Sunday, March 15, 2009

Military Cause for the problems in the Book of Helaman

As part of being done with grad school I am now reading many books that I had to rush through in my studies. In "The Introduction to Ancient Warfare" Harry Sidebottom describes what historians call the "Agrarian Crisis" in the Late Roman Republic. I touched upon this subject in my post called "Full Time Soldiers", here I will try to better describe the salient features of the crisis and how it applies to the Book of Helaman and Third Nephi.

In the second and first centuries B.C. Roman armies (1) fought increasingly longer wars farther from their borders. (2) These wars allowed many rich landowners to increase the size of their holdings and caused many citizen soldiers to lose their farms while they were away. (3) These wars also imported large amounts of slaves and booty, that made the rich richer and supplied labor for these larger farms. (4) The now landless soldiers did two things: they congregated in the cities and supplied a market for the goods deriving from the big farms, or they found steady employment in the army. (5) Generals and soldiers had mutual self interest in fighting more wars that continued the cycle. They cycle was broken by (6) resettling the soldiers in distant colonies.

This is a very basic outline that leaves many things unsaid. But it does provide a basic model for explaining many of the events in the Book of Helaman. We start with longer wars far from home that required a greater number of full time soldiers. Many people were dispossessed in this war (1) as evidenced by the "regulation" that Nephite leaders conducted after the war. Many Nephites became "exceedingly rich" and Nephite society contained a growing number of specialists (lawyers, priests etc.) that connote a rising standard of living and complex society. (2) Many of these people could have grown rich by evicting small land holders. (4) The now landless and disgruntled population could have lead to the rise of a band of thieves described in the Book of Mormon. (5) While the large landowners increasingly defied the central authority. (continuation of the King men resulting in the overthrow of the Judgeship in 33 AD) The soldiers could have been more interested in the promises of booty that the thieves or rich landowners could provide more than the interests of the central government whose wars often lost them their lands. (6) Sorensons denotes in several places that the overpopulation of the Nephite heartland caused a resettlement to the lands in the North, like Hagoth and his colonies. I think it was an increasing number of landless former soldiers that sought to own land. Since at least one of these re settlements led to the rise of "king" Jacob, and General Moroni came south to lead the armies of the Nephites, it is internally consistent that at least some of these settlements were soldiers seeking a better life and more political freedom (perhaps a little too much?) than provided in the heartland.

Conclusion: The move of the Nephites from a part time force into an increasingly full time force led to several societal changes that included all the salient problems the Nephite nation faced in the Book of Helaman and Third Nephi: overcrowding, a rise of strong landholders, an increasingly complex society, the resettlement of Nephites or Nephite soldiers, the rise of Gadianton robbers, the lack of government contorl over their armed forces, and eventual fall of the government. Historiographically this shows how scholars can use warfare to achieve the same purposes as anthropologists like John Sorenson. And it shows how warfare is an underutilized tool in studying the Book of Mormon (see Apologetic Implications for more)

This is a rough model. I am still reading the Book of Mormon and looking for disqualifying and more specific verses. In the mean time, I invite comments or suggestions that will improve this thesis and help us better understand the Book of Mormon.

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