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.


  1. Maybe shipping all of that wood wouldn't have been that difficult. The Book of Mormon says they had horses and elephants, remember?

    Where are these many cement cities at? They sound really cool. I'd like to go visit some of them and learn from the archaeology about how the people lived, the food they ate, their money, their clothing, etc? Since there were "many cities" and millions of people, there should be lots of ruins from these civilizations all over North and South America.

    Seriously, if those cities actually existed, the church would buy some of them, restore them, and turn them into tourist destinations staffed by senior missionary couples.

    I can see it now. The "real" Zarahemla pageant. Wouldn't it be wonderful and inspiring?

    1. When I read about the cement, my first thought was the adobe villages in the southwest US. But even if that's what it's referring to, it doesn't hold up very well because this chapter says that cement buildings were made by the people in the land northward and that the Nephites reached all the way from the south to the north of the American continent. Which means you'd think the adobe houses would be in Canada, not New Mexico.

      I would totally go to a Zarahemla pageant. It sounds amusing. Cement cities, chariots, horses, steel weapons, stuffed cureloms in the gift shop. Fantastic.