Saturday, November 28, 2009

Revisiting the Military Problems in the Book of Helaman

A little while ago I discussed the social and political problems that resulted in the Books of Helaman and Third Nephi due to an influx of military veterans. I elaborated on this concept further in describing war bands in the Book of Mormon. Without going into excessive detail, the main thrust of my posts was to explore the reason for a social breakdown among the Nephites described in the years immediately before the coming of Christ. I postulated this was due to an increase in lengthy and distant wars which led to what Roman historians call The Agrarian Crisis. The length of wars caused many small farmers to lose their farms. This led to the rise of large landowners, while the de mobilized soldiers moved to the cities and increasingly became full time soldiers of fortune. Large private landlords could offer the rewards of full time military service that the state could not, and thus central power broke down and warlordism started to rise.

I applied this model to the events recorded in Helaman and Third Nephi with mixed results and largely abandoned it to explore other areas. But a recent video posted on youtube brought this topic back to me. Starting at about 1:45 in the video the narrator describes the social consequences of the elite's building program.

As the elites sought extravagant building projects many farmers lost their livelihood and became the poor masses. These poor and landless masses became exploitable as household soldiers, since many of the small farmers would not have the resources to cope with the changes. Second, many of these affected farmers would flee, either to large households or into the mountains to pursue banditry. It is not surprising that the Book of Helaman would show the effects of these actions. Many large households in ancient China could act as a tax and physical shelter to peasants. This would decrease the revenue and power of the state and increase the ability of large land holders to act with greater autonomy. This causes a self repeating cycle where the peasants continue to feel unsafe and either join the robbers, or seek protection of those with local and real power, (as opposed to an increasingly distant and impotent central power). The above analysis in conjunction with my previous posts goes a long way in explaining the causes detailed within the books of Helaman and Third Nephi.

What do you think? Is the Agrarian Crisis an appropriate comparison? Am I fitting the narrative to fit a preconceived conclusion? Am I right on? Did this help you understand the perils of seeking riches? Did this help you look at the scriptures in a different way? Thanks for reading.


David J. West said...

I think it makes a lot of sense, big differences between any number of examples-Zoramite rich and poor, and the people of Alma (Helam) and their oppressors would likely have been economically and ipso facto agrarian based.

I suspect the same thing happened in Mormon's lifetime during the brief bouts of relative (though witchcraft and sorcery filled) peace with the Lamanites. With the Gadiantons stilll at large during the entire period your theory on household troops and warlordism makes perfect sense. Hop ethat was clear what I was alluding too in Book 1. Book 2 should be even clearer.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks David. I forgot about the Zoramite example.

Michaela Stephens said...

I think it is on the right track. I have noticed in the Book of Mormon that when there is contention among the people, either it is about government or it is unnamed. I have often suspected that the unnamed cause was scarcity of resources from over population because it generally results in splinter groups taking off someplace else (most likely looking for unclaimed land and needed resources).

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks Micheala, there are many comments in the latter half of the BoM that refer to large populations. I can point to a comment in Mormon or Moroni about the population being as "the sands of the sea". But the army they raised only numbered 30k. So obviously there is an editorial hint that they felt the population was busting at the seams (sp). Thank you so much for the comment.