Friday, June 28, 2013

Feminized Courage and other Gender Ideas from the Book of Mormon

In one of my more sarcastic moments I thought I should write some sort of feminist study of the Book of Mormon. But the more I started thinking about the topic the more I realized how fruitful it could be.

Whore Imagery:

In both Nephi’s visions (1 Nephi 14:12) and in a talk from Alma the Younger to his son there is a discussion of whores and harlots.(Alma 39: 3, 11) The sexual impurity contrasts with the laws of purity that described by John Welch.[1] He cites scriptures in the Law of Moses about being ritually pure (Deuteronomy 23:9; Joshua 3:5) and Book of Mormon verses with related concepts. These include Captain Moroni insisting that his soldiers not “fall into transgression,” (Alma 46:22) and the exceeding faith and purity of the Stripling Warriors. (Alma 53:21; 57:26) One of the central promises of the Book of Mormon concerns those that prosper for keeping commandments. Hence sexual impurity would stand as a significant loss of virtue and strength.

A Women’s Tale:

In the very beginning of the story, in Mosiah 9:2 Zeniff has to relate the sad tale of civil war and strife to the new widows. Before facing battle Zeniff hid his women and children in the wilderness. (Mosiah 10:9) Underlining the importance of sexual purity and honoring covenants, one of the first things King Noah does is begin take many wives and concubines. ( Mosiah 11:2) The soldiers of King Noah were forced to leave behind their women and children. (Mosiah 19:11) These soldiers were so angry they rebelled and burned King Noah at the stake. (Mosiah 19:19-20) The remaining soldiers that didn’t flee with King Noah put their women in front of their army to mollify the Lamanite force. (Mosiah, 19:13) (That tactic worked which raises all sorts of questions.) In Mosiah 20:1-5 the priests of King Noah abduct Lamanite daughters. (In chapter two of my book I suggest this is an early version of bride stealing- see also Helaman 11:33.) The people of Limhi are blamed and then attacked and they fought with extra vigor for their women and children. (Mosiah 20: 11) (This of course, predates the famous Title of Liberty, and also underscores the same tactic used by Mormon, Mormon 2:23-24) And towards the end of the story in Mosiah 21:17 we find so many widows that the remaining men had to support them.

Upon closer reflection it seems the fate of women and children are closely intertwined with the entire story of the people of Zeniff. Their inclusion accounts for motivation of many of the actors, adds pathos to the major events, and makes this one of the more inclusive and humanistic accounts in the Book of Mormon. This is so intriguing I will likely transform this into a full paper.

Masculine Courage?

The famous Stripling Warriors often give credit to their mothers for their victory. (Alma 56: 47-48) What is interesting is this feminized origin of martial bravery. Many narratives would place the origins of courage in a father based setting. Perhaps the warriors learned courage from hunting with their fathers, (see Enos 3) or from a campaign on which they accompanied their fathers as children. But here they learned battlefield courage from their mothers. This could represent the somewhat unique situation where their fathers refused to take up arms. So the Stripling Warriors had little chance to witness combat from their fathers. Or this could be an intriguing lesson from Mormon. It could act as a subversive teaching that undercuts the idea that fighting is exclusively man’s business. One of my favorite Disney songs is “Be a Man” from Mulan, since by the end of the movie the soldiers are dressed like women and following the lead of the female protagonist. The reference to mothers could also undermine the idea that people need to fight in the first place. After all, the pertinent teaching here is a trust in God, which is similar to idea of surrendering our lives, and control of our lives, to the care of Heavenly Father found in step three of the LDS recovery program. (See also Alma 61:12-13)

Token of Bravery:

In one of the last chapters of Moroni we read about the horrible treatment of women and children in probably the most graphic verses in all of scripture. The Nephite women and children are held captive by the Lamanites and forced to eat the flesh of their slain husbands or fathers. While the Lamanite women are captured, raped, and then eaten ravenously as a token of bravery. (Moroni 9:8-10) The phrase, token of bravery is interesting and makes me wonder what other tokens of bravery they had. I know for example that many of the elite Aztecs wore the bones of their dead enemy, and rather colorful clothes. The word token is also associated with the temple, so I wonder if this is some sort of perverse ceremony that took place in the corrupted Nephite temples. Sacrifices to the gods were a part of pre-battle rituals of Mesoamerica. So if the Nephites had apostatized to the God of War, and we know that a warlike cult from Teotihuacan (modern Mexico city) was spreading throughout Mesoamerica at this time, it would make sense that a brutal act of conquest against women would satisfy that false God. It would also act as almost the exact opposite of the Laws of Purification expected of God’s people. This works thematically too, since the last chapter exhorts the readers to study the book, remember God’s mercy,(Moroni 10:3) and then apply Christ’s saving power in their lives. (Moroni 10: 32-33) Much like the book Hosea in the Bible, that uses an unfaithful and whoring wife to highlight the strength of God’s covenants, the depravity of chapter nine could serve to highlight the sanctifying and saving power of Christ in chapter ten.

As you can see, a study of women and their associations with sex raise a host of interesting issues that would enhance our understanding of the Book of Mormon. These are a few preliminary ideas and essentially little more than a brainstorming session but I look forward to presenting these ideas in greater detail.


[1] John Welch, Law and War in the Book of Mormon in Warfare and The Book of Mormon, Stephen Ricks, William Hamblin eds. (Provo, Salt Lake City: FARMS, Deseret Book, 1991).   

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Disarming Kimball's War Talk

The recent issue of the Ensign reprints Kimball's famous, or infamous, talk called the False Gods We Worship . I added the infamous because this talk has usually been the sledge hammer with which anti war opponents use to beat their opponents.  I'm left in the awkward, and somewhat annoying position of explaining how I can be a faithful member of the church and yet "go against" the prophet's council. But challenges to my ideas help me clarify them. So I've discussed the proper role of a prophets words and their non binding nature here and here.  I also used the same principles to critique The Butcher's Apostle, J. Reuben Clark. 

So needless to say I wasn't surprised when modern church leaders edited out his comments about war.  You can find more possible reasons at the blog,  Faith Promoting Rumor.  I don't know if this means that modern church leaders are more pro war or not, or if they necessarily disagree with Kimball, or if they just edited for space or because of their desire to highlight the other part of his message.  But I am extremely glad they have reduced the ammunition of anti war critics who inappropriately use the words of prophets to bolster their arguments.    

Thursday, June 6, 2013

On the Apology

So it seems there was a particularly vituperative post on the Town Hall website. Criminologist Mike Adams responded to a letter from a Mormon who objected to his description of Mormons as unchristian.  He did so with a rather insincere apology.  There are several great responses already here and here but  I wanted to address a couple points that he made that were particularly egregious.

After implying that a one time reading of The Book of Mormon makes him an expert he says:

I am also sorry that while archaeological discovery supports the claims of the Bible it clearly does not support the claims of the Book of Mormon. Battles that were supposed to have occurred in specific locations in North America simply never took place. The archaeological evidence just isn't there.

I'm amazed at how many errors he can commit in so few sentences.  It is tough to believe his claim that archeology supports the Bible. There is no evidence to support the account found in Exodus for example, and there is as much evidence for King David of the Bible as there is for Nahom in The Book of Mormon.  He may be assuming that evidence of cities located in the Bible such as Babylon and Jerusalem constitute support.  But the existence of cities hardly proves the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (Nor for that matter does pottery shards or remnants of battles, so this is an oddly secular part of his argument.)

But his statement about battles is even worse.   There are no specific locations mentioned for these battles and the closest to a specific location is the Hill Cumorah.  But the one named in New York is not necessarily the location of the battle. (I always remind critics how I served in both Rome and Paris...Texas, I visited my doctor that lived in Glasgow...Virginia, and I enjoy travelling to Athens...Georgia. I also applied for a teaching position in Moscow...Idaho.  It is pretty easy for one term to be used for two locations, especially when Smith got the plates from that hill.)    In fact, most scholars and scholarship put the location of Book of Mormon lands in Mesoamerica.  Of course Mike Adams would know this if he read The Book of Mormon more than once over half a dozen years ago; and if he bothered to research any of the relevant secondary scholarship.

 As with other issues, this obscurity about the locations of battles puts The Book of Mormon in good historical company.  Even some of the most studied battles in the world such as Hastings or Teutoburg Forest still have uncertain locations.  In fact, it is only recently that the lost army was found.

Thus in this short paragraph, Adams shows that he has little grasp of Mormon studies, basic archaeological issues, and the intersection of faith and evidence. This is indicative of the rest of his apology; these are complicated issues but his insincere and bitter response forfeit whatever benefit of the doubt I would give him. And that is sorry. I highly recommend that he study these issues more in depth and he can start with a copy of my upcoming book.