Bill Russell: Nephi is Dangerous

April 23, 2012

The following comments were recorded at the 1993 Sunstone Symposium.  Bill Russell spoke on the recurring theme as Sunstone called “The Pillars of my Faith”. He is a past president of the Mormon History Association.  I don’t know who introduced him, but this is what the person said when he introduced Bill Russell.

Introduction, “William D. Russell is a professor of American History and Government at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.  He received his B.A. in Religion from Graceland College.  He has his J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law, and he says he has about 70 hours of graduate study in history in St. Paul in the University of Iowa.  He has published a book, Treasures in Earthen Vessels, an Introduction to the New Testament and he tells me that he was given the True Believer Comeback of the Year Award by the John Whitmer Historical Association in 1985 for affirming the Book of Mormon as legitimate scripture shortly after advocating that the RLDS Church quit publishing the Doctrine and Covenants.  He is also a runner and has run 25 marathons including the LA and the Boston Marathon.”

The whole speech is interesting, and I will probably post the whole transcript in the future.  But Bill spoke about a very interesting topic concerning the story of Nephi and Laban.  Before we get to I thought I would give a few of Bill’s opening remarks.

I’ve been a regular attender of the Mormon History Association since 1971 and in those early meetings I met Dick Paul and Leonard Arrington, Mel Smith and a number of others here tonight. In 1984, some of my Mormon History friends suggested I ought to come to Sunstone, and so I wandered out here in 1984 and I think I met Catherine for the first time that year, and I can’t stay away ever since.  Often I’m the only RLDS person here, so I just wanted to assure you that being the case you might think that I am some sort of official spokesman for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I assure you, you can be confident that I don’t speak for any of the general officers of the Church, be they high or low, standing, sitting, or prone. [audience chuckles]

So, I want to make it clear that Bill is not a spokesman for the RLDS Church (now known as the Community of Christ.)  He had a very provocative perspective on the story of Nephi, and I wanted to see what you thought of his beliefs about the story.

So travelling down this path, I began to see that Joseph Smith was in real trouble, at least for me, not that he was worried.  [audience chuckles]  Joseph committed Mormonism to positions at odds with biblical and historical scholarship.  Joseph regarded the scriptures as true, insofar as correctly translated.  I discovered the problem usually wasn’t with the translation, or the transmission process, the problem usually was right there in the originals, and I also came to view the Book of Mormon as fiction, but felt it deserved it’s place in the canon of scriptures (that’s why I got that True Believers award), because it’s the founding document of Mormonism, and because it also has inspired many people to do good.  But my recent experience writing a book on the 1989 mass murder in Kirtland, Ohio by an RLDS splinter prophet has made me aware that the Book of Mormon has also inspired men to do evil.

Jeff Lundgren studied the scriptures diligently, and considered the Book of Mormon the most important of the standard works, the fullness.  He learned the love of guns from his father, and he was fascinated by the violence of the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament.  He quoted over and over again the various passages from the Book of Mormon which warned, ‘Repent or be destroyed.’  He gathered devout Latter-day Saints who wanted to build Zion and see the return of Christ.  He wanted to have faith like the Brother of Jared, faith so strong they would be able to see and feel Christ.  If they could produce a community of saints who had repented of their sins, Christ would return and Zion would be established.

But the five members of the Avery family were hopelessly unrepentant, so they had to be destroyed.  Jeff loved the story of Nephi beheading Laban, and stealing Laban’s treasures.  That story contains two of the most horrible passages in the standard works, indeed, two of the most dreadful lines ever written:  “Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes.’  ‘It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.’

The first sentence is a great justification for holy war.  The second sentence would serve quite well as a justification for the inquisition.  Neither passage can be condemned strongly enough. Incredibly we quote these sentences with approval, in my church anyway, and I suspect in yours.  By doing so, we place terrible ideas  in the minds of our members.  We abdicate our responsibility to provide moral leadership in our churches if we fail to condemn ideas like that.  I don’t care where they are found.  Don’t ask me to flush my brain down the toilet, or ignore my moral values just because I’m reading the scriptures.  And I’m confident of this: the jury that I observed in Painesville, Ohio would have sentenced Nephi to death for murder and robbery just as surely as they sentenced Jeff Lundgren to the electric chair.  I see no real difference in the two cases.  I’ve come to the very strong opinion that the Church has an affirmative duty to warn its members of the existence of extremely dangerous ideas in the pages of the standard works such as murder in the name of God, sexism, racism, and so forth.  Perhaps Deseret Books and Herald House should place warning labels on the standard works.  [audience chuckles]  Some passages contained herein can be harmful to your health.  Maybe we should register Bibles rather than guns.

What do you think of Russell’s take on the story of Nephi and Laban?  Is it really better for one man to perish than for a nation to dwindle in unbelief?

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97 Responses to Bill Russell: Nephi is Dangerous

  1. GBSmith on April 23, 2012 at 6:27 AM

    “Under the Banner of Heaven” gives other examples of what happens when someone takes that small extra step. We can say in our minds that we would never go along with that but it’s happened multiple times and likely will in the future.

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  2. Mike S on April 23, 2012 at 6:39 AM

    My Primary class loved it when I introduced the Book of Mormon is modern terms. I explained that just in the first book, we were going to talk about people who left everything and went camping, about someone who wanted something someone else had so murdered him and cut off his head, about robbery and taking someone else’s things (both ways), about kidnapping to cover their tracks, about going back to get girl friends, etc. They were enthralled and asked if that was really in the Book of Mormon.

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  3. Bob on April 23, 2012 at 8:47 AM

    ” Is it really better for one man to perish than for a nation to dwindle in unbelief”?
    I think for today, the question is: It’s better for leaders not to tell the whole truth than for the Church to dwindle in disbelief?

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  4. Blake on April 23, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Imagine if Nephi had cleaned Laban up and helped him safely home. Then the next day shows up at Laban’s door, Laban recognizing his benefactor has his heart softned and consents to allowing Nephi take the records.
    Now that would be a Christ-like story.

    A God who commands murder is not a god worthy of worship. Just my opinion.

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  5. GBSmith on April 23, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    The tricky thing is being in a religion where the expectation is that you will receive revelation and that if worthy enough to receive it you’ll act on it. But where is the limit? It’s not really written anythere that we’re to follow the Spirit up to a certain point and then not because maybe it wasn’t the Spirit if you’re being told to do X of Y. If you’re taught to reason out what the Spirit is telling you, that might work but it’s sometimes the case that we put reason and faith at odds with each other.

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  6. Kevin Christensen on April 23, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    I always thought it dangerous and misleading to establish general principles from exceptional circumstances. Neither Nephi’s encounter with Laban, nor Jeff Lundgren’s murderous rationalizations, represent general circumstances. Both represent exceptions. “Thou shalt not kill” is a very explicit general principle found in the Book of Mormon. There are also several principles set forth by which a person can distinguish a true prophet from a false one.

    Could we say, as a general principle, that God would never transfer an unruly, disruptive, bullying student to another classroom. Is this a valid general principle?

    I personally found Gene England (bringing in Rene Girard, John Welch (bringing in the legal context, including the near contemporary example for Nephi of a king given over to the Babylonians to save the people on ground that better to give him over than for the people to perish) Hugh Nibley (the famous “Why did Nephi wait so long?” students), and Todd Harris in JBMS 6/1 (“The Journey of the Hero,” which invokes Joseph Campbell)
    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=6&num=2&id=146
    much more enlightening and far more helpful than Bill Russell’s talk.

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  7. Will on April 23, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    I think it is one of the most relevant and important scriptures in the Book of Mormon and is best illustrated in the overall path taken by the Nephites and the Lamanites. The main distinction between the two was one group had and followed the ‘plates of brass’ while the other group ‘dwindled in unbelief’ and became a dark, fifthly and loathsome people. They deviated and drifted as they lost their spiritual focus. The scriptures really do provide focus and direction. This is the real issue. Clearly, it is better that one should perish that a whole nation.

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  8. FireTag on April 23, 2012 at 5:03 PM

    “Is it really better for one man to perish than for a nation to dwindle in unbelief?”

    Yes. It’s better to kill the one man, if the alternative is for a nation to lose its soul. Even if one ignores the hereafter and adopts a purely humanist interpretation, when nations dwindle in humanity, lots of people tend to end up dead. Witness 1940’s Germany or 2012’s Syria.

    The trick, of course, is being able to listen to the Spirit well enough to know if those are really the two choices with which we are presented.

    The “sparing Laban and being rewarded the next day” story is, in fact, the opposite of a “Christian” story. If you stop to think about it, the story of Christ is the story of how many of us will, in fact, crucify our benefactors.

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  9. Mike S on April 23, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    #7 Will: Clearly, it is better that one should perish that a whole nation.

    I understand this concept. I have taught this concept. But I have never been comfortable with the idea that the best way God could provide “scriptures” was through having Nephi commit murder, thievery, and kidnapping to cover up the crime.

    I much prefer Blake’s comment. I am much more attracted to stories of a buddha in a previous life who came across a lion who could not feed her cubs. He lay down and gave his life for her as food. I am more attracted to peace and turning the other cheek and having God provide – not through murder and theft and kidnapping, but through other means.

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  10. Will on April 23, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    Mike S,

    I think Blake’s comments are somewhat of a fairy tale. Sometimes people are so hardened and full of evil the only way to stop them is through brute force. We all wish a cup of tea and a civil conversation would solve these problems, but it is just does not happen this way in reality. Along these lines, it is impossible for God to commit murder. God is the giver of life and it is his decision when one has exhausted their mortal probation. He can decide when it is time to end their mortal live and can conclude any further time on earth will have no bearing on their eternal destiny. Thus, he can take someone through disease, accident or via a sword through his command.

    When my mother was on her death bed she was so lost mentally, it wouldn’t have mattered if she had lived for a year or ten more years. In my judgment she was no longer responsible for her decisions; thus, it didn’t matter if she died then or lived for another year. She was mentally dead. Some people are spiritually dead and it doesn’t matter if they die now or a year from now, they are still spiritually dead. What difference does it make if they continue this mortal probation? I think God takes some of them out of compassion, not out of justice or vengeance. This is how we should view this story IMO.

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  11. Will on April 23, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    Firetag,

    Great comment….

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  12. Bob on April 23, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    #8: FireTag,
    How ’bout 2?
    How ’bout 20?
    How ’bout 20,000?
    Whers’s your line?

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  13. Stephen M (Ethesis) on April 23, 2012 at 6:51 PM

    Bob, it took about six million German deaths to stop the Nazis — and 25 million Russian deaths. So, 31 million is just a starting bid.

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  14. FireTag on April 23, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    Bob:

    Whatever number I can, to the best of my human ability, estimate as the one that MINIMIZES the carnage among the innocent. People who die through my INACTIONS are exactly as dead as people who die through my ACTIONS.

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  15. Blake on April 23, 2012 at 7:13 PM

    This story is not about nations dwindling in unbelief. That is a dodge.

    This story is about God delivering Laban into Nephi’s hands and telling him to kill. There are countless ways God could have avoided that. This story is about obedience and how far you will go if you are doing it for God.

    There are certainly times when taking a life is justified. ‘God told me to’ should never be one of them.

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  16. Mike S on April 23, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    #15 Blake: This story is about obedience and how far you will go if you are doing it for God.

    This is the essence of the story. I like to think about what it would take for ME to cut off someone’s head and steal their property, and feel justified about it.

    Would a “strong feeling” be enough? I have strong feelings about a lot of things – many of which have ultimately proven to be right, but others which have been proven to be wrong. I have heard blessings of health based on “strong feelings” where the person died. What would this actually entail?

    How about “hearing a voice”? Many people heard voices commanding them to do different things. We have women who kill their own children because they felt “God told them to”. We have men who kill because they also heard voices that “God told them too”. Medically, we consider these people to be schizophrenic. But how do we know they AREN’T really hearing God’s voice? How would I know myself?

    And how about an angel? What if an angel appeared to me and said to “chop off this guy’s head and steal his property”? Would I immediately obey, or would I think I was being deceived? And what if someone killed your significant other tomorrow – would it be ok if they said that an angel told them to? Would YOU accept it?

    In considering this, I can’t think of a way that my mind would consider killing some drunk in the street. Perhaps I am too logical. Perhaps I lack faith. But if I heard a voice that said, “Shoot this drunk lying in the street and go to his house and steal his whatever, because it is better that you and your offspring have it than him”, I think my first move would be to check myself into a hospital. I really do.

    Are there any modern (ie. last 100 years or so) examples of people who have claimed to have “killed for God” who anyone here thinks is sane and actually “killed for God”, or would you consider them a bit “off”? Any example at all? (Besides terrorists…)

    And if not, other than in retrospect from 2600+ years later, how would we consider this any different? What would it take for YOU to “kill for God”?

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  17. Will on April 23, 2012 at 7:55 PM

    Blake,

    Not only do I believe God delivered Laban into Nephi’s hands to be slaughtered, but I believe he has done it in our modern day. I firmly believe he delivered Japan and Germany into our hands. The fruits of this action have been lasting peace between the US and these nations for 6 decades.

    He is a God of justice as much as a God of mercy. After all, he killed a 1/3 of the host of heaven in the pre-earth battle. Their fate is far worse than Laban or those that died as a result of the atomic bomb. The latter have a chance at eternal progression and those that were slaughtered in the pre-existence don’t.

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  18. Will on April 23, 2012 at 8:01 PM

    Mike s,

    By their fruit shall ye know them. In the modern example I provided it resulted in lasting peace. Clearly of God.

    The terrorists that took the name of God in vain and used it to kill 3,000 Americans created more havoc. It resulted in war and more bloodshed. Clearly of lucifer.

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  19. Bob on April 23, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    #13:Stephen M (Ethesis),
    I can ‘understand’ 6 Million Germans,(Not really). But why 25 million Russian deaths? What had they done wrong? Was the world made a better place by their deaths, or a worse one?
    #14: FireTag,
    All people die. I am only accountable for those who died because of me.

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  20. Stephen Marsh on April 23, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    Mike S — the story is about someone who had Nephi’s property, would not turn it over as was his duty, attempted to kill Nephi and stole more of his property and then encountered Nephi … slightly different story.

    Bob, it took 25 million Russian deaths to stop the Nazis. They had done nothing wrong.

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  21. Jared on April 23, 2012 at 8:49 PM

    I don’t entirely understand why those who lived before Christ were given a different standard about life than those who lived after the Savior’s life on earth.

    The Lord dealt with people differently in Law of Moses times and that accounts for Nephi’s instructions to kill.

    If the same events came about after Christ, I would think the Lord would have handled it differently.

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  22. Mike S on April 23, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    #18 Will:

    I think it’s a matter of perspective. Consider things from a non-American point-of-view:

    – America exports its degrading movies, media, and influence throughout the world

    – America exploits the Middle East for oil, effectively supporting regimes who sell the oil to make themselves rich, not necessarily helping their own people

    – Holy scripture and prophets suggest that America (and other non-Muslims) are infidels. The idea of jihad is supported – echoes of “The Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth His holy purposes”

    – The “creation of more havoc” was the Great Satan invading countries in the Middle East to try to preserve their oil supplies. The US doesn’t invade countries in Africa to get rid of “bad leaders”. The US doesn’t invade other countries that don’t have the same resources.

    – The US carries out assassinations in Pakistan and other countries of people with whom they disagree.

    This all points to the United States fighting the people of Allah. Ultimately, Allah’s people will prevail.

    —-

    Again, not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing with you, but your perspective is necessarily colored by the fact of your birth country. It is certainly easy to make the same argument in the converse. We have certainly killed more people in Muslim countries than they have in ours.

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  23. Bob on April 23, 2012 at 9:12 PM

    #20:Stephen Marsh,
    The Russian Winter stopped the Nazis, not he death of 25 million Russians. Most of Russians were just victims.

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  24. Michelle on April 23, 2012 at 9:39 PM

    @Will- The work of atomic bombs on the heads of civilians delivered Japan and Germany into our hands.

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  25. FireTag on April 23, 2012 at 10:41 PM

    Bob:

    Here is our fundamental disagreement: I do not accept the principle that only ACTIONS bring responsibility; I believe that EVEN IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE brings responsibility.

    Michelle:

    Russian tanks at places like Kursk delivered Germans into our hands. And Midway is a battle America should never have won, and therefore we might have been so busy defending our Pacific Coast that Hitler got the A-bomb first.

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  26. Will on April 23, 2012 at 11:04 PM

    “@Will- The work of atomic bombs on the heads of civilians delivered Japan and Germany into our hands.”

    Exactly, and the process of developing and implementing the bomb is a fascinating story. The Germans had the clear edge in this process, but we miraculously came out on top. IMO there is now way the US should have won this when you look at it from a military prospective. The Germans and the Japanese were far more advanced then we were in military technology. Without the help of God, there is no way we would have come out on top.

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  27. Bob on April 24, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    #25: FireTag,
    I guess I would have to understand more your term ‘EVEN IMPERFECT KNOWLEDGE’. But, to me, that’s some kind of Mormonish work-around(?)
    To me, the German war machine and the Japanese War machine just failed in logistics. (Read Albert Speer).
    Hitler considered the the A-Bomb “Jewish physics”, and would have none of it.
    #26:Will,
    I can’t think of anything the Japanese were not behind the US in military technology__fron the single shot rifle, to the ‘Zero’ plane.
    I don’t believe God takes sides in War.

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  28. Mike S on April 24, 2012 at 8:07 AM

    #20 Stephen: the story is about someone who had Nephi’s property, would not turn it over as was his duty…

    I have heard this explanation as well. I think this is reading a lot into the verses in 1 Nephi 3. All the Book of Mormon says is that the plates contained the genealogy of Lehi’s fathers. Nowhere does it say that they were actually his possession that Laban “illegally” had.

    In my opinion, this is an unsupported apologetic argument so the story told in 1 Nephi doesn’t seem as repulsive to our modern sensibilities.

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  29. Mike S on April 24, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    #26 Will: The Germans had the clear edge in this process, but we miraculously came out on top.

    They had the clear edge in the process, until the persecuted their top physicists, who then fled to the United States.

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  30. Will on April 24, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    “They had the clear edge in the process, until the persecuted their top physicists, who then fled to the United States’

    Exactly. The whole process was amazing. We should not have won, but did due to devine guidence.

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  31. Bob on April 24, 2012 at 8:46 AM

    #30: Will,
    So the killing of six million Jews was “devine guidence”?
    This was the reason “their top physicists (Jews), fled to the United States”, and built the A-Bomb here and not there.

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  32. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    Suppose Will is right, Laban was “spiritually dead,” and it was better for (1) Laban to die, and (2) Nephi to commit what would now be considered burglary, armed robbery, and kidnapping. Here’s the problem that remains: Laban was drunk to the point of laying unconscious (semi-conscious at best) in the street. An omnipotent deity had a variety of choices, including:

    (a) Cause stuperous Laban to vomit, choke on his own stomach contents, and die, then lead Nephi to the corpse, thus allowing Nephi to do everything else he did without committing murder.

    (b) Cause Zoram to suffer a fatal heart attack, and direct Nephi to the house of Laban, where he could find the deceased Zoram, take his keys, and steal the plates without committing murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping.

    (c) Strike Zoram with blindness and direct Nephi to the house of Laban, where Nephi could still impersonate the voice of Laban, fool Zoram, and steal the plates without committing murder, armed robbery, or kidnapping.

    (d) Send an angel to obtain the brass plates and deliver them to Nephi in a manner no more or less miraculous than Joseph Smith’s receipt of the golden plates.

    Instead, the deity of The Book of Mormon ordered Nephi (via the Holy Ghost) to murder a drunken, defenseless man in the street, impersonate a public official, commit armed robbery, and commit kidnapping (Zoram “agreed” when his other choice was death–clear case of coersion). The all-knowing deity of The Book of Mormon did this, clearly conscious of (1) the psychological impact which the event would have on Nephi, (2) the resulting impetus to centuries of armed conflict based on fratricidal rage/jealousy, and (3) the lesson that people like Will would take, that murder, etc., is totally justified so long as you’re convinced that you’re doing the will of your deity who always happens to agree with your politics and social views.

    Now, even as a NOT-all-knowing mere mortal, I can anticipate that Will and his ilk will defend the “murder Laban” choice as a test of Nephi’s faith. Personally, I think the whole “build a ship though you’ve never done it before, get inside, and let me blow you on the right course to an uncharted continent” course of events is a far greater exercise of faith than “cut off this drunk guy’s head.”

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  33. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    (By the way, this is the part where Will sticks his fingers in his ears, closes his eyes, and shouts incoherently about how (a) The Book of Mormon is true, (b) whatever his deity does is right, and therefore (c) The Book of Mormon is true.)

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  34. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    (And then, after realizing that I was essentially right in #33, Will leaps upon his Rameumptom to declare that wicked men like me can never possibly understand the wisdom and righteousness of his deity, whose “thoughts are not your thoughts” unless you’re using them to justify right-wing political ideology.)

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  35. Will on April 24, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    “So the killing of six million Jews was “devine guidence”?”

    What a short sighted response. No, exactly the opposite of what I am saying. Stopping a madman from killing more of his own people is of God.

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  36. Will on April 24, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    Nick,

    I am saying cutting of the head of a tyrant is not a bad thing. There are evil people with God given free agency in this world and the only way they can be stopped is by the good and honorable men and women of the world. Sometimes negotiation is possible and sometimes a bullet to the head is the correct response.
    I choose to follow the 98th section of the D&C that calls for renouncing war and publishing peace and calling on God for help. God, who is a realist, sent is son who declared ‘there will be wars and rumors of wars’. I think he meant there will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be evil people that will have to be dealt with, with brute force. Laban is one of those and got his just reward.

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  37. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    You miss the point, Will. The deity contemplated by LDS and other christians seems quite capable of taking care of a Laban (or even a Hitler or Stalin, for that matter) without ordering a Nephi to commit murder. How many years do you think Nephi would spend in prison today, if that narrative happened in your town and he gave the same justification?

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  38. Will on April 24, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    Nick,

    You mean like the God that wiped every living soul off the earth except Noah and his family. Or, perhaps you are talking about the God that killed all the armies of the Pharaoh with Moses parting the Red Sea. Don’t you think Moses would be charged for crimes against humanity in the Modern Era? To be quite honest I’m surprised the ACLU hasn’t filed a class action suit on behalf of the descendants of the Pharaoh.

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  39. Cowboy on April 24, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    As I’m reading this, I see something of a contradiction involved here. The concern was that if Nephi did not kill Laban, then once Laban recovered he would pursue the Lehite party and have them killed.

    There are two other stories in The Book of Mormon that play out quite differently. I’m thinking of the people of Limhi in Chapters 22 and 24 of Mosiah. Particularly in the case of the latter, God just causes a deep sleep to come upon these people and they escape. Why couldn’t God do something similar for Laban, as Nick L. suggests? Why couldn’t Laban just lose all sense of direction making it near impossible to keep up with the people of Lehi? Taking the story at face-value, it would appear that the God of this story wanted Laban dead for more than just the teleological “the ends justify the means” rationalization presented in the text. After all, when your means aren’t limited in the way’s experienced by us mere mortals, the teleogical “it’s better that…” argument seems to fall flat. Indeed I would think that a perfect God who is perfectly in control, should not be constrained to choose the lesser of two evils. If I were to believe the The Book of Mormon to be a real history then, I would have to conclude that God either wanted to exact a little pay-back against Laban, or that he saw some value in having Nephi do his dirty work.

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  40. Cowboy on April 24, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    Will:

    The ACLU is American organization, so it would be a little difficult to prosecute a case that occured in Ancient Egypt. That would be like the U.S. trying to prosecute the ancestors of Napolean.

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  41. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    #38:
    You mean like the God that wiped every living soul off the earth except Noah and his family. Or, perhaps you are talking about the God that killed all the armies of the Pharaoh with Moses parting the Red Sea.

    Your examples actually illustrate my point, Will. The deity of the Old Testament took these actions on his own, rather than ordering a human to murder anyone. The deity of the Old Testament did his own dirty work, and didn’t require a human agent to carry it out.

    To be quite honest I’m surprised the ACLU hasn’t filed a class action suit on behalf of the descendants of the Pharaoh.

    To be quite honest, I suspect you’re as ignorant of the ACLU’s mission as most other right-wingers are. I also suspect you’re ignorant of the fact that not so many years ago, the ACLU represented an LDS boy who was being ridiculed and openly persecuted by his high school teacher for being LDS. They won the case at the Supreme Court, btw.

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  42. Remlap on April 24, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Will said “The Germans and the Japanese were far more advanced then we were in military technology…”

    Winning WWII was not so much about technology as it was about logistics. The Allied forces (thanks to the US) were able to outlast Germany and Japan due to their abilities to keep the supply lines open. USA would have won the war against Japan without the A-bomb it just would have taken longer and probably cost more lives in the long run.

    Having said that, whether God is on any one particular side or not is debatable. The Moors controlled Spain for hundreds of years. I bet they thought that Allah was on their side. I am sure that other religions all have their stories about how their particular flavor of god miraculously saved them from their enemies when all was about lost.

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  43. Will on April 24, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    Nick,

    Moses parted and closed the sea via the power (or will) of God. God used Moses in this story. Why is this different than Nephi’s story?

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  44. Frank Pellett on April 24, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    Could also a part of the reason for killing Laban would be to keep there being a way for Nephi & co from returning to Jerusalem? The whole family is complicit in the theft (and murder) – it kind of forces a burning of bridges. Not even the older brothers could go back and blame Nephi or their father for everything. They would have been held and likely executed for their brothers crimes.

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  45. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    Will, there’s a world of difference between “Hey, Moses, jab this big stick in the air and I’ll part the Red Sea” vs. “Hey, Nephi, chop this drunk guy’s head off with his own sword!” If you can’t see a difference between these, then I don’t know you could possibly have an intelligent conversation on the subject.

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  46. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    Frank, Nephi and his brothers return to Jerusalem for sex…err…wives three chapters after Nephi murdered Laban, so that theory might not be very solid.

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  47. Frank Pellett on April 24, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Nick (#46) – No, not very solid at all, but we only have one very short account of the whole thing, so all of it is pretty much guesswork. Laban could have had the descriptions of the brothers put about as theives, making it impossible for them to return to Jerusalem for even wives. Dead Laban (and suspiciously missing servant) solves that problem pretty easily.

    In all the scriptural accounts, OT, NT, BoM, we’re pretty much grasping at straws when we assume that the sparse details given are all that existed at the time.

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  48. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    In all the scriptural accounts, OT, NT, BoM, we’re pretty much grasping at straws when we assume that the sparse details given are all that existed at the time.

    Agreed—which makes it interesting that some feel so absolutely certain that they know all the answers, even to the point of knowing the mind of deity!

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  49. Senile Old Fart on April 24, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    #20 Nephi’s property? The plates? I think not. Lehi had never seen the plates.

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  50. FireTag on April 24, 2012 at 3:49 PM

    Bob: Re #27

    I wasn’t particularly thinking Mormon-ish on this one, but I suppose I could tie this to the notion of intelligence or just information bringing responsibility with it. Or, as Spidey’s uncle put it, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Having a mind is great power. I don’t think we know nearly enough to see all outcomes, but I’d like to think we could try to improve on tossing a coin or on pretending that DECIDING not to decide isn’t DECIDING and carries exactly the same moral responsibility.

    Nick:

    I am puzzled why you think God doing the deed Himself somehow makes the deed morally different than telling an individual to do it?

    I think (feel free to correct me) that what really bothers you is the notion of a God as violent destroyer. That kind of God IS dangerous. But the notion of a violent God is certainly plausible; the universe He’s created is certainly a violent place, irrespective of any religious notion of sin. Indeed, modern understandings suggest that even the atoms in our body can only be created through violence. Our very life comes from previous death.

    God’s idea of love is apparently not the same as our idea of being cuddly. Our theology needs to adjust to that.

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  51. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    Nephi’s brothers initially attempted to purchase the plates from Laban, SOF, at which point Laban dishonestly took possession of their precious metals and gems and threatened to have the men arrested as robbers. That would be the only property of Nephi’s which Laban refused to hand over. You’re correct, of course, that the plates were definitely not the property of Lehi and his family.

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  52. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Yes, FireTag, I’ll feel free to correct you. I don’t particularly have a problem with deity in the role of destroyer. Rather, I take issue with deity shirking that role and thrusting it upon fragile, imperfect humans. Even more, I have an issue with fragile, imperfect humans acting the role of destroyer and claiming deity commanded them to do it.

    As I illustrated earlier, directing Nephi to (a) murder Laban, (b) pose as a public official, (c) steal Laban’s property by means of deception, and (d) kidnap Zoram via coersion was perhaps the least efficient and most risky way for Lehi’s party to obtain the plates. Even Nephi wasn’t crazy about the plan, as evidenced by his rather strident effort to justify his actions within the narrative. In order to believe the story as genuine history, one must believe in a deity who quite unnecessarily placed his devoted follower in both physical and psychological danger. Ergo, any honest, thoughtful reader is left to question (a) the morality of deity as portrayed in The Book of Mormon, (b) Nephi’s honesty in attributing his actions to divine command, or (c) the historicity of The Book of Mormon itself. There’s a reason, after all, that many investigators of Mormonism have found the Nephi/Laban incident troubling.

    The self-deceiving, thoughtless reader, of course, can fall back upon the rather circular premise that one mustn’t dare question diety. That, of course, is a mere dodge to circumvent cognitive dissonance.

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  53. FireTag on April 24, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    “Rather, I take issue with deity shirking that role and thrusting it upon fragile, imperfect humans.”

    I still don’t see WHY that is an issue, Nick. He gave us LIFE knowing we were going to be fragile and imperfect. Maybe a God who is comfortable with destruction decided He’d create children who’d have to get tough enough and responsible enough to grow up to be like Him. If you can’t choose, or your mistakes have no consequences, you might as well be automatons, or at least stay in a crib. Now THAT would be problematic to Mormon theology.

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  54. FireTag on April 24, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    “any honest, thoughtful reader is left to question (a) the morality of deity as portrayed in The Book of Mormon.”

    Look at my gravatar. It shows one galaxy shooting out a radiation jet that sterilizes star systems in a near-by galaxy by the thousands. There’s nothing particular to the BofM here. If there is a deity, that picture shows what that deity considers moral just as much as any human philosophy does. The God who comforts the orphan is the same God who destroys those star systems. It’s the only deity there is.

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  55. Will on April 24, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    Nick,

    “Will, there’s a world of difference between “Hey, Moses, jab this big stick in the air and I’ll part the Red Sea” vs. “Hey, Nephi, chop this drunk guy’s head off with his own sword!”

    To me, this is like holding the Marine that put a bullet in Osama Bin Laden’s head responsible for Murder. Obama ordered the hit and is thus responsible for his death. If any judgements come from God, they will rest on Obama not the Marine who did as ordered.

    The real question is, did God order the hit on Laban? Did he order the hit on the Pharaoh’s army? Did he order the hit on the first born of Eqypt? As I stated above and the litimus test used by the Savior “by their fruits shall ye know them”. Did it lead to peace or more destruction? Did it change people for good, or result in more evil? Did it produce figs of thorns, or wholesome fruit? The answer to this question tells the source.

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  56. Nick Literski on April 24, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    Seriously, Will? You’re going to compare Laban to Osama bin Laden? The only crimes on his part described in the Book of Mormon text are theft of Lehi’s gold/silver/gems and threat of false accusations against Nephi’s brothers. That doesn’t begin to compare to Osama bin Laden’s record.

    With regard to your “litmus test,” there’s really nothing in the Book of Mormon text to demonstrate that the murder of Laban was necessary in order for Nephi to obtain the plates. The only “fruit” of the act, as portrayed in The Book of Mormon, was a naked, decapitated corpse lying in the streets of Jerusalem. The “fruits” of obtaining the plates cannot reasonably be considered the “fruits” of murdering Laban.

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  57. Bob on April 24, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    #55: Will,
    It was a Seal, not a Marine. I was a Marine_I would not have taken the shot. If I could cuff him, put him in the chopper, I would do so. If I had to leave him there, I would have shot him.

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  58. Remlap on April 24, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    Will says – “To me, this is like holding the Marine that put a bullet in Osama Bin Laden’s head responsible for Murder. Obama ordered the hit and is thus responsible for his death. If any judgments come from God, they will rest on Obama not the Marine who did as ordered.”

    If Nephi would have somehow been captured by the guards, they would have put him to death. The same thing would have happened to the Seals had their mission been blown. In these cases, both God and Obama gave the order and sat back and watch, taking no blame for anything that would have gone wrong and taking credit for all that went right.

    BTW, one of the things that always bothered me about Nephi murdering Laman is that Nephi chopped off Laman’s head, not an easy task to do and there would have been a ton of blood all over Laman’s clothes. You would have thought that Zoram would have seen and smelt the blood all over Nephi. And how the heck did Laban have a sword made of fine steel in the bronze age hundreds of years before steel was developed and…. Oh never mind…

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  59. hawkgrrrl on April 25, 2012 at 2:25 AM

    Remlap – I was always bothered by the idea of putting on the bloody beheaded clothes too. Why not undress him, then cut his head off? Or undress him and just smother him? Or break his neck. Or push him down stairs or off a wall. Then it doesn’t even look like murder, but more like an accident.

    That goes back to Frank Pellett’s point, which Grant Hardy also makes in Understanding the Book of Mormon. Hardy’s perspective is that Nephi is an unreliable narrator. Nephi wrote this account to justify his own actions. If Lehi had sanctioned his actions, Nephi would have mentioned it as further proof that he did the right thing, yet Lehi remains silent. Instead, Nephi has created a situation where they can’t viably go back and live in Jerusalem after a reasonable length of time in the desert. What started as a temporary hide-out turns into a permanent inter-continental migration that none of them wanted.

    Nephi is a zealot. His father filled him full of these apocalyptic, paranoid, tribal ideas, and then when he acts on them, even his father’s not effusive with praise about the results.

    That’s Hardy’s view anyway. I tend to agree that Nephi’s an unreliable narrator. And BTW, it’s not like the Nephites & Lamanites aren’t wicked. They do in fact dwindle and perish in unbelief, brass plates or no. This book is a tragedy, not a comedy.

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  60. Ron Madson on April 25, 2012 at 8:20 AM

    Hauntingly, Nephi uses essentially the same words used by Caiaphas in “justifying” the slaying of Laban –“it is better that one man perish than…pick you objective.” So God engages in cost/benefit analysis and then sends his Son who demonstrates the antithesis of such analysis in mortality (better that I perish than resist evil and go to the dark side) only to have Caiaphas utter the same words in “justifying” the murder of His Son.
    There is some seminal hubris occurring here among the Nephites. I would pay serious money to have Rene Girard analyze the BOM.

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  61. Ron Madson on April 25, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    whoops. I meant to say “Nephi uses the same words used by Caiaphas in “justifying” the slaying of JESUS..” not Laban.

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  62. Cowboy on April 25, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    Actually Ron, it would be Caiaphas using the words of Nephi, if we are to take The Book of Mormon as a real history. (Insert smiley face here)

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  63. Kevin Christensen on April 25, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    From John W. Welch in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon:

    Another Old Testament case, preserved more fully in the Jewish oral tradition, involved Jehoiakim, the king of Judah, who rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar went to Antioch and demanded that the great Jewish council surrender Jehoiakim or the nation would be destroyed. Jehoiakim protested, “Can ye sacrifice one life for another?” Unmoved, the council replied, “Thus did your ancestors do to Sheba the son of Bichri.”1 Jehoiakim was released to Nebuchadnezzar, who took him to Babylon (see 2 Chronicles 36:6), where presumably he was executed. Because Zedekiah became king less than four months later (see verses 9–10), at the time the Book of Mormon account begins (see 1 Nephi 1:4), Nephi was probably keenly aware of how the “one for many” principle was used to justify Jehoiakim’s death. Clearly, the cases of Laban and Korihor fit within this tradition.

    Over the years, the proper balance between the rights of the individual and the needs of the community was debated in Jewish law. On one extreme, the Pharisees held that no individual was ever to be surrendered for the good of the community. On the other extreme, the Sadducees, who often cooperated with the Romans, argued that so long as the authorities named a specific victim, that was all that was necessary. This ruling, known as the Hadrianic Resolve, is found in the Jerusalem Talmud.2

    Taking a middle position, most rabbinical scholars have accepted the “one for many” principle, but they limit it to cases like Sheba’s in which (1) the demand was made by a recognized leader, (2) the person requested was already guilty, (3) the person was identified by name, (4) the people in the group were innocent, and (5) the group faced certain destruction if they refused.

    Of course, the “one for many” principle was also in­voked, ironically, by Caiaphas (a Sadducee) when he argued for Jesus’ death (see John 11:49–50).3 While the audience evidently knew this familiar principle, as Sadducees and Pharisees they were probably divided on its application.

    Based on the New Testament alone, the “one for many” principle in the Book of Mormon might have appeared anachronistic. Yet the fuller picture shows that this principle operated much earlier in Israelite culture, notably in Nephi’s own day. This was something that Joseph Smith would have had no way of knowing, and it is a point that few legal historians are aware of even today.

    Research by John W. Welch and Heidi Harkness Parker, originally published as a FARMS Update in Insights (June 1998): 2.

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  64. Nick Literski on April 25, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    Hawkgrrl is right. If The Book of Mormon is genuinely an ancient document written by Nephi et. al., then Nephi is revealed to be extremely self-conscious about his road to kingship. He goes to great lengths to justify his behavior; the murder of Laban is just the most egregious example thereof.

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  65. Bob on April 25, 2012 at 9:54 AM

    #63:Kevin Christensen,
    “This was something that Joseph Smith would have had no way of knowing….”.
    Why? It’s right there in the NT. ( John11:49-50).

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  66. Rigel Hawthorne on April 25, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    Nick,

    I’m loving your comments on this thread.

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  67. Bookslinger on April 26, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    God, and Nephi, actually did Laban a favor.

    Laban was anesthetized with alcohol, and was quickly despatched (dispatched?) in the most humane and painless way possible (at the time) with a single blow to the head. He was likely not decapitated, as “smote off his head” was a Hebrew idiom for a mortal single-blow head wound (see the story of Sisera and the tent peg in the OT, and the same use of the idiom may also apply to Coriantumr/Shiz).

    Had Laban lived, he would have been killed by the Babylonians a few years later, with much more painful battle wounds in the conquest of Jerusalem. And, him being a leader, he also ran the risk of capture by the Babylonians, who then cruelly tortured high ranking benemies to death ( cutting off ears, nose and body parts, bit by bit.). Since it was unlikely Laban would have been on the front lines, the latter capture and torture scenario would have been more likely.

    If you ever dissected frogs in Biology class, you learned the quickest and least painful way to kill the frog was a puncture wound to the base of the skull to disrupt the medula oblongata. That is where SWAT and military snipers aim for.

    In the story of Sisera, Judges 4:21; “Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him (Sisera), and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.”

    Judges 5:26. (Deborah and Barak are singing about the victory over Sisera, see v. 1.) “She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.”

    So Laban was going to die soon anyway, and in the big picture, Nephi did him a favor.

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  68. mh on April 26, 2012 at 11:30 AM

    bookslinger, there were jews that survived the coming invasion, so there is no way of knowing whether laban would have lived or died. I find your rationalization spurious, at best.

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  69. Nick Literski on April 26, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    Wow…just…wow. That’s like saying SS guards did their prisoners a favor by gassing some Jews to death in the camps, because they would have starved to death soon anyway. (Yes, I really did just go for the Nazi comparison, but it was appropriate!)

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  70. Frank Pellett on April 26, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Yeah – a little (maybe a lot) uncomfortable with the better off dead idea.

    Though I do like the bit about “smite off the head” may not being beheading. Makes it easier to not have to deal with bloody clothes.

    Course, if God wanted to kill Laban off the easy way, he’d have just caused a simple blood clot in the brain in the right place. When you have the power to direct atoms, killing people is pretty easy.

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  71. Remlap on April 26, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    Bookslinger said: “God, and Nephi, actually did Laban a favor…” WTF? (that would be “what the flip”)

    Well I hope God and Nephi don’t do me any favors any time soon.

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  72. Bob on April 26, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    #67:Bookslinger,
    I would let it go, but nwe are talking about murder.
    A nail into your temples would likely not kill you, just blind you.
    Snipers don’t shot for the back of the head, but the front.
    Had Laban lived?__we have no idea. Why he had to die?__we have no idea.

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  73. Remlap on April 26, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Bookslinger,
    I could make the argument that had Nephi not murdered Laban and had he been captured by the Babylonians, the adversity of captivity might have cause Laban to repent of his evil ways. So in this model Nephi not only killed Laban but also robbed him of an opportunity to repent and gain the celestial kingdom but now he is stuck in the telesitial kingdom playing dominos with the other bad people.

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  74. FireTag on April 26, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    And the crazy physicist in me will note that ALL of these scenarios have happened in parallel universes, and will happen again in others. So I again ask: what exactly is a Deity optimizing for, once we recognize that He may not always choose what humans consider kindness?

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  75. Nick Literski on April 27, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Heh…Okay, “crazy” physicist. Just remember that your parallel universes also have to include deities “optimizing for” entirely different goals than this one’s.
    :-)

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  76. FireTag on April 27, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    Nick:

    My crazy conception of the Deity is the one who, in the Book of Moses, refers to the multiplicity of all the worlds called “earth” as “these are Mine”. He is a limit of reality (pantheism) rather than outside of reality. So differing universes may accomplish different sub-goals, but the optimization of interest would be for the multiverse as a whole.

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  77. Bookslinger on April 27, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    #68/MH: Of course many were taken prisoner back to Babylon in the famous Captivity, BUT the military leaders (and I think the political leaders too) of Jerusalem were NOT taken into captivity. Had Laban survived the seige and battle of Jerusalem, he would almost certainly not have been taken back to Babylon for anything other than torture/execution.

    And since he was only a “Captain of 50″ he would most likely have been executed in the field, not high ranking enough to be taken back to Babylon for the king to execute.

    The Assyrians, and the Babylonians after them, and many before them, had a tradition and ceremony for torturing/executing the military leaders of their conquered. It is documented. Look it up.

    Out in the field the higher ranking officers (of the Assyrians and later the Babylonians) got the “priviledge” of executing the captive military leaders of the city/nation that they just beat. Then the lesser soldiers got to execute some of their military prisoners. (If I remember correctly, I read that soldiers and officers generally got to execute the enemies that they took prisoner.)

    And some of the highest ranking military prisoners were set aside and taken back home for the king to execute.

    Such a torture/execution ceremony was sometimes the meaning of “_numbered_ (counted) to the sword” (a phrase common in the OT), where there were exact and recorded tallies kept among the conquerors of who killed/executed how many.

    (The phrase “numbered to the sword” can also have the connotation of “assigned” or “decreed” to be killed by the sword as part of God’s punishment in the OT.)

    Among some of the Gentile nations of antiquity there were actually official ‘tally keepers’ during the torture/execution ceremonies who kept track of the exact numbers of executions carried out by each of the officers/soldiers for their prisoners.

    #72 Bob: I believe you’re wrong on that point. SWAT and other snipers usually aim for the “kill switch”, the medula oblongata, if they can, depending on the distance etc. Disrupting the medula oblongata makes the target drop like a rag doll, no twitching or spasms if it is precisely made. It immediately stops all voluntary and involuntary muscle movement and brain activity. Brain shots in other locations can lead to death throes.

    The observation that Shiz (in the book of Ether) had death throes (raised on his arms and struggled for breath) is further evidence that “smote off his head” does not literally mean a thorough decapitation. Coriantumr must have inflicted a mortal head wound upon Shiz, but it likely did not disrupt the critical medula oblongata.

    In the field, a trained shooter with a high powered rifle that is tuned for high accuracy can reliably place a bullet within 1/4″ (and sometimes better) of the exact point of the cross-hairs within 100 yards, 1/2″ at 200 yards, etc. So within 200 yards, that is likely the target point of the sniper.

    That point of the brain can be reached from the back, the side (through the ear), or even the front through the teeth and mouth with the right rifle bullet.

    (Of course there are other factors in SWAT/sniper situations that determine choice of bullet placement such as what is immediately behind and around the target and what the target is wearing, holding, and doing. But in the ideal, that spot is the goal. )

    Modern historians of ancient military history know that the “kill switch” spot was known back then. It was even portrayed in the movie “Spartacus”, during a slave rebellion, when a rebelling gladiator climbed into the Roman spectators’ booth, and the Roman used his knife to stab the slave/gladiator in the base of the back of his head.

    On the point of the tent peg through Sisera’s temples. I believe the word “temples” can refer to more than just that square inch of bone direclty at the side of the eyes. Go up an inch, and it would have punctured the frontal lobe of the brain, or back an inch and it would have punctured the “temporal lobe” of the brain. All of that area can be called the temples.

    #70 Frank: An important factor most people miss in the “Weren’t Laban’s clothes all bloody?” question is that when the heart stops beating the animal stops bleeding.

    Whether the blow Nephi inflicted was a literal decapitation or a mortal head blow to the medula oblongata, the heart would have immediately stopped.

    Those who slaughter animals on farms tell me there is actually very little blood when an animal is dispatched through decapitation. (Larger animals like cows and pigs are intentionally stunned, not killed outright when slaughtered, and hung up so they bleed out to get rid of the blood.)

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  78. Bookslinger on April 27, 2012 at 1:32 PM

    In general #1: Keeping L & L from going back to Jerusalem.

    My thought on the reasoning why it had to look like Laban had been murdered (as opposed to a “natural” death), is that it was to keep Laman and Lemuel from ditching the family and going back to Jerusalem. That’s also why the family treasure had to be lost. Laman and Lemuel then had no family treasure to go back to. But, before Laban was killed, they (L&L) still could have gone back and started over.

    But with Lehi’s boys being the prime suspects in Laban’s death (his household knew that Laban took their treasure and tried to have them killed) L&L didn’t dare go back!

    And, after all, God needed L&L and their descendents in the new world for His many purposes.

    In general #2: To quote Epictetus in the Enchiridion (or in “Golden Sayings”, I forget), once the Giver has deigned to take back that which He gave, why should it matter to us by whose hand He assigns to take it?

    If the Lord wants to “take back” the car he gave you (all we have essentially comes from the Lord, right?), what should you care if you lose it through an accidental crash, or a tree falls on it, a tsunami washes it away, or someone steals it? It’s gone. If it really was the Lord’s will to take it from you, what do you care how it was taken away? As Job said: “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”

    So whether Laban were to die by choking on his vomit, a brain clot, or a quick stab by sword point to his medula oblongata, as long as he had to die that night, why should he (Laban) or we care about the method?

    I suppose that Laban would have thought that, as long as he had to go that night, if it really was literally God’s will, Laban would have wanted it to be quick and painless. Passed out, anesthetized by alcohol, he likely felt no pain with a quick sword stab to the m.o.

    The real question is not whether Nephi was justified in the eyes of the law or according to any sense of morality. The real question is: “Was it God’s will?”

    As to what Lehi thought or said of the matter, we just don’t know. We’ll have to wait until we get the Book of Lehi, or Nephi’s Large Plates for all the details that were left out of the Small Plates, or Mormon’s abridgement.

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  79. Bookslinger on April 27, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    Regarding L&L’s hatred of Nephi: In my opinion, the main or perhaps secondary cause of L&L’s hatred of Nephi was not just the fact that Nephi as the youngest brother was bossing them around and presuming the leadership, it was (either mainly or secondarily) that by killing Laban, Nephi made it impossible for L&L to ditch the family in the wilderness and go back and resume their previous life in Jerusalem.

    Yes, the boys did go back after the Laban incident to get Ishmael and his family. I imagine that was done clandestinely, and that perhaps Ishmael lived on the outskits of town, and his house could be approached by the four boys without being noticed.

    Since it took several days for the round trip to take the plates back to base-camp in the wilderness and go back to Jerusalem, Ishmael and his family would likely have known of any buzz in Jerusalem about Laban’s killing, and could have told the boys if they were the prime suspects.

    This could then have confirmed to L&L that they had no chance to openly go back to Jerusalem and pick up their lives.

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  80. Remlap on April 27, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    Bookslayer,
    On the way back from getting Ishmael and his family Lamen and Lemuel and sons of Ishmael “did rebel” against Nephi.

    “And it came to pass that as we journeyed in the wilderness, behold Laman and Lemuel, and two of the adaughters of Ishmael, and the two bsons of Ishmael and their families, did crebel against us; yea, against me, Nephi, and Sam, and their father, Ishmael, and his wife, and his three other daughters. And it came to pass in the which rebellion, they were desirous to return unto the land of Jerusalem.” (1 nephi 7: 6-7)

    So clearly they were not worried about going back to face justice for the death of Laban. And don’t forget they did not murder Laban, Nephi did. Even back in that day they would not have been held responsible for Nephi’s actions. They could have gone back to Jerusalem, sought out the authorities and told them that their freaking crazy assed brother was listening to voices and murdered Laban.

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  81. Bookslinger on April 27, 2012 at 3:39 PM

    Remlap: Good catch, I had forgotten about that incident. L&L were pretty dumb as well as hard-hearted. In that incdent, they later tie up Nephi, and he miraculously breaks the cords. And they repent of tieing him up, and they all head on to base camp.

    But I think the part you quote actually illustrates my point: They _desired_ to go back to Jerusalem, but they _didn’t_. The text doesn’t say why L&L didn’t go back, or what it was that changed their mind to go on to base camp instead of back to Jerusalem.

    So Nephi breaks the cords. L&L still could have said, “See ya, buh-bye” and walked on back to J-town. Unless there were some more miracles we don’t know about, Nephi could not have physically forced L&L to continue on to camp.

    When they tied up Nephi and left or intended him to die, I thnk they were still headed back to base camp. Without Nephi, Lehi would have been sort of forced to bequeath leadership to Laman. Laman, not Nephi would have been 2nd in command, and taken over upon Lehi’s eventual death.

    I admit that I’m speculating, or extrapolating here. L&L wanted to go back, but didn’t. So why do you think they stayed with the rest of the family and continued on the journey? Were they convinced that it was a worthwhile endeavor, or were they physically coerced, or did they think they had no other viable option, or was it something else?

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  82. Bookslinger on April 27, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Hawkgrrrl:

    I disagree with Hardy’s claim that Nephi was an unreliable narrator. The full story, and more of the details, is in his Large Plates. The Small Plates intentionally give short shrift to the physical/temporal details.

    I hope we can learn these things, and other important mysteries, like who really shot JFK, in the Millennium.

    After all, the scriptures promise that all mysteries shall be revealed before Judgement day.

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  83. Nick Literski on April 27, 2012 at 5:05 PM

    Bookslinger, all your “perhaps” and “could have” speculations rank right up there with the “horses were tapirs” apologetic—and should be taken every bit as seriously.

    FACT: If The Book of Mormon is a genuine historical record condensing material beginning in 600 B.C., then deity ordered Nephi to commit a thoroughly unnecessary murder, when tens–perhaps hundreds–of other options were readily available.

    FACT: If The Book of Mormon is a genuine historical record condensing material beginning in 600 B.C., then Nephi was a monarch obsessed with justifying the otherwise “presumed illegitimacy” of his reign to potential readers. The entire “murder of Laban” story (among others Nephi tells) is written with a clear intent of exonerating Nephi of accusations which even his own people, let alone the Lamanites, would bring against him.

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  84. allquieton on April 27, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    The biggest problem with Russel’s take on things is the seventh paragraph of the post. Here, Russel paints Lundgren as a sincere and faithful, but extreme believer.

    The trouble is, there’s every indication that lundgren was a twisted individual with a long history of lying, theft, abuse, etc. His interest in religion was as a means to control others. There is no good reason to think he had any sincere desire to please God.

    So why is Russell misleading his audience?

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  85. MH on April 27, 2012 at 9:00 PM

    allquieton, I think Russell paints him as sincere and extreme, but I don’t know about faithful. The Laffertys and Bin Ladin are sincere and extreme, but not faithful too. Russell is certainly pointing out the problems with extremism.

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  86. allquieton on April 28, 2012 at 2:16 AM

    MH-
    But do you think that paragraph 7 is a fair and accurate portrayal of Lundgren? I think it’s unrealistic and goes against all the evidence. I think it’s misleading.

    A more complete picture of Lundgren makes Russel’s whole case fall apart.

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  87. allquieton on April 28, 2012 at 3:39 AM

    To all the nephi haters:
    Remember that nephi was alone when he killed laban. He could have told the story however he wanted. He could have said laban attacked him and he killled in self defense.

    So I think nephi is trying very hard to tell exactly what happened.

    I’ve enjoyed hearing some of your interpretations. Here is mine: Perhaps nephi does a lot of explaining, not b/c he feels guilty or insecure, but b/c he understands how shocking these events (and their implications) are to the reader.

    Also some of you seem to have missed the part of the story where laban sent his servants to murder nephi and his brothers in order to steal their property. So painting laban as a victim doesn’t work for me.

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  88. MH on April 28, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    The fact that Nephi was alone is a problem. There’s nobody to corroborate Nephi’s version of events.

    Furthermore, don’t take paragraph 7 out of context. Read paragraph 8 too. Click on the link if you want to read the whole transcript of Russell’s talk. Russell has nothing but contempt for Lundgren. He describes Lundren this way.

    Jeff began to control her life entirely, the finances, her access to others and so forth. He made every decision from naming the kids to what she would fix for supper. That control increased over the years, especially in those periods when Jeff got more religious, so did the mental, physical, and sexual abuse. Jeff would have a great spiritual experience, and then rape his wife. He would teach a scripture class, and then force Alice to consume his feces. Alice has made a great recovery in prison. She says she is freer now serving 150 years in a hell-hole prison in Ohio than she was during 20 years that she was married to the prophet murderer, and I certainly believe her.

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  89. Nick Literski on April 29, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Also some of you seem to have missed the part of the story where laban sent his servants to murder nephi and his brothers in order to steal their property. So painting laban as a victim doesn’t work for me.

    “Self-defense” only excuses murder when one faces an imminent threat, allquieton. I get that you don’t see Laban as some blameless innocent–nobody here does. Still, you don’t “defend” yourself by chopping off the head of a man who’s drunk to the point of unconsciousness and lying in the street (let alone stealing his clothing and belongings afterward). Laban was far from an innocent victim, but he was still a murder victim.

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  90. allquieton on April 29, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    MH-
    Well, I think it’s strange, even suspicious, that russell’s conclusion is that the book of mormon is dangerous. It seems more reasonable to conclude that Lundgren is dangerous, and that he would have been dangerous with or without the bom.

    With nephi my point is that he’s confessing to a crime no one witnessed. He doesn’t have to mention it at all. Or he could tell some other version of it where no one would question his motives (self-defense). But he doesn’t. This suggests he is telling the truth and does not feel guilty or defensive. It is something to consider.

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  91. allquieton on April 29, 2012 at 8:20 PM

    Nick-
    I didn’t say it was self defense-read my post.

    I just was surprised that you and others, when describing laban’s wrongs, neglected to mention the most grievous one. Seemed like you weren’t aware of, or were trying to downplay, laban’s guilt.

    For me it’s simple. If God commanded Nephi to kill laban then it was right and just. It doesn’t matter what the law or a jury says. Do you disagree?

    There are many reasons I think nephi was commanded by God, and many reasons i think lundgren, the laffertys, bin laden etc. were not. But that’s a whole other discussion.

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  92. Nick Literski on April 30, 2012 at 10:04 AM

    I just was surprised that you and others, when describing laban’s wrongs, neglected to mention the most grievous one. Seemed like you weren’t aware of, or were trying to downplay, laban’s guilt.

    The “most grievous” wrong on Laban’s part was sending his servants out to kill Nephi’s brothers—which they were clearly unsuccessful in doing. In modern parlance, you might say he took out a contract on them. This is certainly a lesser crime than the decapitation murder of an unconscious, intoxicated man lying in the street.

    For me it’s simple. If God commanded Nephi to kill laban then it was right and just. It doesn’t matter what the law or a jury says. Do you disagree?

    Why yes, I do disagree. We’ve just spent most of 91 comments discussing the problematic nature of that oversimplification. The text indicates that Laban’s death was a means to an end–that of Nephi’s family obtaining the brass plates. An innumerable variety of options were present to make that happen, some of which involved Laban’s death by natural means (asphyxiation from choking on his own vomit while intoxicated and unconscious, for example), and most of which didn’t require Nephi to commit murder. One might suppose that an omnipotent, omnicient deity with the efficiency to “design” trees with the most ideal structure for transportation of nutrients could also handle getting the brass plates into Lehi’s hands in a more efficient, wiser method, causing fewer unnecessary consequences.

    Your argument, of course, dismisses such issues, simply concluding that “whatever deity commands is right.” Aside from your warm feelings about The Book of Mormon, however, you have zero evidence upon which to conclude that deity issued such a command. Even if The Book of Mormon is a genuine ancient historical record, you have nothing but Nephi’s self-serving claim to prove that he was acting under divine mandate.

    It’s all very easy for you to bask in self-righteous “knowledge” of the “truth” of what allegedly took place 2,612 years ago, but ask yourself one question and answer honestly. If you turned on the news tomorrow morning to learn that Thomas Monson had shot and killed the Governor of Utah, and then told police that deity ordered him to do it, would you believe and support him, or would you have serious doubts?

    There are many reasons I think nephi was commanded by God, and many reasons i think lundgren, the laffertys, bin laden etc. were not. But that’s a whole other discussion.

    Of course you do! After all, Lundgren, the Lafferty brothers, and Osama bin Laden all were zealots for the wrong religion, weren’t they? If Nephi was a real person who truly “smote off the head” of Laban, I can guarantee you there were highly-religious people all over Jerusalem who (had they known it was Nephi who did it) would have seen Nephi in precisely the same way you see Lundgren, the Lafferty brothers, and Osama bin Laden.

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  93. Frank Pellett on April 30, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Is it possible that Nephi didn’t actually kill Laban, as he described? Finding someone dead in the street isnt as compelling to your followers as “even though I didn’t want to, I obeyed God”.

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  94. allquieton on May 1, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    Nick–
    When I read your last post, it feels like you’re attacking another person’s views, not mine. You have made a lot of wild assumptions about what and how I think. I’m not up to correcting you on every one of them, but in fairness, I would just ask that you only argue against things that I actually say. Not things you imagine me to believe.

    “If God commanded Nephi to kill laban then it was right and just. It doesn’t matter what the law or a jury says. “

    You do disagree with this statement? You believe that even if God did command Nephi to kill Laban it was wrong? Or you would side with a judge/jury over God? Maybe you could explain a bit more.

    Keep in mind your arguments that God wouldn’t or didn’t command Nephi are irrelevant to this—it’s an if-then statement.

    “It’s all very easy for you to bask in self-righteous “knowledge” of the “truth” of what allegedly took place 2,612 years ago …“

    Where are you getting this? I said “I think Nephi was commanded by God.” Not a very strong statement.

    “Of course you do! After all, Lundgren, the Lafferty brothers, and Osama bin Laden all were zealots for the wrong religion, weren’t they?  “

    Lol—if Nephi was making other people eat his poop, I wouldn’t believe him either. Seriously though, don’t be so quick to assume that if someone disagrees with you, they must be a thoughtless zombie. It’s usually not the case.

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  95. Nick Literski on May 1, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    You believe that even if God did command Nephi to kill Laban it was wrong? Or you would side with a judge/jury over God? Maybe you could explain a bit more.

    What evidence is there that everything your deity commands is right? Abraham certainly didn’t feel obligated to accept his deity’s decision without question.

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  96. FireTag on May 1, 2012 at 6:11 PM

    Nick:

    Got you. God should be opposed if He behaves certain ways. That’s a serious (and, in keeping with the post topic, dangerous) idea, and I thought the same when I was a teenager. Although I was born into my religion and baptized at 8, it was that questioning that led to my true conversion experience. Good luck, Nick, and I sincerely mean it.

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  97. Nick Literski on May 2, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    FireTag, notwithstanding your “good luck” wish, your comment was condescending and arrogant. In other words, it was precisely what I might expect from a person whose faith was too fragile to respond to different viewpoints without kneejerk condemnation.

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