Sunday, October 16, 2016

Put on your Korihor Caps: Why Reassessing the Book of Mormon (even its Villains), is Righteous!

The Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, recently published an article by Duance Boyce. His article called “Reclaiming Jacob” is a rebuttal to Adam Miller’s arguments about Jacob. In essence, Miller reassessed the verses to show how Jacob debated doctrine about Christ instead of being Christlike, and talked about love and not showing it. There is some suggestion that Jacob was hard to find, and did not minister to the fallen Sherem.  The latter is shown to care about the law and be similar to Laman and Lemuel in trying to protect received Jewish tradition against what might have seemed like corrupting visions from Jacob.  There is a great deal more to his original argument and the rebuttal. I’m writing a rebuttal to Boyce, but overall I highly recommend you read it.

I’m commenting because some of the Facebook chatter has been incredibly disconcerting. The first comment suggested that Miller was moving beyond reassessing to “manufacturing fault out of thin air.” The next comment was almost word for word what I expected people to say in response to my work. The person said that “Miller not only suggests we've all misread Jacob 7, but that is was mis-written in the first place. This is not even a remotely faithful perspective and it makes me wonder if Miller might see shades of himself in the Sherem of Jacob 7.”  

Declaring a line of inquiry unfaithful and calling him Sherem is incredibly dogmatic and insulting.  The tone then became one of derision and mockery, with the final critic also judging Miller’s spiritual state for making his arguments.[1] (He doesn't want to "ascribe any bad intentions," he just compares Miller to Jacob's learned targets who forgot God[2 Nephi 9:28].) Since I have a whole book that essentially uses the same methodology as Miller, I felt personally attacked by this thread and disturbed by the casual and jocular way they questioned somebody's faith and approach. Instead of spending my birthday receiving insults, I decided to let it rest, but then realized I should comment now if I'm to be of any value in the discussion. Luckily, I have a whole manuscript that uses and shows the value of this methodology.  In the introduction I make the case as to why this methodology is appropriate and why a nuanced reassessment of both heroes and villains in the text CAN help us understand the scriptures, place them in history, and bring new insight that can help us apply the scriptures and lead better lives. Here are the most relevant passages:

Evil Gangs and Starving Widows: Reassessing the Book of Mormon:

Reading the text with modern and western eyes, and reading based upon the assumptions we’ve grown up with, will influence the way we understand the scriptures a great deal.  If the Book of Mormon is a historical account of real people, then their decisions should reveal the same bias, weaknesses, blind spots, and disputes as other historical events, and upon closer examination, we do see that. 

President of the American Historical Association James Grossman pointed out that “learning history means engaging with aspects of the past that are troubling, as well as those that are heroic… critics are unhappy, perhaps, that a once comforting story has become, in the hands of scholars, more complex, unsettling, provocative and compelling.”[2]

The Book of Mormon is an inspiring book of scripture that has converted millions.  Yet with a critical revisionist eye we might see behaviors of the Nephites that are more complex, unsettling, provocative, and ultimately compelling.  It helps us reassess and revaluate past ideas and event in the light of new interpretations or data. 

This kind of history can, and should, be used to illuminate Mormon history and the Book of Mormon as well. Dallin H Oaks said:

We’re emerging from a period of history writing within the Church [of] adoring history that doesn’t deal with anything unfavorable, and we’re coming into a ‘warts and all’ kind of history.  Perhaps our writing of history is behind the times, but I believe that there is a purpose in all things- there may have been a time when Church members could not have been as well prepared for that kind of historical writing as they are now. [3]

In addition to modern precedent, the ancient historians within the Book of Mormon criticized their people fairly often. Lehi’s preaching angered the people of Jerusalem to such an extent that they sought to kill him (1 Nephi 1:20). Nephi faced the same treatment from his brothers (1 Nephi 7:16).  Alma recorded how the pride of church members became a ”great stumbling block” to those that weren’t in the church (Alma 4:19).  The Nephites became so wicked that Samuel the Lamanite preached to them (Helaman 13-15), and the Book of Mormon recorded how the people set Nephi’s execution date (3 Nephi 1.)  My book simply attempts to tease out additional and often unstated details within the text to reveal an even greater understanding of it.    

Another useful way to view revisionist study is by considering the three levels of history introduced by Davis Bitton and others.[4] The first level is “A” level history. This is a fairly simplistic but useful category of history. All the major characters wear white hats as virtuous and noble members of the church (or founders of the Republic). Occasionally members might make mistakes but leaders seldom, if ever do.[5] Nothing is suppressed but the history has an appealing simplicity with no controversies to complicate matters. I sometimes call this Disneyland level history because of its pleasant nature and ability to be communicated in simple terms.   “B” level history is the exact opposite of the first level.  All of the good guys turn into bad guys, their motives are invariably sinister, and everything is meant to seem chaotic but ultimately the major players and events are just as simplistic as “A” level history.  This is the history most often produced by vociferous opponents of the church. The problem with level “B” is that there are many facts and ideas in this level which are true, but might trouble a member who has never heard them before or hears them out of context.  This is the level in which members are lost if they don’t move to level “C.” This last level is when members understand their leaders are most often sincere and good people working in sometimes tragic and mistaken fashion through a fallen world.  With a proper incorporation of their faults it doesn’t diminish leaders but brings an additional appreciation of them.  The “C” level brings an appreciation of the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord says that he gives commandments to his servants “in their weakness” and that “inasmuch as [my servants] err it might be made known” (D&C1:24-25). It brings additional understanding to the statement that the Lord is collectively pleased with His church but not with the individuals in it (D&C 1:30).  This level brings an appreciation of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young struggling through mortal life and leadership and helps us understand that history is complicated.  It also helps us appreciate the decisions they made, and like any history, gives us additional tools to assess and respond to problems that we currently face. Above all, it enriches the scriptures for us by providing a vastly deeper and meaningful context for the events beyond having super heroes on one side and comic book arch-villains on the other. 

This level brings an appreciation to the many complaints of Mormon (Title Page, Ether 12:25-26) and Nephi (1 Nephi 19:6) that complained of their weaknesses. Even though the verses mentioned above are well known in the church, few people have examined the “C” level history of the Book of Mormon.  Members of the church feel the text is faith promoting and spiritually transformative in their lives. I share that appreciation of the text.  Critics of the church rarely feel the need to analyze the history presented within the text itself, outside of stale criticisms of supposedly disqualifying anachronisms.  Many Mormon scholars themselves are increasingly moving away from viewing the text as historical, but wish to study the text’s 19th century milieu or use it to advance social justice or peace studies.[6] Those can be valuable, but a historical study that rethinks and reassesses our understanding of the historical events described in the Book of Mormon will help bring an additional understanding and appreciation for the complexity of the events and people described in the text.  And it is the aim of this book to provide a richer and more nuanced understanding of those leaders within Book of Mormon. Just as the mature faith of members are beginning to develop for the flawed, loved, complex, sometimes grossly mistaken, but still inspired 19th century leaders. 

As a result of moving to “C” level history I’ve had to challenge my assumptions about the text. The best example of this methodology comes from the FARMS volume, Rediscovering the Book of Mormon. Literature scholar Grant Hardy discussed Mormon’s role as editor and how that affected Mormon’s conduct as a historian.[7] Mormon as a historian wrote that the Lamanites attacked the city of Ammonihah in Alma 16. It reported that the Lamanites destroyed the city, kidnapped its inhabitants, and after many battles and kidnapping some people from the city of Noah the Nephites defeated them.  The readers never know what happened to the innocent bystanders kidnapped from the city of Noah.  As Hardy argued, using the “C” level history that accounts for the bias of writers, that Nephite history didn’t support the narrative that good people are saved and bad people suffer. As a result the information about the kidnapped residents of Noah wasn’t included in the story.  When Mormon discussed the region again most of the history was left out except for the spiritual cause of that region’s destruction (Alma 49:9.)

Readers can see Mormon’s spiritual purpose (which form a bias) in Hardy’s example; and ancient writers had more biases as well.   They wrote ethno centric accounts that often reported the prejudices of other people. In secular histories, Herodotus recorded that the Persians seemed weak and effeminate for example. Writer’s like Enos also displayed a tendency to denigrate others when he described the Lamanites as “wild, ferocious and blood thirsty” people full of “filthiness” (Enos 1:20.) Other writers showed different bias. Julius Caesar wrote military histories like the Gallic Wars for popular consumption and adulation. As a result he often praised individual Centurions for their bravery in battle, but side stepped his own poor strategic choices that necessitated battle in the first place.  Historians like Thuycides wrote to explore the role of justice, power, and virtue in political and military actions.  Chinese dynastic chroniclers wrote the history of the previous dynasty and particularly how the bad last emperor forfeited the right to rule.  Many Medieval European historians focused on ecclesiastical history and the role of God in directing man’s destiny and the rise of the church. While many Latter Day Saints would identify with that, the Venerable Bede and others often wrote from a Roman centered viewpoint and were hardly fair towards the indigenous tribes they encountered. (Though ironically, the paucity of written sources from these cultures means that the historians owe the bulk of their information about minority cultures to the ethno centric accounts of their imperialistic visitors.)

In any case, the role of the historian as dispassionate, rational, objective observer of history is a rather late phenomenon that doesn’t reflect how Mormon wrote his record.  If we read the account as though Mormon were objective, or a member of the modern church, we miss crucial details in the text.  The bias that an author has reflects in his writing like finger prints.  When we see these fingerprints, we might reasonably ask what bias is reflected, and how recognizing that bias would modify our understanding of the text. 

[My] book is the product of that searching.   It provides counter arguments that offer alternative explanations and even provide some defenses for typical villains like Amalickiah and Giddianhi, and I question the motives of many Nephite leaders such as Gideon, Moroni, and Lachoneus.  This is a radical reinterpretation of the text which might make it sometimes seem like I’m shooting Bambi’s mother.  But these arguments are designed to bring us to that “C” level of history, where the good guys do not ride in on white horses, the bad guys on black horses, and instead every person acts with the complexity, ambiguity, and self interest that we would expect from history, and which might get glossed over in pursuit of the text’s spiritual purpose, or Sunday school lessons and personal readings that fly by too quickly.  These leaders, like the 19th century church leaders, tried to arrive at the best solutions, but often failed, acted out of self-interest, or created unintended side effects. Their failures can in many cases help them become better people, even as they help us gain an appreciation for fully fleshed out and imperfect people.

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[1] Here are the comments in full:
Matthew Roper: What evidence is there in the text for Jacob's unrighteous behavior? And if Welch is correct, Sherem's accusations would have been a capital offense if proven. A healthy skepticism of sources noting possible bias is one thing. Manufacturing fault out of thin air is another.
Michael Davidson: This is an effective rebuttal. In very simple terms, Miller not only suggests we've all misread Jacob 7, but that is was mis-written in the first place. This is not even a remotely faithful perspective and it makes me wonder if Miller might see shades of himself in the Sherem of Jacob 7.
Gregory L Smith: Well, when you can create what should have been written out of thin air and starshine, of COURSE everyone else has "misread" it.
Tracy Hall Jr.: Would this be a good place to publicize my Kickstarter campaign to rehabilitate Korihor? :)
Andrew Sargent: I've yet to read Miller and not come away feeling that much "looking beyond the mark, and stumbling because of it" has taken place with him.
I won't ascribe to him bad intentions, only a reminder it seems that ironically another warning from Jacob is applicable, namely that we need to be careful as we become learned, to not think we are wise, and therefore can insert our thoughts and ideas and set aside what God has already given us.
[2] James R. Grossman, “The History Wars,” New York Times, September 1st, 2014. (Accessed September 2nd, 2014.)
[3] Dallin H. Oaks, “Elder Oaks Interview Transcript from the PBS Documentary”, (July 20th, 2007) (Accessed August 31st, 2014.)
[4] Davis Bitton, “I don’t have a testimony of the history of the church” 2004 FAIR Conference  Sandy Utah.  Daniel Peterson, “Reflecting on Gospel Scholarship with Abu Al Walid and Abu Hamid, Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Sripture 3 (2013) v-xxxii. 
[5] Peterson, Reflecting on Gospel Scholarship, xxvii-xxviii.
[6] Grant Hardy, “The Book of Mormon and Social Justice,” Meridian Magazine (March 21st, 2011) (Accessed August 31st, 2014.) Joshua Madsen, A Non Violent Reading of the Book of Mormon (Greg Kofford Books, forthcoming.)
[7] Grant Hardy, “Mormon As Editor” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon John Sorenson, Melving Thorne eds. (Salt Lake City: FARMS, 1991)15-28.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

More Aggressive than China and Russia?

[This is a response I posted over at the Millennial Star. I know I'm really busy, and you must be wondering why I can't leave it alone, but I thought this was a good chance to get a four for one post. First, I get to post my research there. Frankly, those guys could use some experience with facts and research. Second, I also get to do another blog post here. I write so much in a given day I often just don't have the time for one more item.  Third, I get to tell you about some of the secular research I'm doing.  Fourth, taking a great deal of information and creating a coherent and convincing argument out of it is a very important skill. It never hurts to get one more chance to practice it.  Thanks for reading. I hope you vote for the best person that you think represents your interests. Its a comment post on a blog so please forgive any typos.] 

I recently started a couple of new positions. I cover the East Asian and Pacific military matters for Strategy and Tactics magazine.  It’s been a nice side gig to my teaching and it’s much more fun to talk about the type 53 Frigate than explaining the syllabus over and over again. I also started a research internship at the Hudson Institute. This one focuses on Russia, not my specialty in China, but its been really interesting. I bring this up because I regularly produce policy type article and read a million bits of information a week regarding these powers.  When you said that McMullin is more aggressive than China and Russia I was very glad I wasn’t drinking anything or I would have done a spit take.  I went back to my saved articles and research I’ve written and these are a brief summary of the last few months of behavior for China and Russia:

China thumbed its nose at the world court ruling regarding against them Scarborough shoal in the Spartly Islands.  As a response they’ve placed even more weapons systems and missiles on the island even though it was ruled as part of the Phillipine’s exclusive economic zone.

They’ve developed the YJ12 carrier killing missile. These are missiles specifically designed to as part of their A2 AD strategy as they hope to overwhelm the Aegis defenses surrounding carriers.

In the last 60 years the Chinese have fought offensive wars against every one of their neighbors, on their opponent’s territory.  Immediately after winning the Chinese civil war Mao launched a sneak attack in Korea. (Granted McArthur was nearing Chinese territory but you’ll notice a pattern shortly.)  A few years later Mao seized islands owned by Taiwan. Further operations were curtailed by the timely intervention of American forces in the Taiwan Strait.  They preemptively attacked India to readjust the border in 1962. And they preemptively seized islands in the Assuri river skirmish with Russia in 1969. Its not without notice that China and Russia recently practiced an island seizing exercise near Vietnam. This is where they fought their last offensive war in 1979, and a preemptive seizure of territory is one of the Chinese hallmarks since 1949. Its pure Chinese propaganda and insecurity dating back thousands of years to state they are in the sights of greedy foreigners. 
Immediately after losing the court case they used their new advanced weapons systems in the East China Sea. Near the disputed Senkaku islands they practiced locating and sinking a ship as an obvious message to Japan, which approved of the ruling.  Japan has had to launch their fighter planes over 200 times this year in response to Chinese provocation.  Japanese fisherman, operating legally in international waters or in their EEZ, have been harassed by Chinese naval vessels.

They’ve illegally built up islands and placed advanced radar systems, anti-air batteries, shipping docks that can handle blue water ships, submarine bases, and large runways that can support their advanced fighters (which are being built using stolen technology from the F 22 and F 35.)  Keep in mind they are doing this in the Spratlys and other islands in the South China Sea that are vigorously disputed. (Its true that other nations have done so as well, but not to the extent that China has and definitely not with the same degree of militarization.)

When the US operates Freedom of seas operations they harass our naval forces and follow them at an unsafe distance. Because the islands are disputed, the US performs these operations to reaffirm the importance of international law. These are incredibly important operations because they prevent the de facto recognition of this territory as China’s.  If international law is disregarded it will be a free for all in this region where disputes are settled by force. If China aggressively controls this territory they can easily cut off a great deal of vital shipping in the region. You mentioned them as trading partners, but its incredibly difficult to trade when captains are worried about being seized in what should be international waters.

That’s why McMullin says he will stand for the rights to sail in international waters.  He is not “picking a fight with China,” (though these Freedom of the Seas operations do have some danger),  but simply reasserting basic rights of international law that the China is actively threatening. China has threatened every one of its neighbor, aggressively maneuvers near them, and actively builds bases in disputed territory that can project force.  Your argument seems based on general disdain for the American military power and some foreign policy positions, as well as libertarian articles of faith, not based on a sound knowledge of the region. As somebody who regularly studies the region McMullin is only proposing appropriate steps to stop Chinese aggression through the assertion of international law.

Moving on to Russia:
Russia has started shipping advanced military equipment to India. They are also holding joint exercises with Pakistan. They have shipped attack helicopters to that state. (Symbolically enough Pakistan is using those helicopters to replace the American Cobras they have.)  Russia has refused to implement the Minsk accords. This is a peace plan to help end the conflict in Ukraine.  They use paramilitary tactics to undermine the nation states on their border. They have attack hospitals and relief convoys in Syria. Modernization in Russian military has resulted in new forms of warfare and rapidly changing environment cyber, electronic warfare, and anti-access/area-denial capabilities. They’ve annexed territory from their neighbors. They cut off gas shipments to their neighbors.  Much of Eastern Europe (many of which are close allies), now lie within range of their missiles systems. The consensus view of the Warsaw NATO summit is that Russia is now a competitive threat. In fact, Russia is using China as a chief trading partner and there is a significant concern of their forming a new anti-Western axis.

Russia uses Chinese companies to avoid US sanctions, which is likely why McMullin is trying to strengthen them. Russia is actively increasingly its influence through various soft and hard power methods and they are incredibly assertive in gaining hegemony in the region. They don’t hesitate to use a combination of military, paramilitary, and cyber military forces to undermine and frankly conquer their neighbors.  We have treaty obligations that have been the foundation of safety and security in Europe since World War II.  You can make an argument about the wisdom of these treaties compared to the wish of the Founding Fathers, (and that’s one of several reasons why libertarians remind me of isolationists), but that argument is 60 years too late. We have these obligations, and McMullin is stating that we will make a modest commitment to our allies by treaty, as suggested by the recent summit, in the face of blatant Russian aggression.

This post is already pretty long, and there are many more points I could point out. (For example, China manipulates their finances so they don’t appear to spend as much money on the military.)  McMullin isn’t an immoral war monger because he wants to reassert international law and support America’s treaty obligations. I’m writing in for McMullin.   

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Gadianton Robbers in the Syrian Civil War

War on the Rocks is a great website that posts nuanced policy papers and military analysis. They recently published an article about Syria describing the decay of Bashar Al Assad’s regime.  This post briefly highlights how that article’s main points underscore what I’ve been arguing about the Gadianton Insurgency.  The current disintegration of the regime in the real world highlights and supports my subtle and nuanced reading of the Book of Mormon.  

Thesis Statement: Robbers Both a Cause and Collapse

As I wrote in my first book, “The various historical uses of the term robber when applied to the Book of Mormon suggest that the Gadianton Robbers contributed to and resulted from the weakening control of the central government over its territories and armed forces.”[1] 

War on the Rocks:  Today, where briefing maps now show solid red across Syria’s western governorates, they ought to distinguish dozens and perhaps even hundreds of small fiefdoms only nominally loyal to Assad. Indeed, in much of the country, loyalist security forces function like a grand racketeering scheme: simultaneously a cause and consequence of state collapse at the local level.

The State’s Reliance on Bandits:

I wrote on my blog here about a really cool letter I written by the Communists insurgents in China to a secret society. In assessing its significant I offered these words:  

Thus the line between bandits, militia of a hated rival, private bodyguards, deputized law enforcement officers, or insurgents, became incredibly blurred….On the local level that meant there were competing groups vying for power. Labels are very powerful, and labels like bandit were used to stigmatize. Yet early Communist forces had large components of bandits, including the entire forces of the two largest bandit groups nearest the Jinggangshan mountain base.  So when Chiang Kai-Shek labelled his campaign as bandit suppression and encirclement, it reflected an overt political attack on Communists, but it also reflected the way a political military fight can blur the boundaries with and reflect lawless banditry.

Both ancient historian Susan Mattern and Sinologist Stephen Averill talked about the way that bandits could be adopted into government forces or created as allies.[2] Mao Zedong incorporated bandits into his army but then warned against “banditry” within Communist forces.[3]  Indeed, even the United States saw this during the Anbar Awakening. We managed to convince many of the most ardent Sunni supporters of the insurgency to join our side. This is because they knew how to fight the insurgents. We worked with the Iraqi government to legitimize them as militia.   

War on the Rocks: The real story of the Tiger Forces is…instructive to those trying to understand the regime. During the early days of the uprising against Assad, Hassan coordinated the suppression of protests in Hama, an effort that relied on a collection of ordinary thugs, air force officers, and area tribal leaders… in due time, this early network of enforcers would evolve into the so-called Tiger Forces. While the unit has since developed a more stable core of permanent quasi-soldiers, Tiger loyalists today still hail from a vast web of militias, criminals, and smugglers stretching across Syria’s central and arguably most strategic province of Hama.

Weak Government Incorporates them:

I discussed many great things in my FAIR presentation it included the point that a weak government tried to co-opt and control local bandit leaders in order to bolster their power. This is related to the above concept about the very blurry line between bandit force and legitimate government militia or army:[4] 

Historically, the chaos that resulted from political weakness resulted in actors that can be divided into three camps. The first group is the predatory bandits that fit the typical image associated with robbers. Yet the second two, local elites that assume power, and former officials that take advantage of the power vacuum, can assist in our understanding of Nephite society.

The Roman sources called many groups ‘robbers,’ but it seems probable that they were actually the private forces of local magnates maintaining order and control outside of Roman public authority. [Even the great warlords such as Childeric, Clovis, and Alaric..held official offices in the Roman Empire.] Historian David Graff adds a similar point from Chinese history:

To protect themselves and their communities against the [predators], 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. [The remaining weakened government] eventually established him as governor of [the province].

War on the Rocks:  Apparently too weak to coerce and too broke to bribe those who fight under its banner, Assad has made efforts to tie his subordinates closer to his Damascus by political means instead. This April’s parliamentary “elections” further indicated the structural transformation of the regime from a centralized state to a loose hodgepodge of warlord. A number of long-serving Ba’athist rubberstamp bureaucrats and local dignitaries, pillars of the regime’s traditional rentier system, lost their seats in favor of upstart smugglers, militia leaders, and tribal chiefs.

Self-interested Soldiers:

In my new book (still forthcoming), I wrote about the decline of soldiers and how they likely became a parasitic cast, which would only fuel unrest and an insurgency against the government:[5]

The prophets in the book of Helaman continually lambasted the need to “get gain” (Helaman 6:8, 17) as the chief sin of Gadianton robbers, and the major prophetic discourses of Nephi and Samuel the Lamanite attack the materialism of Nephite society (Helaman 7:5, 21, 26; 13: 19-23, 32-36).  In describing the impotence of Moronihah’s army, Mormon said this about Nephite society, which might apply even more to the increasingly self-interested soldiers:

And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites (Helaman 4:12).

…Considering the cost of equipping for war, and how plundering was the best pay day in the ancient world the soldiers would be rich, or at least the elites that used force to enrich themselves would be “exceeding[ly] rich.” They would also find that  “desert[ing] unto the Lamanites” with their war like policies (Mormon 8:8) promised a more lucrative environment. And it could easily refer to the soldiers of fortune and large bands of soldiers who thought the same. Moreover, the victims of this aggrandizement from out of control soldiers, or armies of elites would see it as “oppression, “smiting their...brethren upon the cheek,” stealing food from the hungry (remember the connection between famine and war in Helaman 11:1-5), could easily refer to the abuse of power by the military against civilians. 

In fact, the second half of Helaman 4:12 explicitly referred to murder, stealing, plunder, and great contentions.  Nephite military forces were led by prophets during times of righteous leadership (3 Nephi 3:19) so “denying the spirit of prophecy” could refer to rejecting righteous military leaders.   On top of this, in the next chapter when the prophets Nephi and Lehi were preaching, they were seized by an army and thrown in prison (Helaman 5:21).  Yet the Nephite record doesn’t mention a current war, which suggests the army was doing something else. This could be private aggrandizement, a war against “others” only hinted at by the text, or general plunder by a free booting company. Whatever their activity, it strengthens the suggestion that Helaman 4: 12 referred to a rapacious and predatory military that is not controlled by a righteous central government.

War on the Rocks:  Rather than attempt to capture resource monopolies, certain armed groups have taken to making a profit by exploiting the suffering population directly… Despite guarantees by the government, local loyalist militias tasked with manning the checkpoints in the area have recently begun levying a tax of 100 Syrian Pounds per kilogram on all incoming food products. Even a conservative estimate would put the monthly revenue of such a levy into the millions of U.S. dollars. This is enough to feed and supply the thousands of fighters manning the cordon, as well as their families. The watchdog group “Siege Watch” has put the number of civilians encircled by regime forces at an additional 850,000 across Syria. In these stricken areas, the cost of living has multiplied, with the difference syphoned off by those manning the bottlenecks. Put differently, with Damascus nowhere near able to finance and feed the families of loyalist militiamen, the encircling and taxation of civilians has an economic necessity for the regime to keep many of its most important frontline troops supplied and happy.


I’m becoming more and more convinced that regardless of the time period, geography, and culture, there are a set of specific principles that govern the course of an insurgency and the composition of their army.  It is incredibly rewarding to see the arguments I’ve made about the Book of Mormon referenced in secular academic literature. The Book of Mormon clearly shows the Gadianton Robbers as an insurgency that features nuanced relationships and power brokering between the government, local leaders, the people, and military groups.  The government weakness was a cause of and results from the robbers, they alternatively relied upon and tried to co-opt them.  The soldiers enriched themselves upon the population and justified their looting as taxes. 

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[1] Morgan Deane, Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon, (Ebookit, 2014), 37.
[2] Susan Mattern, “Counterinsurgency and the Enemies of Rome,” in Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, Victor Davis Hanson eds (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 169 (163-184). Stephen Averill, Revolution in the Highlands: The Jinggangshan Base Area 1927-1929. (New York, Rowan and Littlefield, 2007), 57.
[3] Mao Zedong, “Problems of War and Strategy, Part 4”, Selected Military Writings of Mao Zedong, (Bejing: Foreign Language Press, 1971,) 112.
[4] Morgan Deane, “ Climbing a Tree to Find a Fish: Insurgency in the Book of Mormon”, FAIR Mormon Conference, Provo, Utah. August 2016.
[5] Morgan Deane, Evil Gangs and Starving Widows: Reassessing the Book of Mormon, (Forthcoming.), 149-151. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Know Why and Knowing my FAIR Presentation

Greetings everybody. Heaven knows I stressed over this for a long time, but I presented at FAIR earlier this month and its been posted online at their website. Its a paper that examines the causes of Gadianton conflict in greater detail. Most intriguingly, it looks at specific and under studied scriptures to argue the robbers were social bandits closer to Robin Hood with legitimate grievances about land reform and Nephite excess. And suggests people like Nephi were closer to the Sheriff of Nottingham.  Its a provocative argument that I was excited to make. And it fits some of the ides about a more nuanced study of the text suggested by others at the conference such as Grant Hardy

I'm also proud to say I found myself in another footnote, and then featured in the body of the text with several more footnotes. Book of Mormon Central is a great spot that archives the research on the Book of Mormon and then provides easy to access summaries of research concerning important topics.  The first discusses the war chapters in general, and why there are so many of them.  The second includes a quote from me in the body, and then several footnotes. This includes a good summary of how the Book of Mormon exhibits many authentic strategies from of ancient warfare. I took a good deal of time, but its good to see that I'm taking part in a wider conversation and influencing the way people think about the text. I hope to bring you much more exciting research in the future that will bring you additional insight into the text. Thanks for reading. 

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