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Okay, so I really, really, really want to start a good discussion on Nephite politics, alright?

Posted by joespencer on October 17, 2007

In some studies I (and others here) have been trying to maintain in the marvelous thirty-second chapter of Alma, I’m coming more and more to recognize how profoundly political the Zoramite encounter is, and it is forcing me (again) to ask questions about the nature of Nephite politics. Some major questions follow some ridiculous initial thoughts:

I think we have first to raise this question: is it even justifiable to speak of a Nephite politics? That is, are we not transferring to the peoples and places of the Book of Mormon an inherently Greek conception (the polis as such)? Inevitably. But is this unjustified? Or rather, does not our own consciousness of this translation perhaps make it possible for us to formulate the question we are asking more straightforwardly, more productive? The question: how does Nephite history, as it has been given to us, engage, echo, dissect, or deconstruct the Greek conception of the polis? And how are we to think about these kinds of things? This is especially relevant because of the inevitable interconnection (even equation) of being and polis that plays itself out from Plato to Hegel.

Second major question I think needs to be addressed in this regards: what role does death play for the Nephites? Plato and Hegel nicely bookend an irrepressible history of thinking death, of courting death, of living for death, of postponing death by making a covenant with death, etc. I take up this last phrasing because it occurs in Isaiah 28, and that brings us quite close to Nephite thinking: what kind of a place does death have in Nephite thinking? Do Nephites think (what is called Nephite thinking)? And if they do–I think they simply must–when and where in the Book of Mormon is this thinking brought to an end, transformed, repressed, or blown (typed) apart?

So, some questions about the Book of Mormon that all of this raises for me:

(1) What texts in the Book of Mormon suggest themselves for thinking the role of death in Nephite society?
(2) How are we to think about the place of King Benjamin?
(3) Zeniff?
(4) Noah?
(5) Alma… especially Alma?
(6) The political-religious dialectic of sorts that is Mosiah 25-29?
(7) The collapse of the kingship?
(8) The structure of the Book of Alma?
(9) The place of the military?
(10) The origins of the Zoramites?
(11) The place of idolatry among the Nephites and their sects?
(12) The relations between the Church and the “state” after Alma’s stepping down?
(13) The war chapters?



18 Responses to “Okay, so I really, really, really want to start a good discussion on Nephite politics, alright?”

  1. cherylem said

    It seems to me, in general terms, that the Nephites left Jerusalem at a political time, and therefore would have taken with them a political mindset which would have become a part of the collective memory in some form of all the BOM peoples. They would have had ideas about government, culture, education, etc. So this is a great post to help us think about BOM issues and peoples in a new way.

  2. Joe Spencer said

    I agree… hence, this further question:

    (14) What kind of a political milieu can be read into sixth century Jerusalem (with all the ramifications of that question!)?

    Incidentally, I’ve been working through Ackroyd’s book on sixth century Hebrew thought as I walk to and from teaching seminary every morning. It’s a dry read (reed?), but helpful nonetheless for answering these kinds of questions.

  3. brianj said


    I’m anxious to follow this discussion, though I don’t know if I will be able to contribute much (time constraints). I will add just two things:

    1) I don’t understand your reluctance to impose Greek polis onto Nephite politics. Since the Greeks didn’t invent politics in general, it’s not clear to me what you think we should refrain from imposing on the Nephites.

    2) Your list looks like it would make a nice series of posts.

  4. robf said

    Even more than philosophy, I think comparative ethnography and ethnohistory have more light to shed on Nephite socio-politics. While there are a lot of gaps in the BoM account of these things (Mormon didn’t give us most of the more political stuff), there is enough there to help us think through a lot of interesting questions–such as those posed here.

    First off, with over 1,000 years of history covered, I think we need to be careful not to think of there being a single Nephite kingdom/polity or whatever. I think there is evidence for lots of different types of organization and societal complexity at different time periods and places and with different regimes.

    We also need to be careful not to read too much into the description of Nephi or Benjamin or Mosiah as “kings”. Far from our own conception of a monarch, its probable that they were really more of what anthropologists would call “big men” or maybe “chiefs”.

    The collapse of Mosiah’s “kingship”–which may have only survived as a hereditary leadership position in Zerahemla for a few generations (Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah) is indeed interesting. We don’t know what the relationship was between most of the “cities” described in the BoM, or even the nature of those “cities”. The only population information we have is problematic numbers of soldiers and body counts. At one point we are told that the descendants of Zarahemla outnumbered the “Nephites” and that the “Lamanites” outnumbered them all.

    We know almost nothing about the Lamanites–the presumably more dominant culture in the area. But by the end of the BoM the Nephites appear to be a small culture trapped between the expanding “robbers” on the north and “Lamanites” on the south.

    The wars of extermination at the end of the BoM take place at exactly the time when Teotihuacan was expanding its influence out from the Valley of Mexico and taking over Mayan cities to the south. If, as some have speculated, the Nephites were somehow associated with the Mixe-Zoquean people of Chiapas, they would have been caught in the middle of these continuous rounds of war. The BoM may be the best account we have of these wars, and how they restructured Mesoamerican society at the beginning of the Classic Period.

    But I digress. I’m interested in continuing this discussion, but maybe this topic is too broad for one post? Should we break it up into separate posts?

    While we think of that, let me add my own questions:

    1) What do we know about Sumerian socio-politics?
    2) How might these have influenced Jaredite socio-politics?
    3) What do we know about Jaredite socio-politics?
    4) How much of the Jaredite socio-political system survive the “destruction” of the Jaredites?
    5) How many “Jaredite” groups do we have record of, and how might they have interacted with each other?
    6) What evidence do we have for how the Jaredites may have interacted with other local people and cultures?
    7) How might the Jaredites have been associated with Olmec culture in Mesoamerica?
    8) What was the socio-political system of Lehi’s Jerusalem?
    9) What kind of “kingdom” did Nephi set up in the promised land?
    10) What ever happened to all those kings named Nephi?
    11) Why is the next king we actually hear about not named Nephi?
    12) How might the Nephite “kingdom” have interacted with other local peoples while near the landing site or after moving to the Land of Nephi?
    13) How did the “kingdoms” of Mosiah-Benjamin-Mosiah differ from the earlier Nephite “kingdoms”?
    14) What was the sociopolitical organization of Zarahemla before the Nephites arrived?
    15) What do we know about assimilation between the Nephite and “Mulekite” cultures and polities?

    OK, I’m just skating over the easy questions here and I haven’t even gotten to the “rule of the judges”. There’s a lot to think about here!

  5. Robert C. said

    Joe, this is fascinating for me to think about while I’m in the midst of reading Remi Brague’s The Law of God which tries to trace out these very issues through the Middle Ages in Europe among the Muslims, Jews, and Christians. His first few chapters deal with some ancient cultures (incl. Egypt and Israel), but they are frustratingly brief. I’ll try to go back and look at some of the sources he uses in these preliminary chapters for an idea of where to look for more info on all this.

    He has a pretty interesting view on kingship in ancient Israel, that:

    Israel had never shaken off nostalgia for an earlier[, pre-monarchical] period, either of nomadic life in the desert or that of “liberty” under the Judges. Such texts could hardly have been produced in the age of the kings. Moreover, that sort of society was not so much pre-state as anti-state, in reaction against a Caananite or Egyptian state model. . . . The founding event, the “primitive scene,” was the Exodus—that is, the break with the state (in this case, the Egyptian state). [p. 32]

    Brague goes on to say a few brief words about the Messianic literature and themes as a longing for an ideal theocracy that had never really been realized in history. It seems to me that Brague is sort of challenging views that Israelites were longing nostalgically for a return to a Golden Age under David or Solomon. I’d be curious how controversial this claim would be taken among other scholars.

    Something else that Brague talks about is the way the seeds of democracy were effectively and uniquely sown in Israelite culture in their criticism of the government (the review I linked to on the lds-herm listserv talks about this a bit also):

    In Greece the various political regimes were subjected to critical examination . . . . Still, global criticism of the state is much more likely to appear in Israel than elswhere. . . . Whereas in Egypt only the force by means of which the strong oppress the weak is seen as bad, in Israel it is the power of the state itself that seems immediately suspect. Criticisms addressed to a particular sovereign can be found everywhere, but only in Israel does a criticism of the very institution of monarchy appear. . . . Israel is distinctive in having conceived of human kingship as not only distinct from divine kingship but even opposed to it. In this fashion Israel planted seeds of democracy that proved just as fertile as the Greek traditions, even though they are cited less frequently. [pp. 45-47]

    Much, much more to explore here!

  6. Joe Spencer said

    Brian #3: Actually, it’s not my reluctance but the reluctance of others to impose the Greek idea here that I’m trying to engage. I’m quite happy to impose Greek thinking on any and every people in history (Greek as Gentile par excellence), but I realize that I would probably face some opposition. What I’m trying to get at by speaking of a Nephite dissection of Greek politics is not some kind of idealistic fancy that the Nephites were somehow approaching utopia (!) but the realization that Nephite politics may well, because of their non-Greek origins (what have we experienced in today’s world that is not of Greek origin?), help us to think the nature of Greek politics more profoundly, especially because we see at points in the Book of Mormon—most notably Alma “the Elder,” I think—a kind of collapse (or attempt at collapse) of the political as such.

    Rob #4: First off, let me say that I think I agree with everything you had to say. That is, your concerns, warnings, and caveats are all concerns, warnings, and caveats I myself have explicitly considered, taken into consideration, or expressed in conversation before. I think you are absolutely on the right track with all of this.

    So let me explain my interest, here, in philosophy, since I would agree that it is somewhat divergent from what would be most helpful in working out a political history of the Nephites. Two things converge here for me. First, I am enamoured of the text and hence am focused primarily on how the Nephites understood themselves. Of course, I recognize that the richest reading of this self-understanding or self-interpretation can only be accomplished against the background of the kind of study you’re suggesting here, and so I would like to work on “both” projects, both a history of Nephite politics quite broadly and an analysis of Book of Mormon political texts more narrowly. Second, because I understand 1 and 2 Nephi to be a kind of dual text (this is something I explain at some greater length in my book), at once theological and thoroughly political, and because it seems to me that it was essentially the primary document of influence at the foundation of Nephite politics generally, its rather decentered understanding of political what-not is of the utmost importance for understanding anything later in the text. What interests me most about the role of the political in Nephi’s two books is threefold: (1) Nephi interweaves—quite subtly—the political as a kind of subtext into an almost cosmic theological story; (2) Nephi draws heavily on Isaianic politics, explicitly from the first thirteen chapters of First Isaiah; and (3) Nephi’s apocalyptic visions and summaries of history provide the reader with a radically philosophical world of Gentiles and Jews. Hence, three philosophical—more philosophical, it seems to me, than ethnographical—questions lie at the foundation of a study of Nephite political texts as such: (1) What is the relation between the theological reading of world history and the “secular” political history? (2) What kind of political philosophy inhabits the writings of First Isaiah, especially chs. 2-14 and chs. 28-29? (3) What can be said, philosophically, about the relation and differences between the Jews and the Gentiles… might the difference be precisely philosophy?

    Robert #5: I think someone like Brague may be very helpful, though, as your reluctance reveals, perhaps not quite so much in the field of Israelite and Egyptian political structures. Much more helpful, I imagine, would be how he might help us to think the curious role of the law/Law in the Book of Mormon, and of the meaning and place of the Gentiles more broadly in this enormous vision of Nephi: how does law play itself out in the Gentile world, and how does that differ from the law/Law in the Book of Mormon, and now what can we say about Nephite politics as a result? Rich possibilities here.

    All: Several posts… yes, and several years of them. To some extent, I’m convinced that it this enormous project of unfolding Nephite politics that is the most necessary first step to be taken in an attempt to get serious discussion of the Book of Mormon as a text to take place. My questions, as my individual responses above reveal, were meant to be somewhat more narrow here (the particular questions I raised are all from the Mosiah-Alma stretch because they hover around a major political shift that is somehow connected with the formation of an at least quasi-anti-political movement that is Alma’s church in the wilderness… and this genuine “event” may be the most imnportant of all for thinking the questions I’m raising), but I do think that all of the kinds of things that you are all raising are of the utmost importance for getting at what is happening in the Book of Mormon.

    A series of posts, then, but with the understanding that I will have a larger problematic that will obsess me all along the way. I’ll work up a post on the Jaredites (Rob is pointing in the right direction there, that is for sure) to get this kind of thing started. In the meanwhile, I’d appreciate any and all responses to the rather confused clarifications I’ve tried to offer in this comment.

  7. robf said

    Pretty ambitious thoughts here. But keep it coming and I’ll play along!

  8. NathanG said

    A couple thoughts and a question. Let me preface with stating that my knowledge of political theories, philosophies, structures, (or whatever best applies) is near non-existent, so my comments will be very unsophisticated and probably disjointed. However, I have just spent a few weeks studying King Benjamin’s address (for strikingly different reasons than to understand their politics) and had some thoughts about the changes that occurred in their society.

    King Benjamin teaches his address and his people have a mighty change of heart (which is what I was focusing on). I wondered what their lives were like before the change because my immediate thoughts on hearing about “a change of heart” is to go from wickedness to righteousness, but reading about how they lived makes me think they were not particularly wicked (at least there are plenty other examples in the Book of Mormon of unquestionably wicked cities). King Benjamin’s people apparently kept the law of Moses and gathered at the temple and offered sacrifice. They also gathered in their family tents. King Benjamin indicated that he ensured their was no wickedness among them (or it seemed his law was the Law of Moses). There didn’t seem to be an established church at that time. At least it seems that when Alma brought the church with him to Zarahemla and King Mosiah it was something different and Mosiah allowed Alma to be the head of the church while he (Mosiah) would tend to other duties separate from the church (remember he wanted equality between believers and non-believers and a significant group of non-believers came into play). So what was the “church” like at Benjamin’s time? Perhaps it was more similar to a patriarchal order (I wonder if that’s why they comment that they stayed in their family tents) and King Benjamin was a type of unifying leader/chief, perhaps?)

    So at the end of Benjamin’s address, the community seems to have a unified spiritual experience and their hearts are changed. I always find it interesting in the scriptures when a whole community or mass of people speaks with one accord or has some unified experience and I wonder what it’s like and why they have it. While I read I wondered if God was preparing a community for a stark change in how their community would be structured. In this group of people’s lifetime they would see Limhi’s group of refugees come with their tales of what a rotten king can accomplish (along with Jaredite records as a souvenir, Alma’s group of refugees come with what seems to be a much more centrally organized church, the rising generation will abandon the gospel (with such notable examples as the sons of Mosiah and Alma the younger) and their king would propose that they do away with kings and go to a system of judges (which for someone studying the brass plates, the idea shouldn’t seem to foreign). So I think God gave the community this spiritual experience because they needed to learn/understand what was central to their life, Christ. Once they put Christ in their heart rather than a king that they loved, the community structure could have these amazingly radical changes in a very short period of time, and hopefully not too many people would be lost in the shuffle.

    I hope that made a little bit of sense. Joe and others, I’m sure you can make that much more eloquent.

    Now a question for Joe. You commented in #6 that 1 and 2 Nephi was the primary document of influence for Nephite politics. Do you have any indication as to how widely read the small plates were? I have had the impression (and I don’t have any reason to suppose that my impression is correct) that the small plates were read by relatively few people during the history of the Nephites. That may stem from believing that the Book of Mormon was written for our day, and so naturally nobody else had it. Could it be that the leaders had the plates and used it to direct their people? It seems hard for me to believe that only a few people could read something and turn it into the foundation for political structure of the masses without the masses understanding or learning about the foundation. We do have indication that the brass plates were used, particularly by the sons of Mosiah in teaching the Lamanites, but I can’t think of anything off the top of my head suggesting the small plates were used similarly.

  9. Joe Spencer said


    I’ll begin with your question, then respond to your thoughts and insights.

    Noel Reynolds has written a few helpful papers about the place of 1 and 2 Nephi in Nephite politics, and I think they are a helpful place to begin… to begin. I do deal with this question in the first part of my own book, but again it is only a place to begin to ask these kinds of questions. A few consequent thoughts, then…

    Alma 36 is grounded—this is the argument, in one sense, of the first chapter of my (as yet unpublished) book—in an interpretive reading of 1 Nephi 1. Moreover, it is shared in so overcharged a situation that it is clear that the Nephi text plays some kind of legitimating role. This can be checked up on—this is the argument, in one sense, of the second and third chapters of my book—by a structural study of 1 and 2 Nephi, which is given to a remarkable interweaving of the political and the theological. I argue (the argument runs to over a hundred pages, so I won’t try to produce it here!) that this interweaving, through its peculiar structure, allowed the text to pawn itself off on most readers as a political text, though it was confessedly (but shhh! it’s a secret!) theological. Nephi seems to argue, in 1 Nephi 19:1-6, that he wrote it this way precisely so that it would be kept (no one would throw away so important a political document) and so that it would be kept relatively inaccessible (you don’t let just anybody come to leaf through the original copy of so important a political document).

    The point: the text was probably not something that was too widely promulgated. But it was, for all that, still a foundational political document, and I think it was understood to be such: the kings and judges, at least up through Alma’s stepping down from chief judgeship (he took the records that had been in the care of the kings), would have been familiar with them and would have grounded Nephite politics in them. I think Alma’s departure from the judgeship is significant in this respect, because it seems that it didn’t take long for the government to go quite astray once the document had been removed to the Church (I imagine that Mosiah’s law was in part an attempt to maintain the status quo even should that document depart, but alas!). So, in a word, I agree with you: 1 and 2 Nephi were probably not read too widely (Mormon apparently knew nothing of the document until he was writing his history and found mention of it in the large plates!). But it does not seem to me that the opinions of “the masses” meant a great deal in (1) ancient society generally and (2) semi-sacral monarchies more specifically.

    Now, on to your thoughts on Benjamin.

    Benjamin really is amazing, most especially because of the urgency of his message (if only we as Latter-day Saints could feel his words profoundly enough to see ourselves as less than the dust of the earth!). But I think we’ll miss the importance of his message entirely if we are not attuned to the political overtones of his words. You’ve made mention of a number of them, albeit obliquely, in your comments here. At the heart of his political message is a kind of displacement: get Christ into your hearts and not me (as you so marvelously put it)! But the way he works this message out is so fascinating: the very first verse of his speech is part of a long string of experiences in the Book of Mormon where eyes are opened, ears are attuned, and hearts are prepared (3 Nephi 11 being the other most important one, but several places the same thing happens, and almost with the same words). The language is, of course, rooted in Isaiah 6 and sounds remarkably like the words used in many ancient coronation ceremonies. This is of some importance, given Nibley’s (and then a whole crowd of FARMS Nibleyites’) recognition of a whole series of coronation ceremony themes in the setting of the speech. What is ironic is that instead of announcing Mosiah’s place as king, Benjamin begins by essentially crowning every soul who has come up to the temple: they have all come up to the temple to become kings and queens, to be washed and anointed so as to have their eyes opened to see, ears opened to hear, minds prepared to have the mysteries of God unfolded to their view.

    This universalization of kingship, evident from the very first verse of Benjamin’s speech, becomes a kind of foundation for the collapse of “kingship” a few years later: everyone takes on his [sic] head the responsibility that had hitherto been only the prerogative of the king. Curious thing.

    The theme continues through chapter 2, especially if the chapter is translated into Hebrew (slave, servant, and subject are all the same Hebrew word, ebed, which is etymologically related also to the word “work”; all of these play off each other marvelously in the chapter)! With the oft-quoted verse 17, for example, Benjamin essentially announces what it is to be a king: it is to be a slave/servant/subject! And so on.

    When he begins to quote the angel in chapter 3, the kingship motif continues, but now more radically still: if they are to become kings and queens, they are to become like Christ, to becomes christs, so to speak (always with a lower-case “c”). The language of 3:5-7 is so explicitly royal it is almost shocking: in an announcement that follows the OT royal announcement of the royal heir, the King of Kings is announced even with his mother’s name, as the kings always are in the OT chronicles. This little passage is followed by a perfect description of the royal progress through the land, during which the King performs miracles on a local level, overthrows rebellions, etc. The whole thing fits marvelously.

    And then the death of the King, His coming back to power, and the restoration of the Kingdom through which all of the people are to become kings and queens, priests and priestesses, and so on.

    This is why I see the political as so central. And yet, why the political in any Greek sense is so displaced by the whole event: Benjamin is, through the Messianic “political,” undoing the political that has always obtained. It is, after that, only a matter of time before “kingship” in whatever sense it was in place among the Nephites would be done away with.

    And on and on. It’s a marvelous book, is it not?

  10. Robert C. said

    Joe, these thoughts are astounding. Are you drawing on anything in particular that’s published, or are these fairly original thoughts, or is this an amalgamation of publications (Reynolds, Nibley, other FARMS writers, etc.)?

  11. Ben McGuire said

    I have an article being published early next year that deals at least a little with this topic.

    I think that in many ways, 1 Nephi is a political text. One of its primary goals is to drive home the legitimacy of the Nephite monarchy. There doesn’t seem to be much of a gap between accepting Nephi as King and Nephi as Prophet in the text. On the issue of a Nephite dynasty, I have always found a couple of questions interesting. Jacob notes that they were going to name all of the kings Nephi. The text never indicates that this continues beyond the beginning of his immediate successor. And, despite accepting the idea of a Messianic religion, when the Nephites encounter the more numerous Mulekites, who are theoretically led by a Davidic King (Mulek being a direct descendant of David), it is the Nephite King who becomes the ruler of the combined group. Is it the later Mulekite encounter with Nephite histories which helps create the aristocracy that is present in the Kingmen?

    On another note, the Book of Mormon makes repeated use (and I believe even quotes) the Deuteronomic kingship codes. Apart from what Robf notes about the use of the term king relative to the function which the king may have played socially, the Book of Mormon tends to define its kings in terms that coincide with the Old Testament. How accurately does this reflect the social function which kings played in the Book of Mormon?

    What I find fascinating about this is the idea that this is in turn applied (by Mormon?) to the quintessential wicked king of the Jaredites when he is described within the text.

    I think a part of the discussion on politics in the Book of Mormon also has to look at the issue of education – which is also given some air time. Does Nephi’s control of what the people are taught concerning the literary heritage in the Brass Plates amount to manipulation on some level?

  12. mjberkey said

    1 Nephi is written by Nephi and so if the purpose of the book was to establish a Nephite dynasty, then it would be Nephi’s project. I don’t think Nephi even had a desire to establish legitimacy for his own monarchy (2 Nephi 5:18), let alone would I think that he wanted to establish an entire primogenitive dynasty of kings after him. Furthermore, 1 Nephi was written by God’s command, and I doubt that God’s primary interest was establishing monarchy among the Nephites. If he had wanted to do that, he could have done it the same way he did it among the Israelites.

    But maybe I misunderstand your point, Ben.

  13. Ben McGuire said

    No, you got exactly my point mjberkey. I just happen to disagree with you. Nephi’s explicit comment about not wanting the monarchy (which you reference) is problematic from the perspective that the question of who had the right to rule pervades the text from the beginning of the book right up until the end of 2 Nephi. But you will have to wait for the article to get a better understanding of how I read the evidence. Essentially, I argue that he did do it (at least as Nephi portrays it) exactly as he did it among the Israelites.

    I do note that Nephi suggest that he is writing in part about his kingship in 1 Nephi 10:1. And while Nephi suggests that he is writing in response to the promptings of the Spirit, he does not suggest that he is told what to write, and several times he indicates that he is including what he feels is of value. If the great crisis of his time is the division of the people over who is supposed to retain the leadership, then it seems natural for him to include in his account those things which signify his right to rule over his brethren.

  14. Robert C. said

    Ben, your paper sounds a lot like what Joe has argued in his book manuscript, that Nephi is writing a political document, though Joe argues that he is also “hiding” a deeper message in the text. I’d be interested in the comparisons and contrasts, esp. since it seems you’ve come to this conclusion independently–you guys should really swap papers (and cc me, since I’d be very interested in reading your paper, Ben). Also, can I ask where you’re paper will be (or will likely be) published? It seems there are not that many good outlets for Mormon scripture study: JBMS, BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sunstone, SMPT’s Element—except for JBMS, these journals tend not to print much work seriously engaging scripture. Am I missing any? Does anyone know if there are plans in the works to start a journal for Mormon scripture study? Joe and I have chatted about our dreams about what such a journal would look like, and even how to go about starting one, but I’d be interested if anyone else has heard anything along these lines.

  15. Joe Spencer said

    Ben, are you making reference to your paper on the slaying of Laban? If so, you’ll probably recall that you sent me a copy and that I ended up citing it in the very book Robert is making reference to. I would be interested as well, obviously, in knowing where you are publishing this (or some other, if it is another you have reference to). I am quite serious about trying to do all that is possible to help this kind of research get a wider reading in LDS circles.

  16. s james said

    Im a tourist in this area but find the observations made above both illuminating and challenging.

    Something that may be of little significance but which has always interested me in terms of its denoting a particular socio-political-theological order, is the observation that the incidence of text references to ‘House of Israel’ are greatest in 1&2 Nephi and Jacob, with no further use of this expression until the Saviour’s visit in 3 Nephi (just over 100 of the 125 references appear in the first three books).

    Correspondingly the use of the expression ‘kingdom of God’ seems to occur mostly (but not exclusively) during times of explicit reference to nephite/lamanite kings and kingdoms, from Mosiah onwards, where a type of correspondence between (or unification of) earthly and heavenly kingdoms (nature, roles, responsibilities, etc), as Joe observes with much more clarity, seems to be brought into being by Benjamin, which I think is the ecclesiastical pattern driving the book of Alma.

    Also from an objective perspective, I find the abundance of references to the term ‘king’ in Mosiah and Alma (410 out of 496 in the BoM) to be worthy of further investigation. Why so much focus on ‘kings’ and a shift in focus from what I would consider the more prophetic writings (in the hewbrew tradition) of the first three books to these more ‘priestly’ writings? It does seem to suggest a shift in socio-political-theological order.

    I can see a lot of mileage in the observations made above when pushed to another level – please forgive the less than adequate analysis of my own contribution.

  17. s james said

    Ben, you make some good observations. I note 1 Ne 16:38 is one of the few times that a view from Laman and Lemuel is put in Nephi’s record regarding the reasons for the division, so something is certainly going on.

    In regard to 1 Ne 10:1, I’m tempted to say that Nephi’s account of a ‘reign’ does not come through as a strong element in his writing, but hesitate to do this out of respect for the way he places the notions ‘reign’ and ‘ministry’ in a particular associative relation, leading me to ask to what extent his ministry is his ‘reign’. Particularly in light of the tradition in the house of Israel of king/priests , where the work of the king is the work of redemption (see for example Alma 13), of which the Lord himself is also an example.

  18. Joe Spencer said

    s james,

    Thanks for bringing these issues up. I agree with you that they go right to the heart of the matter. I actually take a great deal of comfort in the diversion of sorts that obtains between the small plates and the visit of Christ: it gives me a way of making sense of our own departure from the teachings of Joseph as a people (though what will come of these next two years with Joseph in MP/RS?).

    I agree wholeheartedly that the kingdom seems to be behind the institution (if it can be called that) of the church in Mosiah and Alma: not only is this the case because the church is set up explicitly against the kingship structures of the Nephites, but it is also because Alma uses so much royal rhetoric in his explanations of why the church is to be formed. As I read him (I’d have to go through the passage itself in some detail), he essentially suggests that the church is a creating and collecting up of so many servant who await the opportunity to be adopted as sons/subjects to the King. They are essentially setting up the kingdom without the King, in a negative (negative in the philosophical sense of the word) structure. Marvelous thing… perhaps quite an important way of thinking about the Church that we are so profoundly involved in.

    Great thoughts. Keep them coming.

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