Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Ruin of the Book of Mormon

I should start out with a sort of apology. I’m sure many of you are reading this post because the title implied that somebody is ruining the Book of Mormon and you hoped for some drama. But this is a continuing series of notes, ideas and interactions that come as I read various histories so I’m sorry. This being a Mormon themed blog I tend to focus on interactions with the Book of Mormon as well, though it also touches upon my research in other areas. Because these are essentially my notes and not a formal essay the topics bounce around a little bit. Though they do provide a good example of the utility in reading and rereading primary texts, comparisons and contrasts, and assessment of information needed to make substantive points about the Book of Mormon.

10: that Britain might not totally be enveloped in the dark shades of night, he, of his own free gift, kindled up among us bright luminaries of holy martyrs, whose places of burial and of martyrdom, had they not for our manifold crimes been interfered with and destroyed by the barbarians, would have still kindled in the minds of the beholders no small fire of divine charity. Such were St. Alban of Verulam, Aaron and Julius, citizens of Carlisle…

I like the mention of items that are famous to him but have no record in history. This hints at a richer world and recalls the limits of historical writing and archaeological writing. It also recalls intriguing hints in the Book of Mormon such as this in Mosiah:

he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land;

This location must have been famous to at least the people of Zeniff if not Mormon who edited this section. But it’s not mentioned anywhere else in the Book of Mormon, especially when the event happened. It’s a detail that pops out of the text, was maybe nothing more than a recorded legend, and which hints at far more which seems little different than Gildas name dropping famous martyrs for which we have no record.

21: So that the words of the prophet, addressed to the people of old, might well be applied to our own countrymen: “Children without a law, have ye left God and provoked to anger the holy one of Israel?” (A version of Isaiah 1:4-5)

I like how Gildas is placing his people in the midst of Isaiah’s story. This is a new idea that I’ve been researching more. I have Joseph Spencer’s Another Testament on my reading list. I’ve thought when King Noah’s priests ask Abinadi about Isaiah they aren’t ignorant of the meaning of the scriptures, they are asserting the role of their colonies as fulfillment of that prophecy, and Abinadi as a false prophet against their king and kingdom. Abinadi turns it around and makes it an incredible messianic prophecy but placing yourself in the prophecies of Isaiah is repeated here by Gildas.

23: A multitude of whelps came forth from the lair of this barbaric lioness, in three cyuls, as they call them, that is, in their ships of war, with their sails wafted by the wind and with omens and prophecies favourable, for it was foretold by a certain soothsayer among them, that they should occupy the country to which they were sailing three hundred years, and half of that time, a hundred and fifty years, should plunder and despoil the same. They first landed on the eastern side of the island, by the invitation of the unlucky king, and there fixed their sharp talons, apparently to fight in favour of the island, but alas! more truly against it. Their mother-land, finding her first brood thus successful, sends forth a larger company of her wolfish offspring, which sailing over, join themselves to their bastard-born comrades.

This is a great ethnocentric depiction of Saxons. I thought that text was evocative, interesting to read, and displayed a rather common practice of describing others in literature. I have multiple chapters and publications on the Gadianton Robbers and I find that the description of them is often just as exaggerated as Gildas here against the Saxons.

These last couple examples are the most meaty where we discuss more about the language used against others, the tactics of robbers and invaders, and a possible reference to King Arthur.

25-26 Others, committing the safeguard of their lives, which were in continual jeopardy, to the mountains, precipices, thickly wooded forests, and to the rocks of the seas (albeit with trembling hearts), remained still in their country. But in the meanwhile, an opportunity happening, when these most cruel robbers were returned home, the poor remnants of our nation (to whom flocked from divers places round about our miserable countrymen as fast as bees to their hives, for fear of an ensuing storm), being strengthened by God, calling upon him with all their hearts, as the poet says,—”With their unnumbered vows they burden heaven,” that they might not be brought to utter destruction, took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive. His parents, who for their merit were adorned with the purple, had been slain in these same broils, and now his progeny in these our days, although shamefully degenerated from the worthiness of their ancestors, provoke to battle their cruel conquerors, and by the goodness of our Lord obtain the victory [at the Battle of Badon Hill.]

The “hive of bees” actually compares to several other texts about the way that insurgents often fight. I recorded many of them in my book and have a particular interesting example from Mao-Zedong. As I wrote for a chapter in a forth coming book on insurgency:

Late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) military writings published in 1843 (Haiguo Tuzhi ) and published in the mid-1880s (Yangfang Shuolue ) discussed [specific strategies relying on China’s vast interior]. The late 19th century also saw two other works (Bingjing Leibian and Pinghai Xinchou) which contained the same ideas. All of them concluded that in the event of war China should avoid the West’s area of strengths such as naval warfare and ability to bypass coastal defenses. Instead Chinese forces should draw them into a land battle and use China’s vast interior to exhaust them before swarming like ‘bees and ants’.[1] In On Guerrilla Warfare, Mao used almost the exact words and stressed the need for the regular army to work with guerrillas to become ‘knats biting a giant’.[2]

In the chapter I used this material to show that the Communist strategy of “lure into the deep” was not an original idea from Mao Zedong. In this case it has application in discussing the identity of Ambrosius Aurelianus and how he fought. There is a good deal of debate about his identity (see below), but I tend to think that Ambrose came from a prominent local family with a history government service. In roughly the same time period and same conditions of invasion and break down of government in China we find a similar collapse of power and the resulting struggle among predatory and protective contenders.

To protect themselves and their communities against the [predatory bands of robbers], local elites organized their kinsmen and neighbors into militia forces. Many also followed the time honored response to trouble times and relocated to forts built on hilltops or in other easily defensible locations. One leader of protective forces was Lu Zushang…. He was the son of a [dynasty] general, and his family was wealthy and locally influential. Though still a teenager Lu recruited ‘stalwart warriors’ and pursued the bandits, with the result that they no longer dared to enter his district. He eventually established himself as governor of [the province]. [3]

So what this means is that in times, such the period around the Battle of Badon Hill, hills became more important. Local leaders often privately recruited armies under various degrees of legitimacy, which is why some historians called those forces robbers. They fought in a way that is clear identified as “hives of bees”, or “swarms of knats,” and used language to delegitimize their opponents. On top of that, for what it’s worth, the British historian Nennius from several centuries later said Ambrosius was the son of a consul, but it also gives him magical powers and talks about dragons so you can take that with a grain of salt. (chapters 40-42)

The other point involves the identity of Ambrosius. Much like the interpretation of the Entrada Stele, the furious debate about his identity hinges on a few words such as “being born in the purple” to the point that any confident assertion melts upon closer examination of the scant evidence. This has obvious application for critics of Book of Mormon historicity who seem to be experts in everything from philology to epigraphy to deny the Book of Mormon without showing any indications that they understand the rather sparse details that urge humility and caution more than bold declarations.

The agreed upon factors are relatively few, but based on the passage he was likely high born and a Christian. But anything past that gets complicated. Based on who wore purple the parents of Ambrosius could have been a minor member of an imperial line, a distant relative, or held the rank of Consul. The latter of course is what I think is closest based on my knowledge of military history and what the text describes. Church officials wore purple so he could have been a Bishop. Various studies into his name, such as the –anus ending suggests a possible adoption into the Aurelia family. He could have been related to St. Ambrosius, a prefect of Gaul called Ambrosius, and based a particular quirk of the Latin words in his description, he might have been born years before the Battle of Badon Hill in which he is described. In short, I find there is much more to learn about how Ambrosius may have fought and raised his forces than there is about his specific identity.

26: For as well the remembrance of such terrible desolation of the island, as also of the unexpected recovery of the same, remained in the minds of those who were eyewitnesses of the wonderful events of both, and in regard thereof, kings, public magistrates, and private persons, with priests and clergymen, did all and every one of them live orderly according to their several vocations. But when these had departed out of this world, and a new race succeeded, who were ignorant of this troublesome time, and had only experience of the present prosperity, all the laws of truth and justice were so shaken and subverted, that not so much as a vestige or remembrance of these virtues remained among the above-named orders of men, except among a very few who, compared with the great multitude which were daily rushing headlong down to hell,

This sounds a good deal like the Pride Cycle from the Book of Mormon. There are two ways to look at this. There are plenty of people who think this was copied in some way. One of my favorite sites is Book of Mormon studies archived by Mormon Think, where the sites a long list of comparisons that prove the book is copied. It tend to think those theories are kind of silly as a Jeff Lindsey parody showed. Something resembling a pride cycle is a standard part of history because it accurately describes human nature. People, politicians and armies get complacent during times of peace and prosperity and tend to forget the bad times. To cite a rather minor example, Las Vegas was called “ground zero” of the housing crisis, but currently has the hottest housing market in the country (and I’m getting several cold calls a week asking me to sell my home. I would if I didn’t have to then find new accommodations in this over priced market.)

So thats it. Based on my research I found the language used to describe the Battle of Badon Hill suggested there were far more things going on and we can reconstruct some it. The commentary from Gildas is also evocative and informative about Saxon invaders, human nature in times of peace and invasion and illuminates the text of the Book of Mormon.

Thanks for reading. What insights have you gained from the text? What texts would you like to see next in this series?

[1] Jin Yuguo, Zhongguo zhanshu shi [History of Chinese Tactics]. (Beijing: Jiefangjun

Chubanshe, 2002), 293-295. As cited by Russell, “Zhu De’s Early Career,” 142.

[2] Mao, On Guerilla Warfare, 54.

[3] Graff, Medieval Chinese Warfare, 161-162.


mormonchess said...

Morgan, this is fascinating stuff. Really good. Enough is here to write a decent sized book.

Morgan Deane said...

Thanks! I'm glad you mentioned that. I've considered putting all of these into a book. Something like, "Classical Commentary on the Book of Mormon." This is the first time I've written anything done but the idea is there.