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Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Guerrilla war in the Book of Mormon
Daniel Peterson's article in "The Newsletter of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies" 1989, Gadianton Robbers as Guerrilla Warriors, is (rightly) a classic of LDS apologetic. To quote the abstract:
Guerrilla warfare has become depressingly familiar to us from places like China, Nicaragua, Angola, Cuba, Korea, the Spanish Sahara, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Although guerrilla tactics have received much attention and achieved notable success in the socalled "Cold War," they are not really new. On the contrary, they can be identified in ancient times-and the Book of Mormon provides a particularly clear example of them. Daniel Peterson's insightful paper analyzes incidents from the book of Helaman and the first part of 3 Nephi in the light of the writings of Mao Tsetung,, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, and Vo Nguyen Giap, three of the most expert (and notorious) theoretician practitioners Of guerrilla warfare. He finds that the Book of Mormon, although published a full century before the earliest modern guerrilla experiments, describes the rise and fall of a Gadianton guerrilla campaign precisely along the lines that extensive modern experience would predict. How could a New York farm boy have made this up? Peterson asks.
Peterson later gave lectures on evidences for the BoM, in which he cited his work on the Gadianton campaign; here is one such.
Joseph Smith of course wrote the book in the late 1820s in a region not far removed in time and space from "Indian country"; however he himself was too young then to have known the "skulking way of war" in such detail himself. Peterson would like us to think that the Book of Mormon was real; otherwise we should take Smith as a precoscious military genius (which his subsequent career somewhat belies).
One possibility is that Smith was relying upon the works of previous military geniuses. The Greek-phoneme name "Lachoneus" appears in 3 Nephi 4; out of place for a group of Jews who had exiled themselves from the Near East back in 600 BC, when the Greeks were semi-barbarous hinterland folk whom few Jews would have distinguished from Carians and Latins, but not out of place for Jews still surviving in the Near East during the Hellenistic era. Two standout works of Jewish conflict in a then-Hellenistic region are the Book of Maccabees (100 BC) and Josephus's Jewish War (80 AD). Maccabees was certainly available to Smith in works of apocrypha; and Josephus if not to him directly than at least to his associate Sidney Rigdon, who was something of a bookworm.
The objection to this is that it would have taken Smith years of university-standard education to filter this into his book, not to mention the book's digressions on olive culture (in Jacob) and its fluency in Semitic idiom (passim).
It turns out, though, that someone may have done this before him. A certain Solomon Spalding, who preceded Smith, was well-educated in the classics, and made several attempts at writing books in which men from the classical Old World migrated into the New and then founded native American civilisations which collapsed prior to 1492 AD. One such book, now lost but witnessed by nearly the entire town of Conneaut, concerned exiles from the Jewish kingdom and was written in the style of the King James Bible.
If Smith seems tall, to paraphrase a better man than he, it is because he clambered up someone else's shoulders.
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