1 And now it came to pass that in the sixteenth year from the coming of Christ, Lachoneus, the governor of the land, received an epistle from the leader and the governor of this band of robbers; and these were the words which were written, saying:2 Lachoneus, most noble and chief governor of the land, behold, I write this epistle unto you, and do give unto you exceedingly great praise because of your firmness, and also the firmness of your people, in maintaining that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty; yea, ye do stand well, as if ye were supported by the hand of a god, in the defence of your liberty, and your property, and your country, or that which ye do call so.3 And it seemeth a pity unto me, most noble Lachoneus, that ye should be so foolish and vain as to suppose that ye can stand against so many brave men who are at my command, who do now at this time stand in their arms, and do await with great anxiety for the word—Go down upon the Nephites and destroy them.4 And I, knowing of their unconquerable spirit, having proved them in the field of battle, and knowing of their everlasting hatred towards you because of the many wrongs which ye have done unto them, therefore if they should come down against you they would visit you with utter destruction.5 Therefore I have written this epistle, sealing it with mine own hand, feeling for your welfare, because of your firmness in that which ye believe to be right, and your noble spirit in the field of battle.6 Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.7 Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.8 And behold, I swear unto you, if ye will do this, with an oath, ye shall not be destroyed; but if ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath, that on the morrow month I will command that my armies shall come down against you, and they shall not stay their hand and shall spare not, but shall slay you, and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct.9 And behold, I am Giddianhi; and I am the governor of this the secret society of Gadianton; which society and the works thereof I know to be good; and they are of ancient date and they have been handed down unto us.10 And I write this epistle unto you, Lachoneus, and I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs. I am Giddianhi. (3 Nephi 3:1-10)
It is always interesting when Mormon includes full text of letters in the record. It is a tip-off that there is something important to learn from them. So it is very surprising that he includes the text of a letter from the leader of the Gadianton robbers to the chief judge Lachoneus. But what is a letter from a robber doing in holy writ?
Mormon could have summarized the letter. He could have said Giddianhi demanded the Nephites surrender their land and all their substance to the robbers or they would be killed and promised to make them partners if they did surrender.
But that would not fully capture the effrontery of Giddianhi’s letter. The letter is a letter of lies that are so obvious you wonder Giddianhi didn’t see it himself. He tries to veil his true feelings and motives, but they come out anyway.
He pretends to be kind (“feeling for your welfare”) , but his murderous intent sticks out elsewhere (“ye will not do this, I swear unto you with an oath . . . I will command that my armies shall come down against you . . . and shall let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct”).
He pretends to an interest in liberty and partnership (“become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance”), but elsewhere betrays that his people want power (“that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government”) and the reader suspects that slavery or death would still be the result of giving in, especially if the robbers really have the everlasting hatred towards the Nephites that Giddianhi claims they have. Think about it—can you really become partners with someone who has an everlasting hatred for you?
He praises them for their firmness in defending themselves and then asks them to surrender everything without a fight, which implies that his praise is empty or that he just stupidly hopes he can bluff them out of everything without more fighting.
In the previous chapter the Nephites drove them out of their lands and the Nephite wickedness allowed the Gadianton robbers to gain many advantages over them. Giddianhi says of this that the Nephites stand with firmness (when really they are weak because of wickedness) and he says he has proved his own troops on the field of battle, when they only recently gained advantages, again due to Nephite wickedness.
In another instance, Giddianhi swears in the next month he will come down with his armies and destroy the Nephites, but if we look at what follows, it takes almost 2 years for the robbers to actually sally forth, and it is one year after that when they actually decide to battle. So while his time countdown sounds scary, it’s very off.
Giddianhi also says the Gadianton robbers have an unconquerable spirit, but when they actually lay siege to the Nephites, the lack of food demoralizes them pretty quickly and they decide to abandon their designs. (Yeah, sure, you’re unconquerable all right…)
So what do we actually learn from this?
To put it in perspective, we’ve learned to recognize the arguments of anti-Christs because of the stories of Sherem, Nehor, and Korihor. I think this letter is a case where Heavenly Father also wants us to learn to recognize the characteristics of a threatening blow-hard so that we know not to be intimidated. The Lord wants us to see that coming from these types, the threats are empty, the praise is insincere, the promises are meaningless, and the contradictions will be easy to spot.