Sunday, August 4, 2013

Mosiah 11: Fat Guy in a Purple Coat

Now we meet Zeniff's son, King Noah, who has become one of the more famous villains of the Book of Mormon.  Every Mormon child knows that he was fat, wore purple, and kept leopards in his throne room.  King Noah was a wicked man whose reign of iniquity had adverse effects on his society as depicted in this chapter.

That Pesky "Many Wives" Thing
I think it's notable to point out that the first of King Noah's sins that is mentioned specifically is that he had many wives and concubines.  This is not the first time the Book of Mormon has condemned polygamy (see Jacob 2).  It just occurred to me that this was probably part of the reason why Joseph Smith had to keep his polygamous relationships a secret from the general membership of the church.  When the Book of Mormon was still new and not an embedded cultural foundation the way it is for born-in-the-covenant Mormons today, the hypocrisy might have been more painfully obvious to the members.  We read the Book of Mormon following study guides and gospel doctrine classes that give us things to zero in on while the rest is glossed over.  Someone reading the book in 1840 might have picked up on the references to polygamy as an abomination a little better than a modern Mormon might.

It was always annoying to me as a faithful member how that pesky polygamy issue kept cropping up.  It's kind of amusing to see that the founding book of scripture for the religion has the same problem.  I wonder if Joseph later wished he could go back and remove a couple of those verses and save himself a few uncomfortable questions from his followers—because those who weren't his followers already gave him enough grief for the polygamy thing.

Laboring to Support Iniquity
Let's review some of the things that King Noah does that this chapter condemns:
  • imposes a high, flat tax rate on his people
  • uses the taxes to pay for a lavish lifestyle for him and his friends
  • uses the taxes to build many "elegant and spacious" buildings
  • fails to protect his people by not placing enough guards at the borders
Now let's examine some similarities to King Noah in Mormonism:
  • tithing is essentially a flat tax rate, although more is expected through various offerings
  • many of the top leadership have suspiciously expensive homes
  • tithing money is used to build many elegant and spacious temples...and I do mean "many"
  • the church fails to protect its people by not placing adequately trained bishops in positions to counsel those with complex problems
And yet, as King Noah's people worked hard and paid one fifth of what they had to support a kingdom built on iniquity, modern Mormons work hard and pay at minimum one tenth of what they have to support a religion built on hypocrisy.

Joseph Outlines the Effects of Living Under Corruption
The Book of Mormon kind of condemns King Noah in a "by their fruits shall ye know them" kind of way by illustrating the devastating effect his wickedness has on his people.  Under his rule, the Nephites become idolatrous, drunken, prideful and begin to commit "whoredoms and all manner of wickedness."

I don't want to say that Joseph Smith has a good point here, but Joseph Smith might have a good point here.  Since I've already compared King Noah's society to Mormonism, let's try it one more time.  Under the rule of the prophets, Mormons have become naive, self-righteous, bigoted, arrogant, self-loathing and closed-minded.  For the record, obviously, not every Mormon is like that.  My point, however, is that all of these characteristics are common negative side effects of church culture.  Perhaps the decline of King Noah's people and the decline of Mormon society mirror each other because both groups of people lived under a similar form of corruption.

God Allows Murder in His Own Time
The Book of Mormon has comic relief!  I actually chuckled when I read this verse about Abinadi, a prophet who preaches to the people of King Noah about how wicked they are and how they should stop it before God gets madder, turns green, and smashes them (or allows the Lamanites to smash them):
Now it came to pass that when Abinadi had spoken these words unto them they were wroth with him, and sought to take away his life; but the Lord delivered him out of their hands.
The Lord delivered Abinadi out of the hands of the guys who wanted to kill him.  Abinadi didn't simply escape, the Lord delivered him.  I find that description hilarious considering that God famously lets Abinadi get burned to death later.  Why go out of your way to say that God helped him survive when you're about to tell the story about how God let him become a martyr?


  1. Again, your analysis is dead on. Maybe this should be your next book, “Candid Commentary on the Book of Mormon.” How fun would it be to read these chapters and sit in a Sunday school, Seminary, or Institute class constantly dropping comments about inconsistencies and flat out ridiculous things found in the Book of Mormon?

    Comment on: That Pesky "Many Wives" Thing

    I think your right about Joseph keeping polygamy a secret. It wasn’t until 1852, long after Joseph’s death and after the Mormons had been in Utah for 5 years, when they finally publically announced polygamy. However, they still didn’t preach it but rather waited until the new converts arrived in Utah before they broke it to them.

    I have read a lot of old LDS histories lately that were written in the 1800’s. My favorite so far is Ann Eliza Young’s book, “Wife No. 19,” published in 1876. I have also enjoyed very much John D. Lee’s Confession and Bill Hickman’s “Brigham’s Destroying Angel.” All of these books are available for free at Google Books since they are old enough to be in the public domain.

    Ann Eliza Young mostly writes about polygamy in her book. She tells how the Mormon missionaries in Europe used the Book of Mormon to preach against polygamy to effectively counter the rumors that had been spread. On pages 329-330, she tells a story about John Taylor, who for those who don’t know was the 3rd Mormon prophet and who was shot and injured at Carthage when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed. Taylor was preaching in France. Even though he had 5 wives back in Salt Lake City, he spoke out against polygamy in the strongest terms and used verses in the Book of Mormon to drive his point home. He employed a French woman, a convert of his, to translate one of his anti-polygamy speeches into a tract that was distributed. Many people were convinced not to leave the church because of this tract and were encouraged to immigrate to Utah. Once there, with no way to escape, they discovered the truth, that John Taylor had been lying to them. The French woman was devastated that she had unknowingly played a role in this deception.

  2. Comment on: Laboring to Support Iniquity

    So when you add the 50% tax to the Lamanites and the 20% (1/5) tax to King Noah, those poor Nephites were paying 70% in taxes. That would suck! Then on top of that, they weren’t even being protected. King Noah actually reminds me very much of the Brigham Young described by his ex wife Ann Eliza Young. Here is a list of some of the things he did according to Mrs. Young:

    • Used the temple fund to build a theater that he owned.
    • Sent men on missions so he could steal their lucrative business making and selling whisky.
    • Married women so he could take their stuff. Then he would move them into a house with other of his wives he didn’t support and never really saw them again.
    • Hired men to do work for him (building wagons, making telegraph lines, etc.) then refused to pay them, because he claimed they were just doing the work for the church and that the work was inferior (even though it wasn’t).
    • Kept all of the pay for the Mormon Battalion and failed to help their families get settled in Utah as he promised he would. Many of the men arrived in Utah to find their families were still stuck at Winter Quarters.
    • Had hit men in his employ (Porter Rockwell and Bill Hickman were two of them). You can read about their evil deeds in Ann Young’s book and Bill Hickman’s book. Needless to say, they left death and misery in their wake. The sad thing is, he never paid them anything, though Hickman does admit he was rewarded with wives.
    • His family had the Lion House (A suspiciously expensive home) as well as many others.
    • Brigham Young was a very wealthy man.

  3. The actions of the Lamanites make no sense to me. They moved out of their homes to let the Nephites move in. They covenant to get 50% of all the Nephite’s increase as a rent payment. However, they still harass them, attack them, steal their stuff, etc. Why? They are supposedly a really lazy people. Wouldn’t the most lazy thing you could do be sitting back and collecting your rent? Why kill the goose that laid the golden egg? Why chop limbs off of your money tree? If you are constantly attacking, stealing, and destroying, aren’t you just damaging your own future stuff? It makes no sense! It’s beyond stupid! Leave them alone, and collect what is yours. Only attack them if they refuse to pay. These Nephites are stupid enough to even pay you after they kick your asses in battle. They will surely pay you when you leave them alone.

    Finally, how do these verses make you want to worship the god preached by Abinadi?

    23 And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.
    24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.

    Aren’t they already in bondage? So will they be put in more bondage? They’re told to repent. God is the only one that can deliver them, but if they do repent, he will be slow to hear their cries and will have them be smitten by their enemies anyway. How does that inspire you to follow him? Also, Why is it always the Nephites? Aren’t the Lamanites evil descendants of Lehi too? Why aren’t they ever in bondage and smitten by their enemies?

    The Abinadi story would be funny if it weren’t so sad. God delivers him out of the hands of his enemies just to later deliver him into their hands to be burned to death. The only reason that happened to him was because he was working for the lord. It’s explained that he was killed as a witness against the evildoers. So how many little girls and boys does god allow to be raped and sexually abused just so he can have proof against the bad guys in the next life. Hey, let’s destroy the lives of little kids so we can bring justice to evil people. It’s bullshit!

  4. Wow, lots of good stuff there!

    I feel like I should read Bill Hickman's book now. I don't think I've heard of him before, and it sounds very interesting.

    I knew Brigham Young was pretty much the ultimate scumbag. I was going to use the example of some shady stuff he did with a brewery, but I couldn't remember the details and I couldn't find a quick source. And you have to be a powerful man to employ hit men...and then not pay them...and escape being murdered yourself.

    I feel like the timeline of the Book of Mormon and a lot of the historical context to its stories get kind of glossed over in the church. The fact that important parts of the background information are written in a dry, faux-Biblical style means that we can read all the words without actually absorbing the information. Maybe if the Book of Mormon were translated perfectly into modern English, the plot holes and the stupidity and the nonsense would all be so much clearer to the reader.

    Great comments! Did you just have some extra time or does this chapter hit a raw nerve?

  5. I read the chapter after reading what you wrote, and it all just clicked. It was all stuff I already knew, so it only took an hour or so. It did hit a raw nerve as well.

    Hickman's autobiography is great. You should definitely read it. There's a reason why nobody's ever heard of him. That would be because he confesses to so much stuff and implicates Brigham Young. Pretty much everybody in the church knows of Porter Rockwell. They know his did the prophet's dirty work but don't know any specifics. Well, Hickman wrote a book about some of his own exploits. The stuff he did was disgusting, and it was all in the name of religion. Plus, it was all done at the request of church leadership. Blood atonement was alive and well during the reign of Brigham Young.