamin worked his whole life; he was a soldier who led troops in battle; he was a king but worked – farmed – to support himself) but I’m intrigued by the possibility that it was Parkinson’s disease.

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8 thoughts on “Neurology in the Book of Mormon

  1. Amber

    As someone who has Fibromyalgia and/or chronic Lyme disease, this is a perspective that encourages me. It’s hard for me to even get to church or to stay for more than just Sacrament meeting, sometimes it’s hard to even get through the whole of Sacrament. To think that a prophet we can read the words of and be strengthened by also had a condition that made it hard to get through things, that’s comforting.

  2. Danny

    King Benjamin lived three more years after this sermon. Is that a life expectancy that coincides with this diagnosis?

  3. Jared

    Excellent question. Yes, it completely fits with a Parkinson’s (PD) diagnosis. The time from symptom onset to death varies widely (it is dependent in part on age at onset – see for example this link). PD usually is a slow progressive disorder, often taking years to reach a point of significant impairment and then additional years until death (the current mean timeframe from age of onset to death is 16 years but it can be as quick as 2 or as long as 40 or more – this is of course with modern medicine but PD is generally quite a slow process).

    King Benjamin likely would have been able to function for some years with PD symptoms but then he would reach a point where it was nearly impossible to function as he used to do. Without modern medicine, this functional decline might have happened more rapidly than it can today but Benjamin would have been able to live for years with people taking care of him.

    So to summarize, the fact that King Benjamin ‘retired’ early and lived 3 more years adds to the likelihood that he suffered from PD (although, I have to add, for the sake of balance, that it also was common for kings to pass on the administrative roles of their ruling to a son or daughter when they started getting old, even without a debilitating disease).

  4. Danny

    How much have you studied the effects of diet on Parkinson’s disease? I have an aunt that was diagnosed with PD and she went on a special diet and almost all of her symptoms went to nearly nothing. It has changed her life. I don’t know all of the details of the diet.

    Sorry to stray from the scripture topic.

  5. Jared

    Changing a diet can certainly reduce symptoms of PD. If a diet becomes healthier, with food that is rich in precursors to glutamate and dopamine, it is possible to reduce symptoms. Exercise can also help reduce symptoms. I do not think diet changes could cure PD. What’s also possible is for your aunt to have been diagnosed with PD but ‘merely’ had parkinsonism (symptoms of PD but not actually the disease). But, diet has been shown to have real effects on the symptoms. It’s great that it worked for your aunt, diet changes do not help a lot of people (or maybe people just are not willing to make the strict diet changes). It’s not a topic I’ve researched much but “Eat right and exercise” is something we tell everyone with PD that we see.

    Thanks for the comment and question.

  6. Crystal Coe

    Thanks for this post. I had your thought also as I was pondering this chapter this morning. It was a comfort to find someone else who also felt Parkinson’s was afflicting the king. I feel the texture of reality in strange places in the Book of Mormon which to me are indicative of true events.

  7. Terry Orgill

    We were reading Mosiah 2 yesterday in Priest’s Quorum. The thought suddenly came to me also that perhaps King Benjamin might have had PD.

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