Monday, December 23, 2019

Preemptive War in the Book of Mormon: Part V Helaman Chapter 1

This is part of an ongoing series. See part one, part two, part three, part four, part six, part seven, part eight.

This chapter is one of the most interesting as it contains examples that support and undermine preemptive war. The record indicates that Paanchi was seized as he was “about to flatter” the people (Helaman 1:7-8). It’s not indicated how imminent his rebellion was. John Welch suggested he may have been in the open market place about to call for rebellion.[1] But he could have been meeting with key players among “the people” to ensure that his play for the judgeship was successful. The imprecise immediacy of his rebellion shows us the difficulty of judging the difference between preemptive and preventive wars assessing their relative merits.

The Nephites and those sympathetic to their cause would have viewed Paanchi’s rebellion as very imminent. The key leaders such as Moroni and Pahoran had recently died and the Nephites had unsettled or uncertain political and military leadership. A short time after Nephite leaders executed Paanchi the Lamanites invaded. At a state of dangerous unpreparedness (Helaman 1:18) the Lamanites marched quickly to capture the capital. The general was a dissenter from Nephite lands, ordered by the son of the dissenting Ammoron, brother of the arch dissenter, Amalickiah. Their attack showed that even a short time after the great victory of Moroni and during a time of peace the Nephite realm could face a speedy invasion that killed their chief judge and capture its capital. Not only did he die but he was unceremoniously “[smitten] against the wall (Helaman 1:21).”

Even with an army’s damage limited to what they could personally smash or kill, and a nation’s limitations in supplying its troops, the Lamanites could quickly desolate many cities before the Nephites “could raise a sufficient army” (Alma 16:2-3). In Helaman 1:19, the Lamanites marched “with such great speed” and captured the capital city, and eventually enacted genocide with these primitive means. This means that modern surprise attacks could be even more deadly and require active and preemptive measures as a defense. And just like ancient times, the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 demonstrate that the United States’ “narrow strip of wilderness” is surprisingly thin. But unlike ancient times, strategic surprise in the modern age may not simply represent the destruction of a small ancient city, but could take the form of a nuclear attack in a highly populated metropolis. The power of nuclear weapons increases the ability of an opponent to “end the war at a stroke.”[2]

Attacking the Nephite’s desire for preemptive war ignores the strategic realities that the ancient Nephite and Lamanite nations faced as a result of geography and technology. It is even more foolish in the modern world. According to many neo isolationists and peace advocates that incorrectly apply scriptures like D&C 89, the United States must receive an attack three times before they could justifiably response. Yet the threat of a surprise attack from Pearl Harbor was traumatic enough, just one from a nuclear weapon would mean that millions would be killed, or we would have to accept three 9/11 attacks of perhaps even greater magnitude before we could righteously respond.[3]

Yet the justifications still have caveats. Kishkumen, his robbers, and those that were not sympathetic to Nephite rule, would have argued that Nephites actions were unjust. Welch did establish a legal precedent for executing conspirators against the crown. Yet he also pointed out how the feelings of “alienation and hostility” would have lingered among the political opponents of the Nephites.[4] I’ve discussed the social bandit ideology before, and it is a powerful and common motivation for all insurgencies against the government.[5] A critical reading of the text reveals plenty of possible reasons for simmering discontent. Helaman’s servant stabbed an assassin after nighttime spying (Helaman 2:6), and Nephi exposed another killer in Helaman 9:6. Lawyers and leaders within the Nephite nation were known to beat confessions out of criminals (Alma 14:17-22), and both Lamanites and Nephties attempted to poison each other with wine (Alma 55:13). The Nephites even tested the wine on their prisoners first (Alma 55: 31-32)! Gaining and keeping power in Nephite society required significant cunning and craftiness from even righteous leaders. It’s no surprise then that the trial and execution was the catalyst for Kiskumen and his band to begin their campaign of assassination and rebellion.

Helaman 1 shows the danger of preemptively attacking somebody, as that action further inspired opponents of the government. But in the same chapter Nephite passivity in defending their lands was rewarded with a devastating invasion. The threat was always hanging over them, and preemptive war to remove or lesson that threat was a legitimate and even righteous action, albeit one with potentially explosive consequences. It’s also important to note that this was an internal matter just like the preemptive war against Amalickiah. But the imminence of his rebellion, and the desire to preemptively nip it in the bud and avoid costly consequences, represent the major attraction behind the strike. The threat of surprise terrorist or nuclear attacks in the modern world only increases the allure and justification for preemptive war.

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[1] John Welch, “The Case of Paanchi,” Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon, (Provo, Salt Lake City: Brigham Young University Press, 2008).
[2] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War,( Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989)363.
[3] Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed, 157.
[4] Welch, The Case of Paanchi.
[5] Morgan Deane, “Climbing a Tree to Find a Fish: Insurgency in the Book of Mormon”, Provo FAIR Presentation, August 4th, 2016.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Preemptive War in the Book of Mormon: Part IV Alma 46-50

This is part 4 of an ongoing series. See part one, part two, part three, part five, part six, part sevenpart eight.

These scriptures are most commonly cited as a defense of preemptive war, though there are hidden details and consequences that should prevent easy use of the strategy.[1] As he prepared an ambush for Lamanite forces, Captain Moroni “thought it no sin that he should defend [the Nephites] by stratagem” (Alma 43:30). Moreover, Moroni preemptively attacked and tried to capture and presumably execute Amalickiah, based on the assumption that preventing his escape through military action would prevent a future war. As with Zeniff’s scouting, this action is presented without editorial dissent, and it is instead given as part of Moroni’s stellar resume. In the same chapter that described a period in their history that was “never happier,”[2] Moroni “cut off” the Lamanites living in the east and west wildernesses (Alma 50:11). This occurs during a time of supposed peace, but it could also be described as a lull or “cold war” between the First and Second Amalickiahite War.[3] Duane Boyce went further and created a just war theory out of Moroni’s preparations in Alma 48.[4] During an attack or in a time of strained peace, Moroni is lauded for his preemptive actions, ambushes, and active defense.

The major objection to this line of thinking from opponents of preemptive war comes from the idea that Amalickiah was just a dissenter. The argument then goes that these were wicked Nephites that caused “otherwise neutral” Lamanites to go to war with their propaganda.[5] But this breaks down upon further examination. The father of King Lamoni was hostile on site (Alma 20:10), and pretty quickly the king tried to kill Ammon (Alma 20:16). The leader of the Lamanites gives a pretty good indication of their general disdain and aggressiveness towards the Nephites, not their neutrality. Readers of the Book of Mormon have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story. Amalickiah went on to raise an army, provoke war, and invade in what was an intense and lasting conflict, so Moroni and Nephite leaders had ample cause to be concerned about his behavior. As will be discussed below, seizing and killing potential usurpers was a common practice for the Nephites and in Amalickiah’s case it was necessary.

Those who say these chapters don’t count as enough defense of preemptive war also point to the refusal of Lamanites to take up arms. But this wasn’t an indication of their peacefulness. As described above, their refusal is evidence that Nephite martial prowess and preemptive strikes could successfully dissuade an attack before it was launched.

Supporters of preemptive war who cite these verses also miss the factors that led to Moroni’s use of it in the first place, and they fail to look at the consequences of his actions. Both of these factors complicate the use of these scriptures in defense of preemptive war, though they do not nullify them. Moroni was old enough to remember the Amlicite war. In Alma 2:9 the Amlicites appointed Amlici as king. A short time later they attacked the land of Zarahemla and even joined the Lamanites. In response to these provocative actions the Nephites seemed defensive and reactionary. Alma 2:12 described how the Nephites knew the Amlicites intent and “prepared to meet them.” They did arm themselves, but the Nephites didn’t attack first or advance to meet the enemy, they didn’t try to position themselves to fight on advantageous terrain. Reinforcing the idea that a passive defense instead of preemptive attack places the defenders in a poor position when they do face battle, the Nephite army were in such a poor position that they had to make an armed crossing of a river (Alma 2:27). They almost didn’t make it to the battle, as the breathless report of their spies spurred them to a perilously tardy counter attack (Alma 2:23-24). With the hindsight gained from the Amlicite War, the Lamanite attack that resulted from Ammon’s missionary service, and possibly Zeniff’s aborted attack, of course Moroni preemptively chased down Amalickiah, and sought to “cut off” and “head” his army (Alma 46:30-32). In short, Moroni learned the lessons paid for in Nephite blood when they awaited Lamanite attack, forfeited the advantage of surprise, and had to reacted to Lamanites who took the initiative.

While Moroni’s active and premptive strategy didn’t repeat the past mistakes it possibly created new ones. The first negative consequence was the possible militarization of events by Moroni. The Nephites supporting Moroni rushed forward with their arms and armor to make these covenants (Alma 46:13, 21), which suggests Moroni escalated from warm disputes with fists to one side being armed for warfare (Alma 1:22). A politician with Amalickiah’s skill wouldn’t have needed much to make a strong case out of these actions to the Lamanite king. Nephite actions, including Moroni’s armed response, attack and attempted capture of Amalickiah and preemptive seizure of land in Alma 50 provided Amalickiah with mountains of ammunition. One can picture the shot in the arm Amalickiah received after making arguments to the Lamanite king (Alma 47:1) and his supporters received when they spoke the Lamanite people (Alma 48:1) when the Lamanite refugees from the wilderness came pouring into the land based upon Nephite preemptive action (Alma 50:7). The angry young men would have made especially ready recruits for his “wonderfully great” army (Alma 51:11).

Instead of neat conclusions based on a handful of verses, a close reading of the scriptures suggests no easy answers to today’s dilemmas in Moroni’s actions. He certainly seemed justified based upon the trauma of his youth. The brutal killing of Gideon, civil war, destruction of Ammonihah, capture of prisoners, near defeat, almost annihilation, many deaths, and famine of the Nephite realm during his youth made him rather aggressive in defending the Nephites. His actions were successful in defending the Nephite realm and they almost nipped the threat from Amalickiah in the bud. But they had severe unexamined consequences that may have exacerbated Nephite problems. The solution instead of dogmatic dismissals and overwrought denunciations of the practice is that it was a strategy with precedent and justification but was not a simple solution or cure all. It is possible that many of the negative consequences could have been avoided if Moroni had been completely successful in capturing in capturing Amalickiah, but the next example suggests preemptive action wouldn’t solve Nephite problems.

Thanks for reading. I work as a free lance author and providing quality ad free research for the last decade takes time. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below or you can buy one of my books using the Amazon link in the top left. Thanks again. 


[1] Mark Henshaw, Valerie Hudson et. Al. “War and the Gospel: Perspectives from Latter day Saint National Security Practitioners,” Square Two, v.2 no.2 (Summer 2009.)
This passage borrows material first written Morgan Deane, Offensive Warfare in the Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine,” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 32-33.
[2] Mormon said there “was never a happier time” during a lull in the war chapters (Alma 50:23). R. Douglas Phillips refers to it as a “golden age” in “Why is so much of the Book of Mormon Given Over to Military Accounts?” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen Ricks and William Hamblin (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 27.
[3] Using the terminology of John Welch, “Why Study War in the Book of Mormon?” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, ed. Stephen Ricks and William Hamblin (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991), 6-15.
[4] Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed, chapter 15.
[5] Connor Boyack, “The Problematic Inward Vessel,” Connors Conundrums, February 23rd, 2009. (Accessed October 21st, 2016. )

Monday, November 25, 2019

Preemptive War in the Book of Mormon: Part III Alma 25:26

This is part three of a series. See part one, part two, part four, part five, part six, part seven, part eight.

The next mention of preemptive war comes from Ammon’s speech. He doesn’t include many details, but he did contrast he and his companions’ successful missionary service with the desire of the Nephites for preemptive war. At the time of the missionaries departure the Nephites reportedly said of the Lamanites, “Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us” (Alma 26:25.) Aaron, one of the individuals that was at that speech, as the son of Mosiah (II) was only two generations removed from the serious wars faced by King Benjamin and the attack led by Zeniff. This timeline is little longer than World War II is from current policy makers and suggests that preemptive strikes were still common in the discussions held by Nephite leaders, and this was viewed by many, as a legitimate Nephite strategy. The highly successful missionary effort and its explicit contrast with the peaceful conversion of many Lamanites seems to be the first indication that the Nephites wanted a better and more spiritual strategy. Ammon at least saw his successful conversion of the Lamanites as a repudiation of the strategy and current 21st century peace advocates see this as a strong rebuke of all warfare, not just the strategy of preemptive warfare.[1] Joshua Madsen wrote, for example, that the service of missionaries “defied cultural stereotypes” and showed that “love and service can break through false cultural narratives, unite kingdoms, and converts thousand to Christianity where violence could not…In the end, Nephite just wars did not bring peace, whereas those like Ammon who rejected their culture’s political narratives and hatred did.”[2]

Yet, Ammon’s success as a missionary benefited greatly from his martial prowess. According to William Hamblin and Brent Merrill, it was not impossible, but took a great deal of skill and application of military training to disarm a foe in a single stroke.[3] The servants that Ammon protected with his disarming prowess seemed to practice the post battle Mesoamerican custom of the presenting of arms, which suitably impressed the Lamanite king and made him receptive to Ammon’s preaching.[4] The other missionaries gained access to the king’s father by Ammon’s success in one on one combat against that head king (Alma 20:20). In short, his missionary efforts benefited from his rigorous military training, and from the martial customs of the day. At the very least it seems fool hardy to dismiss the need for military strategy, when it was the efficacy of his military training and their martial culture that helped him have so much success.

Moreover, that removal of the Lamanite kings the missionaries converted set in motion a chain of events that helps to validate the offensive minded Nephite strategists. It says in Alma 24:1 that the Lamanites who hadn’t been converted were “stirred to anger” against those that were converted. In Alma 25:1 it then says the remaining Lamanites “swore vengeance” upon the Nephites. These are very simple explanations of Lamanite domestic and foreign politics. Mormon likely translated the political and historical foundations for the conflict into spiritual terms.[5] Those can remain valid and useful in spiritual terms, and we might also examine the text for political interpretations that can add nuance and depth. The spiritual success of Ammon and others removed both the head king and his son from their positions of power in Lamanite society.[6] The resulting vacuum created the political conditions for warfare. Scholars note that it was part of the Mesoamerican cult of war that a new king had to consolidate his legitimacy by winning in battle and sacrificing captives.[7]

The scramble for the kingship and the need for that new king to win a quick victory led directly to the city of Ammonihah. Mormon presented this as a just spiritual punishment for their wickedness against Alma and the members of the church. Yet, the account also includes “some from the borders of Noah” and “others” taken captive into the wilderness (Alma 16:3). Presumably, these were righteous members of Nephite society that didn’t deserve the same punishments as those in Ammonihah. Yet they were swept up in the Lamanite attack anyway. The account in Alma 16:8 said that the Nephites managed to retrieve the captives after a battle.

Alma 25 also recorded multiple battles (Alma 25:3) and the death of many Amulonites after their defeat in battle was presented by Mormon as the fulfillment as prophecy. But again, these battles weren’t bloodless, and meant that many Nephite soldiers died who presumably didn’t invite God’s wrath like the people of Ammonihah. Like the captives from the Land of Noah, these deaths could reasonably be considered innocent and needless because of the missionaries’ pacifistic refusal to fight preemptive war. Moreover, because they Nephites reacted to Lamanite aggression they likely out of position and without the element of surprise which made these battles tougher, and more bloody than they would be if the Nephites were prepared. For example, compared the desperate rush in Alma 2 to Moroni’s prepared ambush in Alma 43. The battles were in the same location, but Nephite preparation and surprise made the result far different. Just as the people of Zeniff likely learned, it was better and less bloody to fight a battle at a time and place of their choosing, then having to hastily form their own army (Alma 16:3), and then chase down or trap the Lamanites and recover innocent Nephite captives.

There is no promise that a preemptive strike to prevent later bloodshed would have been any better than attack on Ammonihah and the battles that resulted from missionary conversions. Yet Alma 47:2 says the Lamanites were afraid to mobilize against the Nephites because of their past defeats. The above consequences of missionary service that disrupted the Lamanite political realm combined with their trepidation in Alma 47:2 suggest Nephite strategists that argued for preemptive war could point to legitimate benefits like deterrence and credibly argue that lives would be saved.

It remains tough to justify preemption based on what could happen, yet destruction of Ammonihah, the captives of Noah, and resulting reactive battles and death of blameless Nephite soldiers make a convincing case study which shows the disasters that await a nation when preemptive warfare is automatically disqualified.[8] The spiritual benefits of Ammon’s missionary work are undeniable, yet even the most benign results benefitted from martial methods, and they contained bloody consequences which suggests that preemptive war cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Thanks for reading. I work as a free lance author and providing ad free, high quality research takes time and effort. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below or you can buy one of my books using the author link in the top left of the page.
[1] Patrick Mason, David Pulsipher, “Teaching about War in the Book of Mormon,” Mormon Matters Podcast, August 11th, 2016. (Accessed October 21st, 2106. )
[2] [1] Joshua Madsen, “A Non Violent Reading of the Book of Mormon,” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, Patrick Mason, David Pulsipher, Richard Bushman eds, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015.) 24.
[3] William Hamblin, Brent Merrill, “Swords in the Book of Mormon,” in Warfare in the Book of Mormon William Hamblin, Stephen Ricks eds, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS Press, 1991).
[4] Bruce Yerman, “Ammon and the Mesoamerican Custom of Smiting off Arms,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 8/1 (1999): 44-77, 78-79.
[5] Grant Hardy, “Mormon as Editor,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, Melvin Thorne and John Sorenson eds, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991,) 15-28.
[6] Jon Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: A Mesoamerican Book, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013), 363-365.
[7] Brant Gardner, “The Power of Context: Why Geography Matters,” Book of Mormon Archeological Forum, 2004.
[8] Morgan Deane, Offensive Warfare in the Book of Mormon and a Defense of the Bush Doctrine,” in War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives, (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012), 38.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Preemptive War in the Book of Mormon: Part II Omni 1 and Mosiah 9

This is the second part of a series. See part one, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, part eight .

The very first instance of preemptive war occurs very shortly after the Nephites left the land of Nephi. They left in Omni 1:12, and by the end of the chapter they had already encountered “serious war and much bloodshed’ (Omni 1:24.) The most interesting verse for this study is Mosiah 9:1. Zeniff reported that he was sent as a spy that the Nephite armies might “come upon [the Lamanites] and destroy them.” This could be part of an ongoing war, but sounds more like a preemptive attack.  Zeniff’s desire to spare them in the latter half of the verse suggests the attack was already decided upon, and they were identifying the best way to execute the strike.  His account then already assumes that an army was gathered, equipped, trained, and an attack settled upon by leaders. Zeniff’s leadership of the scouting party, the account of his being learned in the language of the Nephites, and his later rescue by many friends and family, suggests he was an elite that may have taken part in the decision-making process. Besides the somewhat vague reference to serious war and bloodshed, there is no indication that this was a response to a series of attacks from Lamanites that required an offensive defensive strategy within a general defensive posture. This was simply a preemptive strike. The nature of this strike seemed so perfunctory to Zeniff, and Mormon who included Zeniff’s record, that there is no editorial comment condemning the launch of the attack. It is such an innocuous part of the story that it became part of the unspoken background of it.

His desire to abort the attack, his disagreement and subsequent fight with the Nephite leader becomes part an argument that places his righteous desire for peace against his “blood thirsty” and “austere” commander (Mosiah 9:2). Yet Zeniff quickly assured the reader that he was “over-zealous” (Mosiah 9:3), and perhaps unwise, in desiring to live peacefully next to the Lamanites. (His grandson quotes or seconds that idea in a speech to his then enslaved people [Mosiah 7:21].) Zeniff implied he was tricked by the “cunning” of the Lamanite King (Mosiah 9:10). Despite initially seeing the good in them, which made him want to abort the attack and resulted in blows over strategy, he foreshadowed the calamities of his decisions in verse 11 by citing rather typical ethnic stereotypes against the Lamanites and their desire to bring the people of the Zeniff into bondage (Mosiah 9:11.) His younger and more foolish self apparently had so much trust and so little cause to expect conflict that he didn’t build weapons or set guards (Mosiah 9:16, contrasted with Mosiah 10:1-2). He had to “invent” any manner of weapon (likely converted farming tools and hunting weapons) so his people could fight and only after the first battle did he make weapons and set guards. Eventually of course, the people of Limhi two generations later utterly failed to deliver themselves in three consecutive attacks (Mosiah 21:6, 7-8, 11-12), and ultimately needed divine intervention to escape their predicament.

All of this suggests a need to reassess both Zeniff’s description of the other Nephite commander as bloodthirsty and austere and the categorical dismissal of their attack. After all, Zeniff himself at least eventually came up with plenty of reasons why he was foolish, overzealous, and perhaps naïve, that we might consider he also repented of his decision to abort the attack on the Lamanites. This should have more weight because Zeniff was one of the few writers in the book to see the good in the Lamanites, but even he was quick to remind the reader of all his mistakes in judgement. Moreover, the colonists in subsequent generations were subjugated, and even believed that the Nephites had been exterminated (Mosiah 7:14). Arguably then, the other commander, who was initially called blood thirsty and austere, might have had a good argument that he was simply following a pre-approved and efficacious strategy to counter inevitable Lamanite aggression.

The Nephite leaders, Zeniff included, had plenty of reasons to believe the strategy had good merits. The failure to follow through with this attack led to all of the negative consequences above including defeat, subjugation, heavy taxation, failed counter attacks, and finally a need for divine rescue. Despite Zeniff opposing a “blood thirsty” leader the people of Limhi still had to fight. Having to fight anyway is bad enough, but because of their refusal to attack after Zeniff’s reconnoiter, they had to attack or try and break free of their slavery in much worse conditions. If Nephites were forced to fight and die anyway, it makes sense that it would have been more effective if they risked their lives when they had the advantage of a surprise attack and not the other way around (Mosiah 9:1 compared to v. 14). Zeniff’s regret over his actions and the desperate Nephite fights forced upon them, only in worse conditions after their aborted attack, combined with the lack of objection in the text suggests that this preemptive attack had a great deal of merit.

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Monday, October 28, 2019

Take Up Arms and Destroy or Be Smitten Against the Wall: Preemptive War in the Book of Mormon, Part I


The defensive stance of the Nephites combined with the several verses that seem to forbid offensive war have created a generally accepted position on warfare in the Book of Mormon as one that supports defensive and forbids offensive warfare. In modern discussion of the topic various scholars have noted, there is an almost “demonic hatred” of preventive war, and a “reproach without evidence” style to condemning those who supported the Iraq war, or the use of military force in general. Using additional and under studied verses this series examines the Nephite use of preemptive warfare and finds that the practice was both common and justified, had dubious effectiveness, and doesn’t warrant the strident attacks against advocates of the strategy.

This is the first of a seven part series. See part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven, part eight.

Helaman chapter 1 starkly illustrates the difficulty of judging the merits of preemptive war. In Helaman 1:7 the Nephites seized Paanchi when he was only “about” to flatter the people in pursuit of the Chief Judgeship. The text doesn’t state exactly how much he had done to warrant arrest and execution, but it does repeat the word “about” and his arrest and execution suggests a serious threat. The attempt of his supporters to save him catalyzed the Gadianton insurgency and the preemptive seizure of Paanchi likely fueled their sense of injustice.[1] This example is one of many that suggest a Nephite tendency to preemptively deal with threats to their power. Given the many invasions and threats they faced, the Nephite decision makers had ample evidence to justify their aggressive preemptive tactics. After all, in the same chapter in which they seized Paanchi, the Nephites lost the capital to an army led by a dissenter, under a king who was the son of a dissenter. The two examples, one a caution and one a justification for preemptive action in Helaman 1 shows readers that the line between possibly unrighteous preventive action to take up arms and destroy and fleeing the capital and being smitten against the wall because of inaction is thinner than many Latter Day Saints believe. Using additional and under studied verses as well as a reassessment of commonly (over)used verses for and against the practice this paper examines the Nephite use of preemptive warfare and finds that the practice was both common and justified, had dubious effectiveness, and doesn’t warrant the strident attacks against advocates of the strategy.

The scriptures on the matter are more plentiful than commonly thought but the terminology is contested and a basic knowledge of the difference will help the discussion here. Preemptive war is defined as the initiation of hostilities to defend against imminent or ongoing attacks. Preventive war in contrast, is seen as an attack against threats that are less imminent and are often seen as a war of choice or even of aggression. The difference between the two, though, is largely dependent on the perceived imminence of the attacks. The less imminent the threat, the more preventive, optional, and unjust the war appears to be. This paper uses the term preemptive war instead of preventive war. I tend to agree with Victor David Hanson’s analysis which states that definition of imminent is often in the eye of the beholder and the difference between the two is contested to the point of becoming moot. (As I’ll discuss below, modern technology and weapons further reduces the difference.) With contested definitions the wars become defined not by clinical accuracy, but by the degree to which the person or nation supported or opposed the war to begin with.[2] Since most of the literature on Book of Mormon warfare discusses preemptive warfare, and the difference between the more justified preemptive war, and the less moral preventive war, is incredibly thin and contested, I will stick with the term preemptive war throughout the paper, though I acknowledge that at least some of the Nephite behavior could better fit the preventive definition.[3]

The Book of Mormon presents these preemptive and possibly preventive wars without editorial comment, and thus it seems like simply another strategy used in defending the Nephite realm. The only editorial comment from Mormon is against the blood lust and spiritual decay of those waging war or describes the ineffectiveness of the strategy in a particular instance, and not against the strategy itself. This is important, as preemptive wars are usually presented as morally necessary, but incredibly rare, and the Bush administration and those who supported that strategy are accused of the less morally permissible preventive war. As Colin Gray and Duance Boyce have noted, there is an almost “demonic hatred” of preventive war, and a “reproach without evidence” style to condemning those who supported the Iraq war, or the use of military force in general.[4] Thus, in addition to studying this practice among the Nephites, this piece acts as an important reexamination of what the book says about preemptive war and suggests the moral outrage against it is misplaced.

[1] Morgan Deane, “Climbing a Tree to Find a Fish: Insurgency in the Book of Mormon”, Provo FAIR Presentation, August 4th, 2016.
[2] See Victor David Hanson, “Epaminondas the Theban and the Doctrine of Preemptive War,” in Makers of Ancient Strategy Victor David Hanson ed., (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 100-103.
[3] Chris Brown said that the distinction between preventive and preemptive war "is difficult to sustain under twenty-first century conditions.” In Chris Brown, “After ‘Caroline’: NSS 2002, practical judgement, and the politics and ethics of preemption,” in The Ethics of Preventive War, Deen K. Chatterjee ed., (Cambridge University Press: 2013), 28.
[4] Duance Boyce, Even Unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015), 171-173. Colin Gray, The Implications of Preemptive and Preventive War Doctrines: A Reconsideration, (Strategic Studies Institute Online, 2007), 28. : For a representative sample of the most extreme and unacademic versions, see Kendal Anderson, War: A Book of Mormon Perspective: How the War Chapters of the Book of Mormon Warn Against Wars of Aggression and the Warfare State, (Create Space, 2014), 21 where “evil power hungry dictators” are the only ones that start preemptive war, and page 42 where he calls the practice an “assault on humanity itself.” For a sample of the voluminous personal attacks on proponents of the practice, Irvin Hill wrote, “A writer proving the Book of Mormon defense of Preemptive war, or just another war mongering propagandist?,” Obedient Anarchy, January 28th, 2015. (Accessed, October 21st, 2019 )

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Enos and the Trickster God: Mormon Theology Seminar 2020

Huehecoyotl from Codex Telleriano-Remensis

Enos knew that “God could not lie” (Enos 1:6) and therefore his guilt over his sins was swept away. Bearing testimony of a God that doesn’t lie suggests the possibility of gods that did lie. Assuming the possibility of trickster gods that Enos encountered in society at large, or maybe believed in during a rebellious phase, and which would make him want a remission of his sins when he came back, brings additional insights the life of Enos, his encounter with God, and provides insights in Nephite and Lamanite societies as well.

Because trickster gods are common throughout different cultures in different times it possible that Nephite culture responded to and interacted with these belief systems. Enos’ initial impulse was seeking forgiveness for his sins. Understanding the trickster gods might help us understand what sins bothered him. The Aztec god Huehuecóyotl for example was often a symbol for indulgence and male sexuality which suggests the sins of Enos could have been sexual in nature. It’s possible that Enos indulged in his youth in sexual proclivities much like Corianton from later in Nephite history (Alma 39).[1]

In another text, much like the Greek gods Huehuecoyotl fomented wars between humans to relieve his boredom.[2] This is rather insightful because as the faith of Enos increased, or “began to be unshaken” (Enos 1:11), the God who couldn’t lie explained his just reasons for blessing the Nephites with protection, and God then explained the reasons they would forfeit that right. Both reasons are based on the people adhering to covenants in contrast to the capriciousness of a trickster God. Perhaps during his sojourn among other gods or disbelief in God Enos started to think, like the fictional character Romeo, that they were simple fools of fortune or a trickster god (Romeo and Juliet III.1). The desire for God’s promised protection of the Nephites suggests the possibly precarious state of Nephite affairs in this period and the seeds for their eventual exit from the land of Nephi.

The Navajo Coyoteway ceremony is particularly insightful as well. In the ceremony the ritual singer acts as a mediator between the trickster God and the people who offended him.[3] During his prayer Enos acted as a mediator for his people, praying for their welfare (1:9) and the perseveration of their records (1:16) from the hatred of the Lamanites. The Nephites had a knowledge of Moses, and presumably his intercession for the children of Israel which could mean that Enos was applying one or both of several traditions to his specific circumstances. 

The Lamanite behavior also has some possible relation to the trickster god. In the usual ethno centric description given by the Nephites of a wild people dwelling in tents and eating the flesh of wild beasts, Enos mentions that they were a short “skin girdle” (Enos 1:20). While not explicitly mentioned, the visual image of wearing the skins of creatures could recall the priests of trickster gods that often wore animal pelts that represented their gods and who were both feared and revered among ancient people.  

The Ekeko character from South Ande tribes and Kokopeilli from  North American South West tribes both represented trickster gods from afar that came bearing important messages. The importance of this trait could be that Enos used the concept of messages from the trickster gods, as something that was familiar to him and would make an easier transition back to praying to the God who couldn’t lie.[4] Kokopelli is often depicted with a prominent phallus which again connects to the possible sexual sin of Enos which would have created strong motivation and desire for the remission of his sins. Kokopelli’s petroglyphs as a hunchback flute player remains in many caves today which provide vivid physical reminders of locations where ancients would tell stories or perhaps pray all night around a camp fire.

Examining the Book of Enos and the God who couldn’t lie as a response to trickster gods seen throughout ancient societies gives us tantalizing hints into the sins of Enos, the way God interacts with his people through righteous judgement, possible Nephite politics and Lamanite material culture, and the way trickster beliefs like intercession and messages from afar may have influenced Nephite religious leaders. 

Thanks for reading. Providing ad free research for the last decade is difficult and time consuming. If you liked this research please consider donating using the paypal button below, or buy one of my books linked in the top left. 


[3] Karl W. Luckert and Johnny C. Cooke, Navajo Interpreter, COYOTEWAY: A Navajo Holyway Healing Ceremonial, University of Arizona Press, 1979.
[4] Young, John V. Kokopelli: Casanova of the Cliff Dwellers: The Hunchbacked Flute Player. Palmer Lake, Colorado: Filter Press 1990.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Deane's List

The Deane’s List, September 22nd through 27th

I'm considering starting some kind of newsletter. What follows would be a list of major events, mainly concerning foreign policy, accompanied by brief commentary. This is still in the formative, development stage so please let me know if you would like to receive something like this in your mailbox every week, what you would like to see, and if you would consider paying one dollar for a subscription. 

More problems than Hong Kong…

One of the arguments about tariffs is that China has the advantage. They are a dictatorship that doesn’t respond to an electorate like Trump and American congressmen must. But there is growing evidence that Chinese people are suffering. Since they don’t have to answer the electorate, they often disregard safeguards that correct damaging policies.

For example, they have increased government spending so that the Chinese housing bubble is much larger than the one that popped in America, and the consequences will be dire. In regards to tariffs, the Chinese have instituted rationing and price controls that harm small businesses. Pork suppliers say that they lose as much as 28 dollars per pig sold, which will end up hurting these businesses in the long run. Government policy and strong authoritarian policies can cover up the damage their polices are doing, and they seem like a difficult nut to crack in the tariff battle. But those policies are masking serious discontent. 

Climate Change and Hunger Games

I once mentioned as a joke on social media that my favorite character in the Hunger Games was Haymitch. He was a previous winner of the Hunger Games for district 12. As a result, he was often drunk and forced to be in close contact with the district 12 tributes like Katniss Everdeen, the teenage hero of the series.

My joke was that if I had to listen to a whiny, screeching 15-year-old girl who was so self-important she thought she could save the world, I would probably drink my self into a stupor as well. So……we’re gonna need more booze.

When You Need the Hawk

John Bolton disagreed with much of Trump’s approach to foreign policy. Given Iran has bombed or facilitated a bombing it seems like Bolton’s tough guy deterrence strategy should have been heeded. Given that we are in a state of near constant crisis with Iran, it seems that somebody who knows how to use the threat of war as leverage might be useful in the White House.

Saudi Arabia Missile Defenses

American missile defenses have been criticized during the recent attack. But blaming a single system like the Patriot Missiles ignores the need for robust, inter layered defenses and a trained force that can properly use those weapon systems. In fact, the Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff came out later to say that multi layered defenses were necessary.

Uncaring Trump America?

CNN posted a new article that the US has set a new historic low limit for refugees. The subtext made it seem like the US can only be loving and compassionate if they accept the amount of refugees that you deem necessary and of course that Trump is horrible and anti-immigrant. But that doesn't consider the example America sets in helping nations become free and prosperous, nor the many aid programs America has and it’s a facile, down river complaint that doesn’t address the root causes of refugees.

Thanks for reading. Providing ad free research over the last ten years takes time and effort. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below, or you can buy one of my books using the link in the top left. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Myth and Miracles in History of the Franks and the Book of Mormon

As part of a continuing series of reading ancient histories and then showing their insights into the Book of Mormon, I’ve read History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours. Unlike other entries this one is a bit focused as most of the pertinent insights come from a portion of the text being in the same genre as the Book of Mormon. I call this genre mythic history. This doesn’t mean the Book of Mormon is a fairy tale fiction, but that in the same way that Americans talk about how God has blessed and intervened in the history of this country, or church members focus on selective events like the seagulls to show how God intervenes in their history, the Book of Mormon and History of the Franks show the same time of events and intervention.  

I focused on book II because it recounted the history of the Franks before Gregory’s personal lifetime, so it helps to make the comparisons to the Book of Mormon even stronger. Like Mormon, Gregory was recounting events, and trying to show their spiritual importance from a time outside of his personal knowledge. What follows are a series of historical vignettes that Gregory uses to illustrate principles we also find in the Book of Mormon.

ii.30 Clovis the king of the Franks had a wife that was Christian, “But he could not be influenced in any way to this belief, until at last a war arose with the Alamanni, in which he was driven by necessity to confess what before he had of his free will denied.” This of course recalls Alma’s speech where he discussed the difference between choosing and being compelled to be humble (Alma 32:15-16). Gregory noticed this principles when he remarked that external motivations like war finally brought the change that gentle persuasion from his wife couldn’t.

ii.33 Again recalling the mission of Alma to the Zoramites, a city during this war was beset with famine and thus cast out their lower classes. Instead of finding God, they were led by one of the artisans who knew about the aqueducts into the city and the leaders promptly faced execution and exile. 

ii.37 [Part One] After Clovis converted he gained a powerful justification for war against a heretical sect: “I take it very hard that these Arians hold part of the Gauls. Let us go with God's help and conquer them and bring the land under our control.” 

This strongly recalls my analysis of the Lamanite conversion and conversions to Christianity. In a post not too long ago I described the advantages a country historically gained by converting. They gain various tools of statecraft, increased trade, and increased diplomatic and military advantages by being part of the Christian club of nations. The Lamanites in Helaman 6 show many of these traits.

Particularly noteworthy was the Lamanite campaign against the Gadianton Robbers.  When the Lamanites are not part of the club they were described as a wild, ferocious, and bloodthirsty people (Mosiah 10:11-12). This narrative is consistent throughout the Book of Mormon.  Except after their conversion Mormon actually praised them for using “every means” to “destroy” the Gadianton Robbers (Helaman 6:20). A part of this was preaching, but the other part was “hunting” (Helaman 6:37) which likely included the search and destroy missions that the Nephites found so difficult (Helaman 11:28).

ii.37 [Part Two] During his suddenly justified war against the Arians in Gaul he faced a particularly difficult point. “When [Clovis] came to the river Vienne with his army, he did not know where he ought to cross. For the river had swollen from the rains. When he had prayed to the Lord in the night to show him a ford where he could cross, in the morning by God's will a hind of wonderful size entered the river before them, and when it passed over the people saw where they could cross.”

The exact opposite of this occurred during early church history and I remember watching the video about it. Zion’s Camp marched towards Missouri and a delegation from a large posse rode up to them and promised that their much larger group was riding towards Zions Camp to kill them.(Check out the video, the acting is hilarious.) Instead the camp bivouacked in a church while a sudden storm swelled the river and protected them. In the video, its very dramatic with the actor portraying Joseph Smith making a prophetic pronouncement, storm clouds coming out of nowhere, and the saints singing and praising God interspersed with scenes of the posse being destroyed by the storm.

You can see for yourself starting at the 10-minute mark here:

I’m not an expert on religion and don’t have any fancy terms to describe it, but it’s obvious these kinds of stories were important in building a sense of community, a shared history of miracles, and important for the faithful to see God’s hand in their lives. I often say that the fundamentals of human nature remain the same regardless of time period or culture, and I see Gregory of Tours writing a history that included an event very similar to Zion’s Camp.

ii.27 [Part Three] The Abbot Maxentius is recorded as: hasten[ing] boldly to meet the enemy to ask for peace. And one of them drew out his sword to launch a stroke at his head, and when he had raised his hand to his ear it became rigid and the sword fell. And he threw himself at the feet of the blessed man, asking pardon.

This resembles the Book of Mormon in two ways. First, it recalls how the People of Limhi used “their fair daughters” to go and plead before the invading Lamanites (Mosiah 19:13). More important is the failed strike from the leader of the soldier. This recalls the story of the Ammon, the king and his wife who all passed out. One of the Lamanites lost a relative to Ammon and tried to strike him with his sword, at which point he was stricken dead (Alma 19:22). And this became part of the miraculous conversion of so many of them (Alma 19:35). 

Again, historians might doubt these stories as the translator of my edition of Gregory’s history did. The stories about divine intervention in the History of the Franks is a remarkable text that helps us gain insight into important building blocks of faith, a foundation of the church, and a shared history among their people. I find it remarkable that the Book of Mormon contains the same kind of miracles.

Thanks for reading. Providing high quality, ad free research and insights over the last decade is a tough and time consuming activity. If you found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below, or buy some of research using the research link in the top left. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Whats Going On?

Most of you have probably noticed its been almost two full months since I posted which is quite awhile for me on this blog. That is due to several specific reasons:

Beyond Sun- Tzu: This is the newest book I've been working on. I discussed the project here as well as some applications it might have for my Book of Mormon research. Much of the free time I have for writing has been taken up with this project. I've finished a draft* and I've started making edits. I have some interest from Routledge Press so lets hope that bears fruit as well.

*There are two sections that aren't done that are a glossary and conclusion. Both of those don't include analysis and are mostly summary so I don't count those.

I forgot to mention one important way this effects my Book of Mormon research. If you have a passionate belief for or against military action with verses or prophetic statements to support it then you already know that there are a variety of conflicting statements on the matter. Those that supported the war in Iraq pointed to Captain Moroni, those against it quoted Mormon.  My project took 30 classic Chinese texts and through thousands of pages to see how they agree, disagree, debate, and interact with each other about warfare. This makes me uniquely qualified to do the same thing with Mormon scriptures and prophetic statements. I hope to start on this soon after my current book is published and situation stabilized (see below).

Life: This category is somewhat vague but extensive because life took over. Shortly after I published my last post my computer fried. I heard a zap and smelled some burning and my computer was dead. Despite several technicians assuring me that it was an easy fix, it took me almost a month before I got a new computer. I was able to keep up with my work on an ancient laptop that works surprisingly well for its age, but I didn't have my notes on my latest blog post. This post is the latest of a series on ancient historians and covered Gregory of Tours and the History of the Franks. I thought this was fitting since the cover of my last monograph on the Book of Mormon was the baptism of Clovis. That post is coming in the next couple of weeks hopefully.

Even though I finally got my computer back during that epic saga of fixing it the free lance outfit for which I write closed down, so essentially I lost my job. I've been spending most of the time I normally spend writing now applying for jobs and going to interviews.  On top of that, I have leaking water from my bathroom to my bedroom which suggests potential leaks, water damage, and expensive cleanup. 

New Buttons: All of this mental energy expended trying to pay the bills and handle one crisis after another (such as spending several hours getting my flat tire repaired yesterday) makes it tough to write about somewhat obscure and at this point less important topics like ancient history. That is why I added two things to the blog. I added a email subscription box, so you can get these posts more often and as soon as they are published. Adding your name to this list might be a springboard to my offering a paid subscription newsletter service that highlights political and military analysis I previously wrote for my last job. I occasionally posted samples here like this piece on China's Peace Disease and I if the business model is viable I hope to offer several pieces like that per week.

I also re-added the pay pal donation button at the bottom of the page. Researching and writing pieces about ancient history and the Book of Mormon is time and energy consuming. I love to do it but often don't have the energy after working three jobs, or now the stress of job hunting.  This has been an add free space for over ten years(!) that provides valuable and unique analysis on the Book of Mormon. If you value this work and wish to see it continued then please consider donating. It will be a valuable contribution that helps me continue this work. If you don't feel like contributing, you might also considering buying one of my books to my newly linked author page at Amazon. I have to run to an interview so I hope to provide more quality work for you shortly. Thanks and have a great day.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Sharpening Swords and Sharpening Oneself- Applying Research

I’m working on new project tentatively titled, A Soldier in Armor Does not Bow: Classical Debates on War and Government Beyond Sun-Tzu.  Sunzi (Sun-Tzu) tends to overshadow the rest of the commentary on classic Chinese military theory. The translations are too many to count and just the famous ones include Giles, Griffith, Cleary and Sawyer. And this is before getting into various proliferating boutique editions sold at major book stores.

But this focus on Sunzi borders on obsession and it blinds the general public to the many more works in existences, hinders those with academic training in military theory from the rich potential of the rest of the corpus, and the texts beyond Sunzi are often ignored by the majority of scholars who specialize in these texts and instead focus their research on the ethical, metaphysical, and literary qualities inside them. Xunzi is an excellent example of this trend. He was one of the most influential and sophisticated philosophers in pre imperial China and is the subject of dozens of books and essays. Yet there is no work that devotes significant attention to Xunzi's military theories, despite the fact he thought the topic of armed conflict enough important to devote an entire treatise to it.

The project will take advantage of my academic study in Chinese military history, an extensive background in general military thought including both ancient and modern thinkers, and the increasing number of English translations of seminal volumes that remained to be studied.  These include new translations of the Mozi, the Dao De Jing, the Analects of Confucious (Kong Fuzi), Seven Military Classics, Huainanzi, Sun Bin’s Art of War, Shizi, Guanzi, Mencius, Xunzi, Yi Zhou Shu, the Pheasant Cap Master of Heguanzi and the so called "lost classics" of the Yellow Emperor. When combined with the existing the Book of Lord Shang, Han Feizi and fragments or excerpts from the works of thinkers like Shen Puhai and Jia Yi this becomes a sold corpus. Taken together they cover a broad spectrum of Chinese thought and debate among Confucianists, Legalists, Daoists, the methods of Shen Pu Hai and their various combinations and synthesis.

Despite being publicly available, some of them for close to 100 years, very little has been done to systematically assess and evaluate these texts. Focusing on Sunzi to the detriment of the rest of the military thought is a tragedy. That misplaced focus fails to recognize that moral questions that governments wrestled with. Sunzi’s focus on purely rational calculation obscures the debate around moral matters that many writers contend strengthened both the government and soldiers. In some places, Sunzi’s advice directly contradicts sound commands regarding the conducts of army towards civilians, and the treatment of soldiers. Important concepts such as shih and weighing (quan) are elaborated much more fully in other texts.  The misplaced focus also ignores the history of the China and its application. Many leaders such as those that unified China in the 2nd century BC and the Kaangxi Emperor of the late 18th century AD respectively used other theories and called the classics like Sunzi “worthless.”

As part of that project I’ve seen a good deal of material that can be applied to the Book of Mormon and our study of it.
      Why Study? This quote supplies advice about the role of knowledge in sharpening oneself and its relationship to warfare.

Learning is like sharpening. Suppose fine copper from Mount Kunwu and excellent tin from zhufu are worked by the famous blacksmiths of Gan and Yue and forged into a sword. Yet if they do not use both fine and course whetstones on it, then when using it to stab it will not enter, and when using it to slash, it will not cut…Nowadays, people all know to sharpen swords, but no one knows to sharpen themselves. Learning is the sharpening of the self.[1]

If you change sharpen swords to being a jerk on social media it is even more insightful. Now that I think about it, this quote, “Nowadays, people all know how to be a jerk, but no one knows how to learn” sounds like something that would be posted on the archways at facebook.

2      The authorship of historic texts: The man named Guanzi is thought to have lived in the 7th century BC. But his writings weren’t complied until about 26BC and his writings contain a great deal of material that responds to contemporary debates in the late warring states period. This has led to debates among different theories that are repeated in some measure in regards to almost every text.

The two extremes range from it being written by Guanzi or entirely written by somebody else. The middle views are more nuanced and include a corpus of older material that was added by later scholars or disciples. Another theory is that writings from a certain school were written in Guanzi’s name or attributed to him by the editor of his works in 26BC. This means that different authors wrote texts that discussed good ministry, authoritative Confucianism, and good policies towards the people and the unknown authors sought more authority for their works by invoking Guanzi’s name, or it was a way to classify them and the Guanzi School simply became Guanzi.

This has the most application regarding the Book of Abraham. I’m basically familiar with the issues regarding the Book of Abraham though I can’t say exactly how much of the above about Guanzi applies to this. The LDS gospel topics essays says, “[Abraham] is the author not the copyist” which implies that the line, “by my own hand,” in the introduction is a bit more nuanced. This might inspire critics to say that apologists are stretching or twisting to explain away uncomfortable facts when I can read the same debate about almost 30 different ancient texts. So I can say it’s really pretty normal to assume that ancient writings have rather complicated provenance and the Book of Abraham, as an assumed ancient writing, is no different.

3       Anachronisms: This is a favorite hobby horse (or Tapir) of critics but it’s similarly flawed when viewed from a historical perspective. The one that popped out to me the most was an argument from Tai Kong. This text was supposedly written in the later Zhou Dynasty around the 10th century BC. But then this ancient Tai Kong directly addresses a specific problem to the latter Warring States Period:

“When the people are not engaged in agriculture and sericulture but instead give rein to their tempers and travel about as bravados, disdaining and transgressing the laws and prohibitions, not following the instructions of officials, it harms the king’s transforming influence.”[2]

These are the same types of individuals that legalists like Han Feizi criticized.[3] They were viewed as honorable people but they didn’t fight for the state and actually undermined it so they were often criticized by government officials.

The response to this isn’t that the book is a clear forgery that now has no use. Going back to point one the explanation depends on who you ask. But it could very well be that later writers added things to a core text which introduced the anachronisms. Most anti Mormon critics tend to move the book quickly into the total fraud category, but an alternate explanation is that this represents the long provenance of the book going through the hands of difference editors (such as Joseph Smith translating Mormon’s translation of Ether.) 

4       Related to the anachronisms was the moral outrage over violence and how it contribution to the texts and how people viewed the authenticity of them:  Confucians such as Mencius were quick to disqualify texts like the Tai Kong over their anachronisms because its depiction of brutal violence, spy craft like corrupting with women, and revolutionary nature made it unsalable for Confucians. Sunzi was often criticized because he didn’t seem to care about morality like Confucians did. Guanzi, the good Confucian minister advocated for proper treatment of the people, Sunzi said cast them into hopeless situations in order to stimulate the greatest effort. Sunzi said that warfare was the greatest affair of state but many others would argue that it was the altars of state that was most important.[4]  To the utter horror of Confucian historians the Yi Zhou Shu included how a conquering ruler cut off over 1 million ears and captured another 3 million.[5]

The point is that editors tell the stories they want to and often make judgements about the veracity of documents based on their personal beliefs. These judgements can be seen by carefully looking at what is included and how it’s included. Before you start to say there I go again, this is the same methodology that Grant Hardy employed when he pointed out the long digression after Nephi comes back with the plates and similar inferences that can be made about Nephi’s actions.

Hardy discussed how Nephi came back from killing Laban and obtaining the plates. Instead of recording Lehi’s reactions it does something really unusual, it details the words of Sariah, and then it says how Lehi made an offering for sacrifice. By reading the text critically and looking at what was included and not included we might tentatively believe, according to Hardy, that Lehi did not approve of Nephi’s actions. The larger point is that a careful reading of the text suggests possible unintended consequences and actions that Mormon (once we leave the plates of Nephi) often tried to massage away from the text. This doesn’t hurt the text but should increase our appreciation of it.

5       Answering Questions that Weren’t Asked: One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is finding that the Book of Mormon actually answers great questions that I never asked until I started reading these Chinese texts. I’ve posted these previously on my blog so I won’t repeat them here. But you can find much more about battlefield morality and the role of ritual in camp.  I’ve got a paper based on this submitted for an upcoming conference so I hope I can present this to a larger audience.

Those are the major factors that apply to the Book of Mormon. My extensive readings and specific examples I provide are reasons why I find the criticisms of both anti Mormons and fundamentalists rather shallow. They often stem from a lack of knowledge and inappropriate use of the limited knowledge they do have. Its too often scholarship warped into a narrow pursuit, which is why I’m so excited about this book that will bring classical Chinese military theory to a much wider audience.  

Thanks for reading. I work as a freelance author so if found value in this work please consider donating using the paypal button below or buying one of my books. It will help me continue my research so I can bring you more of these. Thank you! 

[1] Shizi: China’s First Syncretist, Paul Fischer trans., (Columbia University Press, 2012,) 58.
[2] The Six Secret Teachings of Tai Kong, in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, Ralph Sawyer trans., (Westview Press, 1993), 48.
[3] Han Feizi Basic Writings, Burton Watson trans., (Columbia University Press, 2003,) 106.
[4] Tai Kong, Seven Military Classics, 64; Sun Pin Military Methods, Ralph Sawyer trans., Westview Press, 1995. 84; Five Lost Classics: Tao, Huanglao, and YingYang in Han China, Robin Yates trans., (New York City, Ballantine Books, 1997) 57; Han, Watson, 50; Basic Writings of Xunzi, Burton Watson trans., (Columbia University Press, 1963,) 71, Wuzi, Seven Classics, 206.
[5] Robine McNeal, To Conquer and Govern: Early Chinese Military Texts from the Yi Zho Shu, (University of Hawaii Press, 2012), 94.