3 Nephi 6
3 Nephi 6:1
1 And now it came to pass that the people of the Nephites did all return to their own lands in the twenty and sixth year, every man, with his family, his flocks and his herds, his horses and his cattle, and all things whatsoever did belong unto them.
3 Nephi 6:2
2 And it came to pass that they had not eaten up all their provisions; therefore they did take with them all that they had not devoured, of all their grain of every kind, and their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and they did return to their own lands and their possessions, both on the north and on the south, both on the land northward and on the land southward.
Narrative: The sequencing of events at this point in time is interesting. After the defeat of the Gadianton army in the twenty-second year, Mormon notes the passage of the twenty-second to twenty-fifth years where there is nothing important to his narrative (3 Nephi 5:7). Now in the twenty-sixth year the people return to their homes. This gives us four years during which the Nephites continued to concentrate in a defensive position rather than returning to their previous holdings. While Mormon does not say anything about the Gadiantons at this point, we may surmise that although there had been this great defeat of the Gadianton army, that they had not ceased to exist, and that they were still in a position to be a possible threat. Without any threat at all, it is doubtful that the Nephites would have endured the concentrated conditions of their desperate defensive position. When the circumstances indicated that there was no longer a viable threat, then they would have returned. It is interesting that it should have taken four years, and as is typical, Mormon tells us nothing of this most interesting historical question.
When they return they return prosperous. Mormon’s description of the return of the people has two aspects to it. The first is the historical veracity. Of course the people did return. However, the second aspect is qualitative, not simply reporting. When they return they return with “their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things.” This particular part of the description is not give for the sake of veracity, but for a more spiritual purpose. Mormon has described the salvation of the people because of their righteousness. He emphasized that righteousness in 3 Nephi 5:1-3. The return with wealth is a further indication that they have prospered and are blessed. It is not that blessings must be manifest in wealth, but rather that the cycle of blessings has this end as one of its typical manifestations. They were righteous therefore they were prosperous. Mormon will elaborate on this theme in the next several verses.
3 Nephi 6:3
3 And they granted unto those robbers who had entered into a covenant to keep the peace of the land, who were desirous to remain Lamanites, lands, according to their numbers, that they might have, with their labors, wherewith to subsist upon; and thus they did establish peace in all the land.
This verse gives us complex social information for which we may not have sufficient information to make a complete analysis. We are dealing with the disposition of prisoners, and this disposition is not described until four years after the capture. It is possible that these four years have someone provided a test of faithfulness to the covenant they had made. When these former captives are released, they are given land “wherewith to subsist upon.” They are apparently located together, and they form a separate land.
These were all warriors, and their ability to exist in a separate land would depend on the same long term principles as any other population, and one of the important aspects of settled life is the presence of women. There were none that were captives. These former captives did not return to the Gadiantons, but they were given lands. Somewhere, they also would have women. There are two possibilities for the women among the former captives. They might have received women from among the Nephites, or they may have been able to retrieve their wives from their Gadianton homeland. This latter possibility is not so far-fetched, as the Mesoamerican world would have seen several transfers of population. The warriors would have been farmers when they were not fighting, and their families were likely located on the outskirts of the central city. Thus they could return to their families and move without any particular difficulty, or impedance by the Gadianton government. This scenario is more likely that the marriage to Nephite women.
The most important part of this passage is that these captives “were desirous to remain Lamanites.” The suggestion that they would remain Lamanites has two very interesting implications. The first is that although they had pledged peace, they did not pledge allegiance. They did not become part of the Nephite polity. Secondly, the idea of remaining Lamanites suggested that they had been Lamanites. Prior to their capture, they were designated as Gadianton robbers.
It is this last interesting issue that tells us more about the way Mormon sees the Gadianton robbers. When the specific threat is no longer there, when the people involved are no longer under the sway of their secret combinations, they remain Lamanites. They are still “others,” that is, not Nephites. However, they return to being the “common Lamanite.” Thus Mormon makes a distinction between Lamanites who are not Nephites, and any “Lamanite” who is associated with the Gadianton secret oaths. It would appear that Mormon sees the Gadianton secret oaths as external to the Lamanites. When no longer affiliated with this particular set of secret oaths, they return to being “common Lamanites.” This view is consistent with Mormon’s perception of the Gadiantons of his own day as connected to the separate cultural area to the North. Even when he connects the Gadiantons to the past, he connects them to the Jaredites, who were a people whose lands were to the north.
This statement appears to confirm Mormon’s perception of the Gadianton threat as one representing an external influence among both the Lamanites and the Nephites. If the Gadiantons are later to be seen as reflective of the Central Mexican influence in the Maya lands, perhaps we are seeing at this time an earlier influence of that same cultural area. Historically, the evidence of Central Mexican influence comes later in history. It may be, however, that the evidence is later because the evidence is later, not because the influence was exclusively later. The very stone monuments that have preserved the evidence of the Central Mexican influence are all of a later date that the events Mormon is currently describing. While this is the epoch where Teotihuacán is forming, other Central Mexican areas are strong, particularly Cuicuilco. While the archaeological evidence for sustained cultural contact is must less for this earlier period, that is not necessarily evidence of the lack, of contact, only the lack of sustained influence.
The pattern of the Gadiantons in their expanded militarism is suggestive of the known effect of the Central Mexican influence when it becomes well-documented for a time period just a couple of hundred years later.
3 Nephi 6:4
4 And they began again to prosper and to wax great; and the twenty and sixth and seventh years passed away, and there was great order in the land; and they had formed their laws according to equity and justice.
3 Nephi 6:5
5 And now there was nothing in all the land to hinder the people from prospering continually, except they should fall into transgression.
As we saw in the comment following verse 2, Mormon is equating righteousness with the concomitant blessing of prosperity. Here he makes that moral completely clear. In verse 4 we see that they begin to prosper in the land. There are various blessings that come from the foundational promise. Peace is one, and along with the peace can come the development of prosperity. Thus in verse 4 we see the benefits of the peace. There “was greate order in the land.” Therefore they also “began again again to propser and to wax great.”
In verse 5 Mormon makes certain that we understand the spiritual connections he is highlighting. They have become great, and they will be great, “except they should fall into transgression.” There is a direct connection between peace, prosperity, and righteousness. Those things go together. It is the rejection of righteousness the reverses the trend and leads to destruction. This is one of the themes that Mormon hammers home over and over again in his narrative.
3 Nephi 6:6
6 And now it was Gidgiddoni, and the judge, Lachoneus, and those who had been appointed leaders, who had established this great peace in the land.
Not many years previously, the Nephites had so given themselves over to new ideas that they rejected not only the gospel, but governance by righteous men who upheld the gospel. Now after great tribulation, the people have been purged, and true Nephites (in the sense that they believe in the gospel) are back at the head of the government. For Mormon, this is the picture of a return to righteousness, and therefore we have peace and prosperity. Therefore, when he mentions the righteous men as leaders, he accompanies that description with an attribution of the establishment of peace to those men.
3 Nephi 6:7
7 And it came to pass that there were many cities built anew, and there were many old cities repaired.
3 Nephi 6:8
8 And there were many highways cast up, and many roads made, which led from city to city, and from land to land, and from place to place.
3 Nephi 6:9
9 And thus passed away the twenty and eighth year, and the people had continual peace.
Along with peace, the other trappings of prosperity return. In particular, they Nephites not only return to their lands, but to rebuild the cities they had abandoned, and to build new cities. At least the rebuilding of the cities would have been required after several years where no one had lived in them. Simple disrepair could have easily been exacerbated by the Gadianton’s intentional destruction. It was not at all uncommon in Mesoamerica to deface the public presence of a defeated city, and the monumental buildings would be part of this public presence.
From a textual point of view, however, it is most significant that Mormon chooses to end this section with the phrase “and the people had continual peace.” This is, after all, his point. Righteousness brings peace unrighteousness brings destruction. He has just been describing a revival of righteousness, and it is fitting that the final statement about this revival, the capping confirmation of the revival, would be that they should have had “continual peace.”
Sadly, this “continual peace” begins to erode in the very next verse, in the twenty-ninth year.
3 Nephi 6:10
10 But it came to pass in the twenty and ninth year there began to be some disputings among the people; and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions;
The contrast begins. Where there was peace there are not disputings. Where there was righteousness there is now “pride and boastings.” Mormon does not describe these conditions completely, but he gives us enough information so that we can tell that what is happening is the same cycle all over again. Note that he specifically mentions “great persecutions.” This is an internal problem, and only happens when one group of people sees themselves as both distinct and superior to another group of people. With this single statement we can surmise the return of social hierarchies based on wealth. This is the very same submission to the Mesoamerican lifestyle that comes with the particular Mesomaerican mode of accumulation of wealth that we have seen over and over again in Nephite history. The problem is not simply the wealth, but that the very definition of wealth carries with it the disease of social segregation, social hierarchies, and this kind of persecution of those who do not have the “wealth.”
3 Nephi 6:11
11 For there were many merchants in the land, and also many lawyers, and many officers.
It is fitting that Mormon first mentions “many merchants.” In Mesoamerica these “merchants” are inextricably related to trade networks. In a world where most of the necessities of life are made in the individual home, the trade networks supply the luxuries, or the items connoting wealth. One of the ways that the wealth accumulates is through these traders, but it is also they who bring in the ideas from the lands from which the elite goods are acquired. Mormon continues his description of society by noting that there were also “many lawyers, and many officers.” We must remember that this is not simple description, but that Mormon is describing this information as part of his picture of a society heading away from God and towards destruction.
Mormon’s issue is not with the merchants, or specifically with lawyers nor officers. Mormon is not precursor to early lawyer jokes. What he is noting is that specialized functions are arising, and arising in positions that assume authority and precedence. These positions in the Mesomaerican cultural milieu are suggestive of social hierarchy. Once again, it is this social segregation that Mormon sees as the problem. The issue isn’t really the lawyer, but the fact that the position of the lawyer comes as a manifestation of a society that assumes that some are better than others.
3 Nephi 6:12
12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.
Notice how this excoriation of those who are “distinguished by ranks” flows immediately from the notice of the merchants, lawyers, and officers. The problem is the ranking, not the positions.
3 Nephi 6:13
13 Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble; some did return railing for railing, while others would receive railing and persecution and all manner of afflictions, and would not turn and revile again, but were humble and penitent before God.
Along with the social distinctions there are behavior distinctions. Those who rank themselves as higher than others assume positions of pride and are anything but humble. It is they who “return railing for railing.” This “railing” is “Clamoring with insulting language; uttering reproachful words: Expressing reproach; insulting; as a railing accusation. ( 2 Peter 2) (An American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828, electronic edition, © 1998 Deseret Book Company. All rights reserved.)
When two people assume that they are of equal status, they may rail against another, but they other will rail in return. This cannot happen in situations of social differentiation into higher and lower. If a person of higher status should rail against one of lower status, the person of lower status is required by social convention to accept the “insulting language” without returning it. In Western history, this might be most easily seen with the relationship of nobility to the commoners. The nobility could accuse the commoner, but the commoner had little that could be said against nobility.
To be certain, Mormon is describing the situation of the poorer and therefore lower classes as one of righteous humility, but the situation transcends personal humility and becomes institutionalized humility. The lack of response from the lower class is not an indication of lack of reason to respond, but the lack of personal value as compared to the one of higher status. This is the danger of the social hierarchies, where two people who are equal in the site of God become so dramatically and unfairly unequal in the eyes of society, a society dominated by those of higher status who continue to define the rules of society in their own favor.
3 Nephi 6:14
14 And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up; yea, insomuch that in the thirtieth year the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted unto the true faith; and they would not depart from it, for they were firm, and steadfast, and immovable, willing with all diligence to keep the commandments of the Lord.
In two short years the completely faithful Nephites that Mormon depicts after the repulsion of the Gadianton threat have gone from peace and prosperity to the breakup of the church. This rapid slide suggests that the picture of complete faithfulness that Mormon drew was a literary device more than an accurate historical comparison. For the society to alter so completely so quickly they had to be building upon themes that were already present and either accepted or acceptable to the majority of the people. As Mormon continues to describe this new apostasy from faith we will see that it is a continuation of the same trends that we have seen before. The people have simply returned to the days when they were willing to accept Gadiantons as leaders. Those previous ways of thinking and acting have returned.
It continues to be significant that Mormon’s description of this massive apostasy from the church comes as a result of “a great inequality in all the land.” In this verse, this great inequality is the very thing that has broken up the church. How did this happen?
One of the important principles of the Nephite gospel was the equality of men before God. This was part of the covenant made with King Benjamin, and a major theme of his discourse. For at least two hundred years from the time of King Benjamin, the church stood as representative of an ideal where all men were equally before God, where no man esteemed himself above another, and where even the king might indicate that he has worked with his own hands. The increasing prosperity of the people has come through the expansion of trade networks, and along with the elite goods that were brought back from the trade routes came the ideas of the rest of the Mesoamerican world that there should be a social hierarchy. The influence of this economic system was tremendous, and led directly to the wearing of “fine apparel” upon which the accumulated wealth might be displayed. When the society recognize not only the prosperity, but the value of displaying that prosperity, the difference between those who could afford the displays and those who could not became visually obvious. Once the difference between “classes” could be easily determined by what one wore, the segregation of the classes became easier, and more absolute.
As society splits into social ranks, it came into direct conflict with the teachings of the Nephite gospel about egalitarianism. This conflict created a point at which the newly wealthy who were creating and establishing this “higher” class must either give up their wealth and class, or they must give up the religion that condemned it. It appears that the wealth was sufficient that they chose to reject the religion. It would also appear that the “common” people also discerned some value in the new system, as many of them also accepted the new way, and left the church. The church would have been broken up not by force, but by internal dissent. It was “broken” because its people left to follow a different god.
3 Nephi 6:15
15 Now the cause of this iniquity of the people was this—Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.
Mormon’s description of the cause of the Nephites’ rapid disintegration is less sociological, but he still gives us the clues to let us understand those underlying social pressures that Satan was aggravating. Mormon tells us that Satan stirred up the people “do all manner of iniquity.” That is the simple moral statement. The nature of that iniquity is where we see the confirmation that the current social malaise is the continuation of the same problems that have plagued the Nephites for hundreds of years, but more frequently and deeply in the recent years.
As Mormon describes the iniquity, he gives us several examples of the nature of that iniquity: pride, seeking for power, seeking for authority, seeking for riches, seeking for the vain things of the world.
Pride: In the Book of Mormon, the sin of pride is always related to the inequality of social ranking. Pride comes when one man considers himself as better than another. When we see this trait in the Book of Mormon, it is always accompanied by a description of a division between rich and poor. It would be tempting, therefore, to assume that riches were the cause of the pride, but that is not the case. There were times in the Nephite society when Mormon describes them as “rich” but they do not have pride. The problem is not the riches, but the use of those riches to create social divisions. In Mesoamerica, this is most obvious because the wealth of individuals was displayed visually.
In later Aztec society, there were social rules that dictated the length of the cloak that a man would wear. In addition to the common loincloth, male dress allowed a sort of cape called a tlilmatli, which was a piece of cloth worn across the shoulders and tied in a knot over the left shoulder. The most common style reached to just below the shins, but social status dictated longer lengths for those of higher social rank. Only the most important men could wear a tlilmatli that reached the ankles. (Patricia Rieff Anawalt, Pan-Mesoamerican Costume Repertory at the Time of the Spanish Contact. (Dissertation, UCLA, 1975), pp. 77-78.) Thus when saw a man walking down the street it was immediately apparent to which social class he belonged based on the obvious difference in the length of the cloak he wore.
In today’s blue jean culture, it is more difficult to use these visual clues. A wealthy person might wear jeans and a T-shirt, and a poor person may go into debt to drive an expensive and impressive car. In the ancient world, there were fewer ways in which the visual world could be leveled by participation of all social classes. As in the case of the tlilmatli it was not the ability to afford the garment that made the difference, but rather the socially defined and enforced rules about who could wear it. Wearing the wrong status clothing was a punishable offence. In Nephite society, the earliest definitions of this incipient social division was the crime of wearing fine apparel. Note the following comdemnations, with emphasis added:
13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
Notice how early this influence and problem begins. We have this statement from Jacob, the brother of the first Nephi, who lays out the entire complex for us. We have pride, costly apparel, and the social ranking. This set of social ills continued to plague the Nephites, and they show again and again throughout the Book of Mormon.
6 And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel, yea, and even began to establish a church after the manner of his preaching.
6 And it came to pass in the eighth year of the reign of the judges, that the people of the church began to wax proud, because of their exceeding riches, and their fine silks, and their fine-twined linen, and because of their many flocks and herds, and their gold and their silver, and all manner of precious things, which they had obtained by their industry; and in all these things were they lifted up in the pride of their eyes, for they began to wear very costly apparel.
As Alma the Younger examines the threats to Nephite society that caused him to leave the chief judge’s seat to preach to the people, note the connection between pride and clothing.
27 Behold, O God, they cry unto thee, and yet their hearts are swallowed up in their pride. Behold, O God, they cry unto thee with their mouths, while they are puffed up, even to greatness, with the vain things of the world.
28 Behold, O my God, their costly apparel, and their ringlets, and their bracelets, and their ornaments of gold, and all their precious things which they are ornamented with; and behold, their hearts are set upon them, and yet they cry unto thee and say—We thank thee, O God, for we are a chosen people unto thee, while others shall perish.
Here Alma bemoans the state of the Zoramites who feign favored position before God, but deny that by their actions. Once again, their pride in linked to their clothing. The contrast in clothing is made explicit in the treatment of the poor by these same Zoramites:
2 And it came to pass that after much labor among them, they began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel—
The visual distinction between rich as poor is visual. It is obvious. Because the clothing indicated status, it was easy to exclude the unworthy poor (as they deemed them) from entering the places of worship. The clothing was the marker used to show that there was a social status difference, and that the two different classes should not mix.
Even after the arrival of the Messiah, the beginning of the end of the Nephites will once again be noted by this combination of pride and costly apparel:
4 Nephi 1:24-26
24 And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.
25 And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.
26 And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ.
Finally, these same forces of social separation are present and part of the ultimate demise of the Nephites:
36 And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
37 For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
While Mormon does not specifically describe the separation into classes, this is implied in the persecutions mentioned. Persecutions tend not to happen among people who consider themselves equal. Individual cruelty might happen, but the very word persecution implies a categorical application of some way of separating “us” from “them.” Persecutions imply the ability to make a separation, and use that difference as the reason for the persecution.
Seeking for power: In Mesoamerican society, power was manifest in the ability to control goods and resources. There could be political power, certainly, but the effect of that political power was control over resources. Thus when one would seek for power, the reason for the seeking was usually tied to the desire to control the resources that allowed for the wealth divisions that marked the social distinctions. There were righteous men among the Nephites who were able to serve in political positions where their interests were for the good of the people. However, we need go back no further in Book of Mormon history to the rule of the Gadiantons among the Nephites to understand that there were those who sought power to seek personal gain.
Seeking for authority: Authority is similar to power, but there a slight difference. The power is the ability, and the authority is the recognition of the ability. When we authorize someone to do something, we both recognize that they may do it, and that we have empowered them to do that. We give authority, and it becomes tied to concepts or recognition and respect. Authority is often used to make social distinctions. In virtually any society, those who are deemed to have more “authority” are those who are deemed “more important” than others. Thus these apostate Nephites might seek power, but along with the power they seek the social recognition that comes with that power.
Seeking for riches, seeking for the vain things of the world: In our modern society we understand the desire to seek for riches. Indeed, most of us aspire to riches in our dreams, at the very least. Of course we will handle riches righteously. Regardless of our dreams, we actually have various kinds of access to some of the trappings of riches. Even if we do not have the riches, we can pretend to riches by using credit to purchase visual trappings of the riches.
In ancient society this was not the case. In the ancient world the riches did not necessarily purchase anything. The power to acquire the riches was the means of acquisition, but resulting things were simply signs of that power and position. There were no levelers such as credit to allow people without the same means to enjoy the same privileges.
3 Nephi 6:16
16 And thus Satan did lead away the hearts of the people to do all manner of iniquity; therefore they had enjoyed peace but a few years.
3 Nephi 6:17
17 And thus, in the commencement of the thirtieth year—the people having been delivered up for the space of a long time to be carried about by the temptations of the devil whithersoever he desired to carry them, and to do whatsoever iniquity he desired they should—and thus in the commencement of this, the thirtieth year, they were in a state of awful wickedness.
Mormon sees all of these things, but rather than ascribe them to the acceptance of the social norms of cultures surrounding the Nephites, Mormon ascribes these traits to the influence of Satan. There may not be more than a technical difference. The world is what Satan uses to tempt us. In many ways, the temptation to accept the world is even greater today because it is so easy to gain the trappings of the world. We may or may not be able to afford the more expensive home, but credit allows us to live in it as though we could afford it. We might not need a certain type of car, but we use those vehicles to express our self-impression of where we want to be seen in society. There are so many more ways that the world may entice us, that today we may be even more susceptible to this Nephite problem of accepting Satan’s substitutes.
Narrative: Mormon has set the beginning scene as one of righteousness. This was induced by great desperation in the face of need, but it became righteousness that the Lord would honor with victory. Mormon painted the people as truly united after that incident. Now he contrasts the earlier righteousness with the rapid decline into accepting the world once again, and accepting the temptations of Satan. They have, in the space of two short years, come to “a state of awful wickedness.” It is this awful wickedness that will cause even further destruction among them.
Typologically, Mormon is teaching a lesson from history. Righteousness leads to prosperity and peace. Unrighteousness leads to destruction. At this particular point in time, Mormon is emphasizing the destruction, which is first social, and will then be physical as the Atoning Messiah will come, and be heralded by a tremendous physical destruction of the wicked.
For Mormon, even this descriptive history will be typological. This wickedness followed by tremendous destruction is a type of the final destruction of the wicked with the Messiah will come again at the end of the world. When the Atoning Messiah comes (and he comes soon in this narrative) he will physically destroy the wicked. When the Triumphant Messiah comes, he will also physically destroy the wicked at that last day.
3 Nephi 6:18
18 Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.
The apostasy of the Nephites is particularly disastrous because of the great blessings that they had received previously. This is the enduring difference between the majority of the Lamanites and the Nephites. The Lamanites who had not known the gospel never did willfully rebel, and therefore do not come under the condemnation of the Nephites. For Mormon, this greater knowledge is the reason that this rebellion will lead to their destruction, but the Lamanites would be preserved.
In this historical conception, Mormon presents an earthly parallel to heavenly salvation and destruction. Note how Abinadi describes the relative eternal fates of those who have received the gospel as contrasted to those who have not:
26 But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection.
27 Therefore ought ye not to tremble? For salvation cometh to none such; for the Lord hath redeemed none such; yea, neither can the Lord redeem such; for he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim.
Whether Mormon’s application of the precise phrase “willfully rebelled” is intentional or coincidental, the conceptual parallel is clear. The fate of willful rebellion is destruction. Now that the Nephites are in such a state, they are ripe for destruction, and Mormon is fully aware that in historical terms their destruction is soon at hand.
3 Nephi 6:19
19 And now it was in the days of Lachoneus, the son of Lachoneus, for Lachoneus did fill the seat of his father and did govern the people that year.
Cultural: The transference of political power in Nephite society continues to follow kinship lines, even this long after the establishment of the reign of the judges. In spite of the mechanism of the voice of the people, the typical transferal of the chief judge’s seat was from father to son. We have this obvious case here. We also have an interesting trend in recent father/son naming sets in the Book of Mormon, where a significantly higher percentage of father/son sets have the same name. There is no way to know if this was representative of a larger trend in Nephite society at the time, or a simple coincidence.
3 Nephi 6:20
20 And there began to be men inspired from heaven and sent forth, standing among the people in all the land, preaching and testifying boldly of the sins and iniquities of the people, and testifying unto them concerning the redemption which the Lord would make for his people, or in other words, the resurrection of Christ; and they did testify boldly of his death and sufferings.
As in other times when his children have strayed, God sent human messengers to his children imploring them to repent and return to him. The message included the reiteration of the message of the Atoning Messiah. As before, this emphasis on the Messiah as part of the message of repentance suggests that those who had apostatized had abandoned their belief in the Messiah, a theme we have seen in previous occasions.
In the modern world, their may be those who leave the church, but many of those retain a belief in the Savior. Their apostasy is from an organization, or perhaps a particular set of beliefs. Their fundamental belief in God and the Savior might remain, but they elect a different organization to present those concepts to them. In the case of the Nephites, however, this was not typically the case. The abandonment of the Nephite church was tantamount to abandoning the Atoning Messiah. The religious picture of the ancient Nephites was not similar to that of the fragmented Christianity of the early hundreds of years after Christ, but to the initial Christian church in a pagan world. The competition was not from other Christian denominations, but from pagan religions. The adoption of a pagan religion would forcibly preclude a belief in Jesus Christ in Rome in the first century AD. The apostasy from the Nephite gospel in the New World would have been just such a change, with the similar result of denying the Atoning Messiah. It is for this reason that the focus of the preaching was on this most important foundation of the Nephite gospel.
3 Nephi 6:21
21 Now there were many of the people who were exceedingly angry because of those who testified of these things; and those who were angry were chiefly the chief judges, and they who had been high priests and lawyers; yea, all those who were lawyers were angry with those who testified of these things.
Social: Once again, Mormon does not make explicit the kinds of changes that are happening in Nephite society. He tells us of their consequences, but not of the more purely historical information about the changes themselves. With our understanding of the kinds of clues Mormon gives us and their interrelationships, we can reconstruct the nature of these changes.
We have the indication from verses 14 and 15 that the society had returned to an emphasis on social hierarchy and the accumulation of wealth that could mark such a social change. One of the aspects of that social shift that is listed in verse 15 is a quest for power. This was discussed as a means of access to the avenues that would create and maintain the social differentiation. What we have in this verse is the confirmation that these trends are working their way into the political structure of the Nephites. While the Lachoneous the son of Lachoneous may have been as righteous as his father, there were nevertheless many other positions of political power and authority among the Nephites that were being filled with those who had adopted the cultural definitions that led to social differentiation. It is this very adoption that constituted the Nephite apostasy, and therefore created the kind of people who would first of all deny the coming Messiah, and secondly see some threat from those who preached that Messiah.
With this background it becomes completely understandable why “those who were angry were chiefly the chief judges, and they who had been high priests and lawyers.” These people were precisely those who were in the positions that benefited from the social segregation, and who would stand to lose the most if the social order they were enjoying were dismantled by a return to the egalitarian ideal espoused by the Nephite gospel.
3 Nephi 6:22
22 Now there was no lawyer nor judge nor high priest that could have power to condemn any one to death save their condemnation was signed by the governor of the land.
3 Nephi 6:23
23 Now there were many of those who testified of the things pertaining to Christ who testified boldly, who were taken and put to death secretly by the judges, that the knowledge of their death came not unto the governor of the land until after their death.
Social: What comes from this conflict of cultures is social rebellion. While this is not stated in terms of a full-blown civil war, these are the seeds of such a war. On the one side of the conflict we have those who are in power and whose power reinforces their ability to create and maintain their social position. On the other hand, we have the prophets who directly threaten the very lifestyle of those who were in power. In such a situation of threat, there is certainly an implicit conflict, and the tension rose to a sufficient state at this time in Nephite society that the implicit conflict became explicit in the actions of the threatened judges and lawyers. These men combated the threat by removing those who were creating the greatest threat.
The second level of this conflict is equally as important as the death of the prophets. While that was a sign of the nature of the apostasy, there was a part of that action that had even greater consequences for the society as a whole. These deaths occurred outside of the law. They were accomplished by those who had power, but it was a power that they acquired that did not rely upon their participation in the traditional legal political structure. Mormon tells us that they did not have the power to put the prophets to death without consulting with Lachoneus. They certainly understood this. In spite of the law of the land, in addition to the unlawful (not to mention immoral) murders of God’s messengers, these judges and lawyers rebelled against the ultimate authority of the land.
When they do not take this matter to Lachoneous, the sitting chief judge, the rest of these judges and lawyers have decided to ignore, and therefore undermine, the entire legal system of the Nephties. They did not realize it at the time, but this very act would have extreme consequences. They undoubtedly murdered the prophets to preserve their preferred place in society. The ultimate effect, however; an ultimate effect seeded in their own undermining of the authority of the unifying poltical leader, would be to dissolve the Nephite polity entirely. They would not preserve their positions, they would destroy their positions.
3 Nephi 6:24
24 Now behold, this was contrary to the laws of the land, that any man should be put to death except they had power from the governor of the land—
3 Nephi 6:25
25 Therefore a complaint came up unto the land of Zarahemla, to the governor of the land, against these judges who had condemned the prophets of the Lord unto death, not according to the law.
3 Nephi 6:26
26 Now it came to pass that they were taken and brought up before the judge, to be judged of the crime which they had done, according to the law which had been given by the people.
The deaths of these men of God were not unnoticed, and there were those who noticed who attempted redress through the legal means.
3 Nephi 6:27
27 Now it came to pass that those judges had many friends and kindreds; and the remainder, yea, even almost all the lawyers and the high priests, did gather themselves together, and unite with the kindreds of those judges who were to be tried according to the law.
3 Nephi 6:28
28 And they did enter into a covenant one with another, yea, even into that covenant which was given by them of old, which covenant was given and administered by the devil, to combine against all righteousness.
Cultural: The important cultural information in these verses lies in the emphasis on the “many friends and kindreds.” Of course there would be sympathizers, but the main power base of any leader in Mesoamerican society was his “kindred” or his kin group. That group lent him power and sustained him in that position. Positions of power in a kinship group would benefit the entire group. Because political positions would be handed down from father to son, the kin group had an abiding and permanent stake in making certain that their particular representative in the governmental system would remain there, and continue to assist in elevating the status (and wealth) of the entire kin group. This emphasis on the role of the kin groups in the maintenance of the positions of these judges and lawyers is a very Mesoamerican trait that the Book of Mormon depicts with uncanny accuracy.
Typological: We may know for certain that destruction is coming because we see the secret combinations again. In this case, they are not named Gadianton. They are, nevertheless, supposed to be seen as related. These are secret combinations that are Mormon’s harbingers of the end. Destruction will surely come because the secret combinations have come.
It is interesting that this particular combination is not named for the Gadiantons where other recent secret combinations have been. There is not enough information in the Book of Mormon to create a solid case, but the working hypothesis of this commentary is that the attachment of the Gadianton name by Mormon has to do with cultural influence from Central Mexico. The original name came from inside the Nephite society, but after that point, Mormon would have named “Gadianton” any secret combination that had a cultural influence stemming from Central Mexico. This will certainly be the context of his later Gadiantons in his own day, and is the best contextual explanation for the most recent Gadiantons of 3 Nephi, who were described in terms that separated them from Lamanites (for example, 3 Nephi 1:29-30).
3 Nephi 6:29
29 Therefore they did combine against the people of the Lord, and enter into a covenant to destroy them, and to deliver those who were guilty of murder from the grasp of justice, which was about to be administered according to the law.
3 Nephi 6:30
30 And they did set at defiance the law and the rights of their country; and they did covenant one with another to destroy the governor, and to establish a king over the land, that the land should no more be at liberty but should be subject unto kings.
The seeds of rebellion are now blossoming into a full-blown revolt. The secret combination does what it has always done, and it threatens the political entity (and, of course, the religion). The nature of the political rebellion is also telling, for once again we see the return of the pressure to have a “king over the land.” Mormon understands this as a destruction of the Nephite political way, and of course he is correct. The establishment of the king would destroy Mosiah’s reforms, and the rejection of Mosiah would be the rejection of his laws, and his gospel. There would be no more Nephites.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition. This is a particularly unfortunate division because we leave this chapter with the impression that this secret combination will create the king that they desire. What unfolds is a much sadder story. The story of the destruction of the Nephite polity should flow from this explanation, and in Mormon’s chapter divisions, it would have. In this artificial division, we lose this continuity.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002