Friday, December 17, 2010

Nephite Politics

I came across an interesting verse in my studies. In Helaman 11:8-9 we read:

8 And the people began to plead with their chief judges and their leaders, that they would say unto Nephi: Behold, we know that thou art a man of God, and therefore cry unto the Lord our God that he turn away from us this famine, lest all the words which thou hast spoken concerning our destruction be fulfilled.
9 And it came to pass that the judges did say unto Nephi, according to the words which had been desired. And it came to pass that when Nephi saw that the people had repented and did humble themselves in sackcloth, he cried again unto the Lord, saying...

But I have several questions. Why did the people have to plead with Nephi through intermediaries, "their Chief Judges"? Wasn't Nephi preaching among them? Couldn't the people have talked to Nephi themselves?

Mesoamerica often consisted of rival city states somewhat similar to ancient Greece. For example, Sorenson describes a King with "powers limited at best". The King still had to personally visit another King to gain an individuals release. Even a strong ruler often relied upon what is called the "hegemonic" style of government. Where the stronger power relies upon trusted local leaders to assert their control.[2]

Thus, based on both Mesoamerican politics and previous incidents in The Book of Mormon I believe that Nephi was in a city that was only nominally aligned with the central government. Since at one point the Gadianton Robbers gained "sole managment" of the government,[3] Nephi's message was not accepted, [4] and a previous governor established his government outside of Zarahemla, [5]I believe that Nephi was in a city with a righteous population and governor. Much like King Lamoni, if one ruler needed the subject of another ruler then he had to personally appeal to that person's King.

This reading gains strength when we read how the people "could not take him and cast him into prison" for he was conveyed by the "spirit".[6] In some cases supernatural explanations are provided for what otherwise is a rational explanation. In this case I believe it was due to his protection (body guard?) from a powerful ruler. And it was only through the allowance of that benefactor that Nephi could be reached.

I've often said that many criticisms of The Book of Mormon result in a shallow reading of it. In this case, carefully reading this verse suggests that the Nephites were not a nation as powerful and long lasting as the Roman Empire. But their dominance was rather transitory. And its possible that during this time the Nephites were not only an ethnic minority but often out of power as well.

Thanks for reading.

1. It looks like there is no # 1 but I'm too lazy to go back and change all of my footnotes.
2. John Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting For The Book of Mormon (Provo, Deseret Book 1985), 227-229.
3. Helaman 6:39
4. Helaman chapter 9
5. Alma 61:5
6. Helaman 10: 15-16


Michaela Stephens said...

I think you have a very good point about the people appealing to Nephi through intermediaries. This clears up one of the little nagging questions I've had for a while.

However, I don't know if I quite buy the bodyguard or benefactor explanation for being conveyed by the spirit. I think it was more a case of the crowd's "natural man" being subdued just enough that he could get away.

Keeping asking those questions though!

Gulen is a Fraud said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.