So what were the hymns sung by the Nephites? It is possible that they used some of the psalms found in our Old Testament, though they may not have had the Davidic psalms. Still, there are two places where Mormon records that the Nephites sang, and Mormon may have recorded at the very least the names of the hymns sung.
Just a few years before Jesus visited the Nephites they were engaged in a massive war with the Gadianton Robbers. After the final victorious battle with the robbers the Nephites took the leader of the Gadiantons and executed him. At this point Mormon records,
"And when they had hanged him until he was dead they did fell the tree to the earth, and did cry with a loud voice, saying: May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth. And they did rejoice and cry again with one voice, saying: May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection. And it came to pass that they did break forth, all as one, in singing, and praising their God for the great thing which he had done for them, in preserving them from falling into the hands of their enemies. Yea, they did cry: Hosanna to the Most High God. And they did cry: Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God." (3 Nephi 4:28-32)Here Mormon reports the words that were said and then mentions that "they did cry", "Hosanna to the Most High God" and "Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God". While it is certainly possibly that the multitude did yell out those phrases, it is more likely that those phrases refer to the names of specific hymns that were sung. In fact the previous verse explicitly mentions that they were singing.
For example, if I were to say, "Today in church we proclaimed together High on the Mountain Top and The Spirit of God", that would not mean everyone in the congregation said in unison the exact words "high on the mountain top, the spirit of God", but that everyone pulled out their hymn books and sang together hymn number 5 and hymn number 2.
A similar possibility exists for "Hosanna to the Most High God" and "Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty, the Most High God". Those very well may be the names of common hymns known by the Nephites.
Interestingly, in this context if the word translated as "cry" refers to singing, then that means we have the complete text of two short Nephite hymns. The first, apparently written for the occasion, being,
"May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth."And the second,
"May the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, protect this people in righteousness, so long as they shall call on the name of their God for protection."From the perspective of our culture these are not what we normally would think of as typical subject matter for hymns, but these are Nephites we are talking about, not European Christians.
With this in mind we can look at other parts of the Book of Mormon and find three additional possible Nephite hymns. In response to King Benjamin's address his people "all cried aloud with one voice" and together said (or sang),
"O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men."And then later they said (or sang),
"Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. And we, ourselves, also, through the infinite goodness of God, and the manifestations of his Spirit, have great views of that which is to come; and were it expedient, we could prophesy of all things. And it is the faith which we have had on the things which our king has spoken unto us that has brought us to this great knowledge, whereby we do rejoice with such exceedingly great joy. And we are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days, that we may not bring upon ourselves a never-ending torment, as has been spoken by the angel, that we may not drink out of the cup of the wrath of God."As some critics have pointed out it is unrealistic for people to spontaneously say the same words in unison, but this trouble is mitigated if these words were sung to a tune that everyone was familiar with. This may seem odd to us, but singing is one way to get everyone to repeat the same words in unison.
The third possibility is found in 3 Nephi 11. When Jesus came to visit the Nephites Mormon records,
"And when they had all gone forth and had witnessed for themselves, they did cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God! And they did fall down at the feet of Jesus, and did worship him."This leads us to another possible title to a Nephite hymn, "Hosanna! Blessed be the name of the Most High God!" So this gives us possible titles of three hymns and the text for four.
Interestingly enough this leads us to another event that may record the songs sung. When Jesus had his triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before his crucifixion the Book of Matthew records that,
"A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,"While we might assume that the crowd was shouting these three phrases over and over, based on what we learned from the Book of Mormon, the crowd that gathered to accompany Jesus into Jerusalem may have had three songs or psalms that they were singing. In fact, the second of the three is a line that comes from Psalm 118. So we may not be able to positively identify the other two, but the crowd following Jesus and spreading palm branches in his way was possibly singing Psalm 118.
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
What makes this even more interesting is that the Book of Matthew was written to a Jewish audience. So the author would have assumed that those who read it would be familiar with Jewish hymns (psalms), including Psalm 118. Thus mentioning that the crowd sang Psalm 118 would have brought the words of it to the minds of those reading the story, and they would have immediately seen the connection when just a few verses later,
"Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:Some times we reference hymns and the words we say carry extra weight because of the hymn they are associated with. But these subtle references are lost if we are not familiar with the songs they came from. Although we may not know all the hymns sung by believers from a previous era we can catch glimpses of them if we look. When we do find them it adds richness to the context from which we get the scriptures. The people become more alive and more real. The structure of authors' words begins to make sense. The subtle connections become clear, and we begin to see it through their eyes.
“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’[h]?"