Sunday, December 20, 2015

Helaman 13: Another Prick on the Wall

Brace yourselves for another iconic tale of Book of Mormon lore:  it's time for Samuel the Lamanite.  He gives preaching among the Nephites the old college try only to find they're not particularly receptive to his message.  At God's behest, he returns to Zarahemla, climbs up on the wall, and shouts portents of doom at them.

God Turns from Apathetic to Spiteful
Samuel tells the Nephites that if they don't repent, they'll be wiped out in four hundred years, which understandably doesn't faze them, considering there will be plenty of future generations to handle the repenting and everyone alive now will be spared the prophesied destruction.  However, the method by which God will bring about this destruction is a little concerning (verse 8):
Therefore, thus saith the Lord: Because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of the Nephites, except they repent I will take away my word from them, and I will withdraw my Spirit from them, and I will suffer them no longer, and I will turn the hearts of their brethren against them.
Whoa, whoa, whoa.  It's not that God is going to withdraw his protection and simply allow the Nephites to be overrun in the event of an attack—God's actually going to change the hearts of the Lamanites and make them violent on purpose to carry out his threat.   Why would God incite war?  I get that he's disappointed with his chosen people and all, but actively taking steps to ensure a society's destruction shouldn't match the definition of love in anybody's lexicon.

Lamanite Health Care is Top-Notch
While prophesying the bloody terminus of the great Nephite civilization, Samuel says something that's either really stupid or really impressive (verse 10):
Yea, I will visit them in my fierce anger, and there shall be those of the fourth generation who shall live, of your enemies, to behold your utter destruction; and this shall surely come except ye repent, saith the Lord; and those of the fourth generation shall visit your destruction.
Four generations?  The very last thing he said was that it would be four hundred years before this all happens.  What's the average life expectancy for a Lamanite?  They're a pre-germ-theory, pre-penicillin, pre-pasteurization society that often revels in bloodshed.  Are we really supposed to believe that enough of them are going to hit triple digits to allow some from the fourth generation to live through the imminent apocalypse four centuries away?  And the survivors from that generation are going to be physically capable enough in their twilight years to personally visit destruction on their enemies?

I mean, I've heard some tall tales in my time, but that's a special kind of whopper.

Yes, it Goes On and On, My Friends
Much of this chapter is devoted to needlessly repetitive descriptions of how God is going to cause the wicked Nephites' wealth to become increasingly unsustainable.  See what I just did there?  In merely one sentence, I said what it took Samuel the Lamanite about twenty minutes to explain.

In verses 17 and 18, he introduces the concept of a curse on the land and explains that righteous people who hide stuff in the ground "up unto the Lord" will continue to have access to these things, but wicked people who hide stuff won't be able to find them again.  Which actually settles the argument once and for all about where the Book of Mormon takes place, because with weird crap like that, there's only one possible location:
Tagline:  Two thousand years before the Dharma Initiative there was...
The Zarahemla Project
Wednesdays on ABC
But then verse 19 simply summarizes the previous two paragraphs, and verse 20 embellishes this summary, adding that when the wicked people try to find their treasures when they're running away from their enemies, they'll be smitten instead.  Which really isn't anything we didn't already know, because it's reasonable to assume that utter destruction will at some point involve becoming the recipient of some serious smiting.

Verse 21 condemns materialism really quickly before reminding people that God is the one who provides people with riches.  This is kind of a dick move because God knows damn well that riches very easily lead to pride and therefore wickedness and eventually destruction, all of which he intimates in his next breath.

Then in verse 23 God reminds us what he's already told us:  because the Nephites are wicked, he's going to curse them and curse their riches—which, believe it or not, we've already covered.  Finally God and his mouthpiece Samuel take a little breather to discuss how people kill prophets but they shouldn't, but by verse 30 we're back on our favorite topic again, and by 33 we're combining both subjects into one for an epic mashup of don't-murder-prophets-you-will-be-cursed-for-your-riches.  34 through 36 constitute a semi-dramatic rehashing of the idea that—wait for it—God will curse the land so that the Nephites won't be able to find their treasures.

And then at long last we seem to have put the concept to rest for a while.  But let me tell you, it definitely earned a nap.  I'd be tired too after all that exercise.

I find it really hard to believe that at no point during the abridgment process did Mormon realize that it wasn't entirely necessary for him to inscribe the same basic principles over and over in immediate succession using a good chunk of the same words in multiple iterations.

That's a Bold Move, Cotton
Samuel closes the chapter thusly:
And I pray that the anger of the Lord be turned away from you, and that ye would repent and be saved.
Dude, were you even listening to yourself?  God was pretty unequivocal about this destruction stuff.  Praying that he'll stop being angry isn't going to do any good because the guy's clearly made up his mind.  Praying that the Nephites repent, sure, that's a good idea.  But the first thing you prayed for is a waste of time.

If a Mormon woman catches her husband watching porn, does she pray so that God will decide porn isn't a sin anymore?  No, she prays that her husband will be able to repent, because that actually makes a little bit of sense.

Maybe Samuel is reaching the tail end of his record-shattering Lamanite life expectancy and the senility is starting to set in.

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