Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Lessons of Ancient Historians

Micheala operates a blog called The Scriptorium Blogorium. Her analysis of the scriptures often seems to spring from my own mind as she presents historical, cultural and spiritual lessons. Although this time she presented something that never occurred to me. She discussed the possibility that the initial confrontation with the Amlicites was a fake to draw the Nephites away from Zarahemla so their combined army with the Lamanites could attack the now unguarded city.

Here is how Micheala describes it:

Then something else occurred to me. I thought it was very interesting that Amlicites, when they were beaten, fled off into the wilderness. Interesting that they seemed to know exactly where to go to meet the Lamanites. And why didn’t the Amlicites wait until the Lamanites got there before they fought the Nephites? Could it be that the first Amlicite battle was not supposed to be the real battle at all? What if it was actually supposed to be a decoy, a diversion? It certainly could have ended up that way if the spies hadn’t been sent to follow the Amlicites to see what they would do. With the Nephite army clear out in the wilderness, Zarahemla would be wide open for invasion.

That has to be what happened. The Nephites almost were defeated with a diversionary strategy worthy of Captain Moroni. What saved them? Nephite spies were sent to watch the fleeing Amlicite army. Those spies warned the army in time and the army got to Zarahemla in time (to realize just how outnumbered they were). Who sent the spies out? Alma the Younger, who was the prophet.

So now we have a better idea of why this account was special. The Nephites were at a major disadvantage, being unaware of a clever diversionary plan to decoy them away from the city, and being far fewer in number than the invading armies of Amlicites and Lamanites. The deck was certainly stacked against them. And yet.. they won. With the help of the Lord they won.

The message I see in this story is that we don’t need to fear being outnumbered. We don’t need to fear the strategies against us. If we follow the prophet, we’ll be safe and we will be led to defend exactly what is under attack. If we pray for help, we’ll be strengthened at those times that we are outnumbered.

I think Micheala's analysis is both intriguing and accurate. Micheala correctly applies the spiritual principle of the story. But if we look at this historically it would make sense that the editor, Mormon, would be loath to include an episode that casts his people in a negative light unless there was a didactic purpose for it. Thus the teaching lesson that Micheala pointed out is EXACTLY the reason the story was included. Following the Warrior Prophet allowed the Nephites to escape the ruses of the enemy. This has spiritual value for us, but also corresponds to the reason many other ancient books were written such as Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, and Chinese Imperial histories. For example, the latter were written by the new dynasty to explain why the previous dynasty lost the Mandate of Heaven and the new dynasty gained it. (see my post on bad and good emperors for more on that)So this episode points out the fact that Mormon was not a historian in the modern sense of the word, but was a typical ancient historian that wrote his record to teach us specific principles. I appreciate Micheala pointing out both the spiritual and historic value of this episode.

What do you think?
Update: I just realized this is my 100th post. Thank you to all my readers for making this worthwhile and for providing such excellent feedback. I hope to provide so many more posts worth reading.

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