My 2nd Scoop: A Curious Verse

I recently made the acquaintance of Morgan Deane, who runs a blog called Warfare and the Book of Mormon.  Morgan is a scholar in Military History, and has used some of his expertise in analyzing some passages in the Book of Mormon as related to warfare.  Here’s what he says about himself on his website.

I have completed my course work for a Masters in Military History from Norwich University and I am looking for employment as a Professor of History. I have presented papers on Napoleonic warfare and published papers about Asian and Book of Mormon Warfare. My research interests include the above topics, the American Civil War, the application of military theory, ancient warfare, and medieval warfare.

Morgan recently sent a scholarly paper to the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, but it was not accepted.  Well their loss is our gain!  Morgan asked if I might be willing to talk about it, so you can download it here! (It’s 11 pages.) I always love to read interesting perspectives, and Morgan has an interesting perspective on Alma 56:28.

And also there were sent two thousand men unto us from the land of Zarahemla. And thus we were prepared with ten thousand men, and provisions for them, and also for their wives and their children.

Morgan states, “it seems strange that soldiers would travel with their families into a war zone, and begs the question of why Helaman included that detail in his letter.”  I won’t spoil the answer for you–you need to download the paper to find out why.  So, after reading the paper, what do you think of Morgan’s analysis?  Personally, I found it fascinating, and I also want to highly recommend his blog.  It is evident that he really puts a lot of thought into his work.  I expect Morgan will drop by, so if you can give some input here, I’m sure it will be well appreciated.


31 comments on “My 2nd Scoop: A Curious Verse

  1. It would be interesting to me to see if some of the works the BoM was supposedly plagiarized from had soldiers taking their families with them to war, or establishing military colonies.
    Of course, nothing prohibits someone (JS or whomever) from knowing about ancient people’s establishing military outpost colonies. I wonder if the establishment of forts in the American frontier had any similarities.

  2. Goldarn,

    Do you have a source for this plagiarism? To me, this plagiarism all sounds like conspiracy theory nonsense. I don’t know if you saw my post on the Spaulding Theory, or my post on Geography theories, but I don’t hold strongly to the assumption of the Americas as the setting for the BoM. As Morgan (and Nibley) mention, the BoM peoples seem to share some strange similarities with Oriental cultures.

  3. Hey, Morgan, this may be a good time to ask your opinion about the fact that Nephites usually send “two thousand men” to the front. Do you think that these are names of standard Nephite military units like battalions instead of literal numbers of troops?

  4. Thanks for the question firetag. The late A. Brent Merrill thought that Nephite armies were decimal based but he also showed many instances of other ancient army names based on numbers that were slightly off. Like the Roman centurions were not made of a hundred soldiers (it was more like 80). I agree with his analysis that there is flexibility in the numbers and I would add that there is much work that still needs to be done in this area (stated here). Merrill’s article is in Warfare in the Book of Mormon (Ricks and Hamblin Ed. Deseret Book 1991)

    I would be interested in hearing your case for it. (Perhaps as a guest blogger over at my place?)

  5. Right after I clicked I realized I forget something. If Nephite armies are grouped in ten thousands then two thousand would be about 20% casualities, which could indicate Nephite losses in an area. In that quarter of the land they were losing so 20% death/desertion/casuality rates could be realistic and maybe even an underestimate (since ancient armies often ceased upon defeat). Just an added thought that argues for 2000 equaling 2000.

  6. Morgan,

    I think I know where Firetag is going. Sorenson and Givens often talk about a possibility of Joseph’s mistranslation, and his substitute for a similar word. For example, the BoM lists horses, but since horses didn’t exist, Sorenson and Givens think Joseph used the word horses to describe a Tapir.

    So, where do you stand on Joseph mistranslating in regards to army numbers? (Did Joseph convert to base 10, when the Nephites may have counted differently?)

  7. Thats a good question MH. I will lean towards a decimal based army untill I see a case arguing otherwise. I do not rule out the possibility that Joseph Smith used his knowledge in translating numbers or army names which could give mean that the army numbers are totally different than what we now think. As Rumsfield said, there are known unkowns and unkown unkowns so I remain open to things that may be known in the future, but I also do not want to base any of my ideas and research on an appeal to ignorance. Thats why I mentioned the possibility of firetag making a case or blog post for it. Then I could interact with something more substantial and possibly adjust my ideas if new research points in a different direction. Thanks for the comments and giving my ideas some exposure.

  8. I’m not sure where I’m going with this myself, and don’t know if I have enough of a “case” for a blog entry, Morgan, but I simply have noted that the digits that appear in the BofM in many contexts are clearly non-random and therefore should NOT be taken literally. (Ever notice anyone getting lost in the wilderness in either the BofM or OT for 39 or 41 anything?) There are a couple of BofM Online sites that allow you to search the LDS scriptures for occurences of particular numbers; the non-randomness will jump out at you.

    The digits that jump out in describing military movements are two, six and ten (for example, whether 6 thousand or 6 tens). The one case, in the verse above, where an army of 10,000 is described in greater detail, it is composed of a unit of 6 thousand and 2 separately organized and maneuvered units of 2 thousand. And Helaman carefully describes his reinforced unit as 2 thousand and 6 tens, never combining the 2 and the 6. His serious casulaties are given as 2 hundred. Moroni sends units of 6 thousand to support his subordinate commanders such as Lehi. And so on.

    Now these numbers may have special religious significance in Nephite culture. The search engine I referenced above will show the same non-randomness in OT use of numbers (not necessarily the same numbers), so the idea of religiously significant rather than historically accurate numbers would be an unsurprising concept to Nephites.

    Can we relate this specifically to historicity issues of the BofM? Well, you’d be the one with the expertise to know whether various ancient cultures picked military unit sizes for religious significance. (Another blog topic for you to write, perhaps?)

    If this relates to Meso, the numerical pattern is likely to be complex. The Olmec and Mayan numbering systems are related in a “father and son” sort of way. But they are unlike the modern decimal system. There are 20 separate digital names, and different numbers of digits are used in different decimal places (as if in English we counted 76, 77, 78, 79, 100, 101, 102, etc.) The number of digits used in each decimal place itself seems to be religiously based – a pattern of 13 digits and 20 digits repeated to mimic a 260 day ceremonial year, with a single case of 18 digits being used to bring the 260 day ceremonial year into alignment with a 360 day approximate solar year. There’s no way I can see to get any number that is approximately 1000 as a natural outcome of that system; 13x20x13 = 3380.

    There’s even an inscription that indicates the Mayan idea of infinity — the digit for 13 written in 20 consectutive decimal places.

    Is there a better tie specifically to two, six, and ten? Well, maybe there is an echo in the way the mayans wrote the numbers for the digit glyphs, although it’s a stretch They used a dot and bar system, where the digits 2, 6, and 10 are the only digits written with exactly two symbols, and therefore might be especially important religious manifestations of the fundamental religiously significant “two” — something like the way infinity gets expressed in Mayan by a combination of a fundamentally important digit getting written a fundamentally important number of times.

    Specifically, two is written as 2 dots, the two symbols composing six are a dot and a bar, and 10 is written as 2 bars.

    One last point to make, if BofM numbers are really written to be religiously significant rather than literal, the dating chronology in the Book prior to the reign of the judges (when numbering became annual) should be examined with that in mind.

  9. That seemed liked enough for a decent post. 🙂 The only think I would add is that Helamans 2k being separate from the 6k is an example of the tribal or feudal nature that Nephite society was based on. Much of European and Asian history has similar incidents where armies were conglomorations of units.

    Even with my background I have not heard of many units created with specific numbers for religious purposes,(sorry I’m not an ecyclopedia no matter how hard I try) but I can add that to my research list. From what I do know unit sizes are normally based on societal factors like type of government, the amount of logistical support a state can provide, how strong the state is in recruiting or forcing men into service etc.

    The non random numbers could be due to similar practical factors, such as the typical number of casualties, an organizational preference from the Nephite government, demographic concerns that force a certain us of numbers, an editorial preference or literary phrase (like “I told you a million times”) used by Mormon and so forth. I dont discount your analysis, there simply is a great deal of research that still needs to be done for numbers in the BoM.

    Thanks for the comments. I am excited to see what other people think. This morning I recieved a email from Garth Norman about possible publication with the Ancient America Foundation. I will post a link here if it does get published.

  10. Thanks, Morgan. I may not have made it clear between post 3 and post 8, but what I’m suggesting is that as logistics capabilities and population changed, the size of the “thousand” may have grown in actual size, the way a US “division” did from Civil War times to WW2, but the name for the unit type didn’t change, and the pattern of organizing number of units always kept to the two, six, ten pattern. The unit type could come from the “social rank” of the commander, as in feudal systems, probably with some rough expectation of the size of the levy.

  11. I see your point. Helaman was only a 2k man, while Antipus was a 6k man I guess. (That joke only makes sense if you have seen Johnny Lingo) I did mention in this post that nobles had private armies. So your point makes good sense. I need to stack up every verse that has non random numbers and see if the argument about private armies and 2k or 6k being a unit title. Some day in the future this could be another blog post. Thanks. No more comments?

  12. Morgan,

    I tend to try for a literal reading of the numbers too. While it is interesting that a Roman centurions were 80, rather than 100 soldiers, I think than unless evidence shows otherwise, we should take the numbers in the Book of Mormon at face value.

    If we can correlate the BoM to Aztec, Mayan, or some other civilization, then perhaps we need to look at these numbers differently, but I think we should generally take them at face value. I’ve never been a real fan of the “Joseph mistranslated” school of thought. Perhaps it is true, but I’m not inclined toward that direction, as it seems to try to shoehorn a theory that doesn’t fit as nicely as we would like.

    Morgan, I have to tell you that email from Garth Norman is extremely exciting! Congratulations. I don’t know if you know who he is, but I would rate him as an expert on Central American BoM theory just below Sorenson in prestige! I think you have an interesting skill set, and I can see you are in big demand! Please remember that I discovered you first!!!! I think that is a tremendous opportunity, and I encourage you to take advantage of it!

  13. I was referring to the Spaulding theory and others. I don’t hold to any theories about plagiarism, which is why I used the word “supposed.” It simply occurred to me that this idea of soldiers traveling with their families wasn’t common in post-Revolutionary times. Whether or not the books the BoM was supposed plagiarized from included it or not interested me.

  14. Thanks Goldarn. I have my American military history books all packed up, but I will try and see if taking families was a common practice. From what I know the verse of Alma 56:28 it is far different than American frontier culture.

    MH: Garth Norman has his own geographic model and I think he runs some tours, so it is very exciting. I am so glad I commented on the geography thread. Lots of good things have come from it.

    I look forward to hearing more comments.

  15. Goldarn, thanks for the clarification. I don’t know if Morgan can comment to see if the BoM battles had any similarities to Civil, Mexican-American, Revolutionary, or wars of Joseph’s time period.

    If Joseph was guilty of plagiarism, he should be at least lauded as an author of similar to Dan Brown or Michael Crichton for his ability to weave in so many different themes. I just don’t think Joseph had the time, inclination, or education to accomplish a feat to plagiarize soldier stories, the Spaulding manuscript, Nahom, and all the other things people accuse him of plagiarizing. Joseph Smith is no Dan Brown.

  16. MH:

    I don’t think the theory Givens describes is “mistranslation”. It is more a theory of literal translation of words without translation of cultural context. If Mormon were to call a fresh water body a “sea”, Joseph will not translate it as “lake”, even though he knew that fresh water bodies extending over the horizon like Lake Ontario were lakes. A jaguar (pretty important concept in Meso) gets called a “lion” or “wild beast”. And so on.


    What you may find interesting when you do the non-random number search is to look at the Old Testament numbers for comparison. My skill set includes mathematics much more than theology, so I can’t interpret the religious significance of the OT digits, but you’ll see that the non-random digits are frequently even the third and fourth digits of four digit numbers. So I think they’re more than practical factors.

    Interestingly, the Wiki articles on Mayan counting seem to indicate that each digit glyph itself has a religious association in Mayan mythology.

  17. Morgan,

    Norman and Sorenson were both quoted on the same DVD together (Journey of Faith: The New World), and I’m pretty sure they’ve worked closely together. Norman gave a fireside with George Potter about a year ago that I attended. Potter talked about Nephi’s Harbor, while Norman talked about the Tree of Life in Aztec cultures. Norman compared some Aztec hieroglyphics to Lehi’s Tree of Life vision.

    I found it quite ironic to learn later that Potter supports a Peruvian model for the New World, yet he was very willing to share the fireside with Norman. I talked to both Potter and Norman after the fireside. Norman was pretty adamant that Central America holds the best evidence–I asked him more about South American models–not Malay because I’d never heard of it at that time.

    I need to do a new post on Potter. I just got an email stating he is going to quit doing Old World research, and start working on Peru. I find Potter’s work in Yemen as incredibly interesting.

  18. I should also mention that the technology scholar on the video, Kelly Devries, is a professor of military history at my graduate school. I’m doing my best to network and get some traction in the academic world. Posts like yours definitely help. 🙂

  19. Wow Morgan, that’s really interesting about DeVries. I’d love to pick his brain some time.

  20. Firetag,

    I was just doing some thinking about your non-random number theory. I know that when I posted on the Malay theory document, I said the document was 300 pages when it was actually 301 pages. Morgan’s document is actually 10 pages, with a bibliography page, even though I stated it was 11 pages. I think some rounding off is normal, though it may not completely explain the non-randomness of the numbers mentioned in the BoM.

  21. MH:

    Round-off should still produce a pattern of digits in which non-randomness is easily apparent. It’s pretty standard undergraduate level statistics in any of the quantitative sciences.

    For example, what’s “odd” about these numbers: 300, 700, 5000, 50, 1000, 10,000, 900, 30,000?

    By the way, I apologize for missing your question to me in the Spauding thread on Mormon Matters. I didn’t read the thread until a few minutes ago because the favored theory among CofChrist people who regard the Book of Mormon as not-historical is “divinely inspired, sacred fiction”. I didn’t think Spauding needed debunking, so I missed some very interesting discussion.

    Anyway, Dan’s take on the currents and winds is correct, and I was aware of it. That’s why my Atlantic crossing example of getting to America from Yemen requires going south around Africa. Earth’s winds are easterlies from roughly 0-30 degrees (north or south); westerlies from 30-60 degrees, and easterlies from 60 degrees to the poles.

  22. I’ll have to do a post on the Atlantic/Pacific crossings some time. I am curious how the Pilgrims got to Plimouth, Mass.

  23. They started out aiming at Virginia by the conventional route, but got blown North by storms. Couldn’t make it back to Virginia in time for the ships transporting them to return to England before winter (or so the story goes) and had to make a go of it in New England.

  24. Isn’t that what happened to Fabius too? 🙂

  25. Thinking outside of the box, have you looked at the theory around Baja California (http://www.achoiceland.com). It starts from the premise of a similar climate to Jerusalem and a large peninsula in North America.

  26. That’s funny you asked, David. I just discovered that theory this week. I have printed out the 60 pages from the website, but I haven’t been able to do anything except look at the pictures.

    I know a proponent of a South American model places great emphasis on a similar Mediterranean climate, so I do find it intriguing. I guess one of the biggest “flaws” of American based theories is the fact that many animals mentioned in the BoM do not exist in the Americas, such as elephants, horses, and sheep. How does your theory account for this.

    Did you see my 2 posts on the Malay theory? Here’s the theory and map, and here’s a bigger discussion of it.

  27. There are many things such as botany and zoology that are more difficult to correlate than the geography. However, if you visit the museum in Lapaz, located in Baja California, you see that all the of the animals specified in the Book of Mormon such as elephants, horses, sheep, goats, cows, serpents, etc. are documented before the Spanish arrived on the peninsula. In fact one of the current digs has found camels. You can also verify the existence of all the animals mentioned in the Book of Mormon in this general area by studying the Lebrea tar pits in Los Angelos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Brea_Tar_Pits).

  28. David:

    I will be taking a look at the site. I’ll be particularly interested in the timing being proposed. I want to see if it fits as an elaboration of Meso, as well as your premise of an alternative “main stage”.

    Hagoth’s colony in the BofM has always seemed to me to require a location in the Meso theory that’s close enough for two-way trade and easy colonization, but which could become quickly isolated in a period of Mayan decline. Baja is a nice place for such a colony, hard to avoid if you leave by ship from the west coast of the Mayan lands and head north, and provides easy access to the heartlands of the later Aztec empire after the mayan collapse.

  29. David, thanks for the link to the Wiki article. One of the things that I always find problematic for BoM geography enthusiasts, is that they don’t seem to care that fossils date to the incorrect time period. In the Wiki article, the bones date to the Ice Age (7000-40000 BC), not the 2500 BC-400 AD period. While finding an elephant is helpful, the dating of the elephant doesn’t date to the correct time period, and therefore isn’t very helpful to the Baja theory. But David, please contact me at mormon heretic at gmail dot com. I’d be happy to do a post on your theory (if it is yours.) I’ve done that for others, and am currently working on a South American model that you might find interesting.

    This sort of info relates to my Radical Geography post. Can we put the future geography comments there? I’d like to keep this post open to Morgan’s theory, which is related more to Warfare in the BoM.

  30. Firetag, You inspired a post over at Morgan’s blog.

  31. Thanks for the alert, MH. I saw Morgan’s post, but had trouble remembering where I’d originally made the suggestion about Nephite military unit names being religiously connected to specific number names rather than being literal. Finally realized, when Iaw your comment, that the discussion had started in this thread.

    As you probably also noted, Morgan’s previous post is about generating some interest in a conference on looking at the BofM from a military history viewpoint. I heartily encourage him to open this “new front” (couldn’t resist) since it brings to bear additional scientific disciplines on the study of the BofM exactly the way we try to bring all of the sciences to bear in better understanding the Bible.

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