Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Jaredite Art of War

I ran across a remarkable verse a little while ago but with all my research I could only get to it now. In the 13th Chapter of Ether we read:

15 And it came to pass that in that same year in which [the prophet Ether] was cast out from among the people there began to be a great war among the people, for there were many who rose up, who were mighty men, and sought to destroy Coriantumr by their secret plans of wickedness, of which hath been spoken.
16 And now Coriantumr, having studied, himself, in all the arts of war and all the cunning of the world, wherefore he gave battle unto them who sought to destroy him.

The verse implies an extensive knowledge of war that can and was studied. V. 16 suggests that there was a written body of knowledge that constituted an "Art of War". I suppose you could orally study war, but the other book by that name, Sun-Tzu's Art of War is thought to represent the written compilation of earlier thought. (It's also worth mentioning that some historians doubt the historicity of the author and the authenticicity of the book- See Ralph Sawyer: Seven Military Classics of Ancient China) Sun Tzu's book represented a conitnuity of thought from earlier generations that could also apply to China's chaotic military situation. (The Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Period)

Chronologically the "art of war" among the Jaredites matches well with other civilzations. Sun Tzu was thought to write his work around 500BC, and as already mentioned his work was thought to be a summary of accepted military principle. Herodotus and Thucydides both wrote later than Sun Tzu in the 4th century BC. Although purely military tracts came much latter in the Western world with the writings of Frontinus (50 BC) and Vegetius (300 AD). The destruction of the Jaredites around 400 BC puts their "art of war" texts as being read between 500-400BC.

There are more interesting details though. Apparently the Nephites obtained some of these records and tried to keep them secret. In Alma 37 we read:

21 And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed...
29 Therefore ye shall keep these secret plans of their oaths and their covenants from this people, and only their wickedness and their murders and their abominations shall ye make known unto them; and ye shall teach them to abhor such wickedness and abominations and murders; and ye shall also teach them that these people were destroyed on account of their wickedness and abominations and their murders.

This also has ancient parallel. The Six Secret Teaching of T'ai Kung were considered revolutionary and the penalty of death decreed for anybody to have a copy. Many of these texts were locked away in vaults that only the privileged could access. (Unfortunately, many of these privileged were favored generals who had the means to employ the teaching against the Emperor) In the Book of Mormon, a brief topical search shows that a secret combinations first goal was a revolution against the state. Thus Nephite rulers would be wary of the tactics described in these teachings due to moral concerns, but practical political concerns as well. They necks were literally on the line and many of the threats to Nephite political control came from people with Jaredite names: Coriantumr and Gadianton being two prominent ones. So it is possible that 1. this knowledge was held elsewhere besides the 24 plates, 2. the knowledge was recreated through inspiration and practical experience ("put into their hearts" according Helaman 6:26), or 3. these were defectors who had the access to restricted records and used what they read when they later rebelled.

Option 1 could be reflected in the social stratification of Nephite/Mulekite society. They had the wealth and knowledge to make new plates or acquire old plates. Perhaps the refugees and remnants of Jaredite took whatever they could of value (like the search party that found the 24 plates in Mosiah 21:27)and sold it to the highest bidder. And Verse 15 of Ether 13 described "many mighty men" who rose up to fight the king with "their secret combinations". Thus the revolutionary aspect and wide spread knowledge of the practice is stated plainly. Option 2 is already suggested in the Book of Mormon. Option 3 has merit though. Many of the Chief Judges were murdered despite having body guards (and/or household soldiers). Thus the assassins had access to the Chief Judge, and many of the Gadianton robbers were leading politicians and lawyers (3 Nephi 6:21), they could also have access to sensitive material (and the ability to read them- 3 Nephi 6:12). Thus all three options have merit, and suggest that the Nephite Chief Judges had many internal threats to their rule and that they had more to worry about than a simple Lamanite hit and run attack.

Conclusion: The Jaredites had an ancient tradition of warfare that was most likely codified in written form. This suggestion matches the development of other ancient cultures and augments the historicity of the Book of Mormon. This knowledge was spread through one or all of several options, and the resulting difficulty for the Nephite lineage to remain in power is evident in the events described in the Book of Mormon and the names of the leading dissidents. This also corresponds to another ancient culture, and strengthens the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

As always, I invite further comments and questions, and stress that these are preliminary research notes. I am not married to any one thesis, and a bit of "thinking out loud" is implied.
Coming soon...the specific tactics involved in this art of war.


thefirestillburning said...

The mention of the date 400 BC struck me. That's the BofM date when the Nephites made contact with the Mulekites. I was under the impression the latter had made contact with the Jaredites somewhat earlier, perhaps shortly after Jerusalem fell.

I need to reread Ether to check this, but I'm not sure if he was made prophetically aware of the collapse in detail as it occurred away from the Jaredite heartlands. There is no reason why he automatically needed to know more than that the Jaredites were being destroyed.

That raises an interesting question concerning option 3. When did the Lamanites contact the Jaredites, and how much of Jaredite civilization and infrastructure had not yet crumbled beyond repair when they did? Did the Lamanites get an early "leg up" that let them mobilize the survivors, keep pushing out the Nephites, and gain kingship in the Land of Nephi?

Check out the "Southern Maya Area" on Wiki as a foundation area of Mayan culture, and its smooth connection to Olmec influences in the same area.

Morgan Deane said...

Thats a good question. I have to reexamine the timeline between 600 and 200 to give you a definite answer. And I will check out the wiki map. Thanks for the comment.

Morgan Deane said...

I should also mention that 400BC is a rough date for the final battle. Sorenson puts it somewhere between 550 and 400. And I don't know enough to say for sure.

Donna said...

I am studying the Book of Ether and came across your blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Something to add as I ponder upon these people.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks Donna. Your comment had especially good timing since I was starting to hear the crickets churping on this site.