Monthly Archives: June 2021

Social Division in Mosiah 25

“And now all the people of Nephi were assembled together, and also all the people of Zarahemla, and they were gathered together in two bodies.” – Mosiah 25:4

This is a problem waiting to happen. Why could the people not be gathered together in one body? What social restrictions or divisions prevented the people from being one?

For those not familiar with the Book of Mormon, the following is a spoiler: there are going to be severe social rifts among the Nephites because they’re actually the Nephites and Zarahemlites, and not all Nephites. If the people cannot be as one, the risk is that the lines of social division become more well-defined and rigid over time, leading to clashes when a subservient group chooses not to “stay in its lane.”

God asks of us that we become as one. Therefore, God asks of us that we obliterate those conventions of humanity that keep us apart. God asks us that we erase the lines of social division, so that nobody has to stay in a lane to keep society running smoothly. There should be no statistical over- or under-representations based on race or class in any statistics. There should be no “wrong side of the tracks” or “bad part of town” in a truly Godlike society. The motto of the USA is “e pluribus unum”: “from many, one”. The more that are in the many, the stronger is that one.

A Cunning and a Wise People

In Mosiah 24, Mormon characterizes the Lamanites in a negative cultural light, but it’s a different light than before. Earlier references to Lamanites describe them negatively as mostly hunter-gatherers, unsettled and uncivilized. However, their urbanization seems to have proceeded independently of Nephite prejudice. In the later timeframe of the events in Mosiah, the Lamanites present a monarchial-feudal social structure and the ability to project force in ways more organized than simple raiding parties.

But the Lamanites still don’t catch a break. It is the Nephite dissenting group, the followers of Amulon, who provide administrative innovations for the Lamanites and who also teach them in the language of the Nephites. After that cultural exchange, the Lamanites are now described as “… a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren.”

There are two threads of denigration, one expressed and one implied. The expressed one is that the Lamanites are still a demonized “other” in the ways they delight in wickedness and plunder. The implied one is that the Amulonites had something significant to do with the Lamanites no longer running around in loincloths and getting some civilization.

That implication that the Lamanites need to be improved and that the improving involves them becoming more like the Nephites, even the wicked Nephites, is a dangerous idea. While it seems to open a door for equality, it typically results in a situation where the one group is never truly good enough for the other. The Lamanites, in this implication, can become better than they are, but never as good as the Nephites, when all is said and done.

In a more modern view – and we see something of this later in the Book of Mormon – it is better to say that we are all imperfect and that to better ourselves, we all draw closer to God. That path does not mean becoming more like some other culture here on earth. It means becoming closer to God by leaving behind the things of the world. While I may feel more comfortable around people who speak the same language as I do and who do things in ways similar to how I do them, that is not Heaven. Heaven is made up of a widely diverse group of people, none of whom I was told to copy and none of whom were told to copy me. All who are in Heaven are those who leave the world behind and follow after God.

I want to go back to the bit about wickedness and plunder, except among their own people: before we think such traits to be unique to the Lamanites at that point in time, or unique solely to peoples in either faraway lands or long-ago times, let us consider the experience of nations that faced down the wickedness and plunder of Portugal, Spain, France, England, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States of America. There are others that can be added to the list – these are the chief examples of nations that plundered other parts of the world for their own benefit.

While there is a strong temptation for an American to read the Book of Mormon and equate the Nephites with the USA, and everything right and good along with that, we have to remember certain things. One, the Nephites were a people that dealt with some massive problems of their own, stemming from major economic and social inequalities. The equation of “Nephite equals good guys” is entirely one of our own imagining. There are Nephites that we root for, but even those people have their flaws that need shedding before they make the final approach to God.

Next, the undesirable characteristics of governments described in the Book of Mormon are available to one and all. History does not care where its rhymes or repetitions occur. And when you look at the history of a nation built on the backs of slaves, that demanded an extension of the slave trade to recover the manpower losses of slaves that bolted for freedom in the American War of Independence, well, we are looking at the history of “… a cunning and a wise people, as to the wisdom of the world, yea a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder, except it were among their own brethren.”

Plaza Turcha

In the citadel of Mategosa, there is a lovely cafe that sits atop a tunnel. While the tunnel is part of a recent traffic-control effort, the plaza has been there since the 15th Century. It is known as “Plaza Turcha” and it is where the Ottoman Empire arrived – and departed – from Mategosa.

As Sultan Mehmed II stormed through the Balkans after the fall of Constantinople, the citizens of Mategosa prepared for the day that the sultan’s shadow would fall across their island. The city council had no love for the Venetians: none would seek to find shelter behind Venetian galleys, as that meant financial entanglements entirely opposed to Mategosan interests.

Neither did the Mategosans seek aid under the Croatian flag. The seemingly unstoppable Turkish hosts would swallow up Croatia, it seemed, and no part of that nation would escape the onslaught from the East. Flying a Hapsburg banner was equally distasteful to the Mategosans. The only way to survive would be, as it so frequently is the case in Mategosan history, to go it alone.

Mategosa called up no soldiers for its defense: dying on the field of battle would be a noble, but futile gesture for an island as small as Mategosa. The might of Mategosa lay instead in its ability to call to service the infamous istražitelji, the crack financial investigators of the island. The istražitelji were known far and wide in banking circles – and feared wherever they were known.

The first move of the istražitelji was a distraction: it is now known today that a Mategosan agent was behind the incident that led to the Ottoman-Venetian War of 1463-1479. A cell of istražitelji agents in Athens identified an Albanian slave in the household of the local Turkish commander whose daily activities left him unsupervised near the gates of the city. After the agents provided the slave with 100,000 silver coins and instructions on how to get to the nearest Venetian fortress, the slave was only too happy to run for his freedom. With the Turks occupied in a war with Venice, the istražitelji would enjoy years of preparing their next defense.

Not to say that all istražitelji were engaged against the Ottomans: more than a few kept track of the 100,000 coins and followed them through the accounts of the Venetians. When the Venetians sued for peace with Mehmed II at their gates, it was a ledger provided to the Sultan’s entourage by the Mategosans that guided the negotiations on what sort of financial indemnity the Venetians could afford to pay. This monetary blow to Venice, scholars agree, kept the Venetians from ever again being able to assert themselves over Mategosa. Continued Mategosan interference in Venetian monetary matters is frequently cited as an underlying reason behind Venice always coming up short of funds whenever it considered a punitive expedition against Mategosa.

As Venice lay prostrate before the Ottomans, the istražitelji worked to convince the Ottoman councils of invading Italy. In 1480, Mehmed II sent an army to attack Otranto. With Turks so close to home, the Pope demanded a Crusade – just as the Mategosans had hoped for – and powers from outside the region dealt a blow to the Turks that halted their advance in the Adriatic.

After Mehmed II passed away, his successor Bayezid II initially wanted to continue his father’s empire-building in the Adriatic region. Prior to the launching of the battle-fleets, however, the Mategosans issued an invitation to the Sultan to be their guest for discussions about the status of the island.

We know that Bayezid II traveled to Mategosa – the Ottoman Empire Archives contain documentation of the clandestine visit. That the visit was kept so secret has mystified scholars until recently. With the discovery of the so-called “Gizli Odalar” (hidden rooms) section of the Ottoman Archives in 2018, researchers have uncovered the papers that must certainly have compelled Bayezid II to quietly arrive at Mategosa. The papers were financial records implying that Bayezid II had been a victim of embezzlement – and only the wily istražitelji could provide recovery of the funds and apprehension of the thieves.

And so, on 27 October 1481, Bayezid II and his closest advisors met with Mategosan financial experts on the Plaza Turcha. There, the masters of the istražitelji guild laid out their case against secret supporters of the Ottoman pretender Cem, offering up incredible details regarding their financial transactions and stores of wealth.

Impressed with the fiscal discretion with which the istražitelji conducted themselves, Bayezid II agreed to a secret treaty, a copy of which was found in the Gizli Odalar. In the treaty, Bayezid II pledged to leave Mategosa unmolested in exchange for the istražitelji‘s continued watchfulness over the imperial treasury. It was an agreement honored in perpetuity by the Ottomans for centuries – and the maintenance of the istražitelji effort a constant source of clandestine wealth for the Isle of Mategosa.

And so, the Plaza Turcha is a special spot in the hearts of all true sons and daughters of Mategosa, as it is where more than freedom was secured for Mategosa – security and safety were bought there, as well. When the sottocollina road improvements were proposed in the late 1950s, it looked for a moment that Plaza Turcha would have to be sacrificed in the name of better traffic flow. But, through the patriotic genius of the civil engineers of Mategosa, innovative tunneling techniques allowed the plaza to be preserved and the traffic to flow smoothly underneath the place where the Sultan and the istražitelji guild-masters struck their bargain.

The Equality of the Righteous

“… thus saith the Lord: “Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another.” – Mosiah 23:7

The path forward for those following God with all their heart is simple: do not think that one person is better than another; do not think that one people is better than another. If you say something that involves another person or people having a different overall value than another, then you are not following God with that statement. If you believe that there are differences in the races or that certain people are just naturally better or worse than others, then you are not following God with that belief.

A righteous nation does not permit differences in classes, no matter what the classes may be based upon. Not wealth, not race, not ancestry, not gender, not condition of prior servitude, not condition of prior servitude of one’s ancestors – *no* reason is allowed to permit differences of classes to exist in the righteous nation.

By association, it is not a righteous people that accepts, condones, or supports a class structure of people. It is not enough to say that one is opposed to differences in society based upon wealth, race, or other differentiating factor. One must also be opposed in heart, mind, and, above all, action to any different treatments in society when those are made plain.

As a people or nation makes progress towards full equality under the law, that people or nation approaches God in righteousness and in peace. As a people or nation entrenches inequalities under the law, that people or nation ripens for destruction.

Bear One Another’s Burdens

“Behold, here are the waters… and now, as you desire to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light…”

So it reads in Mosiah 18:8 as Alma begins the characteristics of the baptismal covenant. There are promises to mourn with those who mourn, to comfort those that need comfort, and to stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places. All of these things support the first part of the covenant, the bearing of one another’s burdens: and the social message in that covenant is a matter no-one who desires to be one with God should overlook.

Bearing the burden of another is much more than making facial expressions of sympathy and uttering kind and hopeful words. Bearing burdens means getting one’s shoulders under the same yoke as another and helping the brother or sister forward. It means offering up food, shelter, and money along with those facial expressions and kind words. The hard work one does for the benefit of another puts value into those words so that they have the meaning God wants them to have: true promises of support and aid.

What should be more precious to me than the love of God? Or do I hesitate when I have the currency in my hand? Does my heart and eye turn towards the money when it comes time to part with it, that I might better bear the burden of another? If I can let it go and not even think about asking for repayment, then I have the love of God with me and I am honoring my baptismal covenant.

And the answer to any question about what one should do in a particular circumstance is not to ask me or another human about it: ask God what He would have you do. Then, submit to that guidance and do the work of sharing God’s love with all your brothers and sisters, His children.

Just pre-dispose yourself to a response from God in which you are moved to mourn, offer comfort, stand as a witness, and to lift part of the heavy burden from the shoulders of another and bear it with that person, side by side in peace and love.

Wealth and Abinadi’s Sermon

In Mosiah 12-17, the Prophet Abinadi preaches a sermon against the wickedness of King Noah’s government and ecclesiastical arrangements. Both are set up to service the personal desires of the ruling class at the expense of the general population. When the priests of King Noah defend themselves as following and teaching the Law of Moses, Abinadi responds, “If ye teach the law of Moses why do ye not keep it? Why do ye set your hearts upon riches?”

The very first condemnation Abinadi has for the priests is that they set their hearts on riches. There are other elements of his criticism, as well, but it is riches that comes first. This is the first thing, as it is a form of having graven images and placing a god of one’s own devising ahead of the God that gave the Law.

After Abinadi concludes his sermon, King Noah demands that Abinadi be put to death. When one of Noah’s priests, a man named Alma, objects and agrees with Abinadi, Noah orders that priest put to death, as well. Although truth is spoken to power, the power refuses to acknowledge the truth and insists upon a fantasy in which lies can substitute for the truth.

Later, Noah makes a formal accusation against Abinadi and basically offers Abinadi one last chance to recant what he has preached. Abinadi refuses and offers a final testimony – and this testimony sways Noah. Noah is ready to release Abinadi at this point, and could very well have repented had not his priests reinforced his greed and pride.

And that is what killed the prophet Abinadi. It was not the caprice of one man, a single wicked king. It was the whole government, the whole wicked structure, that bore down against the prophet. And because it was the government that made war on God, the nation of Noah had become ripe for destruction.

Where Is Mategosa?

You won’t find Mategosa on a map. Not a recent map, at any rate. There are Medieval Venetian maps and 16th-Century Ottoman charts that show the Isle of Mategosa, but modern-era cartographers either don’t know about Mategosa and leave it off – or they know full well about Mategosa and the trouble that could arise from putting it on a chart, so best to leave it off.

I was in Trieste harbor back in 2017, and I remember approaching the port authority to see navigation charts for where the Isle of Mategosa is. There’s no island on the map, just a “navigation hazard” that most shipping lines go neatly around… but it’s also the only navigation hazard that has a small number of shipping lines actually terminating on it.

I asked a worker at the port authority about getting passage to Mategosa. He was set to retire soon, so he had a certain candor in his speaking that others were too early in their careers to have. I recall his knowing smile and comments along the line of, “I can’t tell you that, but I can.” I asked him if that was the case just in Trieste. No, he said, it’s that way all around the Adriatic. Italian, Slovenian, Croatian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, and Albanian ports – all of them have no official way to get you to Mategosa, but you can still get there if you need to.

So what’s the best way to get to get on a boat that arrives at the navigation hazard in the Northern Adriatic Sea? Well, experience has shown me that the best way to get there is to be a regular commuter. If one is in a habit of going to and from Mategosa, one tends to stay in that habit. But what about the casual visitor, drawn by tales of the ancient Roman playground for the wealthy, romances of Crusader pirates, or glimpses of the glitterati? How do tourists get there?

The good news is that it is very easy to get to Mategosa, once you know how to understand the system that is in place. The caution is that it is also very easy to get to Mategosa the wrong way, so you have to be careful about your travel arrangements.

Let’s cover what not to do first. Do not walk up and down the fishing piers, asking if any of the boats are going to Mategosa. You might very well find a boat that will take you there, but you might either pay a price that is ultimately too high or become permanently entangled in lines of business that will always keep drawing you back when you think you finally found a way out.

Do not walk into a ferry terminal and ask for a ticket to Mategosa. You will be flatly told that there is no such place. You will also be marked as a possible international police inspector or some other kind of busybody and the ferry operators’ network will likely blacklist you up and down both sides of the Adriatic. One of the most important rules of Mategosa is never asking the wrong questions about it. Asking for a ticket to Mategosa is one of those wrong questions.

To properly get to Mategosa, do go to the right kind of ferry terminal. One that advertises cross-border or trans-Adriatic service is the right kind of terminal. Local-only terminals will either lack service or offer it only to people that they recognize. In the international terminal, do not look for a ferry by its listed destination, look instead for ferries by their departure and arrival times. Where you see a ferry that has a departure time but no arrival time, that is the ferry to Mategosa. Depending on distance, fares for the ferry will range from 70-100 Euros. Go with established, recognized ferry firms, such as Jadrolinija, Gomo Viaggi, Kompas, or Venezia Lines.

Travel time to Mategosa from most major Adriatic ports is at least 5 hours, and from Pescara or Split, it can be 10-11 hours. I do not recommend boarding a ferry to Mategosa from a location further south. In most cases, it’s faster to take the train to Ancona in Italy or Split in Croatia and then board the ferry there. Nevertheless, if you must get to Mategosa directly from Bari or Durres, you can find passage on a recognized carrier in the manner described above. Be advised, however, that travel times will be much longer – you’ll likely be on a sleeper – and that the ferries depart less frequently than those in the Central or Northern Adriatic.

Do not expect Adriatic cruise ships to make any stops at Mategosa: Mategosa is one of the rare Adriatic islands not hugging the coastline, which is the domain of the cruise ship. Moreover, there would be some potentially severe legal entanglements for cruise liners to make a Mategosan port of call, so they will treat it very much as a “navigation hazard”, even though the hazards are purely ones of international law.

There is a causeway to Mategosa, but you do not want to travel to Mategosa by car. I will say no more of this except to re-iterate that if you arrive in Mategosa by any means other than a legitimate ferry service, you will most certainly not be a tourist. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Once you debark from the ferry, expect to be greeted by the smiling, but abrupt, natives. Most folk speak a blend of Dalmatian, a Romance tongue that is extinct everywhere else in the world, and Chakavian, the dialect of Serbo-Croatian most common along the Dalmatian and Istrian coast. Mategosans often know enough English to help tourists get to basic attractions, but prefer to conduct their business affairs in these obscure dialects. The reasoning behind that preference goes back several hundred years, back to when Mategosa became notorious as a base for uskoci pirates.

Now, if you want to know why Mategosa is not on any map, do not ask any Mategosan. At best, they will treat your question with quiet contempt. There is a certain cultural pride in their obscurity being a given, and they are tight-lipped about their national secrets. Do not also ask any boat operators, for reasons noted above. They will sail to “nowhere”, pause, and then turn around, no questions asked. Ever.

The answers to that question that should not be asked are to be found in Nacionalna i sveučilišna knjižnica u Zagrebu – the National and University Library in Zagreb. They are in the Library of St. Mark in Venice. They are in Başbakanlık Osmanlı Arşivi, the Ottoman State Archives in Istanbul. They are in the Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, the Austrian State Archives in Vienna. And you will find those answers not by asking about Mategosa – that is a good way to get no information – but by asking roundabout questions about general information regarding the Central/Northern Adriatic region, with particular reference to endemic trees that people enjoyed in the past.

When you understand that in the patois of the mystery island, “Mategosa” translates as “tree we enjoy”, you will understand why that reference noted above begins to unlock the secrets of the place. And Mategosa is indeed home to a catkin-bearing chestnut tree species that is unique to that island, so if you don’t want to be sent to the botany section, be sure to mention “in the past” in your questioning, so that you are led to the part of the archives that have the maps with Mategosa on them… and the papers explaining why it had to be removed.

The Social Tragedy of King Noah

For a range of chapters in Mosiah, starting with chapter 11, we see the people of Zeniff now led by his son named Noah. In common views of King Noah, he is held up as a scenery-chewing Big Bad Wolf sort of character, lush in his Orientalist despotism, surrounded by ostentation and sycophants, as illustrated by Arnold Friberg’s famous painting, “Abinadi Before King Noah.” But it’s all too easy to just say that Noah was bad and leave it at that. He ordered the death of a prophet, right? Isn’t that bad enough?

Not really. The lesson of King Noah shouldn’t be “don’t kill prophets” and no more. It’s easy enough to say that and then ignore it: “well, so-and-so wasn’t really a prophet…” No, the lesson of King Noah runs much deeper and becomes even uncomfortable to read as we see parts of ourselves or our society depicted in opposition to the earnest strivings of the prophet, Abinadi.

Straight away, we are told that Noah did not keep the commandments of God, but had many concubines. There is a temptation to say, “OK, don’t also commit adultery. Got it.” But that is not the full lesson of Noah. After all, anyone can commit adultery and still repent. The tragedy of David is not that he committed adultery, but that he abused his power as king to arrange the death of a loyal subject in order to cover his sin. The adultery is bad, the cover-up is worse, the murder horrific, but worst of all was the abuse of the power and authority that David held. Was not David anointed of God to be the king? And with that sort of set-up, how much worse it was for David to behave as other kings. He was supposed to be better than that.

And indeed, we see worse for Noah in the next verse. He raised taxes on his people. Too many stop there and say, “Right, taxes are bad. Moving on.” No, that is not right, either. Under the Law of Moses, it was the duty of a righteous people to provide a just government. When I first read that, it halted my sympathy towards anarcho-libertarianism. It is the duty of a righteous people to provide a just government: taxes are therefore justified. Taxes are justified not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary good. Noah, however, raised the taxes to directly benefit himself, his family, and his closest supporters, not to benefit the poor. That is how he “changed the affairs of the kingdom.” This is the line Noah crosses. Up until this line, he was just personally responsible for his evil. When he institutionalizes the abuse of power for the benefit of a privileged few, he creates a situation in which the nation falls under condemnation.

That’s what we see in the Friberg painting: a rich elite that is leading their nation to its doom being contrasted with the simple, threadbare prophet of God. This is also where things become more uncomfortable for us. How close are we to King Noah in terms of our wealth and what we do with it? If we exploit loopholes or benefit unjustly from unfair laws or practices, we are more like Noah than Abinadi. When we give freely to those in need and search for ways we can help – not just be ready if called to help, but to actively search for ways to help – we are more like Abinadi than Noah.

The wickedness Noah brings on his people is outlined in how the tax money is spent: palaces, fineries, ornamentation. The workmen of the kingdom build up his benefits – seemingly ignorant of the looming threat of another Lamanite attack. While Noah’s father built up fortifications and weapons so that the people could desperately defend themselves, Noah legitimizes skimming off the resources of the people solely to benefit his clique.

And, no surprise, the Lamanites do notice the lack of defenses and commence raiding of Noah’s domain. Noah manages to mount a successful campaign against the Lamanite probes, but mistakenly thinks that his defeat of their reconnaissance in force is a bigger victory than it is. Noah’s people are condemned by Mormon for their boasting and their “delight in blood.”

At the end of Mosiah 11, we see Noah using his power as king to justify a death warrant against Abinadi, who preaches against his wickedness. Noah claims Abinadi’s words are seditious. Now, the truth of the matter is that Abinadi’s words are seditious, in that the people could be led to oppose Noah’s wicked institutions. With the laws that Noah has, Abinadi is absolutely in violation of them. That the laws are unjust is not an excuse. Abinadi will preach in full knowledge that his life is forfeit in that preaching. It is therefore, not Noah that slays the prophet: it is Noah’s nation and government that slays the prophet.

This, therefore, is the fullness of the social tragedy of King Noah. The wickedness of the ruler was all too easily embraced by a segment of the people who saw a way to profit thereby. The laws of the nation were bent and twisted and made to provide not a just government, but an unjust government. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in Noah’s government – where that happens in the world, the nations permitting such things are under as much condemnation as was Noah’s.

The Keys to Destruction

The author of The Book of Mormon did not have room for excess. Both time and resources were limited for his effort of collating a record for a future day. He could not spare room for unnecessary words. As we read it, it does us well to focus on adjectives that Mormon provides so that we can better understand his message.

In Mosiah 9, Zeniff describes a change of heart that he had as he spied among the Lamanites. Sent into their midst to find out how to destroy them, he saw the good in them and no longer wished to see their destruction. When discussing his change of heart with his commander, it led to a battle within the Nephite group – father against father and brother against brother. Why? Why did the Nephites destroy themselves? Look at the description of the commander: blood-thirsty and austere.

Blood-thirsty has an obvious enough meaning: merciless. Austere carries a meaning of stubborn, strict, hostile to new ideas or even to the idea of making connections between ideas for better understanding. Translating “austere” into Hebrew gives חָמוּר. Translating חָמוּר back into English gives “donkey” as the first suggestion. “Severe, stern, grave, strict, drastic, grievous, acid” all follow as suggestions. Do we want to destroy ourselves? If yes, then let us be merciless and so set in our ways that we close off all hope of change in our views.

When we show mercy and entertain the thought that we might just be wrong, we open the doors to salvation as we close the gates of destruction. If that commander had been instead merciful and humble, along with the rest of that Nephite expedition, then they could all have been saved, in mortal respects as well as eternal.

But Zeniff continues, as he is a humble person and realizes his own fault in being over-zealous to work with the Lamanites. He describes himself with a term that indicates, again, a lack of flexibility. Associated words in Hebrew include “rabid, possessive, fanatical, jealous.” While it was better to be merciful than merciless, over-zealous is as bad as austere, in the long run.

In this case, Zeniff failed to remember that while there was good among the Lamanites, they were also in a state of general hostility towards the Nephites, and their leadership was not above setting a trap for Zeniff’s group. That they did does not surprise me, but that Zeniff so quickly goes to cursing the Lamanites with “they are all…” negative stereotypes, well, that caught me off-guard. I expected better of someone who was so ready to see the good in an enemy.

He insults the Lamanites, calling them a “lazy and idolatrous people” who wanted to “glut themselves with the labors of our hands”. Well, Zeniff, truth be told, that’s pretty much how conquest worked in the ancient world. It doesn’t make the Lamanites any better or worse than other nations that conquered and created tributary states for their support.

How could this episode have turned out differently, and better for Zeniff and his followers? If they had not been possessed of the idea of returning to “their” land, none of this would have happened. God had led Mosiah and the righteous people out of that land in order to preserve them. The land was no more for the Nephites: they had lost it through their wickedness, just as they had lost Jerusalem. Their new land was for them, and there was plenty of room there for growth, in peace and in righteousness.

That old land had been surrendered in order to save the righteous that remained among the Nephites. There is no way to reclaim that land rightfully save through peace and mutual agreement. Anything short of that will equate to generations of conflict. the very idea of reclaiming the land through violence or without all parties operating in good faith was at variance with God’s plan to preserve the people. This Zeniff admits as much to as he describes how the wars with the Lamanites led him and his followers to repent – “we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.” He had been proud, now the wars and their cost in lives was humbling him.

In Mosiah 10, Zeniff continues his record. He attributes a long period of peace to his people’s strength in weapons. So, yes, his people do not have to fight a war for 22 years, but they also have to divert much of their production towards weaponry and fortifications and live in constant apprehension of a day when the Lamanites feel that the odds are back in their favor. This is a watchful, paranoid peace, not a prosperous one.

The Lamanites attack again when a new king ascends to the throne. In order to defend themselves, the Nephites under Zeniff are forced to call into service both the old and young men – pensioners and teenagers, in our understanding. That is the extent of their desperation, they must scrape the bottom of the barrel for any man that can stand and point a spear in the direction of the enemy, no matter how unprepared for war that man might be.

As Zeniff describes the Lamanites on the march against his people, he again resorts to negative stereotypes to describe them. I don’t think that these stereotypes absolve Zeniff of the grave mistake he made in leading his people to return to a land that was no longer theirs. His description of the past sounds like propaganda or reasoning to justify the rightness of the cause to reclaim their old homeland. While I agree with Zeniff’s summary in that, yes, Nephi was more righteous in keeping the commandments of God, I can’t extend the righteousness of Nephi to all of his descendants. Had that been possible, then there would have been no flight from the land of Nephi under Mosiah.

Zeniff ends his days free from Lamanite rulership, but not free from fear. He is more repentant and humble than in his younger days, but still he clings to ideas that are zealous and rigid. His people fought to retain their political independence, but would they have had to fight at all if they had remained among their fellows in the land of refuge that Mosiah had found?

And thus we see the fate of those who are austere and those who are zealous. God’s way is merciful and patient and long-suffering and peaceful.