Mormon, Helaman, Fiction, and History: Short Notes

We had some interesting discussion in Gospel Doctrine class on Sunday, focused on Helaman 2, where Helaman’s servant was joining Gadianton’s group. From my view, he wasn’t infiltrating the group, but joining for personal gain… until he learned what their higher goals were, at which point he bails out by killing Kishkumen and fleeing to Helaman, who sends out (the army? what? there’s no object in the sentence) to catch them.

 11 But behold, when Gadianton had found that Kishkumen did not return he feared lest that he should be destroyed; therefore he caused that his band should follow him. And they took their flight out of the land, by a secret way, into the wilderness; and thus when Helaman sent forth to take them they could nowhere be found. 12 And more of this Gadianton shall be spoken hereafter. And thus ended the forty and second year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi. 13 And behold, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi. 14 Behold I do not mean the end of the book of Helaman, but I mean the end of the book of Nephi, from which I have taken all the account which I have written.

Some really interesting things here.

  1.  Sometimes writers start off well, but have no idea where they’re going and write themselves into the ground; I think sadly of the graveyard of squandered fiction, of LostAliasX-filesBattlestar Galactica, or Heroes. The writers don’t have the end in mind, and so the final season(s) stink. Mormon, by contrast, indicates here to us that he has read through the end of the records, and he knows exactly where this story is going: the eventual destruction of the Nephites. He was living the end of that story, but the point is, he tells us that he has more than the end point and starting point to work with in writing the Book of Mormon.
  2. This is a bit of an action scene and cliff-hanger. The antagonists mysteriously slip away and can’t be found. There’s no resolution, but Mormon the narrator informs us that one of these guys is going to be a major player for the rest of the Book of Mormon, or in Buffy the Vampire Slayer terms, “The Big Bad.” We want to come back and read more to see what happens on next week’s episode.
  3. One of the interesting things to me is causality. I’m always interested to know what factors, conditions, or decisions lead up to something. In many ways, this is what History has traditionally been about, looking at the large events that happen and the historical matrix they happen in. (More recently, historians have shifted to take much more interest in the average lives of the commoner.) History-writing has much less certainty than, say, mathematics, because we have to reconstruct the past with whatever evidence remains, and then, based on our own assumptions, knowledge, and biases, connect those dots into a story. (The Ensign has had two good articles on that.)  One can often end up with a very different story depending on the dots chosen and the lines we connect them with, but we have to have those dots first, data to work with.I recall watching Breach, the story of a strong Catholic FBI agent who had been selling secrets to the Russians for years. The movie covers how he was caught. While I very much enjoyed it, at the end I said, “How did this happen? You don’t just wake up one morning as a Christian FBI agent and say, ‘huh, think I’ll betray my country to the Russians today.’ What choices did he make earlier, what happened to him, how did it happen?

    Mormon was at the end of the story, witnessing the apocalyptic destruction of his people, and wondering quite painfully, how did it come to this? As someone with access to the records, Mormon had the dots, the historical data. A bit like Memento, a movie in which the scenes are presented in reverse, Mormon has looked backwards through the records to find what led to it, and here in the record is the spot in time he sees. There, THAT is causality: “this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi.” If not for Gadianton, what might have happened? Though we probably can’t and shouldn’t attribute causality to a single source, this is the beginning of the end that Mormon sees.

An unusually thought-provoking Sunday School class.

4 comments for “Mormon, Helaman, Fiction, and History: Short Notes

  1. Ben S. You said: “From my view, he wasn’t infiltrating, but joining for personal gain… until he learned what their higher goals were”

    Why do you draw that conclusion? I can see no evidence from the text that the servant had joined the gang for personal gain.


  2. So, how does the narrator know what Gadianton was thinking? I suppose one could imagine a more robust collection of records, like robber reports? Or am I forgetting something. I think it could be assigned to Mormon’s mind-reading: “they left, must have gotten scared”?

  3. Glenn- There’s no hint he’s been instructed to join, nor that he has any kind of ulterior plan in doing so. He seems to really be part of it, at least until he learns of the plot to murder, which appears to NOT be what he signed up for. Brant Gardner and John Sorenson have both linked the Gadiantons to trade groups and wealth (in connection with other Book of Mormon descriptions of the Gadiantons).
    I have read that into the background here, assuming that the servant was seeking to increase his own status by joining, and knowing nothing (as Mormon later would) of the plans to murder and such.
    I suppose the Nazi party in the 1920s and 30s, and our view of it today would be analogous. In retrospect, how could anyone join it? But people at the time found it reasonable and advantageous to do so. Similarly, we look back on the Gadiantons knowing what Mormon does several hundred years later, appropriately horrified. But it’s unlikely that Helaman’s servant did. (See Ancient American Setting for Sorenson, and this link for Gardner- )

    WVS- I assume this is more of the usual editorial supposition, filling in the gaps reasonably, as it were. This is likely the case with many of the conversations, as I wrote on way back here.

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