Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review My Manuscript!

[Cross posted at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion. I've been busy with the holidays and working on lots of great projects. I have a book done, but I'm still waiting on my publisher. So this acts as both a way to make my book better, and do some advertising for it. Thank you for reading.)

Greetings everybody. I don't comment too much here, but thats in large part because I'm working on so many great things. A part of that is my newest book focusing on military history. I think I have a great product but I need some qualified reviewers to help me out.

In seven chapters I explore the history contained within the Book of Mormon and offer a bold reassessment of events that should change our view on the text. In even simpler terms, think of this as the story of the three little pigs as told by the wolf.

The first chapter offers insights into the actions of Gideon. As one of the early leaders in the church he had a decisive legacy of strength that. After comparing his actions as a leader to those by Moroni there are definite similarities that suggest an influence and connection between the two, but there are important differences that suggest Moroni and later Nephites became more militarized and aggressive. (This aggressiveness would cause its own set of problems as I detail in chapter 4.)

The second chapter uses three stories from history, to offer additional interpretations about the text that often go missed. For example, Moroni's actions in Alma 43-45 resemble the tactics used by the Vandal King Gelimer. But his enemy, Belisarius, was actually welcomed by the people more than their own king. My argument ends up being similar to the argument from Daniel Belnap in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies as I use the conflict between Arian rulers and Catholic subjects to suggest the Nephites were more heavy handed leaders than the narrative suggests. And that their actions likely alienated many of their subjects.

Chapter three takes a deeper look at Alma 47 and Amalickiah's long journey to power. Nobody every comes out and says, "Hello, my name is Amalickiah and I'll be your next dictator for life. Please leave your daughters at the door." So I looked at the possible arguments that he made and why there were so convincing. For example, Amalickiah was in a tough spot. He was appointed commander of the part of the army loyal to the king and had to storm the rebel faction's mountain outpost. He could easily be used as a scapegoat by the king, and had the disadvantageous tactical position. So he likely made an argument to Lehonti that explained that disadvantageous position, and offered his loyalty to the rebel faction in exchange for sparing his life and being second in command. He might have even made an argument that he was preserving Lamanite lives and keeping the peace. On top of this, as a dissenter from the Nephites he would have had a great deal of dirt real, exaggerated, or made up, but convincing nonetheless that would have made his calls for military action seem necessary and defensive to the Lamanites. (For example, Amalickiah defected in Alma 46, and contemporaneously in chapter 50 the Nephites seized Lamanite territory.)

Moving back to the big picture, I end the chapter by pointing out the often backward logic of warfare. As explained by noted strategist Edward Luttwak, roads that are less traveled because they are poor, become very good military roads precisely because they are poor and are more likely to be unguarded and achieve surprise. Amalickiah likely gained power through promises of peace which caused one of the biggest wars in the BoM. Moroni in contrast was often bellicose and straight forward in his desires, but worked to preserve peace and almost preemptively captured Amalickiah and ended the threat before it started.

I mentioned preemptive war which means half of you probably felt a surge of anger. But don't worry, chapter four details the negative consequences of the great war. The genesis for this chapter came as I was teaching American history. After the 7 Years War in 1763 the British stood triumphant over much of North America. But their victory actually caused more problems than it solved. In terms of financing the war, trying to prevent conflict with both Catholics in French Canada and Indians in the Ohio River Valley, the British ended up with more problems from their victory. So I looked at what changed during the war. I saw four factors there were vital in Nephite victory, increased use of heavy armor, reliance upon fortifications, preemptive warfare, and the seizing of territory in the east wilderness. Instead of analyzing the war itself, I wanted to see if these things affected the book of Helaman. And they did! Things like heavy armor and fortifications require more money. More money means more taxes, and rapacious taxation easily fuels an insurgency. The "getting gain" in the Book of Helaman, and the unrighteousness of Nephite society could refer to unscrupulous tax collectors. I point out how military gains usually require military expenditures to keep. On top of that, soldiers can easily develop a sense of corporate identity and strike out violently (such as killing a prophet like Nephi) when their interests are threatened. This results in a weird feedback look where the military is needed to hold the cities, and those cities are taxed to the hilt to fund the military. This can lead to civil unrest and insurgency, which needs more soldiers, which requires more taxation. In short, I look at the political fragmentation, desire for money, insurgency, and impotency of the army in the Book of Helaman and see a straight line from the military innovations by Moroni. Again, as Luttwak pointed out, the strange logic of war is that sometimes victory can be the worst thing for a nation. Because in victory every unexamined assumption, regardless of its contribution to victory, becomes enshrined as untouchable doctrine, and needed reforms become harder to implement. While defeat brings truth that much faster and discredits opponents of reform.

The next chapter looks at the letter of Giddianhi in 3 Nephi 3. I examine the subtle rhetoric contained in the letter and argue the Giddianhi borrows and adapts Nephi's arguments to assert his legitimate right to rule. Looking back upon the consequences of the great war and political fragmentation, as well as the medium in which he wrote, suggests that Giddianhi was not a traditional toothless highway robber, but a sophisticated elite with a claim to ruling. I point out how even righteous Nephites had to use spies and assassination to keep power (Helaman 2), rulers in Nephite cities beat confessions out of their prisoners (Alma 14) so having a righteous ruler in the midst of a long period of decline suggests they were as skilled as Amalickiah in gaining power. Once in power, the logic of war and defeat allowed them to implement the needed reforms. Their opponents were likely annoyed at how they didn't let a crisis go to waste.

The final chapter examines numbers and logistics in the BoM. This was in part driven by the standard anti Mormon narrative about millions of soldiers and how ridiculous that is. I've written about it enough on my blog and thought the arguments were always silly and ignorant, thus I thought it was time it got a chapter. I examine historical antecedents for large numbers and large numbers people killed in ancient societies. Given that much of Nephite history including their denouement suggest political fragmentation, I also look at the scholarly studies of inaccurate numbers. Starting with Hans Delbruck and others there is a sophisticated body of literature that suggests wrong numbers are rather common in historical accounts. Sometimes this results from scribal errors, inaccurate reporting by primary authors, use of numbers as a colloquial, and deliberate exaggeration. I go over a number of examples, but in Chinese history the new dynasty often commissioned and wrote the history of the previous dynasty. So the military failures would be exaggerated to amplify the loss of that emperor's right to rule.

Scholars also use things like logistics, or the number of people that can be reasonably fed, and the military participation ratio to calculate ancient armies. The mpr is the number of soldiers compared to the population that a society could field, and 25% was the upper limits for any society and the normal about 15%. The final number at Cumorah was listed as about 230,000 and 15% of that ratio is 35,000, right in between the numbers listed in Mormon 2:9 (42,000) and 2:25 30,000). (See Mormon 6:7 as well, which suggests women and children were in the order of battle and strengthens the idea that the final number is total.) Even then, that total number might be unit names and not numbers, and provide historical examples. A Roman century for example only had 80 soldiers at full strength. Finally, I conclude with a case study of Moroni 9. The most brutal in the BoM, I show how logistics and a wider military study effect spiritual principles. The widows at the tower of Sherrizah, starved because the army took the food. And I suggested, again based on ample historical study, that cannibalism wasn't just the result of spiritual decay but a practical effect of armies that act like locusts. If the numbers were accurate, or accurately repeated the mistakes of ancient historians, the BoM is thoroughly consistent with ancient texts.

I also include a short introduction and conclusion that explain my methodology reinforce my main points. I know many of you are busy, but I'm doing this on Thanksgiving Eve because I know you might want something in between your turkey induced sleep and pie produced coma. Or you might just need to keep your sanity with the inlaws. The book is short, and the hour reading it and a few minutes spent providing your feedback would help me a great deal. Plus, you essentially get the beta copy of the book for free. If you're interested, please send me a private message here with your email address, or you can contact me on my blog at Serious reviewers only please.

If we truly accept that the Nephites existed in a time and place, then they must exhibited all the foibles of other countries, including the ancient kingdom of Israel that adopted pagan practices and power politics of their neighbors. Yet when we read the BoM, we don't ask how the Nephite rulers were naturally concerned over their self interest, and perhaps unaware of the negative consequences their decisions could have. Its time we start reassessing Nephite leadership and ask if maybe the wolf had a point.

Thanks for reading this, and hopefully my manuscript!