This time reading through Ether, I noticed an interesting pattern in the way the kings conferred the kingdom on their sons. It seems as though many times they do not give the kingdom to the oldest son. Instead, they tend to give it to one of their youngest sons.
The factors that make me think this are the following:
1) In the record, the brother of Jared declares the people should constrain no man to be their king, and he refrains from conferring the kingdom on his eldest son, even though the people want him to. This sets a new precedent for the beginning of the Jaredite nation.
2) The record has many instances when we are told the king begat many sons and daughters and begat son X in their old age and conferred the kingdom on son X. For the longest time, I was so influenced by the assumption of primogeniture (first son inherits all), that I thought somehow son X was the eldest and was listed last to emphasize the transition of power. But now I think it was actually showing how kings were conferring their kingdoms on some of their very youngest sons, rather than the eldest.
How many instances are there of this particular practice?
1) Jared >> Orihah (Ether 6:27)
2) Orihah >> Kib (Ether 7:1-3)
3) Kib >> Shule (Ether 7:7)
4) Shule >> Omer (Ether 7:26, 8:1)
5) Omer >> Emer (Ether 9:14)
6) Emer >> Coriantum (Ether 9:21-22)
7) Coriantum >> Com (Ether 9:24-25)
8) Shez >> Riplakish (Ether 10:2-4)
9) Kim >> Levi (Ether 10:14-15)
10) Levi >> Corom (Ether 10:16)
11) Lib >> Hearthom (Ether 10:29-30)
Most of these examples are pretty early in Jaredite history. (The beginning for the end for this system was Shez choosing Riplakish, since Riplakish turned out to be a greedy, immoral person. After that, I wonder if the credibility of the practice was damaged.)
What this practice seems to have done is cause the sons of kings to think carefully about whether they were both willing and capable of ruling. Another advantage it would have was that the son inheriting the throne would have more youth and vigor while ruling. And at the beginning of the Jaredite nation, it seems to have worked well. But only when there were righteous kings.
The disadvantage to the system was that the older sons, if ambitious, had far too much time to get impatient, leading to coups and rebellions.
Another interesting thing I noticed was that in Ether 10 there are three different instances of rebellions against the king starting after a king ruled for 42 years. It happens in verse 8, 15, and 32. It made me wonder if there was anything significant about that particular length of time, so I emailed Book of Mormon Central about it. They suggested some associations for the number 42 in Egyptian mythology, but nothing that sounded like it had much bearing on kingship. I shall quote their answer:
It is possible that the number 42 was a symbolic number for the Jaredites, although it is difficult to say at this point. If there is an ancient Egyptian connection to the earliest culture of the Jaredites, as Nibley seemed to think, then it is possible that the number 42 is related to the Book of the Dead. In this book, there are 42 questions asked of people making their journey through the underworld. If the departed reasonably can give answers to the 42 questions, they have the potential to be reincarnated. If they fail, bad things happen to them. It is possible that the number 42 is included to show a symbolic judgement against the king. However, I should stress that we really have no idea. (Answer given by Jonathon Riley)
That being said, it occurred to me that rebellions 42 years into a king’s reign might be related to longevity and aging issues. For a king to reign 42 years, the older they were when they took the throne, the older they would be when 42 years of ruling came around. It might represent a time in the king’s reign when the king was less able to govern, when they may not have settled on who was to succeed them, and maybe when they were not yet ready to let go of power. That might have been an ideal time for an ambitious usurper to foment a rebellion and get away with it, especially if they hoped to get out from under an oppressive king. But for an aging, righteous king it would cause a lot of damage.
A third observation I have on the Jaredite monarchy is that it is interesting that the brother of Jared says kingship will lead into captivity (Ether 6:23), and the fulfillment of this is highlighted when the kings are brought into captivity, rather than the people. I’m not quite sure what to make of this, considering the strong lessons of King Noah’s reign of how a wicked king makes righteous people less free. In our democratized age, we are much more used to thinking about the consequences in terms of whether it is good for the people instead of the king, so I have to wonder how this message might find applicability in our time.
But maybe it is still worth looking at. The stories of the kings in Ether seem to shine a spotlight very strongly on how ambition and envious subjects would seek to constrain and capture the king. It may be that the heyday of the usefulness of this message was in Nephite times and so it is less emphasized for our day.
One thing is for sure: after the inauguration of our new president, I think considering the stories of the Jaredite kings makes me glad we have a pretty peaceful transition of power between presidents elected by the people.