Monday, September 26, 2011

Spare the People

In studying my Chinese I came across an interesting verse. I didn’t recognize the character and after I looked it up it roughly translated into “treat leniently” (kuandai). So I looked at the English version in Alma chapter 47. After Amalickiah maneuvered himself into the command of the rebel Lamanite army he murdered the King, framed the King’s servants, and received a letter from the Queen.

It reads:
33 Therefore, when the queen had received [word of the King’s death] she sent unto Amalickiah, desiring him that he would spare the people of the city; and she also desired him that he should come in unto her; and she also desired him that he should bring witnesses with him to testify concerning the death of the king.

This verse presents all kinds of questions. If the Queen requested that he spare the people of the city this makes me wonder how often Lamanite armies sacked their own cities. The Queen also specified that “the people” be spared. Since the servants of the King were the assumed killers is it possible the Queen thought Amalickiah and the army would exact revenge upon the city? Was it a plea to avoid a civil war between the King’s royal family- the Queen and allies- and the leader of the main army? But then the Queen requests, or possibly orders, that Amalickiah bring witnesses of the King’s murder. And the next verse says that the witnesses “satisfied” the Queen. How much power did the Queen have? Was this more a negotiation between the leader of the army and still potent political leader? Hearing testimony suggests some sort of legal procedure. Was a trial a part of a ritual coronation?

These questions will keep me occupied for quite a while. What I can say now is that a transfer of power using the military often involved sacking the city as well. I can think pf a particularly vivid instance where barbarians captured the Chinese capital and the palace women committed suicide rather than be ravished in the looting.[1] The unexpected death of a sovereign often resulted in a mad scramble for power. The Queen could easily use her position and contacts to control the capital and remain in power. And Amalickiah could use the army as a platform to control the countryside and seize the capital. With rival bases of political power a desire to “spare the people of the city” could have been a coded political message to end the potential of a civil war. Finally, I have to do a great deal of study concerning ritual coronations and a possible legal procedure for doing so.

So what do you think? What are your answers to these questions and interpretation of this curious verse?

1. Peter Lorge, War, Politics, and Society in Early Modern China: 900-1795 (New York: Routlege Press, 2005) 53-54.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review: The Devil's Colony

The Devil's Colony: A Sigma Force Novel
James Rollins
479 pages

The Devil Colony: A Sigma Force Novel by James Rollins combines the historical mystery of National Treasure with the intensity of 24 in this action adventure about gold plates and American Indians. Aside from minor criticisms the narrative flows quickly and forms an almost nonstop series of action sequences that entertained and involved the reader to a point that I heartily recommend this book to interested parties.

Just like National Treasure movies the book starts with an excellent hook involving cloak dagger action on the frontier, Indian warfare, and the Founding Fathers. Quickly transporting the reader to the modern day a couple of teenagers stumble upon an ancient Indian cave and set in motion a chain of events involving gold plates, government conspiracies and ancient secret orders. This reader was confused as those that seemed to be candidates for the main character died or faded away quickly. The next few sections added to my confusion as the author introduced various members of the Sigma team. But once introduced the plot moved along in a compelling series of 24 style action sequences.

The book had several typos readily apparent to Mormon eyes. The BYU anthropologist that assists the government team in hunting down the ancient gold plates refers to the Church as the “Church of Latter Day Saints” and The Book of Mormon was translated by “John Smith”. There are also about a dozen f words and at least one s word in the book. While this is a paltry number compared to a standard hour in the Marine Corps it may be offensive enough to discourage the average Latter Day Saint reader. But in defense of that language, at a few moments in the book I felt like saying “hot damn” as I tried to catch my breath during the incredible action sequences.

The bread and butter of the series is its’ action sequences and Rollins does not disappoint. Some of the highlights include breaking out of Fort Knox, a series of encounters with a physically imposing and sadistic German mercenary, and a helicopter escape from an imploding island. There are codas that introduce the members of the team and a final few sections that introduce threads which will presumably fill the next book. Outside of several very minor criticisms I heartily recommend this book to friends and family. In fact I had to steal it back from my mother to complete this review.