Monday, December 9, 2013

Young Generals

[This is cross posted from the new and excellent blog, Ether's Cave.]
Modern readers of the Book of Mormon might wonder a bit at the precociousness of some of the military leaders. Moroni "was only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites." (Alma 43:17). Mormon says that when he was "fifteen years of age" (Mormon 1:15), "the people of Nephi appointed me that I should be their leader, or the leader of their armies. Therefore it came to pass that in my sixteenth year I did go forth at the head of an army of the Nephites" (Mormon 2:1–2).

 Other leaders were also young. The text reports that "Moroni yielded up the command of his armies into the hands of his son, whose name was Moronihah" (Alma 62:43) in the thirty-second year of the reign of the judges (see Alma 62:39). Moroni was twenty-five in the eighteenth year (Alma 43:3-4, 17) just fourteen years earlier. Even if we assume that Moronihah was born when Moroni was fifteen, Moronihah could not have been more than twenty-four when he took over command of all the armies.

 On the one hand, mortality rates in the ancient world were significantly higher than they are now. So individuals simply had to take over responsibilities at an earlier age. On the other hand, there may have been a cultural factor at play as well.

 Bernardino de Sahagun reports the custom among the Aztecs of sending young men to live in a "young men's house" (tepuchcali):

And when [he was] yet an untried youth, then they took him into the forest. They had him bear upon his back what they called logs of wood--perchance now only one, or, then, two. Thus they tested whether perhaps he might do well in war when, still an untried youth, they took him into battle. He only went to carry a shield upon his back.

 And when [he was] already a youth, if mature and prudent, if he was discreet in his talking, and especially if [he was] of good heart, then he was made a master of youths; he was named tiachcauh. And if he became valiant, if he reached manhood, then he was named ruler of youths (telpochtlato). He governed them all; he spoke for all the youths. If one [of them] sinned, this one judged him; he sentenced [the youths] and corrected them. He dealt justice.

 And if he was brave, if he took four [captives] then he attained [the office of] commanding general, [or] chief. (Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, Florentine Codex 3, appendix 5, in Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble, Florentine Codex [Santa Fe, NM: The School of American Research, 1952], 4:53.)

While Sahagun is writing about Aztecs, not Nephites, and about customs of a much later time, we do not know how far back the customs stretch. The custom, however, provides a plausible parallel for how a man could rise to be a commanding officer at an early age.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Imperial Patriots: The Book of Mormon War Chapters as a Catalyst for Imperialism

[This is an abstract for a paper I proposed to the Society for Military History and their theme of transformative warfare.]
The Book of Mormon primarily serves as a spiritual witness in the religious realm. But almost one third of the book is devoted to warfare.  Some sociologists have also described Mormonism as a new world religion.[1]  Yet the book, particularly its military passages, remains woefully understudied.[2]  At least in part this is due to the enormous spiritual baggage and bitter polemic debates that accompany the book.  But new research, such as that by Grant Hardy, has tried to bracket the claims of its truthfulness to better understand the complexity, beauty, and message of the text.[3] 

In particular, the Book of Mormon contains a dense series of chapters that follow a great war between the two principle groups, the Nephites and Lamanites. Both groups descended from two brothers, Nephi and Laman, who left Jerusalem around 600 B.C. [4] After journeying to the new world they split into two groups that frequently warred with each other until the Nephites were destroyed in the 4th century A.D. Living in the first century B.C., Moroni is described as leading the Nephites during a 14 year long period of intense conflict covered in a dense narrative section called the “war chapters.” His actions included creating a standard of liberty to rally his people, giving powerful political religious speeches that increased support for the war, merciful treatment of surrounded and surrendered soldiers, many outstanding battlefield victories, brilliant strategy and pre battle tactical maneuvers, and a respect for the rule of law. But his actions also included things that are not as sterling or had unintended consequences.   This included the use of preemptive warfare, increased use of (expensive) armor for his soldiers, increased use of fortifications, an expansion of the size of armies, execution of defectors, aggressive pursuit of decisive battle, a completely counterproductive negotiating strategy, using rhetoric that threatened a war of extermination against his enemies, and a threatened coup against the government. 

A careful reading of the war chapters suggests that Moroni initiated a series of actions that inaugurated an imperial period within the book, led to their eventual destruction as a political entity, and can be used by modern readers to justify an aggressive and interventionist American foreign policy. Examining the unintended consequences suggests a need for added caution in considering the merits of military action. A relatively short time before Moroni assumed military command, King Benjamin served as a “yeoman” ruler who boasted that he farmed with his own hand.[5] The Nephites ruled a relatively small area around their capital and had a single army. Yet a generation later, the Nephite people led by Moroni preemptively seized land during a time of peace, and preemptively sought to attack an enemy leader.  Moroni changed their armor and fortifications that made their military more effective in the short term, but more expensive to maintain in the long run. The Nephites also fielded multiple armies capable of operating in different theatres with Moroni as the chief captain. The necessary tax base to fund the armor and fortifications required more extensive territory, protection of trade routes and a larger military; these actions led to deeper debts and an overextension of their military. Even though the Nephite armies explicitly fought under a banner of liberty, they faced continued political unrest, increasing social stratification, oppression of the poor, and a growing insurgency they had trouble subduing.

Battlefield losses often inspire great soul searching and political, military, and cultural reform, while winning a war brings a whole new set of problems.  From Rome to Britain, to American policy after World War II, the burden of hegemonic leadership is often assumed vigorously after outstanding military victory, but often unravels from within due to the demands of money and men and a slow decay of society’s ability, and desire, to furnish them.  The Book of Mormon is a uniquely American text,[6] from a uniquely American religion that informs the voting habits of millions of Americans.  Thus a study of the war chapters suggests that Moroni initiated a series of actions that inaugurated an imperial period within the book, and can be used to justify an aggressive and interventionist American foreign policy, while at the same time shows a transformation that has been missed by military historians.

[1] Rodney Stark, The Rise of Mormonism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005). 
[2] Stephen D. Ricks, William Hamblin Eds. Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS Press 2001), is the only academically substantive book dedicated to warfare in the Book of Mormon.  Patrick Mason, David Pulispher, Richard Bushman, ed. War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives (Draper UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), is a more recent addition but it has very few chapters on the Book of Mormon and only one from a military historian. 
[3] Grant Hardy, Understanding The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).
[4] Bracketing truth claims I can either report the dates and actions of the characters with the Book of Mormon faithfully, or add a “supposedly” or “reportedly” in front of every fact in the book.  For the sake of brevity I will simply report what the book said. Serious skeptics and non believers of the book can feel free to add those qualifiers and keep in mind that the entire volume is a fantasy fiction of Joseph Smith.  
[5] Scott, G. St. John. “King Benjamin and the Yeoman Farmer” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 39 (1988), 1-26.
[6] This is due to its focus on at least some part of North or South America being type of “promised land” similar to the land of Israel described in the Bible.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Book Review: Shanghai 1937- Stalingrad on the Yangtze

It almost sounds like the beginning subtitle to an Indiana Jones movie. But instead it is my new book review on behalf of the Michigan War Studies Group.  Thanks for reading. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Henry the V, Hummers, and the Book of Mormon

Why don't you "pray" to know if some purported history has Henry V going into battle at Agincourt in a Hummer is TRUE?? Are you so certain that new evidence (for Hummers several centuries ago) won't come forth to change the thinking of experts? How limited is THAT kind of thinking??  In other words, you haven't been paying attention: the BOM is FULL OF ANACHRONISMS, just as bad as Henry riding in a Hummer.”[1]

This is fairly typical of the kind of mockery that critics heap upon the Book of Mormon.  But I’ve been going through storage that includes hundreds of books. So I recently read several about the Hundred Years War. This was a conflict between England and France that, naturally, lasted on and off for 100 years. It started in the 1337 with Edward III trying to expand England’s holdings and independence in Southwestern France.  They quickly won several outstanding victories including ones at Poitiers and Crecy. Agincourt was another outstanding victory in 1415 that ensured the French would continue to try and avenge their loss.  Shakespeare’s Henry V immortalized the conflict by embellishing items like the St. Crispin’s Day speech. This includes the famous line, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” This period witnessed the rise and murder of Joan of Arc as well. The conflict ended in 1453 when the more widespread use of cannons ousted the English from their fortifications.  This was also the same year as the invention of the printing press and the fall of Constantinople.    

So naturally it sounds ridiculous to think that Henry the V had hummers. At first I thought about it facetiously.  If one of the soldiers was humming on a wagon, to the point that he was nicknamed "the hummer" then it wouldn't be an anachronism. It would be somewhat weird, but not laughably outrageous as the critics imply.   But then I remembered there was a prominent group in England called the Lollards. Some think the word comes from the Dutch for mumbling or English for singing softly, similar to the word lullaby. This described a group of people that followed the heresies of John Wycliffe.  I looked a little deeper, and the Gesta, a medieval chronicle and one of the earliest sources for the battle, discussed Agincourt in the same space as the Lollards.  So the idea of people who hum, or hummers, at the battle of Agincourt might not invite derision.

I know this author meant the vehicle, but the funny thing about language is that one word can have many different variations and mean various things. If somebody is unfamiliar with the language, unfamiliar with the history, and the text has no clarifying passages, they might think that hummer meant the vehicle, which is something they could laugh at and mock; but it could really mean another thing that actually enhances our understanding of the text. Just like hummer could mean the anachronistic vehicle, or it could be another term for a Lollard. A chariot in the Book of Mormon could mean what you see in Ben-Hur, but it could actually mean a carried sedan or litter accompanied by a ceremonial war animal. The first invites derisions since common knowledge assumes they didn’t have the wheel.[2] But the second actually enhances our understanding of the text, and helps us overcome faulty assumptions.

I should add that in order for critics use of the hummer to work, they have to do what critics usually do- insist upon one and only one meaning of a word. So hummer can only mean the vehicle. But language doesn't work like that. If I walked into a British bar and asked for a football game, they would not show RGIII and the Redskins. It wouldn't be called a bar either, but it would be a pub. When asked for a football game they would show what Americans would call soccer. So one word can contain multiple meanings for people who speak the same language in the same era. The same word can mean many things especially when working with two different languages from different eras as translation texts are, and as the Book of Mormon purports to be.

The reader can identify the exact meaning of terms if there are passages that provide context. Unfortunately, terms like chariot in the Book of Mormon don't have the clarifying context that this critic provided for hummer. He started calling it the “internal combustion kind” of hummer. But when the word chariot is used within the text, there are no discussions of wheels, no discussion of how exactly it was used, what the animal associated with it was used for, what it looked like and so forth. In fact, there are only several mentions of chariot in the entire text outside of the Isaiah chapters. Alma 18: 9, 10 and Alma 20:6 says that horses and chariots were made ready.  3 Nephi 3:22 said that the people took their chariots to their appointed meeting place. 

So critics insist that chariot has to mean the Ben-Hur kind. Even though a reader who strips away the assumptions gained from popular knowledge would not know what exactly was being described. When a person studies the passages context a new picture emerges. Mesoamerican Kings were often carried on a sedan. The word chariot actually means several different words in Hebrew, including litter or sedan. Mesoamerican kings also travelled to war with a ceremonial animal designated as a war token.[3]  So stripping away our assumptions of what the text should mean, it is just as likely that the term chariot refers to a carried sedan used by elites for transportation, accompanied by a battle beast or ceremonial war animal.[4]  This enhances the text since 3 Nephi 3:22 actually described a massive preparation of the Nephites for battle.

In short, when a critic attacks the Book of Mormon by using such obvious anachronisms such as hummers at the Battle of Agincourt, or chariots in Mesoamerica, a person should study the language, history, and any clarifying passages to better understand the text. Because you might find out that Henry V did take hummers to battle.   

[1] CARM Discussion Board. Father JD October 10th 2013, (Accessed, October 12th, 2013.)
[2] John Sorenson, though,  has discussed extensive evidence for the wheel in pre Columbian Mesoamerica.  John Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2013) 350-356.
[3] See Lintel 2 of temple 1 at Tikal.
[4] Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007) 4:287-288.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Mormon's Codex

Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book by John Sorenson is the culmination of his lifetime of research into the Book of Mormon. Sorenson uses the correspondence methodology, used by Biblical scholars like William Dever, to place the Book of Mormon into Mesoamerican history. (7) Using extensive, and some would say, exhaustive, research Sorenson has admirably succeeded in his goal.

Paradigms don’t change in a day, but I find it hard to believe that many of the academic articles of faith concerning Mesoamerica remain after this.  For example, Sorenson summarizes and then caps previous research concerning pre Columbian contact with plants, diseases, and oceanic travel that make it hard for anybody to question the occurrence of diffusionist events.

His book is divided into three sections.  The first details his methodologically paradigms. These include such things as where to look for correspondences.  This was one hundred pages that went by surprisingly fast; and a preliminary review of that section is found here:

The second section examines correspondences by topic.  And the third part examines correspondences from archaeology and history.  While this reviewer has read the entire book, with a specialty in military history I will focus on chapter 18 and the warfare correspondences listed therein. I will highlight the material that caught my eye, the way it interacts with my research, and humbly, a few points he may have missed.     

Finding Evidence of Battles

As I said here, evidence for battles is notoriously hard to find.  I even mentioned the Battle of Hasting in previous discussions.  So I nodded vigorously when Sorenson quoted Dr. William Rathje’s description of archaeologists digging at Hastings, one of the most studied battles in history, and finding a few teeth instead of the trove of weapon and armor. (383, fn 9) Of course this won’t stop critics from leveling the same charge to dig at Cumorah for an easily findable cache of weapons and armor, but it reinforces the idea that this book is a must read for those that wish to study the Book of Mormon.

War Chiefs

 Sorenson described how the Yuctan Maya called their local chiefs batabs, which the Spanish translated as Capitan, or Captain in English. (395)  The term nacom is translated as war chief. (395-396) There were many words that Smith could have used for leadership positions, but captain and chief captain seemed particularly poignant based on these Mayan terms. 


Sorenson described how the Quiche rulers of highland Guatamela conceptualized their soldiers as “sons.” (396) This is very interesting and something I noted in preliminary research in two other places. The Chinese also used familial conceptualization.  In their case it was designed to instill discipline in raw troops. In Confucian society each member of society had a duty to abide by the proper forms of conduct (li). So a ruler had to be a good ruler, a father a good father, a son a good son, and so on. So calling recruits sons would instill the same sense of obedience they likely learned growing up, and would enhance the authority of a new commander.  Abiding by the proper forms of conduct also induced greater power in the soldiers.

Finally, the military theorists that advocated these policies lived during the Warring States period. Armies increased in size, so this was an additional attempt to instill discipline in armies that were growing bigger.  Since this is the first period in Nephite history that recorded multiple armies in multiple theatres, it would make since that new soldiers, and a new commander, would adopt a father son relationship. So I think Sorenson touched upon something that is far stronger than he realized.


I’ve discussed numbers in several places. Sorenson repeated a few of the points I made concerning the unreliable and often inflated numbers.  But he added important evidence from several Mesoamerian groups that could form large armies.  The Quiche force that fought the Spanish numbered about 232,000. (397) Almost exactly the amount listed by Mormon.  The Aztecs raised 400,000 for a routine campaign.  Another Aztec army reprorted 700,000 men.  The one I enjoyed the most was a Tultec war that witnessed 5,600,000 deaths. (398) I enjoyed reading this numbers a great deal, as I’ve often argued that ancient realms could field and kill large numbers and even millions of people, and I plan on incorporating this evidence into my discussion of numbers in the future.

Prearranged Battle

The Mayans often scheduled their battles according to anticipated astronomical phenomena. The final battle would have been 1000 years after a significant date like the arrival of Lehi in the New World.  Sorenon also cited the prearranged battle with the Amlicites. I touched upon the Amlicite example; though I added a thought that perhaps it was prearranged only because the rival cities were close to one another similar to Richmond and Washington during the U.S. Civil War, and there was little other strategy besides attacking the opposing capital that made guessing about this battle rather easy. 

Camp Followers

Sorenson discussed the camp followers that normally accompany an army using Alma 56:28 among other verses.  (420) Alma 56:28 talked about supplied being delivered for soldiers and their families, which inspired a paper and now book chapter.  So I agree, but there are more implications than Sorenson listed. Since they didn’t carry armor and weapons they could carry more food and provide much needed logistical support.  Bringing along their women and families increased the moral of soldiers.  Moroni also invoked a support of their wives and families in the title of liberty, so this could have been a psychological prop for the soldiers. If the Nephites were defeated their families in the nearby city would be the first to die so it would inspire them to fight harder.

I also suggested that this could have been a military colony.  Some critics have argued that the war chapters represent an anachronistic standing army, but this could be an attempt to move soldiers into the area on a long term basis without keeping them active. As a military colony they would have gone back to farming with their families around the city when the war ended, but would be available for additional duty pending renewed conflict. So the presence of wives and children could mean a great deal more than simply telling us about the organization of the army. 

Battle Standard

Sorenson discussed a battle standard attached to an army’s leader.  But surprisingly he only spends a short paragraph on this. (421)  David Freidel described how Mayan armies also used a battle standard.[1] Friedel described it as a standard that represented and was infused with the power of deity. So in addition to an army losing because of the death of their war chief, the perceived loss of divine favor would also compel their retreat. On top of that, some monuments in Mesoamerica were ritually destroyed upon defeat, with some figures actually having holes in the back where standards could be placed when they were thrown down.[2] (Compare to Alma 51:20)


Sorenson’s research displayed impressive depth and scope, and I couldn’t help but remember the quote about critics losing the battle without knowing it. Sorenson also called this a “benchmark for future researchers.” (xvii)  So in many cases his benchmarks validated the research I had already done, and left the door open for me to dig deeper using my specialized knowledge of military history.  I’m grateful to have additional research and sources which enhance my study and I highly recommend his book for those that wish to study the Book of Mormon. 


[1] David Friedel,  "May Warfare: Myth and Reality." California State East Bay University Resources. (accessed January 2008,). This link no longer works.  
[2] Golden, Charles, “The Politics of Warfare in the Usumacinata Basin: La Pasadita and the Realm of the Bird Jaguar.” In Ancient Mesoamerican Warfare, edited by Travis Stanton Kathryn Brown, 293-301. Balitmore: Little Field Publishing, 2003.(43) My research notes are a bit unclear, I will continue to look at this one.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sun-Tzu, The Book of Mormon, and Translation

So I had a great idea for a post that had been stewing for a long time. (In fact, it had been so long it took me about 20 minutes to unbury and find my notes.)  It was about the martial legacy of Gideon in the Book of Mormon. But I realized I had been wasting far too much time on a discussion board in rather pointless arguments with critics. So I decided to try a little experiment.  I wondered how much more productive I could be if I focused on the most important things first.  So I ignored that discussion board and a few hours, 10 pages, and 3,000 words later I had something much longer than a blog post. It turned out so well I'm now polishing "Gideon's Legacy" for submission as a journal article. 

As a result though, I didn't have the blog post I had intended. I did however, find an excellent post about Sunzi and the translation of the Book of Mormon.  Since I'm familiar with and published about both texts I thought he made some very interesting points.  I hope you enjoy his thoughts and thanks for visiting.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Research Roundup

I had quite an exciting couple of weeks while on vacation, so I thought I would give you the update on what is going on. 

PhD Program

That's right! The first morning of my vacation I got into the MPhil/PhD research program in War Studies at King's College London. The school is in London but it is also a "blended learning" program which will allow me to continue to teach and live here in Las Vegas. I will travel there at certain points and complete the research and writing of my thesis on my own.[1] The British PhD is different in that I won't complete any coursework or work as a teaching assistant, I simply have to complete the research and writing.

This presents several challenges since the hiring committees here in America might not be as willing to hire somebody without the teaching experience and broad fields of study. But I think that my years of teaching experience, and the many different classes I've taught will mitigate that fear. My study in London on a Chinese topic will provide the ability to organize study abroad programs on several continents.  My friend with a graduate degree from a British school also says that the overseas degree is "sexy" and still desired, so I think I'll be okay despite the differences in the course of study to gain the degree.

And I also have to worry about funding for the program. There is little internal funding available to cover tuition, though there is some for conference travel and research. I have also found several programs that will assist in money for travel and research. Through some or all of the following such as obtaining funding from my employers, the VA (or GI Bill), the Nibley Fellowship, Fullbright Fellowship, additional student loans, or personal funding I should be able to pay for it. If you know of any sources that may be of use please let me know. Of course I have come this far by trusting in God- I never thought I would gain entry into one of the top graduate programs in the world- and I'm confident that a solution will present itself.

I will be studying the military history of the Jiangxi Soviet. Founded in 1927 and abandoned by 1934 in the Long March, this area witnessed the early leadership of Mao Zedong and Zhu De in their Communist insurgency against the Nationalist government. It will determine the degree to which Mao deserves his status as a brilliant strategist. Since the two leaders were often conflated into one person called Zhu Mao, I seek to study both the strategic and tactical planning as well as the execution of Soviet military operations to better determine the merits of their respective leadership. Finally, since the doctrine of People’s War affects the local population I seek to examine the impact of Soviet military operations on the people of the Jianxi Soviet.[2] Of course, insurgency is also a "sexy" topic in military history and with the public, the rising status of China makes this timely as well.  Scholars have also said that this period is "more or less wide open."  Moreover, I was stunned to find out that many of the sources I need are translated into English. So even though I've been studying Chinese for years, I don't have to rely on it as much as I thought.

Ender's Game

The day I got back from vacation my article on Sunzi and the military logic of Ender Wiggin was published and a copy was sitting on my doorstep.[3] I wrote the article towards the end of 2011 and did edits during the middle of 2012, so it is good to see it out there in time for the movie.  Even though I have "arrived" in a sense, it is still humbling to see my name in print.

Russia at War and Military Philosophers 

While on vacation I received an email from ABC-CLIO press that asked me to update my address and which gave me the publication dates for the two encyclopedias.  I wrote three articles for the various books: The first on the Chinese military philosopher Qi Jiquang from the late 16th century.  The next two were on the Chinese Soviet Border Conflict of 1969, and the Ussuri River Skirmish.  Again, it is humbling to be involved in a quality publication. And since these are reference volumes bought by schools, in a sense I can say I "wrote the book" on subject. 

Warfare 2.0

This volume is a collection of essays on the Book of Mormon from various military historians and interested individuals I have come across.  It is slightly smaller than I envisioned but I am very excited to hear back from the Interpreter.  Again, I am humbled by so many great people that contribute to the project and look forward to seeing the final form it takes.

Ancient Warfare and Modern Lessons

This is my personal effort on warfare in the Book of Mormon. Since the email agreeing to publish my manuscript, I still haven't heard anything back from the editor at Kofford Books. But as you can see above, the publication process often takes a long time so I'm waiting patiently for them to get to my manuscript. Ironically, it looks like I will have two of the chapters in that book published elsewhere by the time it hits bookshelves.[4]

Thanks for reading.  As I talked about the insurgent medium, publishing in more established venues takes much longer and requires much more work. As a result I don't always publish as much here but I appreciate your reading support a great deal.

1. The PhD dissertation in England is called a thesis.  This will most likely be conducted at the Hoover Library located at Stanford. They have an excellent collection on East Asia there and a huge collection of microfilmed records that I need.
2. I can send a copy of my research prospectus upon request. It is about 5 pages that summarizes the question, existing books, and sources I will use.  Reading it gets me excited for my research. 
3. The only review so far complained that my essay is like a Chinese buffet, which I found annoying. 
4.  It is ironic because several presses rejected the book and one reviewer slammed my book in harsh terms. Yet I've managed to publish large parts of it including the controversial defense of preemptive war.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Eat This: Logistics in the Book of Mormon

Mormon doesn’t include many details in his narrative of the destruction of the Nephites, his most frequent refrain is that he doesn't want to dwell on the war they are losing; but in a letter to his son we do get an interesting tidbit. Moroni 9:16-

And again, my son, there are many widows and their daughters who remain in Sherrizah; and that part of the provisions which the Lamanites did not carry away, behold, the army of Zenephi has carried away, and left them to wander whithersoever they can for food; and many old women do faint by the way and die.

This verse is intriguing for several reasons. I first thought of it in response to a critic attempting to describe how logistical problems of feeding groups as large as the quarter million mentioned in chapter six would be impossible and lead to starvation. According to his logic therefore the Book of Mormon was obviously a fiction from Smith’s mind.  So while the account was rather brief, in one of the most detailed letters we do see examples of logistical problems that led to combat over limited provisions and starving civilians.[1] Of course, chapter 9 also mentions acts of cannibalism on both sides, so the assumption that they were living on a normal diet, and would need the normal amounts of food listed in such places as Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, Supplying War, and even Aztec Warfare wouldn’t apply in this situation.[2] On top of this, the prisoners taken by the Lamanites were only fed the flesh of their relatives. (Moroni 9:8) So what we have here could be the practical implications of excessive war in addition to spiritual decay.

Moreover, I’ve often compared the large numbers in the Book of Mormon to the Chinese War of the Eight Princes. Unsurprisingly, their bloody war featuring massive numbers of people and the end of a nation also featured cannibalism. As I wrote in chapter one of my upcoming book (highlights added):

The Princes of the Jin dynasty laid waste to the rival cities. The citizens in and around the capital city of Luoyang were almost continuously looted, raided, starved, eaten, conscripted and attacked by Chinese and barbarian forces until one of the largest cities of the 3rd century world and most prosperous regions was desolate. The city of Luoyang had an estimated 600,000 people, and the army may have had as many as 700,000 people at the start of the war. And even suggested peace plans and the heads of rival generals couldn’t stay the slaughter.

And contemporary and later Chinese historians recorded:

By the [end of the war] trouble and disturbances were very widespread….many suffered from hunger and poverty. People were sold [as slaves]. Vagrants became countless. In the [provinces around the capital] there was a plague of locusts…Virulent disease accompanied the famine. Also the people were murdered by bandits. There rivers were filled with floating corpses; bleached bones covered the fields…There was much cannibalism. Famine and pestilence came hand in hand.

The verse also mentions several armies. The Lamanites are naturally listed. But then he mentions the army of Zenephi. This doesn’t seem like a Lamanite army or Mormon wouldn’t have listed it right after them. So it is either an independent army from another power, or a Gadianite army. Mormon uses the term “my army is weak” in the next verse and laments that he could no longer enforce his commands. So we may infer that he commanded that the widows, and civilians in general be protected and provided with food. But the Nephite army led by Zenephi disobeyed those commands and took the supplies they needed. (17-18)

Notice also, how close this commander’s name is very similar to Nephi. A brief search of the term suggests it is a hybrid Egyptian and Hebrew name meaning, “one of Nephi.” But given this is an apostate general I like the Hebrew term that means “one of lighting.”

Strategically this implies that the Nephites were pressed on several fronts. All the armies were close to the tower of Sherrizah, but Mormon could not reach it. So the Lamanite army occupied what is called the central position. This allowed the Lamanites to shift and mass their forces between the army of Mormon and that of Zenephi as necessary. While the Nephites armies would each have to attack on their own. Since Zenephi is not following the orders of Mormon it is unlikely that would work. Napoleons early campaigns in Italy, and Stonewall Jackson at the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic used this to maneuver to great effect.[3],_1862.png

Mormon also mentioned that he lost several choice men in battle. These could be previously loyal commanders of other armies. Or it could be sub commanders in his army. Again using the American Civil War and Napoleonic Wars, as the war dragged on the brilliant commanders like Lee and Napoleon increasingly had to rely on less capable and less trustworthy generals. This trend could only have been worse in an ancient society, and one like the Nephites where I’ve argued before that they were only a dominant city state of a coalition than a large hegemonic power like the Romans.[4]

Finally, we realize more about Mormon as a man. He cares deeply about his people, and the only details of battle he gives are the loss of righteous men, the horrible treatment of prisoners by forces on both sides, and the suffering of widows. While he was a commander capable of earning the respect of his people and was given leadership at a young age. He cared more about the spiritual welfare of his people. Given the horrors he witnessed and constant fighting it is amazing he held to a belief and hope in Christ. While all of my strategizing is good, it is better that we remember the struggle that Mormon and Moroni truly cared about, the salvation of their brethren. Thus a nuanced and detailed analysis of the Book of Mormon helps us understand its many dimensions, but also gives us additional context and a deeper understanding of its primary mission. Thanks for reading.

[1] This has important anthropological implications as well, since fighting over limited resources is one of the reasons given for conflict in society. 
[2] Engles, D. W. (1978). Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Berkely: Univeristy of California Press. Creveld, M. V. (1977). Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton. London: Cambridge University Press.  Hassig, R. (1988). Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control. Norman, London: University of Oklahoma Press.
[3] I’m glad my Master’s Thesis on Stonewall Jackson is still useful.
[4] This thought is expanded upon in chapter two of my upcoming book.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Feminized Courage and other Gender Ideas from the Book of Mormon

In one of my more sarcastic moments I thought I should write some sort of feminist study of the Book of Mormon. But the more I started thinking about the topic the more I realized how fruitful it could be.

Whore Imagery:

In both Nephi’s visions (1 Nephi 14:12) and in a talk from Alma the Younger to his son there is a discussion of whores and harlots.(Alma 39: 3, 11) The sexual impurity contrasts with the laws of purity that described by John Welch.[1] He cites scriptures in the Law of Moses about being ritually pure (Deuteronomy 23:9; Joshua 3:5) and Book of Mormon verses with related concepts. These include Captain Moroni insisting that his soldiers not “fall into transgression,” (Alma 46:22) and the exceeding faith and purity of the Stripling Warriors. (Alma 53:21; 57:26) One of the central promises of the Book of Mormon concerns those that prosper for keeping commandments. Hence sexual impurity would stand as a significant loss of virtue and strength.

A Women’s Tale:

In the very beginning of the story, in Mosiah 9:2 Zeniff has to relate the sad tale of civil war and strife to the new widows. Before facing battle Zeniff hid his women and children in the wilderness. (Mosiah 10:9) Underlining the importance of sexual purity and honoring covenants, one of the first things King Noah does is begin take many wives and concubines. ( Mosiah 11:2) The soldiers of King Noah were forced to leave behind their women and children. (Mosiah 19:11) These soldiers were so angry they rebelled and burned King Noah at the stake. (Mosiah 19:19-20) The remaining soldiers that didn’t flee with King Noah put their women in front of their army to mollify the Lamanite force. (Mosiah, 19:13) (That tactic worked which raises all sorts of questions.) In Mosiah 20:1-5 the priests of King Noah abduct Lamanite daughters. (In chapter two of my book I suggest this is an early version of bride stealing- see also Helaman 11:33.) The people of Limhi are blamed and then attacked and they fought with extra vigor for their women and children. (Mosiah 20: 11) (This of course, predates the famous Title of Liberty, and also underscores the same tactic used by Mormon, Mormon 2:23-24) And towards the end of the story in Mosiah 21:17 we find so many widows that the remaining men had to support them.

Upon closer reflection it seems the fate of women and children are closely intertwined with the entire story of the people of Zeniff. Their inclusion accounts for motivation of many of the actors, adds pathos to the major events, and makes this one of the more inclusive and humanistic accounts in the Book of Mormon. This is so intriguing I will likely transform this into a full paper.

Masculine Courage?

The famous Stripling Warriors often give credit to their mothers for their victory. (Alma 56: 47-48) What is interesting is this feminized origin of martial bravery. Many narratives would place the origins of courage in a father based setting. Perhaps the warriors learned courage from hunting with their fathers, (see Enos 3) or from a campaign on which they accompanied their fathers as children. But here they learned battlefield courage from their mothers. This could represent the somewhat unique situation where their fathers refused to take up arms. So the Stripling Warriors had little chance to witness combat from their fathers. Or this could be an intriguing lesson from Mormon. It could act as a subversive teaching that undercuts the idea that fighting is exclusively man’s business. One of my favorite Disney songs is “Be a Man” from Mulan, since by the end of the movie the soldiers are dressed like women and following the lead of the female protagonist. The reference to mothers could also undermine the idea that people need to fight in the first place. After all, the pertinent teaching here is a trust in God, which is similar to idea of surrendering our lives, and control of our lives, to the care of Heavenly Father found in step three of the LDS recovery program. (See also Alma 61:12-13)

Token of Bravery:

In one of the last chapters of Moroni we read about the horrible treatment of women and children in probably the most graphic verses in all of scripture. The Nephite women and children are held captive by the Lamanites and forced to eat the flesh of their slain husbands or fathers. While the Lamanite women are captured, raped, and then eaten ravenously as a token of bravery. (Moroni 9:8-10) The phrase, token of bravery is interesting and makes me wonder what other tokens of bravery they had. I know for example that many of the elite Aztecs wore the bones of their dead enemy, and rather colorful clothes. The word token is also associated with the temple, so I wonder if this is some sort of perverse ceremony that took place in the corrupted Nephite temples. Sacrifices to the gods were a part of pre-battle rituals of Mesoamerica. So if the Nephites had apostatized to the God of War, and we know that a warlike cult from Teotihuacan (modern Mexico city) was spreading throughout Mesoamerica at this time, it would make sense that a brutal act of conquest against women would satisfy that false God. It would also act as almost the exact opposite of the Laws of Purification expected of God’s people. This works thematically too, since the last chapter exhorts the readers to study the book, remember God’s mercy,(Moroni 10:3) and then apply Christ’s saving power in their lives. (Moroni 10: 32-33) Much like the book Hosea in the Bible, that uses an unfaithful and whoring wife to highlight the strength of God’s covenants, the depravity of chapter nine could serve to highlight the sanctifying and saving power of Christ in chapter ten.

As you can see, a study of women and their associations with sex raise a host of interesting issues that would enhance our understanding of the Book of Mormon. These are a few preliminary ideas and essentially little more than a brainstorming session but I look forward to presenting these ideas in greater detail.


[1] John Welch, Law and War in the Book of Mormon in Warfare and The Book of Mormon, Stephen Ricks, William Hamblin eds. (Provo, Salt Lake City: FARMS, Deseret Book, 1991).   

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Disarming Kimball's War Talk

The recent issue of the Ensign reprints Kimball's famous, or infamous, talk called the False Gods We Worship . I added the infamous because this talk has usually been the sledge hammer with which anti war opponents use to beat their opponents.  I'm left in the awkward, and somewhat annoying position of explaining how I can be a faithful member of the church and yet "go against" the prophet's council. But challenges to my ideas help me clarify them. So I've discussed the proper role of a prophets words and their non binding nature here and here.  I also used the same principles to critique The Butcher's Apostle, J. Reuben Clark. 

So needless to say I wasn't surprised when modern church leaders edited out his comments about war.  You can find more possible reasons at the blog,  Faith Promoting Rumor.  I don't know if this means that modern church leaders are more pro war or not, or if they necessarily disagree with Kimball, or if they just edited for space or because of their desire to highlight the other part of his message.  But I am extremely glad they have reduced the ammunition of anti war critics who inappropriately use the words of prophets to bolster their arguments.    

Thursday, June 6, 2013

On the Apology

So it seems there was a particularly vituperative post on the Town Hall website. Criminologist Mike Adams responded to a letter from a Mormon who objected to his description of Mormons as unchristian.  He did so with a rather insincere apology.  There are several great responses already here and here but  I wanted to address a couple points that he made that were particularly egregious.

After implying that a one time reading of The Book of Mormon makes him an expert he says:

I am also sorry that while archaeological discovery supports the claims of the Bible it clearly does not support the claims of the Book of Mormon. Battles that were supposed to have occurred in specific locations in North America simply never took place. The archaeological evidence just isn't there.

I'm amazed at how many errors he can commit in so few sentences.  It is tough to believe his claim that archeology supports the Bible. There is no evidence to support the account found in Exodus for example, and there is as much evidence for King David of the Bible as there is for Nahom in The Book of Mormon.  He may be assuming that evidence of cities located in the Bible such as Babylon and Jerusalem constitute support.  But the existence of cities hardly proves the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (Nor for that matter does pottery shards or remnants of battles, so this is an oddly secular part of his argument.)

But his statement about battles is even worse.   There are no specific locations mentioned for these battles and the closest to a specific location is the Hill Cumorah.  But the one named in New York is not necessarily the location of the battle. (I always remind critics how I served in both Rome and Paris...Texas, I visited my doctor that lived in Glasgow...Virginia, and I enjoy travelling to Athens...Georgia. I also applied for a teaching position in Moscow...Idaho.  It is pretty easy for one term to be used for two locations, especially when Smith got the plates from that hill.)    In fact, most scholars and scholarship put the location of Book of Mormon lands in Mesoamerica.  Of course Mike Adams would know this if he read The Book of Mormon more than once over half a dozen years ago; and if he bothered to research any of the relevant secondary scholarship.

 As with other issues, this obscurity about the locations of battles puts The Book of Mormon in good historical company.  Even some of the most studied battles in the world such as Hastings or Teutoburg Forest still have uncertain locations.  In fact, it is only recently that the lost army was found.

Thus in this short paragraph, Adams shows that he has little grasp of Mormon studies, basic archaeological issues, and the intersection of faith and evidence. This is indicative of the rest of his apology; these are complicated issues but his insincere and bitter response forfeit whatever benefit of the doubt I would give him. And that is sorry. I highly recommend that he study these issues more in depth and he can start with a copy of my upcoming book.    

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Military Participation Ratio and Wrong Numbers

[These are some impromptu remarks I made recently on a discussion board. As such it doesn't have a polished introduction and conclusion.]

Do wrong numbers destroy the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon?

The answer is a resounding no. I explained a few reasons why in this post about millions. But there are more. For example, Chinese writers would want to highlight how the previous dynasty lost the Mandate of Heaven, so they would inflate the size of the bad last emperor's army. Ancient historians often wrote not to tell what happened, but with a specific moral purpose. So they didn't have the same scruples about bending facts to fit their story. Brant Gardner even discussed how one set of deaths in The Book of Mormon followed a same double same double pattern. (Alma 2:19) This could be a coincidence, or it had some sort of symbolic power. This is similar to the modern "I've told you a million times" or Jesus using the phrase "seven times seventy." So if The Book of Mormon has the same problem listing exact number for deaths on battle or the size of armies, as other historical documents this puts it in good company.

This gets even more confusing because some ancient words stood for a number and a unit. But the size of that military unit could change. Centurion means one soldier of one hundred. But by the late Roman Empire, Centuries only had 80 people. Myriad is another ancient word that have this problem. So when I see "ten thousand" listed so often in Mormon chapter 6 I start to that is a unit name and not necessarily a number. For example, by the end of the American Civil War some units in Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had only a fraction of their normal strength. (They did this out of pride because units didn't want to retire their colors and consolidate.) So if a general is listed as having "his ten thousand" there is a strong chance this refers to a unit name rather than a number. It is discussed in a bit greater detail in the first two posts here:

Further, I find it odd that Mormon would begin his war of survival with 30,000 soldiers. (Mormon 2:42) But after many years of defeats, defections, and the loss of their capital city and lands, he had 7 times that number in the final battle. (Just from a logistical point of view I have a problem with this increase.) But when you look at the MPR this supposedly sudden increase in size makes more sense. The Military Participation Ratio is a formula historians use to figure out army and population sizes and other items. Basically its how many soldiers a society can muster for war. The high limit is usually 15% of the population can be mobilized for war. (Though ancient Sparta could muster about 25%.) For example, historians estimate that the U.S. MPR for WWII was 12%. So 30,000 would be about 15% of 200,000. This is close to the number listed in the final battle. This being the number of the total population gains strength when we read Mormon 6:7. If you read it carefully it sure seems to suggest that the order of battle included women and children. Towards the end of any war a nation scrapes the bottom of the barrel to fill out their army.

So even if the numbers are exaggerated by Mormon, or translated as numbers instead of units by Smith, or if these were unit names that didn't exist at their full strength, or the total population it doesn't matter. Having a problem with numbers puts it in good historical company, and a 30,000 man army and an ethnic group numbering about a quarter million is believable. There is both internal evidence and historical precedence for each view. Keep in mind that the writers in The Book of Mormon often complained about being "almost surrounded." Alma 22:29 In Mosiah25:2-3 we read that the Nephites were only about a quarter of the population of the Lamanites. (There are other verses that suggest the Nephites were a political minority, as well as significant outside sources from Mesoamericanists that often describe a small political elite ruling a much larger population, but this is getting on another topic.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Book Blurb and Author Bio

My book is still in the pipeline for publication. I am extremely grateful to be published by a respected press, but it is certainly frustrating going by their time table.  So I decided to write a draft of my book blurb.  This is something similar to what will go on the back or jacket of the book.  I also included a modified version of my updated bio. 

Ancient Warfare and Modern Lessons in The Book of Mormon:

Morgan Deane, a military historian and former Marine sustains the authenticity of the text as an ancient document and shows how The Book of Mormon contains a strong and distinctive voice on military matters that should be taken seriously by modern readers and even policy makers and generals.  Through a Hugh Nibley like command of ancient societies from Mesoamerica, China, and Ancient Rome, as well as a grasp of military theory from Clausewitz to Sun-Tzu he expands on the Jaredite Civil War, the face of battle, logistics, ethno-religious conflict, and strategy.  He specifically valorizes Captain Moroni against a rise of attacks degrading his character, presents an argument for a Nephite and Mormon just war, and shows how The Book of Mormon defends the use of pre-emptive war. This is a critical volume that will help the reader understand the context and society in which the Nephites lived…and died, but also crucial in providing critical tools to evaluate modern military matters ranging from the threat of terrorism to the wisdom of military intervention. 

About the Author:

Morgan Deane has a B.A. from Southern Virginia University and an M.A. in History from Norwich University. He has presented or published papers on Napoleonic warfare, East Asian history, Book of Mormon warfare, and the American Civil War. In 2009 he separated from the military after serving 9 years as an infantry riflemen, squad leader and intelligence analyst. His research interests include the above topics, the application of military theory, and pre-modern warfare in general.

He is the author of “Forming the Formless: Sun-Tzu and the military logic of Ender Wiggins,” and “Offensive Warfare in The Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine.” He has authored numerous articles for the Encyclopedias of Military Philosophy and Russia at War. Currently he teaches history at Brigham Young University-Idaho and anticipates starting a Mphil/PhD program in War Studies at Kings College London this fall.

He and his daughter Lorraine live in Las Vegas, Nevada and he currently serves as a youth sunday school teacher.