Sunday, November 18, 2012

Was Antipus, who is commonly thought of as a Nephite commander in the Book of Mormon, actually Nephite?

If you look in the index for the Book of Mormon under Antipus you will find the description "Nephite Commander", and a quick reading of the text (Alma Chapter 56) seems to show that he was definitely a Nephite. He lead an army against invading Lamanites. He fought alongside Helaman, a well known Nephite (as in, Helaman was the one who kept the records of the Nephite people that would later become the Book of Mormon). Antipus was appointed by Captain Moroni (Alma 56:9) to lead the armies in that part of the land. So by all measures it would seem obvious that Antipus is a Nephite.

So why would anyone think that Antipus was not a Nephite? Short answer, his name. In the Book of Mormon there are eight proper nouns that begin with Anti- and one that ends with -Anti. Let us consider these nine proper nouns and how and where they appear in narrative of the Book of Mormon. I will cover them in alphabetical order.

  1. Ani-Anti: This is a small Lamanite village that the sons of Mosiah preached in.
  2. Anti-Nephi-Lehi(s): The name taken by a group of Lamanites who converted to the gospel. This is the name they called themselves, while the Nephites called them the "the people of Ammon" (i.e. the Nephites never used the Anti-Nephi-Lehi designation). They are frequently referred to as having been Lamanites.
  3. Antiomno: He is a Lamanite king.
  4. Antion: A unit of weight in the Nephite currency system. This system of measurement was apparently something the Nephites had acquired in the Americas or had invented themselves, though it seems likely that they picked it up from somewhere for reasons that will be explained later.
  5. Antionah: This is the name of a "chief ruler" in Ammonihah, a group of people who had left the Church but still recognized the authority (Alma 8:12) of the chief judge in Zarahemla. So these were people who were politically aligned with the Nephites but religiously were distinct. Because of events that happened in Ammonihah shortly after Antionah is mentioned for the only time in the Book of Mormon, we can assume that there was significant cultural tension in Ammonihah at the time and that Nephite culture (and scriptures) were removed violently (Alma 14:8) from Ammonihah. Thus there must have been a significant portion of the population that did not like Nephite culture, religion and authority.
  6. Antionum: This is what the Zoramites called the land they lived in. The Zoramites were referred to as Nephite dissenters and would become militarily, culturally and politically aligned with the Lamanites. In other words, they had influences to their society that made them align with the Lamanites as opposed to the Nephites. There is also a brief mention of a man named Antionum several hundred years later after the Nephites and Lamanites had merged culturally and politically.
  7. Antiparah: This is a city in the region where Helaman and Antipus were fighting the Lamanites. After the death of Antipus, Helaman prepares to capture Antiparah and in the process received a letter from the king of the Lamanites that he would exchange the city of Antiparah for a number of prisoners. Helaman rejects this offer to which the Lamanites respond by abandoning the city of Antiparah. In Alma 57:4 Helaman mentions that the people of the city fled before he and his army could get there. Now if the people in the city were Nephites why would they flee before the army of Helaman? There may have been something else going on here.
  8. Antipas: A mountain in the land of the Lamanites. It was near a place called Onidah, "a place of arms".
  9. Antipus: The subject of this post.
So of the nine names containing "anti" four are definitely of Lamanite origin. Two are from people who are Nephite dissenters and/or politically aligned with the Lamanites, which means they were people who would have incentives not to have Nephite names, and three are of unclear origin. One of the three names that is of unclear origin is a unit of weight where the system of weights is unknown in the Old World (i.e. the Book of Mormon acknowledges that this system of weights and measures is not used among the Jews). This fact will shortly become an important point.

Shortly after Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon the members of the Church began to speculate as to where the narrative contained in it took place. The initial speculation was that it took place all over North and South America, but I will not discuss that theory here. This view was the dominate view among members of the Church for sometime even up until a few decades ago. There were even General Authorities that questioned the testimony and church standing of LDS scholars who suggested that the Book of Mormon covered only a limited geography and not all of North and South America. But in recent years with more scholarship and critical readings of the Book of Mormon the most widely accepted theories hold to a limited geography of no more than a few hundred miles (roughly the size of the modern state of Israel).

Previously members of the Church, and even a good number of Church leaders, thought that the Nephites and Lamanites were the only people that populated the American continent, but that theory too has fallen out of style. Even the (modern) introduction to the Book of Mormon was written to imply that all Native Americans were descendants of Lehi, but this has been changed recently to imply that they were one of many groups of people that lived here. The only thing is that the Book of Mormon does not seem to mention other people who were not Nephite, Lamanites, Mulekites or Jaredites (all people who came from the Old World).

Part of this could be an extremely cultural-centric writing by Mormon, or possibly a misapplication of the term Lamanite (or even Nephite!) over several hundred years of history. (I would remind the readers that the misapplication of names to groups of people is not something unusual or just a misdirection used by Church apologists to try to explain away perceived problems with the Book of Mormon. Native Americans were called and are still called Indians, even though they have never been to India. Over the last century Germans were derogatorily called Huns, despite the fact that only Hungary actually lays claim to the Huns, and to anyone who has learned about Native American tribes would know there were frequently two names for each tribe, the one they called themselves, which usually translated to "the people", and the name that everyone else called them. Or even in the case of the Hohokam Indians (there's that word again) the name we know them as today is not the name that anyone at the time they were around would use for them. The word comes from a Pima Indian word that literally means "the vanished ones", in other words the Pima found the ruins of the Hohokam and gave them that name long after they were gone. Also with the Byzantines, a name given them by Western Europeans long after the "Byzantine" Empire had fallen apart. Calling the Empire centered around the city of Constantinople the "Byzantine Empire" is a bit like calling the United States "The Arlington Republic". So the misapplication of names to groups of people is not something unusual or new in history.)

Due to some references about the skin of the Lamanites being cursed and darkened to distinguish them from the Nephites we can assume that the original Lamanites intermarried with the local population and thus their descendants acquired, through genetics, the same color skin as the local population. Over time this simplification of things may have lead to the Nephites referring to all people with dark skin as Lamanites, regardless of whether or not they actually were descended from the original Lamanites. So in the jumble of history some differences and distinctions may have been glossed over when Mormon (or other historians) wrote what we know as the Book of Mormon. Which brings us finally back to Antipus. As I have already mentioned the prefix Anti- is usually associated not with Nephite names, but with Lamanite names, or at least with those who didn't like the Nephites or wanted to become Lamanites. Also it would seem that the system of weights and measures mentioned in Alma chapter 11 is a local thing that the Nephites picked up from the local people and used after some of their own modifications. So the word Antion may also have had local roots, which considering the supposed origin of other Anti- names in the Book of Mormon would not be that much of a stretch.

So to sum up, the Anti- that we see in several names may be a part of local language that Lamanites, and perhaps a few others, picked up and incorporated into their names. Also we need to keep in mind that at the time the Nephites were going through a "growth spurt" of sorts. They were interacting with the people surrounding them. There was more talk about other cities and people who had cultural ties to the Nephites, but struggled with how to define their relationship (see Ammonihah). There are some references to the Nephites extending their influence and borders (see Alma 50:7-9). It is possible that the people who lived there previously if they aligned politically with the Nephites then they were allowed to stay on the land, if not then they were kicked off. There may have been some intermarriage and some exchange of language, culture and ideas (such as, where did all this idolatry come from that the Book of Mormon keeps talking about?).

With this in mind we can return to Alma 56 and take another look at how Antipus is mentioned. It says that he was appointed by Captain Moroni (v. 9), but he would not necessarily have to be a Nephite to lead the armies from that part of the land. It would be ideal to have someone local to lead the people from that area. When Helaman arrived with his 2,000 stripling warriors, Antipus has about 6,000 men to his army. After a few months they were reinforced with 2,000 men from Zarahemla, bringing the total to 10,000 men (v. 28). During one particularly intense battle in which Antipus was killed the Nephite armies got the upper hand and managed to defeat the Lamanites. Helaman described it like this:
54 And now it came to pass that we, the people of Nephi, the people of Antipus, and I with my two thousand, did surround the Lamanites, and did slay them; yea, insomuch that they were compelled to deliver up their weapons of war and also themselves as prisoners of war.
Normally we would read this passage and think that the "we" refers to the people of Nephi, meaning the people of Antipus and the 2,000 stripling warriors. But considering all that I have been discussing up until now we can read this passage a different way. After the "we" there is a full stop and then a list begins with three distinct categories, Nephites, the people of Antipus, and the 2,000 Ammonites. This is interesting since under this reading the people of Antipus are not included in the group "Nephites". This would perhaps be a minor thing that Helaman may not have felt necessary to explain to Moroni, but Mormon writing some 400+ years later may have missed this fine distinction between Nephites and non-Nephites, who were still fighting on the side of the Nephites.

So we have a few options here. Antipus was a full Nephite, with a Nephite name (which would be odd considering all the other Anti- names). Antipus was a Nephite with a non-Nephite name. Antipus was part Nephite with a non-Nephite name and of mixed cultural heritage. Antipus was a non-Nephite who was culturally Nephite and indistinguishable from true Nephites. Antipus was a non-Nephite who was politically aligned with the Nephites, but kept a distinct culture from the Nephites. And there could be any variation, combination and complex mish-mash of any and all of these options (he also could have been a Mulekite!).

I don't think that this is something that can be settled from just reading the Book of Mormon because there is not enough information to say one way or another, but this idea does give us a way of looking at the Book of Mormon from a radically different way than we normally get in a Sunday School, Seminary, or Institute class. It shows that there is more complexity in the book than we may have first thought. Let me know what you think.


LL said...

Both the Nephites and Lamanites "adopted in" and "adopted out". The concept of tribal adoption is very common among all native cultures in the Americas. We know that there were people present when the Children of Lehi arrived - People of Zarahemla are the most thoroughly documented in the Book of Mormon. However nobody there in the book, in that time seems to find it unusual that somebody else is living in the area. Over time the Nephites and Lamanites carve out their own 'turf'. Your thesis is well in keeping with the logical presentation of the socially complicated times outlined in the Book of Mormon.

Though the Book of Mormon contains political movements, the purpose of Mormon/Moroni's abridgment was not to present the political history of a people. To the extent possible, Mormon avoids it unless he is presenting an EXAMPLE of conduct (good or bad). In light of this, we're lucky to get as much as we have on the subject of who the Nephites and Lamanites were, 100 years after landing. They clearly changed radically as a people from the colonists who landed in the region bounded by Coatzacoalcos and Juchitan de Zaragoza ("The Narrow Neck of Land").

The numbers involved alone suggest adoption and absorption.

LL said...

Around 150 years after their arrival in the New World, the Nephite-Lamanite conflict seems to have been able to field armies of around (an aggregate on both sides) of around 200,000 military age males. This takes into account both standing garrisons, troops for offensive operations and the vastly superior numbers of Lamanite troops in the field. (Figure 50,000 Nephites and 150,000 Lamanites)

Presuming that my numbers are in the ballpark, you would have a total population of roughly 700,000. Infant mortality must have been high so if the population doubled every generation/25 years, you wouldn't be anywhere near those numbers without adding outsiders to the equation.

There's no way to know how that all worked until additional records are provided by a loving Father in Heaven to satiate our curiosity. But it makes sense .

Jared said...

Great post. LL covered some of what I was going to mention.

The terms Nephite and Lamanite were mostly political terms (especially as used by Mormon) - those who were righteous (usually) and those who lived in Nephite lands under Nephite laws were called Nephites. Anyone else was a Lamanite (until later in the Book of Mormon when it was broken down into 3 groups - Nephite, Lamanite, and Gaddianton robber). This is most clear in 4 Nephi 1:36-38 (, although there are numerous references throughout the Book of Mormon that indicate that "Nephite" and "Lamanite" were used in a manner akin to "Jew" and "Gentile" more than to denote literal descendants of Nephi and Laman.

That there were other people in the Americas too is clear as there were always larger numbers of Lamanites than Nephites, indicating that Lamanites likely intermarried with other people here (and the Nephites probably did to a lesser extent).

We are missing a lot of information though because the Book of Mormon is not really a history book, although there is a lot of history in it.

Quantumleap42 said...

Thanks for the comments.

LL, I have thought a little about population modeling, which is a tricky thing since we don't know the conditions among the Nephite (infant mortality, other factors etc.). We can look at comparable civilizations but there are difficulties involved, such as we can't compare them to Europe either ancient or medieval since there are some significant differences between the two.

Population modeling is difficult since our assumptions about growth rates can greatly change the predicted outcome. For example if we assume an average 1% growth rate then we have 500,000-1,000,000 people in total by the time the Book of Mormon ends (this is of course not accounting for significant population loss from wars etc.). But if we assume a high 2% average population growth (not unreasonable in our modern world) then we have 10-20 BILLION people by the time the Book of Mormon ends. So the actual population growth rate is probably somewhere in between, which gives us somewhere between 10-200 million people by the year 400 AD, which is not unreasonable, even if we account for massive wars etc.

LL said...

I don't think that the health-related problems that the population encountered in MezoAmerica are all that different than those modern people face in that area. As a traveler in the region, I will suggest that potable water was a problem despite what you might think, which is why Yucatan had difficulties (different than the Tres Zapotes Region). They over-populated portions of the land and ran out of drinking water. Infant mortality was likely higher than it is today and while there is no record of the sweeping epidemics that Europe faced, we don't know that they didn't have problems of their own with fever, etc. If you go with the 1% population growth, you're likely close to the mark. There were also people who left the region (island migrations - migrations north and south). They stopped being Nephites and Lamanites in the sense of the record we know. The Zelph matter would indicate that - and Moroni's travels confirm it.

Their records are lost to the ages until such time as they "come forth".

There is also the issue of more than one Cumorah that has been covered by others elsewhere. The word simply refers to a record storage location rather than one specific and unique hill.

LL said...

So the actual population growth rate is probably somewhere in between, which gives us somewhere between 10-200 million people by the year 400 AD, which is not unreasonable, even if we account for massive wars etc.

I personally think that even the 10 million number is high for Pre-Classic Maya, which is what we're talking about here. Maybe 7-8 million at the most between Yucatan, the "narrow neck region" and Northern Guatemala.

Wars were not so much the limiting factor as land and water (in certain areas in that geographic). Not all land was suitable for farming. In a rain forrest the land is mineral poor (nutrients are in the trees) and even if you're slashing and burning to try and return the mineral value to the land, it takes some time to make it work. Meanwhile there are severe erosion problems.

Jared - You're spot on. Remember at the time of Christ all were one - no Nephites or Lamanites. Then when that 200 year period ended there were "Nephites" and "Lamanites" again.