Two Reflections on Korihor

“And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ.”Alma 30:12

Korihor was the third of three people in the Book of Mormon explicitly designated as an “anti-Christ.” And probably everybody reading this knows the rough outline of Korihor’s life and death: he shows up in Zarahemla about 75 B.C. and preaches that there will be no Christ. The Nephites (we’re told) have no law against a person’s belief but, notwithstanding its putative religious freedom, Korihor eventually ends up on trial in front of Alma, the chief priest of the people, and the chief judge.

Korihor continues to deny the coming Christ, asks for a sign, and is struck dumb. He confesses in writing that he was deceived by the devil, asks that the curse be removed, and Alma declines. Korihor ends up panhandling until he’strampled to death by the Zoramites (themselves a group of religious dissenters). The life and death of Korihor end up being a didactic morality tale, wrapped up comfortably by editor and narrator Mormon.

Reflection #1

But here’s the thing: notwithstanding Mormon’s bow at the end of the story, I think the story of Korihor demands more of us as readers and believers. Because if we take Mormon’s narration at its face, we left with what Blues Traveler described as a

bad play where the heroes are right
And nobody thinks or expects too much
And Hollywood’s calling for the movie rights
Singing “Hey babe, let’s keep in touch”, hey baby, let’s keep in touch

The Book of Mormon is absolutely not a simplistic morality tale, as much as we sometimes turn it into one. Through both text and subtext the Book of Mormon makes abundantly clear that the Nephite civilization is not heroes we should emulate. Try as he sometimes does, Mormon can’t cover up the complexity, flatten the dimensions of this society.

So who is Korihor? We really don’t know. But there are hints that he’s not in it just because he’s opposed to Jesus (and concomitant hints that the Nephites aren’t freaked out about him just because he’s preaching against a Jesus-to-come). In fact, more than a religious dissenter, I suspect he’s a political dissenter, a member of a majority underclass being ruled by an colonizing minority.

Start with his name: Korihor isn’t the only Korihor in the Book of Mormon. If we flash forward (and back) to the book of Ether, we meet a Corihor who usurped the Jaredite kingdom from his father.

You remember which Book of Mormon people interacted with the (well, a) Jaredites? The Mulekites!

You know what else we know about the Mulekites? Well, their religion differed from the religion of the Nephites; specifically, we read that they “denied the being of their Creator.” We also know that, when the Nephites found the Mulekites, they found a lot of Mulekites. But it was the Nephites who taught the Mulekites Nephite language and it was Nephite Mosiah who became kind over the united people.

Were the Mulekites happy about this situation? We don’t know. The Book of Mormon doesn’t record their take on all of this. But the political and religious elite continue to be descended from the Lehites who begin the story of the Book of Mormon. And there is a strong suggestion throughout the text that this combination of peoples is always tenuous at best and, when the people fracture, they seem to fracture along familial/tribal lines.

Which is to say, I suspect that Korihor is a Mulekite and I suspect that he’s not happy about the Mulekites’ subordinate status. (I also suspect that what looks to me like a disproportionate reaction by the political and religious leaders is because they’re not big fans of a potential Mulekite uprising.)

That does not mean, of course, that Korihor is right.[fn1] We don’t have to accept that his religion—or, necessarily, his tactics—should be emulated. Again, the Book of Mormon isn’t a simple black-and-white morality play. It is entirely plausible that he both has legitimate religious and political complaints and that he’s wrong.

And it’s clearly possible that my reading is wrong. The Book of Mormon does not demand that we read Korihor as a Mulekite. It does not demand that we read the Nephites as a colonizing power or that we read the divisions among Nephites as a split into pre-unification factions and families. But the text forces us to at least face these questions, to ask ourselves why various people are doing—and writing—what they are.

Reflection #2

Mormon really doesn’t seem to want us to have this discussion, though. Which again is understandable. He’s living and writing in a fairly dystopian world. The unified(?) society that he’s looking back to has, by his lifetime, irretrievably fractured, notwithstanding the intervening coming of Christ and four or so generations of peace. In fact, he may see Korihor as a harbinger of the world in which he lives. So I get his willingness and desire to characterize Korihor as evil and to flatten and erase whatever Korihor’s motivation was. (Also, he’s writing like 500 years after Korihor, so I also get that he’s probably extrapolating from records that don’t provide much background of Korihor.)

But here’s the thing: by labeling Korihor an anti-Christ, he’s told us not to engage with Korihor, not to worry about where Korihor’s coming from. He’s flattening Korihor into a bad play where the villain is wrong and we don’t have to think or expect at all.

Now, while that’s probably not fair, there’s not a ton of harm in flattening and demonizing someone who lived 500 years before you.

But there’s no excuse for it today. There is absolutely no good to come of calling someone an anti-Christ or even a Korihor. Again, that doesn’t mean we have to agree with everybody. But where we disagree, we have an obligation, as followers of Christ and as brothers and sisters, to respect our brothers and sisters as fully three-dimensional humans. If we want to engage them, we should engage them. But throwing epithets at them, and especially epithets commonly understood within our community as indicating a person set on undermining and destroying true religion?[fn2]

Yeah, let’s not.[fn3]


[fn1] I was going to put this in the main text but, because it’s potentially minorly spoilery I decided to put it in the footnotes. So if you’re planning on watching Falcon and the Winter Soldier and you haven’t yet, don’t read this footnote. I’ll put a bolded sentence when the spoiler is done.

SPOILER ALERT

In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, one of the big antagonists is Karli Morganthau, a founder of the Flag Smashers. Essentially, the Flag Smashers are fighting against the government’s plans for various refugees and displaced persons. They’re fighting policies that are truly oppressive and the show let’s us know that Karli is incredibly sincere and that her movement is fighting against legitimate injustice.

It also shows us that Karli is indifferent to the deaths of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people. Her willingness to kill others undercuts her message and her moral high ground.

I think it’s possible to read Korihor in a similar way. I mean, he’s not indifferent to killing, but he seems at least moderately indifferent to people’s eternal life.

END OF SPOILERS

So if he’s fighting against injustice, it’s still possible that he’s fighting in a way that complicates and undermines his message. That is, you can recognize both the complexity and injustice and still think Korihor’s not right.

[fn2] Because even though I’ve said the story of Korihor is way more complicated than the surface-level story we like to tell, we still tell the surface-level story and you don’t call someone a “Korihor” to suggest that they have deep currents of underlying motivation.

[fn3] Yes, Reflection #2 is subtweeting some internet drama from last week. But even without the context, I think it’s important to remember that as Christians and spiritual brothers and sisters, we need to approach each other with love and respect, even in disagreement.

Comments

  1. lastlemming says:

    I didn’t follow the “internet drama” all that closely, so I don’t know the context in which the insults of “Anti-Christ” and “Korihor” were thrown around. But I will agree that we should refrain from using them. However, that will not stop me from occasionally quoting from Alma 30:17 (which any engaged church member would recognize as the words of Korihor) to discredit a philosophy popular amongst the membership:

    “but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength;”

  2. lastlemming, I think that’s totally fair, especially since you’re aiming it at ideas and not at people!

  3. .

    And what a fine subtweet it is.

  4. I don’t know if my post on Ron Paul and Korihor is a cautionary tale or not, but it has some amusing comments.

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2011/06/03/ron-paul-and-korihor-a-comparison/

  5. pconnornc says:

    I completely agree w/comments on hurling epithets and kindness, but I have always pondered this… The BoM was written for our time. Jesus is the Christ, war is very bad, the problems w/ pride & classes – these are some of the top items that are hugely valuable. But somewhere in the top 10 we find things like anti-Christs/false prophets (as well as secret combinations).

    While my 1st inclination is to have kindness, I wonder if we have some of the harshness in the BoM to assist us in how we handle “wolves among the sheep”?

    I’m not advocating an all out assault on Lighthouse Ministries or anything like that, but I am pondering if/when/how taking a more forceful stance w/ those who would/could hurt testimonies of the Savior & the restoration might be appropriate?

  6. Sam, are you trying to say that Mormon is giving us the Run Around?

  7. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    “Through both text and subtext the Book of Mormon makes abundantly clear that the Nephite civilization is not heroes we should emulate.” I think this is very important, Sam. Mormon (and Moroni) is viewing a society that has collapsed and looking back at how they got there. The Book of Mormon isn’t a tale about what to do so much as a warning about what NOT to do. The Book of Mormon is a heavily curated description of a failed civilization. The Nephites weren’t good at assimilating with those around them, nor at welcoming and embracing those who joined them (this is clear by how often these groups fractured along those lines). It’s a book written for their “brothers”, to not meet the same end. Essentially, the message is: Being prideful, thinking you’re better than those who believe differently, mistreating the poor and immigrants, and encouraging class divisions and justifying inequality didn’t work out so well for us. Don’t do what we did!

  8. Beyond that, I pretty much buy Orson Scott Card’s suggestion that the “Mulekites” were just Jaredites, whose origin story was an attempt to one-up the Nephites they’d just met: “Yes, we’re from across the sea, and our ancestor was the son of your king, named ‘King’ [Hebrew root M-L-K]!”

  9. Korihor could have been from the indigenous population that was there long before Lehi, if you believe the evidence of indigenous people in the Americas since 10,000+ BC. Would that have make him a “Lamanite” though? (which Mormon does not say). There are similarities with the account of Sherem in Jacob 7. In the case of Sherem, there was a language difference mentioned, but not with Korihor, as there were several hundred years passed in which other languages could be learned or merge. Korihor’s dialogue sounds more like a capitalist than a hunter but who knows? Sherem could also have been a Muliekite, or they both could have been indigenous.

  10. Aussie Mormon says:

    “Would that have make him a “Lamanite” though? (which Mormon does not say).”

    If we use Jacob’s political divisions (“But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.”), it would depend on his purpose of teaching.

  11. #Aussie, I agree. Makes it interesting that Mormon didn’t call him a Lamanite.

  12. Never have I ever thought of the Lehites/Nephites as colonizers but put in this post’s context I can actually see it. Now all of the divisions and splits every 3 generations make absolute sense! Loved the vague-not-so-vague subtweet.