Thursday, May 27, 2010

Helaman Medieval China

So I got stuck at the airport for a long time on my way back from the SMH conference. I ran across this interesting sequence of events that recall the major events in Helaman 1. As you remember, Helaman details a brief power struggle between Nephite leaders followed by a quick strike from the Lamanites at the heart of the nation. This is then followed by a swift counter attack by strong Nephite armies on the frontiers surrounding the capital.

On page 227 of Medieval Chinese Warfare by David Graff we read:

In November of 763, scarcely a year after the termination of the great rebellion [of An Lunshan], a large Tibetan army suddenly advanced against the Tang capital of Chang'an. Descending rapidly into the Wei River valley from the northwest, the Tibetans defeated an inferior Tang force at Zhouzhi, about thirty miles west of the capital, on November 12. The very next day the emperor...decamped for the relatively safe haven of Shanzhou, on the road to Luoyang [to the east]. On November 18 the Tibetans entered the city and installed an elderly cousin of Daizong on the imperial throne. They proceeded to plunder the palace and the city, setting fires as they went. Dispersed Tang troops took the opportunity to join in the looting, while much of the populace sought refuge in the hills to the south of the city. The Tibetans were not, however, in a position that was tenable for the long term. Recalled from retirement to deal with the crisis, the great loyalist general Guo Ziyi rallied Tang troops at Shangzhou and moved on Chang'an from the southeast by way of the Wu Pass, while other Tang commanders brought their troops down from the prefectures immediately to the north of the Wei River valley. With Tang forces gathering around them, the Tibetans evacuated the city on November 30, dragging a large number of women, scholars, and craftsmen into captivity, but abandoning their puppet emperor of twelve days to his fate. The capital was secure by Tang troops in December, and Daizong returned to his palace early in 764.

We also read several interesting details in this account that have bearing on The Book of Mormon. The Tang Emperor had to recall the famous former general, Guo Ziyi, from retirement. While The Book of Mormon records how the son of a hero, Moronihah, was vital in defeating the enemy forces. This Chinese account also adds detail to the probable sacking of Zarahemla seen in Helaman 1:22. The Lamanites, probably like the Tibetans, took women, fine goods, and scholars with them. Kidnapping women occurs in both Alma 60:17 and Helaman 11:33, so this suggestion has weight. The Lamanites probably marched directly north along the Sidon river valley like the Tibetans along the Wei. Plus given the fractured nature of Nephite politics in Helaman chapter 1 which continued until the the nation's disintigration by 3rd Nephi 8, its completely plausible that some portions of Nephite soldiers took part in the plundering against the government of their rivals. This idea gains additional weight when we remember that both the leader of the Lamanite nation, and their leading general were recent dissenters from the Nephites as well. Finally, the capture of the capital, and the subsequent maneuvers, battles and looting all occurred within a single year of time, just as this incident from Chinese history.

Now there are several major differences. The speed of the Tibetans was made possible by their extensive cavalry forces. And there are about 700 years and significant cultural differences between the two nations. Yet despite those differences I think the two examples reinforce each other concerning the relative universal nature of power politics in pre modern times. Add this provides one more example in the historicity of events within The Book of Mormon.

Thanks for reading.


Michaela Stephens said...

Very interesting.

Mormon Heretic said...

I didn't realize these 2 conferences were on top of each other. This is interesting--I wish I understood military tactics better.