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Rebellion Against King Noah
1 And it came to pass that the army of the king returned, having searched in vain for the people of the Lord.
2 And now behold, the forces of the king were small, having been reduced, and there began to be a division among the remainder of the people.
3 And the lesser part began to breathe out threatenings against the king, and there began to be a great contention among them.
The key to understanding verse 2 is verse 3. There were the beginnings of a division among the people. Mormon does not tell us why the contentions arose, but the fact that there was less than unanimous support for King Noah explains why the forces of the king had been reduced. In many ancient societies, the military was made up of the people who were otherwise farmers and laborers. There was no standing army. Thus, there were no paid positions, and the reduction of the forces likely signifies that when many of the people began to dissent from King Noah’s reign, they also would not have answered the call to a military operation.
The reason for mentioning the reduction in the numbers in the forces of the king has little to do with the story, except that it provides the essential background of a people divided and ready for change. That is the backdrop for the story of Gideon, which begins in the next verse.
4 And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.
5 And it came to pass that he fought with the king; and when the king saw that he was about to overpower him, he fled and ran and got upon the tower which was near the temple.
6 And Gideon pursued after him and was about to get upon the tower to slay the king, and the king cast his eyes round about towards the land of Shemlon, and behold, the army of the Lamanites were within the borders of the land.
We do not know anything about Gideon’s background. He might have had some military training as he later becomes king’s captain for Limhi (see Mosiah 20:17). There may not have been such information in the records from which Mormon took this account. What we do learn is that he was a strong man, a description that tends to identify protagonists in the Book of Mormon. Good men and strong men. Most importantly, he was an enemy of the king. Perhaps he was a leader in the dissent from Noah’s rule.
The dissent became so dire that Gideon attempts a coup by killing Noah. They engage in battle, and Noah runs up the tower near the temple. That simple statement belies the picture of the overweight Noah sitting in judgment of Abinadi that Arnold Friberg painted. Friberg’s Noah would never outrun Gideon up a tower.
Noah would have gone up the tower to gain the strategic advantage of the higher ground, probably hoping that it would equal out a combat that he had been about to lose. When he arrived however, he happened to see an invading army of Lamanites.
Lamanites Attack City of Lehi-Nephi
7 And now the king cried out in the anguish of his soul, saying: Gideon, spare me, for the Lamanites are upon us, and they will destroy us; yea, they will destroy my people.
8 And now the king was not so much concerned about his people as he was about his own life; nevertheless, Gideon did spare his life.
9 And the king commanded the people that they should flee before the Lamanites, and he himself did go before them, and they did flee into the wilderness, with their women and their children.
The appearance of a threat to all the people convinces Gideon to spare Noah’s life. What Noah does with that life is to demonstrate the division that existed among the people. Gideon would begin to work to defend the people. Noah ordered the people to flee with their women and children.
Mormon doesn’t tell us what is behind this exodus. Clearly Noah fears that the people would be killed, including women and children. Perhaps it was another invasion such as had caused the people of Mosiah1 (father of Benjamin) to leave the city of Nephi.
10 And it came to pass that the Lamanites did pursue them, and did overtake them, and began to slay them.
11 Now it came to pass that the king commanded them that all the men should leave their wives and their children, and flee before the Lamanites.
12 Now there were many that would not leave them, but had rather stay and perish with them. And the rest left their wives and their children and fled.
13 And it came to pass that those who tarried with their wives and their children caused that their fair daughters should stand forth and plead with the Lamanites that they would not slay them.
14 And it came to pass that the Lamanites had compassion on them, for they were charmed with the beauty of their women.
Noah and those who fled with him are overtaken and they engage with the Lamanites. It is unlikely that those who went with Noah were the younger men or the warriors. They were more likely to have been the elites, and perhaps not as experienced in combat. In any case, it became clear to Noah that they would be slain, so Noah commands that they leave the women and children and flee.
Certainly, this appears reprehensible. It was sufficiently difficult for some that they could not do it and remained with the women and children. However, what followed might have been part of the plan in leaving. If we give Noah the benefit of the doubt that Mormon does not want to accord him, it is possible that Noah expected that the pleading of the women might be effective. It is a tactic that we saw at a time when Nephi’s brothers and Ismael’s sons wanted to kill him, and the women intervened. We will see it again with another group of women. It is possible that this was understood as an acceptable means of surrender and cessation of conflict.
15 Therefore the Lamanites did spare their lives, and took them captives and carried them back to the land of Nephi, and granted unto them that they might possess the land, under the conditions that they would deliver up king Noah into the hands of the Lamanites, and deliver up their property, even one half of all they possessed, one half of their gold, and their silver, and all their precious things, and thus they should pay tribute to the king of the Lamanites from year to year.
16 And now there was one of the sons of the king among those that were taken captive, whose name was Limhi.
The beginning of verse 15 underscores how the Book of Mormon differs from more modern cultural expectations. It begins as might be expected with the taking of prisoners. The difference is where they were taken.
Modern assumptions would have captives taken back to the land of the victors. These prisoners are taken back to their city. Modern assumptions would have the captives imprisoned, but these are returned to their lands and lives. Modern assumptions would have the victors looting the city and taking anything of value, but these captives surrender half. That is clearly a large amount, but significantly different from losing everything.
Each of these actions differs from modern expectations but are perfectly in line with common practice in Mesoamerica. The purpose of conquest in Mesoamerica was to set up lines of tribute. The genius of that system was that the conquerors received goods not only immediately after the conquest but created an ongoing stream of goods. Leaving the people in place allowed for the continued creation of the goods and redirected a percentage of them from the inhabitants to the victors.
King Noah Dies by Fire
17 And now Limhi was desirous that his father should not be destroyed; nevertheless, Limhi was not ignorant of the iniquities of his father, he himself being a just man.
18 And it came to pass that Gideon sent men into the wilderness secretly, to search for the king and those that were with him. And it came to pass that they met the people in the wilderness, all save the king and his priests.
19 Now they had sworn in their hearts that they would return to the land of Nephi, and if their wives and their children were slain, and also those that had tarried with them, that they would seek revenge, and also perish with them.
20 And the king commanded them that they should not return; and they were angry with the king, and caused that he should suffer, even unto death by fire.
21 And they were about to take the priests also and put them to death, and they fled before them.
The comment that Limhi was a just man appears to place him on the same side of the internal conflict as Gideon, in spite of being the son of the king. Nevertheless, Limhi did not desire that his father should die, even though it appears clear that he was happy enough to have deposed him. Gideon is clearly important in Limhi’s new government from the beginning, and it is to him that Limhi turns in order to send people to find Noah and the priests.
What they find is some of the people who fled with Noah, but who then rebelled. The story is told quickly, and the fact that they executed Noah by fire is given to provide the fulfilment of Abinadi’s prophecy that the king would be like a garment in a fire (Mosiah 12:10).
The short line telling that the priests were to be put to death, but fled, becomes important later in the relation. As Mormon is writing, he certainly knows that they will have an important role to play later, so he makes certain to tell his readers that they have escaped.
22 And it came to pass that they were about to return to the land of Nephi, and they met the men of Gideon. And the men of Gideon told them of all that had happened to their wives and their children; and that the Lamanites had granted unto them that they might possess the land by paying a tribute to the Lamanites of one half of all they possessed.
23 And the people told the men of Gideon that they had slain the king, and his priests had fled from them farther into the wilderness.
24 And it came to pass that after they had ended the ceremony, that they returned to the land of Nephi, rejoicing, because their wives and their children were not slain; and they told Gideon what they had done to the king.
25 And it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites made an oath unto them, that his people should not slay them.
As those men who had killed Noah returned toward their homes, they met Gideon’s men. The story is told, and Mormon abridges it severely. Mormon is providing historical details that will be important to future aspects of the story he intends to tell.
The most confusing passage is verse 24, which says “after they had ended the ceremony. . . they returned to the land of Nephi.” Royal Skousen has suggested that the word ceremony should be rather seen as sermon. Frankly, all explanations fall short of full understanding. We simply don’t have enough information to understand what happened.
What we can see from these verses is that something happened when the two groups who had been inhabitants of Lehi-Nephi meet and exchange information. Only after stating that they returned home do we have the statement that the king of the Lamanites swore an oath not to slay them. There is no information on why that should have happened either.
It is most probable that the information in the original record of Zeniff would have explained these events more fully. They are peripheral to Mormon’s interests, however, and it appears that he abridged out a little too much information for our modern historical interests.
Limhi’s People Become Lamanite Vassals
26 And also Limhi, being the son of the king, having the kingdom conferred upon him by the people, made oath unto the king of the Lamanites that his people should pay tribute unto him, even one half of all they possessed.
27 And it came to pass that Limhi began to establish the kingdom and to establish peace among his people.
28 And the king of the Lamanites set guards round about the land, that he might keep the people of Limhi in the land, that they might not depart into the wilderness; and he did support his guards out of the tribute which he did receive from the Nephites.
29 And now king Limhi did have continual peace in his kingdom for the space of two years, that the Lamanites did not molest them nor seek to destroy them.
Limhi was the son of the king, and presumably king by birthright. Nevertheless, it is the people who are said to confer the kingdom upon him. It is probable that this is a reference to the voice of the people, a process that we will see in Zarahemla in more detail before the end of the book of Mosiah. In short, even kings who ruled according to inheritance were supported by the voice of the people. The voice of the people was not a democratic process of voting, but perhaps more a confirmation.
The result of this part of the story is that conflict ends, both internal and external. The statement that there were two years of continual peace only highlights the fact that the peace will soon be disrupted.
There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition. Orson Pratt divided the chapter at this point because there is a shift to a new story in our chapter 20. However, it is a story that has already been set up with the indication that the priests of Noah had escaped Noah’s fate and fled. The next chapter picks up their story and its impact upon the people of Limhi.
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