Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Lessons fromPahoran Jr. Versus Brothers in Helaman 1

Next to the story of Laman, Lemuel, and Nephi, the story of Pahoran, Paanchi, and Pecumeni in Helaman 1 ranks as one of the most effective warnings against sibling rivalry in the Book of Mormon.  

1 And now behold, it came to pass in the commencement of the fortieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi, there began to be a serious difficulty among the people of the Nephites.
2 For behold, Pahoran had died, and gone the way of all the earth; therefore there began to be a serious contention concerning who should have the judgment-seat among the brethren, who were the sons of Pahoran.
3 Now these are their names who did contend for the judgment-seat, who did also cause the people to contend: Pahoran, Paanchi, and Pacumeni.
4 Now these are not all the sons of Pahoran (for he had many), but these are they who did contend for the judgment-seat; therefore, they did cause three divisions among the people.

We don’t even know what their birth order was, but we can imagine one of them as an oldest child seeking to keep the authority he has wielded all his childhood.  We can imagine the others seeking to gain some ascendency so that they can have some additional respect among all the sons of the great chief judge.  This sibling rivalry became magnified to national proportions, since it caused three divisions among the people.  

5 Nevertheless, it came to pass that Pahoran was appointed by the voice of the people to be chief judge and a governor over the people of Nephi.
6 And it came to pass that Pacumeni, when he saw that he could not obtain the judgment-seat, he did unite with the voice of the people.

The single bright spot in this story is that Pecumeni, when he saw that he couldn’t win, united with the voice of the people and upheld his brother as chief judge.  There is a good example here of unselfishly celebrating the accomplishments of our siblings and supporting them, even if it feels like it is at our expense. (If only Paanchi had decided to do the same.)

7 But behold, Paanchi, and that part of the people that were desirous that he should be their governor, was exceedingly wroth; therefore, he was about to flatter away those people to rise up in rebellion against their brethren.

We are not given any of the reasons behind Paanchi’s anger.  He might have had good reason; maybe he was ticked at underhanded campaigning tactics. Or it may have just been pride and desire for self-aggrandizement that drove him.  At any rate, he could not accept defeat, and the text says he was “about to” flatter followers toward a rebellion. 

8 And it came to pass as he was about to do this, behold, he was taken, and was tried according to the voice of the people, and condemned unto death; for he had raised up in rebellion and sought to destroy the liberty of the people.

Pahoran’s (2) capture of his brother was according to precedent, as during the previous extended war with the Lamanites his father Pahoran (1) and Captain Moroni had to strictly enforce a law by which any found denying their freedom, or refusing to take up arms to defend their country, fighting against their country, were put to death.

Yet Paanchi and his followers probably took the view that it is one thing to be “about to” flatter people and start a rebellion, but it is quite another to actually do it.  It seems Pahoran took Paanchi’s premeditation and preplanning of rebellion as grounds to try him as a criminal as if the rebellion had actually occurred.  Mormon maybe has revealed to us here why Paanchi’s faction felt pushed toward criminal methods of trying to get what they want with assassination.  Before, they only wanted to rebel, but when Paanchi was taken and tried and condemned, they decided that he should be killed.

At this point we should also consider there may be strong family programming influencing both Pahoran and Paanchi’s actions.  Their father Pahoran (1) was once ousted from the judgment seat.  Pahoran (1) had to flee and then try to drum up support from the populace (and the army) to get enough backing to retake his judgment seat.  This experience would have made a deep impression not only on his mind, but the minds of his sons.  Furthermore, Pahoran (1) would certainly add to that impact by reinforcing to his sons the personal lessons that he learned about dealing strictly with rebels and how to rally popular support when ousted.

It is possible that both Pahoran (2) and Paanchi felt they were playing a part in a scenario similar to what their father went through, both making the assumption that it was time to use the lessons their father taught them.  Even though Paanchi did not have the voice of the people, he probably located himself in the story as the ousted-but-rightful judge who had to drum up support in order to claim his place.  Pahoran (2) probably located himself in the story as the judge who was strictly quelling rebellion.   Somehow they became prisoners to their father’s experience and couldn’t see how their situation might require different responses.  It may also be that their peculiar status in a highly visible family and relationship to each other was uniquely qualified to illustrate that law’s weakness or susceptibility to abuse.  The tragedy is almost Shakespearean.

9 Now when those people who were desirous that he [Paanchi] should be their governor saw that he was condemned unto death, therefore they were angry, and behold, they sent forth one Kishkumen, even to the judgment-seat of Pahoran, and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat.

If Paanchi thought he was the rightful judge, then his followers probably considered the conflict an actual war and sent Kishkumen as a Teancum-like measure to assassinate the “enemy leader.”  Perhaps they saw it as eye-for-an-eye retribution, if Paanchi had been executed (although the text is not exactly clear on whether Paanchi actually was executed or not.  It only says he was “condemned unto death.”)  Or, the fact that their open opposition had been violently suppressed made them decide to take their opposition underground. But whatever they thought about the justice of their measures, it was wrong, and unfortunately, this brought assassination into the political arena during peacetime, and once brought in, it stayed.

10 And he was pursued by the servants of Pahoran; but behold, so speedy was the flight of Kishkumen that no man could overtake him.
11 And he went unto those that sent him, and they all entered into a covenant, yea, swearing by their everlasting Maker, that they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran.
12 Therefore, Kishkumen was not known among the people of Nephi, for he was in disguise at the time that he murdered Pahoran. And Kishkumen and his band, who had covenanted with him, did mingle themselves among the people, in a manner that they all could not be found; but as many as were found were condemned unto death. (Helaman 1:1-12)

It’s the beginning of the awful Gadianton Robbers.  I ran across a website that synthesized Hugh Nibley’s thoughts on the Gadiantons’ essential nature as distilled from the Book of Mormon:

“Let us summarize the essential nature of what some have called ‘Gadiantonism’:

(1) ‘Power and gain,’ the two being interactive: power wins gain and gain wins power for whoever has either.
(2) Control or overthrow of the government; using political office ‘to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory’ (Helaman 7:5).

(1) Secret agreements between individuals and groups. The Gadiantons are essentially an underground movement.
(2) Assassination. These two things, ‘secret combinations’ and ‘that men should shed blood,’ have been forbidden by God ‘in all things . . . from the beginning of man’ (Ether 8:19).
(3) "Payola": ‘Akish did offer them money’  (Ether 9:11); ‘letting the guilty . . . go unpunished because of their money’ (Helaman 7:5).
(4) Skillful propaganda and public relations: ‘flattering words.’
(5) The hate campaign: a steady output of charges, accusations, and rumors, in the manner of Amalickiah: Accuse--always accuse. Eagerness to accuse is from the devil, as Brigham Young often taught.
(6) Intimidation: ‘breathing out many threatenings,’ operating ‘by the hand of secrecy,’ wearing fearsome disguises (3 Nephi 4:7).
(7) Showmanship, e.g., the picturesque uniforms and romantic appeal to the young (3 Nephi 1:29).
(8) Tight control of members--death penalty for betrayal (Ether 8:14; Helaman 1:11).

(1) The Gadiantons were totally partisan, the laws and interests of the combination taking priority over all other laws and interests.
(2) All were ambitious, hence the labor for power and gain: Cain is the type and model.
(3) The combinations were highly competitive, feuding fiercely among themselves.
(4) They sought to project a noble image, with much talk of rights and wrongs, high courage and upright character (the letter to Lachoneus).
(5) They professed piety and religion, swearing their forbidden oaths not by the demons but ‘by the God of heaven’ (Ether 8:14), ‘by their everlasting Maker’ (Helaman 1:11).
(6) They were paranoid, always attributing their troubles to the wickedness of others; never the aggressors, they are constantly seeking to avenge their wrongs. Vengeance is their watchword.

(1) They flourish best in an affluent business society, and wither in times of poverty.
(2) They crystallize around ambitious individuals.
(3) They readily coalesce with king-men, would-be nobility, great families, ambitious local officials, and rapacious Lamanite overlords, i.e., with all who are opposed to popular government among the Nephites.
(4) They have destroyed every civilization in the New World in which they have been able to thrive.
(5) They cannot thrive or even survive without the acceptance and encouragement of the society in general. Being predatory and non-productive, i.e., parasites, they must have a complacent society to host and support them. Such a society is one which accepts as desirable the Gadianton goals of power and gain.
(6) They can become dormant for long periods of time and then, when circumstances are favorable, suddenly appear in full strength and vigor, their plans having been buried and preserved intact against the day of opportunity.

“The Gadiantons, terrible as they were, are treated more as a symptom than as a disease: the society that has them is sick, but they are like maggots that prey only on dead tissue; they simply exploit the evil situation that gives them their opportunity.” (http://josephsmith.com/wp-content/content/Joseph_Smith_Book_of_Mormon/Helaman6.htm. Adapted from Hugh Nibley’s Since Cumorah, pp. 370-2)

Some concluding observations and lessons from this story:
·      Sibling rivalry is a very bad thing among adults.  Even if national elections aren’t involved, it is still bad.  It forces relatives to take sides and can turn the family into a battleground.  Hostilities become even more deep-seated and can last for generations.  (The whole Nephite-Lamanite opposition is another example of this.)
·      It almost seems as if there is an element of offense and revenge that underlies what happens.  Paanchi was offended by Pahoran’s win, so he decides to rebel.  Pahoran is offended by Paanchi’s anger and planning to rebel, so he decides to take him and try him for treason and condemn him to death.  Paanchi’s supporters are offended by Pahoran’s brand of justice, so they decide to have Pahoran assassinated.  At any point individuals involved could have decided to just stop the cycle of offense and revenge, but no one did. 
·      Pahoran Jr. and Paanchi may have been prisoners of their father’s difficult experience.  Sometimes we learn the lessons of the previous generation too well to the point that we become unable to imagine alternative responses that might be more appropriate.  This is why it is so heroic and amazing when someone can break out of a cycle of family abuse, addiction, or divorce.
·      People are susceptible to be tempted into forming secret combinations when open opposition to the powers that be is violently suppressed.