The Book of Helaman
An account of the Nephites. Their wars and contentions, and their dissensions. And also the prophecies of many holy prophets, before the coming of Christ, according to the records of Helaman, who was the son of Helaman, and also according to the records of his sons, even down to the coming of Christ. And also many of the Lamanites are converted. An account of their conversion. An account of the righteousness of the Lamanites, and the wickedness and abominations of the Nephites, according to the record of Helaman and his sons, even down to the coming of Christ, which is called the book of Helaman.
Paul R. Cheesman, writing in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, wrote the following about the book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon:
The book of Helaman chronicles one of the most tumultuous periods in the history of the Nephites and Lamanites (52 BC to 1 BC). . . .
This book takes its name from its first author, Helaman, the son of Helaman. Other contributors to the record were Nephi and Lehi, sons of Helaman (16:25), and Mormon, the principal editor of the Book of Mormon, who added political and religious commentary.
The account opens after Helaman had received custody of the Nephite records from his uncle Shiblon (Alma 63:11) in the fortieth year of the reign of the judges (ca. 52 BC). The narrative falls into six major segments: the record of Helaman (chapters 1-3); the record of Nephi (chapters 4-6); the prophecy of Nephi (chapters 7-11); Mormon's editorial observations on God's power (chapter 12); the prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite (chapters 13-15); and a brief statement about the five-year period before Jesus's birth (chapter 16). Several religious discourses are woven into the narrative, including Helaman's admonition to his sons (5:6-12), Nephi's psalm (7:7-9), Nephi's sermon from the tower in his garden (7:13-29; 8:11-28), Nephi's prayer (11:10-16), and Samuel's long speech atop the walls of Zarahemla (13:5-39; 14:2-15:17) (volume 1, "Book of Mormon").
Later on in the Book of Mormon, in 3 Nephi 8-9, we will read of the great destruction, storms, earthquakes, tempests, lightning, fires, and darkness that occurred at the time of the Savior's crucifixion and death-all of which will result in the destruction of the more wicked among the people. We will learn that God brought this destruction upon the people because of their iniquity. The book of Helaman chronicles the rapid decline of this people to a state of wickedness which will result in the Lord's destroying many of them from off the face of the earth.
The accounts in the book of Helaman and the book of 3 Nephi constitute a type of foreshadowing of our dispensation in that they were written of the period just prior to the Lord's coming to the Nephites at the temple in the land Bountiful. In an analogous way, we now await his second coming and, before that blessed event, we anticipate a major cleansing of the earth-a destruction of the wicked prior to that coming.
Chapter Outline of Helaman
A brief outline of the book of Helaman, worth committing to memory, is as follows:
Helaman 5 Mission of Nephi and Lehi to the land of Nephi. They have a miraculous experience in a Lamanite prison during which they are surrounded by a wall of fire.
Helaman 7-9 Nephi prays and preaches from his garden tower. He miraculously visualizes the murder of the chief judge and even identifies his murderer.
Helaman 13-16 Preaching and Prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite
Helaman Chapter 1
Helaman 1 Because of dissension and disorganization in the Nephite government following the murder by Kishkumen of the chief judge Pahoran, the son of Pahoran, as he sat upon the judgment seat, a well-armed Lamanite army, led by a large and mighty man named Coriantumr captures for a time the city of Zarahemla. Coriantumr is eventually defeated and slain by Moronihah, the son of Captain Moroni, and his Nephite army.
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.
verse 1 "it came to pass in the commencement of the fortieth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi" The book of Helaman is a good example of a type of historical writing, common in the Near East, referred to as "annalistic" writing. In annalistic writing, the record keeper records events year by year and is careful to document the succession of years. Historical records so recorded are called "annals." In the book of Helaman, the editor Mormon mentions almost every year and itemizes that year's events. At times, years are mentioned when almost nothing of note occurs. Consider, for example, Helaman 3:2: "And there was no contention among the people in the forty and fourth year; neither was there much contention in the forty and fifth year."
In order that you might remain well-oriented as to time, keep in mind that Jesus's birth will occur in the ninety first year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi.
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.
verse 3 "Pahoran" The Egyptian name transliterated Paheran means "the Syrian." Pahura is the Canaanite (now Palestinian) adaptation of the name (Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, John W. Welch, 458.)
"Paanchi" We have discussed on occasion the Egyptian influence found in Ancient Judah at the time Lehi departed that land and the resulting Egyptian influence found among the Book of Mormon peoples. It is interesting to note that Paankhi was an important royal name of the Late Period in Egypt from 525 to 332 BC (Hugh Nibley, "Book of Mormon Near Eastern Background" in Encyclopedia of Mormonism). Also Egyptologist Gunther Vittmann, in an article on the name Paankhi (pronounced "Pi-ankhi" or "Pa-ankhi"), indicates that it is a Twenty-Fifth Dynasty royal name of Meroitic (meaning of an ancient ruined city on the Nile-Meroe) origin (Orientalia 43 : 12-16). Even critics of the Book of Mormon concede that this name is indisputably Egyptian in origin. See also the supplemental article, Names in the Book of Mormon.
"Pacumeni" "This name resembles that borne by some of the last priest governors of Egypt, whose names are rendered Pamenech, Pa-mnkh, Pamenches, etc." (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, 22-23).
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.
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.
verse 5 "the voice of the people" This implies that a democratic type of voting was in place. King Mosiah, the son of King Benjamin, had instituted the "majority vote" which the people of his day utilized in selecting judges. He taught that the majority vote, the "voice of the people," would seldom lead to erroneous decisions. When the majority vote did lead to an unrighteous decision, then that people were ripe in iniquity and likely to be destroyed (Mosiah 29:25-27).
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.
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.
verse 7 Paanchi and his followers plan a coup d' etat that is, unfortunately for Paanchi, discovered by the Nephite government.
This verse marks "the beginning of the end" of the Nephite people, since "Paanchi and his followers" are the charter members of the secret society of the Gadianton robbers which will prove to be the eventual downfall of the Nephite nation.
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.
verse 8 Paanchi is condemned to death, not for his ambition-his desire to become chief judge-nor for his opposition to Pahoran. Rather, he is accused of sedition-seeking to subvert the liberties of the people. The exact method for trying him and finding him guilty by the "voice of the people" is not made clear. Perhaps he was tried fairly by a jury or a council of his peers.
9 Now when those people who were desirous that he 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.
verse 9 "and murdered Pahoran as he sat upon the judgment-seat" Apparently Pahoran was murdered as he sat in audience. This is obviously a time when the chief judge would be easily accessible and vulnerable, and an assassination so timed would give immediate and effective public attention to the cause of the murderer's supporters.
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.
verses 11-12 There are several instances of evil oaths or evil covenants in the book of Helaman and the early chapters of 3 Nephi (see also Helaman 2:3; Helaman 6:21-26; Helaman 6:30; 3 Nephi 6:28-30; 3 Nephi 7:11). One may argue that Satan is the author and administrator of these secret combinations. He is also the great impersonator or imitator. Just as God uses the covenant to bind and commit his followers to an agreement, so does Satan do the same to bind his adherents to evil purposes.
Victor L. Ludlow has written of Satan's evil covenants and has pointed out the characteristics that typify these covenants ("Secret Covenant Teachings of Men and the Devil in Helaman through 3 Nephi 8," The Book of Mormon: Helaman through 3 Nephi 8, According To Thy Word, 265-82). I will draw upon his article in commenting upon these covenants in the book of Helaman and in 3 Nephi 1-7. His material will be utilized in my commentary for the following verses: Helaman 1:11-12; Helaman 6:21-22; Helaman 6:26, and 30. It is useful for us to study these characteristics that we may learn more about the techniques Satan utilizes with us.
We may utilize the evil covenant found here in verses 11 and 12 to identify and study some of the key elements of Satan's covenants with man:
1. Irony-Note the phrase: "they all entered into a covenant, yea, swearing by their everlasting Maker" It is chilling and ironic that this wicked oath was regarded by those who made it as a religious oath. They swore their Satanic oath in the name of God!
2. Murder-Their group goal is to overthrow and kill people in authority, political or religious, over them (see also Helaman 2:3). Perhaps we might extend this idea to suggest that if they were able, they would kill the ultimate chief judge-the Savior himself. Their destruction of those in authority is in itself a great irony. In doing so they inadvertently subjugate themselves to the master authoritarian himself, even the devil and those authoritarians who follow him, the evil leaders of the earth. The group is also inclined to destroy those who learn of their wickedness, those who have discovered their identity. Thus, prophets are often attacked. Commenting on the peculiar phenomenon of murder being carried out as a religious act, Daniel C. Peterson wrote:
This seems odd to those of us unaccustomed to thinking of murder as a religious act. But the very word assassin was given to us by a religious sect of the medieval Near East who bore it as a name. The "Assassins" carried out daring murders for many years from mixed religious and political motives. The Assassins offer, in fact, a remarkably close parallel to the 'secret combinations' of the Nephite and Jaredite traditions. . . . And it would seem, from the story of Cain and Abel as recorded in the book of Moses, that such "religious" oaths go back to the very beginning of human history (Moses 5:29) (Studies in Scripture, Volume Eight, Alma 30 to Moroni, 94, 104).
3. Secrecy-Note the phrase: "swearing . . . they would tell no man that Kishkumen had murdered Pahoran." Here is an important element of the Satanic covenant-secrecy. They attempt to avoid the consequences of their actions and defy justice as they take an oath of secrecy.
4. Disguise-"Kishkumen and his band . . . did mingle themselves among the people, in a manner that they all could not be found." Secret combinations tend to become "wolves in sheep's clothing." These conspirators resumed their ordinary daily pursuits as seemingly ordinary respected citizens, hoping to remain anonymous. They were successful in that only some of them were identified and punished. On the surface it is often difficult if not impossible to tell a good man from an evil man. Evil men may appear to be regular and virtuous, even exemplary members of society. Keep in mind that Satan himself can appear as an angel of light.
For more characteristics of evil covenants, see the commentary for Helaman 6:21-22, 26, and 30.
13 And now behold, Pacumeni was appointed, according to the voice of the people, to be a chief judge and a governor over the people, to reign in the stead of his brother Pahoran; and it was according to his right. And all this was done in the fortieth year of the reign of the judges; and it had an end.
verse 13 "Pacumeni was appointed, according to the voice of the people . . . and it was according to his right" Undoubtedly Pacumeni, like Pahoran before him, was selected chief judge by some type of democratic majority vote.
14 And it came to pass in the forty and first year of the reign of the judges, that the Lamanites had gathered together an innumerable army of men, and armed them with swords, and with cimeters and with bows, and with arrows, and with head-plates, and with breastplates, and with all manner of shields of every kind.
verse 14 "the Lamanites had gathered together an innumerable army of men" This verse is obviously hyperbole and simply indicates that a relatively large body of soldiers was involved.
15 And they came down again that they might pitch battle against the Nephites. And they were led by a man whose name was Coriantumr; and he was a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was a dissenter from among the Nephites; and he was a large and a mighty man.
verse 15 The original Book of Mormon manuscript for Helaman 1:15 shows how the name "Coriantumr" was first written by Oliver Cowdery phonetically as "Coriantummer" but was then crossed out and spelled correctly on the same line. This is consistent with the account of witnesses who suggested that Joseph spelled the proper names that he translated.
16 Therefore, the king of the Lamanites, whose name was Tubaloth, who was the son of Ammoron, supposing that Coriantumr, being a mighty man, could stand against the Nephites, with his strength and also with his great wisdom, insomuch that by sending him forth he should gain power over the Nephites-
verse 16 Tubaloth was obviously not a Lamanite by birth. Rather, he was the son of Ammoron, the brother and successor of the notorious Nephite dissenter Amalickiah (Alma 46-49, 51). Not surprisingly he chose yet another Nephite dissenter, the Mulekite Coriantumr ("a descendant of Zarahemla"), to lead his forces against the Nephites. It would appear that apostates can often be counted on to hate that from which they apostatized.
17 Therefore he did stir them up to anger, and he did gather together his armies, and he did appoint Coriantumr to be their leader, and did cause that they should march down to the land of Zarahemla to battle against the Nephites.
18 And it came to pass that because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government, that they had not kept sufficient guards in the land of Zarahemla; for they had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the heart of their lands to attack that great city Zarahemla.
verse 18 "because of so much contention and so much difficulty in the government" This undoubtedly refers to the confusion and contention produced by the bitter rebellion of Paanchi, the murder of Pahoran, and the need to elect two new chief judges in rapid succession.
19 But it came to pass that Coriantumr did march forth at the head of his numerous host, and came upon the inhabitants of the city, and their march was with such exceedingly great speed that there was no time for the Nephites to gather together their armies.
verse 19 In reference to this blitzkrieg attack by Coriantumr and the Lamanites, Hugh Nibley wrote:
It struck with such speed and force under the leadership of the Nephite defector Coriantumr that it achieved a complete surprise, and before anyone was aware of what had happened, he had succeeded in taking and occupying Zarahemla itself! Coriantumr instantly followed up his advantage by marching through the country almost unopposed (verse 24), burning and destroying as he went, "slaying the people with a great slaughter, both [sic.] men, women, and children" (verse 27). But like the Germans in Russia, Coriantumr had really gotten himself in a jam: his drive had been successful because it was completely unexpected; and it had been unexpected because it was utterly foolish. The Nephite forces were stationed, of course, on the frontiers (verses 18, 26), and so Coriantumr's great breakthrough which had put him in the heart of the country had also got him neatly surrounded (verses 25, 32). The Nephite army leaders only had to tighten the bag until Coriantumr was forced to surrender (verses 28-32) (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 330).
20 Therefore Coriantumr did cut down the watch by the entrance of the city, and did march forth with his whole army into the city, and they did slay every one who did oppose them, insomuch that they did take possession of the whole city.
21 And it came to pass that Pacumeni, who was the chief judge, did flee before Coriantumr, even to the walls of the city. And it came to pass that Coriantumr did smite him against the wall, insomuch that he died. And thus ended the days of Pacumeni.
verse 21 This verse contains the first reference to the fact that the city of Zarahemla did in fact have a surrounding wall. We will read more about this wall in the story of Samuel the Lamanite (Helaman 13:4).
22 And now when Coriantumr saw that he was in possession of the city of Zarahemla, and saw that the Nephites had fled before them, and were slain, and were taken, and were cast into prison, and that he had obtained the possession of the strongest hold in all the land, his heart took courage insomuch that he was about to go forth against all the land.
23 And now he did not tarry in the land of Zarahemla, but he did march forth with a large army, even towards the city of Bountiful; for it was his determination to go forth and cut his way through with the sword, that he might obtain the north parts of the land.
verse 23 The reader ought to maintain a "mind's eye" geographic orientation. See the Hypothetical Map of Book of Mormon Lands.
24 And, supposing that their greatest strength was in the center of the land, therefore he did march forth, giving them no time to assemble themselves together save it were in small bodies; and in this manner they did fall upon them and cut them down to the earth.
verse 24 After Coriantumr took possession of Zarahemla he likely thought the whole land was his, "supposing that their greatest strength was in the center of the land." We will learn that the Nephite strength was actually in "the cities around about in the borders" (verse 26). So while the invaders "had come into the center of the land, and had taken the capital city . . . and were marching through the most capital parts of the land . . . taking possession of many cities and of many strongholds" (verse 27), they were really playing right into chief captain Moronihah's hands (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 6, 421- 22).
25 But behold, this march of Coriantumr through the center of the land gave Moronihah great advantage over them, notwithstanding the greatness of the number of the Nephites who were slain.
26 For behold, Moronihah had supposed that the Lamanites durst not come into the center of the land, but that they would attack the cities round about in the borders as they had hitherto done; therefore Moronihah had caused that their strong armies should maintain those parts round about by the borders.
27 But behold, the Lamanites were not frightened according to his desire, but they had come into the center of the land, and had taken the capital city which was the city of Zarahemla, and were marching through the most capital parts of the land, slaying the people with a great slaughter, both men, women, and children, taking possession of many cities and of many strongholds.
28 But when Moronihah had discovered this, he immediately sent forth Lehi with an army round about to head them before they should come to the land Bountiful.
verse 28 To "head" means to intercept.
29 And thus he did; and he did head them before they came to the land Bountiful, and gave unto them battle, insomuch that they began to retreat back towards the land of Zarahemla.
30 And it came to pass that Moronihah did head them in their retreat, and did give unto them battle, insomuch that it became an exceedingly bloody battle; yea, many were slain, and among the number who were slain Coriantumr was also found.
31 And now, behold, the Lamanites could not retreat either way, neither on the north, nor on the south, nor on the east, nor on the west, for they were surrounded on every hand by the Nephites.
32 And thus had Coriantumr plunged the Lamanites into the midst of the Nephites, insomuch that they were in the power of the Nephites, and he himself was slain, and the Lamanites did yield themselves into the hands of the Nephites.
33 And it came to pass that Moronihah took possession of the city of Zarahemla again, and caused that the Lamanites who had been taken prisoners should depart out of the land in peace.
verse 33 Hugh Nibley pointed out that Moronihah's lenient approach here is typical of what Moroni would have done. He describes the period immediately following the defeat of Coriantumr's army:
And then what? The Nephite commander Moronihah did just as his namesake Moroni would have-he let all the Lamanites "depart out of the land in peace." No reprisals or vengeance for an army that had seized the capital and devastated the land without mercy! What would the Nephites think in reading the history of some of our present-day wars?" (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, volume 7, 330).
34 And thus ended the forty and first year of the reign of the judges.