Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time


1596 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2007

 Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

Part 4 of 4

The thesis presented in this 4-part series has stood the test of time. It affirms that Nephite history is predictive, to one degree or another, of events yet to come in our time. Events and conditions that were once speculation on this author’s part nearly two decades ago in 1989, when Parallel Histories: The Nephites and the Americans was first published, have now become historic fact: The two histories mirror one another to a remarkable degree.

Lest the reader be inclined to minimize or dismiss the specific prognostic power of the parallel histories thesis, thinking that all these similarities are more hindsight than foresight and more rhetoric than fact, let’s consider the original exposition of this thesis in the context of world affairs at the time it was first published. 

Contrary to all expectations at that time, near the close of the Cold War when the national mindset was still America vs. Russia, U.S. vs. U.S.S.R., West vs. East, this author predicted, based on the parallel histories thesis, that hostilities between America and Russia would cease, that the old ‘us vs. them” state of affairs, which had endured for decades, would vanish.

Miraculously, it did, demonstrating the predictive power of the thesis, which is not due to any special ability of this author but rather to the foresight of ancient prophets.

Consider how predictive were this author’s words, written in 1988, regarding today’s reality.

“The modern equivalent of the Gadianton band should now be present if our time is, in fact, parallel to the period of Nephite history in question.  The question is, ‘Who are they?'” (Parallel Histories: The Nephites and The Americans, pp. 83-84.)

The predictive capacity of the parallel histories thesis made the answer to that question relatively easy.

“While the Gadianton robbers originated from within Nephite and Lamanite society, it may be that because of the wider scope of modern political interplay, today’s Gadianton robbers originate on the periphery of the East/West interchange.  The Gadianton robbers injected a third element into the duality that had existed in Nephite/Lamanite history up to that point.  So it is that they must also be a third party to East/West relations today.” (Ibid., p. 85.)

This assessment could not have been more accurate. Modern terrorism was born in the so-called Third World Nations.

“The Gadianton robbers were a secret combination, to be sure; but they were much more than that. Their first appearance in Nephite political problems was as a small conspiracy to take over the government. Assassination was one of their hallmarks. They were hard to attack because they hid in the wilderness or among the populace of cities where they mixed with the crowd. They surprised their victims by striking, seemingly, from nowhere-out of a crowd or out of the wilderness. After destroying an individual or a city, they disappeared again into the wilderness or into the crowd. They also kidnapped at will, taking hostages when it met their needs.” (Ibid.)

This characterization of the Gadianton robbers clearly anticipated their rebirth as terrorists in modern times. The next paragraph foreshadowed their appearance on the world stage in our day.

“As they grew in numbers, they became more overt in their action, waging war on Lamanite and Nephite cities.  Their strength was their ability to move within the existing political structures to further their ends, and at the same time they were an autonomous group capable of taking what they wanted by military force, if necessary.  Their stock in trade was fear.” (Ibid.)

“Where do we find such a group today?  What conspiratorial group forms today’s third column and finds asylum in sympathetic Third World countries?  What group routinely resorts to assassination, kidnapping and the holding of hostages?  Obviously these are the international terrorist groups, which match the description of the Gadianton band in every particular.  Their principal weapon is fear, and they have added a new wrinkle to their modus operandi: hijacking and bombing.” (Ibid., pp. 85, 86.)

Once again, the perspective proffered by the parallel histories thesis nearly three decades ago allowed an extremely accurate forecast of the origins and tactics of today’s terrorists.

However, the most chilling part of this Book of Mormon insight sounds like today’s headlines.

“Struggle as they might, the Nephites and the Lamanites were unable to defeat the Gadianton robbers for many years. That leaves the modern world with the disagreeable prospect of a prolonged struggle with international terrorism.

“The prospects that this bodes for our time are truly remarkable. Will terrorism grip the world to the extent that no one will be safe? Will terrorist action assume the dimensions of full-scale warfare? Will the West and the East be forced by the growth of worldwide terrorism to cooperate to such an extent that they will stand as one people against this new menace? That appears to be the implication of the parallel history thesis.” (Ibid., 86, 87.)

As this new conflict in our time drags out months and years from now, as it surely will, we would do well to keep the Nephite struggle with the Gadianton robbers clearly in mind by not letting ourselves become disheartened by the protracted nature of this struggle, nor should we allow dissention and contention to weaken our resolve.

This is the promise of the parallel histories: The Nephites successfully prosecuted this conflict in their day; it will surely be so in our time as well. Latter-day Saints should take heart, counsel and solace from the Nephite record, the Book of Mormon. 

 Our last consideration in this series has the most profound implications for our future – at the same time, both foreboding and inspiring. The last few chapters of Helaman and the entire book of 3 Nephi are those most likely to find equivalence in our time. Among many others, they depict:

  • The seemingly intractable Gadianton wars finally came to an end, but not until the Nephites/Lamanites mustered the will and the unity to adequately address the problem in a final, winner-take-all battle.
  • Samuel, a Lamanite, warned the Nephites and prophesied the signs of the Savior’s First Coming. While a few joined the church as a result of Samuel’s preaching, the greater part of the people disbelieved his message.
  • Even though the signs of the Savior’s birth occurred as predicted by Samuel, the greater part of the Nephites remained unrepentant and persecuted the faithful.
  • A political movement to replace the rule of judges (a republic) by that of a king (a monarchy) unraveled their nation, leaving the Nephites without a central government for the first time in their long history. Their nation degenerated into a collection of feudal clans or city-states, which agreed “that one tribe should not trespass against another.”
  • All that intrigue came to an abrupt halt when a great natural disaster struck, as Samuel had prophesied in painstaking detail, destroying cities and people en mass while entirely changing “the whole face of the land.”
  • The Savior came after the destruction and darkness subsided. He administered to the survivors of the catastrophe and taught them the gospel.
  • His coming ushered in a remarkable 200-year period of peace in the land and harmony among the people.

LDS prophetic tradition manifestly declares that our day and age will see a similar series of events: a cataclysmic destruction will befall us that will change the world so radically that we will see “a new heaven and a new earth;” the Savior will appear to the survivors in his Second Coming; and the Millennium, a new period of peace, safety and harmony, will be ushered in. One cannot help but notice this series of three events, yet to come, are virtually identical to the last three noted in Nephite history. Can that be mere coincidence?

Those predicted events and current events covered in previous installments in this series are all the more remarkable in that they serve to strengthen our thesis, leading us wonder how many other events in Nephite history may yet see fulfillment in our time.

Going down the bullet list above, many questions emerge.

Will our war on terror be a protracted struggle? Will the outcome be the same in our day as it was for the hapless Nephites?

Will we see a prophet come forth from a nation other than our own to call us to repentance and prophesy the proximity of the Second Coming? Will the faithful righteous in our day yet be persecuted by the greater populace, as were their Nephite counterparts – even though the signs of the Second Coming are apparent to all?

Can it be that political machinations in our day will produce a struggle to alter or replace our constitutional form of government? Will that struggle dissolve our union?

While only time can truly answer those questions, the equivalence between the two histories pointed out in this series strongly suggests that Latter-day Saints have an obligation to study the Book of Mormon more carefully than they have done heretofore for answers to the dilemmas we face as our future unfolds.

In the give and take of national and international debate, if the rhetoric of politicians and pundits seems confusing, if it seems unclear what or who to believe regarding today’s terrorism and how to deal with it effectively, the Nephite story gives us an accurate and enlightening, prophets’ perspective of where our loyalties and efforts should lie and what we may expect in the ensuing months and years.

In that regard, the Book of Mormon is truly a roadmap or guide for our times in more specific ways than many heretofore envisioned.  We would be well advised to pay heed to its message to us.

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time


1,532 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2007

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

Part 3 of 4

The true predictive power of the Nephite record becomes apparent as we focus on the period of time recorded near the end of Helaman and move forward into 3 Nephi. As we do so, we find that their history reads like our recent newspaper headlines.

The many stunning similarities between Nephite and American history now include the advent of institutionalized terrorism. Their war with the Gadianton robbers plunged the Nephites into a new kind of battle for freedom, just as has happened in our recent history.

Gone were the old struggles between two historic enemies-the Nephites and the Lamanites in Helaman’s time, the East and the West in our time. The Gadianton robbers, like today’s terrorist counterparts, were an entirely new element – a third column, if you will – that fought an entirely new kind of war against both sides.

The modern terrorists are easily recognizable in the reflection of the robbers.

“And they [the Gadianton robbers] did commit murder and plunder; and then they would retreat back into the mountains, and into the wilderness and secret places, hiding themselves that they could not be discovered, receiving daily an addition to their numbers, inasmuch as there were dissenters that went forth unto them.” (Helaman 11:25.)

As with the terrorists in our time, the Gadianton robbers had no formal government with which the Nephites or Lamanites could negotiate, nor were they located in a country with recognizable borders. Instead, they sought refuge in “the mountains,” “wilderness” areas and “secret places,” just as do today’s terrorists.

In their time, as in ours, things went from bad to worse in short order.

“And thus in time, yea, even in the space of not many years, they became an exceedingly great band of robbers …

“Now behold, these robbers did make great havoc, yea, even great destruction among the people of Nephi, and also among the people of the Lamanites.” (Helaman 11:26, 27.)

The destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001 certainly qualifies as “great destruction” by terrorists in our time. Also evident in this verse is the fact that, as in Book of Mormon times, our recent history consists of nations that once divided themselves into two camps – East and West – both on the receiving end of terrorist tactics, which include threats, destruction and warfare.

So, we took the initiative, just as our Nephite cousins did.

“And it came to pass that it was expedient that there should be a stop put to this work of destruction; therefore they [the Nephites] sent an army of strong men into the wilderness and upon the mountains to search out this band of robbers, and to destroy them.” (Helaman 11:28.)

Americans, united in their resolve to defeat terrorism in the wake of 9/11, sent armies into “the wilderness” and “upon the mountains” of Afghanistan and Iraq in order to put a “stop” to the terrorists’ “work of destruction.”

But just as happened in Nephite times, our war against terror has not gone all that well. These and the following verses could be torn from our recent headlines!

“But behold, it came to pass that in that same year they were driven back even into their own lands …

“[In the next year] they did go forth again against this band of robbers, and did destroy many; and they were also visited with much destruction.” (Helaman 11:30.)

As often as we launch initiatives against the terrorists, they strike back with numerous attacks as in Spain, England and Russia, for example.

“And they were again obliged to return out of the wilderness and out of the mountains unto their own lands, because of the exceeding greatness of the numbers of those robbers who infested the mountains and the wilderness.” (Helaman 11:31.)

The equivalence in these verses brings us right up to our present, where our struggle against the terrorists has bogged down, necessitating a “surge” of more troops.

“… And the robbers did still increase and wax strong insomuch that they did defy the whole armies of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites; and they did cause great fear to come upon the people upon all the face of the land.” (Helaman 11:32.)

That terrorist-instigated death, destruction and kidnapping in our time has had the same effect is beyond dispute.

“Yea, for they did visit many parts of the land, and did do great destruction unto them; yea, did kill many, and did carry away others captive into the wilderness ….” (Helaman 11:33.)

The Nephite record gives the name of the Gadianton robbers’ leader as Giddianhi.  Terrorism also has a name in our time: Osama bin Laden.  The Nephites called their nemesis the Gadianton robbers. In our complex world they are known by several names: the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hezsbollah and Hamas, to name only a few.

The bad news for us, because we could suffer the same fate, is that no Nephite army could prevail against the robbers.

“For so strong were their holds and their secret places that the people could not overpower them; therefore they did commit many murders, and did do much slaughter among the people.

“… the Nephites were threatened with utter destruction because of this war, which had become exceedingly sore.” (3 Nephi 1:27.)

We, in our time, are faced with an equally intractable foe and a prolonged struggle to free ourselves of such intimidation and violence, to defeat an enemy who has sworn our “utter destruction.”

It is unlikely that events in our time will play out exactly like those of Nephite times.  Still, the similarities are striking and well worth keeping in mind because they give us a cognitive lens that we can use to bring into focus the events of our time.

Eventually the toll taken by Gadianton terrorism became so great that two historical enemies, the Nephites and the Lamanites, combined efforts to eradicate their common foe.

“… the Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, 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.”  (3 Nephi 2:11)

The implication of the parallel histories thesis is that much the same thing will happen in our time.

The struggle in Nephite times drug on for years and was a painful, prolonged affair that seemed impervious to solution. To make things worse, the Nephites and their leaders apparently argued among themselves about how to defeat this powerful enemy.

“And in the fifteenth year they [the robbers] did come forth against the people of Nephi; and because of the wickedness of the people of Nephi, and their many contentions and dissensions, the Gadianton robbers did gain many advantages over them. (3 Nephi 2:18, italics added.)

The problem may be equally difficult in our time.

Battle after battle, the Nephites could not prevail over the robbers until their leader, governor Lachoneus, hit upon a remarkable if not extreme solution.

“Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and the children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place.

“And he caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great.  And he caused that armies … should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night.” (3 Nephi 3:13,14.)

Then, Lachoneus appointed a “chief captain” of the armies, named Gidgiddoni, who implemented the final steps in the stratagem to draw the Gadianton robbers out of hiding, making them vulnerable.

“… we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us ….” (3 Nephi 3:21.)

We may yet be forced to adopt draconian measures, as the Nephites did, to defeat this enemy. Recall that every attempt to bring the robbers to justice met with failure until the Nephites hit upon a seemingly harsh and radical strategy as enunciated by Lachoneus and Gidgiddoni. After two pitched battles, one of which was the greatest known to that point in Nephite history, the Gadianton robbers were finally annihilated.

The Nephites’ success over terrorism is heartening, but their prolonged struggle portends the same for us. It suggests that we will overcome terrorism in our time, too, but not without tremendous sacrifice.

Make no mistake. This eventuality, too, will play out in our time much like it did in Nephite times. We are not carbon copies, but we are unmistakable reflections.

This comparison also makes an open-and-shut case for the theory that the Book of Mormon is as much prophecy as history. We and our Nephite cousins are nearly indistinguishable. Therefore, the history of one becomes the prophecy of the other.

No wonder Mormon felt compelled to write his marvelous book. In his place, any of us who love the gospel and the work would want to do the same.

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time


1,279 words

© Anthony E. Larson, 2007

Nephite History: A Harbinger For Our Time

Part 2 of 4

Mormon, as the author of the Book of Mormon, was in a truly unique position. He had an intimate knowledge of two cultures that were widely separated in time yet shared the same general geographic location: the Americans and the Nephites. He was a historian and a prophet – a historian because he had custody of the plates that recorded all Nephite history, a prophet because he had been shown the future when people he called “Gentiles” would inhabit the western hemisphere.

This uncommon status allowed him to clearly see the many, striking similarities between Nephite and American histories.

Put yourself in Mormon’s place.

  • You have a detailed knowledge of both nations, both the Nephites and the Americans (Gentiles). You have read and re-read all the history of your people – about 1,000 years of history – thus giving you an intimate knowledge of their doings.
  • You have also read that portion of the plates that is “sealed,” which contains the visionary accounts of the future time of the Gentiles and the latter days.
  • In addition, you have been treated to your own, personal vision of the Gentiles – rather like having a spiritual time machine – which has undoubtedly made an indelible impression on you.

Thus, even though the Gentile nations will not blossom in the New World for over 1,000 years you know their ‘history’ (futurity) as perfectly as you know Nephite history.

Given God’s charge to you, Mormon, to write a history of your people that will come forth to the Gentiles in the latter days, you have a unique, momentous calling. It will give you the power to speak to generations yet unborn, a golden opportunity to communicate with perhaps millions of souls across the centuries.

What would you do? How would you let the Gentiles know of events and characters to come? Would you not want to warn them to tell them of each event or circumstance and how to react to it or avoid it altogether?

But, wait a minute! The Spirit reminds you of this fundamental rule of prophecy: You may not make the facts too plain; that would detract from the free agency of future generations. Remember that Nephi was prohibited from plainly listing coming events. “And behold, I Nephi, am forbidden that I should write the remainder of the things which I saw and heard.” (1 Nephi 14:28.) Therefore you realize that you may write only a history of your people.

Still, there may be a way that you, Mormon, can warn the Gentiles without violating the Spirit’s directive. You know that there are remarkable likenesses – parallels, if you will – between the two cultures, Nephite and Gentile. Indeed, you realize that by judiciously tailoring your record of Nephite history, the parallels to Gentile history become obvious. Thus, this history you write will also be prophetic!

So, it appears that Mormon deliberately prepared the book that carries his name to depict similarities between events and conditions in Nephite history and our own. Thus, with some careful study and prayer, it should become quite clear to any student of the Book of Mormon that it is also a rough outline of our day and time.

Let’s turn our attention to Nephite history to compare it with the corresponding era in recent world history. We focus on the episodes depicted in the fourth chapter of Helaman, which cover the 8-year period from 38 B.C to 30 B.C. Therein we see foreshadowed the conditions and events our world experienced in the mid-19th century, roughly corresponding to our 51-year period from 1938 to 1989 we call the Second World War and the Cold War.

Comparing their 8-year period to our 51-year period serves to show that our timelines are typically more expansive. It’s like looking through a magnifying glass: We see their history as a microcosm of our own.

That expansiveness is evident on many levels. In this example, not only does their timeline span a shorter period than does ours, their setting is much less complex than our own. Also, their events were based in a restricted geographical area, where ours cover the entire globe.

Beginning when Nephi, the son of Helaman, took his father’s judgment seat, we learn of a great war.

“And in the fifty and seventh year they [the Lamanites] did come down against the Nephites to battle, and they did commence the work of death: yea, insomuch that in the fifty and eighth year of the reign of the judges they succeeded in obtaining possession of the land of Zarahemla; yea, and also all the lands, even unto the land which was near the land Bountiful.

“And because of this their great wickedness, and their boastings in their won strength, they [the Nephites] were left in their own strength; therefore they did not prosper, but were afflicted and smitten and driven before the Lamanites, until they had lost possession of almost all their lands.” (Helaman 4:5, 13.)

This conflict was unique in that the Lamanites came against the Nephites unexpectedly and with such sudden, overwhelming force that they managed to take the Nephite heartland, including the ancient capital, Zarahemla, as they drove the fleeing Nephites northward. Only the natural defenses provided by the narrow neck of land separating the North and South territories finally allowed the Nephites to consolidate their forces enough to halt the advance of the Lamanite armies. It was also that narrow neck of land that became their base of operation for the Nephites as their armies struggled to retake their land from the Lamanites.

Our version of the parallel began about 68 years ago when the Axis powers made a sudden, astonishing push across Europe. Called the Blitzkrieg by Germans, it took the world by surprise, engulfing country after country until the Nazis had captured most of Central Europe. Their seemingly unstoppable assault was halted on the western warfront only by the geographical barrier of Europe’s westernmost coastline.

Their next objective was England. But that tiny island, isolated from the mainland by the channel, became a geographical and tactical hurdle that the Third Reich could not surmount. Thus, the tiny island nation, Great Britain, became the base of operations for the Allies as they battled to retake Europe.

The resemblances are uncanny:

  • In both histories, the ‘good guys’ lost the heartland of a continent to a surprise, lightening-swift offensive by the ‘bad guys’.
  • The bad guys’ offensive in each case was stalled at a unique and fortuitous geographical feature.
  • That feature then became the base of operations for the good guys, from which they launched a counter-offensive to retake their lost lands.
  • Both histories record a prolonged struggle to regain lost territory.
  • In that effort, the bad guys proved to be too strong for the good guys, who settled for only half of their original homelands, leaving the rest in the hands of their enemies.
  • In both histories, a highly fortified line – North and South in Nephite history, West and East in our Cold War – was drawn across the former heartland at the stalemate point between two standing armies.

These similarities make it obvious that we have behaved very much like the Nephites. We fought a similar war with remarkably similar outcomes. The geopolitical structure of our mid-to-late 19th century world matched theirs.

Indeed, it can be said that our recent history very closely parallels that of the Nephites, firmly supporting the overarching parallels that span the entire history of both cultures. This allows us to assume that the two histories are strikingly similar in very specific instances, begging the question: What else can we learn about our time by reading Helaman’s account?