There are only four women mentioned by name in the Book of Mormon, and three of them are pretty straightforward female archetypes: the virgin, the whore, and the nagging wife. While they may serve the purpose of fleshing out the larger story that they appear in, they are not fleshed out themselves. I’m sorry about that. I wish more women’s stories were included. The fourth woman, however, is a bit of a surprise.
Abish is a servant in the court of the wife of King Lamoni. We are told that she had been converted years ago because of a vision her father had, but kept it secret. When the entire royal court fell unconscious because of Ammon’s preaching, she saw that as an opportunity, and ran out to round up all the people of the kingdom (or at least the neighbors) so they could witness the power of God. Instead of being impressed by Ammon, however, the neighbors were pretty ticked off at the Nephite who was sitting in the court in the midst of their unconscious royalty. They began to threaten Ammon, and even tried to kill him. The conflict escalated, and Abish was upset at the consequences of gathering the people to the court. She took the hand of the queen, and the queen came back to consciousness, praising the Lord.
That’s all we know about the fourth woman. We know her name. We know there was a religious history in the family, but don’t have the details of that. We know her small part in the larger and heroic story of Ammon. But I think we know a few other things about her too. I think she had a sense of confidence in her own beliefs and spirituality, however secret those beliefs were to the outside world, because in a time of crisis she acted on that belief instead of slinking away in fear. She must have been fairly tenacious to round up the people, and she had a larger and fairly ambitious plan to convert more people (although it went somewhat awry.) She seems to have been brave as well, to not only gather the crowd, but to stay there when things started to fall apart.
The confidence and tenacity and bravery that Abish showed are not usually thought of as being “feminine traits.” We don’t know anything about her traditional markers of femininity: if she’s married or single, virgin or mother. None of the traditional labels define her, rather her actions are highlighted, and serve to define her character for the purposes of this story.
I wish there were more Abishes in the Book of Mormon. I think it’s important to recognize and emulate positive traits whether they are portrayed in women or men. But if I’m honest, I have to admit that it is easier for me to relate to female characters. It is easier for me to picture them, and I’m more engaged by their stories. Maybe that’s why I remember Abish, even though she tends to get lost in the middle of the Alma saga. The sons of Mosiah were brave and admirable, but so was Abish.