Today we continue the war chapters, and get to read some military correspondence. Let’s start with a rough chapter outline and then drill down into individual verses.
My very rough outline –
Alma 53- Preparations for war. Helaman takes 2000 stripling
warriors from Ammonites.
Alma 54- Moroni receives letter from Ammoron, writes back, gets response. Discussion of prisoner exchange.
Alma 55- Takes prisoners by stratagem. (wine and Lamanite story)
Alma 56- Epistle from Helaman about 2000, not a single one lost, cities retaken by stratagem.
Alma 57- Helaman to Moroni continued, describing more epistles, battles, etc.
Alma 58- Helaman recounts more battles, closes letter to Moroni.
Alma 59- (30th year) Moroni1 sends epistle to Pahoran. Lamanites get strong, take more cities. No response from Pahoran.
Alma 60 – Moroni writes angry epistle to Pahoran.
Alma 61- Pahoran writes Moroni1 back, asking for help.
Alma 62- Moroni1 takes army to center of the land, overthrows Pachus and king men. Takes Nephihah. More battles, Teancum kills Ammoron, gets killed in process. Moroni1 gives command to his son, Moronihah. Helaman1 dies.
Alma 63- Shiblon takes records, Moroni1 dies, Hagoth deal. Corianton goes north, Shiblon gives records to Helaman2, and dies. Lots of other people die. Big war, but Lamanites lose.
Alm 53:17 Contrast the pacifistic covenant of the 1st generation (Alma 24:12-16) with the covenant of their children – “they would fight in all cases to protect the Nephites and themselves from bondage.” What kind of lesson or moral is legitimate to extract from this comparison? Are the specific circumstances of both the parents (repentant killers turned pacifist and in turn slaughtered) and the children sufficient to allow for general lessons about the morality of war, pacifism, “just war,” and so on? Can we make any kind of blanket statement, “The Book of Mormon teaches X about war”?
Mormon greatly admires the courage and spirit of Captain Moroni. He praises him so extravagantly at Alma 48:11–18 that any subsequent criticism would be inconsistent. Nevertheless, there are indications that Moroni had his faults and could have been a difficult man to work with —or at least this is the conclusion that readers can draw for themselves from reading his letters reproduced at Alma 54 and 60. In the former letter, it is hard to see how the accusation “thou art a child of hell” (54:11) might have been a successful opening for negotiations, and in the latter Moroni claims (inaccurately, as it turns out) a revelation suggesting that the governor has “transgress[ed] the laws of God” and needs to repent of his “sins and iniquities”….
[In the war chapters] we see Moroni at war—defending, maneuvering, strategizing, threatening, and attacking. We could cite several passages where his actions seem questionable. During a lull in the fighting he clears out Lamanite villages and establishes fortified cities in their stead (Alma 50:7–16), a particularly aggressive form of keeping the peace, which seems contrary to the articulated ideal of engaging only in defensive warfare (Alma 43:46–47, 48:14). (This is the moment that Mormon, somewhat jaw-droppingly, pronounces to be the happiest in all of Nephite history; see Alma 50:23.) At one point Moroni slaughters some four thousand of his political opponents, thus “breaking down the wars and contentions among his own people, and subjecting them to peace and civilization”(!) (Alma 51:17–22). His negotiating skills are a bit weak….
On the other hand, there are also instances where Moroni can be seen giving quarter to his enemies (Alma 52:37, 55:18–19, 62:16–17, 27–29) and proving that he was indeed a reluctant warrior (Alma 48:22), one who “did not delight in bloodshed” (Alma 48:11, 55:19). Mormon seems quite sincere in his admiration of Captain Moroni, even though his account of the Amalickiahite Wars is uncharacteristically secular. God and religion are mentioned in the quoted letters, but hardly at all by the narrator, who seems content to explain causation in naturalistic terms. Perhaps this is the respect of one professional soldier for another. Whatever success the Nephites have at this time is credited to Moroni’s skill as a general. If his blunt manner, quick temper, aggressive posture, and hasty suspicions would have made him a poor missionary, they are nevertheless qualities that serve him well on the battlefield. (Even so, Mormon’s account glosses over the fact that under Moroni, the Nephites lost a whole string of heavily fortified cities, including, for a time, the capital Zarahemla itself; Alma 51:11, 22–28, 52:12.)- Grant Hardy, Understanding the Book of Mormon, various pages.
Alma 56:28 Wives and families appear to travel with the army. That presents its own hardships over separation of families during wartime. Does military conflict do anything good to/for families?
Alma 56:52 Although we’re in the middle of a letter written by Helaman, we suddenly switch to talking about Helaman in the 3rd person. Is Mormon doing some editing, filling in the gaps?
Alma 60:2– Cimeter= scimitar, and curved swords are right at home in the ancient Americas. They’re also at home in the ancient Near East. The Akkadian katinnu and Hebrew kīdōn— which appears in Gerald Lund’s Kingdom and the Crown series as a nickname for a famous Jewish warrior, “Spear”, iirc— was, in fact, a curved blade, i.e. “scimitar.”
60:7, 11,21- “Can you think to sit upon your thrones in a state of thoughtless stupor… Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain…. Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?”
I’ve applied this before in a few ways. It seems that God is quite reluctant to do for us what we can do for ourselves, especially when a) he has already provided us the means to do, and b) stepping in would deprive of the growth that comes from experience. This is almost anti-Calvinist rhetoric in a military setting; you can’t just do nothing and depend on God for deliverance, you have to act!
In quite a different light, I’ve used it in terms of scripture study, resources, and building resilient faith. (I cite it in my article here, listing of Old Testament resources here, and old blog post here.) God has given us all kinds of fantastic tools and resources to study scripture, and most of us ignore them. We do not make use of the “means the lord has provided for us.”
60:12- “If you suppose they died because they were wicked…”
There don’t seem to be any literary allusions here, but this is the problem of both Deuteronomy (“If you are righteous, you will live and prosper”) and Job’s friends (“If bad things are happening to you, it’s because you deserve them.”) In the long long term, I believe Deuteronomy. But in the individual and short term, most often, bad things happen to good people. Like Job, Moroni warns against justifying the misfortunes that befall people as divine justice. (If you haven’t read it, Michael Austin’s LDS treatment of Job is a fantastic combination of readable scholarship and practical discipleship. I know a Stake President who bought copies for his counselors and High Council, and a mother who found it a strength in providing end-of-life care to her daughter’s ex-partner with cancer, who had been cut off by her own parents.)
Punctuation in the Book of Mormon was added by the non-LDS printer. Joseph and Oliver delivered to him a manuscript that was one long sentence, no punctuation at all, and he refused to print it like that. So punctuation is not canonical in the Book of Mormon, and feel free to repunctuate if it makes more sense of a passage.
These passages offer two examples of repunctuating which changes the sense.
Alm 56:47-48. How should we understand this oft-cited passage?
47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.
“We do not doubt our mothers knew it,” i.e. “boy did our mothers know it, we have no doubt of that!”
“We do not doubt. Our mothers knew it,” i.e. “We warriors don’t doubt at all, and our mothers sure as heck knew that we stripling warriors have no doubt.”
Alm 54:24 There is a marked difference between
“Behold, now I am a bold Lamanite.”
“Behold now, I am a bold Lamanite.”
The latter uses “now” as a filler word. The former emphasizes Ammoron’s socio-religio-political conversion, his changing of sides: now, he is a bold Lamanite. Grant Hardy is the one who noticed this, in this short article.
Alma 57:21 “they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness; yea, and even according to their faith it was done unto them”
This young teenage boys are apparently the equivalent of Privates in the army, given strict and detailed orders with little room for choice, adaptation, or improvisation; more senior soldiers might instead be given an objective and trusted to accomplish it as best they can, given changing conditions on the field. How well does that first military model of command, execution/implementation map onto a gospel setting of discipleship? Does it presume full details in every divine directive, and is that the same as “micromanaging”? Does that undercut spiritual development? How does it relate to D&C 58:26-28?
“it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. 27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; 28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. 29 But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.”
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