In his book, “An Other Testament”, Joseph Spencer explains the gradual deterioration of both Nephite politics and religion. Beginning with the second Nephite king after Nephi, we find that issues of pride and sexual conquest become issues of religion and possibly politics, as it reflects the problems we later find with King Noah and his priests.
Nephite politics began with descendants of Nephi as the kings of the nation. When King Mosiah II encountered Zarahemla and the Mulekites, major changes entered into the story. Mosiah finds there are now others who claim the right to rule, such as Mulekites descending from King David and the Jaredite remnants among them descending from Jared.
Mosiah saw the need to change the government to judges. This allowed for elections among the lower judges, but retaining the main power by having the chief judge (initially always a descendant of Nephi) selected by appointment. This system would work until the chief judgeship fell into others’ hands.
We find that the religion also changes over time. Where the priests originally were under charge of the king, we now find the chief judge and the high priest became separate entities. We see the religious followers falling into sin: pride, contention, and violence against others.
The steady decay of both government and religion is evident, even as Alma, Helaman, and others try to fix them. The periods of good government and religion become shorter and shorter, while the periods of apostasy and evil increase.
While Alma the Younger and Helaman the Elder saw a period of rebellion, where attempts were made to destroy the faith (Korihor), and overthrow the government (Amalickiah), the works of evil move on to a new method: the Gadianton Robbers.
By the time we are introduced to Kishkumen and Gadianton, their clandestine group became so powerful that it included one of the sons of governor/chief judge Pahoran. With his passing, three of his sons seek the judge seat. While they are all descendants of Nephi, this seems to be the first time an election is required. The election goes to Pahoran II, and his brother Pacumeni supported him. On the other hand, Paanchi sets out to assassinate his brother with the help of his secret band. We will find that such intrigue was done by the Jaredites long before, and now we see that the tradition continues. Once assassination of the chief official occurs, all the standard rules are tossed out.
The Gadianton band was both a political and religious organization. They believe in God, as we read, “they all entered into a covenant, yea, swearing by their everlasting Maker, that they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran” (Helaman 1:11). They believe in God, and make their oaths accordingly. The intensity of their beliefs are such that they believe murder is approved by God when necessary. Perhaps this is their interpretation of Nephi’s slaying of Laban in secret, used to justify their own actions?
As it is, we could view them as an ancient Ku Klux Klan society, where they consider their actions approved of God, The Klan saw it appropriate to use terror, such as burning crosses on people’s lawns, and even hanging black people from trees as an example to others. Sadly, when we look underneath the white hooded robe of the KKK, we often find men that went home to their nice families and ate dinner, attended church on Sunday, and served the local charity. In the 1920s, the KKK had their heyday in Indiana. Upwards of ⅓ of the men in Indiana were Klansmen, and they succeeded in electing one of their own as governor.
While Gadianton’s clan must flee when Kishkumen fails to assassinate Helaman, we will later see their power increase until they also have members as chief judge among the Nephites.
Gadianton and his Robbers
“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” (Helaman 2:13).
So powerful will this secret combination become, that Mormon tells us that it will eventually absorb the entire Nephite nation, and destroy them. The secrets and combinations of the Gadiantons will soon spread forth, engulfing the entire Nephite and Lamanite nations. They will first become so powerful that they will become a third nation in the land, contesting for power from both Nephites and converted Lamanites. Eventually, though, they win.
Who was Gadianton? From his name, we can determine he was a Mulekite/Jaredite. The “ianton” suffix was used by the Jaredites, and only appears among the Nephites after King Mosiah I discovered Zarahemla. His secret practices are the same ones used by Jaredites long before (Ether 8).
In Ether 8 we see that Akish is enticed to assassinate the king. That his name is similar to Kishkumen, (also an assassin) is not a coincidence. The name “Kish” is obviously a Jaredite name as well. The wicked Jaredite clan also swear by “the God of heaven” in establishing their oath. This secret combination will also lead to the destruction of the Jaredites as a nation.
In Helaman 3, we find that over-population became a serious issue. With over-population, many people had to leave the land of Zarahemla and seek other lands to develop.
Among the ancient Mayan people, their methods of agriculture required major movements every few generations. The jungles may seem fertile, but they aren’t. Generally, all the soils are poor for agriculture, with most of the nutrients in the trees, brush and undergrowth. Mayans would clear an area and farm it until it became infertile, then clear another area near the city. Eventually, the fertile lands would be so far from the city, they were forced to move, often leaving an area abandoned for generations.
Over-population tends to increase crime and other problems. As resources shrink and the population increases, there is ever more competition to maintain a standard way of life. Such over-population causes inner city blight, stress on the family unit, over-crowding, stress on resources, etc. Gangs arise to replace the family unit, and sometimes even becomes the political, religious and law of the land. So it was in the days of Helaman, forcing a massive exodus of many people to the land northward. It was time to move to the suburbs.
Such crowding today leads to the decimation of civilization in many of our cities. Chicago has hundreds of thousands of gang members throughout the city. Half of those in prison today are incarcerated on drug-related crimes. The family’s destruction began in the inner-cities and now moves to suburbs as they also become crowded.
From the Chaos of War comes Conversion and a New Creation
With the death of Helaman, the judgment seat goes to his eldest son, Nephi. Moronihah finds himself having a major war, as dangerous as the wars his father Moroni encountered. Because of the divisions and events occurring, the land of Zarahemla is lost to the Lamanites. Only after much effort is Moronihah able to regain half the original Nephite lands. Obviously, the Lamanites are also struggling with over-crowding and have little choice but to militarily take over new lands - something often occurring in Mayan history.
As did Alma, Nephi gave up the judgment seat in order to preach. He and his brother Lehi went forth preaching the gospel, hoping it would bring repentance and a restoration of the promised land to the Nephites.
In Helaman 5, we see that their father counseled them, explaining why they received the names of their first forefathers in the land. Helaman seeks a restoration of the original glory of the Nephite people, both politically and religiously. They first preached unto the Nephites, hoping for them to repent, and had good success. Only once the Nephites were back on the right path, did Nephi and Lehi enter into the land of Zarahemla. Here they sought two purposes: to religiously bring the dissenters and Lamanites in the area to repentance (religious), and to hopefully have the land restored to the Nephites (political). Finally, they went to the land of Nephi - the original land of their forefather Nephi.
Being cast into the same prison that the sons of Mosiah were cast into, we see a connection. Ammon and his brethren converted a large portion of the Lamanites. These became very faithful people, burying their weapons of war as a covenant of peace.
Now, with Nephi and Lehi, an even larger conversion occurs among the Lamanites, beginning in this same prison. As their forefathers Lehi and Nephi saw the Vision of the Tree of Life and the light and power of God, these brothers will now experience the power of God, as well. Heavenly flames engulf them but do not harm them. The Lamanites watching them are amazed and terrified so they cannot move.
Even as the previously converted servant Abish helped the Lamanites believe in Ammon several generations before, so now Aminidab (a Nephite dissident) will be the key to leading the Lamanites to the light. Both represent the special guide to those seeking a spiritual experience.
A voice speaks to the Lamanites and Nephite dissenters. They hear the voice three times, a special number in angelology. Later, the Nephites will hear God’s voice three times before the resurrected Jesus descends to them (3 Ne 11). In this same vein, this is their special experience with Nephi and Lehi.
Seeing Nephi and Lehi’s faces as those of angels suggests a few things. First, they are transfigured before God, even as Moses on Sinai or Abinadi before Noah had faces that shone brightly and that frightened those around them. Aminidab leads the Lamanites to look upon Nephi and Lehi, even as the brothers look into heaven speaking with God. Seeing their glowing faces prepares them to be taught by angels. Once just a lowly prison, it now becomes a holy place. In LDS terms, the Lamanites are having a temple experience - returning into the presence of God and his divine council of angels.
Even as their forefathers Lehi and Nephi experienced the Vision of the Tree of Life, a symbol of the temple endowment, we now see something similar going on here. Father Lehi and Nephi had spiritual guides through their experience. Aminidab was the guide for the Lamanites. As father Lehi recalled wandering through mists of darkness, now the Lamanites find themselves in those mists as well. As father Lehi prayed for the darkness to leave, so the Lamanites also cried to the Lord, whereupon the darkness leaves them. Lehi’s partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life fills him with joy. The Lamanites are surrounded by the holy flames as Nephi and Lehi walk among them. They also are filled with unspeakable joy.
Nephi explained that by the power of the Holy Ghost, angels spoke (2 Ne 32:2-3). Now, Nephi, Lehi and the Lamanites are filled with the Holy Ghost and speak with the tongues of angels. They all saw the heavens open and angels descend, even as Lehi saw in his first vision (1 Nephi 1). They have been invited to join the divine council of angels, even as father Lehi was centuries before.
We see two different groups of people in this lesson: Gadiantons and Divine Beings. Those who follow Gadianton believe they are doing God’s work, even as they murder and rob. Such leads eventually to utter destruction.
The converted Lamanites found out that such was not God’s way. God would have all of us humble ourselves to our knees, cry unto the Lord, and turn ourselves towards the true light. In doing so, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit, speak with the tongue of angels, and be invited to join the divine council of God.
“An Other Testament”, Joseph Spencer: www.saltpress.org