Sunday, August 30, 2015

Helaman 3: Logistical Issues

After all this war and chaos and civil unrest and political upheaval, things were just peachy for the Nephites for the next few years.  But only three.  Because if enough bad stuff isn't happening to these guys that we can't glean some kind of twisted spiritual morality lesson from all this, then what's the point of the Book of Mormon in the first place, right?

The Timelines Don't Match Up
Apparently, following these three years of "continual peace," a lot of the Nephites had some kind of unspecified beef with the other Nephites and it was serious enough that one group decided to get the hell out of Dodge (by which I of course mean Zarahemla) and move north.  What a surprise.  Another schism.  Color me shocked.

What I find interesting is that, when these adventurers hit an area that sounds suspiciously like the Great Lakes region and get settled, there are some problems with wood shortages (verses 5 and 6):
Yea, and even they did spread forth into all parts of the land, into whatever parts it had not been rendered desolate and without timber, because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.
And now no part of the land was desolate, save it were for timber; but because of the greatness of the destruction of the people who had before inhabited the land it was called desolate. 
This is a weird passage.  It seems to me that it's talking about the Jaredites, considering the Jaredites numbered in the millions ("many inhabitants"), would have needed a lot of building materials ("without timber"), no longer lived there ("before inhabited the land"), and wiped themselves out in a truly epic fashion ("greatness of the destruction of the people").  But thanks to this church-produced reference card that I and countless others were given in Seminary class, it seems safe to say that, at this point in the narrative, it's been a few hundred years since the Jaredites were kicking it in the land northward.

I'd say five centuries is plenty of time for some of the trees to grow back.  So either this isn't talking about the Jaredites and there was some other massive, hungrily deforesting civilization running around ancient America that God didn't think it was important to discuss or maybe somebody made all these stories up and failed to keep the chronologies straight.

Pre-Columbian Logging, Manufacturing and Trucking
Sadly lacking in the timber department, the locals got smart and started building their towns out of cement.  And in verse 9, they decided to stop cutting down any trees they did find so that eventually a forest would pop up and they'd be able to build with wood again.  Although I'm not sure what they're holding their breath for, because if five hundred years isn't enough time, their great-grandchildren might still be putting up cement huts.  But for those extra special times when they really needed a good old-fashioned wooden edifice, here's what they did (verses 10 and 11):
And it came to pass as timber was exceedingly scarce in the land northward, they did send forth much by the way of shipping.
And thus they did enable the people in the land northward that they might build many cities, both of wood and of cement. 
I'd like to know how a lucrative shipping industry sprang up among the Nephites without much in the way of wheels or domesticated pack animals.  The quantities of timber this chapter is describing would be, you know, kinda heavy.  And therefore very difficult to transport over great distances.

My theory here is that Joseph Smith may have misjudged how much a civilization who wasn't finishing up a huge industrial revolution would be able to accomplish.  Getting a metric buttload of raw materials across the country isn't that big of a deal in the modern age and there were certainly ways of getting it done in the early nineteenth century, but that kind of thing would have been a monumental group effort in the late BC days.

Unless they used boats.  In which case, it's still a matter of overwhelming quantity, because as far as I know there isn't much evidence to support the existence of ancient Native American ships large enough to haul an amount of building materials sufficient to make a single trip worthwhile.

Thus We May See Jack Squat
Verse 27 begins a bizarre riff:
Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name.
Okay, first of all, no.  God is not merciful unto all who sincerely call upon his name.  I haven't let you forget about all the righteous people in Ammonihah who God allowed to be roasted alive for some idiotically flimsy reason, have I?

And secondly, we do not thusly see any of this, because the preceding verses were talking about how tons and tons of Nephites were getting baptized lately.  No evidence of God's mercy was shown.  This verse could have said "thus we may see that laughter causes lung cancer" and it would have made exactly the same amount of sense.
Yea, thus we see that the gate of heaven is open unto all, even to those who will believe on the name of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God.
This reminds me of a former employee of mine.  When you ask him if he accomplished a task, he will tell you that it's completely finished.  If you ask him in more detail, he will explain the one or two things he didn't finish until it becomes apparent that he's finished less than half of it.  Why lie when you know you're going to have to immediately amend your statement?

See the similarities between that guy and the above verse?  The gate of heaven is open to everybody!  Well...everybody who believes in Jesus Christ.  And honestly there's a little bit more to it than that, but in a nutshell, that's basically how it works...most of the time, anyway.

Why claim it's open to everybody when it really isn't?  Now the Book of Mormon just looks dishonest and we can't trust it to do its job anymore.
Yea, we see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God...And land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven....
Yeah, you weren't talking about that either.  You haven't told any stories recently that support your conclusion.  You were just talking about how so many people were getting baptized.  That was it.

Okay, there was that vague offhand line about "blessings," but that's not even close to being the same subject as sitting at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Helaman 2: The Rise of Gadianton

Although the Lamanite threat is seemingly neutralized for the time being, the Nephites now face some internal problems in the form of Kishkumen and his new friend, the infamous Gadianton

How Does This Plan Work?
Gadianton's namesake, the Gadianton Robbers, are basically a pre-Columbian mafia gang illuminati terrorist organization.  In this chapter, their first big move since becoming associated with the name Gadianton is to murder Helaman Junior because he's recently been elected to the position of chief judge.

Kishkumen is given the impression that, if he commits this murder, he will be given Helaman's job.  I have no idea why anybody thinks that this is a realistic possibility.  Kishkumen's already murdered one chief judge, and all that happened was another election.  Why is there any reason to think that things will happen differently the second time around?  And why is there any chance that Kishkumen will be elected and/or installed as chief judge?

So basically none of this makes any sense.  As usual.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Laws
Verse 6 begins a little story about a servant of Helaman who has previously disguised himself and infiltrated Gadianton's band. This verse uses the word "as" to imply that something else was taking place while Kishkumen was sneaking in to carry out the murder, but gets so caught up in explaining, mid-sentence, the backstory of this servant of Helaman that it never gets around to specifying the second of the two concurrent events.

But worse than this book's grasp of narrative fluidity and proper grammar is the servant's actions.  Instead of alerting the guards that there was a plot to kill Helaman prior to the assassin's entrance into the building and instead of telling Helaman to flee the judgment seat and instead of calling the guards while Kishkumen was already inside and instead of doing any number of other smarter, safer, and more practical things, this servant takes it upon himself to use the secret methods of communications he's learned from his infiltration efforts to give Kishkumen a false sense of security before stabbing him in the heart.


So much for the rule of law and due process and all of that bullhockey.  While I realize that this servant was trying to accomplish something good by saving the leader of his people, he still murdered someone.  There were plenty of other ways for him to try to save Helaman that wouldn't involve him taking the law into his own hands or stabbing anyone in the heart.

What's even more shocking is Helaman's reaction.  When his servant bursts in and explains all the awful, illegal and violent stuff he just did, Helaman immediately sends his troops out to catch Gadianton and his cronies "that they might be executed according to the law."  No mention of what Helaman decided to do with his servant.

If sending a bunch of guys out to capture Gadianton's Robbers was an option, why didn't the servant tell Helaman about this sooner, while he was sneaking into the group and learning their plans and their secrets?  So much of his behavior is completely unacceptable.  Why is there no discussion of the servant's execution?  Surely if a group of people who conspired to murder someone are presumed guilty on the word of one man and sentenced to execution, then a man who confesses to committing murder himself should have a similar fate.

God is a Bad Editor
The last two verses of the chapter make me chuckle:
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.
Behold I do not mean the end of the book of Helaman, but I mean the end of the book of Nephi, from which I have taken all the account which I have written. 
That reaaaaally sounds like someone dictated it on the fly.  If those prophets were really that inspired as they were writing all this down and if Joseph Smith were really that inspired when he translated it, you'd think this could have been dropped neatly into one sentence without the instant correction.  Instead of "this book" it could have just read "the book of Nephi."  Problem solved.  14th verse unnecessary.

Unless someone was making this up as he went along, of course.