[The following is cross posted with permission from Morgan Dean].
In one of my more sarcastic moments I thought I should write some sort of feminist study of the Book of Mormon. But the more I started thinking about the topic the more I realized how fruitful it could be.
In both Nephi’s visions (1 Nephi 14:12) and in a talk from Alma the
Younger to his son there is a discussion of whores and harlots.(Alma 39:
3, 11) The sexual impurity contrasts with the laws of purity that
described by John Welch. He cites scriptures in the Law of Moses about being ritually pure (Deuteronomy 23:9; Joshua 3:5) and Book of Mormon
verses with related concepts. These include Captain Moroni insisting
that his soldiers not “fall into transgression,” (Alma 46:22) and the
exceeding faith and purity of the Stripling Warriors. (Alma 53:21;
57:26) One of the central promises of the Book of Mormon concerns those
that prosper for keeping commandments. Hence sexual impurity would
stand as a significant loss of virtue and strength.
A Women’s Tale:
In the very beginning of the story, in Mosiah 9:2 Zeniff has to relate
the sad tale of civil war and strife to the new widows. Before facing
battle Zeniff hid his women and children in the wilderness. (Mosiah
10:9) Underlining the importance of sexual purity and honoring
covenants, one of the first things King Noah does is begin take many
wives and concubines. ( Mosiah 11:2) The soldiers of King Noah were
forced to leave behind their women and children. (Mosiah 19:11) These
soldiers were so angry they rebelled and burned King Noah at the stake.
(Mosiah 19:19-20) The remaining soldiers that didn’t flee with King
Noah put their women in front of their army to mollify the Lamanite
force. (Mosiah, 19:13) (That tactic worked which raises all sorts of
questions.) In Mosiah 20:1-5 the priests of King Noah abduct Lamanite
daughters. (In chapter two of my book I suggest this is an early version
of bride stealing- see also Helaman 11:33.) The people of Limhi are
blamed and then attacked and they fought with extra vigor for their
women and children. (Mosiah 20: 11) (This of course, predates the famous
Title of Liberty, and also underscores the same tactic used by Mormon,
Mormon 2:23-24) And towards the end of the story in Mosiah 21:17 we find
so many widows that the remaining men had to support them.
Upon closer reflection it seems the fate of women and children are
closely intertwined with the entire story of the people of Zeniff. Their
inclusion accounts for motivation of many of the actors, adds pathos to
the major events, and makes this one of the more inclusive and
humanistic accounts in the Book of Mormon. This is so intriguing I will likely transform this into a full paper.
The famous Stripling Warriors often give credit to their mothers for
their victory. (Alma 56: 47-48) What is interesting is this feminized
origin of martial bravery. Many narratives would place the origins of
courage in a father based setting. Perhaps the warriors learned courage
from hunting with their fathers, (see Enos 3) or from a campaign on
which they accompanied their fathers as children. But here they learned
battlefield courage from their mothers. This could represent the
somewhat unique situation where their fathers refused to take up arms.
So the Stripling Warriors had little chance to witness combat from their
fathers. Or this could be an intriguing lesson from Mormon. It could
act as a subversive teaching that undercuts the idea that fighting is
exclusively man’s business. One of my favorite Disney songs is “Be a
Man” from Mulan, since by the end of the movie the soldiers are dressed
like women and following the lead of the female protagonist. The
reference to mothers could also undermine the idea that people need to
fight in the first place. After all, the pertinent teaching here is a
trust in God, which is similar to idea of surrendering our lives, and
control of our lives, to the care of Heavenly Father found in step three
of the LDS recovery program. (See also Alma 61:12-13)
Token of Bravery:
In one of the last chapters of Moroni we read about the horrible
treatment of women and children in probably the most graphic verses in
all of scripture. The Nephite women and children are held captive by the
Lamanites and forced to eat the flesh of their slain husbands or
fathers. While the Lamanite women are captured, raped, and then eaten
ravenously as a token of bravery. (Moroni 9:8-10) The phrase, token of
bravery is interesting and makes me wonder what other tokens of bravery
they had. I know for example that many of the elite Aztecs wore the
bones of their dead enemy, and rather colorful clothes. The word token
is also associated with the temple, so I wonder if this is some sort of
perverse ceremony that took place in the corrupted Nephite temples.
Sacrifices to the gods were a part of pre-battle rituals of Mesoamerica.
So if the Nephites had apostatized to the God of War, and we know that
a warlike cult from Teotihuacan (modern Mexico city) was spreading
throughout Mesoamerica at this time, it would make sense that a brutal
act of conquest against women would satisfy that false God. It would
also act as almost the exact opposite of the Laws of Purification
expected of God’s people. This works thematically too, since the last
chapter exhorts the readers to study the book, remember God’s
mercy,(Moroni 10:3) and then apply Christ’s saving power in their lives.
(Moroni 10: 32-33) Much like the book Hosea in the Bible, that uses an
unfaithful and whoring wife to highlight the strength of God’s
covenants, the depravity of chapter nine could serve to highlight the
sanctifying and saving power of Christ in chapter ten.
As you can see, a study of women and their associations with sex raise a
host of interesting issues that would enhance our understanding of the
Book of Mormon. These are a few preliminary ideas and essentially little
more than a brainstorming session but I look forward to presenting
these ideas in greater detail.
John Welch, "Law and War in the Book of Mormon," in Warfare and The Book
of Mormon, Stephen Ricks, William Hamblin eds. (Provo, Salt Lake City:
FARMS, Deseret Book, 1991).
By Morgan Deane, cross-posted from Warfare and the Book of Mormon.