The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Monday, August 1, 2016

State-level society part 2

People have asked for more discussion of the tribal vs. state-level society issue. I think there is a lot of potential to move toward consensus by analyzing this issue, so I'll go ahead and look at it some more.

As I pointed out in my previous post, societies are not either "tribal" or "state-level." They are a fluid mixture, and to the extent there is a transition, it often progresses from tribal to chiefdom to state-level. And, societies can regress, as we see in the Book of Mormon where 3 Nephi 7 describes the murder of "the chief judge of the land" and a disintegration of society into tribes based on family relationships.

The result: "And it came to pass in the thirty and first year that they were divided into tribes, every man according to his family, kindred and friends; nevertheless they had come to an agreement that they would not go to war one with another; but they were not united as to their laws, and their manner of government, for they were established according to the minds of those who were their chiefs and their leaders. But they did establish very strict laws that one tribe should not trespass against another, insomuch that in some degree they had peace in the land..."

Of course, the disintegration into tribes was followed by the destruction described in 3 Ne. 8. This leaves us with two questions:

1. What was the extent of the brief state-level society enjoyed by the Nephites?

2. How much evidence of this brief state-level society can we expect to survive to the present?


The article I mentioned postulated first that "The Book of Mormon unequivocally describes state level society, as well as the precise moment when complex Nephite government degenerated into tribalism 3 Nephi 7:2-4" and then "concluded with this: "State level society cannot be created out of whole cloth, not [sic] can it be explained away. A society either has it or it doesn't. State level societies leave unmistakable traces that scientists recognize. No North American culture known to science achieved state level society during Book of Mormon times. Several Mesoamerican cultures achieved state level societies during Book of Mormon times. John L. Sorenson succinctly summed up the situation: "Only one area in ancient America had cities and books: Mesoamerica." Mormon's Codex p. 21."

There are too many problems with these statements for me to address them all, but let's discuss the extent of the brief state-level society enjoyed by the Nephites.

The article claims that "State-level societies support intensive populations... State level societies build large, well-organized cities and city states."

The Book of Mormon gives us the actual population numbers for only one city: the city of Helam. Recall from Mosiah 18 that Alma took his followers and fled into the wilderness. In Mosiah 23:5, "they pitched their tents and began to till the ground and began to build buildings." Alma refused to become their king, but he remained their high priest. In verses 19-20, "they began to prosper exceedingly in the land; and they called the land Helam. And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam."

According to the heading for Chapter 23, this took place from about 145-121 B.C.

Now, what was the population of this city?

450 people. (Mosiah 18:35).

About the size of a normal ward in the Church today.

Let's generously say that in 20 years their population doubled to 900 people.

That's the definition of a Nephite city. Everything else is speculation. All the commentary that the Nephties much have built "large, well-organized cities and city states" boils down to conjecture.

(Okay, sure, even the 900 number is speculation. All we really know is they started with 450 people and apparently built the city with that number. The scripture says they multiplied, not that they added population from outside the group. It's impossible to know without having the demographics spelled out, but do the math using your own ward and see whether it would be possible to double the population over 20 years. (No fair using a Provo ward full of young married couples.)


Why does the text distinguish between villages, towns, and cities? (Alma 8:2 refers to villages and small villages.) Presumably, a village lacks a market and a town is smaller than a city. The text refers to only one market, and that was in the city of Zarahemla.

If the definition of a city is based on population, and the city of Helam (pop. 450) is a "city," we can assume towns, villages, and small villages were even smaller.

The Book of Mormon refers to four "great" cities in the New World by name: Ammonihah (by implication, Alma 9:4); Zarahemla (Hel. 1:18); Moroni (3 Ne. 9:17); and another city called Jerusalem (Alma 21:2). This raises a question of whether the adjective great refers to size of territory or population, or just to a particular feature. Actually, passages that refer to "great cities" without naming them suggest the adjective "great" refers to defensive preparation; e.g., Helaman 8:6 "we are powerful, and our cities great, therefore our enemies can have no power over us."

Nephi also referred to Jerusalem in the Old World as a "great city." At the time when Lehi left, its population was about 25,000, but it was also fortified.

Even if great refers to population, we have a range of population for Book of Mormon cities of between 450 and 25,000 people.

So in the entire text of the Book of Mormon, we have some named great cities (presumably a maximum of 25,000 people, but probably much smaller) and lots of named and unnamed cities (minimum of 450 people) and even smaller towns and villages.

Nowhere does the text say these cities were built of stone.

You can reach your own conclusions about the extent of this "state-level society" and the amount of evidence that would survive to the present.

As for me, I don't expect much evidence to survive the Alma wars, the Helaman political problems, the 3 Nephi descent into tribalism followed by the cataclysmic destruction, and the post-4 Nephi annihilation. About all I would expect to find are structures that the Lamanites could not--or would not--easily destroy.

Structures like monumental architecture such as massive geometric mounds of earth.


3 Nephi 7:14 is not a bad description of the tribes as of the time when the Europeans arrived in America, although there were some wars between some of the tribes. For an overview of what anthropologists say, you can read the wikipedia article here. I have a draft manuscript that goes through this in much more detail, but I probably won't finish it this year because of other projects I'm doing.

Basically, in my view the Hopewell culture corresponds to the Nephites, the Adena correspond to the Jaredites ("in this north country"), and the other North American cultures are a mixture of other Jaredite groups, other immigrants from Asia, and remnants of Adamic cultures. The Mesoamerican and South American cultures could include Jaredite groups, but are mostly immigrants from Asia. To the extent there are indicia of Nephite culture there, it would have been brought south by post-400 A.D. migrations.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. One more thought I have is that it may be hard to estimate how fast their culture doubled compared to ours, because theirs was before birth control, and they probably had a different infant mortality rate and life expectancy. A Provo ward may be more like it. :)