Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Posted research

I was searching the FARMS site the other day and I found a page that posts some of their books online. Included on that page is the entire book Warfare in the Book of Mormon .

That is amazing news. Now I can direct people straight to the reference, and I don't have to buy it on Ebay for $200, I can also review it at my leisure instead of the two weeks I get as a non-student at SVU's Library.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wouldn't know a scholar if he beat you with his Harvard PhD

So I decided that I would finally comment over at that love shack known as CARM. I decided to re post one of my responses over here because I believe it shows several things. First, it details some steps for how you can tell if a scholar is credible (what press published their book, looking at a C.V., endorsements etc). Second, it references an article that details how Mormon scholars are perceived, which relates with trying to broaden the audience interested in Book of Mormon warfare. Third, I toot my horn a little bit and I never get to play, so this is a brief window into my academic pedigree. I also included the rather pathetic response. (I will not link to it because most of those people are so lame you can refer to the title of this post) Without further ado:

SVU is neither owned, operated, or funded by the Church of Jesus Christ. If you are going to make snide remarks about my education you should know the facts first. For instance, SVU does not have any history faculty that are LDS. My advisor is a Catholic that used to teach at Yale after getting his PhD from Harvard.

My graduate advisor works at the National archives. Dr. John Broom, a former professor at the U.S. Army War College reviewed and approved of my paper on a Mormon topic that was later published. My advisor in military theory is the head of research for the U.S Army's Strategic Studies Institute and is arguably the top Clausewitzean scholar in the world. His name is Anutlio Echevarria II, you can find his books on Clausewitz in any decent university library. He has his PhD from Princeton, and was happy to write a letter of rec for me and recommend my paper on Clausewitzean theory that was later published.

If you want to look up Hamblin you can easily find his C.V. It is very long and filled with many non Mormon publications. You can look up his book "Warfare in the Ancient Near East", its published by a non Mormon (and quite respected) printing press. I found a very positive review on Amazon in about 5 seconds. The cover of the book has positive reviews from a professor at Vanderbilt.

You can look up the editor of the series, Jeremy Black. His C.V. made my jaw drop, and Jeremy Black put his name on Hamblin's research. No scholar would do that for a crack pot they don't respect. Hamblin also used to teach at the University of Southern Mississippi, a school with a well regarded PhD program in military history.

Kelly Devries' CV is very easy to find. (I think its even linked to on wikipedia for crying out loud) He has published Hamblin's research as well. (you can find it on Again, no scholar would put their name or touch somebody with a ten foot pole that they did not respect. The academic world is all about dropping names or making a name, so getting somebody to associate himself with your work is a sign that a scholar respects you. A basic example of this principle is getting a prestigious scholar to write a foreword for your book.

All of this is fairly simple stuff that I should not have to explain. I only wrote this long aside to show that many MANY people, far more respected in their fields than you, respect our research. We don't suddenly become crackpots in their minds because we publish about the Book of Mormon. And in many cases, as detailed in an article by John Tvedtness called "scholarship in Mormonism and M in scholarship", they applaud our work even if they don't agree with our conclusions.

In short: burying your heads in the sand and declaring that we and our research does not count laughs in the face of many respected scholars who say that it does matter.[This is from another post but predicts the response very well] Unfortunately, I doubt you will even read [my blog], let alone engage mine or others research. Its far easier to simply ridicule us for daring to believe in the historicity of the Book and hi five the others that do the same or claim its "God's way" to mock those who disagree with you.

The response was typical, and ignored the basic fact that SVU is not operated by the LDS church and that we have credible scholars producing respected work in support of the BoM:
Oh, come now! To quote Sunstone, "All of the school's [Southern Virginia University] top administrators and all but three of its trustees are LDS."

That doesn't happen by osmosis, morgan.

And, frankly, scholarship re the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham does not exist outside of Mormon scholarship. Nobody else takes it seriously. A google search simply brings up pages and pages of [useless] Mormon apologetic sites because Mormonism has flooded the field lest people read anything that might question the required "follow the prophet" response. And Mormon apologists confuse their readers by substituting volume for quality. The usual Mormon sees so much material available and concludes that such extensive "documentation" would surely not exist unless it "proved" Mormonism historicity to be true. Wrong!

The fact remains that there is no association whatever between the Book of Abraham text and the Mormon published documents/"translations." All hopes for any type of historicity are based entirely on the claim that "the scrolls are missing." In fact, ALL Mormon scholarship is dependent upon non-existent "missing" documents. If real "evidence" exists, it contradicts Mormonism.

And even inside the camp, the division is currently very explosive, which gives me a bit of hope that some of the Mormon people may be recovering some of their God-given reasoning abilities.

When it comes to the Book of Mormon, Sunstone [again] did one terrific job of exposing the horrendous problems for the Mormon faithful in their recent article, Mapping Book of Mormon Historicity Debates—Part 1 . Part 2 is available to the Sunstone subscriber [recommended], but I have not seen it online yet.

I should also add that having Liberal Mormons make her argument belies that claim the we are all brainwashted and it personfies the "losing and not knowing it" argument that Mosser and Owens have made.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Myriads of Soldiers

Over at mormonheretic someone made a comment suggesting that numbers in the Book of Mormon could mean specific units instead of an exact count. I was somewhat surprised and skeptical of that notion....Until I was studying some Xenophon today.

Xenophon's book, The Anabasis, recounts the story of Ten Thousand Greek soldiers that were trapped deep in Persian territory and had to fight their way out. In that book, the Greek root of the word myriad actually refers to a Greek unit of ten thousand men. I only mention it because today we use myriad in an adverbial sense, such as "the myriad fish in the ocean". And it can also be used as a noun, as in the "myriads of soldiers". In both instances the original usage of myriad, meaning ten thousand is lost and replaced with an approximate use of the word.

Now I can see a case where the Book of Mormon uses a reformed Egyptian word that has colloquial meaning, but Joseph Smith translates the term literally into a number. It would be as though a modern translator took the opposite of what happened to myriad, they took a phrase that now means "many people" and literally translated it to ten thousand.

Thus there is one more nuance added to our understanding of numbers in the Book of Mormon. There is evidence from classical western sources that a specific term for a military unit can change meaning through time. I appreciate Firetag for raising the original question and I hope to see some of his research soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Open Invitation: Warfare 2.0

Some scholars have said that one third of the Book of Mormon is devoted to war. Yet only one book is exclusively devoted to the subject (and is now an out of print collectors item) This book was the product of a symposium held by The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormons Studies back in 1989.

There is a huge demand for the study of warfare in the Book of Mormon. Victory in the book was a product of superior faith, and defeat often the consequences of sin. Warfare touches upon every other subject as well. The composition of armies can use sociological tools, the funding of armies moves towards economics, the reasons for war meld into political science, the experience in battle give us insights into social history, students at war colleges can study the strategy of wars, the inclusion of women and families in Nephite armies can lead to gender studies, and the entire record contains elements of ethnocentric and class bias.

After doing some research of my own and viewing the lack of in depth research concerning this subject and the topics mentioned above, I feel it is time to rejuvenate warfare studies. With this intent I announce a Symposium on Book of Mormon Warfare. This is tentatively entitled Warfare 2.0 in the Book of Mormon, since this is 20 years later than the first symposium. I am looking for those who want to present original research that they have done concerning Warfare in the Book of Mormon (as stated above, this is a diverse topic). Parties simply interested in attending are welcome as well.

I want this symposium to be a place where like minded individuals can get positive feedback for their research, or simply enjoy listening to ideas. You should also mention your location, since I will try to plan it around the center of gravity for warfare scholars. Depending on the quantity of interested persons and quality of papers, I will also try to co sponsor this with outside parties such as FARMS or FAIR or even Southern Virginia University. I also want to invite one major LDS historian and a major non LDS military historian as keynote speakers.

Since this is in the early planning stages I have no date scheduled. I am located at Southern Virginia University, and nearby Lexington is hosting the Society for Military History Annual Conference a year from now,(this is the equivalent of the LDS General Conference for military historians) thus I am leaning towards the same general time and using SVU facilities.

In short, this a chance for all of you budding scholars and Book of Mormon enthusiasts to get your ideas heard in a constructive setting. This is also a chance to generate interest in a greatly neglected but ready to harvest area of Book of Mormon research. I look forward to seeing your comments.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Importance of Suffering

I found a very interesting verse as I was reading some ancient Chinese theory. In The Six Secret Teaching of Tai Kung we read of "ten errors" that a general possesses. We read that "being benevolent but unable to inflict suffering" is a fatal error. (Ralph Sawyer trans. The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, 62) This reminded me of Captain Moroni. He is often lauded for his ability to avoid bloodshed. But according to Tai Kung, his ability to inflict suffering contributed to his success, since "one who is benevolent but unable to inflict suffering can be worn down."

We read in Alma 61-63 that the King men had successfully worn down and taken control of the government. Moroni had different plans however. He speedily marched back to the capital, linked up with loyalist forces, defeated the rebels, and then executed the prisoners. He has been criticized and even called a war criminal for such actions. Yet his ability to inflict suffering won the war.

In a wider sense, we should be grateful that our Father in Heaven was willing to inflict suffering-so much suffering that Jesus prayed to have it removed. (Doc. &Cov. 19:18; 3 Nephi 11:11) And one of the main themes of the Book of Mormon is that the physical suffering can be replaced with spiritual salvation. Starting in the first chapter of the Book of Mormon we read that Jerusalem will be destroyed-but a Messiah will come to save the people. Physically they will meet disaster while being saved spiritually. At the city of Ammonihah the believers were burned, but accepted into the arms of a loving God. (Alma 14:10-13) And Moroni was the cause of sending so many souls to their God, where they still could have been saved spiritually.

I mentioned in one of my first posts, the Book of Mormon has a double helix of spiritual and secular messages. Moroni's ability to inflict suffering recalls the necessity of it in the mission of Jesus Christ. And the ability of his father to inflict it (through requiring the plan in the first place and then allowing it to happen) should be thanked. Moroni may seem like a harsh figure and the ability to inflict suffering is not normally praised among modern society, but his ability to inflict suffering secured the Nephites physical salvation as much as the Father and Son secured our spiritual salvation.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Jaredite Practice of War

After examining the concept that a body of thought existed among Jaredite society, examining how that compared to other ancient societies and how that knowledge transferred to Nephite society I intend to focus on salient features on the Jaredite Art of War. The following list are brief points that stood out to this reader.

Equipment of Battle: This includes shields, breastplates, headplates, and people "clothed" for war (Ether 15:15). There is no word beyond the steel swords in Ether 7:9 about what weaponry they used. Although quickly after that, Shule regained the Kingdom (for his father). This could suggest a new innovation in weapons that allowed Shule a tactical edge in battle. Sword and shield are mentioned in Ether 15 but the phrase sounds like a literary convention. More significantly, they "marched" to battle. (see mode of combat for the importance of that point)

Building an army: It seems that the armies were only mass conscripted towards the end of Jaredite society (Ether 14:15) Although, perhaps these were extreme examples due to incessant warfare. Armies seemed to consist of ones "kinsfolk" with possible the possible addition of short term conscripts. It is tough to say for sure, but many ancient armies consisted of a few well trained regulars augmented by masses of conscripts. See my discussion of full time soldiers for more.

Causes for War: Many of the wars were started for standard reasons: money and power. Ether 10: 5 describes the benefits of ruling- taxes, women, spacious building(and silk is mentioned elsewhere). But there were two types of usurpents, the first was a member of the ruling family that sought the kingdom and if successful, placed the previous ruler in captivity. The second kind assassinated the ruler through the use of secret combinations. Ether also points out the fact that rulers were killed "while on the throne" (Ether 9:4-5). I can't put my finger on it, but it seems the juxtaposition of secret combinations v. other usurpers, and killing the King while on the throne v. keeping them captive. The secret combination suggest something that is cultural abhorrent but widespread in competition with "proper" statecraft.

Additionally, one secret combination gave a ruler "strength" (Ether 14:8). This is a confusing statement, possibly this refers to the new conscripts that were recruited through the ties of loyalty in a secret combination. The first secret combination consisted of ones "kinsfolk" (Ether 8:13), this implies that a ruler's household soldiers were the first source of the armed strength. Perhaps this ruler gained strength by getting well armed and trained retainers as replacements who could act as a solid corps of the ruler's army.

Locations and mode of Combat: Many of the battles took place on the "Plains of Agosh" and the "Valley of Gilead". (Ether 13:29-30) A weaker power would hide in the wilderness and could negate a superior power in that location. In Ether 14:3-7 Coriantumr pursued his enemy into the wilderness and had to retreat and besiege it. After being defeated in battle Coriantumr had to hide in the wilderness. But it was productive enough that he could use it for two years to gain strength.

The final battle takes place at the Waters of Ripliancum. (Ether 15:8) The water and the wilderness are not conducive to Chariot combat. Chariots were the dominant weapon form the about the 18th century B.C. until cavalry combat much later. (3rd century B.C. in China, while in Europe the Phalanx became dominant around 300 BC) The terrain mentioned favors chariot combat and exposes its implied limits. Wilderness and watery or swampy areas prevent the use of the heavy weapons of the state. The southern Chinese and Greeks knew this, which is why they employed infantry heavy forces. And the final battle of the Jaredites conform to this principle- infantry combat in terrain that is difficult for Chariot warfare.

BUT, there is not a single mention of a chariot, let alone chariot warfare in the book of Ether, and there is only one mention of a chariot in the entire Book of Mormon. Alternatively, the warfare in the Greek mainland consisted of groups of infantry meeting for brief shock battles in the plains and valleys. Thus the terrain mentioned in Ether is also condusive to infantry only combat. And giving the lack of internal evidence for chariots, and possible lack of external evidence (depending on which geographic model you subscribe to) infantry combat seems the more likely mode of battle.

Conclusion: Considering that Moroni only wrote "a hundreth part" of Ether's account, its amazing that we have an account of warfare, from how and why they were created to where and how they fought.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nibley is still smarter than you

I ran across an interesting post the other day.

The author described how the writings of Hugh Nibley have been used and abused by "Nibleyphiles". The author makes a good point describing how a scholar becomes an artifact of his age and often becomes displaced by newer research. I agree with this point, since I hope that in 30 years my research will be engaged and then supplanted. He or she also has some obligatory nice things to say about his research.

But many more points disturb me. He or she insults those who read his research as having a "fetish". And the author seems to bring up this post in response to some argument they had with somebody who quoted Nibley. The author supposedly wants to "move on" past Nibley, but what was the original point that inspired this post, did the author engage it, or just wave their hand? This is quite a problem, because in the field of warfare in the Book of Mormon, Nibley still has research which historians need to engage. Nibley's Clausewitzean analysis of war in the Book of Mormon has not been critiqued or overturned by newer research. My research into military thought within the Book of Mormon has borrowed from his methodology here and here. Likewise, his battle analysis of the war chapters in Alma has only one other rival (Sorenson) and remains the gold standard for strategic study. His research into the ideology behind the Title of Liberty is still insightful this many years later. And his research behind Jaredite warfare remains relevant to Asian studies I have done in posts such as this.

In short, Nibley's research into warfare cannot be dismissed with a wave of TT's hand. Nibley's research continues to inspire and engage people even today. (I am simply discussing military history implications since that is my speciality) Its rather arrogant to act as though you were a British Nanny in pip pipping others into what you think are appropriate areas. Its also unprofessional to write a post that is ostensibly praising somebody (Nibley) in order to slam other people (Nibleyphiles)for being insufficiently academic. (This includes the comments that the post inspired) Plus it reminds this reader of a clique in the bloggernacle and their intolerance towards those that dare think differently or use non Kosher scholars. I do agree that some people simply load their gun with Nibley facts unaware of current research, but TT's post comes off as simply an arrogant dismissal.

And until somebody can show me work that engages and supplants Nibley's Clausewitzean analysis, battle study, and other warfare research, then Hugh Nibley is still smarter than you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Jaredite Art of War

I ran across a remarkable verse a little while ago but with all my research I could only get to it now. In the 13th Chapter of Ether we read:

15 And it came to pass that in that same year in which [the prophet Ether] was cast out from among the people there began to be a great war among the people, for there were many who rose up, who were mighty men, and sought to destroy Coriantumr by their secret plans of wickedness, of which hath been spoken.
16 And now Coriantumr, having studied, himself, in all the arts of war and all the cunning of the world, wherefore he gave battle unto them who sought to destroy him.

The verse implies an extensive knowledge of war that can and was studied. V. 16 suggests that there was a written body of knowledge that constituted an "Art of War". I suppose you could orally study war, but the other book by that name, Sun-Tzu's Art of War is thought to represent the written compilation of earlier thought. (It's also worth mentioning that some historians doubt the historicity of the author and the authenticicity of the book- See Ralph Sawyer: Seven Military Classics of Ancient China) Sun Tzu's book represented a conitnuity of thought from earlier generations that could also apply to China's chaotic military situation. (The Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Period)

Chronologically the "art of war" among the Jaredites matches well with other civilzations. Sun Tzu was thought to write his work around 500BC, and as already mentioned his work was thought to be a summary of accepted military principle. Herodotus and Thucydides both wrote later than Sun Tzu in the 4th century BC. Although purely military tracts came much latter in the Western world with the writings of Frontinus (50 BC) and Vegetius (300 AD). The destruction of the Jaredites around 400 BC puts their "art of war" texts as being read between 500-400BC.

There are more interesting details though. Apparently the Nephites obtained some of these records and tried to keep them secret. In Alma 37 we read:

21 And now, I will speak unto you concerning those twenty-four plates, that ye keep them, that the mysteries and the works of darkness, and their secret works, or the secret works of those people who have been destroyed...
29 Therefore ye shall keep these secret plans of their oaths and their covenants from this people, and only their wickedness and their murders and their abominations shall ye make known unto them; and ye shall teach them to abhor such wickedness and abominations and murders; and ye shall also teach them that these people were destroyed on account of their wickedness and abominations and their murders.

This also has ancient parallel. The Six Secret Teaching of T'ai Kung were considered revolutionary and the penalty of death decreed for anybody to have a copy. Many of these texts were locked away in vaults that only the privileged could access. (Unfortunately, many of these privileged were favored generals who had the means to employ the teaching against the Emperor) In the Book of Mormon, a brief topical search shows that a secret combinations first goal was a revolution against the state. Thus Nephite rulers would be wary of the tactics described in these teachings due to moral concerns, but practical political concerns as well. They necks were literally on the line and many of the threats to Nephite political control came from people with Jaredite names: Coriantumr and Gadianton being two prominent ones. So it is possible that 1. this knowledge was held elsewhere besides the 24 plates, 2. the knowledge was recreated through inspiration and practical experience ("put into their hearts" according Helaman 6:26), or 3. these were defectors who had the access to restricted records and used what they read when they later rebelled.

Option 1 could be reflected in the social stratification of Nephite/Mulekite society. They had the wealth and knowledge to make new plates or acquire old plates. Perhaps the refugees and remnants of Jaredite took whatever they could of value (like the search party that found the 24 plates in Mosiah 21:27)and sold it to the highest bidder. And Verse 15 of Ether 13 described "many mighty men" who rose up to fight the king with "their secret combinations". Thus the revolutionary aspect and wide spread knowledge of the practice is stated plainly. Option 2 is already suggested in the Book of Mormon. Option 3 has merit though. Many of the Chief Judges were murdered despite having body guards (and/or household soldiers). Thus the assassins had access to the Chief Judge, and many of the Gadianton robbers were leading politicians and lawyers (3 Nephi 6:21), they could also have access to sensitive material (and the ability to read them- 3 Nephi 6:12). Thus all three options have merit, and suggest that the Nephite Chief Judges had many internal threats to their rule and that they had more to worry about than a simple Lamanite hit and run attack.

Conclusion: The Jaredites had an ancient tradition of warfare that was most likely codified in written form. This suggestion matches the development of other ancient cultures and augments the historicity of the Book of Mormon. This knowledge was spread through one or all of several options, and the resulting difficulty for the Nephite lineage to remain in power is evident in the events described in the Book of Mormon and the names of the leading dissidents. This also corresponds to another ancient culture, and strengthens the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

As always, I invite further comments and questions, and stress that these are preliminary research notes. I am not married to any one thesis, and a bit of "thinking out loud" is implied.
Coming soon...the specific tactics involved in this art of war.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Modern Day Gadianites

I have had some good questions concerning the Gadianton robbers. The main ones concern modern day parallels. Thus I wanted to post some of my answers so more people could read them and get involved in the discussion.

Somali Pirates:

I don't think so. Their tactics suggest a similarity to modern day pirates (see 3 Nephi 4:1). But I believe that lots of warfare back then was hit and run. (See John Welch's summary in Warfare in the Book of Mormon for a brief synopsis of every conflict) The leader of Gadianton was educated (see the letter in 3 Nephi 3) and professed he had rights to leadership similar to the aspiring Nephite leader Paanchi in Helaman 1:13. And I argue that people "defected" because the social order of the Nephites would not allow their marriage, or they wanted greater economic opportunity among the Gadianton robbers. This was from former soldiers who did not have a chance to plunder (due to lack of wars or Nephite regulations influenced by the Church), and among the noble households that wanted more political and economic freedom. (because they could no longer "fake it" and get the benefits of belonging to the state religion, Helaman 3:33) Thus like the Zoramites a little earlier, they separated from the Nephites so they could obtain wealth by the power of their hands. Compare the prayer on the Rameumptom to the goals of the Gadianton robbers and notice 3 Nephi 1:29.

The Mafia:

In some cases I think that comparison works very well. Many bandit groups in Chinese history and the mafia operated outside of the law, were based on personal loyalty and had economic motives for their existence. They operated outside the law as they do today, and they often clash with the instruments of government power as they do today. In some areas they would also serve to protect the local population and even provide local government services(like in some areas of Iraq and Somalia).

Although there are some significant differences as well. Houesecarls and warrior bands were led by men who had both civil and military power. (The King, nobles, or regional warlords) It was also considered normal and acceptable to have an armed following. In modern times however, the mafia often operates with a "face", where they operate as a leading citizen during the day (or at least pretend to), but run their "business" and armed followers at night and in secret. The state also had a police force that serves to protect the public and operated in opposition to the mafia. The households soldiers often served as the instrument of the kings power, and served as a private loyal force to check the power of other nobles and quell bandit forces. Some noble's household warriors also served to protect the local population because their was no police force.

There is also a masters thesis done by a BYU student that compares the Gadianton robbers to the Mafia. I will take a look at it sometime and see what he has to say about it too.

The Taliban:

I think the Taliban currently operating in Pakistan would be the closest comparison. It is a state within a state. It has its own hierarchy and controls some territory and has its own military force. But it does this in the same sphere as the government forces and apparatus. In places where there is weak government control the mayor of the town is really just a figure head and the local Taliban commander is in charge.

So I would compare the Gadianton Robbers to military organizations that also have state functions (like Hezbollah) but significant ability to disappear, retreat or blend in. The power of many ancient governments rested in its military. There were no such things as police for internal control and the army for external threats, it was just the army. There were some governments in Medieval China that had little control outside of the military's operational capability. (The Former Qin Dynasty comes to mind) They had to co opt local rulers, thus Nephite defections would be serious if that was the case. And they could only defeat the robbers by gathering in a central location within direct control of its governor and commander.

But the early part of the Gadianton robbers history could be loosely compared to the mafia. They were based on loyalty and had secret codes. But I would compare them more to infiltrators that layed the ground work for later action. Mao said this would be the first phase insurgency. Second phase would be to gain direct control of some areas to build infrastructure. The third phase would be a conventional campaign to seize control of the government through regular warfare. So the first phase may seem like the mafia, but it still applies more to the Taliban or other paramilitary organizations that have potential and desire for state control. The mafia never wanted state control (only enough control to influence legislation but never to govern), they wanted to control business. The Pirates are also interested in getting money, they are socially motivated (often forced into it by warlords or poverty) but are not aiming to rival governments. In fact they only exist due to a weakness in government and extreme poverty, I don't believe they exist to take over the government. The things that do compare: loyalty or personnel following, seeking wealth, operating in secret or in hiding, hit and run tactics, etc. were things associated with other ancient armies and insurgent forces. Not necessarily the same as modern day pirates, gangs, or the mafia.

Conclusion: I don't claim to have a monopoly on information, I'm doing my best to answer the questions and establish some working ideas for studying the Book of Mormon. The Gadianton robbers had as much of a state as the Zoramites, Amlicites, and Amalikites or Taliban, they were called robbers due to a change in tactics, and I think because they were successful in destroying the Nephite state.

Thanks for the comments. Comparisons can be easy to make sometimes, but it is the differences and contrasts that really stand out. I appreciate the help in the form of questions in fully analyzing the Gadianton robbers.

Friday, May 1, 2009

War and Society of the Gadianton State

In speaking of the Gadiantion Robbers in chapter 11 of the Book of Helaman Mormon says that
33...they did visit many parts of the land, and did do great destruction unto them; yea, did kill many, and did carry away others captive into the wilderness, yea, and more especially their women and their children.

As mentioned in my previous post, this verse intrigued me. After a bit of research I have come to several conclusions:

1. When I mentioned the Sabine women from Roman history I was on the right track. Bride Kidnapping is common among many ancient cultures across the world. And the Book of Mosiah already described a clearer example of this practice. (Mosiah 20:1-5)

2. This practice is in line with many norms of ancient war. The winner of a conflict had jurisdiction over its inhabitants and usually slew the men while taking the women and children captive.

3. The first two points suggest the attempted creation of a rival state. The stealing of Lamanite women by the Priests of Noah started a new "ite" in competition with the Nephites and maybe even the Lamanites (See their attack on Ammonihah in Alma 16 for an example of the latter). And the power of the Gadianton robbers to take women and children suggest they had the basics of a state apparatus. (See 3 Nephi 3 for the educated letter from their leader and the control he had over his forces)

4. The capture of women and children could represent the need for labor of an arms industry (mining metal) or agricultural production (See Hamblin "Ancient Warfare in the Near East"). There is little direct indication of the creation of a Gadianton state, although this could be the cultural bias from Mormon rather than a reflection of the facts. Every other facet (such as the precedent set in Mosiah, the sociological implications of stealing captives, the application of rules of war mentioned in #3, and the economic implications in stealing wives discussed below) does lead to that conclusion.

5. The practice of captive brides also has several economic implications. According to the journals I read, sometimes the practice of stealing brides was simply a cover for a couple's elopement in order to satisfy cultural expectations. Many more times, the practice occurs because "the men who resort to capturing a wife are often of lower social status, because of poverty, disease, poor character or criminality. They are sometimes deterred from legitimately seeking a wife because of the payment the woman's family expects, the bride price [different from a dowry]". ( Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3 1974)

I have argued elsewhere that the increasing stratification of Nephite society led many of the have nots (or the "have not quite as much"ers) to forcibly rebel against the ruling powers, the Nephite Chief Judge and the Church, in order to equalize their share of the wealth. The abduction or absconding of Nephite daughters could be seen as the great destruction being visited upon the Nephites mentioned in v. 33. Their physical cities could be rebuilt, but the destruction of the Nephite lineage through defection to social and spiritual inferiors would be a greater insult.

And as I argued here, the increasing number of full time and landless soldiers in Nephite society would be seen as the dregs of society. Full time soldiers in the Acien Regime were on par with prostitutes and dogs (In fact businesses would have signs that read "No dogs, prostitutes or soldiers"- See Peter Paret "Makers of Modern Strategy" and John Lynn "Bayonets of the Republic") it would not be surprising that the famous soldier who scalped Zerahemnah and could give an extemporaneous sermon (Alma 44) would be replaced by a landless, uneducated (3 Nephi 6:12) robber with no loyalty to the central government.

In short,the practice of captive brides suggests additional insights into the economic motivations of the Gadianton robbers and reveals how the Nephites perceived their political enemies and social inferiors. In fact, it seems that if the Nephites defeated their enemies soundly (like the Amlicites in Alma 2) they were described as "ites" at least somewhat equal to the Nephites socially. But the increasing strength of the political enemies of the Nephite lineage and the possible defection of many parts of Nephite society to their cause results in the editorial insult by Mormon where he called them "robbers" instead of the Gadianites.

Conclusion: Helaman 11:33 suggests that the Gadianton robbers were building a state. They destroyed Nephite cities in a physical sense, but were seen by Nephites and Mormon as a threat to their families and social inferiors. The Church was unable to stem the rapacious desire for wealth among their leading houses and citizens which led to the rise of a new state filled with former soldiers whose economic situation deteriorated to the point of rebellion. Second tier nobles (the not have as much crowd) saw the growing income gap that equalled their political power gap and they allied with those disaffected full time soldiers to rebel and create a new state. This state was labelled pejoratively as robbers even though Nephite society often did the same thing only under the cover of government.

As always, I invite comment and constructive opinion as I refine my ideas and conduct more research.