3 Nephi 3

 

The Lord Confirms the Covenant Way

      Alma 45 -- 3 Nephi 10


 

3 Nephi 3:1 Lachoneus, the Governor of the Land, Received an Epistle from the Leader and the Governor of This Band of Robbers:

 

     Terrance Szink comments that in our third chapter of Third Nephi, Mormon inserted a most unusual document--a letter written by Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers, to Lachoneus, the governor of the Nephites. This text is interesting because it is one of the few places in the Book of Mormon that provides a glimpse of the so-called "traditions of the fathers" that characterized the groups that opposed the Nephite nation. Another example of the presentation of the alternative tradition is the letter of Ammoron, a Lamanite king, to captain Moroni, written forty-seven years earlier and recorded in Alma 54. A comparison between the two is informative. In both letters there is a request for the surrender of the Nephites (Alma 54:18; 3 Nephi 3:6-7), although in the case of Giddianhi, it is more an invitation to Lachoneus to turn the people over to him and join with him in oppressing them. Both opponents claim that they have been wronged and that they have been unjustly deprived of their "rights of government." (Alma 54:17-18; 3 Nephi 3;10.) Both letters contain a rejection of God (Alma 54:21-22; 3 Nephi 3:2); and finally, both threaten destruction (Alma 54:20; 3 Nephi 3:3-4).

     The differences in the letters demonstrate that in the case of the Gadianton robbers, the Nephites were confronted with an enemy much more sophisticated and dangerous than any previous. Giddianhi's letter mentions oaths and describes his organization as a "secret society" whose works are of "ancient date." (3 Nephi 3:9).

     Another difference in the letters is the sophisticated tone of Giddianhi's message. He continually complimented Lachoneus, referring to him as "most noble," praising his "firmness" and his "noble spirit in the field of battle." He also claimed to be motivated by a feeling for the welfare of the Nephite leader.

     A final difference is in the title of the two leaders. Ammoron was the "king" of the Lamanites, while Giddianhi was the "governor of the secret society of Gadianton."

     The Gadianton band were a sophisticated and murderous group who were after both political and economic power. In his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, John L. Soresnon sees control of trade as both a primary motive and a fundamental tactic of the Gadianton robbers. (see pp. 300-309) [Terrence L. Szink, "A Just and a True Record," in Studies in Scripture: Book of Mormon, Part 2, p. 128]

 

3 Nephi 3:6 I Write unto You, Desiring That Ye Would Yield Up . . . Your Cities, Your Lands, and Your Possessions:

 

     Among Book of Mormon peoples, military commanders typically corresponded with each other before launching any attacks. For example, in 3 Nephi 3 we find the Gadianton leader, Giddianhi, writing to Lachoneus "desiring that [he] would yield up [his] cities, his lands, and [his] possessions" (3 Nephi 3:6). According to John Welch, this is not surprising because not only ancient custom, but also Israelite law, required parties to justify their conduct and to consider a peaceful resolution before resorting to mayhem. "When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee." If this offer were rejected, the Israelites could then besiege the city and totally destroy all its males. (Deuteronomy 20:10-13)

     This rule even applied in wars of national survival: "According to the Rabbis, the Biblical command that there must be a prior declaration of war, that a sneak attack like a 'Pearl Harbor' was forbidden, applies even to a war of obligation. Even a nation at war must take all possible steps to avoid the shedding of blood. . . . (see also D & C 98:23-48) [John W. Welch, "Law and War in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., p. 60]

 

3 Nephi 3:9 Behold, I Am Giddianhi:

 

     Lachoneus, the governor of the land, gets an epistle from the leader of the Gadianton band. He begins the epistle, "And behold, I am Giddianhi: and I am the governor of this secret society of Gadianton" (3 Nephi 3:9). Hugh Nibley notes that this leader of the secret society has a good name. Giddianhi is a pure Egyptian name; in fact, if you're going to write it in Reformed Egyptian, you would have a very easy time of it, to write Giddianhi. All you'd have to do is write that [Nibley makes a mark on the board]--that's Giddianhi. "The Lord is my life" is what it means. [Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 3, p. 292]

 

3 Nephi 3:9 Which Society and the Works Thereof I Know to Be Good; and They Are of Ancient Date and Have Been Handed Down unto us:

 

     Monte Nyman writes that in Moroni's abridgment of the book of Ether, which chronicles the history of the Jaredites, we find the daughter of Jared referring to "the record which our fathers brought across the great deep. Behold, is there not an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory?" (Ether 8:9). This record does not seem to be the same as the 24 plates of gold translated into what Moroni called the book of Ether (see Ether 1:2), although the first part of Ether does speak of the creation and the time from Adam to the great tower (Ether 1:3). Since the Jaredites kept records on metallic plates, it is possible that the record that the daughter of Jared spoke of is still in existence and will come forth and be translated at some future date. It is even possible that Giddianhi, the leader of the Gadianton robbers, had in mind some version of that record when he said that his secret society had information "of ancient date" that had been "handed down unto us" (3 Nephi 3:9). [Monte S. Nyman, "Other Ancient American Records Yet to Come Forth," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies , vol. 10, num. 1, 2001, p. 60] [See the commentary on Ether 8:9]

     Note* The reader should note that the history of the Jaredites (the book of Ether) concerns a people that predated the Nephites. However, the book of Ether is placed chronologically after the history of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon. That is, during the translation process (one time through with no major editing), the prophet Joseph Smith would be translating this incident involving Giddianhi in the book of 3 Nephi before he ever got around to translating the book of Ether. Such subtle mention of secret societies and their records would be yet another set of textual correlations that would require more literary abilities than one could expect had Joseph Smith made all this up. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

3 Nephi 3:9 I KNOW [This Secret Society and Their Works] to Be Good:

 

     In 3 Nephi 3:9 we find the following:

           And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us.

 

     According to Amy Hardison, covenants were written with a specific vocabulary. Inside the covenant context, certain words had official and legal meanings that sometimes differed from their normal, everyday use. For instance, to "know" means to be loyal to and to recognize the legitimate suzerain or lord with whom the covenant is being made, and to acknowledge the terms of a covenant as binding.100 To do good is to keep one's covenants.101 [Amy Blake Hardison, "Being a Covenant People," in Covenants Prophecies and Hymns of the Old Testament, p. 24]

     Note* What the reader should understand is that in using this word, Giddianhi is giving us a cultural clue that he has covenanted with Satan and his servants, he acknowledges Satan as his lord, and thus we know that Giddianhi's knowledge comes from the same source. In saying that the works are "good" Giddianhi also acknowledges that he has kept his covenants with the Devil. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

3 Nephi 3:10 I Hope That Ye Will Deliver Up Your Lands and Your Possessions, without the Shedding of Blood, That This My People May Recover Their Rights and Government:

 

     Karl von Clausewitz's great work Vom Kriege, or On War, has been the Bible of the military for 150 years. According to Hugh Nibley, the Book of Mormon reads as if it were written by a diligent student of this work.

     In this work, one of the principal maxims says the following: "The aggressor always pretends to be peace-loving because he would like to achieve his conquests without bloodshed . . . Therefore, aggression must be presented as a defensive reaction by the aggressor nation." Nobody ever attacks. You're always just on the defensive. After World War I, the German War Office, Kriegsamt, changed its name to Wehrmact, "defense power." We changed our War Office to the Department of Defense. We're just defensive now, that's all. Both sides must take the defensive position, whether they are aggressors or not. We see good examples in the Book of Mormon in the case of Giddianhi and Lachoneus. Giddianhi writes to Lachoneus, "We wouldn't bother you except you're infringing on our rights of government, our ancient society, which is old and venerable and you've been the aggressor against us." (cf. 3 Nephi 3:9-10). This is true, though since the loser must always submit to the winner, each side is always fighting for its freedom. . . . We have a Defense Department, if you please, all throughout the world. [Hugh Nibley, "Warfare in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare In The Book Of Mormon, pp. 129-130]

 

3 Nephi 3:12 Lachoneus . . . Could Not Be Frightened by the Demands . . . of a Robber:

 

     According to an article by Kelly Ward and John Welch, the legal distinctions between theft and robbery, especially under the laws of ancient Israel, have been analyzed thoroughly by Bernard S. Jackson, Professor of Law at the University of Kent-Canterbury and editor of Jewish Law Annual. He shows, for example, how robbers usually acted in organized groups rivaling local governments and attacking towns and how they swore oaths and extorted ransom, a menace worse than outright war. Thieves, however, were a much less serious threat to society.

     According to recent studies, the details of these ancient legal and linguistic distinctions are observable in the Book of Mormon. Here in the midst of describing actions against the Gadianton robbers, Joseph Smith the translator did not commit any errors by inserting the word "thieves" (see the word "robber" in 3 Nephi 3:12) that someone would if he were fabricating the story from an Anglo-American perspective. [Kelly Ward and John W. Welch, "Thieves and Robbers," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 248-249] [See the commentary on how Laban called the sons of Lehi "robbers" -- 1 Nephi 3:13]

 

3 Nephi 3:14 (Lachoneus) Caused That Armies, Both of the Nephites and of the Lamanites, or All of Them That Were Numbered among the Nephites:

 

     When the Gadianton robbers threatened Nephite society, apparently the Nephite governor Lachoneus called upon everyone under his jurisdiction ("all of them that were numbered among the Nephites"--3 Nephi 3:14) to gather together and to take up arms to defend themselves. This included those people of Lamanite lineage. These Lamanites were "all who had become converted unto the Lord and united with the Nephites (3 Nephi 2:12). Thus it seems that the "Lamanite" armies that fought the robbers were Lamanites living within Nephite boundaries, and who considered themselves politically numbered among the Nephites. In 3 Nephi 2:11 it is mentioned that the Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, "and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them." The robbers were made up at least in part of Nephite dissenters (3 Nephi 2:28) and "some Lamanites" who "were led away by some who were Zoramites, by their lyings and their flattering words" (3 Nephi 2:29). It seems clear that the reader should be careful to distinguish whether Mormon is referring to "lineage Lamanites" or "political Lamanites." This concept is brought out clearly after the war when Mormon refers to the robbers who had been defeated by the Nephites. He says that those robbers who desired to "remain Lamanites" were granted "lands according to their numbers" (3 Nephi 6:3). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

3 Nephi 3:18 The great commander of all the armies of the Nephites was . . . Gidgiddoni (Major Nephite Leaders) [Illustration]: The Major Leaders During Nephite History. [Church Educational System, Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121 and 122, 1989, p. 160]

 

3 Nephi 3:21 In the Center of Our Lands:

 

     Lachoneus proposes gathering "in the center of our lands" (3 Nephi 3:21), which by this time probably includes many lands in the land northward. Thus, the "center" of Nephite lands would have moved northward from the city of Zarahemla, which was referred to during the invasion of Coriantumr as "the heart" of Nephite lands (Helaman 1:18). [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

3 Nephi 3:22 Horses:

 

     According to John Sorenson, in 1895, Henry C. Mercer went to Yucatan hoping to find the remains of Ice Age man. He visited 29 caves in the hill area--the Puuc--of the peninsula and tried stratigraphic excavation in 10 of them. But the results were confused, and he came away disillusioned. He did find horse bones in three caves (Actun Sayab, Actun Lara, and Chektalen). In terms of their visible characteristics, those bones should have been classified as from the Pleistocene American horse species, then called Equus occidentalis L. However, Mercer decided that since the remains were near the surface, they must actually be from the modern horse, Equs equus, that the Spaniards had brought with them to the New World, and so he reported them as such.102 In 1947 Robert T. Hatt repeated Mercer's activities. He found within Actun Lara and one other cave more remains of the American horse (in his day it was called Equus conversidens), along with bones of other extinct animals. Hatt recommended that any future work concentrate on Loltun Cave, where abundant animal and cultural remains could be seen.103

     It took until 1977 before that recommendation bore fruit. Two Mexican archaeologists carried out a project that included complete survey of the complex system of subterranean cavities (made by underground water that had dissolved the subsurface limestone). They also did stratigraphic excavation in areas in the Loltun complex not previously visited. The pits they excavated revealed a sequence of 16 layers, which they numbered from surface downward. Bones of extinct animals (including mammoth) appear in the lowest layers.

     Pottery and other cultural materials were found in levels VII and above. But in some of those artifact-bearing strata there were horse bones, even in level II. A radiocarbon date for the beginning of VII turned out to be around 1800 B.C. The pottery fragments above that would place some portions in the range of at least 900-400 B.C. and possibly later. The report on this work concludes with the observation that "something went on here that is still difficult to explain."

     The statement was made that paleontologists would not be pleased at the idea that horses survived to such a late date as to be involved with civilized or near-civilized people whose remains are seen in the ceramic-using levels.104 Some archaeologists have even suggested that the horse bones were stirred upward from lower to higher levels by the action of tunneling rodents, however they admit that this explanation is not easy to accept. [John Sorenson, "Were Ancient Americans Familiar with Real Horses?," in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 10, num. 1, 2001, pp. 76-77] [See the commentary on Enos 1:21; Alma 18:9; Ether 9:19]

 

3 Nephi 3:22 Horses:

 

     Joseph Allen writes that within the last two years they have put on display in the Maya room of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, four horse bones discovered in the caves of Loltun near the Maya ruins of Uxmal in the Yucatan Peninsula. According to the curator of the Maya room, anthropologist Srta. Maria Cardoza, the dating of the bones has not been verified. They were discovered at about the same depth as Mayan pottery fragments which appear to date to the Classic period (A.D. 200 to A.D. 900). When asked the reason for placing the horse bones on display, Cardoza, a full blooded Mayan, matter of factly stated that the museum's objective was to represent the total picture of the ancient Mayan history. She also said that some of her colleagues were testing other kinds of animal markers such as hair that could be DNA tested. There seemed to be no question in her mind about horses existing in Mesoamerica prior to the conquest.

     As a personal and cultural note, Allen writes that the traditional status of the horse in Mexico is indeed heart rending. The cost of feeding horses is very expensive, therefore they typically must fend for themselves. During the rainy season they fare pretty well (June-October). However, in the dry season (February to May) they often look like they are nothing but skin and bones. "Having grown up around horses, it is almost more than I can take to see them starving alongside the railroad tracks or the highways." Thus, in theory, all that was needed was a few seasons without rain, sometime between A.D. 29 to A.D. 1500, and horses would have become extinct until reintroduced by the Spaniards. [Joseph L. Allen, "Horses" in The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. II, Issue VI, p. 1] [See the commentary on Enos 1:21; Alma 18:9; Ether 9:19]

 

3 Nephi 3:22 Horses (Illustration): A Photograph of Horse Bones in the Maya Room of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Discovered in the caves of Loltun near the Maya ruins of Uxmal in the Yucatan Peninsula. Found at the same depth as Classic period pottery fragments (A.D. 200 to A.D. 900). [Joseph L. Allen, "Horses" in The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest, Vol. II, Issue VI, p. 1]

 

3 Nephi 3:23 The Land Which Was Appointed:

 

     In "the seventeenth year, in the latter end of the year" (3 Nephi 3:22) a proclamation by the governor called all the people together to a place which was appointed in an attempt to overcome the Gadianton robbers.:

           "And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation" (3 Nephi 3:23).

           And there were a great many thousand people who were called Nephites, who did gather themselves together in this land. Now Lachoneus did cause that they should gather themselves together in the land southward, because of the great curse which was upon the land northward.

     At least by the "latter end of the eighteenth year" (Alma 4:1) when the robbers began to come down, the Nephites had gathered ("they did dwell in one land, and in one body"--Alma 3:24), they had fortified themselves (v. 25), and they had made weapons of war of every kind (v. 26), and they had sufficient numbers that they were able to overwhelm "tens of thousands" of the opposing army (Alma 4:21).

     One has to wonder as to the limits this account places on the total land areas occupied by the Nephites. In other words, the total land areas could not have been so large nor so far distant that many thousands of Nephite inhabitants could not be accommodated centrally in an area of limited dimensions within a short period of time. Even with excellent communication facilities, the short period of time of less than a year puts limits on the extent of the territory.

 

3 Nephi 3:23 The Land Which Was between the Land Zarahemla and the Land Bountiful:

 

     During these times of trouble with the Gadianton robbers, Lachoneus commanded his people to gather together. "The land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation. The italicized part of this verse was recently added to the revised editions of the Book of Mormon. Somehow it had been lost in previous editions. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

 

3 Nephi 3:23 To the Line Which Was between the Land Bountiful and the Land Desolation:

 

     In 3 Nephi 3:21-25, we find that the Nephites gathered to protect themselves from the Gadianton robbers:

           But Gidgiddoni [the commander of the Nephite armies] saith unto them [the Nephites]: . . . therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands. And it came to pass in the seventeenth year, in the latter end, the proclamation of Lachoneus had gone forth throughout all the face of the land, and they had taken their horses, and their chariots, and their cattle, and all their flocks, and their herds, and their grain, and all their substance, and did march forth by the thousands and by tens of thousands, until they had all gone forth to the place which had been appointed that they should gather themselves together. And the land which was appointed was the land of Zarahemla, and the land which was between the land Zarahemla and the land Bountiful, yea, to the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation. . . . And they did gather themselves together in the land southward, because of the great curse which was upon the land northward. And they did fortify themselves against their enemies; and they did dwell in one land, and in one body . . . (emphasis added)

 

     It is significant here that, for the second time in the text, reference is made to a distinct "line" between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation. We find the other reference in Alma 22:32-33:

           And now, it was only the distance of a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea; AND THUS the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward. . . . AND THUS the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward. (emphasis added)

 

     It is very interesting that if we place the Book of Mormon story in Sorenson's Mesoamerican setting, and if the "small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward" correlates in some manner (depending on the theory) with the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, then "the line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation " might represent the Coatzacoalcos River.

     Secondly, using this correlation, we find an answer to another requirement of the text. In the geographical description in Alma 22, Mormon says, "AND THUS the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water, there being a small neck of land between the land northward and the land southward." Most interpretations I have seen seem to connect this phrase only with a "west sea." an "east sea," and an isthmus ("small neck of land"). However, by including the "line" (or Coatzacoalcos River), Mormon's summarizing words, "AND THUS the land of Nephi and the land of Zarahemla were nearly surrounded by water," seem much more plausible.

     Thirdly, using this correlation, we find the answer to the final requirement of the text in Alma 22:33: "AND THUS the Nephites in their wisdom, with their guards and their armies, had hemmed in the Lamanites on the south, that thereby they should have no more possession on the north, that they might not overrun the land northward." A small neck of land running along the Pacific coast of Guatemala, turning north through the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and then turning northwest to parallel the Gulf of Mexico in the state of Veracruz has served as a primary corridor for travel and trade in Mesoamerica for millennia. Along this passageway lie numerous sites of fortification and natural defenses. By fortifying along this ancient trade route, the Nephites apparently blocked the Lamanites in the most complete and effective manner possible. The Book of Mormon geography student might contemplate the fact that while the 130 mile distance across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec appears too far for a Nephite to cover in "a day and a half's journey," the distance from the southernmost head ("from the east") of the Coatzacoalcos River to the shores of the Pacific Ocean (or "to the west sea"), would represent the maximum width of difficult fortification along this ancient trade route, and would be well within the given description of "a day and a half's journey for a Nephite, on the line Bountiful and the land Desolation, from the east to the west sea.". [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes] [See Geographical Theory Maps] [See the commentary on Alma 22:32; Helaman 4:5-7]

 

3 Nephi 3:23 The line which was between the land Bountiful and the land Desolation (Illustration): [According to John Sorenson] the position and nature of the Coatzacoalcos River qualifies it to have constituted "the land" that, practically and conceptually, marked the separation between the lands of Bountiful and Desolation (3 Nephi 3:23; see Alma 22:32). . . . [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 202]

 

3 Nephi 3:26 Bucklers:

 

     According to William Hamblin, although the Nephites were not the Maya, the Nephite arm-shields perhaps can be equated with Maya armor. There are numerous types of shields depicted in Maya art. One was a smaller round shield that was made of woven reeds or that was a wooden frame covered with animal skin and often profusely decorated with paint and feathers. De Landa, a sixteenth century Mesoamerican historian, describes them like this: "For defense they had shields made of split and woven reeds and covered with deer hide." The smaller round shield may correspond to the Book of Mormon "buckler" (3 Nephi 3:26). [William J. Hamblin, "Armor in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare in the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 414-415]