Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weakness in the Nephite Government

One of my colleagues has posted some excellent notes about the land dispute between Morianton and Lehi found in Alma 50. I like the holistic approach that she takes to analyzing the scripture. She mentions some possible historical factors and includes the spiritual application of the verse.

I want to take a slightly more narrow approach by contrasting the unrestrained passion of Morianton with the restrained passion of Moroni [1]. I will also use this incident to examine the strength of the Nephite government and the possible ethnic composition of the Nephite nation.

First, Micheala and I agree that the story of Morianton's short rebellion pivots on his unrestrained passion. For a more detailed summary and the original text you can click the link in the first paragraph. But the citizens of two cities went to arms over their respective borders. Morianton was going to lead his men north but he fell into a fit of rage and beat his servant, thus giving away his plan. With his plan uncovered Moroni sent a detachment under one of his best lieutenants to catch and defeat Morianton. The moral of the story points to the downfall of Morianton due to his unrestrained passion.

Moroni had a great deal of passion as well. In Alma 48 we read about Moroni's faith:

16 And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity.

The interesting part was in the word "resisting". It implies self restraint and control that is often associated with discipleship. This also links to a previous post where I discussed the need for restraint and refinement for a warrior to be truly successful. In this chapter, Moroni is linked with the successful prophets of God, and in the next two chapters he defeats an external threat through innovative fortifications and an internal threat through the unrestrained passion of his enemy.

Next, the fact that the people of Bountiful and the Land North would have joined Morianton argues for the weakness of the Nephite government and a minority of the Nephite nation being non ethnic Nephites. We read earlier in The Book of Mormon that the Nephites were outnumbered by Mulekites and the combined Nephite/Mulekite population was still less than half of the Lamanite population. The Nephite rulers also limited the Chief Judgeship to the Nephites. Thus there was a large minority population within the Nephite nation. Hugh Nibley and Micheal Hobby have pointed out that Morianton is a Mulekite name. And the real fear of Moroni concerning the Bountiful defection shows that the Nephites often only had power over their cities equal to the current military power. Empires throughout history have often lost control more distant provinces when their military is weak.

As the Book of Helaman demonstrates, the Nephites are no exception to this tendency. If not for the swift action of Moroni, the Nephites could have seen their government topple from a menace with strength in the north as they did later in their history (3 Nephi 7:9-13). So the potential for Bountiful to join the Morianton argues for the loose government control that the Nephite nation had over many of their cities. Also, Morianton was able to field his own army and command his own city, thus this episode shows that the government did not have a monopoly on using force, and that the discussion of household soldiers still apply. This could also lead to a discussion about the difference between a territorial and hegemonic empire, (coming later).

Thanks for reading. I invite your comments.

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