Market Dominant Minorities in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon depicts a fascinating constellation of legal, political, and social arrangements in its narrative. These arrangements shift over time as the complex history unfolds. The complexity of the social history of the peoples of the Book of Mormon provides ample material to busy serious scholars for generations to come. I am not such a scholar. But the society, laws, and government of the Book of Mormon peoples still fascinate and intrigue me each time I read. And sometimes wild ideas entertain me about the Book of Mormon peoples — like the thought that market dominant minorities have something to do with the volatile political and cultural situation, the ever-present feeling of societal tension, that fills the book’s pages.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon is surely to bring people to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ — to bring people unto Christ for their salvation. But even a superficial reading of the Book of Mormon uncovers the following thesis: For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence (2 Nephi 4:4). The narrative of the Book of Mormon surrounds this theme from its first appearance, as early as 1 Nephi 2:20, to the ministry of Jesus Christ to the inhabitants of the New World after his Resurrection in Jerusalem approximately six hundred years later, and beyond to the ultimate demise of an entire ethnic group at the dramatic end of the history. It is also the center of the Jaredite narrative in the Book of Mormon reaching back to nearly 2000 B.C.

We all know about the Nephite pride-cycle in the Book of Mormon. The Nephites did indeed prosper, not only economically but also politically. The text of the Book of Mormon supports inferences that the Nephites constituted an economically powerful aristocratic governing elite — an ethnicity that ruled both economically and politically. Other peoples certainly already inhabited the New World at the time that Lehi and his group migrated there shortly after 600 A.D. and Mulek and his group arrived there a few years later. It is reasonable to assume that the descendants of Laman, from whom Nephi had taken the birthright and Lehi’s blessing, would have been more likely to mix in immediately with the peoples and civilizations already present in the New World because we read that they were not diligent in keeping the commandments and precepts of the Law of Moses, which included proscriptions against associating with non-Israelites. The followers of Nephi would not have multiplied as fast. And yet, we read of their continuing prosperity and expansion, and of their political dominance through the kingship of Nephi and his descendants. In the Nephite pride-cycle, this prosperity constantly lures the people into a sense of security and they become lazy about keeping God’s commandments; in one way or another, they are then humbled through suffering and begin the cycle again.

Later on, when the Nephites embarked on another migration and found the people of Zarahemla, who were the descendants of Mulek, another Jew who had fled Jerusalem in the wake of the Babylonian siege and occupation, the Nephite leader Mosiah I assumed the kingship of the united people with surprising ease and almost as a matter of course. The Book of Mormon suggests that the Mulekites or people of Zarahemla were content with this outcome because of their appreciation of the language and records of the Nephites. But it has been pointed out that this is likely a rather one-sided view of this history:

The story from the Nephite side represents the event [of the unification of the Mulekites and the Nephites under the Nephite Mosiah I] as not only peaceful but enthusiastically welcomed by the locals [the Mulekites and whatever peoples they had mixed in with, since the Nephites as a group were emigrating into the Mulekite sphere]. From the point of view of some of the resident people, however, the transition may not have seemed so pleasant. The key reason why they “rejoiced” is said to be that Mosiah brought sacred records when they had none. The impressive fact of literacy itself could indeed have combined with possession of the mysterious sacred relics in Mosiah’s possession — the plates of Nephi, the brass plates, Laban’s sword, the Liahona — to confer an almost magical aura on Mosiah that validated his deserving the kingship. . . .

Political amalgamation did not erase the ethnic distinction between the two groups. . . .

It is plausible that later “contentions” and “dissensions” in Nephite society were in part led by unhappy descendants of Zarahemla who considered that they were not given their due when Mosiah became king. At least one man who “was a descendant of Zarahemla,” the Coriantumr of Helaman 1:15, “was a dissenter from among the Nephites” and came close to conquering the Nephites. . . .

A fascination with the extinct Jaredites was manifest among the Nephites from time to time [after their uniting with the Mulekites]. Mosiah translated the twenty-four gold plates of the Jaredites “because of the great anxiety of his people; for they were desirous beyond measure to know concerning those people who had been destroyed.” Nibley identifies a number of names used among the Nephites that were clearly derived from the Jaredites and notes, “Five out of the six whose names are definitely Jaredite betray strong anti-Nephite leanings.” This permanent cultural impression on the Nephites he believes was made through the Mulek group. This unacknowledged influence from the Jaredites may have come via cultural syncretism between members of the Mulek group and local survivors from the Jaredite tradition. . . . Non-Nephite ways seem to have kept bubbling up from beneath the ideal social and cultural surface depicted by the Nephite elite record keepers. After all, the descendants of the people of Zarahemla probably always constituted a majority of “the folk” . . . . (John L. Sorenson, “The Mulekites,” BYU Studies, vol. 30:3:10-12 (1990).)

As a prosperous, market dominant ethnic minority that also tightly retained aristocratic political control, the seeds of the Nephites destruction had long been sown, ready to be triggered by their blunders into the pride cycle with the presumable effects of further alienation of the suppressed majority of mixed-blood Mulekite/Jaredite/Lamanite/other that may have constituted the rest of the society. At least, this is the insight that Yale Law Professor Amy Chua has brought to my reading of the Book of Mormon recently.

I have been reading Professor Chua’s intriguing 2003 book World on Fire: How Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (Doubleday) lately. Professor Chua describes her own identity as a member of a market dominant ethnic Chinese minority in the Philippines who has felt the consequences of such status in her own family. Aside from being fabulously wealthy (“Just 1 percent of the population, Chinese Filipinos control as much as 60 percent of the private economy . . . . (3)”), her family has also been subject to ethnically-motivated murder and the indifference of the Filipino police force. Chua identifies market dominant minorities at the base of virtually all hotspots of violence around the globe, including “white wealth in Latin America” (49 – 77), “the Jewish billionaires of Post-Communist Russia” (77 – 94), and various market dominant minorities in Africa (95 – 126). Chua analyzes the effects of such market dominant minorities through the rejection of markets and the rise of dictatorships and/or ethnic cleansing. Perhaps most interestingly, she broadens her view of market dominant minorities first to a regional perspective identifying Israeli Jews as a regional market dominant minority in the Middle East, and then the United States as a “global market-dominant minority” (229 – 258). Stable western countries do not face dramatic or destabilizing market dominant minorities at this time because their legal, economic, and political systems have developed to their current state over time and through internal processes. By contrast, “for the last twenty years the United States has been promoting throughout the non-Western world raw, laissez-faire capitalism — a form of markets that the West abandoned long ago” (14). This is similar to the neo-conservative new “Leninism” decried recently by none other than Francis Fukayama. Essentially, Chua argues that, in the context of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, raw capitalism concentrates wealth in the hands of such market dominant minorities while democracy increases the political power of the poor majority. That is, politicians can focus the hatred of the majority against the market dominant minority by virtue of their prosperity and market control. It is a real problem that has led to genocide and other violence and upheavals time and time again in the last few decades.

In the Book of Mormon, the Nephites, who prospered based on the promise given to them from the very beginning, were not only plausibly a market-dominant minority by virtue of their prosperity, but they were also a politically-dominant minority by virtue of the monarchy and the later hereditary judgeships. It stands to reason that this would have only further alienated the ethnically different majority. Nephite society is continually plagued with civil wars, unrest, uprisings, “king men,” and political assassinations, much like the numerous examples cited by Chua in her treatment of market dominant minorities. In fact, such alienation of the majority echoes in the words of the leader of the terrorist-like society of Gadianton robbers at a time when large numbers of people had defected from both the Nephites and the Lamanites. Giddianhi writes an epistle to Lachoneus, leader of the Nephites with the following statement:

And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word — Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them.

And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction. (3 Nephi 3:20-21.)

Of course, in this instance, Lachoneus waited out the siege and the Nephites eventually defeated the Gadianton robbers. But the same complaints are brought time and again by the robbers and the Lamanites, often in alliance with one another. In the end, the Nephites face genocide at the hands of the unsavory union of the two and their society crumbles as they both suffer and commit the most brutal atrocities known to humanity (Moroni 9:7-10).

I would hope that in addition to bringing people to Christ, the Book of Mormon can serve as a warning that society must be righteous to maintain its very civilization but also that the concentration of wealth and pride has real consequences. The very demise suffered by the Nephites in the Book of Mormon his played out time and time again as market-dominant minorities are targeted in many societies throughout history and currently all over the world. If we are to break out of this cycle, it will be through righteous living (as a society) which must include equity for the poor and suffering in accordance with the two “new” commandments of Jesus and with our own consciences that whisper, as a friend has duly noted, that poverty is evil and must be overcome.

42 comments for “Market Dominant Minorities in the Book of Mormon

  1. This post provides a fascinating perspective on BoM events. Well done. I am curious about one assumption, however.

    It was stated:
    “Other peoples certainly already inhabited the New World at the time that Lehi and his group migrated there shortly after 600 A.D.”

    What leads you to promote such a claim? We know the Jaredites were destroyed to a man, so who else was inhabiting the Americas at the time of Lehi’s arrival?

  2. Very insightful post. Sounts like a book to read.

    Regarding the presence of other peoples, see John Sorenson, “When Lehi Arrived, Did they Find Others There?” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 1:

    “Archaeology, linguistics, and related areas of study have established beyond doubt that a variety of peoples inhabited virtually every place in the Western Hemisphere a long time ago (with the possible exception of limited regions which may have been more or less unpopulated for the period of a few generations at certain times).”

    Also see Brant Gardner, “The Social History of the Early Nephites” here:

    He explains, among other things:

    “We necessarily begin with the origin of Lehi’s people in the New World. It is indisputable that Lehi and his company landed on a coast, and the coast of Guatemala is our plausible location, according to Sorenson’s reconstruction. If a ship carrying Lehi’s party were to have arrived on the coast of Guatemala approximately 590 years before Christ, what might they have found? Would they have been alone or were other people already there?”

    “The archaeological survey of the Middle Formative sites for the coast of Guatemala deals with sites dated some two hundred years earlier than Lehi’s landing, so we need to make some inferences. Two hundred years prior to Lehi’s arrival there were seven settlements ranging from one household to twelve households.1 After this time, the coastal areas saw a peak of population density not seen until the Late Classic period, over a thousand years later. It is important to understand that the settlement areas were not necessarily larger, but simply more numerous.2”

    “What this tells us is that Lehi’s company would have found it nearly impossible to remain isolated for long, if they were ever completely isolated at all. Even with a relatively sparse settlement along the coast, the typical radius for finding food would have led to some overlap of territories among the various populations. Those settlements that had been in place for years would have known of the other settlements on the coast. Smoke from cooking fires would easily be seen on certain scouting trips, and contact with a new entrant into the area would be virtually certain. It is quite probable that the arrival of a ship with sails would have been noticed while still on the horizon, and Lehi’s ship might plausibly have been met by some of these residents of coastal Guatemala.”

    “Secondly, we have Lehi’s company entering an area dominated by small hamlets and perhaps a few villages. Such conditions would favor the acceptance of their party into those small communities. If they were seen as bringing important skills, a hamlet or two might be willing to join with them, and even willing to cede leadership to the new arrivals. Larger cities, however, might see them as threats and be less likely to desire to merge with them. The would surely not be willing to give up their sovereignty in favor of the newcomers, as the text indicates for Lehi’s party. The conditions along the coast of Guatemala would therefore favor both contact with existing populations, and the possibility of merger with some of those native inhabitants.”

    “Lehi’s company had every reason to accept aid from, and a merger with, local populations. Lehi’s group planted seeds from the Old World, but a rapid acquisition of information about survival skills particular to the New World would have been extremely important. They would have needed to know about the local food sources that were successful, the local sources of materials for clothing, the locations and types of clay for pottery, and any number of location-specific cultural items.”

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  3. Thanks greenman and thanks Kevin for the information.

    Greenman: I think Kevin’s citations provide adequate reasoning for the proposition that other peoples inhabited the New World when they arrived. Additionally, even your assertion regarding the Jaredites being destroyed to a man before the arrival of Lehi and Mulek might not necessarily be true. There is a very rational case to be made that although perhaps the ruling elite and military of the Jaredites were eradicated except for Coriantumr, remnants of the Jaredite population, on the conclusion of their civil war at Ramah and the implosion of their political system, would have simply continued on and melted in to the surrounding peoples, whether tribes of indigenous-type peoples (perhaps descendants of people who had crossed over the land bridge from Siberia to the New World) or other civilizations of which we currently have no scriptural record but for whom there is ample archeaological evidence. I find it to be very persuasive that there were still Jaredites around into whom the Mulekites mixed to form a culturally and ethnically different base of people who were then discovered by emigrating Nephites later on. As Sorenson points out, even though the Nephites were able to immediately assume the role of a ruling elite among the Mulekites, a fascination with the destruction of the Jaredites begins at this point in the Book of Mormon and continues throughout; similarly heresies of idolatry and secret combinations continue to “bubble up,” as Sorenson puts it, among the greater population after the Nephites enter the Mulekite society and become the political and religious elite.

  4. I had always considered the “king men” to be disgruntled descendents of Nephi seeking “what was rightfully theirs” but I went and quickly re-read some of the “king men” passages in the Book of Alma and apparently I’ve been adding my own interpretation. The uprising of these “king men” would make more sense under your model presented here as they would have far greater cause to be disgruntled than the ruling minority.

    Interesting post. Long, but interesting.

  5. This is an excellent post. It puts a much more detailed and historically plausible face on a theory that has been around for some time (Nibley promoted it for decades): namely, that the Nephites’ demise was the result of their profit-seeking neglect of the underclasses and their increasing militance toward the increasingly desparate and hostile disaffected groups that their economic and political dominance victimized. This post also, in so many words, supports a theory I have quietly held for some time now: that Nephite society was essentially an apartheid state (hence all the references to appearance and skin complexion from those Nephite elites who kept the records) that was designed to preserve the economic and political dominance of a minority elite against the majoritarian impulses of non-Nephites. That ethnic distinctions (“there were no manner of -ites”) vanished along with class difference, economic competition, and property ownership in the wake of the Savior’s visit speaks volumes to this question.

    Additionally, this post reinforces another of Nibley’s favorite themes, that the BoM has become increasing relevant and reflective of the state of the world as time has progressed. The position of the US as a “global market-dominant minority,” taken in light of several BoM prophecies regarding the future status of Gentiles (cf Richard Bushman’s exegesis of BoM teachings on this subject in *JS and the Beginnings of Mormonism*) should be seriously troubling to “state-side” (or first world) saints.

  6. Interesting analysis. It does read quite a lot of Chua’s assumptions into a text whose legitimacy is completely independent of the value of her theories. Even so, doing this brings to light some interesting and very concrete possibilities for understanding how an historical Nephite society may have worked (and not worked).

    For my part, I can’t see how the history portrayed in the Book of Mormon can be taken at face value. No other scripture offers history that is reliable in this sense. Many parts of the Old Testament and the Doctrine and Covenants (and to a lesser degree, the New Testament) can be reconstructed using extra-scriptural information and evidence (For example, archeology seems to indicate that the Book of Judges portrays a series of mostly concurrent leaders of independent tribes as though they are sequential leaders over of a united Israel.) But even a reasonably thorough set of historical evidence underdetermines any attempt at a more “accurate” historical explanation.

    With no extra-scriptural record from ancient America to compare with the Book of Mormon, there seems to be little basis at all for deciding among competing interpretations of it as an historical document. But the anachronistic approach which treats Nephi and Mormon and Moroni as though they are writing what we understand as twentieth century history is almost certainly false. Speculative exercises like this one are especially helpful as reminders that the simplicity of the text is only apparent.

  7. Well, I don’t think I was suggesting that Mormon was like a twentieth-century historian. I even pointed out how one-sided the “history” we have in the record is, written as it is by the dominant elite. I do, however, believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon — that is, that a man named Nephi actually lived and wrote the things that have come down to us, and that the events he is depicting happened.

    Of course, applying Chua’s theories to the Book of Mormon reads her assumptions into a text she couldn’t possibly have had in mind when analyzing Rwandan genocide or the murder of her ethnically Chinese aunt in the Philippines. I believe that anachronism is an unfair accusation because the Nephites’ status as a ruling elite is a fair inference from the text of the book. That they were a separate ethnicity is plausible because of the book’s peculiar emphasis on what we would now call ethnicity (“all manner of ‘ites”). Thus, it is fair to observe that disproportionate wealth and influence concentrated in one particular ethnic minority and excluding the broader majority of the people could lead to similar consequences in the BoM society as in the failed states of Africa. At least the book’s concluding eradiction of the Nephite ethnic group suggests there are some similarities.

    But of course, there is a lot we do not yet know. So you are surely right that this is all speculation. I maintain a belief, however, that the Book of Mormon is instructive not only in bringing souls to Christ, but also in providing a warning through a story of failure of something that could so easily happen again (the collapse of a civilization).

  8. Just to clarify, john f., I see this post as entailing both the assumption that Mormon was not something like a twentieth century historian and the assumption of the historicity of the Book of Mormon (beliefs that you and I seem to share). I don’t see you as trying to make Mormon into someone who recorded the same kinds of things that Chua records. My charge of anachronism is against those who take Mormon to be writing something akin to modern history, not against those who take the underlying history to be substantially more complex than the narrative lets on. So I brought it up to draw a contrast to what your doing here.

    (Of course, history is often more complex than even modern historians let on; e.g., McPhereson’s account of the Civil War in Battle Cry of Freedom.)

  9. DKL — I see your point. Sorry I got a bit confused in my response to it! Anyway, I know it was long, but I hope interesting. Chua’s stuff is pretty interesting too.

  10. I thought this Proclamation on the Economy by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in 1875 was pertinent to this discussion, so I am going to paste it in its entirety:

    A Proclamation on the Economy
    (By the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve – July 1875)

    To The Latter-day Saints
    The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice.

    Among the chosen people of the Lord, to prevent the too rapid growth of wealth and its accumulation in a few hands, he ordained that in every seventh year the debtors were to be released from their debts, and, where a man had sold himself to his brother, he was in that year to be released from slavery and to go free; even the land itself which might pass out of the possession of its owner by his sale of it, whether through his improvidence, mismanagement, or misfortune, could only be alienated until the year of jubilee. At the expiration of every forty-nine years the land reverted, without cost, to the man or family whose inheritance originally it was, except in the case of a dwelling house in a walled city, for the redemption of which, one year only was allowed, after which, if not redeemed, it became the property, without change at the year of jubilee, of the purchaser. Under such a system, carefully maintained, there could be no great aggregations of either real or personal property in the hands of a few; especially so while the laws, forbidding the taking of usury or interest for money or property loaned, continued in force.

    One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it more equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both State and National, of the entire country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not be taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is liable to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin. The evidence of the restiveness of the people under this condition of affairs in our times is witnessed in the formation of societies of grangers, of patrons of husbandry, trades unions, etc., etc., combinations of the productive and working classes against capital.

    Years ago it was perceived that we Latter-day Saints were open to the same dangers as those which beset the rest of the world. A condition of affairs existed among us which was favorable to the growth of riches in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. A wealthy class was being rapidly formed in our midst whose interests, in the course of time, were likely to be diverse from those of the rest of the community. The growth of such a class was dangerous to our union; and, of all people, we stand most in need of union and to have our interests identical. Then it was that the Saints were counseled to enter into cooperation. In the absence of the necessary faith to enter upon a more perfect order revealed by the Lord unto the church, this was felt to be the best means of drawing us together and making us one.

    To-day, therefore, cooperation among us is no untried experiment. It has been tested, and whenever fairly tested, and under proper management, its results have been most gratifying and fully equal to all that was expected of it, though many attempts have been made to disparage and decry it, to destroy the confidence of the people in it and to have it prove a failure.

    A union of interests was sought to be attained. At the time co-operation was entered upon the Latter-day Saints were acting in utter disregard of the principles of self-preservation. They were encouraging the growth of evils in their own midst which they condemned as the worst features of the systems from which they had been gathered. Large profits were being concentrated in comparatively few hands, instead of being generally distributed among the people. As a consequence, the community was being rapidly divided into classes, and the hateful and unhappy distinctions which the possession and lack of wealth give rise to, were becoming painfully apparent.

    Co-operation has submitted in silence to a great many attacks. Its friends have been content to let it endure the ordeal. But it is now time to speak. The Latter-day Saints should understand that it is our duty to sustain cooperation and to do all in our power to make it a success.

    Does not all our history impress upon us the great truth that in union is strength? Without it, what power would the Latter-day Saints have? But it is not in doctrines alone that we should be united, but in practice and especially in our business affairs.

    Your Brethren, Brigham Young, Charles C. Rich, Wilford Woodruff

    George A. Smith George Q. Cannon

    Lorenzo Snow Orson Hyde

    Daniel H. Wells Brigham Young, Jr.

    Erastus Snow Orson Pratt

    John Taylor Albert Carrington

    Franklin D. Richards

  11. John, I think there is a fairly broad range in which the historical events of the Book of Mormon can be plausibly (and faithfully) reconstructed, and yours is well within that range. You also show that rethinking Nephite history can give us new, useful, and terribly relevant things to learn from the Book of Mormon. Thanks.

  12. “Other peoples certainly already inhabited the New World at the time that Lehi and his group migrated there shortly after 600 A.D. and Mulek and his group arrived there a few years later. It is reasonable to assume that the descendants of Laman, from whom Nephi had taken the birthright and Lehi’s blessing, would have been more likely to mix in immediately with the peoples and civilizations already present in the New World because we read that they were not diligent in keeping the commandments and precepts of the Law of Moses, which included proscriptions against associating with non-Israelites.”

    Embedded in this is an interesting assumption (which, admittedly seems consistent with Old Testament narratives) about who the pre-existing inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere were—not only that they were non-Israelites, but that they would have readily absorbed the Lamanites. Of course, I understand that numerous such loose ends are inevitable in speculative exercises like this.

  13. John F, I was already familiar with some of the literature on this subject, but your post did an excellent job of teasing out some additional and important details. I especially like your focus on the point of view of those not keeping the records (eg. the king-men). It is very hard for us to understand their motives because we do not get to read their version of the story. Thanks for adding new depth to my reading.

    I have some questions about your “Segregated Society Theory.”

    1) After the end of any distinctions among the Nephites following Christ’s visit, I would have expected formerly segregated peoples to begin intermarrying. After four generations of this, how easy would it be to rapidly split into ethnic groups? Were the Nephites post-Christ distinguished in a different way (genetically, racially, etc.) than those in Mosiah’s day?

    2) Throughout the Book of Mormon, record keepers use a kind of shorthand where everyone pro-Church is Nephite and everyone anti-Church is Lamanite. How does this fit into your view of how the Nephite leadership separated itself from its church-going subordinates?

  14. I just want to say John that this “market dominant minorities” concept and its application to the Book of Mormon Nephite scenarios is very interesting.

  15. As a prosperous, market dominant ethnic minority that also tightly retained aristocratic political control …

    I’ve been thinking that ever since I realized in law school that Mulekite and Kingman were essentially the same word.

    Consider, Nephi’s brother preaches a sermon about all of the concubines some of the men have — ones that their wives and children are unaware of. Just where and how did that happen unless:

    (a) the starting number of people in Lehi’s group was closer to Abraham’s group in size than Lot’s group (note the way Nephi distinguishes between how his father left with just his family while the group they went back and got came with all “his house” or household. Abraham’s household included 300 servants trained for war from birth, etc. I’ve often thought that when L&L refused their labor on the ship, they were withholding the labor of their share of the servants and slaves — thus they could be surprised to see the final result, rather than noticing what they were working on every day).

    (b) they had already been incorporating natives into their society.

    BTW, consider that they spent eight years in the wilderness, the complaint about being made slaves in the wilderness and the law that made a slave choose at the seven year point to either become a slave forever or take his freedom and walk out. Nephi made them slaves in the wilderness and their children’s children remembered it.

    There is a continuous, constant sub-theme throughout the book that reinforces the view of the Book of Mormon as the religous history of an elite rather than the history of “all the people.”

    Heck, as I’ve said before, Alma has problems with the church, goes to talk with the King who goes to talk to the King’s council of priests …. think about it. Where did that group come from?

    As for the transformaton of Nephite/Lehite society by the coming of Christ, there were a lot of surviving legends outside the Book of Mormon. Early Catholics assumed that Mark or John had visited. As far as I can tell, a core group had that transformation. By the end, others are enroaching on them. Consider the human sacrafice that comes up in Mormon and Moroni’s time.

    By then they are just one faction among many warring factions, and when they are destroyed, the wars go on.

    (note, “ten thousand” is probably a name for a military unit, like a “century” — you did know that a centurion commanded a group that was actually comprised of 40 to 60 men, not a hundred, and that usually a group was referred to as “destroyed” when it took 15-20% casualties and broke [Romans didn’t break at that point.]. A unit that was really destroyed [as in all killed] often got specific notice, as when the all gay military unit against the Macedoneans all fell in battle.)

    Anyway, it is fascinating to read the Book of Mormon as if it were history of the sort often written by historic groups. I learned a great deal from that approach when I quit reading it from the cultural perspective of early interpreters and started reading it for what it said.

  16. “I learned a great deal from that approach when I quit reading it from the cultural perspective of early interpreters and started reading it for what it said.”

    Amen, brother.

  17. Fantastic post, ThankYouVeryMuch!

    I think the Book of Mormon message is simple: Repent or perish.

    So I fully concur, “Book of Mormon can serve as a warning that society must be righteous to maintain its very civilization but also that the concentration of wealth and pride has real consequences.”

  18. [I don’t know how to cut and paste yet, so I’m gon’o retype something from the FARMS site re the Book of Mormon.

    [McKay V. Jones wrote:
    […………………………………………] Wesley P. Lloyd spoke with his former mission president [B.H. Roberts] for three and a half hours on August 7, 1933, just forty-four days before Roberts’ death. […] Here is the relevant part of the entry:

    [Quote.] The conversation then drifted to the Book of Mormon and this suprising story he related to me.That while he was Pres. of the Eastern States Mission a Logan man by the name of Riter persuaded a scholarly friend who was a student in Washington to read through and to criticize the Book of Mormon. The criticism that the student made was that at the time of the discovery of America there were fifty eight distinct languages in existence among the American Indians, not dialects but languages as different as English is from Spanish and that all human knowledge indicates that fundamental languages change very slowly whereas at the time of the Book of Mormon the people were supposed to have been speaking all one tongue. The student asked Riter to explain that proposition. Riter sent the letter to Dr. Talmage who studied it over and during a trip east asked Brother Roberts to make a careful investigation and study and to get an answer for the letter. Roberts went to work and investigated it from every angle but could not answer it satisfactory to himself. At his request Pres. Grant called a meeting of the Twelve Apostles and Bro. Roberts presented the matter, told them frankly that he was stumped and asked them for their aid in the explanation. In answer, they merely one by one stood up and bore testimony to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. George Albert Smith in tears testified that his faith in the Book had not been shaken by the question. Pres. Ivens, the man most likely to be able to answer a question on that subject was unable to provide the solution. No answer was available. Bro. Roberts could not criticize them for not being able to answer it or to assist him, but said that in a Church which claimed continuous revelation, a crisis had arisen where revelation was necessary. After the meeting, he wrote Pres. Grant expressing his disappointment at the failure of Pres. Ivens to contribute to the problem. It was mentioned at the meeting by Bro. Roberts that there were other Book of Mormon problems that needed special attention. Richard J. Lyman spoke up and ask if they were things that would help our prestige and when Bro Roberts answered no, he said then why discuss them. This attitude was too much for the historically minded Roberts. There was however a committee appointed to study this problem, consisting of Bros Talmage, Ballard, Roberts and one other Apostle. They met and looked vacantly at one another, but none seemed to know what to do about it. Finally, Bro Roberts mentioned that he had at least attempted an answer and he had it in his drawer. That it was an answer that would satisfy people that didn’t think, but a very inadequate answer to a thinking man. They asked him to read it and after hearing it they adopted it by vote and said that was about the best they could do. After this Bro Roberts made a special Book of Mormon study. Treated the problem systematically and historically and in a 400 type written page thesis set forth a revolutionary article on the origin of the Book of Mormon and sent it to Pres. Grant. It’s an article far too strong for the average Church member but for the intellectual group he considers it a contribution to assist in explaining Mormonism. He swings to a psychological explanation of the Book of Mormon and shows that the plates were not objective but subjective with Joseph Smith. That his exceptional imagination qualified him psychologically for the experience which he had in presenting to the world the Book of Mormon and that the plates with the Urim and Thummim were not objective. He explained certain literary difficulties in the book such as the miraculous incident of the entire nation of the Jaredites, the dramatic story of one man being left on each side, and one of them finally being slain, also the New England flat hill surroundings of a great civilization of another part of the country. We see none of the cliffs of the Mayas or the high mountain peaks or other geographical environments of early American civilization that the entire story laid in a New England flat hill surrounding. These are some of the things that have made Bro Roberts shift his base on the Book of Mormon. Instead of regarding it as the strongest evidence we have of the Church Divinity, he regards it as the one which needs the most bolstering. His greatest claim for the divinity of the Prophet Joseph lies in the Doctrine and Covenants. [End of quote.]

    [McKay V. Jones continues.] Lloyd’s journal entry chronicles a “busy and important day” for Lloyd, which included several private meetings, a family reunion, a trip into town, and his three and a half hour talk with Roberts, his former mission president. His entry describes his conversation with Roberts chronologically, with the following topics preceding the discussion of the Book of Mormon:

    1. Roberts’ ordeal trying to get the THE TRUTH, THE WAY, THE LIFE published by the Church. According to Lloyd, Roberts characterized former Apostle Orson Hyde as “a more important and more qualified Apostle than Joseph Fielding Smith.” This portion of the entry ends with this comment:

    [Quote.] “The battle, however, was tabled and his book remains unpublished but will be published under his own direction without Church backing if he can raise the money (He offered to resign).” [End of quote.]

    2. Roberts’ assessment of current missionary policies. Lloyd wrote that Roberts “said we were kidding ourselves in regard to its effectiveness, that the missionaries were too often going out apologetically and that our present mode of refusing to let Elders go into the field until they had a guarantee of financial backing was in opposition to the spirit of missionary work as Joseph Smith organized it.”

    3. Roberts’ thoughts on Brigham Young, who, Roberts explained, “was not a logical man in the sense that Joseph Smith was logical and that our present authoritative dictatorship in Church government was an outgrowth of Brigham Young’s practice and that Joseph Smith was much more democratic.” Roberts also noted, according to Lloyd, that “when some good historian uncovers the real facts of his stand during the Johnston Army episode, some of his glory or fame will diminish.”

    Discussion of these three topics account for almost half of the fifteen-page journal entry, with the Book of Mormon discussion accounting for the other half. This does not demonstrate that this was the proportionate amount of time discussing each topic; the amount of exposition Lloyd gives each topic shows the level of interest Lloyd took away from the meeting regarding these issues. Obviously, this long talk with his former mission president was interesting, to say the least.

    But can critics really try to use this to demonstrate that Roberts was sharply critical of President Young? Or that he believed that the missionary program was grossly mismanaged? Why not? Roberts’ sentiments expressed second-hand through Wesley Lloyd do not negate overwhelming evidence to the contrary in Roberts’ written histories, for example, or in his discourses or conversations with people. B.H. Roberts was nothing if not brash, opinionated, combative, and even undiplomatic and untactful at times, and this image of Roberts is as evident as ever in this journal entry. Roberts negative comments here need to be seen in terms of the circumstances surrounding them. [……………….]

  19. re BrianJ # 18:

    (1) I understand the difficulty raised by this point. What we know is that following the ministry of Jesus Christ on this continent, the people were able to establish a Zion society in which it seems that they did not self-segregate into their ethnic groups (4 Nephi 17). After 194 years of this state of things, we read that a group “revolted from the church and [had] taken upon them the name of Lamanites; therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land” (4 Nephi 20). The people had become prosperous but after two hundred years since the visit of Christ, they ceased for some reason to have “their goods and their substance” common among them (4 Nephi 25). This led to the segregation of society into castes and the old “-ite” divisions. It seems that some awareness of separate “ethnicity” — for lack of a better word — remained with the people even through their Zion period because once society again became divided into “classes,” with the Nephites being the holders of the true religion, even the Nephites had divisions among themselves in which people were identifying themselves as Jacobites, Josephites, and Zoramites, all under the rubric of “Nephites” as the believers in the true Church (4 Nephi 36; Mormon 1:8). This is all really tricky and I don’t have any real answers as to the point you raise. Suffice it to say, the divisions seem to have had more to do with ancestry/ethnicity than merely belief/non-belief. For example, Mormon goes out of his way to note not only that he was a believer, and thus a “Nephite” in that sense, but also that he was literally a descendant of Nephi (Mormon 1:5). Despite two hundred years of living as a Zion society with all things in common, no rich or poor, no manner of “-ites”, etc. Mormon still had an awareness of ethnic descent. Incidentally, he was in a leadership position in society, both religiously and militarily in that he was preaching repentance to the people before the age of 15 (Mormon 1:15-16) and was made leader of all the Nephite armies at 16 (Mormon 2:1). It has been theorized that when Mormon states of himself that “notwithstanding I being young, was large in stature” in reference to his being appointed leader of the Nephite armies at age 16, the “large in stature” might not have been referring to physical size but rather caste/aristocratic status. In other words, notwithstanding being young, Mormon was appointed general because it was his right appurtenant to his social caste. This would be consistant with the idea of a dominant elite — an aristocratic minority belonging to a higher social caste.

    (2) You are right about the shorthand used to create a simple Nephite = believer, non-Nephite = non-believer dichotomy that we sometimes see in the Book of Mormon. It might be that the term “Nephite” is used in different ways in the Book of Mormon. One as an ethnic or ancestral reference to a broader group, and one in a more narrow sense as a faith marker.

  20. I would like to call everyone’s attention to something john f wrote in post #24. After writing an excellent, thorough, and thoughtful answer to my question, he nevertheless writes, “I don’t have any real answers as to the point you raise.” It’s easy to get caught up in a debate that turns into a fight, but john f sets a good example (I hope I can follow it) of how to have a discussion.

    john f: I read 4 Nephi 20 slightly differently. Focusing on the phrase “…taken upon them the name of Lamanites,” I picture people who aren’t really Lamanites or who don’t care if they are really Lamanites, but they want to break away from the main group and so they pick this identity. I think this interpretation is strengthened by the rest of the verse, “therefore there began to be Lamanites again in the land.” In other words, there began to be Lamanites only because some people decided to start calling themselves Lamanites, not because the blood-lines were always intact.

    Very interesting thoughts on Mormon’s leadership.

    re post #25: did I pass?

    Stephen M (Ethesis) post #20: “I’ve been thinking that ever since I realized in law school that Mulekite and Kingman were essentially the same word.” Could you please elaborate?

  21. Kimball (#23), I always thought it odd that Roberts and others didn’t think of the obvious answer of others here in the Americas. Especially when it seems such an obvious line of thinking.

  22. Clark: Sigh–

    Maybe. I’m a doubter so I haven’t put the effort in to try and reconcile whatever the attnedant problems are yet, if ever I shall. It’s true that by sophisticatedly applying lots of creative and scholarly thought maybe such reconciliations are indeed possible though, I guess.

    What I notice however is how in Joseph’s time he and his companions would dictate by inspiration some kind of scriptural answer which would in turn become an article of faith to the church. Yet when Roberts’ et al were discussing this issue they declined to offer any essentially new uh revelatory panorama but instead just reiterated how they know the church is true.

  23. The Brethren kick around ideas, such as the “subjective revelation” one championed by Roberts was but for a moment, until some subsequent Council member such as Oaks champions the “others here in the Americas” solution of which BrianJ speaks–which of course requires a creative instead of a straight-forward reading to render Book of Mormon’s historically plausible. Which is the modern process of Mormon revelation.

  24. Kimball, the church changes more than a lot of Mormons (and non-Mormons) let on. By the time Roberts was offering his criticisms, the focus of the prophet and the apostles had turned much more toward the practical and more bureaucratic aspects of running a large church. Roberts’ issues were basically an interruption–they probably felt like they had more important things to worry about. Indeed, Roberts himself treated his issues as a mere interruption when it came to executing his duties as a priesthood holder. They only took the fore when he engaged them as a scholar or an apologist, and it’s not quite fair to expect other church leaders to share his commitment to scholarship and apologiae. (Though it is sometimes tempting to think that they’re all got these doctrinal puzzle’s figured out.)

    What we see in our own church history is periods of intense revelatory activity followed by long dry periods, and this is consistent with what we see in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Also, I’ll concede that some of what Joseph said was, perhaps, too aggressively canonized.

  25. “…which of course requires a creative instead of a straight-forward reading to render Book of Mormon’s historically plausible.”

    I don’t think the “others in America” approach requires a more “creative” (mis)reading of the text. Clearly, for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with questions of historical scholarship or historicity per se, some of the authors/compilers/commentators within the text itself wish to convey the impression that the Lehites moved into a vaccuum and subsequently populated vast geographical regions. But the narrative still speaks for itself. How is it that within a generation of landing Jacob can come into contact with a man (Sherem) with whom he is not familiar? In this case, and many others, the notion of a pre-existing population with whom Lehi’s posterity did or did not intermarry or interact flows not from a creative but a straightforward, albeit nuanced and analytical, reading of the text. Your sentence, I think, would be more accurate if it read “…requires a careful, analytical, serious instead of a simplistic, superficial reading to render the Book of Mormon historically plausible.” I’m not saying that there aren’t scores of other potential problems with historicity that require serious attention and analysis. I just don’t think this particular issue — indegenous peoples that were already here when the Lehites and Mulekites got here and a limited geographical model for BoM events — is problematic. I think the admitedly more orthodox position — from your “straight-forward reading” — of essentially empty continents, is rendered problematic by the text itself.

  26. “Stephen M (Ethesis) post #20: “I’ve been thinking that ever since I realized in law school that Mulekite and Kingman were essentially the same word.â€? Could you please elaborate?”

    Mlk is one of the words for king. Was Mulek “king” or did it have another meaning, I’m not sure, but it suddenly makes a lot of sense. There is a civil war on when the Nephites arrive on the scene with the Mulekites. Suddenly, they are in control. No revolutions until the kingdom passes from Benjamin’s line. Then, every shift, there is a challenge. Over and over again by people with “royal” blood (but not the sons of Mosiah).

    But, Sherem aside, where did the concubines come from.

    If it is just Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, Zorem and their wives and children, how can you have concubines as a class and not have the women know about it. How many men do you have participating that it takes a public address at the temple rather than a few face-to-face discussions?

    BTW, statements such as “such as Lehi’s servants” miss the boat. Lehi’s servants were left behind, though Ishmael’s household could have been very large (remember Abraham’s household, which I’ve mentioned, included 300 servants bred for war from birth, etc.).

    Or consider the different structures and cultures of different Lamanite groups.

    Anyway, read the text divorced from culture and myth and overlays. It is fascinating and well worth the reading and thought.

  27. John Fowles,

    Is market-dominant minority the right term for it? That usually refers to Mercurian groups like the Jews who use their trading and intellectual skills to achieve a dominant economic role, but who are usually powerless politically. Frankly, if anything, I think the Nephites could be better read as an Appolonian aristocracy, who think power should be derived from religious and ethnic merit, and who are suspicious of rambunctious, boom-and-bust wealth-maximizing merchants. Probably the best example of market-dominant minorities in the B. of M. would be the priests of King Noah among the Lamanites, who brought the intellectual skills to the table, made the economy boom, and suffered the usual fate of market-dominant minorities.

  28. Adam Greenwood

    Nicely said. But he made a good start using the concept as a wedge, and took it to where it went.

    I like your review of the text after it is opened though.

  29. Adam: you make a great point with which I agree to a certain extent. You lost me a little when you wrote that the Nephites were suspicious of rambunctious, boom-and-bust wealth-maximizing merchants.

    The reason I started thinking about the Nephites in terms of a market-dominant minority was because of the pride cycle, as I wrote in the initial post. It revolves around the prosperity of the Nephites. Additionally, we have this apparent dual-use of the word Nephite, sometimes seeming to refer to anyone who believes in Christ and other times seeming to refer to something more like an ethnicity, as in instances where the Nephites are still a cohesive, identifiable group despite complete rejection of the Gospel. All of this is consistent with the idea of the Nephites as a politically aristocratic elite as well, as you point out. Either way, the Nephites downfall is foreshadowed every time when they begin to grind upon the face of the poor, a situation which to me implies the concentration of wealth and power to the exclusion of an economically suppressed majority.

  30. BrianJ: ironically, an interesting set of verses in Jacobs 1:13-14 seems to support both what you are saying and what I am saying:

    Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.

    But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.

    Fascinating stuff.

  31. This fascinating approach adds a new dimension to the exhortations against pride and socio-economic injustice found throughout the BoM. I am also very pleased that daniel has posted the text of the amazing Apostolic Circular of 1875 (#11 above). How would modern Mormons react if its message against class division and for economic equality were updated to current times and it was pointed out that failure to heed it might lead them (whether wealthy Mormons, middle class American Mormons, or Americans in general) to the same fate as the Nephites (see D&C 38:39)?

    On the side issue of the continuity of ethnic groups though the Christian communal era, note that the list of Lehite subgroups in Jacob 1:13 is the same as that found centuries later in 4 Nephi 38-39. Ethnic and tribal identities that have persisted for 800 years are not going to disappear in a few generations. (Especially since, although tribal rivalries were eliminated during the Christian communal era, there is no indication that they merged through aggressive intermarriage.)

  32. #1

    Omni 1:21 shows that Coriantumr lived with the people of Zarahemla (who arrived after Lehi) for nine months. It does not say how long the people of Zarahemla were there before they found Coriantumr, just that it happened before Mosiah arrived. It is possible that the Nephite and Jaredite civilizations overlapped for several hundred years.

  33. “The reason I started thinking about the Nephites in terms of a market-dominant minority was because of the pride cycle, as I wrote in the initial post. It revolves around the prosperity of the Nephites. Additionally, we have this apparent dual-use of the word Nephite, sometimes seeming to refer to anyone who believes in Christ and other times seeming to refer to something more like an ethnicity, as in instances where the Nephites are still a cohesive, identifiable group despite complete rejection of the Gospel. All of this is consistent with the idea of the Nephites as a politically aristocratic elite as well, as you point out. Either way, the Nephites downfall is foreshadowed every time when they begin to grind upon the face of the poor, a situation which to me implies the concentration of wealth and power to the exclusion of an economically suppressed majority.”

    The sorts of things the Nephites say about economics–seeing it as dependent on righteousness, lamenting the oppression of the poor, the proliferation of fine-status clothing, and so on, are typical of how rich political elites view upstart market-dominant minorities, who are viewed as grasping and wicked and so on. We have little evidence either way, but what there is is more consistent with elite criticism of the characteristics of a market-dominant minority than the other way around. As has been pointed out above, you get the same sort of critiques as in the Book of Mormon most frequently in the Utah period of the Church, where Mormons were the dominant group who had their status decided by other means than capitalistic wealth, where outsider businessmen were a destructive force, and where church leaders fulminated against them and against those of their own flock who were attracted to this new source of power and prestige.

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