Thursday, February 27, 2014

Guest Post: Lamanite Alliances, Spheres of Influence, and Historical Complexity Part II

[This is the second part of a guest post by Ryan Tanner. You can find the first part here.]

This brings us to 72 BC, when Amalickiah arrives in the land of Nephi. By this point the elite in the city of Nephi had settled on a new king. His control over the seven cities may have been very tenuous. The elements of power that must have existed in the city of Nephi would have included those who were originally direct competitors of Lamoni's father, the new elite who rose to power after the Anti-Nephi-Lehis left, the Amalekites and the Zoramites, and the interests of the six other cities in the alliance. The elites who were in control in Nephi would have been entrenched there since the days of Lamoni's father, or longer, and were currently in a semi-stable position since the Amalekite and Zoramite backed contender to the throne, Zerahemnah, failed in his bid.

The new king, whose name is never mentioned, would have been the one person holding the new alliance together. It is possible that he was an outsider, meaning he was not from the city of Nephi, but had been accepted by the elites in the city, possibly by his marriage to the queen, who as we will see later had considerable control over the city of Nephi and the elites who lived there. In effect he was acting as the glue between the seven cities, but the connection was most likely tenuous.

Under the influence of Amalickiah, with perhaps the backing of the Amalekites and the Zoramites, the new king proclaimed his intention to invade the Nephite lands. The tenuous alliance was immediately put to the test when some of the allied cities (we have no idea which ones or how many) refused and banded together under the leadership of Lehonti, who they proclaimed as their king (Alma 47:6). The power base of Lehonti must have been the Lamanites who were not under the control of the Amalekites and the Zoramites, and/or those who were not under the direct control of the city of Nephi.

Thus the new king was in danger of having his newly forged alliances come undone, but he could not attack the rebels directly because then he would have lost even more influence in the surrounding area. He was effectively in the same situation Lamoni was in when Ammon arrived in the land of Ishmael. The king could not order an attack on the army of Lehonti without risking civil war. But other influences were pushing him towards war with the Nephites, and he needed the cities and troops under the control of Lehonti. Thus Amalickiah, like Ammon, presented a way out. If Amalickiah succeeded then the king could further consolidate his power, but if Amalickiah failed then the Lamanite king could easily disassociate himself from the attack. Perhaps the army sent with Amalickiah was composed mainly of Amalekites and Zoramites, and those Lamanites that they could muster out. Thus if the expedition was a failure then the Amalekites and the Zoramites, or whoever the king sent with Amalickiah, would have been expendable allies, or at least allies that were not considered essential to the elites in the city of Nephi.

So let us reconsider the sociopolitical situation that Amalickiah was working with in and around the land of Nephi. A previously cohesive alliance of seven, or more, Lamanite cities had recently been broken up by the very public conversion of a significant segment of the ruling class to the religion of the Nephites. Certain groups, such as the Amalekites, had been exerting influence in Lamanite society for a number of years, but were still considered outsiders. Others, such as the Amulonites, had some influence, but lost it recently. The Nephite dissenter axis was recently strengthened by the addition of the powerful Zoramites, but the Amalekite-Zoramite coalition was not enough to gain control of the seven cities, perhaps due to the loss of their main candidate for the position of king, Zerahemnah.

The elites of the city of Nephi, which we suppose had had control of the surrounding area and cities for some time (i.e. a few generations), were unwilling to relinquish their positions of influence to the Amalekite-Zoramite axis, but had to balance that against the machinations and intrigue from the other six cities in the alliance. Despite the fact that the elites may not have wanted a close relationship with the Amalekites and Zoramites, they were constrained somewhat by the fact that the Amalekites and Zoramites represented the mortal enemies of the Nephites. Specifically they were the enemies of Moroni and his armies, which had entered into an alliance with the people of Ammon, that is, the one group of people that had someone who could legitimately lay claim to the title of King of the Lamanites. Thus the elites in Nephi may have been relying on their alliance with the Amalekites and Zoramites to help prevent the return of the legitimate king, backed by a Nephite army.

After the death of Lehonti, and the treacherous assassination of the king, Amalickiah was in command of an army that was most likely made up of troops from the Amalekites and Zoramites, and from the surrounding six Lamanite cities. There was apparently significant loyalty in this odd assortment of an army to the king since Amalickiah could use the death of the king to motivate his troops. Also it is an indication of the rather tenuous position of the king since Amalickiah could blame the king's murder on the king's own servants and people would believe it. Perhaps his reasoning was somewhat along the lines of, "The servants must have been agents of Anti-Nephi-Lehi who remained in the land to kill the king." Thus giving the Lamanites another reason to go along with the war against the Nephites and their new allies, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.

At this point the city of Nephi is surrounded by a Lamanite army that most likely was not made up of men from the capital city, that is, the city was not their home and they would have no objection to sacking the city. The army may also have been looking for some sort of payment and the capital city may have been a tempting target. Also the army may have contained troops from the Amalekite-Zoramite coalition which were not Lamanites and would have no problem with inserting themselves into the Lamanite power structure.

So in this rather explosive situation the queen of the Lamanites asks Amalickiah to "spare the people of the city", invites him to come into the city, accepts the evidence of the king's murder, and in a move that allows her to maintain the independence of the city and its elites, while preventing the sack of the city, and the potential takeover by the Amalekite-Zoramite coalition, while at the same time not giving preference to any one of the many Lamanite groups that were vying for power, she agrees to marry Amalickiah and bring about a quick end of the recent difficulties. Her ability to maintain her position is evident by the fact that after Amalickiah dies in the subsequent war his brother must return to the city of Nephi to report on his death and consolidate his power before returning to the battlefield.

For the other competing groups Amalickiah represented an acceptable candidate for king. The Amalekite-Zoramite coalition would have accepted him as a fellow Nephite dissenter who was opposed to the expansionist policies of Moroni. The Lamanites from the other six cities would accept him because he was not from the Amalekite-Zoramite coalition, or from any of the seven cities. Thus he would not upset the new balance of internal power among the Lamanites who had to reorganize their power structures after the flight of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. He was also opposed to Moroni, and Moroni's new allies the Anti-Nephi-Lehis.

If we look at Amalickiah's rise to power in this context we see that there were many competing and complex interests at work. For all these competing and complex interests Amalickiah represented the ideal compromise. Even though he was not their man, more importantly he was no one else's man. In a society that had just four years before gone through a major upheaval, Amalickiah was the one man who could be everything to everyone and not disturb the new and still unsteady power structures. Sometimes we forget or do not account for the impact that Ammon and his brothers had on Lamanite society and power structure. It was only four short years between the flight of the people of Ammon and the arrival of Amalickiah in the land of Nephi. Lamanite politics and society were still in a flux and Amalickiah, rather than being a conniving fiend who duped the easily deceived Lamanites, was actually a significant stabilizing force in an otherwise unsteady time for the Lamanites. It is unfortunate that Amalickiah used, and squandered, his opportunity by perpetuating a war on the Nephites rather than building a more stable and just society.

Now a good portion of what I presented here is speculation and my own thoughts and interpretation of the parts of history that we have in the Book of Alma, but it does provide a different way of viewing the beginning of the Nephite-Lamanite war found in the war chapters of Alma. I would be delighted if others can give additional insights and commentary on this situation because I know that there are several things that I did not cover or consider in writing this. For example, some of these conflicts may have been more to do with control of trade routes, or rich mining grounds, or farmland, than simple political intrigue. So there are definitely more things to consider, but some of those we may be unable to know until we can pinpoint the location of these events and consider the archaeological evidence to give us more insight into what was happening at the time. Until then we must rely on the text to give us the clues.

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