Mosiah 11:1-19 — LeGrand Baker — King Noah as politician
In the early 1992 Beck Locey, Devan Barker, and I started the Book of Mormon Project. Until 1999 Beck took on the responsibility of sending out the emails. Richard Dilworth (Dil) Rust became a part of the Project a year or so after it began. With that background the following correspondence will make sense. The date was
[12 March, 2001, Beck wrote:]
Last week LeGrand sent me a comment which he wasn’t sure I should publish. What follows is a compilation of LeGrand’s unpublished comment from last week, as well as Dil Rust’s and my e- mail comments on LeGrand’s unpublished comment. I am including them as they occurred in e- mail, beginning with LeGrand’s original comment.
[My original comment on Mosiah 11:1-19 was:]
Hi Beck, I’ve got a problem with this. Sometimes I don’t do sarcasm very well. If this comes through as though I actually think Noah was a good king, you better either change it or not send it out.
Mosiah 11:1-19, 7 March 2001, LeGrand Baker
We mention “wicked King Noah,” and everyone who has read the Book of Mormon knows who we are talking about. But I am not the first to notice, that if we saw the beginning of his reign though eyes other than Mormon’s, he would probably be called a successful king, and a very successful politician. Consider his accomplishments.
First of all, he established himself as his own man, and he did it in the time honored way which other kings had used – like Jeroboam, for example, when Solomon died. Noah did not break up the kingdom like Jeroboam did, because he didn’t have to, but he did get rid of all of his father’s counselors (priests), and replaced them with men of this own choosing. Like Jeraboam, he did not start an entirely new religion, but he altered the doctrines and moral standards of the old one. To justify his version of the religion, he established new cultural norms (Mormon gives us a catalog of sins), which he made acceptable to the people, and which, in turn, made it almost impossible for the people to return to the old ways or to re-accept the ideas of the old leaders. Noah himself was an overtly religious man, restoring and redecorating the temple in a glorious manner that he could be proud of, and everyone else could admire.
1 And now it came to pass that Zeniff conferred the kingdom upon Noah, one of his sons;therefore Noah began to reign in his stead; and he did not walk in the ways of his father.
2 For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness.
Those of you who have taken classes from Chauncey Riddle will remember that he said something like this: “The general populace will tolerate corruption and lasciviousness in their leaders, as long as the leaders make sure the people have enough spare money and enough leisure time to have similar corruption and lasciviousness in their own lives.” That doesn’t sound like Chauncey’s words, but the principle is the same.
Noah had a severe tax policy, but it is obvious he spent the money well. He erected wonderful public buildings (his palace and the temple), he spent part of the money for a good defense system. This speaks of a great tower in the city, but elsewhere we learn of city walls – and he had a powerful army. These, no doubt, helped considerably in what must be seen as an excellent international relations policy. He clearly had (or they all thought he had) an good relationship with the Lamanites, and the country was at peace. Notwithstanding the taxes, the people were prosperous and the economy was growing. An idea of the wealth of the country is found in the list of things Noah taxed:
3 And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed, a fifth part of their gold and of their silver, and a fifth part of their ziff, and of their copper, and of their brass and their iron; and a fifth part of their fatlings; and also a fifth part of all their grain.
That does not describe a poor, struggling agrarian community. Neither does the description of the lifestyle of the new political and religious leaders suggest anything like poverty. Economically, the country was well off, and when the people stopped griping about Noah’s taxes, they would discover his policies would make the economy even better.
4 And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom.
5 For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts. [Abinadi did not come into the city of Nephi as a stranger, but rather as a fugitive. If there is a place to discover who he was, this verse is a likely place.]
6 Yea, and thus they were supported in their laziness, and in their idolatry, and in their whoredoms, by the taxes which king Noah had put upon his people; thus did the people labor exceedingly to support iniquity.
7 Yea, and they also became idolatrous, because they were deceived by the vain and flattering words of the king and priests; for they did speak flattering things unto them.
Here we have the mark of a “true” politician. He did not live in luxury and idolatry, and insist the people live different kinds of lives. He shared the rationale for his life style with the masses, letting them share the pleasures, hype, and justification of their having a new lifestyle like his. And all this was justified by the new interpretation of the old religion.
8 And it came to pass that king Noah built many elegant and spacious buildings; and he ornamented them with fine work of wood, and of all manner of precious things, of gold, and of silver, and of iron, and of brass, and of ziff, and of copper;
9 And he also built him a spacious palace, and a throne in the midst thereof, all of which was of fine wood and was ornamented with gold and silver and with precious things.
10 And he also caused that his workmen should work all manner of fine work within the walls of the temple, of fine wood, and of copper, and of brass.
That’s important. Noah did not enslave his people to provide his magnificent buildings, rather he used “workmen.” In other words he shared the wealth by creating new jobs, both in civilian and military life. The taxes were heavy, but the people could see they were doing good things. New jobs improve the standard of living. The economy was so good that it could support a class of non-food-producing artisans. He employed these people to build and work with gold and silver. These were good jobs for people, good jobs meant that the people could afford – within limits of course – to live the same kind of life the king and his priests were living. It is probable that the standard of living was much higher under the reign of king Noah than it had been in his father’s day, because his father had not taxed the people so heavily,
therefore his father’s government could not afford to build such fine buildings, and employ so many trained and skilled workmen. So there were probably many more good paying jobs under king Noah than there had been before. From all appearances, under Noah, the economy was really great.
11 And the seats which were set apart for the high priests, which were above all the other seats, he did ornament with pure gold; and he caused a breastwork to be built before them, that they might rest their bodies and their arms upon while they should speak lying and vain words to his people.
Woops, that puts a damper on things, but then, after all, that’s only Mormon editorializing again. Under the new standards, neither Noah, his priests, or the people would have accepted that kind of editorializing as an unbiased look at the situation. After all, one must not impose one’s own value judgements on others. To be unbiased – or at least to give the appearance of being unbiased is the most important thing!
12 And it came to pass that he built a tower near the temple; yea, a very high tower, even so high that he could stand upon the top thereof and overlook the land of Shilom, and also the land of Shemlon, which was possessed by the Lamanites; and he could even look over all the land round about.
The people are not only financially well off, but they felt secure in their persons and property. No Lamanites are going to sneak up on them. This king Noah, really knows how to look after his people.
13 And it came to pass that he caused many buildings to be built in the land Shilom; and he caused a great tower to be built on the hill north of the land Shilom, which had been a resort for the children of Nephi at the time they fled out of the land; and thus he did do with the riches which he obtained by the taxation of his people.
He is not only garrisoning the city of Nephi, he is extending the military protection to the outlying areas as well. The people are comfortable, financially well off, militarily secure, and their lives are a riot. Why shouldn’t the king live it up just like the people do!
14 And it came to pass that he placed his heart upon his riches, and he spent his time in riotous living with his wives and his concubines; and so did also his priests spend their time with harlots.
15 And it came to pass that he planted vineyards round about in the land; and he built wine- presses, and made wine in abundance; and therefore he became a wine-bibber, and also his people. More economic progress! With the large production of wine, farmers now have a new cash crop – and one with a ready market – and one which increases the pleasure and the sense of well-being of both king and people.
16 And it came to pass that the Lamanites began to come in upon his people, upon small numbers, and to slay them in their fields, and while they were tending their flocks.
17 And king Noah sent guards round about the land to keep them off; but he did not send a sufficient number, and the Lamanites came upon them and killed them, and drove many of their flocks out of the land; thus the Lamanites began to destroy them, and to exercise their hatred upon them.
This is not good – but notice – the Lamanites are not actually attacking the main body of Nephites. No doubt this is just some renegade group which the
Lamanite king cannot control. Noah will take this opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of his tax and spend policy, by showing the power of the army he has created. He will not only settle the matter with the unruly Lamanites, but he will also demonstrate his own power to his own people.
18 And it came to pass that king Noah sent his armies against them, and they were driven back, or they drove them back for a time; therefore, they returned rejoicing in their spoil.
This war was not only successful, but “their spoil” provided both pleasure and riches of the people, and it added to the accolades of the king.
19 And now, because of this great victory they were lifted up in the pride of their hearts; they did boast in their own strength, saying that their fifty could stand against thousands of the Lamanites; and thus they did boast, and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests.
Now power is beginning to be fully consolidated into the hands of the King. He has demonstrated his military ability (remember, military and police power were the same in the ancient world), so now Noah can take even more severe steps to make his own people toe the line. The words, “and did delight in blood, and the shedding of the blood of their brethren, and this because of the wickedness of their king and priests,” suggests king Noah’s government has begun to be openly intolerant and oppressive. There are several ways to get rid of one’s political enemies, and Noah seems to have employed the most efficient means of them. It is little wonder that Abinadi wasn’t welcome when he came back to town and began to preach the old religion and the old ways.
This story presents a challenging perspective: Many of Noah’s policies were obviously good and wise, and were built on principles which may have been followed by righteous rulers. Economic well-being is a good thing. A strong, growing economy brings a sense of security. Good defenses and an adequate military do the same. Security – economic and physical – is usually essential to happiness. Wise leaders know that. For example, Joseph Smith in Nauvoo built public buildings, including a temple, and he commanded the city’s militia which protected the people – but there the similarity ends – and we are forced to return to Mormon’s perspective. Noah used some good principles to promote bad ends – and those bad ends corrupted the principles, so under Noah’s rule even the principles became bad – there’s the rub! There was a point to the story, and even to the sarcasm with which I told it. It could be a commentary on current affairs, but I’ll leave that for you to decide if and how. This in not the place for me to go into all that.
[Note from Beck Locey to LeGrand:]
It’s interesting that you said what you did about this comment. I think I will follow your suggestion and not publish it yet. I think there is something very important here to comment on. It is that people can and are lulled into a sense of “carnal security”. This block of scriptures along with your comments define how this king did it. I think it is useful to point out that we as a nation have probably suffered from a similar malady.
I think if you remove the sarcasm and point out the pattern here, this is a terrific comment. The pattern is what is important for us to see. In fact, I listen to past Gen Conf tapes, and I was listening to Elder Maxwell talking
a few years back about the terrible slide we are experiencing and how many people talk about the “progress” in the world, when in fact we MUST be aware that we are digressing spiritually.
To illustrate, in priesthood, a brother said that our world is in many ways much better off today than it was 20, 30, 50 years ago. He pointed out sex education, women’s rights, equality, and other things that in fact have improved. He went on to criticize the prophets statement that we are worse off spiritually. He was convincing. After the meeting though I thought about it, and I could see the fallacy of his points. He missed the spiritual picture, he only focused on the political issues, some civic issues, and some few things that are better.
He apostatized and has left the church. It has been a sad thing to see him go. He was easily one of the brightest guys in the quorum, and did an outstanding job while he was active.
[Note from LeGrand Baker to Beck Locey and Dil Rust:]
Your point is well taken — too well, perhaps. Your example of the man who criticized the prophet is just the point. The problem is, I’m not at all sure how to make it. The Book of Mormon Project is not the place for comments about the contemporary political situation. Besides that, everyone knows I’m a Republican, and if the comments were seen as an anti-Clinton statement, that would miss the whole point. The issue is not a Republican / Democrat problem, it is a cultural erosion which is either reflected in contemporary politics, or else made worse by it – or both. I know Dil well enough to know that his comments this week were very restrained. I think I’ll send this conversation to him and ask how he thinks we should handle it.
Will you read this and tell us what you think
Love you both LeGrand
[Note from Dil Rust to LeGrand Baker and Beck Locey] Dear LeGrand and Beck,
Thanks for asking my advice. That advice is: By all means, print LeGrand’s post as is–with the exception of changing “Jeraboam” (third usage) to “Jeroboam.” (By the way, in looking at flagged “Jeraboam” I saw something interesting and typical about my spelling checker: It doesn’t contain the word “whoredoms,” but recommends “wholesome” as a replacement. Another sign of our time?)
Your comments really push the buttons that turn on my fire hydrant (and all you asked for was a drinkofwater). Anyway,heregoes.
First of all, LeGrand’s comments are not sarcasm. Given my field (especially my years of teaching MarkTwain),Iknowsarcasm–whichessentiallyisheavyuseofironyinabitingmanner. A dictionary I have at hand (I’m at my daughter’s in Connecticut) defines sarcasm as “a taunting, sneering, cutting, or caustic remark; gibe or jeer, generally ironical.” LeGrand’s remarks are quite the contrary: You are reading the story of King Noah straight and interpreting it through the lenses of the Book of Mormon writers.
(In this regard, I suggest the following modification in the close: “so under Noah’s rule, even the principles became bad–there’s the rub! The story of Noah could be a commentary on current affairs, but I’ll leave that for you to decide if and how.”)
Let me share with you an insight I had a couple of weeks ago. One Sunday morning I read Alma 37:23 for the umpteenth time and saw it in ay with Pope John Paul II.)
So is it wrong to let the Book of Mormon teach us something about “the contemporary political situation”? Quite the contrary. We would be remiss (see my point about Alma 37) if we were NOT to let the Book of Mormon discover the secret truths about our political situation. President Benson in his teachings about the Book of Mormon has said the same thing. Quoting from Gerald Lund’s article on Korihor in the July 1992 Ensign: President Ezra Taft Benson has taught that “the Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. It confounds false doctrines and lays down contention. (See 2 Ne. 3:12.) It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day. The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon are similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time.” (Ensign, Jan. 1988, p. 3.)
And to quote President Benson from the May 1978 Ensign: “Yes, there is a conspiracy of evil. The source of it all is Satan and his hosts. He has a great power over men to “lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken” to the voice of the Lord. (Moses 4:4.) His evil influence may be manifest through governments; through false educational, political, economic, religious, and social philosophies; through secret societies and organizations; and through myriads of other forms. His power and influence are so great that, if possible, he would deceive the very elect. As the second coming of the Lord approaches, Satan’s work will intensify through numerous insidious deceptions.”
Again from President Benson in the New Era for May 1975: “If we really did our homework and approached the Book of Mormon doctrinally, we could expose the errors and find the truths to combat many of the current false theories and philosophies of men, including socialism, humanism, organic evolution, and others.”
Back to Bill Clinton. In my sixty-three years on the planet, and in my reading as an Adjunct Professor of American Studies with a Ph.D. background in American history complementing my English Ph.D., I don’t know, nor have I read about, a person who more completely fits the description in the Book of Mormon of the Korihor, etc., antichrist. I would be remiss to an important purpose of the Book of Mormon, and I would surely be a foolish virgin (see D&C 45:56-57), if I did not open my eyes and spirit to the kind of person Mr. Clinton is–no matter which I political party I predominantly favor.
Now to the man Beck mentioned who saw “progress” in sex education, women’s rights, and equality. Seen through the lenses of modern prophets, these have all been misused as Satan’s counterfeits. President Hinckley spoke out clearly about the evils of sex education in the public school systems; a number of the arguments for women’s rights have exemplified scripture mingled with the philosophies of men–leading many to abandon the traditional family relationships; and “equality” as too often interpreted by the world has been counter to what each president of the Church in the last thirty years has taught about the importance of mothers staying at home as nurturers. You may remember that President Benson came under significant attack by Mormon liberals holding views such as the man Beck mentions.
LeGrand is absolutely right when he says: “The issue is not a Republican/Democrat problem, it is a cultural erosion which is either reflected in contemporary politics, or else made worse by it–or both.” Indeed, the Republican/Democrat division is, from one perspective at least, the kind of either-or decoy that Hugh Nibley has spoken about. The real opposition is between the forces of the Lord and the forces of Satan, between the children of light and the children of darkness–with the possibility that a person can be in one camp one day and in another camp the next.
Finally, as a Latter-day Saint who desires the full blessings of the gospel, I have to follow the Prophet scrupulously and to be wary of deception. That deception most distressingly can come from Church members: “Darkness covereth the earth, and gross darkness the minds of the people. . . . Vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth. . . . First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord” (D&C 112:23-24, 26).
With warm regards to you both,
[Note from LeGrand Baker to Dil Rust and Beck Locey]
Thank you for your vigorous and insightful comments. I’m glad you agree this is not a Republican/Democrat issue, but one that goes much deeper than that. As I read what you wrote I saw two sides of you coming through with equal clarity: 1) the highly moral, deeply offended citizen; 2) and the member of his stake presidency who deals with the reality of this world in the lives of the saints, so understands first-hand how serious the problems are. Again I thank you.
I have a suggestion. Our group is not a formal academic society which only publishes well polished things. It is only friends who like to talk and think together. Why don’t you send out this entire conversation, even the little notes like this one. Dil’s point that the Book of Mormon is supposed to teach us about our times is true. So lets let our friends read the entire conversation and decide for themselves what they think. Who knows, they may even tell us.
My love to both of you
[A footnote from Dil Rust to LeGrand Baker]
Just a footnote to what I wrote yesterday. In the New York Times yesterday (March 13, 2001, p. A10) there was an article about a convention in Las Vegas of academic philosophers in which this statement was made, showing once more how clever Satan is with his counterfeits: “‘Las Vegas is a realization of the kingdom of God on earth,’ said Mark C. Taylor, who teaches philosophy and religion at Williams College. . . . ‘The culture of simulacra [reproductions that some may see as surpassing the real] has become both all-encompassing and inescapable.'”
[LeGrand’s response to Dil’s footnote comment]
Dil’s footnote caused me to wish to add one of my own:
As I read the book of Job, I think it has much to teach us about why “Las Vegas is a realization of the kingdom of God on earth,” Job would ask the question: “kingdom of which god.” Then it answers that question.
The Book of Job follows the standard pattern of the cosmic story. It begins at the Council in Heaven, presents this lonely, dreary world as a challenge to both one’s physical and intellectual sense of self, then (beginning with chapter 38) leads Job to the veil where he sees God and receives the fulfillment of all the promises God ever made to him.
It is the scene which takes place at the Council in Heaven (Job 1:6-8] I wish to call attention to:
“Now there was a day when the sons of God [members of the Council] came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”
Dan Belnap has taught me that the Hebrew word which is here translated “walking” is a special kind of walking – like when God was “walking” in the Garden. This word is only used in the Old Testament to describe the ceremonial walking of gods, kings, and their representatives. [Dan has promised to send you a paper about this.]
Here, Satan is doing more than just strolling about the world. He is ceremonial walking – declaring himself to be both god and king of the earth. And he is walking for a very specific reason. He is “going to and fro in the earth… walking up and down in it.” It appears that the purpose of his walking to and fro and up and down is to measure the earth with his stride.
I grew up on a farm where I watched my father measure fields, gardens, and other places by “stepping them off” – measuring them by the length of his stride. Satan seems to be doing that same thing.
The beginning of all acts of creating sacred space is to measure it. Here, as I read it, we see Satan “stepping off” the earth – measuring it to declare it to be his sacred space.
“And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?”
And there we have, in a nutshell, the entire drama which is to follow: Satan is claiming this world as his sacred space. But the Lord denies his claim by asking, “Hast thou considered my servant Job?” Satan cannot claim the earth to be his own as long as Job is here. The presence, and the integrity of Job precludes Satan’s claim to the earth, just as his presence, integrity sustain God’s own claim.
So, from Satan’s point of view, Job has to go. And in this story, it is Job – poor picked-on Job – who alone must decide whether the earth will be turned over to Satan, or will remain a temple of Jehovah. Finally, after Job has suffered as much intellectual as physical persecution, Job prevails, and God makes him king.
Ultimately the decision of who gets this beautiful earth, will be made by the people who live on it. And it is now true, in this generation, as it has always been, that it is the power of the integrity and rectitude of the Saints which ultimately tips the balance of that scale toward heaven. In a word: each of us carries the same individual burden as poor, patient, kingly Job.
End of 12 Mar 2001, Comments.