Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Laban's Death

Laban didn't have to die.

It's one of the first and most controversial notable events in the Book of Mormon.  Nephi is commanded by God to kill Laban.  Nephi, being the near-perfect guy that he is, follows the command.

Nephi and his brothers needed the plates of brass, which local rich asshole Laban had in his possession.  When Nephi snuck into Laban's house, he discovers the man passed out drunk.  Aaaaaaaaaand...he has to die.

Wait...if he's hopelessly drunk and asleep, why can't Nephi just take the plates and run?  Sure, the story goes in  Mormon (folk)lore that Laban was a powerful man who would  have hunted Nephi's family down and killed them, but I doubt that this is a realistic analysis.  If Laban had been permitted to live, here's what I think could have happened:

  1. Laban decides that if Nephi ever returns to his town, he'll kill him.  Or...
  2. Laban realizes that Nephi's family is gone and he doesn't bother wasting manpower searching for them in the desert.  He's angry, but he eventually forgets about it.  Or...
  3. Laban's men track down Nephi and his family but the Lord creates a devastating sandstorm that disorients Laban's men.  By a very Biblical-esque miracle, Nephi and company navigate the storm with no trouble, escaping Laban's hit men.

But instead, Nephi gets to cut his head off while he sleeps.  Because that makes way more sense.

Another thing I find interesting about this passage is that it makes God sound defensive.  Nephi comes across Laban's passed-out body, and God tells Our Fearless Leader to kill him.  Before Nephi shares any of his own thoughts on the subject, God launches into a reasoned-out explanation of why Nephi should kill him and why it's totally okay by God to do it.  That doesn't sound very...godly.

Remember Abraham and Isaac?  "Hey go kill your son, I know it sounds wrong, but trust me."  The supposed "same" god also told Nephi, "Hey, go kill this guy, and let me explain exactly why you should do it beforehand, just in case you're questioning my judgement or whatever."  That sounds more like some guy who wrote the Book of Mormon and realized it might be controversial to have a prophet commit god-sanctioned murder decided he needed to throw in a rationale.

And that doesn't seem right to me.


  1. "And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received"

    May God have mercy on your Damned soul...

    1. I'm not sure what this comment is supposed to accomplish.

      But hey, while we're in a giving mood, I hope God has mercy on you, too! Mercy's awesome. Everybody should get more of it.

  2. I agree with you, yes mercy is awesome.

    Seeing Kane Lives' comments inspired me to re-read this post. After reading the BOM with a much more critical mind, and reading your thoughts at the same time, it's very obvious that Joseph Smith got his ideas for the stories from other sources. In this case, I believe the idea possibly came from Judith 13 in the Apocrypha. Killing people while sleeping in their beds drunk occurs often in the Book of Mormon. In this chapter we read of cutting off a man's head while he was passed out drunk. Sound familiar?

    Specifically read verse 8.

    Oh, and the name Nephi probably came from the Apocrypha as well:

    Read verse 36.

    1. Interesting stuff. Do we know whether Joseph was likely to have had access to the Apocrypha? I was under the impression that it was a Catholic thing, which made me think that Joseph, growing up in a mostly Protestant culture, might not have had much exposure to it as a child.

      But then I looked it up on Wikipedia, and apparently it's not a Catholic thing. And it looks like publications of the KJV around Joseph Smith's lifetime probably wouldn't have included it. Although I'm sure there were ways he could have gotten his hands on it.

    2. He absolutely had it. Read D & C section 91 from the church's website.

      "Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, March 9, 1833. The Prophet was at this time engaged in the translation of the Old Testament. Having come to that portion of the ancient writings called the Apocrypha, he inquired of the Lord and received this instruction."

      The question would be when he got it and if he had it in the bible he and his family read growing up.

      This is an interesting article on the subject: