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.