Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Were the Nephites Totally Wiped Out?

by Sariah S. Wilson

The short answer: nope.

I intended this to be my blog subject last week, but it was my anniversary and I have turned into one of those parents who have five million things to do every day and am lucky to manage getting two of them accomplished. Time just seems to slip by so quickly.

Today we had another parents in different places with kids doing different activities and somewhere in the middle of that we realized that we hadn't seen our cat since the day before. He's not the brightest of creatures, but he somehow managed to get out of the house without anyone noticing when the boys went to play outside. (He's an indoor cat, and we worried for his welfare. Note above wherein he's not very smart (but awfully sweet). Although, I had to admit he couldn't be too dumb if he got outside without anyone seeing him. To which my husband replied, "Yes, the genius cat managed to bypass the 7-year-old's security." Which you may not find funny, but I did.)

So he showed up in the garage this morning crying to be let back in, and he hasn't so much as even looked out the window today (typically one of his favorite pastimes). I don't think he wants to talk about it.

With that drama behind us, I decided to post some on my thoughts on whether or not the Nephites were totally wiped out. This is another one of those things that I think somehow managed to get perpetuated in our culture even though the scriptures, IMO, make it pretty clear that a lot of Nephites didn't go anywhere and didn't get annihilated as we so often assume.

When we talk about Nephite survivors, people immediately think of the three Nephite apostles that have somehow managed to make their way into many LDS folklore tales. I'm not discounting the fact that they may very well have appeared to people throughout the ages, but when so many accounts parallel that exactly of other Americana folklore, well, it makes me wonder (like the people traveling to the World Fair - in Mormon stories it's a Nephite in the backseat, in non-Mormon stories it's an angel). I have this quote in my Book of Mormon files, and while I'm not sure of the author (sorry!), here it is:

“The basic structure of these stories seems to be this: someone has a problem; a stranger appears; the stranger solves the problem; the stranger miraculously disappears. A story may have more to it than this, but it must have these features. Any account that is taken into the Nephite cycle will be adjusted (probably unconsciously) to fit the pattern. The remarkable disappearance is particularly interesting. I see no compelling reasons why the Nephites must disappear. In Book of Mormon times they were thrown into prison, dens of wild beasts, and into furnaces, and in none of these instances did they solve their problems by disappearing. But in the modern stories, they vanish from the back seats of speeding cars; they vaporize before one's eyes; or they walk away and someone later tracing their footsteps in the snow finds that they abruptly end. The Nephites disappear, I believe, because the story requires it. The disappearance is the climax toward which the narrative builds, overshadowing in many instances the kindly deeds the Nephites came to perform in the first place."

I remember the Sunday I was teaching my teenagers about this concept and the speaker got up and read this story from his family's history about how his great-grandmother (or someone like that) couldn't speak and they prayed for her to be able to speak and when something important was going to happen and the need was great, a Nephite showed up (identifying himself as such), administered as quickly as he could and then his footprints in the snow stopped suddenly and then disappeared, with the neighbors saying they hadn't seen anyone at their house. Like the above author, I wonder why the three never used disappearing tricks while teaching (which was a couple hundred years after Christ's coming) in the Book of Mormon (which, if I had that superpower, I would totally use to get people to believe me. "Oh yeah? You think I'm wrong? Well, WATCH THIS!")

Anyway, something that is important to remember is that by the end of the Book of Mormon, the whole -ites thing had a lot more to do with political, social and religious lines than ethnicity. Mormon grew up in a time of awful warfare - with the Lamanites on one side and the Gadiantons (possibly at Teotihuacan) on the other. The Nephite people lost a lot of land and were forced further and further north as part of their treaty.

There were a lot of people who retreated. But do you really think every single person did? Is it possible that there were people who were technically Nephite as they lived in the Nephite kingdom, but that they had fallen away from their church? (We know that happened all the time then, just as it happens now.) When the Lamanite invaders came through there were people who just stayed put. They lived on lands their grandfather's grandfather had lived on and would not leave it. The Nephites and Lamanites show us over and over again how important the land was to them, that they were tied to it in a way that we probably don't understand. (As a kid I never did. I couldn't figure out why they just didn't go further north and find some nice land in South Dakota to live on.) There were people who switched their allegiance from one kind of leadership to another. The Nephites also had lots of people who were in desperate want of a king and a kingship system like the Lamanites had, since it led to great wealth. I imagine those are people who also stayed, since as nobility they would finally have a crack at all those riches. The Lamanites, once they conquered a people, would not typically rule them with a heavy hand. The people became part of the Lamanite kingdom, but retained their own leadership and continued to live their lives as they always had, but with a higher taxation situation as they would now have to pay tribute.

In Mormon 5:6, there is an indication that the Lamanite army got a lot bigger. This may have been partly due to conscription of the Nephite peoples they took over as they claimed former Nephite territory. Mormon 6:15 even says there were Nephite deserters who joined the Lamanites. He also says there were also some who returned to the former Nephite lands to the south. We also have lots of instances in the scriptures of Lamanites "becoming" Nephites or Nephites "becoming" Lamanites. Typically means they just switched their allegiances and/or faith.

In Mormon 6, Mormon tells us that he finished up his work on the Book of Mormon AFTER the big final battle. Which tells me he had inside information that he would not die in that fight. Because if I was going into a battle that I expected to be my last one, I would get the abridgement and writing done beforehand. Anyway, at the end of that fight Mormon indicates that only 24 of them were left (including Moroni), and the deserters and those who returned to their former homes (again, these ties to kin groups and to the land were strong driving forces, and the fact that they might have seen this as their only chance of survival).

Then in Mormon 7:1 there's something I find very interesting - Mormon talks about the "remnant of THIS people who are spared" (emphasis mine obviously, since Mormon didn't write in all caps). If only 24 people total had survived this final battle, how could Mormon expect that there would be any remnant of his people in the future?

Once Moroni takes over the writing reins, he says in Mormon 8:2 that the Lamanites hunted those who had gone southward until they were all destroyed. 1) I wonder how Moroni could have possibly known that every single Nephite survivor was killed, and 2) it seems more like hyperbole than actuality. Particuarly since Moroni contradicts this in Moroni 1:1-3. The Lamanites are putting to death every Nephite who won't deny the Christ (flip side of that being that if a Nephite was willing to deny Christ, he was probably allowed to live). If all the Nephites who had gone southward had been destroyed as indicated in Mormon 8, then why years later are they still hunting down Nephites?

And from a kingdom standpoint, it is a waste of time and resources to hunt down a very tiny element. It seems to me that the Nephites living in Lamanite territory somehow presented a real threat as far as religion and political allegiance went (considering that back then they were very much one and the same) and as such, would have had to be more signficant in numbers than just a "few." Perhaps the deserters were bringing those who had stayed or deserted back into the faith.

Moroni also wrote that the hunting was going on after he had written in Mormon 8 about how alone he was. This didn't necessarily mean totally alone - if Mormon had had a head's up about the battle and who would survive, I simply can't imagine that he would let his daughters/other sons or sisters/brothers or nieces/nephews or grandchildren just die. He knew what the end result would be going into that fight. When Moroni speaks about being alone, he's talking about the loss of his kin group - so vital in that time; there is no network of people to help support him and help him. Everywhere that he went (and whoever was with him), people would be suspicious of him and his life was in real danger not just from the Lamanites but any other people that he might encounter.

And in Mormon 8:7 when Moroni talks about the Nephites being gone, we know he's not talking about each and every individual and descendant that were ever counted among that people. He's talking about the Nephites as a whole being destroyed. Their fall as a body was great.

When the Jaredites were supposedly totally wiped out, we know that wasn't true. Their influence was felt for a very long time among the Nephite people. Secret combinations were a Jaredite leftover. We see Jaredite names among the Nephite people (Corianton, Shiblon). (There's other stuff but it's 11:30 here and I'm tired.) This wouldn't have been possible if each and every Jaredite had been totally obliterated in the last great battle.

Mormon indicated several times that he wrote the Book of Mormon for his people - that remnant of Nephite people that would live on as Lamanites, and for the Lamanites. Moroni says that he wrote his words for us, the Gentiles, as he and his father both understood that we would be the ones who would get their words first. How could they have this expectation if there were no Nephite descendants?

Answer: There are Nephite descendants. The Nephites weren't completely decimated.

P.S. - I may not ever be up for really debating this for at least a year or two, which is when I'm hoping normal brain functions return as I plan to be sleeping more than two hours at a time by then.


At 6/14/2009 2:25 AM, Anonymous Jordan said...

I think you're right about the Nephites, but I also think you have to go back even farther than Mormon and Moroni. After Jesus visited the Americas, there were no manner of -ites—which means lineal Lamanites and lineal Nephites most likely intermarried and intermixed as they became one society for two hundred years (especially after the tumult at the crucifixion displaced many of them and led to large resettlements).

As you point out, Lamanites and Nephites were more political (or, specifically, religious, according to 4 Ne 1:36-39) labels by the end of the Book of Mormon. They began taking these political labels and separating again after living as one society.

I don't think that secret combinations were created by the Jaredites, however. Nephi points out that the devil is the founder of these things (2 Ne 9:9, 26:22), so I doubt that actual societal contact was necessary. (Cain also founded a secret combination, according to the JST.)

I think Morianton is the better evidence for the your case on the Jaredites—it's a city and a person in Alma 50. I believe Alma, as high priest/prophet, would have had access to the records of the Jaredites, so he could names his sons Corianton and Shiblon, Jareditish names (and I do mean "ish," since we have Coriantor, Coriantumr, and Coriantum, but no Corianton. Maybe this is the first Mormon kr8tiv name...).

Good luck catching up on your sleep!

At 6/15/2009 5:47 AM, Blogger Jack Mormon said...

Basically what you're suggesting is that the Lamanites destroyed the Nephite nation at Cumorah, but not the Nephite people. Makes sense.

This is similar to when North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam in 1975. They destroyed the South Vietnamese nation, but not the South Vietnamese people.

At 6/15/2009 2:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was the civilation that was destroyed. Mormon and Moroni lamented the death of a lot of people in the final battle, but, possibly even more, the loss of their once great civilization. It was the same lamentation that the remnant peoples of all the great Meso American cultures experienced after their respective collapse.

The hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who remained after the collpase of the Jaredite/Olmec civiliation mourned their loss. And for centuries tried to regain/rebuild/put back together, from memory, the pieces of their once great civilization. The memory of Oxaca, San Lorenzo, La Venta, Monte Negro and Laguna de los Cerros died slowly. The Mayans did the same thing, seeking to restore the glory of their lost civilization that collapsed into small regional villages about 800 AD from what had been a mighty collection of kingdom states at Tikal, Tlapacoya, Veracruz, Altar de Sacrificios, Chiapas, and the venerable beginnings at Kaminal Juyu. There were other lesser civiliations like the toltecs. The Zapotecs. The Pophl Voh. And the great attempts to regain the lost Mayan civilization like the Aztecs who, unlike their highly religious Mayan ancestors, rebuilt over top the Mayan lands that was dominiated more by political/military ideas than was the previous religiously dominated Mayan civilization. The Incas grew out of their own tradition. And the Nephites established themselves as a small, but very distinct civiliation in the interim period between the fall the of Jaredites abour 600 BC and the rise of the Mayans around 450 AD. The Indians of Arizona, the Mississippi River Valley, and the Great Lakes regions never developed any comparable civilization with trade, agriculture, government or religion. There was never a "collapse" of civilization in those regions. You had to have one to lose it, right?

There were millions left after the great wars, and conquests, and the collpase of every major civlization in Meso America. The people didn't disappear. There were millions of people in North and South America when Lehi made landfall. And there were millions more when the Nephite civiliation finally went the way of all Meso American civiliations. There were war-time loses in the fierce Nephite end-of-civilization battles with the Lamanites, but it was the loss of the culture, the government, the social order, essentially the loss of the civilization that was lamenated by those who remained. Much of Meso American history is the story of those remnant peoples trying to remake the glory of previous civiliations.

The Nephite government. Gone. The Nephite religious hierarchy. Gone. The Nephite inter-regional trade. Gone. The Nephite social order. Gone. The Nephite military complex providing a secure environment for advancements and innovations in the markets, fine art, trade, crop rotation, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, agriculture, animal husbandry, irrigation, architecture, engineering, cement production. All gone.

Those who were called Nephites by political affiliation switched their politics after the great battles of Cumorah or were killed. The lineage Nephites switched their geneaology and claimed Laman as their principal progenitor rather than Nephi or they were killed. The religiously affiliated Nephites disavowed their faith or were killed. The economically affiliated Nephites ended their Nephite trade or were killed. The agriculturally linked Nephites ended their claim to Nephite land rights or were killed. The royal line of Nephites were summarily exterminated. Sucks to be a royal.
(Mormon 2:7-8, Mormon 6:15, Mormon 9:24, Moroni 1:2)

The D&C indicates that the many lines of lineage descent within the larger Nephite body (Jacobites, Nephites, Samites, Zoramites, and Josephites) will be determined at some point. D&C 3:17-20, 10:48)

At 6/17/2009 6:41 PM, Anonymous Deanne said...

Sariah, I'm having trouble reaching you by email. Could you email me when you get the chance. Thanks! This is Deanne Blackhurst, Jeff's sister at

At 6/20/2009 3:53 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

This is a test.

At 11/09/2009 8:32 PM, Anonymous John said...

Hi Sariah,

Enjoyable article. The potentially related premise of Nephites in Europe might be of interest:


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