BMGD #33: Helaman 1-5

August 20, 2012 | 3 comments
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THE BOOK OF HELAMAN

An account of the Nephites. Their wars and contentions, and their dissensions. And also the prophecies of many holy prophets, before the coming of Christ, according to the records of Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, and also according to the records of his sons, even down to the coming of Christ. And also many of the Lamanites are converted. An account of their conversion. An account of the righteousness of the Lamanites, and the wickedness and abominations of the Nephites, according to the record of Helaman and his sons, even down to the coming of Christ, which is called the book of Helaman.

CHAPTER 1

1 AND now behold, it came to pass in the *commencement of the fortieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, there began to be a serious difficulty among the people of the Nephites.

Brant Gardner points out that this verse is “almost sardonic” given that we just saw the Nephites attacked by a dissenter’s army but this verse claims that there “began” to be serious difficulty only now.  Once again, I think it points to the idea that the real problem is internal dissent, not external threat.  I’m brainstorming applications of this principle, which I think may be the overarching theme of the war chapters, and coming up with all sorts of things you probably won’t like:   the problem is not gay marriage, the problem is whether I make time for my husband; the problem was not communism, the problem was whether we guaranteed constitutional rights to all Americans; the problem isn’t online smut, the problem is whether I have taught my kids to avoid it; the problem isn’t immodestly dressed YW, the problem is whether the YM have been taught to relocate their gaze, etc.

Gardner also points out how weird it is to start an entirely new book here, given that the writer is not changing.  He suggests that it is because Helaman is becoming chief judge.  I wonder if this points to the idea that the big change is the rise of internal dissension.

 2 For behold, Pahoran had died, and gone the way of all the earth; therefore there began to be a serious contention concerning who should have the judgment-seat among the brethren, who were the sons of Pahoran.

Just a reminder that my skepticism regarding the wisdom of Mosiah’s legal reforms hasn’t disappeared.

What work is “and gone the way of all the earth” doing in this verse?  (Especially since we might have thought that “had died” would have covered it.)

 3 Now these are their names who did contend for the judgment-seat, who did also cause the people to contend: Pahoran, Paanchi, and Pacumeni.

 4 Now these are not all the sons of Pahoran (for he had many), but these are they who did contend for the judgment-seat; therefore, they did cause three divisions among the people.

 5 Nevertheless, it came to pass that Pahoran was appointed by the voice of the people to be chief judge and a governor over the people of Nephi.

Skousen reads “a chief judge.”  I’m not sure if that is supposed to mean “one in a line of chief judges” or “there was more than one chief judge at a time.”

I’m very curious about the interplay of lineage and popular support that goes into someone becoming the new chief judge.

 6 And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.

 7 But behold, Paanchi, and that part of the people that were desirous that he should be their governor, was exceedingly wroth; therefore, he was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren.

In the past, we haven’t had much dispute over who would take the judgment seat.  (In fact, sometimes we have seen the opposite–none of the sons of Mosiah wanted it because they wanted to be missionaries.)  Can you determine why there was a problem here?

Does the word “flatter” surprise you here?  It seems that whenever someone in the BoM is going to sway a crowd toward an unrighteous goal, they do it by flattery.  It seems especially unusual to think about flattery leading to rebellion. What is the lesson in that for us?  (My thought:  I don’t think we think about this very often.  We might think of advertisers or politicians persuading or deceiving people, using any of a number of tricks from a playbook [bandwagon arguments, appeals to fear, sex appeal, appeals to celebrity, etc.] but we don’t usually think about it in terms of flattery.  Maybe we should.)

I think it would be fairly easy to read this section as a condemnation of doing your business by the voice of the people (and we haven’t even gotten to the really bad consequences yet!).

 8 And it came to pass as he was about to do this, behold, he was taken, and was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death; for he had raised up in rebellion and sought to destroy the liberty of the people.

It doesn’t appear that anything in v7 justified a trial, let alone a death penalty, but then the end of this verse tells us that he had instigated a rebellion (presumably physical and violent).

How could someone be tried “according to the voice of the people”?  Did they have jury trials?  Mob rule?  Does it simply mean that any seeking for power he did was wrong because his brother had the voice of the people?

Remember that v7 told us that he was planning to use flattery to gain his political objectives.  This verse tells us that his goal was to destroy liberty.  Put those together and you get the idea that you can be flattered out of your freedom.  How might this happen today?

Remember from early on in Alma that the Nephites enjoy a fairly high degree of religious freedom for an ancient society.  But they seem to tolerate political dissent a little less.  (Of course, if Paanchi had actually led an armed rebellion, that would have been a different story, but I am a little unclear here as to what exactly he had done, versus what he was planning to do, versus what opposing political forces assumed he was planning to do.)  It seems ironic that they would kill someone who wanted a different political regime in order to preserve “liberty.”  (In other words, they clearly did not have the liberty to seek a different political regime.)

Jim F. asks how we might understand it when a righteous person like Pahoran has a very bad child like Paanchi.

 9 Now when those people who were desirous that he should be their governor saw that he was condemned unto death, therefore they were angry, and behold, they sent forth one Kishkumen, even to the judgment-seat of Pahoran, and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat.

Wow.  (Insert usual gripe about Mosiah’s legal reforms here.)

Note that it feels like Kishkumen just comes out of nowhere–why might that be?  Note that Kishkumen seems to be a hit-man here–he is sent by other people; he isn’t going on his own initiative.

 10 And he was pursued by the servants of Pahoran; but behold, so speedy was the flight of Kishkumen that no man could overtake him.

 11 And he went unto those that sent him, and they all entered into a covenant, yea, swearing by their everlasting Maker, that they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran.

First, presumably a whole bunch of people just saw Kishkumen kill Pahoran, so what is the point of this particular covenant? (But v12 clarifies.) (In other words, I would have expected the covenant to be something more along the lines of them all agreeing to protect or hide Kishkumen.)

Unless I’ve forgotten something, the idea of a “bad” covenant isn’t used in the OT.  So this would be an innovation.  Why does it happen here?  What does it teach us about covenants?  Does it cause us to review the “forced” covenants in the war chapters and reconsider them?  Is this meant to be an inversion of God-approved covenants?  Why do you think the word “covenant” was used here?  (In other words, why didn’t we save that word for the good kind, and just stick to calling this a secret combination of whatever?)

If we want to think of this as an inversion of a true covenant, I think we should focus in on the idea that the crux of the covenant is that they don’t tell about an event.  Usually, true covenants involve the broadcast and extension of knowledge/blessings.  (I’m thinking of both Abraham and modern covenants here.)  The focus of this covenant is death, not life.

Do you find it odd that they involve God in this covenant?  Is it significant that they use the title “everlasting Maker” instead of a more common title for God?  Note that this is the only time “everlasting Maker” is used in the scriptures.  By way of analogy with OT studies, it might be fair to say that they are referring to a different god here.  Are they?

Are you surprised that the covenant comes after the murder and not before?  (I’d think the covenant would come in the planning stages, not the covering-your-tracks stages.)  I realize this is pretty speculative, but I almost wonder if the death was some part of the ritual of the covenant (much as true OT covenants have the death of an animal as part of the ritual).

 12 Therefore, Kishkumen was not known among the people of Nephi, for he was in disguise at the time that he murdered Pahoran. And Kishkumen and his band, who had covenanted with him, did mingle themselves among the people, in a manner that they all could not be found; but as many as were found were condemned unto death.

By not telling us about the disguise sooner, we were left with the impression in v11 that the covenant was a pointless one.  Here we find out that this is not the case:  the only people who could have identified Kishkumen have agreed to hide his identity.  What effect does it have on the reader to structure the story this way?  Why do you think it was structured this way?  (My point is that it is either sloppy story telling or it is deliberately misleading.  I lean toward the second theory, and wonder why our author would want to mislead us here.)

Note that it appears now that Kishkumen is the leader of his band instead of someone sent by his band.  Maybe this is over-reading but it seems that his act of murder has elevated his role to leader.

The second sentence is weird here, because we go from “could not be found” to “as many as were found.”  What do you think is going on here?  Is this just a little but of sloppy writing/translation?

What should you learn from the fact that K. and Co. aren’t hiding in a cave somewhere but are intermixing with the general population?

If we wanted to read a little allegorically, we’d be thinking about people who do evil deeds in disguise and then blend in among the larger population, unknown.  (I’m thinking about child molesters here.)

13 And now behold, Pacumeni was appointed, according to the voice of the people, to be a chief judge and a governor over the people, to reign in the stead of his brother Pahoran; and it was according to his right. And all this was done in the fortieth year of the reign of the judges; and it had an end.

Interesting that the goal here was to get Paanchi on the judgment seat and that failed.  What does that tell us?

Note “chief judge and governor.”  Has Nephite leadership structure changed?  What is a governor?

Why does the narrator feel the need to remind us that Pacumeni had the right to rule at this point?  (Does it mean that he had the right since Pahoran was now dead, or did he have the right since the beginning, but had yielded it because Pahoran wanted the job and the people backed him up?)

Again, how do we mesh the idea of a right to rule with the idea of rule by the voice of the people?  And is there any parallel to the modern practice of sustaining church officers here?

What does “it had an end” mean?  (Does it refer to the 40th year or something else?)

It seems that the murder of Pahoran has been in vain since we ended up with Pacumi and not Paanchi on the throne, but Gardner says that the murder was not done with the goal of getting Paanchi on the throne, but of causing enough chaos that Paanchi could be sprung from jail and then, they hoped, lead a rebellion.  If this is the case (and it sounds reasonable to me) then I suspect that we should re-consider the covenant in light of this:  the goal of the death and covenant wasn’t death per se but the goal was social chaos, and death was considered an acceptable means to that end.  That’s an even worse commentary on the value of human life than a straight-up political assassination, if you ask me.

 14 And it came to pass in the *forty and first year of the reign of the judges, that the Lamanites had gathered together an innumerable army of men, and armed them with swords, and with cimeters and with bows, and with arrows, and with head-plates, and with breastplates, and with all manner of shields of every kind.

Once again, I don’t think the real problem is the Lamanites–the problem is the internal strife among the Nephites.

Why do we get this description of Lamanite defensive stuff here?  (My thought:  Perhaps we are supposed to remember that these were originally all Nephite innovations that the Lamanites have now adopted.)  (Another thought:  is there a commentary here about the idea of an arms’ race?  If so, what is it?)

Remember that “innumerable” isn’t literal.  :)

 15 And they came down again that they might pitch battle against the Nephites. And they were led by a man whose name was Coriantumr; and he was a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was a dissenter from among the Nephites; and he was a large and a mighty man.

Once again, note that it is always Nephite dissenters who lead Lamanites against Nephites in battle.  In fact, I think it is fair to say that the picture that the BoM presents of the Lamanites is of a people who are easily swayed (both by revisionist history and by unscrupulous outsiders), but not a particularly actively evil people.  As usual, the real problem is the Nephites, not the Lamanites.  (If we are reading allegorically, what would we conclude from this?)

Note the two descriptions of Coriantumr given here:  he was a descendant of Z and he was a dissenter from the Nephites.  I would have assumed that the first implied the second for anyone we meet in the act of leading a Lamanite army.  So, why mention it?  And in reality, we have three descriptions of him, because then we find out that he was a large and mighty man.  How do these three descriptions relate to each other?  What effect does it have on the reader to be introduced to Coriantumr this way?

Brant Gardner:

Coriantumr is a name that we have seen before, belonging to the last Jaredite king who lived for a while in Zarahemla with the Mulekites (Omni 1:21). We may therefore understand that Coraintumr is a name of Jaredite extraction. It is quite probable that there is no mistake in the probable lineal and cultural heritage that leads us to a man with a Jaredite name dissenting from the Nephites. The end of the Jaredite world was also accompanied by apostasy, and the Jaredite influence on the people of Mulek while they sojourned in Jaredite lands no doubt led to the loss of their language and religion. Thus this Jaredite tradition among the Nephites is at least representative if not causative of the cultural tensions that are leading to conflict and rebellion in the land of Zarahemla. Citation

Gardner also ties what is happening here to the foundational promise of the Nephites (=if they are righteous, they will be blessed).  He points out that, since it is internal dissent that always leads to their troubles with the Lamanites, if they had been righteous, they wouldn’t have had trouble with the Lamanites.  Given that the Lamanites are always led by dissident Nephites, it is easy to see how this plays out.  I think this is a key insight to understanding the war chapters.

 16 Therefore, the king of the Lamanites, whose name was Tubaloth, who was the son of Ammoron, supposing that Coriantumr, being a mighty man, could stand against the Nephites, with his strength and also with his great wisdom, insomuch that by sending him forth he should gain power over the Nephites—

What do you learn about wisdom from this verse?

Notice how the Lamanite king is sort of an afterthought in this story–the real action happens around the Nephite dissenter.  This emphasizes the big theme that it is the Nephites who are their own problem, not the Lamanites.  (Although it is also true that Tubaloth is the descendant of Nephite dissenters.)

 17 Therefore he did stir them up to anger, and he did gather together his armies, and he did appoint Coriantumr to be their leader, and did cause that they should march down to the land of Zarahemla to battle against the Nephites.

Can we learn anything from comparing the fast that Tubaloth stirred them up to anger but Paanchi, in the last story, stirred the people up to flattery?

Note that Coriantumr is a descendant of Zarahemla and attacks Zarahemla.  This seems to be another way of showing that the (I know you are sick of hearing me say it!) real problem is the Nephites, not the Lamanites.

 18 And it came to pass that because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government, that they had not kept sufficient guards in the land of Zarahemla; for they had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the heart of their lands to attack that great city Zarahemla.

This verse makes explicit that the real problem was internal issues and not external ones.   But the last half of the verse is still pretty surprising and appears to contradict the first half:  there is no reason for them to suppose that the Lamanites won’t attack Zarahemla.  They seem to reach this conclusion because it is the only one that they can reach:  they aren’t capable of defending Zarahemla at this point, so they reverse engineer their thinking and conclude that the Lamanites won’t attack it.  I think people do this all the time today–they can’t afford (life insurance, health insurance, a new car, whatever), so they talk themselves into believing that they don’t really need it.

Note that v17 has set us up to think that the first “they” in this verse is going to refer to the Lamanites, not the Nephites.  We don’t figure out until later in the verse that it means the Nephites.  This may just be sloppy writing/translation, but it also might have been a deliberate move to get us to realize the fungibility of the Nephites and the Lamanites at this point, especially given that all of the Lamanite leadership is really Nephite and the Nephites are acting about as piously as your average Lamanite.  There’s also a funny thing going on in that the Lamanites are not having contention and difficulty in their government (at least, we have no indication of it), but the Nephites are.

Also notice that both v17 and v18 are about the Lamanites, and this verse about the Nephites is plunked into the middle of the narrative.  What effect does that have on the reader?

The fact that they left their core undefended because they assumed that the attack would come at the periphery is the perfect metaphor for their condition in  general:  they have internal dissent and unrighteousness that strikes at their core because they are focused on peripheral matters.  The personal application here should be obvious.

 19 But it came to pass that Coriantumr did march forth at the head of his numerous host, and came upon the inhabitants of the city, and their march was with such exceedingly great speed that there was no time for the Nephites to gather together their armies.

The last time we had a speed reference was to the fact that Kishkumen was able to escape after committing murder because he moved so quickly.  Is this just a coincidence, or are we supposed to be reading these stories together?  (Note that both involve an attack on the central thing–the king, the main city–by dissenters.)  If we read these stories in the light of each other, what might we learn?

 20 Therefore Coriantumr did cut down the watch by the entrance of the city, and did march forth with his whole army into the city, and they did slay every one who did oppose them, insomuch that they did take possession of the whole city.

The loss of Zarahemla to the Lamanites is a huge, huge deal.  We are told specifically that the problem was that they were distracted by their internal troubles and therefore weren’t prepared for this threat.  If we are reading allegorically, then the point seems to be that we need to avoid internal strife.  What might this look like in real life?  Another moral to draw would be that, as long as we stay on top of internal strife, we don’t need to stress out about external threats because we will be prepared to deal with them.

 21 And it came to pass that Pacumeni, who was the chief judge, did flee before Coriantumr, even to the walls of the city. And it came to pass that Coriantumr did smite him against the wall, insomuch that he died. And thus ended the days of Pacumeni.

Are we supposed to put a white hat or a black hat on Pacumeni?  On the one hand, his initial opposition probably led to the explosion of internal strife, so perhaps this is a fitting end for him.  On the other hand, he did relent in his opposition before the breaking point was reached, did legitimately gain the judgement seat (was that a reward?), and then meets a terrible end.  Are we supposed to be drawing any moral conclusions from this story?

Why the detail about smiting him against the wall?  Is that significant?  Symbolic?

 22 And now when Coriantumr saw that he was in possession of the city of Zarahemla, and saw that the Nephites had fled before them, and were slain, and were taken, and were cast into prison, and that he had obtained the possession of the strongest hold in all the land, his heart took courage insomuch that he was about to go forth against all the land.

Why do we get this verse about Coriantumr’s reaction to events?  (Especially since, if we had just assumed what his reaction to taking over Zarahemla would have been, we would have guessed correctly.)  It is pretty unusual to put the reader behind the eyes of the enemy commander.

I find it curious that Zarahemla is called “the strongest hold in all the land” when we just learned that they hadn’t guarded it adequately.

Note that some of the captured Nephites are imprisoned and not killed here.

 23 And now he did not tarry in the land of Zarahemla, but he did march forth with a large army, even towards the city of Bountiful; for it was his determination to go forth and cut his way through with the sword, that he might obtain the north parts of the land.

 24 And, supposing that their greatest strength was in the center of the land, therefore he did march forth, giving them no time to assemble themselves together save it were in small bodies; and in this manner they did fall upon them and cut them down to the earth.

Is his supposition here correct?  What are we to learn from this?  Is there a moral?

 25 But behold, this march of Coriantumr through the center of the land gave Moronihah great advantage over them, notwithstanding the greatness of the number of the Nephites who were slain.

 26 For behold, Moronihah had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the center of the land, but that they would attack the cities round about in the borders as they had hitherto done; therefore Moronihah had caused that their strong armies should maintain those parts round about by the borders.

So Moronihah is clearly wrong here.  What should we learn from this?  (My thought:  I wonder if “as they had hitherto done” is the key phrase here–Moronihah expected that what had always happened before would happen again in the future.  We might also note here that the other detail that we get–namely, that the Lamanites had defensive body armor–suggests that the Lamanites are learning from their mistakes and improving upon their past performance.)

 27 But behold, the Lamanites were not frightened according to his desire, but they had come into the center of the land, and had taken the capital city which was the city of Zarahemla, and were marching through the most capital parts of the land, slaying the people with a great slaughter, both men, women, and children, taking possession of many cities and of many strongholds.

 28 But when Moronihah had discovered this, he immediately sent forth Lehi with an army round about to head them before they should come to the land Bountiful.

 29 And thus he did; and he did head them before they came to the land Bountiful, and gave unto them battle, insomuch that they began to retreat back towards the land of Zarahemla.

 30 And it came to pass that Moronihah did head them in their retreat, and did give unto them battle, insomuch that it became an exceedingly bloody battle; yea, many were slain, and among the number who were slain Coriantumr was also found.

 31 And now, behold, the Lamanites could not retreat either way, neither on the north, nor on the south, nor on the east, nor on the west, for they were surrounded on every hand by the Nephites.

 32 And thus had Coriantumr plunged the Lamanites into the midst of the Nephites, insomuch that they were in the power of the Nephites, and he himself was slain, and the Lamanites did yield themselves into the hands of the Nephites.

 33 And it came to pass that Moronihah took possession of the city of Zarahemla again, and caused that the Lamanites who had been taken prisoners should depart out of the land in peace.

This is very interesting–are we to read this as if Moronihah offered these soldiers the same kind of “promise you won’t ever attack again and we’ll let you go” deal that Moroni did?  Or did he just kick them out?  Or what?  Are we to read this as a continuation of the kind of policy that Moroni had for POWs, or a departure, or what?

Brant Gardner points out that Mormon, contra pretty much every other ancient military historian that we know, focuses a lot on the causes of battle and very little on the actual battle or outcome.  This suggests that his purposes for writing are different.  We might see these are case studies on how to avoid battle, not as case studies on how to win a battle.

 34 And thus ended the forty and first year of the reign of the judges.

Note that this section of the BoM is organized not by themes or leaders’ reigns or incidents, but by years.  Why was this done?  What effect does it have on the reader?   (Think about the gospels, where we can’t determine what events happened in which years and where comparing the gospels strongly suggests that the writers were not working in a strictly chronological order.)

General thought:  It is easy to follow the moral at the beginning of the chapter:  internal dissent leads to external attack. But then Moronihah pops up and makes everything all better.  What is the moral of that story:  Is he supposed to be a Christ figure?  Or what?

CHAPTER 2

1 And it came to pass in the *forty and second year of the reign of the judges, after Moronihah had established again peace between the Nephites and the Lamanites, behold there was no one to fill the judgment-seat; therefore there began to be a contention again among the people concerning who should fill the judgment-seat.

What happened to the other sons?  (See 1:4–he had many other sons besides the three that died in the last chapter.)

 2 And it came to pass that Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, was appointed to fill the judgment-seat, by the voice of the people.

So we’ve once again re-unified the religious and the political leadership.  What does the BoM have to say about this–Is it a good, bad, or indifferent state of affairs when these offices are united?  Why do we see the situation flip back and forth between unity and separation so many times in the BoM?  What should we learn from this?

This reference to Helaman reminds us that he was completely missing from the previous chapter.  Why did he have no role in either the internal contentions or the Lamanite war in chapter one?

 3 But behold, Kishkumen, who had murdered Pahoran, did lay wait to destroy Helaman also; and he was upheld by his band, who had entered into a covenant that no one should know his wickedness.

This verse sets us up to think that this chapter will be a reply of the previous chapter, only now Helaman will be murdered instead of Pahoran.

4 For there was one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry on the secret work of murder and of robbery; therefore he became the leader of the band of Kishkumen.

It seems odd that this guy Gadianton would show up out of nowhere (to us, at least) and take over leadership from Kishkumen.  The “for” at the beginning of this verse makes it even weirder, as if there were something about v3 that naturally led to Gadianton’s role in the story.  Is there?  (Maybe I’m going too far here, but I almost get the sense that the wicked covenant mentioned at the end of v3 creates a space that Gadianton can step into, as if he were Satan waiting in the wings for the perfect opening to jump into the conversation.  If this is right, it is interesting:  this kind of evil doesn’t make an appearance until you give roll out the red carpet for it.)

What do you learn about Gadianton in this verse?  What warnings are there here for us?

I would like to join in with all of the English majors of the world in snarling at the idea that being expert in many words is a bad thing.  More seriously, why is this included in the description of Gadianton?  How does it fit into the story here, given that Kishkumen isn’t a wordy guy?  (Note that K. hasn’t said anything in this story.  He just kills people and enters into covenants.)  How does this relate to the repeated statements by BoM writers not to judge them by their errors (which, presumably, involve words)?  Does Gadianton’s way with words make him the obvious choice for a leader, instead of the silent Kishkumen?  (I think v5 suggests this.)

We know about the murder, but this is the first that we hear about robbery.  What’s going on here?

Why is it worth mentioning Gadianton’s craft but not worth telling us what it was?

 5 Therefore he did flatter them, and also Kishkumen, that if they would place him in the judgment-seat he would grant unto those who belonged to his band that they should be placed in power and authority among the people; therefore Kishkumen sought to destroy Helaman.

You get a little confirmation here of the impression begun in the last chapter that Kishkumen is just a pawn.

 6 And it came to pass as he went forth towards the judgment-seat to destroy Helaman, behold one of the servants of Helaman, having been out by night, and having obtained, through disguise, a knowledge of those plans which had been laid by this band to destroy Helaman—

So this servant is pretty much a rockstar–how come we don’t know more about him?  Not even his name?

Is the use of a disguise here related at all to the disguise that Kishkumen used in the last chapter?  Is this supposed to be poetic justice or something?

Why does Helaman get saved by a canny servant but Pahoran gets killed?  Are we supposed to learn something from comparing the stories?

Brant Gardner suggests that it is rather unlikely that this servant would become a spy on a lark, but it is more likely that Helaman told him to do this.  So perhaps the back story here is that Helaman recognized the danger that Kishkumen posed and had his guy infiltrate the secret band.

 7 And it came to pass that he met Kishkumen, and he gave unto him a sign; therefore Kishkumen made known unto him the object of his desire, desiring that he would conduct him to the judgment-seat that he might murder Helaman.

What do you make of the sign in this verse?

 8 And when the servant of Helaman had known all the heart of Kishkumen, and how that it was his object to murder, and also that it was the object of all those who belonged to his band to murder, and to rob, and to gain power, (and this was their secret plan, and their combination) the servant of Helaman said unto Kishkumen: Let us go forth unto the judgment-seat.

Note the introduction of the word “combination” here.  Why aren’t we calling this a “covenant” anymore?

“All the heart” seems a bit lofty for “knew his plan.”  Why might that phrase have been used?

Note the structure of this verse:  why does this servant need to know all of this background before saying what he says? (With a build-up like that, you think the servant is going to kill him on the spot or something, and the build-up is meant to be the justification for his deed.  The killing-him-on-the-spot doesn’t happen until the next verse, and so the force of the justification is diluted.  Instead, the killing is tied to )

Note the parentheses in this verse.  Does that imply an editorial insertion from Mormon?  A clarification from Joseph Smith?  Something else?  What effect does it have on the reader to get parenthetical information?  Why was this particular information thought necessary–wouldn’t we have assumed this even if it weren’t spelled out for us?

 9 Now this did please Kishkumen exceedingly, for he did suppose that he should accomplish his design; but behold, the servant of Helaman, as they were going forth unto the judgment-seat, did stab Kishkumen even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan. And he ran and told Helaman all the things which he had seen, and heard, and done.

At this point, it seems very obvious and somewhat weird that we are not given the servant’s name.  Why was this (not) done?

Why do we learn about K’s happiness at the beginning of this verse?  (Again, the BoM frequently gives us info about people’s mental states when we might not expect it.)

Something about seen/heard/done is striking me as significant, but I am not sure exactly what it is . . .

What does this entire incident teach you about the Nephite legal system?  (Note that it would not be OK to kill someone in an identical situation today.  And one wonders if this servant could have stopped K. from killing Helaman without killing K.)

 10 And it came to pass that Helaman did send forth to take this band of robbers and secret murderers, that they might be executed according to the law.

 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.

Unless I am forgetting something, this is one of the only times in the BoM we get a note like “more on this topic later.”  Why might that have been done here?  What effect does it have on the reader?

 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.

Note again that building suspense or entertaining the audience are not the goal here.  From this point on, the reader knows for sure that the Lamanites are not the problem.

This is a rather explicit guide to the reader about how to interpret events–we are told why the events in this chapter were important.  What does this verse tell you about what you are supposed to get from this chapter?  (One thing I take from it is that Helaman and his servant were, despite their best efforts, unable to stop Gadianton.  That seems to be a rather depressing take on it, but still . . .)

Note that Kishkumen’s gang tried to do precisely the same thing to Helaman that it did to Pahoran, but was unsuccessful because of the intervention of the servant.  Are we supposed to learn something from this?  (The cynic would say:  you may be able to stop evil in the short-term, but you can’t eradicate it entirely.)

Note the “ye”–very unusual in the scriptures to directly address the audience.

 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.

I realize that this makes me a terrible person, but I find this verse hilarious.  More seriously, I love this glimpse of humanity.  (I always wish that when some politician makes a terrible gaffe, s/he would just say, with false ruefulness, “Well, I suppose I’ve lost the vote of everyone who has never made an embarrassing mistake.”)

CHAPTER 3

1 And now it came to pass in the *forty and third year of the reign of the judges, there was no contention among the people of Nephi save it were a little pride which was in the church, which did cause some little dissensions among the people, which affairs were settled in the ending of the forty and third year.

How did they get (almost all of their) contention to go away?  And why aren’t we told about it?  Do we just assume that Helaman was providing good leadership here?  Is this verse a commentary on the wisdom of combining the religious and civil seats of power?

Note the unstated assumption of this verse is that pride leads to contention.  Interesting to think about how exactly that would work . . .

Start thinking about the difference between dissension and contention.  I think we take these terms as synonymous, but I don’t think the BoM uses them that way.

I hate summary verses like this.  I want to know how they got rid of contention and dissension and this verse doesn’t tell me how they did it, just that they did it.  Details, people!

The cynic says:  So what you are saying is that a little pride is OK because you can have it without having any contention (either in this year or in the next several years!)?

 2 And there was no contention among the people in the forty and fourth year; neither was there much contention in the forty and fifth year.

Note that our writer here considered the presence/absence of contention to be the single most important characteristic of the society.  Brant Gardner expands on that idea here.

It seems that you can summarize these three years (v1-2) as:  nothing much happened.  What does it tell us that this was included in the record.  And, presumably, something happened in those years–why doesn’t our writer/editor mention it?

 3 And it came to pass in the *forty and sixth, yea, there was much contention and many dissensions; in the which there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land.

The last time people went north, it was the Hagoth story in Alma 63.  How are these stories related?

In Alma 50, when people tried to head north, the Nephite army stopped them.  Why doesn’t that happen here?

What do you make of the “flight instead of fight” idea here?  (Note that this is what Nephi was commanded to do at the time of the initial Nephite-Lamanite split, but there is no specific command given here.  So are we supposed to be reading this story as dissenters leaving in a huff, or the new Lehi people?)

 4 And they did travel to an exceedingly great distance, insomuch that they came to large bodies of water and many rivers.

 5 Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.

I think this is one of our few specific references to people in the BoM who are “natives” or otherwise not descendants of Lehi (or the Jaredites).  Or are there other ways of interpreting this verse?

 6 And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate.

Fascinating–it wasn’t desolate, but they called it desolate.  What’s going on here?

 7 And there being but little timber upon the face of the land, nevertheless the people who went forth became exceedingly expert in the working of cement; therefore they did build houses of cement, in the which they did dwell.

Why was this material included in the record?  Is there some sort of a moral lesson here?

Here‘s the FAIR-LDS entry on cement.

Mark E. Peterson:

You will remember another address that President Grant gave, sometimes repeating, pertaining to the Book of Mormon. I would like to read to you an excerpt from that address. Said President Grant: “When I was a young unmarried man, another young man who had received a doctor’s degree ridiculed me for believing in the Book of Mormon. He said he could point out two lies in that book. One was that the people had built their homes out of cement, and they were very skillful in the use of cement (Hel. 3:7). He said there had never been found and never would be found, a house built of cement by the ancient inhabitants of this country, because the people in that early age knew nothing about cement. He said that should be enough to make one disbelieve the book. I said: ‘That does not affect my faith one particle. I read the Book of Mormon prayerfully and supplicated God for a testimony in my heart and soul of the divinity of it, and I have accepted it and believe it with all my heart.’ I also said to him, ‘If my children do not find cement houses, I expect that my grandchildren will.’ Now, since that time, houses made of cement and massive structures of the same material have been uncovered.  Not very far from the City of Mexico there is a monument two hundred and ten feet high, built of cement . . . My first counselor [Anthony W. Ivins] has stood on that monument. You could put forty tabernacles like this one inside of it. It covers more than ten acres of ground and is two and a half times higher than this building. From the top of that monument one can see small mounds, and as these mounds are being uncovered, they are found to be wonderfully built cement houses, with drain pipes of cement, showing skill and ability, superior almost to anything we have today so far as the use of cement is concerned. Apt 1957 GC

Brant Gardner has some interesting stuff to say about this–he points out that many of the things described in these verses are accurate to Mormon’s time, not to Helaman’s time, and therefore might reflect Mormon’s pre-critical assumptions about what was happening at an earlier time.

 8 And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east.

Note that “whole earth” is used with a much different meaning here than we might initially expect.

This verse has a Genesis-y, covenant-y sound to it.  Why?

 9 And the people who were in the land northward did dwell in tents, and in houses of cement, and they did suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses, yea, their cities, and their temples, and their synagogues, and their sanctuaries, and all manner of their buildings.

Are the tents supposed to make a link to Lehi?

The timber thing seems rather un-BoM like.  Why is it here?

So this is kind of interesting because there is general agreement (by which I mean:  Jared Diamond said so) that Easter Island civilization was doomed by deforestation.  As the deforestation increased, the economic incentive to cut down that last tree before your neighbor could would have been overwhelming.  In that light, the idea that they would let newbie trees grow (instead of cutting them down for immediate profit) points to either a high degree of social control or a lack of greed or both.  The fact that they wanted to timber for temples and sanctuaries might also point to their righteousness (although in the BoM, apostates build these things, too).

 10 And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.

Again with the timber!  What’s going on here?

I think what this verse means is that they imported a lot of timber, but it doesn’t say that very clearly.

 11 And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement.

Would it be legit or vile to try to draw any modern applications about free trade and environmental management from these verses?

 12 And it came to pass that there were many of the people of Ammon, who were Lamanites by birth, did also go forth into this land.

Again, are these good guys or dissenters?  Why aren’t we told?

 13 And now there are many records kept of the proceedings of this people, by many of this people, which are particular and very large, concerning them.

 14 But behold, a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, yea, the account of the Lamanites and of the Nephites, and their wars, and contentions, and dissensions, and their preaching, and their prophecies, and their shipping and their building of ships, and their building of temples, and of synagogues and their sanctuaries, and their righteousness, and their wickedness, and their murders, and their robbings, and their plundering, and all manner of abominations and whoredoms, cannot be contained in this work.

What effect does it have on the reader to read something like this?

Verses like this remind us of the heavy influence that our writers and editors had–there were all sorts of things that they could have included, but didn’t.

There are about a half dozen times in the BoM where we are told that the author couldn’t record “a hundredth part” of what was happening.  How should knowing this influence how we interpret the BoM?

 15 But behold, there are many books and many records of every kind, and they have been kept chiefly by the Nephites.

Why would the Lamanites have kept fewer records?

 16 And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites.

Note the intertwining of the fate of the records and the fate of the people.

Note the “until” in this verse–when did/does that happen?  In other words, Mormon (presumably) is identifying a moment of apostasy

 17 And now I return again to mine account; therefore, what I have spoken had passed after there had been great contentions, and disturbances, and wars, and dissensions, among the people of Nephi.

I take the first phrase of this verse to be the ancient equivalent of “but I digress.”  What was the purpose of this digression?  It felt to me as if the curtain were pulled back and we were shown a whole bunch of things that we normally don’t see in the BoM.

 18 The forty and sixth year of the reign of the judges ended;

 19 And it came to pass that there was still great contention in the land, yea, even in the *forty and seventh year, and also in the forty and eighth year.

 20 Nevertheless Helaman did fill the judgment-seat with justice and equity; yea, he did observe to keep the statutes, and the judgments, and the commandments of God; and he did do that which was right in the sight of God continually; and he did walk after the ways of his father, insomuch that he did prosper in the land.

Is the point that even a good chief judge can’t stop contention?

Are justice and equity two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Do we presume that this is Mormon’s editorializing?  (Otherwise, Helaman would have written this about himself, no?)

Reading v19-20 together, what might we learn about living in difficult times?

It almost seems as if v19-20 is opening up some distance between the righteousness of a leader and the wickedness of the people.  Is that the case?

 21 And it came to pass that he had two sons. He gave unto the eldest the name of Nephi, and unto the youngest, the name of Lehi. And they began to grow up unto the Lord.

It is pretty rare in the BoM to get an introduction to the kids when the kids aren’t immediately relevant to the story line.  Why does it happen here?

Our writer (or editor?) seems to be making a big deal of the fact that the older child was Nephi and the younger was Lehi.  This is, obviously, the opposite of the case of the people for whom they were named.  So, why might Helaman or his wife?) have reversed the age order of the names?

 22 And it came to pass that the wars and contentions began to cease, in a small degree, among the people of the Nephites, in the latter end of the forty and eighth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.

 23 And it came to pass in the *forty and ninth year of the reign of the judges, there was continual peace established in the land, all save it were the secret combinations which Gadianton the robber had established in the more settled parts of the land, which at that time were not known unto those who were at the head of government; therefore they were not destroyed out of the land.

Wouldn’t you have expected Gadianton to be in the less settled parts of the land?

Background on “secret combination” here.

Note that this verse gives the reader information that the government didn’t have.

I think the “therefore” is saying that Helaman’s government would have destroyed the Gadianton robbers if they had known about them.  Is this true?  Was it within their power to get rid of them?  (The incident after the attempt on Helaman suggests that it wasn’t, since they all escaped.)

 24 And it came to pass that in this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did join themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance.

Does “prosperity” = thousands joining the church, or did 1000s join the church because the church was prosperous (in the usual sense of wealthy and doing well)?  Compare the usage in v26.

 25 And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure.

I like this verse.  I wish we had more of the story!

 26 And it came to pass that the work of the Lord did prosper unto the baptizing and uniting to the church of God, many souls, yea, even tens of thousands.

Brant Gardner sees a touch of cynicism here:   the combo of growth that surprises church leaders alongside people joining up because of prosperity may be indicators that this is a shallow conversion.  History seems to prove that right since the church members will be a small minority in 50 years.  But v27 offers a different interpretation . . . but v33 might support Gardner’s reading . . .

 27 Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.

Why did Mormon (presumably?) think we needed a “thus we see” here?  Is this the conclusion that you would have drawn from this section of the narrative?

Is “sincerity of their hearts” meant to counter the idea that this massive, surprising, prosperity-linked conversion was inauthentic?

General thought:  We’ve been told that Gadianton and his ilk are going to be the cause of the destruction of everything.  So when we read about positive things (church growth, prosperity), we know there is a hidden danger, unknown (presumably) to the principals of the story, that is going to ruin everything eventually.  I think this profoundly changes how we interpret these events–certainly knocks the bloom off of the rose.

 28 Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.

What does the metaphor of a gate teach you about heaven?

Interesting paradox of “all” with “those who will believe.”

 29 Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God, which is quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil, and lead the man of Christ in a strait and narrow course across that everlasting gulf of misery which is prepared to engulf the wicked—

Skousen reads “whosoever will lay hold  upon.”

What does “word of God” mean?  (Scriptures, Jesus Christ, something else?)

Without using the word “sword,” this verse adopts the imagery and language associated with thinking of the word of God as a sword.  What does this image suggest to us?

It is interesting to read this verse against the background of their impending destruction.

Does this verse allude to Nephi’s vision?  (If Helaman wrote this, and he’s the same dude who named his kids after Nephi and Lehi, it may be that he had a thing for their teachings.)

Note that this verse pictures the saint going across the gulf of misery.  (I don’t think that is identical to Nephi’s vision, but maybe I am visualizing it wrong.)  What does that suggest?

Note that we just got three “thus we see” statements right in a row.  How do they relate to each other?  Why did we need more than one?

Neal A. Maxwell:

Conversion basically represents the transformation from the “natural man” to becoming the “man of Christ.” Apr 03 GC

Anthony D. Perkins:

Childlike faith in the perfect love of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will “divide asunder” Satan’s snares of inadequacy, imperfection, and guilt. Oct 06 GC

 30 And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.

Why the emphasis on the immortality of the soul in this verse?

What does the idea of being on the right hand of God suggest?

Why mention Ab, Isaac, and Jacob here?

 31 And in this year there was continual rejoicing in the land of Zarahemla, and in all the regions round about, even in all the land which was possessed by the Nephites.

You know, given that we know that the Gadianton robbers are out there somewhere, unbeknownst to these Nephites, and are going to be their destruction at some point in the future, there is an edge of naivete or innocence or something behind this verse that is a little unsettling.  Was that deliberate?  What effect does it have on the reader?

 32 And it came to pass that there was peace and exceedingly great joy in the remainder of the forty and ninth year; yea, and also there was continual peace and great joy in the fiftieth year of the reign of the judges.

Again, I think it is hard to miss the nuance that this peace and joy is fake/false/misplaced/naive.  Is that the best way to interpret this passage?  What are we supposed to learn from it?

V31-32 paint a very happy picture, especially in contrast with the war chapters.  How did we get from Point A to Point B?

 33 And in the *fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God—

Notice the distinction made here between the church and the members of the church.  This verse might have been a slip of the pen (chisel?) on the writer/editor’s part, but I think the clarification nonetheless teaches an important truth.

Note the distance opened up between claiming to belong to the church and really belonging to the church.

 34 And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction.

What is the link between pride and persecution?  This is a note that the BoM hits frequently.

We are rarely given reading guidance as specific as “this was a great evil.”  Why did we get it here?

What does the word “wade” suggest to you about afflictions?  (If you read this in light of v29, it sounds like the prideful pushed the humble off the bridge!)

Note that this verse puts the prideful and the humble into opposition.  How are pride and humility opposites?

 35 Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.

Who is the “they” in this verse?

The idea of being stronger in humility is an interesting paradox.

Note the parallel:  stronger : humility :: firmer : faith.  What might we learn from this?

I like the pairing of joy with consolation.

There’s a lot going on in this verse.  Can you outline it?  How does each term (humility, faith, joy, etc.) relate to the others?

Marion D. Hanks:

What really happens when Israel gives God its heart? What happens when men honor their heritage and divine possibilities, love him and obey his commandments? There were certain humble Nephites not many decades before the advent of Christ who met this test, who, in the midst of affliction and persecution, followed a course and achieved the objective. I read from Helaman, the third chapter, these moving words: “. . . they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.” Oct 1960 GC

 36 And it came to pass that the fifty and second year ended in peace also, save it were the exceedingly great pride which had gotten into the hearts of the people; and it was because of their exceedingly great riches and their prosperity in the land; and it did grow upon them from day to day.

The cynic says:  So we see that wealth is bad because it leads to pride.

 37 And it came to pass in the *fifty and third year of the reign of the judges, Helaman died, and his eldest son Nephi began to reign in his stead. And it came to pass that he did fill the judgment-seat with justice and equity; yea, he did keep the commandments of God, and did walk in the ways of his father.

Presumably Nephi would have taken over the plates as well, but that isn’t mentioned here.  Why?

CHAPTER 4

1 And it came to pass in the *fifty and fourth year there were many dissensions in the church, and there was also a contention among the people, insomuch that there was much bloodshed.

I think this verse indicates that “dissension” and “contention” are not the same thing and, further, that contention involves bloodshed.

2 And the rebellious part were slain and driven out of the land, and they did go unto the king of the Lamanites.

3 And it came to pass that they did endeavor to stir up the Lamanites to war against the Nephites; but behold, the Lamanites were exceedingly afraid, insomuch that they would not hearken to the words of those dissenters.

I know you are tired of hearing me say this, but in the BoM, the Lamanites are never the real problem.  The real problem is always internal to the Nephites.  How might this principle be applicable to our lives?

Normally, the Lamanites are stirred up to war by Nephite dissenters.  Why didn’t that happen here?

What precisely were the Lamanites afraid of?  (And, why aren’t we told what they were afraid of?)

4 But it came to pass in the fifty and sixth year of the reign of the judges, there were dissenters who went up from the Nephites unto the Lamanites; and they succeeded with those others in stirring them up to anger against the Nephites; and they were all that year preparing for war.

I really want to know why these guys were able to stir up the Lamanites when the v3 people failed.

Brant Gardner:

The contrast between verses 3 and 4 is interesting. In verse 3 dissenters leave the Zarahemla polity and go to the Lamanites where they attempt to incite the Lamanites to war. They were unsuccessful, but another group of dissenters just two years later were successful. The first interesting item is that Mormon, or his sources, would have known the reason for the failure of first dissenters to stir up warfare. It is highly unlikely that anyone returned to report to official channels that they had tried to incite warfare, but they could not because the Lamanites were afraid. It is equally as unlikely that whatever might have been causing Lamanite fear would have been dramatically altered in just two years. It is most likely that the assignation of fear as the reason for the lack of warfare in the first instance is a Nephite vanity that has managed to enter history only because we have the records from their viewpoint. Citation

5 And in the *fifty and seventh year they did come down against the Nephites to battle, and they did commence the work of death; yea, insomuch that in the fifty and eighth year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla; yea, and also all the lands, even unto the land which was near the land Bountiful.

6 And the Nephites and the armies of Moronihah were driven even into the land of Bountiful;

7 And there they did fortify against the Lamanites, from the west sea, even unto the east; it being a day’s journey for a Nephite, on the line which they had fortified and stationed their armies to defend their north country.

8 And thus those dissenters of the Nephites, with the help of a numerous army of the Lamanites, had obtained all the possession of the Nephites which was in the land southward. And all this was done in the fifty and eighth and ninth years of the reign of the judges.

9 And it came to pass in the sixtieth year of the reign of the judges, Moronihah did succeed with his armies in obtaining many parts of the land; yea, they regained many cities which had fallen into the hands of the Lamanites.

Skousen reads “retained” instead of “regained.”  (Same thing in the next verse.)

10 And it came to pass in the *sixty and first year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in regaining even the half of all their possessions.

11 Now this great loss of the Nephites, and the great slaughter which was among them, would not have happened had it not been for their wickedness and their abomination which was among them; yea, and it was among those also who professed to belong to the church of God.

Ouch.  So not only was this all the Nephites’ fault, it was the fault of people who appeared to be religious.

On “professed to belong”: the old line about how going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sleeping in the garage makes you a Chevy.

Point:  God is in charge of history.  (Is this true today?  Do we believe it?)

Is it a universal principle that good people are spared bad things, or was it unique to this moment in history?  (In other words, how do you think Abinadi would have understood this verse?  Or the ANL martyrs?)

Brant Gardner makes an interesting point:  the premise of this verse is the early promise that the Nephites would be protected in their lands as long as they were righteous.  But note that they are not living in the same lands as they were when that promise was initially made (as they are in Zarahemla now, not the land of Nephi).  So even though the promise applies to the land, it is also true that the promise is “portable” in a sense.  Does this concept have any application to us?  (Perhaps this is a flight of fancy, but it reminds me of how we sometimes talk about making our homes into temples.)

12 And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation, murdering, plundering, lying, stealing, committing adultery, rising up in great contentions, and deserting away into the land of Nephi, among the Lamanites—

Skousen reads “dissenting away” instead of “deserting away.”

Is pride the cause of all of the other sins in this verse, or is pride one of the many (co-equal) sins in this verse?

Is “oppression to the poor” as opposed to “oppression of the poor” significant?

What would oppressing the poor have looked like in Nephite society?  (Note that the law of Moses has several anti-poverty programs built in to it, such as the requirement to allow the poor to glean the fields and the seven-year release of all debts and the 50th year return of all land to its original owner.  We don’t  know to what extent, if any, the Nephites followed these rules.  The only glimmer of poverty programs we get is when Limhi mandates that the people take care of war widows.)  I think this verse does suggest a social contract that required them to provide food and clothing to the poor, but the details are missing.

This is the first we hear in the war chapters of neglect of the poor as a problem–normally, the root problem is fighting over who will hold political power.

Is “making a mock of that which was sacred” the same as some of the other items mentioned, or is it different?  (For example, I think you could make the case that making a mockery of sacred things might involve withholding help from the poor, since the are made in the image of God and if you are starving them you are, in a sense, mocking God’s image.)

Do you see any order to the items mentioned in this list?

In previous verses, the focus has been on “contention” and “dissension” but no specific causes (other than fighting over political power) have been given.  This verse stands out, then, with its focus on social justice.  Has this been the issue all along (and, if so, why wasn’t it mentioned in these terms), or are these new problems (and, if so, how do they relate to the previous power struggles)?

What is the lesson for us in a verse like this?

13 And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their own strength, they were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten, and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.

I love the poetic justice:  boasting of your strength results in being left with nothing but your own strength.

What does this verse teach you about your own strength?  How do you balance this idea with the idea that God will make our weak places strong?

Joseph B. Wirthlin:

There is something about prosperity that brings out the worst in some people. In the book of Helaman, we learn of one group of Nephites who experienced great loss and slaughter. Of them we read, “And it was because of the pride of their hearts, because of their exceeding riches, yea, it was because of their oppression to the poor, withholding their food from the hungry, withholding their clothing from the naked, and smiting their humble brethren upon the cheek, making a mock of that which was sacred, [and] denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.” This sorrow would not have afflicted them “had it not been for their wickedness.” If only they had heeded the words of the prophets of their day and journeyed to higher ground, their lives would have been dramatically different. The natural consequence that comes to those who depart from the way of the Lord is that they are left to their own strength. While in the heat of our success we might assume that our own strength is sufficient, those who rely upon the arm of the flesh soon discover how weak and unreliable it truly is. Oct 05 GC

14 But behold, Moronihah did preach many things unto the people because of their iniquity, and also Nephi and Lehi, who were the sons of Helaman, did preach many things unto the people, yea, and did prophesy many things unto them concerning their iniquities, and what should come unto them if they did not repent of their sins.

Interesting that Moronihah, the military leader, takes the lead in preaching in this verse.

Why are we reminded that Nephi and Lehi were the sons of Helaman?  Shouldn’t we have been able to remember that?

15 And it came to pass that they did repent, and inasmuch as they did repent they did begin to prosper.

I know we usually think of the this as the pride cycle, but we could also see it as irony:  repenting leads to prosperity, and prosperity leads them to riches, which were the cause of their problems in the first place.  But I suppose that we could view it differently–as the Lord giving them another chance to prove that they could handle the riches.

16 For when Moronihah saw that they did repent he did venture to lead them forth from place to place, and from city to city, even until they had regained the one-half of their property and the one-half of all their lands.

Skousen reads “retain” instead of “regain”  ehre.

Does this imply that Moronihah wasn’t willing to lead them in battle if they wouldn’t/didn’t repent?

What does this verse imply about what “property” and “lands” mean in the BoM?

17 And thus ended the sixty and first year of the reign of the judges.

18 And it came to pass in the *sixty and second year of the reign of the judges, that Moronihah could obtain no more possessions over the Lamanites.

19 Therefore they did abandon their design to obtain the remainder of their lands, for so numerous were the Lamanites that it became impossible for the Nephites to obtain more power over them; therefore Moronihah did employ all his armies in maintaining those parts which he had taken.

What’s the moral here?

20 And it came to pass, because of the greatness of the number of the Lamanites the Nephites were in great fear, lest they should be overpowered, and trodden down, and slain, and destroyed.

It sounds like the Nephites have given up on God’s promises:  the deal was supposed to be that if they were righteous, they’d prosper in the land.  This verse makes it sound as if they either don’t believe that anymore or they have decided it’s just too much work.  So now they are fearful.

21 Yea, they began to remember the prophecies of Alma, and also the words of Mosiah; and they saw that they had been a stiffnecked people, and that they had set at naught the commandments of God;

Remembering is always a good thing in the BoM (except, of course, when the Lamanites “remember” their revisionist hsitory).  Can we determine what triggers this bout of remembering?  Because in the last verse, they were fearful and not remembering the promises.

22 And that they had altered and trampled under their feet the laws of Mosiah, or that which the Lord commanded him to give unto the people; and they saw that their laws had become corrupted, and that they had become a wicked people, insomuch that they were wicked even like unto the Lamanites.

Fascinating that they see themselves as “like Lamanites” here.

The summary nature of this verse is pretty annoying.  I think we’d all like details here:  What makes you wake up one day and realize that your laws are corrupt and you are wicked?

The BoM frequently makes a link between government structure and personal righteousness.  (Of course, it sometimes violates that link, like with Abish.)  What lesson is there for us in this?  (Contrast this with some other Christians who just take the world and its governments as a fallen mess to avoid.)

23 And because of their iniquity the church had begun to dwindle; and they began to disbelieve in the spirit of prophecy and in the spirit of revelation; and the judgments of God did stare them in the face.

I can think of two ways to interpret the final phrase here:  one is that the judgments of God have been personified and are staring at the Nephites.  The other is that the judgments somehow filled the Nephites’ field of vision, so the Nephites are staring at the judgments.  Either way, this is a pretty unusual image.  Why do you think it was used?

24 And they saw that they had become weak, like unto their brethren, the Lamanites, and that the Spirit of the Lord did no more preserve them; yea, it had withdrawn from them because the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples—

This is so interesting–we just learned that, because of their numbers, the Lamanites were so strong that the Nephites could not regain all of their lands.  But this verse tells us that the Nephites were weak like the Lamanites.  What is going on here?  (Compare v26.)

One insight I gained from a close study of the Psalms was the idea that the “default setting” for humanity was chaos and disaster and that it is only the intervention of God that changes that; if God were to remove that protection, a person would be toast.  I think this verse is teaching the same idea.  (See also v24.)  I think we sometimes act as if the default setting is “decent” and the “I’m really spiritual” setting is “God will give me extra blessings.”  I think the bar may be a little lower than that.

David O. McKay:

We have hundreds, perhaps thousands of young men here with us tonight. They are eagerly longing to have that testimony. Of its value, there is no question. Of its reality, too, there is no question in the minds of you leaders who possess an absolute knowledge of these things. But as I have listened to the testimonies, I have wondered how many of us are showing the boys how they may know. Are we sufficiently emphasizing the fact that they will never know it if they indulge in sin; they will never find it out if they live to gratify their passions and appetites. “My spirit shall not always strive with man.” His spirit will not dwell in unclean tabernacles. (“The Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples.”). And you cannot have a testimony without the Spirit of God.Oct 1953 GC

David O. McKay mentions memorizing “the Spirit of the Lord doth not dwell in unholy temples” in his youth and applying it on numerous occasions throughout his life and he quoted it frequently in conference talks.

25 Therefore the Lord did cease to preserve them by his miraculous and matchless power, for they had fallen into a state of unbelief and awful wickedness; and they saw that the Lamanites were exceedingly more numerous than they, and except they should cleave unto the Lord their God they must unavoidably perish.

This realization seems sort of surprising happening so quickly on the heels of the idea that many of them repented and they did, in fact, regain many of their lands.  What is going on here?

What does the word “cleave” suggest to you about your relationship with God?

26 For behold, they saw that the strength of the Lamanites was as great as their strength, even man for man. And thus had they fallen into this great transgression; yea, thus had they become weak, because of their transgression, in the space of not many years.

What does this verse teach you about strength?

Note that v21-26 takes us through the thought process of the penitent Nephites.  What do we learn from this peek into the repenting mind?

CHAPTER 5

1 And it came to pass that in this *same year, behold, Nephi delivered up the judgment-seat to a man whose name was Cezoram.

2 For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.

Insert usual skepticism re the wisdom of Mosiah’s legal reforms here.

What does this verse imply about the definitions of “law” and “governments”?  Are these two different things or two ways of saying the same thing?

Remember that it isn’t just the voice of the people, but there is an element of inheritance or “right” to rule.  How does that play out in this verse?

Is the assumption that Cezoram is a bad person?  How else might we explain the “for” at the beginning of this verse?  (See also v4 for the circumstances under which Nephi gives up the judgment seat.)

Is there any relationship between the issue of numbers of people (those who choose evil versus those who choose good) in this verse, and the discussion in the previous chapter about relative numbers of Nephites and Lamanites?

Given that we’ve seen so many groups of dissident Nephites leave for Lamanite land, it is fairly amazing that the wicked still outnumber the good.  The BoM is one long, ceaseless story of people leaving the true faith.

What does the word “ripening” suggest to you about the process of apostasy?

Joseph B. Wirthlin:

 In the book of Helaman we read that “they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good.” If television viewing choices serve as a valid measure of our society, they who choose evil surely are more numerous than they who choose good. Apr 1989 GC

3 Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.

What does this verse imply about the relationship of people to their government?

How does “save it were to their destruction” work in this verse?

4 And it came to pass that Nephi had become weary because of their iniquity; and he yielded up the judgment-seat, and took it upon him to preach the word of God all the remainder of his days, and his brother Lehi also, all the remainder of his days;

Er . . . what happened to enduring to the end?  Was Nephi in the wrong to give up his judgment seat here?

Once again, we see the separation of the religious and civil authority.  (I wish I had time to trace all of the times that these two roles are combined and then separated . . . my suspicion is that people combine them with the best of intentions but always discover that it ends up leading to apostasy in the church.  I think there is a strong warning about the dangers to the church of combining church and state [as we would put it].  Interestingly, the danger isn’t that some people get their rights trampled; the danger is that the Church is harmed.  I’d say we’ve seen the same thing today where rates of religiosity are much higher in the US than in Europe.)

So, does this mean that combining the offices (back in Helaman 2:2) was a mistake?

5 For they remembered the words which their father Helaman spake unto them. And these are the words which he spake:

This is sort of interesting, because we might have expected to get this speech in Helaman’s part of the record, but we only get it now.  Grant Hardy has speculated that Helaman was not the best record-keeper ever (perhaps understandably, given the military duties that resulted in his constantly moving all over the place, not to mention fighting), so perhaps that’s the reason this counsel ends up here.

Remember when I suggested that Helaman might be being portrayed as sort of a passive, place-holding, kind of guy?  If this speech had been included in Helaman’s story it might have moderated that impression.  (Perhaps it was deliberately withheld for that reason?)  Maybe the idea here is that there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than we are aware of?

Note that in the last chapter, we had the Nephites turn away from iniquity (to an extent, anyway) because they remembered (4:21).  Here, there is also remembering.  Is this a hint that these incidents should be compared?  What do they teach you about remembering?  Note also that remembering will be a key concept in this sermon.  That’s very meta, since Nephi and Lehi are remembering the words of their father in this sermon.  I think the picture we are getting is of a society on the brink of collapse because it has chosen not to remember.

6 Behold, my sons, I desire that ye should remember to keep the commandments of God; and I would that ye should declare unto the people these words. Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents who came out of the land of Jerusalem; and this I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.

Interesting that “first parents” is more than one generation, not a married couple, but father and son.

Helaman makes an interesting commentary on identity here:  clearly, his goal in not that Nephi and Lehi will be their own men, but rather that every single time they hear their own names they will, instead of thinking of the uniqueness that is them, think about other people–other people that they should be modeling themselves on.

The “first parents” and “said . . . good” and naming practice makes me think of the creation story.  Is Helaman alluding to that here?

What work is “and also written” doing in this verse?  (Note that the phrase is repeated in v7, making me even more suspicious that it is significant.)

Normally, when attention is called to someone’s name in the scriptures, it is either because the name is changed (such as Abram to Abraham, signaling a change in status) or because of the etymology (that is, the meaning of the name is supposed to tell us something about the person).  This story is different (and I can’t think of any parallels).  How might that be significant?

L. Tom Perry:

These conversion experiences of our family members, who show us great commitment and faith throughout their lives, give us so much of what we enjoy today through the fruits of the gospel. Surely a knowledge of that faith and commitment must be passed on from generation to generation to deepen our desire to live with the same conviction they exhibited in their lives. Surely their testimonies add conviction and strength to our testimonies. Helaman had a special way of transferring his heritage to his sons: he named his sons after his noble ancestors to help his sons remember them and their works. Oct 1999 GC

7 Therefore, my sons, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them.

8 And now my sons, behold I have somewhat more to desire of you, which desire is, that ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven, yea, which is eternal, and which fadeth not away; yea, that ye may have that precious gift of eternal life, which we have reason to suppose hath been given to our fathers.

What does the image of setting up a treasure in heaven suggest to you?

What does it tell us about eternal life to describe it as a gift?

“Which we have reason to suppose” sounds rather tepid; why do you think it was used here?

Why was Helaman’s first concern (or second concern, if you count being good as the first concern) that they might boast?  (Remember the accusations that Aaron made against Ammon for boasting?  Fun times.)

This verse sets two motives in opposition:  to boast and to gather treasures in heaven.  What do you learn from the contrast?

What does the concept of “fading” suggest to you about treasures that are not in heaven?

Does this verse teach that stockpiling treasures in heaven is required to earn eternal life?

Does the reference to “our fathers” at the end of the verse tie v8 back to the discussion of the original Nephi and Lehi?

Brant Gardner:

The language in which this verse is couched echoes the language from the Sermon on the Mount. The concept of righteousness for the correct reason is the same, even though the form and specifics are different. Nevertheless, that linked meaning apparently triggered Joseph Smith’s selection of words that would evoke that passage in the New Testament that has the same meaning. The passage in Matthew is structurally different, but note the reference to the treasure in heaven that does not fade in verse 20. Citation

Susan W. Tanner:

Good home life often goes unrecognized. It might be easier to “arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations” rather than that your light may be a standard for your own families. Sometimes others don’t see us doing good, sharing our light in our individual homes. It is basic human nature to desire and seek praise and attention. Helaman taught his sons Nephi and Lehi to do the good works of their forefathers for whom they were named, “that ye may not do these things that ye may boast, but that ye may do these things to lay up for yourselves a treasure in heaven.” Good works should not be done for the purpose of receiving recognition. Apr 2006 GC

9 O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.

10 And remember also the words which Amulek spake unto Zeezrom, in the city of Ammonihah; for he said unto him that the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.

 

11 And he hath power given unto him from the Father to redeem them from their sins because of repentance; therefore he hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls.

In what way did the Father give the Son power?  How did this happen and why?

12 And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

Notice the repetition of “remember” throughout this statement of Helaman’s.  What effect does it have on the reader?

Each element here (rock, foundation, winds, hail, storm, etc.) is worth thinking about.  What does this image teach you?  (Note that, even if you build on the foundation of Christ, you are not in any way spared from Satan’s attacks; you are just strong enough to withstand them.)  (Also note:  building on rock is way, way, way more work than building on a foundation that is easier to anchor into.  At first, it just seems like wasted effort.  And when the storms come, it is too late to build elsewhere.)  Jim F. points out that this verse asks us to think of the Lord as a rock and Satan as a storm.  What does that contrast suggest to you?

In a section of the BoM devoted to warfare, how does this homebuilding metaphor work in its context?

Why is homebuilding a good metaphor for having faith in Christ?  In what ways does the metaphor fail?  (I’m not being mean, y’all; all metaphors fail at some point.)

Thinking about the big picture of Helaman’s teachings:  Note that he starts with Lehi/Nephi, then mentions Ben and Amulek.  Why do you think he selected these particular teachings?  How do they relate to each other?  Is it fair to say these are the “high points” of the BoM?  (I find Amulek’s presence and Alma’s absence odd.)  Note that Nephi and Lehi are remembered for their goodness but Ben and Amulek for their teachings.  Is that significant?  Note that the teachings are very focused on the atoning mission of Jesus Christ.

13 And it came to pass that these were the words which Helaman taught to his sons; yea, he did teach them many things which are not written, and also many things which are written.

 

What else did Helaman teach them, and where was it written?

What’s the point of telling us that he taught them many things that haven’t been written–isn’t that a given?

In (some parts of) Jewish tradition, there is the belief that, along with the written law, Moses was given an oral law that was orally transmitted over the centuries.  This verse kind of sounds as if it is doing the same thing where Helaman teaches his sons a bunch of stuff that wasn’t written down.

14 And they did remember his words; and therefore they went forth, keeping the commandments of God, to teach the word of God among all the people of Nephi, beginning at the city Bountiful;

Note that the larger context of Helaman’s teachings is that his sons remembered it as they served as teachers.  How does that context shape how you interpret Helaman’s teachings?

So clearly the main theme of this section is “remembering.”  It happens on a narrative level as Nephi and Lehi remember their father’s words and it is the theme of what their father taught them.  Why was this such an important idea at this moment?

In my life, I either remember things or I don’t.  But teachings like this one conceive of remembering as a choice that we make, a deliberate decision.  How does that mesh with the usual human experience of memory as something beyond our control?

Marlin K. Jensen:

If we pay close attention to the uses of the word remember in the holy scriptures, we will recognize that remembering in the way God intends is a fundamental and saving principle of the gospel. This is so because prophetic admonitions to remember are frequently calls to action: to listen, to see, to do, to obey, to repent. When we remember in God’s way, we overcome our human tendency simply to gird for the battle of life and actually engage in the battle itself, doing all in our power to resist temptation and avoid sinning. Apr 2007 GC

15 And from thenceforth to the city of Gid; and from the city of Gid to the city of Mulek;

16 And even from one city to another, until they had gone forth among all the people of Nephi who were in the land southward; and from thence into the land of Zarahemla, among the Lamanites.

We haven’t seen teaching among the Lamanites in a good long time.  (Note that these are Lamanites in formerly Nephite lands, as opposed to the missionary journeys in Alma, which went into Lamanite lands.  Of course, those lands had also previously belonged to the Nephites, so . . .)

17 And it came to pass that they did preach with great power, insomuch that they did confound many of those dissenters who had gone over from the Nephites, insomuch that they came forth and did confess their sins and were baptized unto repentance, and immediately returned to the Nephites to endeavor to repair unto them the wrongs which they had done.

What does this verse teach you about power?  What is the relationship between power and confounding dissenters?

What work is “immediately” doing in this verse?

We take for granted the idea that “repair” is part of “repenting,” but, to be honest, you don’t see that idea spelled out in the scriptures very often.  But this is one of the places where it is.

One wonders what kinds of things these people did to “repair” the damage they had done to the Nephites.  One of my favorite stories is told by Rob Bell:  he knew a man who had treated a long string of girlfriends very crummily in their relationships, basically just using them for sex, and when he became a Christian, he had no idea how he could repair this. (He thought it might add to the damage to call them all up and apologize for never having had any interest in them other than sex.)  He decided to fly to Thailand and “buy” some young girls out of sex slavery and return them to their home villages.  I thought that was pretty impressive.

This verse describes an incredible event, with the immediate and complete turning of these Nephite dissenters.  The only clue that we have to what Nephi and Lehi did is that they “preach[ed] with great power.”  That’s a pretty strong testimony of the power of the word.  (And, how might their father’s teachings about “remembering” and focusing on the atoning mission of Jesus Christ have impacted their preaching?)  Note that v18 goes in to a little more detail as to what it meant for them to preach with power.

18 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did preach unto the Lamanites with such great power and authority, for they had power and authority given unto them that they might speak, and they also had what they should speak given unto them—

Note that this verse implies that power/authority to speak and the content of what is spoken are two separate things.  What are the implications of this idea?

Note that v17 only mentioned power but this one adds “authority.”  Is that significant?

19 Therefore they did speak unto the great astonishment of the Lamanites, to the convincing them, insomuch that there were eight thousand of the Lamanites who were in the land of Zarahemla and round about baptized unto repentance, and were convinced of the wickedness of the traditions of their fathers.

 

Holy cow!  That’s a big deal!

The Lamanites seem astonished that they are converted.  :)

Just keep in mind that the same editor who gave us 20 chapters of war just chose not to include the teachings that, with power and authority, convinced 8K political and cultural enemies to convert to the gospel.  What does that fact imply about how we should interpret the BoM?

Note that these Lamanites are in/near the land of Zarahemla which, until very recently, was Nephite land.  The presence of 8K Lamanites there suggests either that they were occupying military forces or people who had recently been relocated (or:  had chosen to relocate) to Lamanite lands.  I wonder if there is a subtle point being made here related to the fact that these Lamanites were living in Nephite territory.  Note that, so far, Nephi and Lehi have converted (1) Nephites living on Lamanite turf and (2) Lamanites living on Nephite turf.  Is that significant?

Comparing the conversion of the Nephite dissenters with these Lamanites, what would you conclude?  One thing I note is that the Nephites had to change their own personally chosen beliefs, but the Lamanites had to move away from inherited traditions.  Also, there is no mention of the Lamanites performing restitution, although both groups are said to repent.  Is that significant?

Brant Gardner points out that it is a little weird that they are able to move freely through the land of Z when it is under Lamanite control but end up tossed into prison when they enter the land of Nephi a few verses from now.

20 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did proceed from thence to go to the land of Nephi.

Is there a reason that they preach first to Nephite dissenters, then to Lamanites in Nephite lands, and then go to Lamanites in Lamanite land?  (This all reminds me of Acts, where the organizing principle of the book is the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.)

21 And it came to pass that they were taken by an army of the Lamanites and cast into prison; yea, even in that same prison in which Ammon and his brethren were cast by the servants of Limhi.

Interesting–one wonders why they didn’t take 1 or 2 of their 8000 converts in the hopes of getting a better reception in the land of Nephi . . .

So our attention is called to the fact that not only do Nephi and Lehi get the same reception that Ammon got, but they get tossed into the very same prison!  We therefore expect the stories to be parallel . . .

We now have stories of three different missionary trips told back-to-back.  Presumably Nephi and Lehi are the control (same missionaries, same power, etc.) and the three different groups are the variables. What are we supposed to understand about the various groups from the differences in reception?

22 And after they had been cast into prison many days without food, behold, they went forth into the prison to take them that they might slay them.

23 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi were encircled about as if by fire, even insomuch that they durst not lay their hands upon them for fear lest they should be burned. Nevertheless, Nephi and Lehi were not burned; and they were as standing in the midst of fire and were not burned.

So . . . this isn’t what happened to Ammon.  What are we supposed to learn from this, and from the fact that our carefully-crafted expectations of what was supposed to happen in this story have been violated?

“As if by fire” means that it wasn’t fire, but it was similar to fire.  But the rest of the verse and the next verse seem to be talking about actual fire.  What’s going on here?

There are obvious parallels here to the story of Rack, Shack, and Benny and the fiery furnace.  What can we learn from comparing these stories?

Can we also draw a useful parallel to the burning bush?

Couldn’t we have had the encircling with fire a few days ago and spared Nephi and Lehi that part where they starve in jail?

Why didn’t Abinadi’s fire work this way?  (That’s a more serious question than it might initially appear.)

24 And when they saw that they were encircled about with a pillar of fire, and that it burned them not, their hearts did take courage.

I’ll bet they did!

25 For they saw that the Lamanites durst not lay their hands upon them; neither durst they come near unto them, but stood as if they were struck dumb with amazement.

Again with the “as if”–one suspects that they actually were struck dumb and amazed, so I wonder why the “as if” was used here.

General thought:  This is a fairly spectacular miracle, of the kind we rarely see in the BoM or elsewhere.  Why do you think it happened on this occasion?  What happens to the free agency of the observers when they witness something like this?

26 And it came to pass that Nephi and Lehi did stand forth and began to speak unto them, saying: Fear not, for behold, it is God that has shown unto you this marvelous thing, in the which is shown unto you that ye cannot lay your hands on us to slay us.

Usually, it is an angel who delivers the “fear not” line.  What does it do to the story to put Nephi and Lehi into that role?  (Note that v36 will make the comparison of Nephi/Lehi and angels explicit.) (Note also that they seem to be a unit–they both do everything together, even speaking, although one suspects that they didn’t both spontaneously say precisely the same words.)

How do we understand the differences between this story and Abinadi’s story?

27 And behold, when they had said these words, the earth shook exceedingly, and the walls of the prison did shake as if they were about to tumble to the earth; but behold, they did not fall. And behold, they that were in the prison were Lamanites and Nephites who were dissenters.

Why didn’t the prison walls fall?  Was that a miracle, too?

Why would Nephite dissenters have ended up in a Lamanite prison?

Does this verse imply that their words caused the prison to shake?

What’s the point of shaking walls that don’t fall?  (Seriously.  They’ve already had an impressive miracle.  What’s the point of this one?)

This is an odd moment to mention that there are Nephite dissenters in the prison.  Why does Mormon (or his source) think that this was the best moment in the narrative to mention it?

28 And it came to pass that they were overshadowed with a cloud of darkness, and an awful solemn fear came upon them.

In the OT, a cloud is frequently a symbol for the divine presence.  Does it have the same function here?  (Why would it be dark?  Why would it cause fear?)

Is there any relation between this and the mist of darkness in Nephi/Lehi’s vision?  (Is there a large sense in which this Nephi and Lehi are living through their namesakes’ visions?)

Brant Gardner suggests that dark cloud + earthquake combo implies a volcanic eruption.   (I wonder if the fire might fit into that in some sense?)  If that is accurate, what does it do to your interpretation of the story?  And, how might it impacted the interpretation of events by the story’s participants?

Is something happening symbolically with the shift from fire/light to cloud/darkness?

What, they weren’t awfully solemnly fearful before this?

How do you think about the fear in this verse, given that Nephi/Lehi just told them not to fear?

29 And it came to pass that there came a voice as if it were above the cloud of darkness, saying: Repent ye, repent ye, and seek no more to destroy my servants whom I have sent unto you to declare good tidings.

Once again, does “as if it were” mean that it wasn’t?

What effect does the repetition of the command to repent have on the reader?

Does this line remind you of Saul’s conversion experience?

Given that, in the two previous missions, Nephi and Lehi did their own speaking with power and authority, what do you make of the fact that here it is not them but a voice from heaven (presumably) that takes on that role?  (The cynic would say that they have been demoted, but I don’t think that sounds quite right.)

Who do you think is speaking here:  an angel, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Father, someone else?  (I think you could use hints in this story to make a case for each of the four.)

30 And it came to pass when they heard this voice, and beheld that it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold, it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul—

Note that this story hasn’t involved thunder or “great noise” (that is, neither of these has been specifically mentioned–we had fire, an earthquake, and a dark cloud).  Note that v42 will tell us that the voice shook the earth.

What is perfect mildness?

Compare 3 Nephi 11.3.  What do you conclude?

This verse seems to parallel Elijah’s experience (1 Kings 19:12). There’s an interesting tension in this story that is missing from the Elijah story–here, we’ve just had people not being burned by fire.  That’s a pretty marvelous thing.  Then we get the “still voice.”  This contrasts with the Elijah story, where there was no divine manifestation at all outside of the small voice (or, as the NRSV calls it, “a sound of sheer silence.”)  So there is a fascinating paradox in this story between the spectacular divine manifestation and the minimalist one.

What does this verse teach you about divine communication?

I really want to get out my red pen and cross out every instance of “as if” in this story.  Was this voice a whisper or was it not?  Why does our writer (editor?) use this phrase so frequently, particularly at times when it seems unnecessary?

David A. Bednar:

 In the scriptures, the influence of the Holy Ghost frequently is described as “a still small voice” and a “voice of perfect mildness.” Because the Spirit whispers to us gently and delicately, it is easy to understand why we should shun inappropriate media, pornography, and harmful, addictive substances and behaviors. These tools of the adversary can impair and eventually destroy our capacity to recognize and respond to the subtle messages from God delivered by the power of His Spirit. Each of us should consider seriously and ponder prayerfully how we can reject the devil’s enticements and righteously “apply unto it,” even the spirit of revelation, in our personal lives and families. Apr 11 GC

31 And notwithstanding the mildness of the voice, behold the earth shook exceedingly, and the walls of the prison trembled again, as if it were about to tumble to the earth; and behold the cloud of darkness, which had overshadowed them, did not disperse—

Does the voice do these things?  How does it?  Or is the point that all of the other stuff happening was just natural (probably a volcano), but the voice was divine?  If that is the case, in what sense could the non-burning fire be natural?  (Note that v42 will tell us that the voice shook the earth.)

Again with the “as if”–was it or wasn’t it?

32 And behold the voice came again, saying: Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; and seek no more to destroy my servants. And it came to pass that the earth shook again, and the walls trembled.

Note the addition of the idea that the kingdom of heaven is at hand–why is it included in this statement but not the first one?

What does “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” mean in this context?  Does it refer to the impending coming of Christ, or to something else?

What is the point of repeating the statement?

Notice the back-and-forth between the “natural” phenomena and the voice.  What should you learn from this?

33 And also again the third time the voice came, and did speak unto them marvelous words which cannot be uttered by man; and the walls did tremble again, and the earth shook as if it were about to divide asunder.

Interesting–what were they told that couldn’t be repeated and why couldn’t it be repeated?

What does this verse teach us about the limits of human language?

I’m completely crazed over all of the “as if it were”s in this story.

Why does the voice have such physical effects (=walls and earth shaking), if that is how you interpret the interplay between the voice and the effects?

34 And it came to pass that the Lamanites could not flee because of the cloud of darkness which did overshadow them; yea, and also they were immovable because of the fear which did come upon them.

This verse posits two reasons (cloud, fear) for one action.  How do those reasons relate?  What are we supposed to learn from this verse?

35 Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them.

Reminding me of Abish a little, especially since this story set us up to want to see parallels to Ammon’s story . . .

Are we to assume that this guy was a prisoner?  (If so, it might be interesting to compare him with Barabbas or one of the thieves on the cross.)

36 And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld.

What work is “he turned him about” doing in this verse?

Is there a difference in this verse between talking and lifting a voice?

So I take this verse, read with v37, to mean that all of the Lamanites had turned away from Nephi/Lehi.  Why might they have done that?

V35 sets us up to think that there is something about this guy’s Nephite background that causes him to turn . . . what is that, exactly?  (Compare the next verse, which says that they needed power to turn and look.)  It is a weird idea,  but I think this passage is suggesting that there is something about Nephite lineage that gave him special powers, even in a state of apostasy, to be able to turn and to be able to see through the dark cloud.  But I admit that that is very weird.

So presumably the shiny face is supposed to remind us of Moses’ experience with the divine.  (Note that this entire story seems to overwhelm us with multiple OT parallels–why is that?)

Is the shininess related to the fire?  Is it meant to contrast with the dark cloud?

37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.

If this was a volcano and if volcanoes were common in this area, then the people may not have been as completely freaked out by the dark cloud and earthquakes as we are.  Or, at least, they may have ascribed them to natural causes.  In that light, this dissenting Nephite would be the only one there (aside from Nephi and Lehi, of course) who was able to refocus the prisoners’ and guards’ attention on the real meaning of these events.  (Which makes him an Abish figure in a weird way.)  I think v38 supports this reading.

Why do they need power given to them to be able to turn and look?

Why don’t Nephi and Lehi do this job of getting the people to turn and look?

38 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?

Why would they think this guy would be able to answer this question?

39 Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.

Why do we get his name in the middle of the story and not at the beginning?

Is Aminadab just guessing here?  Did he see an angel?  Note that v36 said “being” (singular) and not angels (plural).  If they are talking to angels, how does that mesh with the fact that, earlier in the passage, Nephi/Lehi seemed to have taken on the angelic role themselves?

40 And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

Why do they ask this–isn’t it obvious that the voice has told them 3x to repent?  (And that’s exactly what Aminadab says in the next verse.)

Does this mean that they did not interpret this as a natural event?  (I was thinking that the volcano theory was fairly reasonable until I got to this verse.)

Note that this verse conceives of the dark cloud as a bad thing.  That would suggest, I think, that it is not a symbol for the divine the way that clouds are in the OT.

41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.

We may not want to parse a dissenters words overly precisely, but what does this verse teach about cultivating faith?

I’ve been thinking of the cloud as a symbol of the divine presence, but this verse makes it sound like a bad thing–a symbol of lack of faith–that will be removed when they repent.  What function does the dark cloud have in this story?

Brant Gardner points out that the only time these three guys preached together was to the Zoramites, who have disappeared.  Is this their reappearance in the story? (Or maybe there was another mission that we didn’t hear about.)  If they are Zoramites, it is interesting that they couldn’t interpret the situation as well as a more-recently-apostatized Nephite could.

42 And it came to pass that they all did begin to cry unto the voice of him who had shaken the earth; yea, they did cry even until the cloud of darkness was dispersed.

This is kind of a funny thing for a Nephite dissenter who ends up in a Lamanite prison to say.

Given the emphasis that was placed on Nephi and Lehi’s power and authority, how do you read this statement, made by an apostate?

Why aren’t Nephi and Lehi talking in this verse?

43 And it came to pass that when they cast their eyes about, and saw that the cloud of darkness was dispersed from overshadowing them, behold, they saw that they were encircled about, yea every soul, by a pillar of fire.

Note that all of these people are now in the same position–literally–as Nephi and Lehi.  What should we learn from that?

Did they really have to cast their eyes about to determine that the cloud was gone?  Wouldn’t that have been obvious?

Note that they were encircled by fire, not (the much-dreaded) “as if” by fire.  Is that significant?

44 And Nephi and Lehi were in the midst of them; yea, they were encircled about; yea, they were as if in the midst of a flaming fire, yet it did harm them not, neither did it take hold upon the walls of the prison; and they were filled with that joy which is unspeakable and full of glory.

Is it significant that v43 doesn’t have the “as if” but this verse does?

Note that the last time they saw the fire, they were afraid.  What happened?

45 And behold, the Holy Spirit of God did come down from heaven, and did enter into their hearts, and they were filled as if with fire, and they could speak forth marvelous words.

 

The cynic says:  pretty much anyone would convert if they saw people on fire yet not consumed by fire and saw a dark cloud that was removed when they repented.  And we haven’t even gotten to the angels who minister to them yet! Why did this particular group of Lamanites get this spectacularly easy road to conversion when most people have to suffer through subtle and disputable signs?  Isn’t this unfair?

What relationship is there between the fire in this verse and the fire in the previous verses?

Does this verse imply that it was “the Holy Spirit of God” that was the voice that had been speaking to them?

Think about the post-fall garden imagery in this verse.  You have the encircling fire limiting access as the flaming sword did.  You have a voice, because presence has been denied you because of your sins (in this case, planning on killing Nephi and Lehi).  Comparing the killing of Lehi and Nephi to eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is interesting, because Lehi and Nephi were there to bring them truth.  Their penitence undoes the distance, making it possible for them to be on the other side of the fire and have the presence (“come down from heaven”) of God and not just a voice.

46 And it came to pass that there came a voice unto them, yea, a pleasant voice, as if it were a whisper, saying:

Is this the same or a different voice than they have heard before?  (Does “pleasant” mean that it was different?)

Note again the contrast between the spectacular manifestations that they have had and the whisper here.

Are we to assume that this is the voice of the Holy Spirit of God who is in their presence, or is this a different voice?  (Compare v48.)

Brant Gardner points to the symbolism of the ability of faith in Christ to disperse clouds of darkness from our own lives.

47 Peace, peace be unto you, because of your faith in my Well Beloved, who was from the foundation of the world.

Peace sounds more like the first line of a NT epistle than the divine voice; why is this said here?  (Is it related to the frequent wars in the BoM?)

Note that this faith that they have is only a few minutes old . . .

Why “who was from the foundation of the world”?  Why would they need to know that now?  Is there any relation to Helaman’s recent teachings (recent to us, anyway) about building on the foundation of Christ?

48 And now, when they heard this they cast up their eyes as if to behold from whence the voice came; and behold, they saw the heavens open; and angels came down out of heaven and ministered unto them.

OK, the “as if” is making me totally crazy.  In this case, it seems pretty clear that it isn’t “as if” to behold–it just IS to behold.  Why does this phrase get (over) used in this chapter?  Does it even mean anything or should it just be ignored?

49 And there were about three hundred souls who saw and heard these things; and they were bidden to go forth and marvel not, neither should they doubt.

Really–they were told not to marvel or doubt?  You’d think there was no way they could avoid marveling and no reason they would doubt.  You’d also think, if anything, people are usually told not to share what they experience in situations like this one.  So–why are they told not to marvel or doubt?

Actually, I think the command not to doubt is huge. It recognizes that even a high-intensity-fireworks experience like this one . . . maybe I should have said “especially” like this one . . . can lead to doubt.

Were all of these people in jail?  (Remember that the walls didn’t fall down.)

50 And it came to pass that they did go forth, and did minister unto the people, declaring throughout all the regions round about all the things which they had heard and seen, insomuch that the more part of the Lamanites were convinced of them, because of the greatness of the evidences which they had received.

Note “ministering.”  I like how the first thing they did was what they had seen the angels do.

This is pretty huge, if a majority of Lamanites are now believing this.

Are you surprised by the Lamanites’ willingness to accept second-hand the truthfulness of a spiritual experience, especially one so closely tied to their political enemies?  (I hate to be mean, but it seems that between this and their willingness to believe revisionist history, the Lamanites are somewhat gullible.)

I like the idea of the people being released from prison (a great metaphor, that) to go be missionaries.

Is “heard and seen” significant here?

How did their power/authority/spiritual experience/motivation differ from Nephi and Lehi’s?

51 And as many as were convinced did lay down their weapons of war, and also their hatred and the tradition of their fathers.

Fascinating . . .

Notice the parallel made in this verse between weapons and hatred/traditions.  Both are things that can be set down.

Brant Gardner points out the echo to the ANLs here.

52 And it came to pass that they did yield up unto the Nephites the lands of their possession.

General thought on this chapter:  Grant Hardy points out that the mention that Lehi and Nephi are in the same prison that Ammon was in may be a bit of misdirection, because the stories are not that similar.  What ends up being similar is the experience of Jesus’ visit to the Nephites (earth shook, dark cloud, voice three times, etc.).  What can you learn from these parallels?  If this is best read as foreshadowing, what effect should it have on the reader?

Note that, once they deliver their “fear not” line and are seen talking to a voice in heaven, Nephi and Lehi drop out of the story and the ball is picked up by the Lamanites and we don’t hear from Nephi and Lehi again.  This is interesting in itself, and it also reminds me of John 4 where, after the Samaritan woman encounters Jesus, she goes off as a missionary herself.

General thoughts:

(1) I think Helaman 5, lovely as it is, presents a rather huge problem.  If all it took was a little bit of celestial fireworks to convert the majority of Lamanites and get them to quit fighting the Nephites, why didn’t that happen two dozen chapters ago and spare everyone from the wars?  And, what happens to the agency of the Lamanite who, out of nowhere, have this incredible spiritual experience?

(2) There are many references to “pride” in this section.  That might be one of those words that we’ve heard so often that we have forgotten what it means.  It might be interesting to read this section as if you had no idea what “pride” meant (pretend you were translating the text into English and you had never seen the word before) and see if you can determine what it means from its context.

(3) Interesting article explaining how Nephite economic fortunes were able to change so quickly here.

(4) Some nice reflections on the Book of Helaman here and here and here and here and here.

(5) The second half of Helaman 5 is the kind of thing that makes an anti-Mormon claim that the BoM is nothing more than a bunch of biblical ideas ripped up and sewn back together.  Clearly, Nephi and Lehi’s experience in the Lamanite prison is rich with biblical allusions.  Why are there so many allusions in this one story?

3 Responses to BMGD #33: Helaman 1-5

  1. Stephen R Marsh on August 25, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you again. I would love to see these put together as a book.

    But thank you.

  2. Cameron Nielsen on August 25, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you. Read the entire thing a few days ago, the tab got closed. I had specific comments but can’t remember them anymore. I’ll probably re-read it.

  3. Tim on November 8, 2012 at 10:46 am

    Speaking on one of the Wirthlin talks this Sunday–thanks for giving me some resources to flesh it out a bit more.

WELCOME

Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.