Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Robbers and Lamanites

For hundreds of years, the Nephites battled a single monolithic nemesis, the Lamanites. At the end of their civilization, though, the Nephites fought two different, allied enemies: robbers and Lamanites. The Nephites were caught in a vise with nowhere to flee. Being surrounded with no escape route was a perpetual fear of both Nephites Alma 51:30 and Lamanites Alma 56:37. Here is the textual basis:

Mosiah 21:5 ca. 130 BC The Nephites under King Limhi were caught in a vise with no escape. The Lamanites had surrounded them on every side. It required the intervention of Ammon and his fifteen companions dispatched by King Mosiah II to liberate the people of Limhi by strategem.

Alma 22:33-34 ca. 90 BC The Nephites were diligent to fortify the Bountiful/Desolation line along the west sea so the Lamanites would be hemmed in on the south and unable to overrun  the land northward. This gave the Nephites an escape route. They could always flee into the land northward if conditions became intolerable in their traditional homeland in the land southward.

Alma 50:29-30 ca. 67 BC Had fiery Morianton been allowed to settle the land northward, it would have caused trouble for the Nephites who were trying to protect the land northward as a possible refuge.

Alma 52:9 ca. 66 BC The Nephites were engaged in a two-front war led by Moroni in the southwest and Teancum in the northeast. Lamanites already controlled the southeast beginning at the city of Moroni and from there up the east coast. Therefore, it was strategically important to secure the narrow pass in the northwest because if the Lamanites could obtain that point they would have the Nephites surrounded and could harass them on every side.

Alma 63:4 ca. 55 BC Large scale migrations began from the land of Zarahemla into the land northward.

Helaman 1:9-12 ca. 51 BC Kishkumen (critical text orthography Kishcumen) as a hired assasin murdered Pahoran II (critical text orthography Parhoron). A secret band formed by oath. Its members were embedded incognito among the Nephites. The Nephite state executed any member of the band they could find.

Helaman 2:3-14 ca. 50 BC Gadianton (critical text orthography Gaddianton) emerged as the leader of the band of Kishkumen. Gadianton's goal was to seize control of the Nephite state. The band murdered, robbed, and acquired political power. Kishkumen attempted to murder Helaman II and was killed in the attempt. The Nephite security apparatus attempted to apprehend Gadianton and his band to execute them, but Gadianton swiftly led his band into the wilderness using a little-known escape route. Gadianton ultimately proved to be almost the entire cause of the Nephite destruction. The Nephite destruction narrative is recounted in the books of 4 Nephi and Mormon which were taken from original source documents near the end of the Nephite record-keeping tradition that began with the large plates of Nephi.

Helaman 3:3 ca. 46 BC Large scale migrations continued from the greater land of Zarahemla into the land northward.

Helaman 3:23 ca. 43 BC Gadianton was still alive, leading his nefarious band of robbers who had spread beyond the wilderness and infiltrated the more settled parts of the land.

Helaman 6:6 ca. 29 BC Lamanites began migrating into the land northward.

Helaman 6:15-41 ca. 26 - 24 BC The band of Kishkumen-Gadianton murdered two Nephite chief judges in quick succession. Many Nephites and even more Lamanites joined the band whose members lived incognito among the people. The increasingly virtuous Lanamite state used extraordinary measures including religious evangelism to eliminate the band from their midst. The increasingly amoral Nephite state tolerated and finally embraced the band. Gadianton is not mentioned in these passages as a person and he may no longer have been alive, but the band carrying his name finally succeeded in accomplishing his primary objective: they seized control of the Nephite state (sole management of the government). Nephite destruction was now inevitable.

Helaman 7:4-5 ca. 23 BC Robbers openly controlled the Nephite government in the lesser land of Zarahemla. In their corrupt rule, there was no justice. Judgment was for sale to the highest bidder. Mormon's description of this wicked regime (condemning the righteous, exonerating the guilty for money, seeking for material gain and the glory of the world, committing adultery, larceny, and murder) identifies it as part of the great and abominable church Nephi saw in vision 1 Nephi 13:8 whose founder is the devil 1 Nephi 13:6, Helaman 6:26.

Helaman 7:21-28 ca. 22 BC Nephi II, returned from preaching in the land northward, berated the people of Zarahemla from atop his garden tower for seeking after gain, the praise of men, and worldly wealth. The Nephites were chastised for murder, plunder, stealing, and bearing false witness. The wicked Nephites faced impending destruction because they had united with the robbers. The righteous Lamanites would be preserved and multiplied. Gadianton's band was explicitly called an abomination.

Helaman 8:1, 27-28 ca. 22 BC Nephite judges belonged to the Gadianton band. One member of the band who lusted for power murdered his own brother, a fellow band member.

Helaman 11:1-2 ca. 20 BC The Gadianton robbers started wars throughout all Nephite-controlled territory until the entire nation was embroiled in war.

Helaman 11:10 ca. 17 BC After two years of lethal famine that killed thousands, the Nephites completely eliminated the band of Gadianton from their midst and the documents undergirding the organization were buried in the earth.

Helaman 11:24-33 ca. 12 BC Nephite dissenters and Lamanites re-constituted the Gadianton robbers, who hid out in mountain and wilderness areas. They dug up the old documents supporting the organization and preyed upon both Nephites and Lamanites. They repulsed two Nephite armies sent to destroy them. Their numbers grew to such an extent they threatened both the Nephite and Lamanite armies. The robbers sent raiding parties into Nephite and Lamanite lands, killing many and taking others, particularly women and children, captive.

3 Nephi 3:7 ca. AD 16 Giddianhi's epistle to Lachoneus revealed the mindset of the Gadianton robbers. They wanted the Nephites to join them as partners in crime, not conquered subjects. The robbers attempted to coerce the Nephites through violence into accepting their proposal.

3 Nephi 4:13-14 ca. AD 21 Supreme Nephite military commander, Gidgiddoni, issued a shoot-to-kill order for any robber that fell into Nephite hands. Giddianhi, leader of the Gadiantons, was killed in the field pursuant to this order.

3 Nephi 4:16 ca. AD 21 The Nephites were concentrated in the land of refuge that ran from the lesser land of Zarahemla to the Bountiful/Desolation line along the west coast. The robbers unsuccessfully tried to hem in the Nephites on every side, to surround them and thereby force them to surrender.

3 Nephi 4:23 ca. AD 22 Gadianton leader, Zemnarihah, ordered his band to migrate en masse to the furthermost parts of the land northward.

3 Nephi 4:24-28 ca. AD 22 Nephite armies intercepted the Gadiantons in their march and surrounded them. Members of the band either gave themselves up as prisoners of war or were killed. Zemnarihah was executed in a ritually significant manner. See the Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy #192 published September 21, 2016 entitled "Why Did the People Cut Down the Tree after Hanging Zemharihah?"

3 Nephi 6:28-30 ca. ca. AD 30 After a brief respite, a secret combination formed again according to the ancient pattern. Their aim was to destroy the people of the Lord and replace the Nephite form of government with kingship.

3 Nephi 7:1-3 ca. AD 30 The secret combination murdered the chief judge, Lachoneus II, and destroyed the Nephite central government. What had been a state level society collapsed into tribalism and chiefdoms. See the blog article "State Level Society" for a fascinating comparison of the Book of Mormon with modern political science studies of states that degrade into tribes.

3 Nephi 7:9-13 ca. AD 30 Jacob III became king of the secret combination. He fled with his followers to the northernmost part of the land to build up a kingdom.

3 Nephi 9:9 ca. AD 34 The great city Jacobugath, home to the people of king Jacob who destroyed the Nephite government, was burned by fire at the Savior's death.

4 Nephi 1:42-46 ca. AD 260 The Gadianton robbers re-formed and began to overspread the land. Gold, silver, and trade were their priorities.

Mormon 1:18 ca. AD 326 The Gadianton robbers were among the Lamanites.

Mormon 2:8 ca. AD 331 Mormon faced two enemies, robbers and Lamanites.

Mormon 2:27-29 ca. AD 350 After establishing their most northerly capital in the city of Shem (Mormon 2:20), the Nephites fought their way back southward and negotiated a treaty with both the Lamanites and the robbers that divided the land. The Nephites got the land northward and the Lamanites took the land southward. So, where were the robbers? They were everywhere among both the Nephites and Lamanites, but their headquarters was still in the northernmost parts of the land (3 Nephi 7:12) and their strong presence in the far north was probably the reason the Nephites couldn't just continue fleeing northward beyond Shem.

Mormon 4:23 ca. AD 375 The hill Shim in the land Antum, securely under Nephite control for decades, had become vulnerable to Lamanite attack, causing Mormon to move the Nephite repository from hill Shim to hill Ramah/Cumorah.

Mormon 8:2 ca. AD 385 A few survivors of the Nephite holocaust at hill Ramah/Cumorah, including Mormon, fled southward where they were killed by the Lamanites. Why southward? They must have thought their chances of survival were better with the Lamanites in the land southward than they would have been traveling northward. This implies a powerful, hostile political force entrenched northward from hill Ramah/Cumorah.

Mormon 8:9 ca. AD 401 Moroni remained alone. The Nephites were all gone. Only Lamanites and robbers existed upon the face of the land.

This detailed textual narrative fits astonishingly well into Mesoamerica between 90 BC and AD 401.

The enormous city, Teotihuacan, began its rise to prominence ca. 100 BC. Many people migrated to Teotihuacan from points southward. Cities such as Cholula and Cantona came under Teotihuacan control. About AD 300, Teotihuacan influence began to appear along the Pacific coast of Chiapas and Guatemala. About AD 350, Teotihuacan established Matacapan in the Tuxtlas as a trading outpost. Then in AD 378, Teotihuacan and allies overthrew the ruling house in Tikal and installed a new dynasty loyal to the central Mexican behemoth. Soon after the regime change in Tikal, much of the Maya world came under strong Teotihuacan influence.

And yet, Teotihuacan has always been considered by anthropologists as more of a trading empire than a conquering hegemon. This parallels the sense of Giddianhi's epistle to Lachoneus and Mormon's characterization of them at the end of 4 Nephi. "The Teotihuacan empire was all about trade and control of resources rather than political subjegation." Edwin Roman in a presentation at the VII Convención Mundial de Arqueología Maya, Antigua, Guatemala, February 15, 2019. See the blog article "Light from Guatemala." Some have doubted it was even an empire at all. In 2015, I heard Michael Coe insist Teotihuacan absolutely was an empire that in the AD 350 - 450 time frame dominated the entire Maya area from northern Yucatan to the Pacific coast of Guatemala from its base in central Mexico. See the blog article "Hansen and Coe."

These maps summarize what I think was going on. Some of these ideas have benefitted from conversations with Brant Gardner. A few years before the Nephite holocaust at Ramah/Cumorah, Teotihuacan was expanding its influence throughout the Maya world.
Teotihuacan and Sites with Known Teotihuacan Influence
Three sites with strong Teotihuacan relationships were in the Tuxtla Mountains of southern Veracruz, where we think hill Ramah/Cumorah is located.
Proposed Book of Mormon Lands with Teotihuacan-Affiliated Sites
The Nephites were literally caught in a vise. Their traditional enemies, the Lamanites, were pressing them from the south, and the Gadianton robbers had them hemmed in on the north. Furthermore, the Lamanite/robber connection was growing stronger over time. The Nephites' worst fears were realized. They were surrounded with nowhere to flee. An overwhelming force massed in the area around hill Ramah/Cumorah and the Nephites were annihilated.

These cogent comments are from my friend, Larry Stay, formerly Mission President in Guatemala City South:
  • When the Teotihuacan armies invaded in 378 A.D. they brought new technology with them. They brought the atlatl and short lances with them. This increased the range at which they could effectively engage another army (long range artillery). Stele from the period show warriors with square shields (Maya shields were round) and a large number of lances in hand.
  • It is interesting to me that after 375 A.D. (the approximate time of the invasion) Mormon never won another battle. His armies were swept before the enemy. Perhaps the combination of new technology from the robbers and the consolidation of Lamanite forces crossed the tipping point.
  • Moroni notes that there was continuous warfare after the Nephite defeat (Mormon 8:8). There is a pause in the Mayan archaeological record of about 150 years after the Teotihuacan invasion where Mayan civilization appears to stop. It is consistent with Moroni's observation.
Kirk Magleby volunteers as Executive Director of Book of Mormon Central which helps people make the Book of Mormon central in their lives. Book of Mormon Central publishes the remarkable new mobile app ScripturePlus.