Saturday, January 4, 2014

For the Peace of our People: Amalickiah's Arguments in Alma 47

Amalickiah’s flight to the Lamanites and subsequent intrigue that won him the Lamanite throne and war against the Nephites seemed a bit too easy.  Everybody in the account seemed to do exactly what he wanted.  But upon closer examination of the scriptures the reader can see that Amalickiah’s arguments were based in mutual self-interest and often justified his actions using the rhetoric of peace.

One of these arguments is listed in the text. After one of Amlickiah’s servants killed the king in verse 27 it reads: And it came to pass that Amalickiah commanded this his armies should march forth and see what had happened to the king; and when the had come to the spot, and found the king lying in his gore, Amalickiah pretended to be wroth, and said: Whosoever loved the king, let him go forth, and pursue his servants that they may be slain.

By killing the king, letting the army see his fake grief, and placing blame on the king’s servants Amalickiah strengthened his loyalty among the army, and his credentials as a “bold” Lamanite. (Alma 54:24)[1] He also removed the only witnesses that might foil his plan and cast blame on him. So in this case Amalickiah presumably enticed his servants by offering him a better position in the future king’s household.  Amalickiah used the fear and self-preservation of the murdered king’s servants to cast the blame on them and he used the natural loyalty of the soldiers to their king to win their hearts. This example is towards the end of the story, but an analysis of the rest of the account shows similarly manipulated emotions. 

In verse one Amalickiah and a small group of men fled from Moroni to the land of Nephi and the Lamanites.  The small group probably consisted of his personal household and fellow elites but maybe included military specialists as well.  They likely followed Amalickiah because of promises of future wealth and success and when they arrived the text says they “stirred up” the Lamanites. Many of his arguments were most likely different versions of events seen in scriptures that Amalickiah embellished or twisted to promote his interest and make it appear in the interest of the Lamanites to go to war.  His argument might have been that the Nephites expelled them and they fled for their lives because they were a peace faction that had tried to prevent the rise of dangerous men like Moroni, and they tried to prevent some of the policies that Nephite elites wanted to implement.  Alma 51:13 recorded how many king-men refused to take up arms when the Lamanites attacked.  Even modern commenters suggested that Moroni’s execution of the king-men and compelling them to fight was a “war crime.”[2] So anciently Amalickiah could have claimed some sort of objection based on real (or more likely feigned or politically convenient) claims of friendship and brotherhood to the Lamanites.  Alma 61:8 described the coup by the king-men that entered into a treaty of friendship with the Lamanites. So again, the scriptures contain evidence that the king-men and Amalickiah might have promoted themselves as a peace party professing friendship with the Lamanites. 
Amalickiah also could have stirred the Lamanites towards war over news of a pre-emptive invasion.  While he could have made up any number of plans and there was no way for the Lamanite king to verify it, a short time after Amalickiah’s flight Moroni pre-emptively attacked and expelled the Lamanites in the East and West wilderness. (Alma 50:7-9)  Moroni also rallied the people around his Title of Liberty and mustered the army against Amalickiah and his men.  Amalickiah and his followers could have viewed this as mob like and excessively militant action that infringed on their rights.  Certainly Amalickiah would have relayed Moroni’s actions in chapter 46 in the most sinister terms possible to the Lamanite king. Perhaps the king was inflamed enough by this news to declare war.  Or Amlickiah could have convinced him that a quick strike at Ammonihah, their target chosen in chapter 49 because of the easy attack a  generation earlier, (Alma 16:2) could blunt some of Moroni and the government’s militancy. He might have added that the bloodshed from a quick strike would be less than the bloodshed from a later war after the Nephites had gained more power.[3]   

                But the Lamanite soldiers were reluctant to obey the king’s command.  In verse three Amalickiah gained control of the part of the army which remained loyal to the king. As we later see, those who disobeyed the king’s command were not simply rebellious soldiers, but a full-fledged rebel faction with an anointed king. (v.5-6) But why did the king appoint Amalickiah?  Amalickiah and his men obviously had more knowledge of Nephite territory so they would be natural leaders while attacking the Nephites. (Alma 48:5) But that advantage became a disadvantage in unfamiliar Lamanite territory.  The “place of arms” (Alma 47:5) to which the rebel Lamanites fled was roughly ten miles from the capital city,[4] so terrain wasn’t likely an issue.  The real advantage lay in the added social capital and elites that Amalickiah brought.  He had the above knowledge of (maybe exaggerated) Nephite militancy.  He had military skills evidenced by he and his brother’s later leadership of the entire Lamanite army and war effort, and they escaped Moroni’s pursuit. (Alma 46:32-33)

Brant Gardner argued that an earlier king sent Ammon to the waters of Seebus because he was an outsider and a wild card that could affect the balance of power between rival houses.[5]  The king couldn’t punish those who pillaged his flocks because they were protected by rival elites and maybe even the king’s relatives. But he had to maintain his power so he killed his servants for failing to protect his flocks. Ammon on the other hand, did not have those restraints, so the king placed him in a difficult situation to see what he could do and maybe solve the king’s problems.  Amalickiah could have fulfilled the same role for the current king. In a budding civil war he was an outside force. He could have succeeded in his mission and earned the king a united and more powerful army.  If Amalickiah suppressed the revolt heavy handedly, killed the wrong people such as those with powerful connections, or made the wrong enemies (remember that one man tried to kill Ammon in revenge at the king’s house [Alma 19:22]), he could act as the king’s scape goat. The king might have even used one of his servants to slay Amalickiah.  So we see how Amalickiah used the king to gain command of an army, but the king likely used Amalickiah as well.  

In verse 13 Amalickiah presented the rebel general king, Lehonti, the rebel general king, with a rather attractive offer.  Amalickiah desired him to come down [from the mountain] with his army in the night-time, and surround those men in their camps over whom the king had given him command, and that he [Amalickiah] would deliver them up into Lehonti’s hands, if he would make him (Amalickiah) a second leader over the whole army.

Mormon summarized this offer in a way that made it sound too good to be true. But Amalickiah’s argument probably sounded different.  Amalickiah could argue that the king placed him between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the king forcing him to lead Lamanites into battle against other Lamanites.  But Lehonti had the high ground, possibly controlled the source of their obsidian weapons at the place of arms, and possessed greater numbers. So Amalickiah had to obey the orders of the king to attack, but was likely to fail. His attack would result in Lamanites killed on each side, with the result that whomever won the civil war would be in a weaker position to resist Nephite aggression.  Amalickiah’s offer instead made it so nobody would have to fight. Lehonti would win after a brilliant attacking move. Amalickiah would save his army, and like Ceasar’s pardon of Brutus, Lehonti would appear to have king like magnanimity and appoint Amalickiah as the second in command.   Lehonti likely had a practical need for Amalickiah’s martial skills, and the knowledge of Nephite plans would give him additional leverage to win the people; as Lehonti could use Amalickiah’s knowledge of supposed (or real) Nephite attacks to presnt himself as a defender of his people against Nephite aggression. This agreement saved Lamanite lives by uniting the armies without bloodshed and both commanders benefitted.  Amalickiah, knowing that he was perhaps expendable to the king, extricated himself from the need for a costly and likely fatal frontal assault.  Lehonti appeared as a strong conteder for the throne by uniting the army without bloodshed and appearing conciliatory between the two factions.

In verse 15, Amalickiah schemed to gain strengthen the loyalty of his soldiers.  The latter awoke and found themselves surrounded by Lehonti, and begged Amalickiah to save them.  According to the above agreement he did so.  Armies were largely based on personal bonds of loyalty, so it was important for a leader to gain that trust. As an outsider, and maybe even seen as expendable by his rank and file soldiers, the increased loyalty helped Amalickiah, even as Amalickiah fulfilled his part of the agreement to help Lehonti and save the lives of soldiers in both armies. He continued to build loyalty with the theatre surrounding the murder of the king discussed above in verse 27.  In each case Amalickiah further convinced the soldiers that Amalickiah had their best interests at heart. As with any ancient army commander, he had the trust of their soldiers that he would lead them to victory and plunder.  Amalickiah in turn gained by having an army more closely bound to him.  

Verse 33 presented one of the most intriguing items after Amalickiah gained complete control of the army: Therefore, when the queen had received [word of the King’s death] she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.

If the queen requested that he spare the people of the city it suggests that the Lamanite army could have sacked the city. Anciently, plunder acted as one of the few reliable ways for an army to get paid, and often acted as a bonus for the success of a campaign.  Like the faceoff between Amalickiah and Lehonti’s army, perhaps the queen still had military force and the inclination to oppose Amalickiah.  But then the queen requested, or possibly ordered, that Amalickiah bring witnesses of the king’s murder. And the next verse says that the witnesses “satisfied” the queen. Hearing testimony suggests some sort of legal procedure. So it’s possible that this served as part of the ritual surrounding a coronation, or more theatre to cover the naked ambition of two joint rulers. The unexpected death of a sovereign often resulted in a mad scramble for power. The queen could easily use her position, and networks of elites to control the capital and remain in power. Amalickiah, in contrast, could use the army as a platform to control the countryside and seize the capital by force. With rival bases of political power, a desire to “spare the people of the city” likely represented a coded political message to end the still simmering power struggle.[6] The queen remained in power; and with Amalickiah she had a partner just as powerful, if not more so, than her late husband. Amalickiah gained by keeping control of the army and possessing a stronger claim to the throne. Not to mention he shared bed with what appears to be the Cleopatra of the Book of Mormon.   

Amalickiah probably assumed the throne claiming he was from the peace faction of the Nephites.  The king-men associated with him often opposed the Nephite conflict with the Lamanites, and they could claim to oppose Moroni’s aggressive promotion of the Title of Liberty and pre-emptive war. Amalickiah could claim that he prevented bloodshed in a nascent civil war as a servant of the king fighting Lehonti, and as a leader of the united army opposing the widowed queen.  He spread the city upon his ascension, and likely promised to protect his new subjects from Nephite encroachment. Of course, modern readers get a version of the story from Mormon.  But every story has more than one side and a careful reading and analysis of Amalickiah’s story suggests he achieved so much because spoke in terms of mutual self-interest, and he often justified his actions using the rhetoric of peace.

[1] His brother Ammoron used that phrase, but he is treated as an extension of Amalickiah.
[2]John C. Captain Moroni the War Criminal, September 1st 2008.  (Accessed January 2nd, 2014.)
[3] Keep in mind that Sorenson proposes the new city of Moroni in those territories as a military garrison right on the border with the Lamanites.  And he cited Helaman where they lose half their territory (Helaman 4:16), when Nephi tried to retrench Nephite society he started at Bountiful (Helaman 5:14-16), and later when Christ appeared at Bountiful,  that the Nephite center of gravity seems to have shifted north and to the east, in many of the new lands they conquered in Alma 50. John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: A Mesoamerican Book (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013,) 49-53. So the Lamanite concern seemed justified.   
[4] John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: A Mesoamerican Book (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013) 330.
[5] Brant Gardner, The Case for Historicity: Determining the Book of Mormon’s Production Culture (2004 Fair Conference. (Assessed January 1st 2014).
[6] I first discussed this verse here:  (Accessed January 2nd 2014.)


Quantumleap42 said...

One possibility for when the queen asked Amalickiah to "spare the people of the city" might be that the Lamanite army, now under the control of Amalickiah, was not primarily composed of Lamanites from the capitol city. The army may have been largely composed of men from the surrounding area and cities who were mustered out due to alliances, or tribute demands and thus had no special ties to the capitol city, i.e. it was not their home.

Thus, as you suggested, the sacking of the capitol may have been a very real possibility and the queen, and the other elites of the capitol, may have been in a precarious position because they were in danger of losing their previously forged alliances or systems of tribute, not to mention having their city sacked by former allies. The Lamanite king may have been the only one holding the careful alliance together, and he got killed.

Morgan Deane said...

Great points! Thanks for commenting.

Quantumleap42 said...

If you don't mind I'll offer another thought.

We must also consider some of the context to understand the position of the Lamanite elite in the capitol. We must remember that it had only been 5 or 6 years since the people of Ammon had left the land of Nephi. That presumably included the friends and relatives of king Lamoni, and his father. King Lamoni's father was king over at least 7 cities (those listed as having been converted by Ammon et al.), but he died shortly before the Anti-Nephi-Lehi's left the land of Nephi. His son, the (older?) brother of Lamoni became king.

I do not think that all the Lamanites in the 7 cites listed in Alma 23:9-12 were converted and the unconverted Lamanites may have been vying for power. When the people of Ammon left there must have been a power vacuum since the old king (Lamoni's father) and new king (Lamoni's brother) and all their relatives/allies left. The new power base must have been concerned about Lamoni and his brother returning since they sent an army to follow them and try to kill them, but were defeated by the Nephites. All this happened or finished up in 77 or 76 BC.

It was in 74 BC that the Zoramites entered into an alliance with the Lamanites and the new Lamanite king, Zerahemnah, would have been still consolidating his power since he had only been king for 3 years max. [But I went back and reread Alma 43 and 44 and it never actually says that Zerahemnah was the king of the Lamanites. He did rely on the Amalekites and the Zoramites to form his power base so he may not have been king over all the Lamanites. That is, the question of who was king over all the Lamanites was not a settled question 3 years after the people of Ammon left.] But Zerahemnah was never heard of again after being defeated by Moroni so I don't think he lasted as king very long after his spectacular military defeat.

By the time Amalickiah arrived in the land of Nephi in 72 BC the new king, who I don't think is ever named, must have just finished consolidating his power, having fended off a [potential] grab for the throne by Zerahemnah. Thus the current alliance may have been brokered and kept in place by the new king (and queen). It is also telling that after Amalickiah is killed by Teancum his brother, the new king, had to travel back to the land of Nephi and inform the queen and presumably get permission to continue the war.

Thus the Lamanites appeared to be a collection of loosely bound city states controlled by a ruling elite out of the city of Nephi, but by the time Amalickiah arrives they had gained some powerful allies that dominated the power structure, namely the Zoramites and the Amalekites.

Morgan Deane said...

This is good analysis. As I was composing it I thought about the Anti Nephi Lehis and the implications of their departure. I didn't go in as much detail as you but I think you are on the right track. If you want to turn that into a guest post sometime feel free to drop me a line.

Michaela Stephens said...

Good thoughts here. I've thought many of the same things. I also suspect that when Amalickiah tries to stir up the Lamanites (before the Lehonti incident) he pushed the Lamanite king to move from the latent anger stage into the active preparations for war stage too soon before there was enough public support for war.