Monday, November 12, 2018

Going Broke in Style


In Toy Story the two favorite toys of the child get in a fight about flying. Buzz Lightyear says he can fly and Woody says he was only “falling with style.” I just got back from a Disneyland vacation with my daughter and it made me wonder how I can do things like that when I’m still struggling with hospital bills. So this post is not about being broke, but like Buzz Lightyear, going broke with style.

Disneyland:

Our trip to Disneyland was great. I work as a free-lance writer, and teach college classes from home so my schedule is fairly flexible. That allowed us to go during a time when Disney offered their cheapest tickets. Every few years my credit card company sends me a new offer. I normally throw them away but a couple years ago I signed up and got about 60,000 free points, which help pay for several Christmases (see below.) This time, they sent me a Disney card that offered 250 dollars in free gift cards. (I earned some Disney points and bumped it up by another 25). So my tickets didn’t cost me anything out of pocket. The only thing I’m paying for a hotel and gas to get there which makes this an incredibly affordable trip.

The trick to qualify for these bonuses was to spend a certain amount of money within a certain time period, usually a month or the first 90 days. Because of my hospital bills I easily met that threshold. I had to spend the money anyway on hospital bills, so I figured I might as well get a few hundred dollars of Disney gift cards for my trouble.

London:
Imperial War Museum London

On the same thread where I described my visit to the hospital I mentioned a trip to London. Well a new Las Vegas based carrier started nonstop flights to London. They had introductory rates that were incredible. I and my daughter averaged about 400 dollars a ticket for a transatlantic flight so I went ahead and pulled the trigger. Money was tight but I always try to put at least a few dollars out of every paycheck for opportunities like this. I don’t remember the name of the airline, maybe it was Norwegian air but whatever it’s official name it should be called Nickel and Dime Airline. They charged to pick your seat (we didn’t), 50 pounds for a meal (we carried on a small cooler with lunchables and granola bars), 30 pounds for checked in luggage (we packed light), and we traveled for an extremely good rate. Our trip to London wasn’t determined by the luxury of our flight, but by the wonderful things we could do like going to places like the Tower of London, Temple Church, and Imperial War Museum. I’m trying to do the same for China. I’m saving a ridiculously small amount of money each paycheck, but its seed money for nice trip sometime in the future when I come across a good deal.

Free Movies:

But there are more ordinary ways to the live the high life as well. There was a period in the summer when we went to free or low cost movies for six weeks in a row. We started with a City of North Las Vegas event. My daughter mainly wanted to go so she could play with friends. I enjoyed chilling in the park watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2. The next week was a onetime only event watching Rifftrax live. We had to pay a bit for this, but I knew it was coming and saved up. The next week we finally made it to watch Solo in the dollar theater. It was okay, but nothing amazingly special so I’m glad we waited to watch it for a dollar. Then we had another movie in a (different) park. It was the Last Jedi this time, which I again watched alone (yay family time?) Then the drive in movie theatre has a customer appreciation day. I wanted to watch Mission Impossible again. (I saw it for free the first time using my reward points.) But she won the day and we watched Jurassic World. That movie was so terrible we saw it for free and I still wanted my money back. So that was a whole series of movies for which we mostly paid nothing and my daughter loved it.

We can see first run movies for free as well. Eric Snider has a good summary of the negatives of these experiences as it essentially involves lots of waiting and a rush for seats that make Southwest look calm. But I usually have a stack of reading anyway so as long as I eat an early dinner and show up a couple hours early, I’m at the front of the line and don’t worry about all that. I’m Mormon and a former Marine, my tolerance for boredom and sitting in one spot is extremely high and this doesn’t close. Between the two methods we see so many movies for free that we rarely go to a normal theatre. But when we do I make sure to use my rewards card, so even then we are earning our way to a free movie.

More Free Stuff:

My former sister in law once said that if you are truly a Vegas resident you don’t pay your tickets. I laughed and thought she was kind of ridiculous, but after a few years I tend to agree. The cliché in movies is that there are ways of making you talk, and there are ways of getting free stuff.
Sam Boyd Stadium

Know somebody- My sister in law scored us free tickets to the Bite of Las Vegas, a fun event. We were looking at some smelly incense and cool rocks at the Fashion Show Mall and the since we were local the sales lady gave us tickets to the Renaissance Fair. We paid to get into Pirate Fest (using a military discount), but then we met one of the radio personalities who gave us free tickets to Motor Cross. We were at a free movie night hosted by the city and we won free passes to the Highroller. Supposedly this is the biggest one in the world (and the frat boy d-bag on the video guide reminded us that size matters.) This took away the sting of the London Eye being closed during our visit. I went to a Marvel Themed party at the Zappos headquarters downtown and scored free tickets to Avengers Station down on the strip. Our sister in law scored us free tickets two other times to Motor Cross. That is great because the October race is always the same weekend as my birthday. I used to know somebody who knew somebody who worked at the MGM ticket office. We got free several passes to the Tournament of Kings. At other times my ex worked as a concierge for one of the New York New York, and she got free tickets as part of her job. Usually we went on our own, but one time I joined her and her new husband, and my daughter for Blue Man Group. I definitely deserved parenting points for that one.

Radio- I’ve only won tickets once as I was caller nine for Rick Springfield. I’ve gotten close a few other times. I almost won some Motor Cross tickets. I was caller 6 when I needed to be caller 15 or some such. I almost won some tickets to Metallica as well. But even though I didn’t win there are still plenty of free events. The D in the old downtown has a free concert series. I’ve seen Seether, and recently the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. I had to cancel a free Rick Springfield date because of my surgery. If I can’t afford Iron Maiden or Metallica I can usually see their tribute bands for as little as 5 dollars. It’s a decent way to spend the night. There is always a club that offers some no name band for free. Evel Pie recently won best pizza so they offered free pizza and the guy from Karate Kid singing you’re the best around. This show was so awesome I could actually joke with him in the middle of his set since I was five feet away with my free pizza and coke. (Getting a Coke or water is a good opening to flirt with the bartender about being so wild.)



The Lego store does free events every month, and we are members of the club for the chocolate store next door, so we get free samples every month as well. Right next to that is my favorite pizza place. We went to a free event hosted by Las Vegas Journal Review at the Las Vegas National History Museum (and the Glittering Lights at the Motor Speedway the next year) and scored a lifetime of coupons that make the pizza very affordable. So that’s always nice doing three free or discounted things right next to each other at a high end fashion show mall. Speaking of fashion shows, they usually have some kind of runway show as well and their holiday themed ones are quite fun. (Telling them that my daughter loved them is a good way to strike up a conversation afterwards. Models like compliments too!)

The best free events are around May the 4th. It sounds like May the Force Be with you so there are lots of Star Wars related events. The Desert Research Institute and Atomic Testing Museum do a May the Science Be With You where it’s a giant party. My daughter actually made the news two years in a row and we get cool tours of the research centers, live music, some food trucks, lots of swag, and generally a great time. The Lego Store and Toys R Us both offer free building events the same weekend as well. And that is usually the same weekend as free comic book day. So we end up with free legos, free parties, free comic books, and sometimes free motor cross tickets (which is often the same weekend.)


A Monet at the Bellagio Art Gallery

But there are free events all year. I went to the Stratosphere on the 4th of July which was free for locals. Me and my daughter go to the Shark Reef every Friday before Halloween. It’s a state holiday, they turn it into the Haunted Reef, and make it free for kids. (That and parking becomes free for adults that give blood as well.) The Bellagio Art Gallery had free days for locals as well. We really liked their Monet collection. Now that many of the casinos charge for parking we don’t go down there as much but there are still some places that have free parking and free events. St. Marks Square at the Venetian is nice, as is the garden at the Bellagio.

took a line up picture at the Mob Museum and my friend rocked the photo shop. 

The Mob Museum is a great tourist attraction that is usually free at least twice a year. November 15th is Kefauver day. This was a famous senator and two time Vice Presidential candidate that held hearings on the mob in the 1950s, including the court house in Las Vegas which is now the museum. The other free day is Valentine’s Day. They have part of the wall from the St. Valentine ’s Day massacre so you can see the bullet holes and everything and sometimes they have the actual Tommy Guns on loan. It gets a bit busy but the lines aren’t as bad as Disneyland. Plus, the Lego store usually has an adult build on the same day, so I can that for free as well. It being Valentine ’s Day I again check out my favorite pizza place too. So the free or discounted stuff usually has some synergy.I

Food fun-

Speaking of free or discount pizza, we can often eat out for very little money. The McDonalds app multiple times in the same visit lets us eat dinner for 4 dollars. Our other treat is having discounted tacos every Wednesday. When we go to a local fried chicken place called Caines I take advantage of a military discount. Veterans Day weekend always has some free food so I make the rounds. It’s usually just a free entrée so I have to cover a drink and tip, but it’s still a good chance to get food for a much better price than I normally could. Chick Fila has Cow Appreciation Day every year that is really fun and free. And we totally abuse 7-11 on July 11th. There are so many locations in Las Vegas we pretty much make a three mile circuit around the city getting about 3 or 4 free smalls. The end result is that we can eat out without busting our budget.

Christmas time Ninja-

The toughest time of the year is Christmas. If I had a dollar for every person that complained about commercialism and shopping I wouldn’t need to worry about the shopping. All the rhetoric in the world about the reason for the season won’t make your child happy they have no presents. As a general rule I find I can stretch my money pretty far. The best place to buy plush animals is the local Deseret Industries. I can find plush animals that are bigger than my daughter for just a few dollars. In contrast, a small plush costs 8 dollars at the Disney store. (I might skip the animal this year. She rocks the claw machine every time we go somewhere that has one.) Same thing with books and Barnes and Noble; I always buy used books at DI. The dollar store provides good stocking stuffers. But you can’t do Christmas on a 5 dollar budget which is where the ninja part comes in.

I don’t use my credit card for deficit purchases. I essentially pay bills with it using money I already have. Then I pay off the balance and collect the points. I have about 60 dollars’ worth of points saved up this year, which is actually one of my lower years. I also seem to collect Amazon gift cards. I drive for uber and they give me gift cards for completing their surveys. I use the Walmart Savings Catcher in which Walmart refunds me the money I could have saved by shopping at other stores. Finally I use the rebate app Ibotta to collect more money. Between all of those items I have 130 dollars of free money saved up.

It might seem like a great deal of work for too little gain for some people, but the time investment is really not that much. It takes me literally seconds to scan a receipt, and the math to make sure I have the money to pay off the bills I just put on my credit card is something I do everything month anyway. Just like using a rewards card at the movies, it’s a way to maximize spending that I am doing anyway.

That might not sound like a ton of money for some people but it’s just me and my daughter. Buying gifts for me is something I could do every day so for Christmas I usually buy something special that I wouldn’t normally purchase. In past years this has included items like a Game of Thrones banner or the Big Trouble in Little China Board Game. It’s pretty nice walking around Walmart on Black Friday knowing that my first 20-80 dollars is basically a shopping spree and that is before you get to the two dollar dvd’s and other Black Friday deals. (I usually don’t have my daughter that day so it’s nice to get out of the house and spend some free money.)

Conclusion:

I’ve been doing pretty good as a free-lance author and historian, but medical bills and car problems have made the last year particularly difficult. Whatever my income I try to live a full life I’m not afraid to pull the trigger on a trip to London or China if I find a good deal, but I also strive to do free and every day things around town. After my divorce I didn’t want to fight for custody of my daughter just so she could be bored at my house half the time. When the money isn’t flowing as much as I’d like I can still go broke in style.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Ruin of the Book of Mormon


I should start out with a sort of apology. I’m sure many of you are reading this post because the title implied that somebody is ruining the Book of Mormon and you hoped for some drama. But this is a continuing series of notes, ideas and interactions that come as I read various histories so I’m sorry. This being a Mormon themed blog I tend to focus on interactions with the Book of Mormon as well, though it also touches upon my research in other areas. Because these are essentially my notes and not a formal essay the topics bounce around a little bit. Though they do provide a good example of the utility in reading and rereading primary texts, comparisons and contrasts, and assessment of information needed to make substantive points about the Book of Mormon.

10: that Britain might not totally be enveloped in the dark shades of night, he, of his own free gift, kindled up among us bright luminaries of holy martyrs, whose places of burial and of martyrdom, had they not for our manifold crimes been interfered with and destroyed by the barbarians, would have still kindled in the minds of the beholders no small fire of divine charity. Such were St. Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Julius, citizens of Carlisle…

I like the mention of items that are famous to him but have no record in history. This hints at a richer world and recalls the limits of historical writing and archaeological writing. It also recalls intriguing hints in the Book of Mormon such as this in Mosiah:

he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land;

This location must have been famous to at least the people of Zeniff if not Mormon who edited this section. But it’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Book of Mormon, especially when the event happened. It’s a detail that pops out of the text, was maybe nothing more than a recorded legend, and which hints at far more which seems little different than Gildas name dropping famous martyrs for which we have no record.

21: So that the words of the prophet, addressed to the people of old, might well be applied to our own countrymen: “Children without a law, have ye left God and provoked to anger the holy one of Israel?” (A version of Isaiah 1:4-5)

I like how Gildas is placing his people in the midst of Isaiah’s story. This is a new idea that I’ve been researching more. I have Joseph Spencer’s Another Testament on my reading list. I’ve thought when King Noah’s priests ask Abinadi about Isaiah they aren’t ignorant of the meaning of the scriptures, they are asserting the role of their colonies as fulfillment of that prophecy, and Abinadi as a false prophet against their king and kingdom. Abinadi turns it around and makes it an incredible messianic prophecy but placing yourself in the prophecies of Isaiah is repeated here by Gildas.

23: A multitude of whelps came forth from the lair of this barbaric lioness, in three cyuls, as they call them, that is, in their ships of war, with their sails wafted by the wind and with omens and prophecies favourable, for it was foretold by a certain soothsayer among them, that they should occupy the country to which they were sailing three hundred years, and half of that time, a hundred and fifty years, should plunder and despoil the same. They first landed on the eastern side of the island, by the invitation of the unlucky king, and there fixed their sharp talons, apparently to fight in favour of the island, but alas! more truly against it. Their mother-land, finding her first brood thus successful, sends forth a larger company of her wolfish offspring, which sailing over, join themselves to their bastard-born comrades.

This is a great ethnocentric depiction of Saxons. I thought that text was evocative, interesting to read, and displayed a rather common practice of describing others in literature. I have multiple chapters and publications on the Gadianton Robbers and I find that the description of them is often just as exaggerated as Gildas here against the Saxons.

These last couple examples are the most meaty where we discuss more about the language used against others, the tactics of robbers and invaders, and a possible reference to King Arthur.

25-26 Others, committing the safeguard of their lives, which were in continual jeopardy, to the mountains, precipices, thickly wooded forests, and to the rocks of the seas (albeit with trembling hearts), remained still in their country. But in the meanwhile, an opportunity happening, when these most cruel robbers were returned home, the poor remnants of our nation (to whom flocked from divers places round about our miserable countrymen as fast as bees to their hives, for fear of an ensuing storm), being strengthened by God, calling upon him with all their hearts, as the poet says,—”With their unnumbered vows they burden heaven,” that they might not be brought to utter destruction, took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive. His parents, who for their merit were adorned with the purple, had been slain in these same broils, and now his progeny in these our days, although shamefully degenerated from the worthiness of their ancestors, provoke to battle their cruel conquerors, and by the goodness of our Lord obtain the victory [at the Battle of Badon Hill.]

The “hive of bees” actually compares to several other texts about the way that insurgents often fight. I recorded many of them in my book and have a particular interesting example from Mao-Zedong. As I wrote for a chapter in a forth coming book on insurgency:

Late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) military writings published in 1843 (Haiguo Tuzhi ) and published in the mid-1880s (Yangfang Shuolue ) discussed [specific strategies relying on China’s vast interior]. The late 19th century also saw two other works (Bingjing Leibian and Pinghai Xinchou) which contained the same ideas. All of them concluded that in the event of war China should avoid the West’s area of strengths such as naval warfare and ability to bypass coastal defenses. Instead Chinese forces should draw them into a land battle and use China’s vast interior to exhaust them before swarming like ‘bees and ants’.[1] In On Guerrilla Warfare, Mao used almost the exact words and stressed the need for the regular army to work with guerrillas to become ‘knats biting a giant’.[2]

In the chapter I used this material to show that the Communist strategy of “lure into the deep” was not an original idea from Mao Zedong. In this case it has application in discussing the identity of Ambrosius Aurelianus and how he fought. There is a good deal of debate about his identity (see below), but I tend to think that Ambrose came from a prominent local family with a history government service. In roughly the same time period and same conditions of invasion and break down of government in China we find a similar collapse of power and the resulting struggle among predatory and protective contenders.

To protect themselves and their communities against the [predatory bands of robbers], local elites organized their kinsmen and neighbors into militia forces. Many also followed the time honored response to trouble times and relocated to forts built on hilltops or in other easily defensible locations. One leader of protective forces was Lu Zushang…. He was the son of a [dynasty] general, and his family was wealthy and locally influential. Though still a teenager Lu recruited ‘stalwart warriors’ and pursued the bandits, with the result that they no longer dared to enter his district. He eventually established himself as governor of [the province]. [3]

So what this means is that in times, such the period around the Battle of Badon Hill, hills became more important. Local leaders often privately recruited armies under various degrees of legitimacy, which is why some historians called those forces robbers. They fought in a way that is clear identified as “hives of bees”, or “swarms of knats,” and used language to delegitimize their opponents. On top of that, for what it’s worth, the British historian Nennius from several centuries later said Ambrosius was the son of a consul, but it also gives him magical powers and talks about dragons so you can take that with a grain of salt. (chapters 40-42)



The other point involves the identity of Ambrosius. Much like the interpretation of the Entrada Stele, the furious debate about his identity hinges on a few words such as “being born in the purple” to the point that any confident assertion melts upon closer examination of the scant evidence. This has obvious application for critics of Book of Mormon historicity who seem to be experts in everything from philology to epigraphy to deny the Book of Mormon without showing any indications that they understand the rather sparse details that urge humility and caution more than bold declarations.

The agreed upon factors are relatively few, but based on the passage he was likely high born and a Christian. But anything past that gets complicated. Based on who wore purple the parents of Ambrosius could have been a minor member of an imperial line, a distant relative, or held the rank of Consul. The latter of course is what I think is closest based on my knowledge of military history and what the text describes. Church officials wore purple so he could have been a Bishop. Various studies into his name, such as the –anus ending suggests a possible adoption into the Aurelia family. He could have been related to St. Ambrosius, a prefect of Gaul called Ambrosius, and based a particular quirk of the Latin words in his description, he might have been born years before the Battle of Badon Hill in which he is described. In short, I find there is much more to learn about how Ambrosius may have fought and raised his forces than there is about his specific identity.

26: For as well the remembrance of such terrible desolation of the island, as also of the unexpected recovery of the same, remained in the minds of those who were eyewitnesses of the wonderful events of both, and in regard thereof, kings, public magistrates, and private persons, with priests and clergymen, did all and every one of them live orderly according to their several vocations. But when these had departed out of this world, and a new race succeeded, who were ignorant of this troublesome time, and had only experience of the present prosperity, all the laws of truth and justice were so shaken and subverted, that not so much as a vestige or remembrance of these virtues remained among the above-named orders of men, except among a very few who, compared with the great multitude which were daily rushing headlong down to hell,

This sounds a good deal like the Pride Cycle from the Book of Mormon. There are two ways to look at this. There are plenty of people who think this was copied in some way. One of my favorite sites is Book of Mormon studies archived by Mormon Think, where the sites a long list of comparisons that prove the book is copied. It tend to think those theories are kind of silly as a Jeff Lindsey parody showed. Something resembling a pride cycle is a standard part of history because it accurately describes human nature. People, politicians and armies get complacent during times of peace and prosperity and tend to forget the bad times. To cite a rather minor example, Las Vegas was called “ground zero” of the housing crisis, but currently has the hottest housing market in the country (and I’m getting several cold calls a week asking me to sell my home. I would if I didn’t have to then find new accommodations in this over priced market.)

So thats it. Based on my research I found the language used to describe the Battle of Badon Hill suggested there were far more things going on and we can reconstruct some it. The commentary from Gildas is also evocative and informative about Saxon invaders, human nature in times of peace and invasion and illuminates the text of the Book of Mormon.

Thanks for reading. What insights have you gained from the text? What texts would you like to see next in this series?
********

[1] Jin Yuguo, Zhongguo zhanshu shi [History of Chinese Tactics]. (Beijing: Jiefangjun

Chubanshe, 2002), 293-295. As cited by Russell, “Zhu De’s Early Career,” 142.

[2] Mao, On Guerilla Warfare, 54.

[3] Graff, Medieval Chinese Warfare, 161-162.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Very Mean and Nasty Apologetic Post


My discussion of the debate between Stephen Smoot and Heartlander Johnathan Neville prompted a discussion of another topic in the comments that I want to expound upon here. The myth of the traditional apologetic style has been around for a long time. I’ve never seen examples of this style. What I have seen is the usual inter group dynamics on both sides of the debate that can be found in politics, sports, military units, and even debates about television. Labeling one side of the debate as mean when both are similar in behavior also shows an astounding double standard.

First the double standard: Years ago William Hamblin was very upset with the new direction of the Maxwell Institute and made some criticisms of Ben Park. The watch dogs of FARMS attack dogs erupted with disdain and jeering for more of the “traditional style” and mean apologetics that was damaging to a junior scholar and tried to make him lose his job.

Yet I found a similar example with the situation reversed. A short time later David Bokovoy sided with the MI people supposedly under attack. In his defense he specifically called out Stephen Smoot among others in harsh terms. Instead of saying it was unwise, mean, or nasty for a senior scholar to call out a junior scholar, and the potential damage it could do to his career, the same people that criticized Hamblin praised Bokovoy for speaking truth to power and unmasking the evil apologists. Both individuals were criticizing someone’s behavior, but when it was done by the supposedly superior new direction folks it was brave and praise worthy but when done by Peterson, Hamblin or Smoot, it was mean and nasty.

The myth of the mean Dan Peterson and old school apologists has grown into an article of faith in some circles. I’m not defending every interaction he or they’ve ever had, or every article they have ever written or published, but I believe this myth of an arching style is unfairly attached to them. Proponents of the attack style might point to Ralph Hancock’s words when he defended “sharpness of tone,” “irony,” and “measured indignation” (Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics, p. 98.) I’m not denying those styles exist, but I am saying that for whatever behavior you criticize about FARMS you can find the same or similar behavior on the other side.

The Interpreter writes negative reviews of books as does the new direction Maxwell Institute. Both sides have rolled their eyes at the other and disagree about methods. I have personal correspondence that includes petty behavior from the supposedly superior new direction folks. I’ve been asked gotcha questions at conferences by new direction folks and it went without comment. When Hamblin and Gee asked a difficult question, it became another example of the mean FARMS people. In one nasty incident, a new direction individual literally got in the face of an old school apologist at a conference and told him to go to hell.

The behavior seen on both sides is a result of group and inters group dynamics that include several factors. It is common to view “the other” as a monolith group that is different, mean, stupid, and then view every interaction through that filter. This has especial value in political discussions and I’m sure the readers of this post are ready to jump in the comments with their examples of mopologists. The discussion among groups of like minded individuals often uses a short hand and simplistic view of opponent’s beliefs and mocks them. Sometimes people who are normally kind and decent get stuck in the mire of online debates, having a bad day, and in many cases the individuals are behaving less than their better selves. When these less than stellar behaviors are coupled with inter-group dynamics the behaviors are more easily seen in the other side and furthers divides the two. This happens even though their behavior in incredibly similar. Historian Richard Hofstader pointed out this ironic fact in his classic essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politics, pointed out how opposition groups often become what they oppose. “The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy.” But the FARMS people are mean and nasty and we poop rainbows.

This post isn’t an attempt to categorize every interaction and the entire groups and sub groups of scholars, critics, and interested individuals. As churchistrue can testify, trying to categorize people can get messy very quickly. Personally I have no problems with either side. I’ve submitted to both the new direction Maxwell Institute and Interpreter, and I’ve published several pieces with the latter. I’m very proud to publish with an organization that still cares about the AR and not just the MS part of FARMS. And that’s why I think it was created, not so it can continue to be “mean” and “nasty.” I can’t speak for every publication of course, and there was one piece by Duane Boyce that had a multitude of serious issues, but even that doesn’t reflect or prove the myth of mean and nasty apologists. (Ironically enough, I really likedhis book so even his case isn’t simple.)

In conclusion, I think the behavior of various groups within, outside, and about Mormonism are closer in behavior than many think. I think that because of incredibly specific examples of behavior I’ve seen from both sides, but also because of what I’ve seen around the internet in debates about every subject, and because of what I’ve gathered about group dynamics. This post isn’t an invitation to discuss that one time (or many) an apologist was mean to you, or to express your disdain for Dan Peterson, but to offer a thoughtful reconsideration of common ideas.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Notes on a Curious Verse- Alma 47:33




Verse 33 presented one of the most intriguing items after Amalickiah gained complete control of the army:

Therefore, when the queen had received [word of the king’s death] she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.

This presents all sorts of ideas and implications. If the queen requested that he spare the people of the city it suggests that the Lamanite army could have sacked it. Anciently, plunder acted as one of the few reliable ways for an army to get paid, and often acted as a bonus for the success of a campaign. It was the chief motivation for many soldiers, and in many cases their only pay day. In brutal pre modern societies plundering was also the ticket to a better life. Some of the rebels around the capital were likely made up of different ethnicities than the elites in Nephi. The previous king of the Lamanties ruled seven cities (Alma 23:9-12), but his converted people only gathered in two of them (likely the two ruled by the kings converted by Ammon and Aaron), while being attacked from others.[1] Then the former group left entirely to join the Nephites. The Amulonite faction was neutered immediately after the departure of the Anti-Nephi Lehis (Alma 25:6-13 and Alma 28:1-3). And the Amalekites and Zormaites elites were defeated in Alma 43 and 44. Thus whoever was king at the time (the text never says), must have been in a weak position or brokered power arrangement with other factions. There is a good chance in fact, that the queen to whom Amalickiah is negotiating was a part of a marriage alliance upon which the king’s power rested. 

Like the faceoff between Amalickiah and Lehonti’s army, perhaps the queen still had military force and the inclination to oppose Amalickiah. But then the queen requested, or possibly ordered, that Amalickiah bring witnesses of the king’s murder. And the next verse says that the witnesses “satisfied” the queen. Hearing testimony suggests some sort of legal procedure. It’s possible that this served as part of the ritual surrounding a coronation the text skipped over, or more theatre to cover the naked ambition of two joint rulers, and likely a combination of both. Historically, the unexpected death of a sovereign often resulted in a mad scramble for power. The queen could easily use her position, and networks of elites to control the capital and remain in power. Amalickiah, in contrast, could use the army as a platform to control the countryside and seize the capital by force. With rival bases of political power, a desire to “spare the people of the city” likely represented a coded political message to end the still simmering power struggle. The queen remained in power; and with Amalickiah she had a partner just as powerful, if not more so, than her late husband. Amalickiah gained by keeping control of the army and possessing a stronger claim to the throne.

This is all good reasoning (if I can say so,) but I found additional evidence in a particularly vivid story.  As historical background for the purported author of the Methods of Sima Chinese historians recorded this:

[After taking command and hearing news of the enemy’s withdraw] thereupon he pursued and attacked the [enemy], subsequently retaking all the territory within the borders of the old fief, returning with the soldiers.   Before he reached the state capital he disbanded the units, released them from military constraints, swore a covenant, and thereafter entered the city. Duke Ching (547-490BC) and the high officials greeted him in the suburbs, rewarding the troops and completing the rites, only afterward returning to rest.[2]

The footnote explains that removal of military constraints consists of the loyalty required of soldiers to their commander. This has obvious implications and recalls Caesar crossing the Rubicon as the most famous example of a military commander using the army for political purposes. I also noted how there was both a ceremony, implied ritual, and rites which recalls the ceremony hinted at in Alma 47. Moreover, this ceremony conforms to the text of the Sima itself.  Several places show how a commander should not be brought back to the city to interfere with the court:

In antiquity the form and spirit governing civilian affairs would not be found in the military realm; those appropriate to the military realm would not be found in the civilian sphere [or the court]…Methods of Sima, 2.2

In antiquity the form and spirit governing civilian affairs would not be found in the military realm; those appropriate to the military realm would not be found in the civilian sphere. If the form and spirit [appropriate to the] military realm enter the civilian sphere, the Virtue of the people will decline. When the form and spirit [appropriate to the] civilian sphere enter the military realm, then the Virtue of the people will weaken. Methods of Sima, 2.9

Correspondingly, there are multiple examples of how the military commander should not face interference in the field from officials in the court with often out of date and faulty information. Here is one of the more evocative examples from the Six Secret Teachings of Tai Kong:

After the General has received his mandate, he bows and responds to the ruler: ‘I have heard that a country cannot follow the commands of another state’s government, while an army [in the field] cannot follow central government control. Someone of two minds cannot properly serve his ruler; someone in doubt cannot respond to the enemy. I have already received my mandate and taken sole control of the awesome power of the fu and yueh axes. I do not dare return alive. I would like to request that you condescend to grant complete and sole command to me. If you do not permit it, I dare not accept the post of general.’ The king then grants it, and the general formally takes his leave and departs. Six Secret Teachings of Tai Kong, 3.21

So there was a body of thought in ancient times that commented on the danger of military leaders using their soldiers to seize the court, and how military commanders in the field should not face interference from political leaders during their campaigns. To offer an example using modern terminology, that would be like Abraham Lincoln trying to micromanage the Battle of Gettysburg. Finally, there is a recorded instance of a successful general coming back to the capital and the court, and performing a ceremony with rites that would disband the army and spare the city any conflict between the civilian and martial leaders. 

As readers unpack the details surrounding this text and use additional examples from history they can tease out additional details that show there is much more to the story. Thanks for reading! I work as a freelance author so if you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below. 

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[1] A special thanks Ryan Tanner for his brilliant insights, upon which a good part of this section rests.
[2] Ralph Sawyer trans, Shi Chi, in Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, (New York: Westview Press, 1993) 114. All subsequent quotes from military theorists are from Sawyer’s translation.