[This is an abstract for a paper I proposed to the Society for Military History and their theme of transformative warfare.]
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
[This is an abstract for a paper I proposed to the Society for Military History and their theme of transformative warfare.]
The Book of Mormon primarily serves as a spiritual witness in the religious realm. But almost one third of the book is devoted to warfare. Some sociologists have also described Mormonism as a new world religion. Yet the book, particularly its military passages, remains woefully understudied. At least in part this is due to the enormous spiritual baggage and bitter polemic debates that accompany the book. But new research, such as that by Grant Hardy, has tried to bracket the claims of its truthfulness to better understand the complexity, beauty, and message of the text.
In particular, the Book of Mormon contains a dense series of chapters that follow a great war between the two principle groups, the Nephites and Lamanites. Both groups descended from two brothers, Nephi and Laman, who left Jerusalem around 600 B.C.  After journeying to the new world they split into two groups that frequently warred with each other until the Nephites were destroyed in the 4th century A.D. Living in the first century B.C., Moroni is described as leading the Nephites during a 14 year long period of intense conflict covered in a dense narrative section called the “war chapters.” His actions included creating a standard of liberty to rally his people, giving powerful political religious speeches that increased support for the war, merciful treatment of surrounded and surrendered soldiers, many outstanding battlefield victories, brilliant strategy and pre battle tactical maneuvers, and a respect for the rule of law. But his actions also included things that are not as sterling or had unintended consequences. This included the use of preemptive warfare, increased use of (expensive) armor for his soldiers, increased use of fortifications, an expansion of the size of armies, execution of defectors, aggressive pursuit of decisive battle, a completely counterproductive negotiating strategy, using rhetoric that threatened a war of extermination against his enemies, and a threatened coup against the government.
A careful reading of the war chapters suggests that Moroni initiated a series of actions that inaugurated an imperial period within the book, led to their eventual destruction as a political entity, and can be used by modern readers to justify an aggressive and interventionist American foreign policy. Examining the unintended consequences suggests a need for added caution in considering the merits of military action. A relatively short time before Moroni assumed military command, King Benjamin served as a “yeoman” ruler who boasted that he farmed with his own hand. The Nephites ruled a relatively small area around their capital and had a single army. Yet a generation later, the Nephite people led by Moroni preemptively seized land during a time of peace, and preemptively sought to attack an enemy leader. Moroni changed their armor and fortifications that made their military more effective in the short term, but more expensive to maintain in the long run. The Nephites also fielded multiple armies capable of operating in different theatres with Moroni as the chief captain. The necessary tax base to fund the armor and fortifications required more extensive territory, protection of trade routes and a larger military; these actions led to deeper debts and an overextension of their military. Even though the Nephite armies explicitly fought under a banner of liberty, they faced continued political unrest, increasing social stratification, oppression of the poor, and a growing insurgency they had trouble subduing.
Battlefield losses often inspire great soul searching and political, military, and cultural reform, while winning a war brings a whole new set of problems. From Rome to Britain, to American policy after World War II, the burden of hegemonic leadership is often assumed vigorously after outstanding military victory, but often unravels from within due to the demands of money and men and a slow decay of society’s ability, and desire, to furnish them. The Book of Mormon is a uniquely American text, from a uniquely American religion that informs the voting habits of millions of Americans. Thus a study of the war chapters suggests that Moroni initiated a series of actions that inaugurated an imperial period within the book, and can be used to justify an aggressive and interventionist American foreign policy, while at the same time shows a transformation that has been missed by military historians.
 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Mormonism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
 Stephen D. Ricks, William Hamblin Eds. Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS Press 2001), is the only academically substantive book dedicated to warfare in the Book of Mormon. Patrick Mason, David Pulispher, Richard Bushman, ed. War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives (Draper UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), is a more recent addition but it has very few chapters on the Book of Mormon and only one from a military historian.
 Grant Hardy, Understanding The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
 Bracketing truth claims I can either report the dates and actions of the characters with the Book of Mormon faithfully, or add a “supposedly” or “reportedly” in front of every fact in the book. For the sake of brevity I will simply report what the book said. Serious skeptics and non believers of the book can feel free to add those qualifiers and keep in mind that the entire volume is a fantasy fiction of Joseph Smith.
 Scott, G. St. John. “King Benjamin and the Yeoman Farmer” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39 (1988), 1-26.
 This is due to its focus on at least some part of North or South America being type of “promised land” similar to the land of Israel described in the Bible.
Friday, November 1, 2013
Saturday, October 12, 2013
“Why don't you "pray" to know if some purported history has Henry V going into battle at Agincourt in a Hummer is TRUE?? Are you so certain that new evidence (for Hummers several centuries ago) won't come forth to change the thinking of experts? How limited is THAT kind of thinking?? In other words, you haven't been paying attention: the BOM is FULL OF ANACHRONISMS, just as bad as Henry riding in a Hummer.”
This is fairly typical of the kind of mockery that critics heap upon the Book of Mormon. But I’ve been going through storage that includes hundreds of books. So I recently read several about the Hundred Years War. This was a conflict between England and France that, naturally, lasted on and off for 100 years. It started in the 1337 with Edward III trying to expand England’s holdings and independence in Southwestern France. They quickly won several outstanding victories including ones at Poitiers and Crecy. Agincourt was another outstanding victory in 1415 that ensured the French would continue to try and avenge their loss. Shakespeare’s Henry V immortalized the conflict by embellishing items like the St. Crispin’s Day speech. This includes the famous line, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” This period witnessed the rise and murder of Joan of Arc as well. The conflict ended in 1453 when the more widespread use of cannons ousted the English from their fortifications. This was also the same year as the invention of the printing press and the fall of Constantinople.
So naturally it sounds ridiculous to think that Henry the V had hummers. At first I thought about it facetiously. If one of the soldiers was humming on a wagon, to the point that he was nicknamed "the hummer" then it wouldn't be an anachronism. It would be somewhat weird, but not laughably outrageous as the critics imply. But then I remembered there was a prominent group in England called the Lollards. Some think the word comes from the Dutch for mumbling or English for singing softly, similar to the word lullaby. This described a group of people that followed the heresies of John Wycliffe. I looked a little deeper, and the Gesta, a medieval chronicle and one of the earliest sources for the battle, discussed Agincourt in the same space as the Lollards. So the idea of people who hum, or hummers, at the battle of Agincourt might not invite derision.
I know this author meant the vehicle, but the funny thing about language is that one word can have many different variations and mean various things. If somebody is unfamiliar with the language, unfamiliar with the history, and the text has no clarifying passages, they might think that hummer meant the vehicle, which is something they could laugh at and mock; but it could really mean another thing that actually enhances our understanding of the text. Just like hummer could mean the anachronistic vehicle, or it could be another term for a Lollard. A chariot in the Book of Mormon could mean what you see in Ben-Hur, but it could actually mean a carried sedan or litter accompanied by a ceremonial war animal. The first invites derisions since common knowledge assumes they didn’t have the wheel. But the second actually enhances our understanding of the text, and helps us overcome faulty assumptions.
I should add that in order for critics use of the hummer to work, they have to do what critics usually do- insist upon one and only one meaning of a word. So hummer can only mean the vehicle. But language doesn't work like that. If I walked into a British bar and asked for a football game, they would not show RGIII and the Redskins. It wouldn't be called a bar either, but it would be a pub. When asked for a football game they would show what Americans would call soccer. So one word can contains multiple meanings for people who speak the same language in the same era. The same word can mean many things especially when working with two different languages from different eras as translation texts are, and as the Book of Mormon purports to be.
The reader can identify the exact meaning of terms if there are passages that provide context. Unfortunately, terms like chariot in the Book of Mormon don't have the clarifying context that this critic provided for hummer. He started calling it the “internal combustion kind” of hummer. But when the word chariot is used within the text, there are no discussions of wheels, no discussion of how exactly it was used, what the animal associated with it was used for, what it looked like and so forth. In fact, there are only several mentions of chariot in the entire text outside of the Isaiah chapters. Alma 18: 9, 10 and Alma 20:6 says that horses and chariots were made ready. 3 Nephi 3:22 said that the people took their chariots to their appointed meeting place.
So critics insist that chariot has to mean the Ben-Hur kind. Even though a reader who strips away the assumptions gained from popular knowledge would not know what exactly was being described. When a person studies the passages context a new picture emerges. Mesoamerican Kings were often carried on a sedan. The word chariot actually means several different words in Hebrew, including litter or sedan. Mesoamerican kings also travelled to war with a ceremonial animal designated as a war token. So stripping away our assumptions of what the text should mean, it is just as likely that the term chariot refers to a carried sedan used by elites for transportation, accompanied by a battle beast or ceremonial war animal. This enhances the text since 3 Nephi 3:22 actually described a massive preparation of the Nephites for battle.
In short, when a critic attacks the Book of Mormon by using such obvious anachronisms such as hummers at the Battle of Agincourt, or chariots in Mesoamerica, a person should study the language, history, and any clarifying passages to better understand the text. Because you might find out that Henry V did take hummers to battle.
 CARM Discussion Board. Father JD October 10th 2013, http://forums.carm.org/vbb/showthread.php?164084-Breaking-News-and-Established-History&p=4839148#post4839148 (Accessed, October 12th, 2013.)
 John Sorenson, though, has discussed extensive evidence for the wheel in pre Columbian Mesoamerica. John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2013) 350-356.
 See Lintel 2 of temple 1 at Tikal.
 Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 4:287-288.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book by John Sorenson is the culmination of his lifetime of research into the Book of Mormon. Sorenson uses the correspondence methodology, used by Biblical scholars like William Dever, to place the Book of Mormon into Mesoamerican history. (7) Using extensive, and some would say, exhaustive, research Sorenson has admirably succeeded in his goal.
Paradigms don’t change in a day, but I find it hard to believe that many of the academic articles of faith concerning Mesoamerica remain after this. For example, Sorenson summarizes and then caps previous research concerning pre Columbian contact with plants, diseases, and oceanic travel that make it hard for anybody to question the occurrence of diffusionist events.
His book is divided into three sections. The first details his methodologically paradigms. These include such things as where to look for correspondences. This was one hundred pages that went by surprisingly fast; and a preliminary review of that section is found here: http://www.studioetquoquefide.com/2013/09/welcome-to-orientation-mormons-codex.html
The second section examines correspondences by topic. And the third part examines correspondences from archaeology and history. While this reviewer has read the entire book, with a specialty in military history I will focus on chapter 18 and the warfare correspondences listed therein. I will highlight the material that caught my eye, the way it interacts with my research, and humbly, a few points he may have missed.
Finding Evidence of Battles
As I said here, evidence for battles is notoriously hard to find. I even mentioned the Battle of Hasting in previous discussions. So I nodded vigorously when Sorenson quoted Dr. William Rathje’s description of archaeologists digging at Hastings, one of the most studied battles in history, and finding a few teeth instead of the trove of weapon and armor. (383, fn 9) Of course this won’t stop critics from leveling the same charge to dig at Cumorah for an easily findable cache of weapons and armor, but it reinforces the idea that this book is a must read for those that wish to study the Book of Mormon.
Sorenson described how the Yuctan Maya called their local chiefs batabs, which the Spanish translated as Capitan, or Captain in English. (395) The term nacom is translated as war chief. (395-396) There were many words that Smith could have used for leadership positions, but captain and chief captain seemed particularly poignant based on these Mayan terms.
Sorenson described how the Quiche rulers of highland Guatamela conceptualized their soldiers as “sons.” (396) This is very interesting and something I noted in preliminary research in two other places. The Chinese also used familial conceptualization. In their case it was designed to instill discipline in raw troops. In Confucian society each member of society had a duty to abide by the proper forms of conduct (li). So a ruler had to be a good ruler, a father a good father, a son a good son, and so on. So calling recruits sons would instill the same sense of obedience they likely learned growing up, and would enhance the authority of a new commander. Abiding by the proper forms of conduct also induced greater power in the soldiers.
Finally, the military theorists that advocated these policies lived during the Warring States period. Armies increased in size, so this was an additional attempt to instill discipline in armies that were growing bigger. Since this is the first period in Nephite history that recorded multiple armies in multiple theatres, it would make since that new soldiers, and a new commander, would adopt a father son relationship. So I think Sorenson touched upon something that is far stronger than he realized.
I’ve discussed numbers in several places. Sorenson repeated a few of the points I made concerning the unreliable and often inflated numbers. But he added important evidence from several Mesoamerian groups that could form large armies. The Quiche force that fought the Spanish numbered about 232,000. (397) Almost exactly the amount listed by Mormon. The Aztecs raised 400,000 for a routine campaign. Another Aztec army reprorted 700,000 men. The one I enjoyed the most was a Tultec war that witnessed 5,600,000 deaths. (398) I enjoyed reading this numbers a great deal, as I’ve often argued that ancient realms could field and kill large numbers and even millions of people, and I plan on incorporating this evidence into my discussion of numbers in the future.
The Mayans often scheduled their battles according to anticipated astronomical phenomena. The final battle would have been 1000 years after a significant date like the arrival of Lehi in the New World. Sorenon also cited the prearranged battle with the Amlicites. I touched upon the Amlicite example; though I added a thought that perhaps it was prearranged only because the rival cities were close to one another similar to Richmond and Washington during the U.S. Civil War, and there was little other strategy besides attacking the opposing capital that made guessing about this battle rather easy.
Sorenson discussed the camp followers that normally accompany an army using Alma 56:28 among other verses. (420) Alma 56:28 talked about supplied being delivered for soldiers and their families, which inspired a paper and now book chapter. So I agree, but there are more implications than Sorenson listed. Since they didn’t carry armor and weapons they could carry more food and provide much needed logistical support. Bringing along their women and families increased the moral of soldiers. Moroni also invoked a support of their wives and families in the title of liberty, so this could have been a psychological prop for the soldiers. If the Nephites were defeated their families in the nearby city would be the first to die so it would inspire them to fight harder.
I also suggested that this could have been a military colony. Some critics have argued that the war chapters represent an anachronistic standing army, but this could be an attempt to move soldiers into the area on a long term basis without keeping them active. As a military colony they would have gone back to farming with their families around the city when the war ended, but would be available for additional duty pending renewed conflict. So the presence of wives and children could mean a great deal more than simply telling us about the organization of the army.
Sorenson discussed a battle standard attached to an army’s leader. But surprisingly he only spends a short paragraph on this. (421) David Freidel described how Mayan armies also used a battle standard. Friedel described it as a standard that represented and was infused with the power of deity. So in addition to an army losing because of the death of their war chief, the perceived loss of divine favor would also compel their retreat. On top of that, some monuments in Mesoamerica were ritually destroyed upon defeat, with some figures actually having holes in the back where standards could be placed when they were thrown down. (Compare to Alma 51:20)
Sorenson’s research displayed impressive depth and scope, and I couldn’t help but remember the quote about critics losing the battle without knowing it. Sorenson also called this a “benchmark for future researchers.” (xvii) So in many cases his benchmarks validated the research I had already done, and left the door open for me to dig deeper using my specialized knowledge of military history. I’m grateful to have additional research and sources which enhance my study and I highly recommend his book for those that wish to study the Book of Mormon.
 David Friedel, "May Warfare: Myth and Reality." California State East Bay University Resources. http://maya.csuhayward.edu/yaxuna/papershome.html (accessed January 2008,). This link no longer works.
 Golden, Charles, “The Politics of Warfare in the Usumacinata Basin: La Pasadita and the Realm of the Bird Jaguar.” In Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare, edited by Travis Stanton Kathryn Brown, 293-301. Balitmore: Little Field Publishing, 2003.(43) My research notes are a bit unclear, I will continue to look at this one.