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.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ratings Low? Lets Talk about SEX!

Many people say you can increase the popularity of your product by including sex and violence. Since this blog is about warfare I already have plenty of the latter; and as I was reading some Chinese military theory I did realize how sex can be used as a weapon, and how it has a comparable example in The Book of Mormon.

Introducing Tai Kung's Six Secret Teachings, Ralph Sawyer describes how some scholars believe that it "preserves at least vestiges of the oldest strata of Chinese military thought...[And]The Six Secret Teachings is the only military classic written from the perspective of revolutionary activity.[1]

This revolutionary activity includes striking at the enemies Mandate of Heaven. This includes "using bribes, gifts, and other methods to induce disloyalty among enemy officials and to cause chaos and consternation in their ranks; and further increasing the enemy's profligacy and debilitation by furnishing the tools for self-destruction-such as music, wine, women. Complete secrecy is mandated."[2]

Finally, the specific text tells the revolutionary leader to "introduce beautiful women and licentious sounds in order to befuddle him...when these...are employed they will become a military weapon."[3]

There are several important instructions we need to draw from these words. 1. These instructions come from "secret" texts. 2. Arguably, they come from some of the oldest military thought in Chinese history. 3. These methods were often employed using secret oaths. 4. These methods aimed to overthrow a rival and more powerful state. 5. They advocated using sexual desire as a means of attack.

Now that we have the basic methods described for us, we can examine the text of The Book of Mormon. In Ether chapter 8 we read:

7 And now Jared became exceedingly sorrowful because of the loss of the kingdom, for he had set his heart upon the kingdom and upon the glory of the world.
8 Now the daughter of Jared being exceedingly expert, and seeing the sorrows of her father, thought to devise a plan whereby she could redeem the kingdom unto her father.
9 Now the daughter of Jared was exceedingly fair. And it came to pass that she did talk with her father, and said unto him: Whereby hath my father so much sorrow? Hath he not read the record which our fathers brought across the great deep? Behold, is there not an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory?
10 And now, therefore, let my father send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say: I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king.
11 And now Omer was a friend to Akish; wherefore, when Jared had sent for Akish, the daughter of Jared danced before him that she pleased him, insomuch that he desired her to wife. And it came to pass that he said unto Jared: Give her unto me to wife.
12 And Jared said unto him: I will give her unto you, if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king.
13 And it came to pass that Akish gathered in unto the house of Jared all his kinsfolk, and said unto them: Will ye swear unto me that ye will be faithful unto me in the thing which I shall desire of you?
14 And it came to pass that they all swore unto him, by the God of heaven, and also by the heavens, and also by the earth, and by their heads, that whoso should vary from the assistance which Akish desired should lose his head; and whoso should divulge whatsoever thing Akish made known unto them, the same should lose his life.
15 And it came to pass that thus they did agree with Akish. And Akish did administer unto them the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain, who was a murderer from the beginning.
16 And they were kept up by the power of the devil to administer these oaths unto the people, to keep them in darkness, to help such as sought power to gain power, and to murder, and to plunder, and to lie, and to commit all manner of wickedness and whoredoms.
17 And it was the daughter of Jared who put it into his heart to search up these things of old; and Jared put it into the heart of Akish; wherefore, Akish administered it unto his kindred and friends, leading them away by fair promises to do whatsoever thing he desired

Thus we see many of the points described by Tai Kung. 1. In verse 9 we read about secret plans. Its intriguing to note that these plans came from somewhere "across the great deep". The Jaredite timeline would put them in Asia sometime in during the Legendary Sage Emperors of China (2800-2200 BC). 3. Obviously, these method were employed through secret oaths. 4. These methods sought to overthrow an existing dynasty. 5. And famously, the daughter of Jared used her sex appeal to corrupt an official and gain the kingdom for her father.

Normally, I would simply point out that an ancient text agrees with another ancient text in many important details. Details that would make it difficult to believe that Joseph Smith simply guessed right. But in this case I will not only reaffirm that point, but point out the diversity of thought within the subject of military history were even a women's sex appeal can act as a weapon.

Finally, the text suggests a connection between some kind of ancient old world military theory and with a mention of old secret plans from "across the deep" referenced by the daughter of Jared. Hugh Nibley has suggested an Asiatic connection to the world of the Jaredites.[4] And the similarity between ancient Chinese military theory and the Jaredite secret practice reinforces this connection.

What do you think? Is this an example of two different societies independently developing the same practice, or do you think that "across the deep" means ancient China? Did this bring any other verses to your mind? Thanks for reading.

1.Ralph Sawyer Trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China New York: Westview Press, 1993, 23.
2. Ibid., 33.
3. Ibid., 57.
4. Hugh Nibley, The World of the Jaredites.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Bored Soldiers: The Game

One of my frequent complaints during the boring times of my military service was: "they never showed this in the recruiting video." So in conjunction with my previous post on bored soldiers, here is the video game version of it:

Ultra-Realistic Modern Warfare Game Features Awaiting Orders, Repairing Trucks

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Steel Swords

I often do not discuss this topic for several reasons. 1. I feel the subject has already been addressed in depth. 2. The subject bores me. A recent post by Jeff Lindsey fits into the former category. Enjoy:

Laban's Sword of Precious Steel: Increasingly Plausible

Friday, November 13, 2009

Guest Blogger: Consistency in the Location of Nephihah

What follows is a post from one of my frequent commentators. This was originally going to be a comment on one of my earlier posts. Due to its length, and the merits of its argument I thought I should promote it to a guest blog post. I also included a map to help guide you through the analysis. What follows does not necessarily endorse a particular geographic model, and is presented as it was sent to me outside of a couple spelling errors and formatting:

Although I am aware of your later post using the Baja California model of A Choice Land, and I do agree with your tactical analysis of the geographical clues in the Battle of Nephihah, I think there are some additional clues from the overall campaign leading to this battle that need to be considered, too.

Since this post involves clues from Sorenson’s analysis that assumes the Jaredites are the Olmec and the Nephites/Mulekites the Highland Maya during the early Zarahemla period, I’ll go with that model to see how the campaign can tell us some more about the geography of Nephihah.

The campaign tells us about the relationship between Nephihah and four other important Nephite cities besides Zarahemla: Moroni, Lehi, Morianton, and Aaron. And another campaign tells us about the geographic relationship between Lehi and Morianton.

Moroni is built to form the eastern anchor of the Nephite defenses, and is near the East Sea and thus as far south as the mountains that form the natural defense line between the Nephites and Lamanites. However, since it “drowns” later, it probably plugs the gap between the mountains and the sea on the coastal plain and is not in the mountains itself. In the Sorenson approach, this could be near where the Gulf of Honduras reaches southern Belize.

Nephihah is founded at the same time as Moroni and links a natural transportation corridor between Moroni and the direction of Zarahemla. Its relationship with Aaron is not entirely clear; Aaron could be between Nephihah and Zarahemla, or could flank Nephihah on the Moroni-Zarahemla route (guarding an alternative approach). As you point out, it is at the edge of a plain and approachable from above from a more interior Zarahemla defensive perimeter.

Nephihah is inland from Moroni (because the Lamanite thrust stays along the coast) but close enough to be the natural refuge for those fleeing from Moroni. However, Lehi begins to fortify when Moroni falls, indicating that there is a natural approach to Lehi from Moroni. Lehi is NOT a coastal city because Lehi is not among the INITIAL cities to fall during the coastal thrust (as I’ll show below). However, there is something “particular” about the way Lehi is built, which is never explained in the Book of Mormon.

You can think of a couple of things that might qualify in the Mesoamerican model. One would be a natural defensive position that while still primitive, can be fortified easily, such as the site where Yaxchilan will later grow up to prominence and dominate the Usumacinta River Valley. If the Highland Mayan mind regarded anything that was low and swampy in the East as in the borders by the seashore, then the cities built up above the swamps and connected by causeways in the Mirador Basin might also qualify as “particular”. That’s a lot of potential area and doesn’t tightly constrain the location of either Lehi or Nephihah – except that it indicates that Nephihah was not attacked as much because it was well to the west or south of the main Lamanite axis of advance as because of its inherent strength.

Now consider the earlier land dispute between Lehi and Morianton. Morianton wants Lehi, but when the latter city appeals to (Captain) Moroni, the people of Morianton flee to the north into a land of many waters. Again, this would be consistent with fleeing further into the lowlands of Yucatan from within the Mirador Basin, or toward the mouth of the Usumacinto. However, Captain Moroni would hardly regard the former as the kind of strategic threat to the Nephites that the latter would be – and Captain Moroni responds like it’s a mortal threat.

Sorenson regarded the Sidon as the Grijalva River, and the location of Zarahemla in the upland Grijalva River Valley (suggesting the now inundated site of Santa Rosa). From the mouth of the Usumacinta, the mouth of the Grivalja can be threatened, and if occupied, Morianton can control access to the Olmec heartland. Zarahemla would face hostile Lamanites to the south, and, at best, an unreliable power to its north sitting on its most important interior trade route, the Sidon. (Note that if Zarahemla were on the Usumacinta, and Morianton was somewhere to the East, it’s hard to see why Captain Moroni would care if Morianton went north, or how Teancum could be sent to “head” Morianton’s flight if he did.

Now consider one more part of the campaign leading up to the Battle for Nephihah. Nephihah doesn’t just hold the refugees from the City of Moroni; it holds refugees from the fall of Lehi AND Morianton as well. But Lehi must lie somewhere between Morianton and Moroni, and Morianton must then fall before Lehi, or refugees from Morianton would not then be able to flee through the land of Lehi to get to Nephihah.

So there is a self-consistent strategic picture emerging here of the Lamanite advance in the Sorenson approach. I suggest that the Lamanites unhinge Nephite defenses by taking the City of Moroni and occupy the coastal cities against little opposition (quite possibly moving very rapidly – as you’ve suggested in a previous post – by taking advantage of intra-coastal shipping routes for naval supply and movement that Zarahemla, an inland power, cannot then counter. The Lamanites then sweep UP the Usumacinta River Valley and clear Morianton and Lehi, with the inhabitants of those cities fleeing further up the river to Nephihah. Nephihah is then the obstacle that prevents the Lamanites from linking up their advance with their homeland and shortening their supply line by a lot, securing their conquest of all of the Nephite eastern lands and advancing on Zarahemla either along a direct route from Nephihah, or almost anywhere from the south and east. (Moving against Bountiful would allow them to also replicate Morianton’s original strategy of seizing the mouth of the Sidon).

Indeed, when Nephihah falls, it is due to reinforcements of Lamanites moving around the perimeter of the Nephite lands to the south. So this would place a possible location for Nephihah nearer the headwaters of the Usumacinta, guarding a passage between the Lamanite lands and the Usumacinta River Valley and/or between the Usumacinta and Grijalva watersheds.

As you do, I’d place all sorts of disclaimers on the particular model. But what I want to note is the rich detail and self-consistency that exists in the military aspect of the story at tactical, operational, and strategic levels in the MesoAmerican model, because whatever geography Joseph Smith and early church leaders imagined about the location of the Book of Mormon before 1830, it wasn’t this one.


Monday, November 9, 2009

The Case for Intellectual Study

I ran across a great article at The Times and Season's Blog. James Olsen makes an excellent case for why the average reader of The Book of Mormon should take an intellectual approach to the book. I also feel somewhat vindicated in my approach to the book, since I often do not include devotional material but focus more on scholarly approaches.

Under Intellectual Condemnation

Friday, November 6, 2009

Bored Soldiers

This is a great and funny video about the activities that bored soldiers take part in. On the surface it appears that this has no similarity to events in The Book of Mormon. We read in Alma 55 that:

7...the Nephites were guarded in the city of Gid; therefore Moroni appointed Laman and caused that a small number of men should go with him.
8 And when it was evening Laman went to the guards who were over the Nephites, and behold, they saw him coming and they hailed him; but he saith unto them: Fear not; behold, I am a Lamanite. Behold, we have escaped from the Nephites, and they sleep; and behold we have taken of their wine and brought with us.
9 Now when the Lamanites heard these words they received him with joy; and they said unto him: Give us of your wine, that we may drink; we are glad that ye have thus taken wine with you for we are weary.
10 But Laman said unto them: Let us keep of our wine till we go against the Nephites to battle. But this saying only made them more desirous to drink of the wine;
11 For, said they: We are weary, therefore let us take of the wine, and by and by we shall receive wine for our rations, which will strengthen us to go against the Nephites.
12 And Laman said unto them: You may do according to your desires.
13 And it came to pass that they did take of the wine freely; and it was pleasant to their taste, therefore they took of it more freely; and it was strong, having been prepared in its strength.
14 And it came to pass they did drink and were merry, and by and by they were all drunken.

This is an excellent description of the average soldiers life. They receive a small amount of rations and their leaders often put them on boring guard duty. Thus they try to supplement their rations with stolen goods. And they try to dull their boredom by drinking.

I'm amazed at how even the casual details included in The Book of Mormon still include wonderful bits of information.

Nephihah in Google Earth

Over at a A Choice Land you can look up a proposed model for The Book of Mormon geography. Their location of Nephihah largely matches my analysis. It protects the approach towards the city of Zarahemla and you can even see a modern road that runs through this area. There is rough terrain west of the river that could act as the "cliff" side that Moroni entered the city from. And there is more open land to the east the river where the road is. The East side of the city is where the Lamanite army was encamped facing the Nephite army outside the city. The tentative placement of this city by the authors of A Choice Land correspond to its strategic importance and tactical strength as I described in an earlier post.

This is only one of many models out there and my use of this site does not necessarily consist of an endorsement of their thesis. I do think they have one of the most visually pleasing sites and their use of google Earth adds to the study of Book of Mormon lands.

What do you think? Based on other geographic models does anybody have any other ideas?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Call for Papers

As you can see (if you click on it), the theme of the conference is pretty wide open. Please contact me if you wish to be included on a propsed panel dealing with warfare in The Book of Mormon.