Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mosiah 19: Things Fall Apart

Now King Noah has discovered the religious movement gaining traction under his nose.  Alma and his four hundred and fifty followers have fled the area to avoid the army Noah sent to destroy them.

A Sudden Revolution
Somehow, in the wake of Alma's departure, civil unrest in Noah's kingdom spikes unexpectedly.  There was "a division" among the people and some of the people started to "breathe out threatenings against the king."  (Because apparently "threats" wasn't the precise word God intended for Joseph to write.)  Then this guy named Gideon "[swears] in his wrath that he would slay the king."

Why now?

According to the chapter headings, King Noah may have ruled anywhere from five years to almost forty years.  What took the people so long to whip themselves into a blinding rage?  It doesn't even say what the reasons for the movement against the king were—just that the movement happened.  Sure, I accept that it could have happened but it would be nice if we could understand why.  This chapter makes it sound like the Anti-Noah Party was spontaneously generated.

Joseph Smith Doesn't Think Much of Women
Gideon manages to get close enough to King Noah for hand-to-hand combat, at which point the king happens to notice (from the epic tower that they're fighting in) that suddenly the Lamanites have decided to invade.  He uses the clear and present danger of invasion as a reason for Gideon to spare his life ("You think it's bad with me in charge?  Think how bad it will be when you're overrun by the Lamanites and nobody's in charge!").  Gideon decides not to kill Noah, and Noah promptly makes the bold decision for everyone to flee in terror.  And he also orders that the men "leave their wives and children, and flee before the Lamanites."

Okay, listen.  I understand that generally, women tend to have less muscle mass than men.  But there are some badass women out there.  I've known some mothers who could probably throw a child over each shoulder and keep up with the cowardly King with no problem.  But the way the Book of Mormon depicts it, the men ran off to safety while the women and children just sat there going, "What do we do now without all the men?"  Women have survival instincts too, Mr. Smith.  They're not all going to sit there weeping as the Lamanites come bearing down on them.

Even when the Nephites come up with a way to convince the Lamanites not to slaughter them, that solution is attributed to the men who stayed behind with their families (that's in verse 13 if you're curious).

Sex Sells
Verses 13 and 14:
And it came to pass that those who tarried with their wives and their children caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them.
And it came to pass that the Lamanites had compassion on them, for they were charmed with the beauty of their women. 
Oh, puh-leeze.  "Quick!  All the girls hike up their skirts a little and go do that pouty thing so the evil, bloodthirsty, abominable savages don't murder us all!  But not you, Helamanita, you're too ugly."

This also kind of implies that the Nephite women are more beautiful than the Lamanite women.  It's one of the subtler racist undertones, but I think it's in there.  You don't get "charmed" by a level of beauty that you see every day.  You get "charmed" by something spectacularly superior to what you usually see.

Limhi, You Lying Bastard
Let's uncover an uncomfortable truth laid out in verses 15 and 26:
Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would...deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed...and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year.
And also Limhi, being the son of the king, having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people, made oath unto the king of the Lamanites that his people should pay tribute unto him, even one half of all they possessed.
Wait a minute...rewind back to what Limhi said in Mosiah 7:21-22...
And ye are all witnesses this day, that Zeniff, who was made king over this people, he being overzealous to inherit the land of his fathers, therefore being deceived by the cunning and craftiness of king Laman, who having entered into a treaty with king Zeniff, and having yeilded up into his hands the possessions of a part of the land, or even the city of Lehi-Nephi, and the city of Shilom; and the land round about—
And all this he did, for the sole purpose of bringing this people into subjection or into bondage.  And behold, we at this time do pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites...and even one half of all we have or possess the king of the Lamanites doth exact of us, or our lives.
Limhi's blaming his granddaddy for this?  Now that I think about it, there has been no mention of the ridiculous fifty percent tax from the time Limhi said that in chapter 7 until the time Limhi became king in chapter 19.  That's why it was so confusing over the last dozen chapters when the Lamanites kept trying to conquer the Nephites.  Despite what Limhi implied, the Nephites weren't paying tribute.  The Nephites weren't under Lamanite rule until the death of King Noah.  Zeniff didn't sell his people into bondage—he got an awesome deal from King Laman.  Limhi sold his people into bondage.

I don't blame him, though, because he kind of had a gun to his head.  But he still tries to shift the blame to Zeniff like it was his fault that his son decided to rule in wickedness and get his civilization conquered and subjugated.

What a little weasel.

Also in this chapter, King Noah suffers a brutally ironic death by fire at the hands of his own subjects.  Apparently they didn't like being ordered not to go back and save their families.  It's interesting, though, that considering this is a fulfillment of Abinadi's prophecy about Noah's life being as a garment in a furnace, very little narrative fanfare accompanies this event:
And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.
And they were about to take the priests also and put them to death, and they fled before them. 
End of story.  A little anti-climactic for the fulfillment of a prophetic prediction, isn't it?  No preaching about the truth of Abinadi's prophecy.  No moralizing about how God punishes the wicked.  No "and thus we see that the tender mercies of the Lord are not quite so satisfying as his callous vengeance."  Just, "he died by fire."

I guess Joseph wasn't really on his A-Game the day he translated this bit.

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