Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Past and the Future

This post deals with what has already been studied concerning Book of Mormon warfare and what can or needs to be done.

The famous LDS scholar Hugh Nibley started the trend in several of his books. He compared one of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Title of Liberty episode in the Book of Mormon. He also produced a brief battle history for the war chapters of the Book of Mormon. From an anthropological standpoint, John Sorenson has produced a geography and short battle history of the Book of Mormon as well. His study is interesting because he tries to see how the Nephites actually lived-their fears and hopes- in studying the cultural clues the Book of Mormon has given us. Brant Gardner's multi-dimensional commentary to the bom (link forthcoming) also focused on anthropological detail, and included several tactical or cultural examples from Mesoamerican warfare. The best book is adroitly title "Warfare in the Book of Mormon". This features the laws of war, the tools of war, army organization, and even a little military theory from Clausewitz. Unfortunately, the book is out of print and somewhat hard to find.

Largely, Book of Mormon warfare is a subset of the intense polemical debates between believers and non believers in the Book of Mormon. Thus, warfare studies focus on the supposed anachronisms in the Book of Mormon, such as steel weapons, bows and arrows, demographic implausibilities and extant evidence. Critics try to focus on the lack of physical evidence for many of the large battles in the bom. Supporters focus on the many similarities between fortifications in the bom and trends in Mesoamerican fortifications. Outside of the debate surrounding the supposed anachronisms there is little directly involving warfare. The remaining study focuses on the impact of the book on LDS theology, and not the study of the text.

I feel this is a mistake. A short list of study that can help in historicity debate of the Book of Mormon include the following:

1. A study that included not just Clausewitz, but Frontinus, the Strategikon by Maurice ,De Re Militari, and Sunzi or Tai Kung can help provide context for the warfare described in the bom. Unlike the "two edged sword" that surrounds the polemic debates- where one side sees nothing but ancient and authenticating parallels, and the other sees nothing but 19th century and fradulating parallels- a study of a wide range of cultures and military theory allows the proper context to judge what kind of warfare the Book of Mormon contains from a theoretical standpoint.

2. We can then take the theory of war, and apply it practically to the Book of Mormon by examining other narrative books, such as the Book of Maccabees, Chinese Literary tales, the Popul Vuh and the bible. This will again provide context in order to see what the Book of Mormon says concerning warfare compared and contrasted to other ancient books. Again these are studies that have not been done, but I feel are crucial for understanding what the Book of Mormon truly says concerning war, and not simply seeing parallels based on our limited knowledge.

3. Additional studies can include a study of contrasting leaders to determine the desired qualification of a ruler and strategic culture of the people within the Book of Mormon. The military thinker Karl Von Clausewitz said that "war is a continuation of policy by other means". And Dr. Antulio Echevarria from the Strategic Studies Institute said that the political discourse before war is just as important as the leadership decisions during war and they are flip sides of the same coin.

4. We can examine the traditional drum and trumpet history of the strategic campaigns, with a broader theoretical concept than Nibley's post World War II study, and Sorenson' geographic focus.

5. We can build on Gardner's tactical commentary by including the wide range of options implied within the text, that are skipped over by devotional commentators and largely skipped by cultural commentators like Gardner. This approach has the added benefit of examining the duties and functions of the average solider; this face of battle approach will help us reach the goal that Sorenson and many latter day saints seek: to understand how the living breathing people of the bom behaved and felt.

6. A final study will include the logistics of the Nephite nation. Modern scholarship points to logistics as the root of strategy and not its branches, thus studying logistics will help us understand how non combatants were affected, but also allows us to reexamine the political leadership, and strategic decisions of the military leaders.

In short: historians wishing to study the Book of Mormon have a field that is white and ready to harvest.


Lyndsey said...

Really thought provoking stuff. How do you think studying the Book of Mormon can help us make sense of warfare today?? Thanks for occupying ten minutes if my time! Can't wait to finish work!

thefirestillburning said...

This one also stimulates my thinking and appreciation for what you are doing, Morgan. I think one of the main problems my portion of the Restoration has in maintaining a strong belief in the historicity of the BofM is that it views war theologically in a mode of "pre-Christian" Christian realism. In the Community of Christ today, the leaders seem to suspect the "correct" theological position on war to lie somewhere between "just war theory" and pacifism (perhaps closer to the latter). The incongruence of one of the major writers of a "peace anf justice" church's scriptures being an "unrepentent general" tends to make many of our progressive membership embarassed, and represses any will to be transformed by the spiritual messages of the Book.

It's tougher to argue against Moroni's theology if you have to accept that he's not a fictional being, let alone when you have to debate him while he's shining in that light from above. So historicity is important.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks for your comments. Whenever I write my book I will try to make the scripture references match other restoration churches as well.