Your Friday Firestorm #25

Therefore I did obey the voice of the Spirit, and took Laban by the hair of the head, and I smote off his head with his own sword.

(1 Nephi 4:18)



  1. That video … it’s not actually supposed to be ironically funny, is it.

    I think anyone who’s read this has paused to think about a couple of things. One, if HF wanted Laban to die, why didn’t he just give him a stroke? Why did he put Nephi into a compromising position of having to commit murder? Breaking spiritual and temporal laws… Even as a test, it’s so drastic.

    Secondly, “I did obey the voice of the Spirit.” This seems unlike having a flesh and bone visitation or a vision of an angel. I have a friend, who, after his wife was diagnosed with a sort of postpartum psychosis and saw my friend as Jesus, stopped believing in spiritual visions at all. It was a major crisis of faith, as he attributed all visions and whisperings of the spirit as mental illness, because the reality was that they were indistinguishable from each other (from the POV of the person having the experience). In other words, the fact that Nephi obeys a spiritual voice to take Laban’s life can be very problematic! I have no doubt that the spirit told him to do so, but if that scenario were to happen today… well, hello institution for the criminally insane.

    Finally, this isn’t firestorm related, but in the next verse Nephi dons Laban’s clothing. Can you imagine the mess after he had just chopped off the guy’s head? That really had to play around with Nephi’s own psyche and I wonder if he had any Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

  2. Better to use the victim’s weapon than to use your own. Provided you don’t leave prints, of course. Ya don’t want “Jersusalem: CSI” on your heels, even if you do flee into the wilderness.

  3. Since very few people here believe in infallibility of receiving spiritual messages, I have a hard time seeing how this could be justified. What if Nephi was wrong in interpreting the spirit?

    Why did Nephi need to kill him anyway? The guy was not a threat. Nephi could have done everything else in the story (taken his clothes, impersonated him, got the plates, etc) without any need to kill the guy. This was needless bloodshed. This was shooting a guy in the back.

    The surprising thing to me is how often this (and Abraham’s almost killing his son) is used today as a lesson about obeying with exactness. Nobody seems to mention that if this sort of thing happened today, there would be no question that Nephi was a religious nutcase that needs to be locked up. How can we be so ashamed of MMM and yet so proud of Nephi? What is really going on in the mind of someone that preaches that killing an incapacitated man because of some religious ‘feeling’ is a good idea? Does this hit home? Have you ever preached this?

  4. Just a subversive thought, gandhi – What if applying a 21st-century model to spiritual instruction is wrong? Maybe it’s our view of the world that’s wrong.

    In modern times, wouldn’t Nephi at that time be equivalent to the President of the Quorum of the 12? Maybe it’s OK for the head of the Church or the Apostles to kill if so commanded by God.

  5. What’s fascinating about that account is that Nephi didn’t straightaway obey the Spirit. He thought it over and went over the rationale. He considered the pros and the cons of his actions.

  6. John Welch at F.A.R.M.S. (now apparently renamed the Maxwell Institute) has written an interesting analysis of the Slaying of Laban in the attached article. He references Exodus 21: 13-14 as well to justify Nephi’s action. Interesting thoughts from a “legal” perspective.

  7. Yes, queuno, but if one of the 12 or the prophet killed someone regardless if Heavenly Father told him to, we would be completely horrified and disillusioned. I don’t think we have an exception-to-the-major-commandments rule in play for the Apostles. Or do we?!?

  8. meems, that’s my question. Would we really be disillusioned if Thomas S. Monson, having been commanded, slew a great enemy of the Church? Don’t we believe that the Lord gives the commandments and can suspend them at any time on an ad-hoc basis? (I think we do.) I just wonder if our 21-century viewpoint is perverted on this.

  9. If Thomas S. Monson whacked anybody, enemy of the church or not, I would expect him to be handcuffed, mirandized, and frogmarched to the police station for interrogation. The law would and should take its course.

  10. re:#3 – I agree completely. Every now and then I’ll have these moments when I’m pondering about the story of Laban or Abraham sacrificing his son and where I have these flashes: “Holy crap these stories are messed up!”

    The idea that God would test your obedience by asking you to kill your own child…. sure, I understand the symbolism of the story, but if someone tried that today, they’d be thrown in the slammer.

  11. I don’t think it’s my privilege to question why Nephi was commanded to commit a murder, however, I acknowledge that I really couldn’t handle it if any of the Brethren were to do the same, no matter what voice of the spirit told him to do so. I’d weep deeply if such an action were to occur.

    Maybe Nephi had to do the deed just so we in the 19th + centuries would have to choose between it being a faith promoting and a faith weakening incident.

  12. Hands were cuffed, frogs were marched, and apostles were mirandized.

    Wonderful video, Steve. If I were Nephi, I would have glossed over this incident.

  13. Nick Literski says:

    If this passage is actually an abridgement of a record made circa 600 B.C., I think we need to consider Nephi’s motivations. Yes, he says deity told him to make a record. That’s nice. What about the things he included in that record, and how he stated them? I think the argument can be made that Nephi’s record is, in part, a justification of the political reign of Nephi and his heirs.

    There are two primary accusations which others could bring to frustrate Nephi’s political ascendancy: (1) he’s not the eldest brother, and (2) he committed a violent “murder.” A significant amount of text in The Book of Mormon relates back to disputes over whether Nephi, as a younger brother, had any business ruling over his older brothers. Nephi certainly goes to great pains to justify it, and throughout The Book of Mormon, various Lamanites complain that Nephi allegedly usurped “their” rights by taking power in spite of regular birthright rules.

    With all the text devoted to overcoming the birthright objection to Nephi’s reign, is it any surprise that he would also give a lengthy explanation (justification?) of an event, where others could accuse him of a brutal decapitation, theft, and (stretching a bit) kidnaping?

  14. Nick Literski says:

    I don’t think it’s my privilege to question why Nephi was commanded to commit a murder . . .

    No, it’s not your “privilege.” It’s your right to question. In fact, any deity who would interfere with that right, wouldn’t be worthy of worship. A deity who wants his children to become like him would encourage his children to question and ponder his acts.

  15. I have no issues with the account in the BOM.

  16. I think it’s a little different having the Spirit tell you to kill a wicked king than it is having Him tell you to kill your child. How about a different hypothetical:

    Your a soldier in Afghanistan and you (alone) find bin Laden. Your first thought is to simply arrest him but then you feel prompted by “The Spirit” that you need need to take his life–for whatever reason (he’ll escape, etc.). You probably wouldn’t be hauled off in shackles for this.

  17. The part that troubles me (based on new info from the video) is that Nephi not only cut off Laban’s head, but he also stuck knives and forks in Laban’s knees beforehand? Why did he do that? Heavy stuff.

  18. MikeInWeHo says:

    OMGosh, thanks for linking to that video, Steve. Flight of the Conchords has got to be the funniest thing on TV. Every episode has a musical scene like that. Those guys are real folk-music parodists from New Zealand who managed to get their own show in the U.S.

    re: 4, 7
    Wouldn’t it be cool if God commanded Romney and Huckabee to have a good ol’ fashioned duel at twenty paces? Talk about accelerating the primaries. Can you say pay-per-view event of the decade??

    re: 15
    I’m not sure what you mean by that, bbell. Do you mean that you accept the common interpretation that this account (along with Abraham almost skewering his son) as “a lesson about obeying with exactness,” as gandhi puts it?

  19. Mike,

    I simply think it happened…. that such a situation is possible….(although unlikely) and I accept the common interpretation.

  20. The case could be made that “this is how things worked back then”. You could also go through some sort of legalistic FARMS sort of review and show that Nephi didn’t break the ‘law’ that existed at the time.

    Even if you take this view of things, one problem is the theory that the BOM was written for our day. If it was really written for our day, it might have been better to gloss over the things that don’t apply to our time (like killing people for no reason). There doesn’t seem to have been much foresight in this (and other parts) of the BOM. For example, if Moroni saw our day, why does alcohol get nuetral/positive treatment, why so little mention of temple/families, etc?

  21. This, being so close to the beginning of the BOM, was one of the hardest things for me as an investigator. I will say that.

    If I were starting a religion, I probably wouldn’t start my book with that.

    Jeffrey R. Holland gave a great talk at BYU about this.

    Everyone should check it out. It is Holland at his best.

  22. #21 – This is a good talk in that it brings up the issue and presents it as an issue that must be dealt with. The ‘answer’ given, though, is weak. The ‘answer’ to the dilema deals with obedience and avoiding lucifer’s ‘raging ego’ plan. It never addresses the deeper questions:

    1-How can we talk about such strict obedience, when the message from the spirit is not certain? Is Nephi infallible in his understanding of the spirit?
    2-How would there have been any ‘raging ego’ in Nephi not killing Laban? All the other parts of the story remain, but Laban lives. What is the problem with this?

  23. I never had a problem with this BoM story. The Lord instructed Saul to obliterate entire civilizations, I’m supposed to have a problem with this? Verse 13 was enough justification for me.

    Funny, I don’t feel like bleating or safely grazing.

  24. What if applying a 21st-century model to spiritual instruction is wrong?

    What if applying a 2600 year old record to our 21st-century life is wrong?

  25. Thanks Matt. Holland’s talk is a must read. He says more, but here is a strong piece:

    For that matter, why didn’t Nephi just leave this story out of the book altogether? Why didn’t he say something like, “And after much effort and anguish of spirit, I did obtain the plates of Laban and did depart into the wilderness unto the tent of my father?” At the very least he might have buried the account somewhere in the Isaiah chapters, thus guaranteeing that it would have gone undiscovered up to this very day.

    But there it is, squarely in the beginning of the book–page 8–where even the most casual reader will see it and must deal with it. It is not intended that either Nephi or we be spared the struggle of this account.

    I believe that story was placed in the very opening verses of a 531-page book and then told in painfully specific detail in order to focus every reader of that record on the absolutely fundamental gospel issue of obedience and submission to the communicated will of the Lord. If Nephi cannot yield to this terribly painful command, if he cannot bring himself to obey, then it is entirely probable that he can never succeed or survive in the tasks that lie just ahead.

    “1 will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). I confess that I wince a little when I hear that promise quoted so casually among us. Jesus knew what that kind of commitment would entail, and so now does Nephi. And so will a host of others before it is over. That vow took Christ to the cross on Calvary, and it remains at the heart of every Christian covenant. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” Well, we shall see. (emphasis added)

  26. #23 —

    I never had a problem with this BoM story

    This implies that you are OK with murder or that you haven’t thought about it. Holland says,

    It is pretty much a bitter cup all the way around.

    where even the most casual reader will see it and must deal with it. It is not intended that either Nephi or we be spared the struggle of this account.

    this terribly painful command

    I confess that I wince a little when I hear..

  27. From the Welch article cited above:

    Nephi did not commit the equivalent of a first-degree murder under the laws of his day.

    Which just goes to show that the concepts ‘legal’ and ‘legitimate’ do not necessarily overlap.

  28. #22 Do you believe, as Elder Hollnd notes, that obedience is the first law of heaven?

    And, fallibility does not save one from making a choice. It is not as if disobeying the Spirit is without consequence. Thus getting the answer wrong was going to be bad either way. You’re treating it as if he could just walk away and there would be no consequence. But Elder Holland disagrees.

    #24 “What if applying a 2600 year old record to our 21st-century life is wrong?”

    I’m pretty sure our doctrine is that we should apply a 2600 year old record to 21st century life.

  29. ghandi,

    What makes Elder Holland wince, by the way, is not this story, but people who say they will obey without realizing how much that entails. People who think obedience is easy and will not require hard sacrifice or that it can be placed below our personal preferences.

  30. #28–Obedience the first law of heaven? I’ve never read that in the scriptures. Please tell me where that is in the canon. Even if it is, obedience to what/who?

  31. The video ruled. “Knives and forks in his leg” “What are their overheads?” Awesome.

  32. Ghandi,

    I didn’t say it was in the canon, I said that it is what Elder Holland said (quoting a bunch of other people in the process). But I don’t think it is hard to figure out why.

    “And we will prove them herewith to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abr. 3:24-25.)

    Which also answers your question about who we obey. So let me rephrase. Do you believe that the purpose of life is to prove we “will do all things whatsoever the Lord…shall command [us]?”

    This isn’t a trick, I honestly am trying to figure out where you are coming from.

  33. ghandi (#26),

    You bring up a good point insofar as it’s easy to have no problem with the killing when looking at it from the “cheap seats,” and I apologize if I seemed glib. It was obviously a horrific experience for Nephi, and he might have spelled that out in the records partly because it did affect him so profoundly. But it’s also a lesson that there’s no room for conscientious objectors in the kingdom of God– and I have no problem with that, either.

  34. Deputy prosecutor: I refuse to reach a plea agreement with this guy; we have to take him to trial. I mean, we have a murder, assault, battery, kidnapping, larceny, false pretenses, not to mention a few inchoate offenses.

    Prosecutor: I’ve seen this case before. He says God told him to do it. He’ll take the stand and tell the jury God told him to do it and they’ll acquit. This guy has a beautiful insanity defense.

    Deputy prosecutor: The system is just messed up. A guy claims to break all the laws of God and man at God’s beckoning and then walks. Maybe Jerusalem cannot be saved.

  35. Are there any other divinely-sanctioned homicides in the scriptures?

  36. DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In a speech to a local women’s group, Mike Huckabee raised the question whether Mitt Romney believes the Mormon story about Nephi killing Laban, and asked if Romney believed that “God told me so” (as opposed to “Salt Lake told me so”) was an acceptable defense for starting a nuclear war with Iran.

  37. #32-I’m not sure that that is the purpose of life. I’d guess that the average person doesn’t receive too many instructions directly from God. If you don’t get any instructions in your life, how can the whole purpose of your life to be obey those non-existent instructions?

    Let say that I’m OK with obeying God without question. What does that mean? Does it mean that I obey (without question) any instruction (including murder) that is given to me by my bishop? Hometeacher? Stake president? My personal interpretation of a scripture? Obeying some feeling that I get? Or are we just talking about obeying God if he literally appears to me and tells me to do something? For the record, I’m batting 1000 on that one so far in my life…

  38. This bit of LDS scripture does little for me as a historical event. Thinking about this account in terms of real people acting on real revelation is disturbing. It is beyond disturbing, the account is disgusting–it is something I wouldn’t want my children watching on t.v.

    One thought I haven’t completely worked out is looking at Nephi’s account in terms of the heroic journey. Laban is the personification of adversity, an obstacle to achieving righteousness–Laban stands in the way of truth and revelation. Such evil can only be reckoned with by taking it by the hair and cutting off its head (Something like Jesus’ counsel in Matt 5:29-30).


  39. #36,

    Please tell me that’s not real.

  40. No, David. I was channeling Mike Huckabee’s campaign strategist, who is a closet BCC reader (“Hey Mike — look what weird stuff they’re talking about today!”).

  41. gandhi – Are you batting 1.000 on obeying the Lord when he appears to you, or batting .000 with 0 at-bats? Curious minds want to know?

  42. divinely-sanctioned homicide

    Does the crucifixion count?

    Does the Lord sometimes outsource homicide to groups outside his chosen people?

  43. Steve Evans says:


    No to the first, not for purposes of this discussion.

    As for the second, the lamanites seem to have served this purpose in the BOM. But let’s try to deal with specific homicides, not wars en masse.

  44. gandhi,

    “I’d guess that the average person doesn’t receive too many instructions directly from God. If you don’t get any instructions in your life, how can the whole purpose of your life to be obey those non-existent instructions?”

    Your question makes clear why the scripture does not say “directly from God”. We have a doctrine of how we get communication from God and it is not limited to personal appearances.

    I would suggest, that one must attempt to obey even in the absence of certainty, since requiring certainty makes obedience completely nonbinding. Thus we have a doctrine of faith. We take the oracles we’ve got and make our best guess as to God’s will (weighted by the benefits and costs) and do that.

    Nephi’s efforts to discern and obey God are are pretty well documented. Obedience to God leads to greater faith and, I suppose, certainty. It is not obvious that he would have had the faith to call upon the miracles later needed had he not been willing to follow God in this instance.

  45. Steve: “But let’s try to deal with specific homicides, not wars en masse.”

    This reminds me of “One death is a tragedy. A million are a statistic.”

  46. #41–3 guesses. The experiences (if any) would be much too sacred to relate, so please just know that I’ve obeyed every time this sort of thing happened.

    Sound familiar?

  47. Steve Evans says:

    helpful as always Frank. Any answers to the question I posed in #35?

  48. #44–why does ‘certainty make obedience non-binding’?

    If my ‘best guess’ is to NOT kill people, where is the problem with that?

  49. For those willing to follow voices in your heads directing you to murder the helpless and incapacitatedplease, please, please, first go to your doctor and take all the meds s/he prescribes.

    The only way the Nephi story is not as profoundly immoral as any murder of the helpless who are obnoxious is if it’s understood metaphorically (as 38 suggests), rather than literally.

    Who here can’t think of a thousand alternatives short of murder of the helpless Laban to teach Nephi the value of obedience and to get the plates into his hands?

    Suppose, for a minute, that you are, in some degree, obnoxious and troublesome to your spouse or roommate. Suppose, further, that you drift off to sleep on the living room rug after Sunday dinner. Then suppose you awaken to see your spouse/roommate poised over you about to lop off your head with a convenient sword. You inquire as to the nature of your spouse/roommate’s intentions. S/he advises you of an inspired feeling, instructing your slaying. Do you say, “Oh, I see — the Nephi pattern. I guess you should do what you should do,” and submit?

  50. Peter (24) – I wasn’t saying that it was wrong to apply a 2600-old record to modern day. But I am wondering if the Lord’s model includes occasional commandments that we might find revolting, that he might occasionally ask people to do things we might abhorrent.

    And (34), it’s not like Nephi was caught and tried. Maybe when you’re killing in the service of your God, God protects you from the law of man?

  51. Greenfrog, that’s why I theorized that maybe the only people who might receive such mandate would be apostles, prophets, the three nephites…

    Would we really have a problem if we found out in the next life that the 3 Nephites were going around and carrying out special ops in the name of the Lord?

    (At any rate, I too think it’s metaphorical.)

  52. gandhi,

    perhaps it will help if I add back in the word you left off the front:

    “requiring certainty makes obedience non-binding”.

    If I agree to obey God but only when I am _certain_ that God is telling me, and that certainty requires a personal physical manifestation, then your reading effectively guts obedience as an important doctrine and makes the Abraham scripture I cited basically wrong. Thus that is probably not the appropriate reading.

    “If my ‘best guess’ is to NOT kill people, where is the problem with that?”

    If your best guess is that God does not want you to kill people, then you shouldn’t. If your best guess is that God does want you to kill someone, and that guess has narrow enough confidence intervals, then you should. (this confidence interval stuff is statistical language to reflect the need to weigh costs and benefits)

    For the record, I doubt anyone shy of prophet-level revelatory capacity would ever have narrow enough confidence intervals on that question to ever make it the right move.

  53. A strange thing about this story is that Nephi not only beheaded Laban – but then took Laban’s clothing and put it on … I’m wondering how he managed to cut off Laban’s head without drenching both himself and Laban’s clothing in blood.

    1 Nephi 4:19
    And after I had smitten off his head with his own sword, I took the garments of Laban and put them upon mine own body; yea, even every whit; and I did gird on his armor about my loins.

    I’m not saying raising this question to be skeptical of the account. I just try to imagine how it happened the way it did.

  54. Steve– Elijah and the priests of Baal.

  55. If I agree to obey God but only when I am _certain_ that God is telling me, and that certainty requires a personal physical manifestation, then your reading effectively guts obedience as an important doctrine and makes the Abraham scripture I cited basically wrong. Thus that is probably not the appropriate reading.

    One more time–why does certainty ‘gut obedience’? You’ve only restated your previous assertion, without giving any justification. My children are quite certain that I’ve asked them to do certain things. They still have the choice to obey or not. Where is their ‘obedience gutted’?

  56. I seem to remember an article that talked about the parallels between David and Goliath vs. Nephi and Laban. I don’t remember where I read it though, but I remember it being rather interesting, and has bearing to what we’re discussing here.

  57. #56–That is completely different. Killing in time of war is a discussion for another day. Today we are talking about murdering a helpless man.

  58. gandhi – what I’m saying is not that the killings are entirely the same, but that when Nephi tells the story of his killing of Laban, he is alluding to the David and Goliath narrative, probably for the same purposes that Nick Literski outlines in #13.

    If I was able to find the article, I would post it. Darn it!

  59. Here is the relevant passage from the Holland talk, by the way:

    Obedience is the first law of heaven, but in case you haven’t noticed, some of these commandments are not easy, and we frequently may seem to be in for much more than we bargained for. At least if we are truly serious about becoming a saint, I think we will find that is the case.

    Let me use an example from what is often considered by foes, and even by some friends, as the most unsavory moment in the entire Book of Mormon. I choose it precisely because there is so much in it that has given offense to many. It is pretty much a bitter cup all the way around.

    I speak of Nephi’s obligation to slay Laban in order to preserve a record, save a people, and ultimately lead to the restoration of the gospel in the dispensation of the fulness of times. How much is hanging in the balance as Nephi stands over the drunken and adversarial Laban I cannot say, but it is a very great deal indeed.

    The only problem is that we know this, but Nephi does not. And regardless of how much is at stake, how can. he do this thing? He is a good person, perhaps even a well-educated person. He has been taught from the very summit of Sinai “Thou shalt not kill.” And he has made gospel covenants.

    “1 was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but . . . I shrunk and would that I might not slay him” (1 Nephi 4:10). A bitter test? A desire to shrink? Sound familiar? We don’t know why those plates could not have been obtained some other way–perhaps accidentally left at the plate polishers one night or maybe falling out the back of Laban’s chariot on a Sabbath afternoon.

    For that matter, why didn’t Nephi just leave this story out of the book altogether? Why didn’t he say something like, “And after much effort and anguish of spirit, I did obtain the plates of Laban and did depart into the wilderness unto the tent of my father?” At the very least he might have buried the account somewhere in the Isaiah chapters, thus guaranteeing that it would have gone undiscovered up to this very day.

    But there it is, squarely in the beginning of the book–page 8–where even the most casual reader will see it and must deal with it. It is not intended that either Nephi or we be spared the struggle of this account.

    I believe that story was placed in the very opening verses of a 531-page book and then told in painfully specific detail in order to focus every reader of that record on the absolutely fundamental gospel issue of obedience and submission to the communicated will of the Lord. If Nephi cannot yield to this terribly painful command, if he cannot bring himself to obey, then it is entirely probable that he can never succeed or survive in the tasks that lie just ahead.

    “1 will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded” (1 Nephi 3:7). I confess that I wince a little when I hear that promise quoted so casually among us. Jesus knew what that kind of commitment would entail, and so now does Nephi. And so will a host of others before it is over. That vow took Christ to the cross on Calvary, and it remains at the heart of every Christian covenant. “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” Well, we shall see.

  60. queuno,

    My comment in #34 was merely to point out how Nephi’s actions completely defy our notions of right and wrong, and how his actions don’t even square with the context in which it is told.

    Nephi and family left Jerusalem because of the city’s depravity. Nephi returns, murders (a particularly nasty murder), lies, steals, threatens, kidnaps, and commits all kinds of sins and crimes in the name of God. And the message we usually take from this? The scriptures are important; obedience is important.

    As a literal historical event this account does little for me. I don’t understand an omnipotent God that justifies his ends with unnecesarily brutal means–that is something reserved to humanity.

  61. The Nephi killing Laban under Gods command rings true to me for the following reasons.

    1. Time frame: OT
    Lotas of God sanctioned killings in the OT. the Flood, Army of Eygpt, sons of Egypt, Sodom, Priests of Baal, whole villages in the Joshua campaign, Jer prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem by God using their enemies etc

    2. Law Framework. the old covenant seems to have more eye for eye stuff and lots of killings. Jesus did not bring the new covenant and a new way of looking at the world for another 600 or so years.

  62. Nick Literski says:

    Would we really have a problem if we found out in the next life that the 3 Nephites were going around and carrying out special ops in the name of the Lord?

    I’d have a problem with it. That sounds too much like the George W. Bush justification!

  63. I apologize. Didn’t mean to hyperlink the whole paragraph!

  64. Aaron Brown says:

    What exactly is the “firestorm” potential here? I don’t get it. The Spirit tells me to decapitate people who displease me all the time. And I do. Big freakin’ deal.


  65. Nick Literski says:

    For the record, I doubt anyone shy of prophet-level revelatory capacity would ever have narrow enough confidence intervals on that question to ever make it the right move.

    Really? Okay, here’s a (very unlikely) hypothetical for you. Suppose you turn on CNN, to hear that Gordon Hinckley has been arrested for gunning down Sandra Tanner in the streets of Salt Lake City. Suppose he states that he received a revelation, commanding him to do so. Would you believe it and defend him to the rest of the world, or would you think he’d lost his marbles? Would it make a difference whether or not his counsellors and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve issued a press release, confirming that they believe the “revelation” was legitimate?

  66. To draw a parallel, There are other Abrahamic religions which interpret the Abraham story differently from the traditional LDS gloss. They say that Abraham FAILED the “Abrahamic test” by meekly obeying a command he knew to be wrong. Old Testament prophets always negotiated and haggled with God and Abraham should have done the same; it’s a Semitic tradition that we have gotten away from, probably to our detriment. IMO, Nephi either failed a similar test from God, or more likely killed Laban in a tussle for the plates and wrote about it as if a weighty divine command were the actual reason Laban died…

  67. I really don’t know why anyone quibbles with Nephi killing Laban. Nephi explains his reasons pretty well and series of interactions with Laban justify what happens to him.

    Nephi provides some reasons why Laban was killed – but the narrative leaves out one important fact … if Laban had sobered up naked and discovered the plates were gone, he would have sent a search party after Lehi’s family to arrest or (more likely) kill them. If Nephi and his family were going to leave with the plates and be secure in their travels, Laban had to die.

  68. Steve,
    Samuel killing Agag
    Peter killing (kinda) Ananias and Sapphira

  69. Steve Evans says:

    Frank, I don’t know. It’s not very parallel to Nephi — Elijah didn’t slay them by his own hand…

  70. Kris Larsen says:

    When Nephi killed Laban because the spirit told him to, who was to say that he “passed” whatever test he was supposed to pass? I am beginning to come to the belief that it a failure in more ways than one.

  71. Steve Evans, Judges has Ehud and the king for a divinely appointed homicide if no one else has mentioned it.

  72. The commenter who labels himself/herself as Gandhi describes what Nephi did as:

    “murdering a helpless man” …

    From what we read in the story, that is not a good description of Laban, who is in fact not helpless at all but is extremely dangerous (when he isn’t drunk and surrounded by his servants). As I said earlier, there are good reasons to perceive Nephi’s killing of Laban as an act of pre-emptive self-defense.

  73. Kris Larsen says:

    Oops, #67 beat me to the post.

  74. re: 67 That is a very appealing and reasonable way to look at the Abraham story, and extendable to 1 Nephi 4:18 as well.

  75. So Laban has no one to avenge his murder? “oh look, his head is gone, must be suicide”? Murder adds to Nephi’s family’s security in what way? This sounds like ex post facto reasoning of the type saying polygamy was instituted to “take care” of the surplus of Mormon women we always hear so much about…

  76. jnilsson – it seems that no one could be sure who cut off Laban’s head. I’m sure there were people who could avenge him – but they would have to know who to go after. It seems likely that Laban, being who he was, would have had his share of enemies.

    I’m a bit surprised at comments here. Some would rather say Nephi was making things up or that he was a murderer, than accept his version of events and his claim to revelation.

  77. It’s probably important to the text that Nephi is writing the account in the first-person. To say some of the things he does, he would really have to be a liar if you’re going to contest his version of the story. It would be easier to accuse an anonymous editor, writing in the third person, of being a fraud.

  78. Steve Evans says:

    John and Matt, good show! Thanks.

  79. Steve Evans says:

    Danithew, if this occurred today, even if true:

    1) the Church would excommunicate Nephi; and
    2) Nephi would go to the nuthouse for the rest of his life.

  80. danithew (#77),

    Or that this account is best understood as a potent version of Matt 5:29-30 (Not something God literally wants done, but a metaphor for striking out evil in our lives).

  81. hmmm, missing plates, persistent seekers of the plates now gone, headless Laban…I am more perplexed that some want to defend an action figure style Nephi suitable for framing in a Primary coloring book than seeing him as just as morally flawed as any other Old Testament prophet…It does more to shore up BOM historicity to draw lines of continuity between the BOM and OT too, if they happened in the same cultural world.

  82. Steve, if what Nephi relates happened in a modern context, I’m sure God would deliver him – just as he did in the original narrative.

    There’s nothing nutty or insane about Nephi. He seems to have quite the handle on things.

  83. The most recent issue of FARMS’s JBMS has an article by Val Larsen. I haven’t finished it yet, but it seems to be along the lines of Nick in #13: looking at the slaying of Laban not as an individual act, but as the kick-off for the Nephites’ sovereignty and their new political order. I found the article much more satisfying than the legalistic on by John Welch mentioned earlier.

  84. Also, there is nothing in this story of Nephi that comes across as any kind of ‘Abrahamic test.’ God told Nephi to kill Laban and did not restrain Nephi when he followed the command. There was no ram in the thicket. Nor is there anything in the ‘Nephi kills Laban’ story that is symbolic or Messianic.

    Rather, this is a very straightforward story of Nephi obeying God and doing what he had to do.

  85. Eugene England wrote an interesting essay on this, “Why Nephi Killed Laban.” He raised the possibility, though he didn’t believe it himself, that Nephi wasn’t inspired to do it, but was anguished over it, even long after the fact. He also raises the interesting and uncomfortable notion of Laban as a type for Christ. He throws out some interesting possibilities, indeed.

  86. I should have written that there is no ram in the thicket, nor could there be … what would be the point? Where would there be symbolism? What would be Messianic about it?

    I’m curious about what BHodges writes … is there a link to the Eugene England essay? If he can persuasively argue that Laban is a Christ-figure, then I’ll be impressed to read it.

  87. Josh Smith says:


    Is there a link for the England article?

  88. “Would we really be disillusioned if Thomas S. Monson, having been commanded, slew a great enemy of the Church?”

    I just can’t stop laughing at the image of Elder Monson shooting Ed Decker like Robert DiNero on Taxi Driver. “You talkin’ to me Ed? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only Mormon standing here. Whad ju say about Mormons not being Christians?”

  89. Steve Evans says:

    Eugene England’s piece appeared in the Fall 1989 issue of Dialogue, available here.

  90. Josh Smith says:

    Thank you.

  91. I just skimmed the Larsen article mentioned by Joanne in #84.

    I’m no expert, but I think Larsen makes a pretty strong case for Nephi’s killing of Laban being the act of a sovereign, sort of along the lines of what Elder Holland discussed. I see a parallel with Teancum’s slaying of Amalickiah and Ammoron, perhaps one Teancum himself may have considered, assuming he had access to a copy of Nephi’s record.

    Take a look.

  92. I’m having trouble reading this essay in Firefox – maybe it’s just the way the site is designed. But I’m grateful for the link and to hear about this essay. I’ll definitely be checking it out.

  93. Egregiously late to this discussion.
    As missionaries we always stressed about the Joseph Smith story, like how are they going to buy God and Jesus appearing to Joseph. We would stress and stress and stress. And mostly they didn’t care, like sure why not. BUT every single one of them, when doing the BoM reading would say holy crap, this Nephi he kills Laban?!?! What’s up with that? And we would be befuddled. Like what’s the big deal?

    Clearly to us, angels, God etc appearing beat out cutting off a guy’s head in palatability polls. Seriously people.

    I’m with Ronan though, gloss Nephi. Gloss.

  94. Mistaben, thanks for the link. That article actually will print up for a person. Looks like I found my subway reading.

    Does a person have to purchase the Dialogue article to read it? The formatting seems to prevent printing. I’m not placing blame – but it is frustrating to only be able to read part of the print on the page and to have to scroll back and forth and up and down just to figure out what is on a single written page.

    Returning to the post subject:

    I once heard someone say that the Jewish halakhic concept of din rodef would have justified Laban being killed. I tried looking the term up and found a wikipedia article – but the article raised more questions than answers.

  95. What about this?

    Nephi’s killing of Laban shut the door on any of Lehi’s family returning to Jerusalem. Laman and Lemuel, murmurers both, knew that they could never return and live openly in Jerusalem again, or they’d be subject to revenge killing by Laban’s family. (They did come back to get Ishmael and family, but let’s suppose they did that “privately”.)

    So, crab all they want, after Nephi did in Laban they had to stay with the family.

    Laban, drunk, choking on his own vomit wouldn’t have done the trick.

  96. Mark B., there’s no real way to tell whose vomit that could have been. You can’t really dust for vomit.

  97. Matt Thurston says:

    The ease with which many of us not just accept and condone the Nephi-kills-Laban story, but even venerate it as a positive thing (i.e. Nephi passed a test of obedience; the Lord always provides a way to bring about his plan; the spirit appears to the righteous and prepared like Nephi not Laman, etc.) should make no one surprised by certain Muslims who accept and even venerate killing in the name of their God.

    And yet I’m sure we’re all horrified and offended by such murder.

    Within their tradition, I’m sure they are “obey[ing] the voice of the Spirit,” and they no doubt have scriptural precedent to provide futher support.

    What’s the difference?

  98. This is one of those stories that just affirms my opinion that it’s fiction.

  99. Sorry for being late to the firestorm, but work got in the way of blogging. Drat.

    I’ve always wondered about this story, for all the obvious reasons. My reading of the rest of Nephi’s account tells me that he agonized over it even later in his life (“Oh wretched man that I am….”).

    I will only make two points. One, Laban had earlier tried to slay Nephi and his brothers, and had stolen their wealth. Had Laban not been killed, and had recovered, as someone else pointed out, Nephi and his family would have been in greater jeopardy.

    We also seem to be struggling with how Nephi recognized the spirit correctly here. We should remember that Nephi has already had a number of significant spiritual experiences, beyond anything that I have had, including that very evening with the appearance of an angel who stops Laman and Lemuel from beating Nephi so he can complete the task of recovering the plates. Obedience was certainly in play here, and I think Nephi knew for sure where the command was coming from.

    My take is that it was awfully hard on Nephi, but he was also not in any doubt about the source of the command. I personally would not have wanted to be in his shoes for a moment, as I don’t think I could have done it.

    One additional note, we have also been instructed through latter day prophets that our servicemen and women will not be held accountable for the lives they take in war, following the orders of their leaders. No threadjack about whether the Iraq war is legal, and the leaders just (even though I have grave doubts myself).

    I think we have a responsibility to try and understand Nephi.

  100. Steve: I think a lot of people think the priests died in the fire. That’s not what happened.

    “And Elijah said unto them, Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape. And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there.”

  101. Culturalism and presentism don’t help us understand Nephi in his own world context.

    For nearly 20 years I’ve had this quote from Hugh Nibley tucked into my BofM next to the Nephi/Laban passage:

    When in 1946 this writer composed a little treatise called Lehi in the Desert from limited materials then available in Utah, he had never knowingly set eyes on a real Arab…. As if it were not enough for the mountain to come to Mohammed, those sons of the desert who came to Provo found themselves taking a required class in the Book of Mormon from the compiler of this manual. Naturally he was more than curious to see how these young men would react to the Book of Mormon treatment of desert themes, and invited and even required them to report frankly on their impressions. To date, with only one exception, no fault has been found with Nephi on technical grounds. The one exception deserves the attention of all would-be critics of the Book of Mormon.

    It was in the first class ever held in “Book of Mormon for Near Eastern Students,” and the semester had barely begun when of course we ran smack into the story of how Nephi found Laban dead drunk in a dark alley and cut off his head—a grisly tale that upsets Nephi himself in telling it. As we rehearsed the somber episode, I could detect visible signs of annoyance among the Arab students—whispered remarks, head-shakings, and frowns of dissent. Finally, toward the end of the hour, a smart young man from Jordan could hold out no longer. “Mr. Nibley,” he said, plainly speaking for the others, “there is one thing wrong here. It doesn’t sound right. Why did this Nephi wait so long to cut off Laban’s head?” Since I had been expecting the routine protests of shock and disgust with which Western critics react to the Laban story, I was stunned by this surprise attack—stunned with a new insight into the Book of Mormon as a message from another age and another culture.

    (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, xii.)

    The Book of Mormon has a message for our day, but that does not mean it is separated from the culture that produced it. God’s sense of situational morality is not necessarily that of a 21st-century American’s.

    In the final analysis, I find this cultural window one of the most remarkable evidences against the theory that local yokel Joseph Smith, teller of tall tales, made it up.

  102. Frank (#52),

    Tell me if I have this straight. Obedience requires uncertainty to be of full benefit. However, one shouldn’t obey unless the confidence intervals are appropriately narrow. Sounds like there is an uncertainty sweet spot for obedience. Too much — shouldn’t do it. Too little — not enough of a challenge.

    Also, for the record, I’m pretty confident that many people would have just as much or more confidence than those at the Q12/prophet level on such a question (e.g., certain Bin Laden followers, or certain mentally ill). I would personally hope that anyone on the Q12/prophet level would entertain a healthy portion of doubt.

  103. Jonathan K says:

    For those comfortable with this story, I recommend reading Under the Banner of Heaven. I just finished it yesterday and it is quite an interesting book that deals with this exact topic.

  104. Why is Laban being portrayed as some hapless shlep caught in the crossfire of Nephi’s religious dementia? He already made clear his intentions when he sent his men to whack Lehi’s rugrats. Apparently he was comfortable with issuing such orders. He was one bad-to-the-bone purveyor of ill will.

    If we are to take the Book of Mormon as a true document, then we should take Nephi’s word that he was directed to “slayeth the wicked for righteous purposes.” If he was the bin-Laden of ancient America, then we shouldn’t even be here… sparring over tiny details of a flawed faith.

  105. Jonathan K says:

    It would be interesting to hear “the rest of the story” regarding Laban, his family, the people he ruled over, leading up to his death and what happened afterward.

  106. Dan/Ghandi,

    Actually, I don’t think obedience requires uncertainty, I think, in the presence of ubiquitous uncertainty (which, in the case of God’s will, is what we’ve got), requiring certainty prior to obedience is akin to saying that you will (almost!) surely never have to obey anything. Faith, on the other hand, may well require uncertainty to function. I suppose the existence of a veil indicates that there is a benefit to uncertainty somewhere.

    Dan, I think you’re right that many people are certain who shouldn’t be. I think that should encourage us to be humble and recognize the imprecision of our knowledge, preferences, and philosophical beliefs. I’ve even written posts about that!

  107. Kevinf,

    I think we are all trying to understand Nephi, despite our various points of view. The big issue is, are we trying to understand God at the same time? Why would God do something like this? That’s why I stressed the issue of OT continuity with the BOM world. We would expect to see similarities. My understanding of the nature of God forces me into the position of doubting the divine inspiration of the author of Joshua and Judges when they write that the Lord told them to kill men, women, and children, sparing no one. That’s not my God, for whom means are not justified by ends. Just as I assume the author was mistaken about the Lord’s intentions in Joshua, so could I assume the author was mistaken in the BOM, or that the author “dissembled” when recounting the story. “was that the voice of the spirit? It must have been”, etc. I suggest that we all have a notion of what the nature of God is, and that that notion then determines the way in which we interpret all scripture, even “the most correct book”, which nonetheless may contain the “weaknesses of men.”

  108. If the Book of Mormon is not what it claims to be, it is perfectly reasonable to interpret the fictional Nephi’s words in just about any way a reader prefers. At that point it’s just literary criticism on a rather unique and odd piece of Americana. Interpretation and discussion is purely recreational at that point.

    But if the Book of Mormon was in fact engraved on metal plates by ancient prophets and hundreds of years later delivered to Joseph Smith by an angel – then it becomes necessary to concede a high level of validity to a very real Nephi’s personal judgment and narration of events.

    Otherwise one would be stuck trying to cogitate the strangest notion of all – that is, to believe that Nephi really existed and that he was also a nut and a murderer … which then leads to having to explain why a just and sane God would choose to preserve the words of a violent and unstable person and furthermore wait hundreds of years to inspire a later prophet to translate those words for people to read them.

    THAT would truly be a very strange religious conviction to entertain and hopefully not something anyone would try to call Mormonism.

  109. Jonathan K says:

    #80 is correct – instead of Jerusalem, two murders occured in American Fork. And the person who did it, Dan Lafferty, claimed revelation from God that it was necessary to further the work, was deemed sane to stand trial by the Utah courts, was excommunicated, and is in jail for life.

    What is the main difference between Nephi and the Lafferty brothers? That lots of people believe Nephi and very few believe the Lafferty’s? They both believed in what they were doing.

  110. Joshua Madson says:

    I think its interesting that Nephi notes God will destroy Laban and uses military imagery all before his “I didn’t know what I would do beforehand”

    This may be in part due to writing it much later, but Nephi at least suggests that he told his brothers God would “destroy” Laban before the beheading occurred.

    And remember that with Zoram it was join or be slain. He didn’t seem to wrestle too much with that after having made his first killing.

    Remember also that the “sword” becomes the emblem of Nephite rule and civilization. Being passed down from King to King. Is there something to be said that the emblem of Nephite kingship is the sword, the sword used to kill.

  111. “But if the Book of Mormon was in fact engraved on metal plates by ancient prophets and hundreds of years later delivered to Joseph Smith by an angel – then it becomes necessary to concede a high level of validity to a very real Nephi’s personal judgment and narration of events.”

    Not so, Dan. It’s possible that the plates are real, but that Nephi was also a nut and a murderer. I don’t believe that to be the case, but it is possible.

  112. amri #94
    I had the same experience on my mission. I served in an area that was not very religiously sophisticated (I won’t tell you where). I never had anyone question the Joseph Smith story or anything we taught them in the discussions. They just agreed with it all but never got baptized. But when we came back after the first discussion and they had read the first few chapters of the BoM they would freak out that Nephi broke the 6th commandment and murdered Laban. I never really knew what to say. It sometimes took us a while to convince them that Nephi wasn’t the villian in the story.

  113. I do not think this kurt is the other kurt with whom we are more familiar.

  114. Matt Thurston (98), one reason I like Val Larsen’s article is that he provides a framework in which Nephi is acting as the ruler of a people facing an enemy who has already acted to destroy those same people (his brethren, see 1 Ne 3:29). This would put him in a much different position than that of an individual acting alone, e.g. a suicide bomber or one of us.

    This seeks to make out of 1 Nephi 4 not only a Hero story, but also a Founding story in the tradition of Romulus and Remus. Indeed, the Sword of Laban becomes a symbol and relic of the monarchy that Nephi later establishes.

    Personally I can deal with this story much better in this perspective.

  115. #102 – Thanks, Mike. I just got home, and I remember very well that comment about an Arab perspective.

    Did anyone else read Mike’s comment? It seems to have been glossed over completely.

  116. Josh Smith says:


    You’re right. BUT …

    If you claim this account actually happened, and happened as Nephi said it happened, you’re left worshipping a god that (1) uses violence as a means to achieve ends, and (2) enlists his children to act out the violence. I struggle with Abraham-Isaac tests. This is an Abraham-Isaac test on steriods.

    I turn to metaphor in the hope that the story has some redemptive power. If the story is historical, it lends itself to a justification for violence that has played out since man first started recording history. A justification for violence that the NT was supposed to strip away.

  117. Under the Banner of Heaven is not applicable.

    There is no empirical evidence that the practicing LDS are more prone to violence then US norms. In fact the reverse can be demonstrated by the data.

    Tying the Nephi kills Laban story to a violent crime in Utah county is a non starter. Quickly google the Utah County violent crime data and see if the theory holds.

    In fact I would say that those that hold the BOM as scripture are LESS prone to violence based on the data.

  118. Steve,

    If someone wants to embrace the idea that the Book of Mormon is a prophetic book AND that Nephi is a murderer … what basis is there to accept anything that is said by other writers in the book? How would we know?

  119. But if the Book of Mormon was in fact engraved on metal plates by ancient prophets and hundreds of years later delivered to Joseph Smith by an angel – then it becomes necessary to concede a high level of validity to a very real Nephi’s personal judgment and narration of events.

    You’re wrong about that. Nephi’s prevaricated retelling of the story (if that’s what is going on here) does nothing detrimental to the ontological claims of the BoM. If Nephi’s real, even if he’s a fallible man given to aggressive, spiteful reaction against his enemies, tortured by his own sense of inadequacy because of it, attempting to mythically rationalize the killing in a fairly propagandistic manner for posterity to shore up his family’s right to political rule against the claims of the posterity of his older brothers, etc, etc–all this can be true and the BoM is still translated by the gift and power of God because Nephi is real.

    That’s part of what’s so marvelous about the BoM. We can read it uber-critically without tossing out the proverbial baby in the process. Narrator reliability is not bound up with the book’s Truthfulness.

    Point 2: Even a fairly conservative reading that takes Nephi’s account largely at face value, leads to unsettling conclusions for those who wish to valorize those who embody the more violent Nephite proclivities (Nephi, Teancum, Cpt. Moroni)–including Mormon himself. Nephi attempts to rationalize the killing via an appeal to vengeance/justice–i.e. he deserves to die because he did x y and z bad things (stole, disobeyed, tried to kill). The spirit dismisses that line of thinking by reminding Nephi that killing is only the prerogative of God. He then explains that via cost-benefit calculation. God slays the wicked when that will bring about his purpose. Laban has to die in order to prevent an entire civilization from dwindling in unbelief. Only divine foreknowledge is capable of reasonably making such a calculation.

    The Kantian imperative has exceptions; but only for God. Only God can make utilitarian calculations with human life because no one else, no matter how smart or morally astute or gut-trusting, has access to the relevant information. In the end, the only definitive conclusion about killing that can be derived from this story is:


  120. Danithew,

    If someone wants to embrace the idea that Jesus died for our sins AND that Joshua was not commanded by God to kill infants…what basis is there to accept anything said by other authors in the book?

  121. Matt Thurston says:

    mistaben (#115), I understand, but the key to your understanding and justification of this story is your perspective.

    My point is that certain Muslims can just as easily arrive at the same perspective — i.e. killing as a defense against enemies who have already acted to detroy them — all buttressed by the whisperings (or even appearance) of the spirit, prophetic counsel (believed to be inspired), and scriptural precedent.

    Perspective is everything, and this is two sides of the same coin.

  122. Jonathan K says:

    Violence in general is not the issue, but violence when commanded by God is the issue. If I were an outside observer witnessing the murders in Jerusalem and American Fork, they are the same.

    How many here would murder if God commanded them to?

  123. Danithew, what Brad said. In other words, it’s a history and record, to be read, used and prayed over like any other.

  124. Brad,

    When you put it in CAPS does it then become canon?


    Would you count Nephi’s sealing the heavens as him or God or both? Surely people died, and it was at Nephi’s behest.

  125. Nick Literski says:

    Great, bbell! You want to use Utah County statistical information to claim that it supports better behavior among LDS than among non-LDS? That’s fine, so long as you’re equally ready to apply the negative-sounding statistics about Utah County to claim that they support worse behavior among LDS than among non-LDS.

    If someone here pointed out rampant anti-depressant use in Utah as a condmenation of the LDS church, most here would vigorously object (and rightfully so). It doesn’t work for you to play the same game, just because it makes the LDS church look good.

  126. what basis is there to accept anything that is said by other writers in the book? How would we know?

    This goes back to an earlier firestorm. There are reasons given within the text itself for questioning what many of its authors claim on its face. The most obvious is that Samuel the Lamanite directly questions some of the assumptions–specifically about Nephite civilized superiority and chosenness over the Lamanites, and about the righteousness=prosperity axiom–and is himself granted prophetic status by the resurrected Jesus (Deus es Machina!).

    Why does Jesus have to grant Samuel prophetic status, because the Nephites won’t. Why won’t they? Because he refused to adhere to traditional Nephite talking points, told them all that was wrong with them, questioned the very assumptions that seemed to underwrite and uphold Nephite culture. It’s the equivalent of a Mexican standing up on the border wall and castigating Americans for their materialism, their self-congratulatory self-satisfied sense of superiority (totally inadvertent alliteration), and their militarism. Yeah, I’m sure American Mormons would be quick to take what he had to say seriously. But if Jesus comes back and tells us to CANONIZE his writings, we’d read American history books written by Americans celebrating American greatness in slightly more skeptical light.

  127. Frank, I guess I am more interested in personal homicide commanded by God, where God directs an individual to take the life of another by physical force. I agree that Nephi’s sealing of the heavens is interesting and problematic, but I think it’s fairly distinguishable from the killing of Laban.

  128. Jnillson, and others. I do see some internal consistency in the BoM. If you recall, the anti-nephi-lehies on a couple of occasions actually suffered themselves to die by the sword, and in the process, brought about the conversion of additional Lamanites. As uncomfortable as it makes me, Captain Moroni essentially conducted military tribunals with summary execution for traitors. Many of the wars of the Nephites and Lamanites ended with a treaty to either lay down their arms and return to their lands or die by the sword.

    I realize that many of these are war related, rather than individuals, but I find Nephi’s actions, no matter how grisly and disturbing to me, consistent with the rest of the BoM record.

    I am also uncomfortable with the portrayals that Nephi, if he really did this, was a nutcase ala Son of Sam or Mark David Chapman, hearing voices in his head. No one has yet responded to the assertion I made that Nephi had enjoyed previous spiritual experiences, including the personal intervention of an angel that very evening, enabling him and essentially recommitting him to his mission of obtaining the plates.

    Perhaps in this story is a statement about the value of the scriptures both for the Nephites, and for us. Yes, I find it disturbing, but our culture is certainly not the same culture that Nephi lived in. Would we be more comfortable if the Lord had spared Nephi the trouble by having Laban drown in his own vomit, or be struck by lightning?

    Again, I wonder at what my own level of commitment would be, but I give both the Lord and Nephi a pass on this one.

  129. Hilariously, I wrote #127 (“CANONIZE”) before reading Frank’s #125.

  130. Umm, that book being the Bible. Wasn’t the BOM necessary because we can’t trust the Bible alone to testify of Christ? The BOM, if it is based on historical events, would be subject to the same historical back-reading of events (God commanded this, that, and the other, therefore Nephi’s in charge, Canaanites are exterminated, etc.) that the Bible was. If it’s not based on historical events, then it’s a metaphor or a fraud or both, and is susceptible to the convenient 21st century interpretations which wrap around it. There are lots of reasons why we focus on obedience as the lesson of the Laban story which have to do with current Church needs and resisting cultural assimilation into a secular society, to the exclusion of deeper questioning of Nephi’s motives as a man and author (and how much time elapsed before he wrote, or dictated, this stuff down, anyway?)

  131. I am also uncomfortable with the portrayals that Nephi, if he really did this, was a nutcase ala Son of Sam or Mark David Chapman, hearing voices in his head.

    Yeah, but I’m equally uncomfortable equating him with GBH or a member of the Q12. If there was an institutional Church in Jerusalem circa 600 BC, Laban likely enjoyed far better proximity to its governing quorums than Nephi.

    GBH killing Sandra Tanner is a less apt comparison than, say, Nick Literski killing J. W. Marriott. :)

  132. #102
    I oft times hear about how different the culture and times were different back in Nephi’s time. Nibley now wants me to believe Nephi’s time is similar to 1949 Palestine Muslim culture.
    2600 years later and a different religion, I do not buy it.

  133. Nephi’s previous spiritual experiences are relevant, Danithew. But he’s the author of the account, not an omniscient narrator. He gives his own motives, with no other source for us to turn to. And by all accounts, he has given us a ghastly tale of the murder of a drunken satrap, while we are left to scratch our heads at the value of this story. And instead of saying to ourselves, what we know of the character of God goes against the reading of this as an overview of the nature of God, we hold fast to every word written by Nephi, no matter what he says? Sounds like fundamentalism to me.

  134. Nick,

    We are talking about violence here. If you want to make the claim like Under the Banner of Heaven that somehow practicing Mormonism makes you prone to violence you need some data to back it up with. The data is lacking and does not support the premise

  135. England’s essay points to two possibilities:

    One, that Nephi was angry, had been scapegoated by his brothers, who previously had been threatened by Laban, and in the process, may very well have made a mistake by misunderstanding what the Lord wanted him to do, yet in doing so, managed to get the records and fulfill his mission. Hence the self-justifying language of the account, recorded many years later.

    The other, is that the Lord really did command Nephi to kill Laban either to bring about his righteous purposes, or as an Abraham-like test. In that case, the demand for obedience was such that in so doing, Nephi had to disobey the command “thou shalt not kill”, and the true fullness of the message of the Prince of Peace. More like what Holland says in his talk.

    Both possibilities are troubling to me, yet both are equally plausible to me. England also spends more time in that essay talking about the typology and metaphoric language of both the Bible and the BoM, leaving us in the paradoxical mode of whether or not to take it literally or just metaphorically. Essentially, then, our reaction to the account becomes a test of our faith, regardless of what we think of it.

    I think of Joseph Smith, according to his own accounts, of being threatened by an angel for not obeying the commandment to take multiple wives, in direct contradiction to what Jacob teaches in the BoM account itself that Joseph had just translated.

    In our day, the threats are not coming by an angry mob, or the servants of Laban charging after us with their swords drawn in the streets of Jerusalem. We have to put up with the diatribes and snide remarks of the Huckabees, O’Donnells, and Krakauerers of the world, which is paradoxically both more peaceful for us, and also very violence filled as well.

    Maybe in the end, it doesn’t matter which way we lean on this, as long as we remain consistent in our obedience in all those trivial little things that get us riled up. Can’t remember the last time I was asked to kill anybody by God or my bishop, but I can remember getting asked to do my hometeaching and pay fast offerings.

  136. er, Krakauer, I believe, is the correct spelling. He’s not showing up in spellcheck.

  137. Nick Literski says:

    You didn’t just deny that data backed up an LDS propensity for violence. Rather, you claimed that low crime statistics in Utah County somehow proved that LDS had a lower tendency toward violence than non-LDS. That’s simply not a supportable statement, from the source you cited.

  138. Speaking of Mormon’s alleged tendency toward violence, what do you think the spin will be when people find out the kid who went postal at the Evangelical MTC in Colorado was baptized a Mormon about a year ago? I’m not looking forward to the implications.

  139. I have a friend who teaches an ethics class at UVSC. Every semester, he has his students sit as a jury judging Nephi. The conclusion they almost always come to is that if God commanded Nephi, God will work it out, but they can’t have people killing each other in the streets so stick him in the slammer (they also stick Saul in the slammer for wiping out the Amalekites).

  140. Mike,

    I think my statement is in fact backed up by the data on violence

  141. I’d have to say that Moses, Joshua and Saul were all guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide.

  142. kurt,
    ethnic cleansing, perhaps. genocide’s a bit steep.

  143. I agree, ethnic cleansing is more accurate.

  144. Might I suggest, if you haven’t discovered it already, the Brick Testement.

    I warn you that this is not for the faint of heart and the rating system should be taken seriously.

    I haven’t figured out how to fit it into my Gospel Doctrine lessons yet.

  145. Nick Literski says:

    #141 bbell:

    If you wish to claim that Utah Country crime statistics prove that the LDS faith makes people less likely to commit violent acts than non-LDS people, that’s fine, bbell, so long as you’re also consistent.

    I can only assume then, that since Utahns are statistically greater users of anti-depressant medications, you apply your own logic to conclude that the LDS faith makes people more prone to depression than non-LDS people.

    Before I get blasted, I don’t buy that for a moment, but it’s the inescapable conclusion if one applies bbell’s statistical reasoning. It’s always a bit humorous when individuals want to attribute good Utah statistics to LDS influence, but object loudly if anyone attributes bad Utah statistics to LDS influence.

  146. Matt Thurston (#122): I see.

    I meant to emphasize the kingship (or political leadership anyway) of Nephi. See below.


    To me this episode is much less like a suicide bomber or Dan Lafferty killing another individual than it is like Captain Moroni and his army striving against Zerahemnah and his army.

    Here are the parallels I see (assuming Nephi, Alma, Mormon, etc. are both historical and honest):

    Laban/Zerahemnah is the first aggressor (1 Ne 3:13/Alma 43:8)

    Nephi/Moroni makes an offer to Laban/Zerahemnah (1 Ne 3:24/Alma 44:6).

    Laban/Zerahemnah rejects the offer with further violence (1 Ne 3:25/Alma 44:12),

    God delivers Laban/Zerahemnah into the hands of Nephi/Moroni (1 Ne 4:11/Alma 44:3) as promised (1 Ne 3:29/Alma 38:1ff).

    [Hebrew experts: does the ‘deliver … into … hands’ phrase imply that Nephi/Moroni has the authority to do with the other as he will?]

    Here they split. Nephi records being constrained by the Spirit to kill Laban, whereas we have no such record from Moroni. Moroni thus seems to go from his best guess, which is to re-extend his offer to Zerahemnah. Nephi, on the other hand, receives explicit instructions that are directly contrary to his best guess, which he ultimately obeys.

    Though the final actions are different, I propose they are both acting as leaders of their people against an enemy who has moved against them multiple times, and are both equally justified, having had their enemy delivered into their hands by God.

  147. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.

    -Joseph Smith

  148. I was waiting for the Joseph Smith quote. An old chestnut for times like this. More interesting than the fact that he said this is, When, where, and why would he be trying to make this particular point? Any historians out there who can give us some context? Especially in light of the other quote from Joseph, or was it Sidney Rigdon or Oliver Cowdery (from the Lectures on Faith, maybe?) where he says that in order to have faith in God, we must form some impression of his character and attributes. According to this quote, we can have no notion of God’s character or attributes, since there is no right or wrong in itself which we can perceive independently of God’s dictates (discerning those dictates is another issue). So faith in God goes out the window. How does one practically have faith in a being this arbitrary?

  149. Alternate conclusion (to my #147):

    The parallels continue, and Nephi/Moroni (the latter represented by his soldier) moves to decapitate Laban/Zerahemnah, but Moroni’s soldier isn’t as accurate or as strong as Nephi, so Zerahemnah escapes with only his scalp missing, while Laban doesn’t fare as well.

    I doubt it’s satisfactory for everyone, but hey there it is.

  150. Nick Literski says:

    #149 jnilsson:
    Are you baiting, or do you seriously not know the context of that statement (a portion of a letter, actually) from Joseph Smith?

  151. Nick there have been quite a few baiters on this thread. Luckily none of them have been masters at it.

  152. I suspect there are many here who would consider themselves masters.

  153. jnilsson, in case you really don’t know the context, see my comment that I left on Mark Brown’s thread earlier this week.

  154. Josh Smith,

    Re: comment #38 (and your general approach to the subject):

    [Apologies if some of this has already been addressed. I haven’t read all the comments.]

    I think there’s something to be said for looking at the killing of Laban as an ordeal in the Heroic Journey. But to do so requires acknowledging empathetic feeling for Nephi’s dilemma–as the Hero’s Journey becomes meaningful only insomuch as its metaphor is rendered incarnate by real human experience (as would be the case with any metaphor).

    And so, whether or not the event is fictitious, if one wishes to view it as metaphorically useful then one must concede the plausibility of its meaning being rooted in real human experience with the Divine.

    As a matter of narrative, I find it fascinating that the Book of Nephi has Lehi’s Dream as its centerpiece–and at the center of the dream is the Love of God (rendered incarnate by the man Jesus). But, with the strangest of all ironies, Nephi is ordered by the God of love to kill. And then, continuing in that ironic vein, Nephi charges his brothers–who have not committed such a deed–as “murderers in [their] hearts.”

    That said, an argument can be made in Nephi’s defense regarding his right to allay the threat that Laban posed to the Lehi family. Laban had threatened their lives at least twice and stolen their property. So, in the end, when the details are fully revealed we may yet find that Nephi had some legal justification for his actions–thus turning the focus of Nephi’s reticence to kill on the horror of the deed itself irrespective of legal right rather than on the horror of breaking the law.

  155. #151 – Based on his other comments, I would put my money on baiting – especially since the last three lines are an Olympic leap that would make Carl Lewis ashamed at his steroid-induced best.

  156. Steve Evans says:

    I heartily thank Jacob and Brad for #152-153. Taking the issue in hand is the only way to come to resolution on this, even if the result is messy.

  157. In my comment (#155) I touched on narrative and the Hero’s Journey. I was going to briefly outline that journey to its climax, but I digress.

  158. The first thing that came to my mind was that talk by Elder Holland mentioned in 21 and 25.

  159. OK, OK, enough fun…

  160. Sure, sure, Steve. It’s always “enough” after you’ve just made it too much.

  161. fine.

    Changing the topic, I believe that Nephi’s slaying of Laban set him up as a leader for his people. This is the same Nephi that would build a boat and defeat his enemies, all single-handedly. There is much to admire.

  162. I’m really confused, now. MCQ, was that a double entendre?

  163. Steve — I agree. Of Nephi it could be said that his reach did not exceed his grasp — he made his Heaven on Earth.

  164. I’ve read the account in the BOM many times and feel like Nephi was led by the Spirit even tho the instructions given were to “slay the wicked to bring forth the Lord’s righteous purposes“.

    Scripture clearly gives deity the right to end the life of the wicked. My question with the entire account is this: How did Nephi in vs. 18 take Laban by the head and separate it from his body and then in vs. 19 take Laban’s cleaned and pressed clothes sans blood and wear them?

    I’ve always wondered if we have an extremely abridged version of what happened between Laban and Nephi.

  165. How did Nephi in vs. 18 take Laban by the head and separate it from his body and then in vs. 19 take Laban’s cleaned and pressed clothes sans blood and wear them?

    I heard a religion prof smile and add that, of course, he put the clothes on first and then smote off his head. :)

  166. Even if the clothes were switched before the murder how could there be no blood on them afterwards?

  167. Drunk people sometimes feel hot. Laban disrobing before passing out on a hot night isn’t out of the question.

  168. Many would argue that he was justified in his own domain – or would that have been if he had NOT cut off Laban’s head?

    A serious note, assuming that the command to retrieve the plates was legitimate:

    1) Laban and Lemuel had only recently chastised Nephi for his naive belief that they could get the plates from Laban. I Nephi 3:31 says, “And after the angel had departed, Laman and Lemuel again began to murmur, saying: How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?” Essentially, they said, “He can kill us easily; we have no chance, since we can’t kill him.”

    It is in the very next chapter that the Lord proves them wrong – and that is the main point of the narrative, imo. They said, “What the Lord asks is impossible. We can’t do it.” They were correct, as evidenced by not only Laman’s failed attempt at persuasion, but also by Nephi’s failed attempt at a purchase. They couldn’t do it (not even Nephi), so God had to do it.

    In order to get Zoram’s help, Nephi had to be wearing Laban’s clothing – and a drunken Laban might have awakened if Nephi tried to strip him while still alive. Killing Laban was the only way to fulfill the commandment – and Nephi, who didn’t want to do it at first, had to accept that it was the only way, after all. Of himself, he couldn’t have done it even with a drunken Laban, since he didn’t have the will all by himself to do what was required. He only could do it when the Spirit constrained him to do it, proving that it really is the Lord who allows us to do the impossible we are commanded to do.

    Is it still a disturbing story? Yes. However, there are FAR more disturbing stories in the scriptures than this one, and this one makes a LOT of sense IF they really did need the plates (for their own good and for ours) and IF Laban truly was as wicked as he was portrayed to be.

  169. Yeah, that’s what I think. Nephi was about to walk away leaving Laban stripped and naked in his drunken-ness, but then the Spirit says, “not so fast…”

  170. The scriptures never say the clothes were clean and free from blood. It was night and probably very dark. There easily could have been spots of blood on the clothing – and it is possible to decapitate something/someone without getting blood on your clothing. Just ask anyone who has been raised on a farm or ranch with animals that needed to be killed.

  171. Then there is vs. 20 where Nephi goes in the treasury of Laban and encounters the servant of Laban.

    Now, if the servant thinks that Nephi is indeed Laban wouldn’t the servant have noticed any blood on his master’s garments? That verse is the one event where I presumed Laban’s garments on Nephi were free of blood. Maybe I’m just reading too much into vs. 20. Perhaps it was a dimly lit night.

  172. If lit at all, jon.

    Too often we read more into the record than is there. We simply have no way of knowing if there was blood on the clothing, if so how much and where, how well lit the treasury was – if at all, if Zoram was always in front of Nephi and never got a good look, if Zoram was used to seeing Laban a bit bloody and/or filthy from passing out drunk in the streets, etc. We just don’t know, so it is impossible to say it couldn’t have happened as described.

  173. Mephibosheth says:

    Supposedly amputations actually don’t bleed a whole heckuva lot because the smooth muscle tissue in the arteries and veins spasm and cause the vessel to collapse. Dunno if that works with decapaitations too. How sharp is Laban’s sword?

    Anyways, this is has been mentioned by others in the thread, but I always thought this went to show that God is good at crime. As soon as people find a headless Laban the next day, and a missing Zoram and plates, who is the #1 suspect? Zoram. They waste a few days looking for the wrong guy until the case goes cold.

    When Laban gets over his hangover and is told about the missing plates, he could have said, “Zoram? No way, he’s worked for me for years. It must’ve been those pesky kids who were asking for them a few days ago!”

  174. Nick,
    Um, I don’t think bbell ever said that the other statistics that relate to Utah County don’t reflect the dominant Mormon population. It rather looks like you’re making unfair assumptions about bbell’s thinking in order to avoid directly addressing his interesting point about violence. Just sayin’.

  175. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 171
    Your ranch animals wore clothes?

  176. Jonathan K says:

    The heart of the matter in this is obedience, not blood on your clothes. Although it is an interesting thought that Nephi, indeed, did stain himself with blood during this, regardless of whether there was any on the clothing or not. Since he believed he was commanded from God to do so, however, there was no guilt. This is not unlike Dan Lafferty or Porter Rockwell who both committed murder in the name of God and felt no guilt for doing such. It doesn’t even matter if the person killed is wicked, as in the case of Abraham. If your Bishop asked you to murder someone to further the work of God, would you do it? What about if the Prophet asked you? I honestly do not know what I would do in that situation if it arose.

    The Holland talk referenced above says that we should be willing to do ANYTHING that God asks of us – no matter how hard. This includes word of wisdom, wearing white shirts, only 1 pair of ear-rings, and, at an extreme, murder. We are taught to obey regardless of the reasons and we will be blessed for doing so. This is CENTRAL to our theology and is still being taught on a regular basis by the leaders of the church.

  177. Steve Evans says:

    “it is possible to decapitate something/someone without getting blood on your clothing”

    yeah it is!

  178. #177 – No it isn’t Jonathan.

  179. Steve, I was trying to use your experience without implicating you.

  180. Brad # 164:

    Of Nephi it could be said that his reach did not exceed his grasp — he made his Heaven on Earth.

    Was that a double entendre?

  181. #177: “If your Bishop asked you to murder someone to further the work of God, would you do it?”

    I can’t even imagine asking the hypothetical.

  182. Eric Russell says:

    O’Donnell is right. You people are nuts.

  183. Some of the discussion here reminds me of an argument I had with my wife years ago after seeing Platoon. She thought the “good” guy was wrong to kill the bad guy at the end. I thought he wasn’t.

    From pov, my wife couldn’t imagine away the decent society and all its laws that surrounded her. She couldn’t put herself in a world where there was no system of justice–just brute power doing what it would.

    In such a world, I thought, a man committed to goodness can be justified in killing a man who is the source of evil.

    If I had been a “good Mormon” living under Saddam Hussein’s rule, and I got an open shot at him some day, I could easily imagine praying for guidance and easily imagine feeling instructed to take the shot.

    It’s also the case that my wife is nearer to many things celestial than I am.

  184. I think the whole certainty/uncertainty issue is a red herring. The text of the BoM presumes certainty. The real question presented by this passage is whether you would do the same as Nephi given those facts. Would you kill a helpless man like Laban if you were certain God (not the Prophet, not your Bishop, not a disembodied voice) was telling (make that “constraining”) you to do it? Does it matter whether Nephi knows if he will get away or be caught by Laban’s guards? Would it matter to you?

  185. The Book of Mormon provides editorial commentary (something you don’t find much of in other books of scripture) and amidst this editorial commentary we find specific instances of divine supervision of the content of the text. That is, we see instances where God or Jesus instruct prophets to include this or that and more importantly (at least for the sake of this discussion) what NOT to include:

    1 Nephi 14:24-25
    24 And behold, the things which this apostle of the Lamb shall write are many things which thou hast seen; and behold, the remainder shalt thou see.
    25 But the things which thou shalt see hereafter thou shalt not write; for the Lord God hath ordained the apostle of the Lamb of God that he should write them.

    3 Nephi 26:10-12
    11 Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people.
    12 Therefore I, Mormon, do write the things which have been commanded me of the Lord. And now I, Mormon, make an end of my sayings, and proceed to write the things which have been commanded me.

    3 Nephi 23:7-13
    7 And it came to pass that he said unto Nephi: Bring forth the record which ye have kept.
    8 And when Nephi had brought forth the records, and laid them before him, he cast his eyes upon them and said:
    9 Verily I say unto you, I commanded my servant Samuel, the Lamanite, that he should testify unto this people, that at the day that the Father should glorify his name in me that there were many saints who should arise from the dead, and should appear unto many, and should minister unto them. And he said unto them: Was it not so?
    10 And his disciples answered him and said: Yea, Lord, Samuel did prophesy according to thy words, and they were all fulfilled.
    11 And Jesus said unto them: How be it that ye have not written this thing, that many saints did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them?
    12 And it came to pass that Nephi remembered that this thing had not been written.
    13 And it came to pass that Jesus commanded that it should be written; therefore it was written according as he commanded.

    Divine supervision of the text strikes me as an additional point that should discourage those who want to push the idea that Nephi’s account of being instructed to kill Laban was mistaken or a mark of Nephi’s eccentricity or mental instability. After all, if Nephi had been some kind of nutball who wrote (incorrectly) that the Spirit told him to kill Laban – then we have plain evidence that the divine supervisors (God / Jesus) over the text could have instructed a later prophet or editor to leave that account out of the Book of Mormon.

    Or we could just return to the original and more obvious point that if Nephi was a nut, God wouldn’t have gone to the effort to preserve this text and then wait hundreds of years to inspire a prophet to translate the nutball writings into English.

    If I am arguing these points with anyone who does not believe the Book of Mormon to be what it claims to be – then I am more than willing to concede that we are approaching the text with completely different interpretational lenses and there is no reason or need for us to argue or discuss these points further.

    It’s a bit dishonest if unbelievers (in the Book of Mormon) are actively debating Nephi’s character – and are not providing that piece of information about their perspective on the subject. Ann (in comment #99) at least came forward to state that opinion. I actually respect her forthrightness about her views, even if I disagree with her. Still, if I were discussing this with Ann, I think we could both take a step back and recognize that we view the actual essence of the book entirely differently.

    If someone wants to actively argue that he/she believes that Nephi did exist AND also that Nephi was deluded in claiming inspiration from the Spirit in choosing to kill Laban – then that person is in the untenable and strange position of claiming the Book of Mormon is simultaneously true and untrustworthy. Nephi plays such a significant role in the Book of Mormon – if his character is that unhinged, if we can’t trust him when he says he’s inspired by the Spirit to do something – then we’ve not only lost our ability to trust Nephi as a writer – but we have also lost a basis of trust for the other writers in the Book of Mormon as well.

  186. Amen, danithew.

  187. danithew, I think you’re setting up a false dilemma with that comment.

    What if Nephi was not a complete nut, but mistook his own emotions and justifications as the spirit? It’s true that the divine supervisors as could have had a later prophet or editor take that out. But the later prophet/editor wasn’t infallible either, and his own political and racial prejudices might have closed his mind to receive inspiration that Nephi was wrong.

    On the other hand, maybe the Lord chose to leave it in precisely because it inspires discussions like this and leads us to ponder on the nature of faith and obedience, thus teaching us about our own selves.

    Maybe Nephi killing Laban is an Abrahamic test for Book of Mormon readers more than it was for Nephi himself.

  188. the untenable and strange position of claiming the Book of Mormon is simultaneously true and untrustworthy.

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly. The miraculous mode of its transmission to us today (gift and power of God) means that we can read it critically. I am by no means claiming that Nephi is psychologically unstable, a “nutjob,” or utterly untrustworthy. But he is writing for purposes other than transmitting the bland, clinically accurate truth. He doesn’t need to defend his writings before peer-reviewers. I don’t see how anyone can take the history of the BoM seriously, pay attention to how self-conscious the BoM is of its own construction as a text, and not see some propagandistic motives on Nephi’s part. The very fact that Nephi’s record reads differently than Mormon’s version of the same events (the lost 116 pages) discredits the notion that Nephite writers submitted their accounts to God for error correction in order to produce a perfect, God’s-eye-view of Lehite history.

    The only thing unhinged by challenging the infallibility of Nephi or Mormon or any other BoM writer is our desire to engage our scriptures the way Evangelicals want to read the Bible. On its opening page the BoM warns against such a reading, assuring us that there are inaccuracies in the record, but admonishing us to attribute those inaccuracies to the men that made the record. I don’t have to believe that Captain Moroni is the embodiment of supernal human righteousness. But knowing that Mormon thinks he is helps me to understand Mormon’s own biases and presumptions which inform his reading/writing of Nephite history. And knowing that he has certain biases does not mean that I can’t trust a word he says.

    If you really think that less than perfect reliability on the part of a scripture writer means we can accept nothing of what he says, how on earth do you read the New Testament?

  189. Steve Evans says:

    Danithew, again I think you’re missing something. “the untenable and strange position of claiming the Book of Mormon is simultaneously true and untrustworthy.” That’s just the way it goes with scripture, Dan — pick your sacred text. Some of the history is inevitably incorrect, inaccurate, or false. Some of it is colored by the biases of its author. Some of it is overt justification for immoral acts, some of it the description of delusion. I don’t see how that leads us to desperation and the rejection of all scripture.

    The fact is that the killing of Laban is a morally questionable act, even if justified and commanded of God. Such excuse does not change the nature of the slaying into something other than the taking of a life. Nephi’s commission of homicide is intensely problematic, and JKC is right — it is an Abrahamic test of sorts for BOM readers. Those who gloss over it without a sweat are just as wrong as those who thereafter reject the text completely.

  190. Steve Evans says:

    dammit Brad quit commenting ahead of me.

  191. Steve, I can’t feel that bad since JKC commented ahead of me.

    In addition to possibly constituting a litmus test the way JCK suggests, this account also fits into the overall narrative arc of the entire BoM very interestingly. Unlike Mormon’s probably distant, clinical account we get Nephi’s haunted, freighted personal psychological account. Violence begins in the BoM on the most horrifying personal scale, and then is steadily amplified and depersonalized. It culminates with the genocides of the Nephites and Jaredites. The last taste we get of it is Moroni who demystifies and repersonalizes macroscopic violence (his father’s account of Nephite atrocities) but sandwiches it in between chapters on the sacrament prayers, the purity of children, the primacy of charity, and his own treatise on spiritual gifts.

  192. That’s a really interesting pattern, Brad. Thanks for pointing that out.

    I also like to track Nephi’s own character development throughout 1 and 2 Nephi. He starts off such a hothead, always preaching, shocking his brothers, asking for strength to rip the cords, etc. But then as he takes on more responsibility he begins to learn more about what it means to be a prophet. As he reads (and quotes extensively) Isaiah, he develops. Then he becomes the introspective “wretched man that I am” Nephi. Eventually, he becomes more revelatory, visionary, and seeric when he writes about his visions of the Savior’s baptism and of the power of the Holy Ghost.

    At the beginning he’s all about the Exodus parallels with their vengeful, protective deity. (Moses killed someone also, before his call.) I find it fascinating (and kind of ironic for modern readers) that his turning point from OT worldview to visions of Christ is the Isaiah chapters. The lesson is that even if Nephi was wrong to kill Laban, that didn’t stop the Lord from turning him into something truly great later on. Ultimately, Nephi’s life is a story about the atonement.

    I also can’t help but see parallels in Joseph Smith’s own prophetic career. (No, I’m not suggesting that 1 and 2 Nephi are veiled prospective autobiography.)

    I’m not sure these thoughts are coherent. Law School finals…

  193. 193 – I also can’t help but see parallels in Joseph Smith’s own prophetic career.

    Minus killing a guy.

    Seriously, imagine the anti’s having something like that in their treasure chest! Of course, some of them still like to say that Joseph died in a gunfight, which is just ridiculously misleading.

    You make an interesting point about Nephi’s life being about the atonement.

  194. I think it’s reasonable to assume that Nephi wrote his account years after he arrived in the Promised Land. And if so, then should we not have some difficulty with the idea that no amount of hindsight would inform him as to his wrestling with the decision to kill Laban?

    Nephi is absolutely clear in his manner delivery. There is no uncertainty by his account that he saw angels, had visions, witnessed miracles, and heard the voice of God. If there were any doubt in his mind as to God directing him to kill Laban, one would think that years and years of faithful living after the fact–with no shortage of miracles to attest the reality of God’s continued influence in his life–would have informed him otherwise.

    While I agree with Steve that this event should not be glossed over by the reader, I would hope that our own wrestle with the account has more to do with our empathy for Nephi than with our judgment of him.

  195. I would hope that our own wrestle with the account has more to do with our empathy for Nephi than with our judgment of him.

    I definitely agree. Critical reading should not imply an unsympathetic or hostilely skeptical posture toward what was obviously a great, if flawed, man. We should be willing to put the kind of human face on Nephi we are on Joseph Smith.

  196. “Critical reading should not imply an unsympathetic or hostilely skeptical posture toward what was obviously a great, if flawed, man.”

    Well said, Brad.

    But just to be clear, I’m implying that our empathy for Nephi should cause to shiver in our boots a little–as none are exempt from laying all (including our “principles”) on the altar.

  197. …should cause *us* to shiver in our boots…

  198. Really Wondering says:

    >should cause *us* to shiver in our boots…

    I’m still laughing about that one!


  199. 200!
    Well done, Steve.

  200. I’m not trying to argue that the exact wording and punctuation of the Book of Mormon was revealed from God. I don’t look at the Book of Mormon the way some fundamentalist evangelicals look at the Bible. I am also fascinated by the title page and it’s concession that “if there are faults they are the mistakes of men” line. I can understand and appreciate that this line leaves some room for mistakes.

    … but laying a false claim to inspiration to kill a person (after committing the act) is a pretty serious problem – a lot more than just a mistake. It’s serious enough a problem that if it weren’t by revelation, it would be murder … and if it’s murder, I would expect that Nephi would be cut off from the Spirit and revelation. Certainly I wouldn’t expect the hyper-abundance of vision and revelation that Nephi receives shortly thereafter.

    The farther his story goes on, the greater the claims he lays (seeings visions, building a boat, crossing the ocean and discovering a new land) — yes this is a prophet — which normally by itself should draw some confidence from us. But Nephi is arguably so hyper-productive that he is something more than the typical prophet. As others have noted, he’s a founding father, a Moses-figure, a king …

    Is the killing of Laban troubling or problematic or challenging to readers? Yes. I’m not denying that. It’s a good thing too – otherwise I’d half expect Mormons in a variety of places to become vigilantes as they try to apply this to their own conduct. That doesn’t seem to be the case – so I don’t think Mormons are reading 1 Nephi 4:18 and interpreting it as a license to kill.

    If we sympathize with Laban and find fault with Nephi for what happened – we’re ignoring too many other realities about the text that we are dealing with here.

  201. “this account also fits into the overall narrative arc of the entire BoM very interestingly. Unlike Mormon’s probably distant, clinical account we get Nephi’s haunted, freighted personal psychological account. Violence begins in the BoM on the most horrifying personal scale, and then is steadily amplified and depersonalized. It culminates with the genocides of the Nephites and Jaredites. The last taste we get of it is Moroni who demystifies and repersonalizes macroscopic violence (his father’s account of Nephite atrocities)”

    Agree with Brad that there’s a steady crescendo of violence in the narrative up until the climax when Mormon and his son are the only two righteous priesthood holders remaining on the earth.

    It’s obvious that the gospel was not on the earth in it’s beauty and fullness back then. From our vantage point looking back on the past we often discount the fact that most of our ancestors tried to survive in a world order of force and violence.

    While the BoM is at the heart of the restored gospel it’s history including Nephi’s personal journey is one of a work of faith. He was laying a foundation for the entirety of the gospel to unfold, prosper, and progress on the earth at some future date.

  202. I debated whether or not to share this, but here it goes..

    [you chose wrongly]

  203. If we sympathize with Laban and find fault with Nephi for what happened

    That’s not the issue. The only person to use the words “untrustworthy” or “nutjob” in describing Nephi is you. Nobody has called Laban a good or sympathetic guy. But he was unconscious and defenseless when the killing actually took place. That Nephi felt conflicted by the situation when it happened is obvious. That he still felt conflicted decades later and that it was clearly a source of psychological baggage even after a life of striving to promote righteousness and experience God should prove cautionary for those who want to read this story as ethically cut and dry.

    Even if I have some doubt that the source of the killing command was God, that doesn’t mean that I think Nephi is self-consciously prevaricating. And I have put forth an interpretation on this thread wherein I assume that God did, in fact, order the killing. But I sometimes wonder if Nephi would be trying to sell us this hard if he didn’t have some doubt himself.

  204. 203 I debated whether or not to share this . . .

    I think you failed in your debate.

    The event you described was tacky, and patently ridiculous, and to ascribe it to most members is just as tacky and ridiculous.

  205. Gandhi’s story is still thought provoking. It goes back to Frank’s point about confidence intervals. It is significant that within the logic of the story as Nephi tells it, it is God and not any of His earthly representatives (like Lehi) who orders the killing. Only God gets to tell men to break God’s laws. Not even priesthood authorities have that prerogative. I would not obey a command to kill from my Bishop or from President Hinckley. And I consider both to be inspired servants chosen by God.

    If God wants me to kill, He can tell me so Himself.

  206. Brad – Your thoughts on it are interesting.

    I might need to clarify: I thought that the seminary teacher’s “object lesson” was tacky and ridiculous. The story itself is interesting, particularly in the response of the objectee, but I still remain firm in my stance that how gandhi framed it was just as tacky.

    The vast majority of the ward probably thought, I’d tell the Bishop to “Kindly meet Dr. Psychiatrist!”

  207. #205–You are right, I did fail.

    [otherwise edited]

  208. Brad,

    I don’t see Nephi’s psychological baggage displaying itself here. Just a straightforward account of what a dialogue between himself and the Spirit and then his final conclusion to slay Laban.

    Yes, he describes himself as initially being reluctant to kill Laban – not so much because he had affection for Laban but because he hadn’t ever shed blood before. He seems to have wanted to keep his spotless record in this area and I can’t blame him. Here’s what he wrote:

    1 Nephi 4:10
    “… but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.”

    So at first he didn’t want to obey what the Spirit was telling him what to do – but then he describes the rather persuasive dialogue, with multiple reasons, that led him to finally obey.

    As I read the verses that follow – I don’t see anything that displays shame, guilt or doubt about the decision he made.

    On another note – yes, I used the word “nutjob” … I was riffing off of a comment Steve Evans made where he used the word “nuthouse.” I recognize Steve wasn’t actually saying Nephi was nutty – but rather that our society would judge him to be so and put him ‘in the nuthouse.’ Yes, there’s a difference. So maybe I riffed too enthusiastically. Someone in here did use the word ‘murderer’ … and others have basically said that Nephi was misguided or that he mis-interpreted his own feelings for the voice of the Spirit – a conclusion I disagree with.

  209. I’d say the psychological baggage is partly on display in his account of the killing — the vividness of the description and odd attention to detail as well as the great lengths to which he goes to exculpate himself and portray the killing as not only ethically but legally justifiable. But I see the real baggage in 2 Nephi 4, where decades later he laments his own wretchedness for being prone to settling scores with enemies. I’m assuming Nephi’s psalm conveys genuine contrition and not contrived humility and self-congratulation.

  210. Gandhi writes,

    [some ridiculous anecdote]

    Unbelievable. Well, okay. I do know some pretty weird Mormons, and I can see them even answering yes to this. There are some folks in the church who are weird like that.

    Though, I tend to think that a more appropriate reponse would be, “are you out of your f*ing mind?”

  211. danithew, Much of what is said about Nephi’s lingering struggle to deal with what he had done is couched in terms of 2 Nephi 4 – “Nephi’s Psalm”. I have read psychological evaluations of the record, and, while I certainly don’t think they can be held as authoritative in any way, they are interesting at the very least – and a couple of them have been extremely persuasive. They don’t affect my acceptance of Nephi as a prophet at all, but they have helped me try to understand the possibilities behind the words. They also have helped make Nephi more “human” – which I appreciate when it comes to prophets.

  212. #191 – Steve, I know what you mean about Brad commenting before you.

  213. Um, Gandhi, good luck finding any group of 200 people that doesn’t include a few nutjobs. If there’s only 2 nutcases in a ward-sized, that’s a pretty good ratio, actually.

  214. Brad, I’ve always interpreted Nephi’s psalm to be applying to his interactions with his brothers. It’s an interesting idea that it applies to his feelings about what he did to Laban. That’s not an application I ever thought of previously. I’ll mull that one over – though I have my doubts about it.

    The odd thing is that in his description of the dialogue that led up to killing Laban, I don’t detect much anger on Nephi’s part. It seems to me that he is unsure of what he’s going to do and he is suddenly surprised to find Laban lying there in his path. He clearly states that it wasn’t his idea to kill Laban in the first place and that when the idea came up, he didn’t want to do it.

    I wonder, if the Spirit hadn’t told Nephi to kill Laban, what would Nephi have done? Or in other words, what would Nephi have wanted to do, in stead of killing Laban? What other plan was feasible?

    Part of the issue here too is the importance of the brass plates. I’m not entirely sure that they belonged to Laban – but that perhaps they were some kind of national treasure and they were _entrusted_ to Laban.

    On the other hand, maybe they were a major secret, privately held and privately passed down.

    Regardless, I don’t have the impression that there were a lot of metal plate editions of the scriptures lying around. I wonder, truly, how big a deal it was for Nephi to be carrying these off into the wilderness and then on a ship to the Americas. Was this something akin to walking off with an original copy of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution?

    Laban’s reluctance to hand over the plates to someone – even in exchange for great riches – on the face of it, actually seems justified – assuming this was a singular record he was entrusted to keep safe.

    That is one of the reasons I think Nephi had to kill Laban. I’m speculating that Laban would have had to pursue any and all leads if these records were stolen from him.

    I sometimes wonder who else (if any) knew about the existence of the plates and how they felt when they discovered the plates were gone. It might have been quite the spiritual-cultural disaster. We know how Joseph Smith felt when the 116 pages were lost. I imagine the sorrow and consternation would have been similar for anyone who discovered the brass plates were missing.

  215. Editor: you should have put, you chose poorly!

  216. George,

    Keep laughing! I’m glad to know that you are capable of some positive feeling.


    That guy giving the talk should have had *his* throat slit.


    I agree with danithew that Nephi simply gives us the details. It isn’t so much about him being psychologically conflicted as it is that the event left an indelible print upon his soul.


    Re: “Nephi’s Psalm” — The beauty of it is: There’s a great irony in the idea that one, who’s greatest weakness involves interpersonal conflict, is challenged by God to kill without rancor.

  217. Danithew,
    It’s difficult to disentangle Nephi’s experience with his brother’s from his killing of Laban, given the fact (which Nephi glosses over) that the wounds sustained when his brothers ganged up on him a few minutes earlier were still fresh when he came upon Laban. Nephi has no reason to purvey a dry, just-the-bare-facts version of what happened. His interpretive history is not likely to ever be more interpretive than in describing the scene here.

    If you can read 1-2 Nephi and with a straight face claim that Nephi is even making a pretense at giving a straightforward, bare-facts description of the Lehite origin story then I suspect we’ll continue to talk past one another.

  218. In this account there seems to be a conflict between what we would normally ascribe to Nephi’s conscience and the Spirit. Strange. It reminds me of those Disney scenes where the good Jiminy Cricket is on one shoulder and the bad Jiminy Cricket is on the other shoulder of a cartoon character and the character is left to choose. But here it’s the conscience versus the Spirit?

    When the Spirit speaks to me, I try to have a dialogue and to learn something more. It doesn’t always work, though. Perhaps the exigencies of Nephi’s situation weren’t conducive to a dialogue between the Spirit and Nephi, but is killing someone you don’t think you should not a situation where you could afford to take some extra time and be sure that all of your questions are answered before you do it? I hope and pray I would question the Spirit and make sure that I understood. If I didn’t, I hope I would.

    If the Lord slays the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes, why must I then kill Laban?
    I have been commanded not to commit murder. Killing this helpless man, wicked though he may be, just seems like murder to me. Aren’t there other options? When are commandments to be obeyed and when aren’t they? Why do commandments sometimes seem optional?

    Could have, would have, should have. I know. Just thinking about what I would do if I were ever so challenged in the future, not that that would ever happen to me. I think it is right to say, Father, I have some questions. No matter what the situation.

  219. Brad,

    I think the bottom line is that Nephi isn’t psychologically conflicted about the “facts” that he choses to share.

  220. How on earth do you know that? I’d imagine that the choices made in retelling this story to posterity were enormously difficult from a psychological perspective.

  221. since Utahns are statistically greater users of anti-depressant medications

    Interesting canard, one I’ve heard cited about other groups in other states as well.


  222. Brad – do you realize the irony of asking “how do you konw?” being immediately followed by “I’d imagine”? :) Not that I’m disagreeing with your analysis, though. I just thought it was funny.

  223. Brad,

    Well there may be something said for Nephi having difficulty in the process of choosing, but it certainly doesn’t seem to read that way in the account. Nephi comes across more like Joseph Smith to me. Neither are afflicted with the tormented soul of an artist or philosopher–ever searching for meaning and never quite able to right themselves with whatever the universal secret of happiness is. Yes they certainly had their moments of difficulty, but generally they are incredibly clear-headed.

  224. Jack, Brad’s point is one with which I agree. Of course, they come across that way; they wrote the account. (BTW, if you believe that about Joseph, re-read his description of himself in JSH between the First Vision and the appearance of Moroni – or his accounts of the difficulty of accepting polygamy – or his plea in the Liberty Jail. “Conflicted” is an excellent description.”)

  225. Ray,

    Maybe I’m arguing the wrong point. There’s no question that Nephi was conflicted when faced with the decision to kill. But regardless of that difficulty, I don’t sense that he was ever doubtful that it was God who told him to do it, or anything else he felt commanded to do. Throughout the entirety of his account Nephi is unwaivering on that point–as is Joseph Smith in his own writings.

  226. I can agree with that, Jack.

  227. Ray,

    I like it when smart people agree with me. ;>)

  228. I’m not able to read all the comments yet and I’m not even sure if anybody is still following this thread, but here are my two cents:

    Nephi didn’t act quickly on the Spirit’s instruction to slay Laban. In fact, he initially balked at it (v. 10). The Spirit then explained to Nephi why it had to be this way:

    * “the Lord hath delivered him into [Nephi’s] hands”
    * Laban had threatened Nephi’s own life
    * “[Laban] would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord”
    * “[Laban] had taken away [their] property”
    * the Lord slays 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

    Well, this aroused Nephi’s mind to a better understanding about how he had been promised that if his seed obeyed God’s commandments, they would prosper. Without the scriptures, they would not be able to obey those commandments.

    I think the last reason I listed above is the key argument to all of this: if Nephi didn’t take Laban out, the future Nephite generations were going to dwindle in unbelief without the record. That is, if they end up existing at all! What I mean by that is that I think the record is clear that Laban was not friendly to Lehi’s exodus. Not only Laban, but most of Jerusalem wanted to _kill_ Lehi. If Laban were left alive and found that the brass plates were missing after a certain son of Lehi tried to acquire them (both by asking politely and by offering to buy them at great cost), what do we suppose he would have done? I think he would have hunted them down and killed them. I feel like this reasoning is only backed up by the fact that Nephi and co had to bring Zoram along with them so that nobody would know where they had gone (1 Ne 4:36).

    Laban had to be killed. I suppose Zoram probably would have met the same fate if he had rejected Nephi’s invitation to join them.

  229. I believe this quote from Joseph covers this situation with Nephi:

    “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. But we cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received. That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another.”

    “God said, “Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said “Thou shalt utterly destroy.” This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. If we seek first the kingdom of God, all good things will be added. So with Solomon: first he asked wisdom, and God gave it him, and with it every desire of his heart, even things which might be considered abominable to all who understand the order of heaven only in part, but which in reality were right because God gave and sanctioned by special revelation.” – Official History of the Church, Vol. 5, p.134-136

    Also, I think we forget that the Old Testament was filled with God-sanctioned killing. I doubt that the men/generals/soldiers involved worried much about breaking the commandment not to kill.


  230. Steve Evans says:

    Steve, see no. 148 above. Gotta show up on time for the party!

  231. #149 – Some background to the quote in 148 and 230.

    Joseph Smith invited Nancy Rigdon, nineteen-year-old daughter of his close friend and counselor, Sidney Rigdon, to meet him at the home of Orson Hyde. Upon her arrival Smith greeted her, ushered her into a private room, then locked the door. After swearing her to secrecy, wrote George W. Robinson, Smith announced his “affection for her for several years, and wished that she should be his…the Lord was well pleased with this matter…here was no sin in it whatever…but, if she had any scruples of conscience about the matter, he would marry her privately.”

    But Nancy was not cooperative. Despite her young age, she did not hesitate to express herself. The prophet’s behavior shocked her; she rebuffed him in a flurry of anger. Wickliffe Rigdon wrote that Smith, flustered, beckoned Mrs. Hyde into the room to help win Nancy over. Hyde volunteered that she too was surprised upon first hearing of the tenet, but was convinced it was true, and that “great exaltation would come to those who received and embraced it.” Incredulous, Nancy countered that “if she ever got married she would marry a single man or none at all.” Grabbing her bonnet, she ordered the door opened or she would “raise the neighbors.” She then stormed out of the Hyde-Richards residence. (Sidney Rigdon Biography by Richard S. Van Wagoner, p.295)

  232. #231 – Would it carry more weight if you post it in triplicate?

  233. #232: See #154 – then the last sentence in #231.

  234. I did not see mentioned above the lost 88 pages of the Book of Mormon that would have preceded Nephi’s account. I like to think that some of the Laban relationship issues with Lehi’s family would have been expanded, thus building context for Nephi’s actions. Then again I don’t know much about those pages beyond they existed and were lost. They could have just been Lehi’s shopping list prior to the big road trip.

  235. Also, FWIW, I just went to lunch and bought the Flight of the Conchords cd The Distant Future; so this post caused some good.

  236. Steve Evans says:

    Excellent news! That’s a great CD. The first season of the show is on DVD soon, if not already — it’s very good.

  237. I know I’m horribly late to the party. But the wife and I were discussing this very thing last night. I did think the whole story rich after just a few pages before this event Nephi was quoted as saying
    “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”

    Commanded to get the plates? God will make sure there’s a way to do it. Don’t commit murder? I guess not so much.

  238. Another quote by Joseph Smith –

    “To what extent is obedience to those who hold the Priesthood required? This is a very important question and one that should be understood by all the Saints. In attempting to answer the question, we would repeat, in short, what we have already written, that willing obedience to do the laws of God, administered by the priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but we would further add, that a proper conservative to this power exists for the benefit of all, and none are required to tamely and blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God ….would despise the idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their Almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without asking any questions. When the elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.

    Joseph Smith — Millennial Star, Vol. 14, no. 38, pp. 593-595.

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