Helaman Chapter 9
1 Behold, now it came to pass that when Nephi had spoken these words, certain men who were among them ran to the judgment-seat; yea, even there were five who went, and they said among themselves, as they went:
2 Behold, now we will know of a surety whether this man be a prophet and God hath commanded him to prophesy such marvelous things unto us. Behold, we do not believe that he hath; yea, we do not believe that he is a prophet; nevertheless, if this thing which he has said concerning the chief judge be true, that he be dead, then will we believe that the other words which he has spoken are true.
3 And it came to pass that they ran in their might, and came in unto the judgment-seat; and behold, the chief judge had fallen to the earth, and did lie in his blood.
4 And now behold, when they saw this they were astonished exceedingly, insomuch that they fell to the earth; for they had not believed the words which Nephi had spoken concerning the chief judge.
5 But now, when they saw they believed, and fear came upon them lest all the judgments which Nephi had spoken should come upon the people; therefore they did quake, and had fallen to the earth.
6 Now, immediately when the judge had been murdered-he being stabbed by his brother by a garb of secrecy, and he fled, and the servants ran and told the people, raising the cry of murder among them;
verse 6 "he being stabbed by his brother" One might wonder if this murder by stabbing or cutting was not part of the evil covenant Satan had made with his followers in this secret combination. In ancient times covenant making involved symbolic acts and customary rituals. For example, when two parties reached a covenantal agreement, they could close or confirm the agreement by a symbolic act such as cutting the throat of an animal. The animal could then be used as a sacrificial offering, or the meat of the animal could be used as the main course of a feast of celebration. One example in the Book of Mormon where "cutting" comes close to describing a symbolic ritual is found in Alma 46:21-22 when the people rent their garments as a token that they would not forsake the Lord. Satan may have also directed his followers in the secret combinations to use a knife or sword in cutting or stabbing the flesh of their victims.
"by a garb of secrecy" No one had witnessed Seantum killing his brother. Cases of unwitnessed murders presented special problems under the law of Moses. Generally speaking, a person could not be convicted of murder on circumstantial evidence, for such was ruled out under Israelite law, which required every fact to be substantiated by the testimony of two eyewitnesses (see Deuteronomy 19:15). While the two-witness rule would seem to be an insurmountable barrier in the way of ever obtaining a conviction in this case, such a heinous crime could not simply be ignored. If a person was found slain in the land and the murderer could not be found, solemn rituals, oaths of innocence, and special purification of all the men in the village had to be performed (see Deuteronomy 21:1-9). Things will turn out differently in Seantum's case, however, for he will soon be exposed in a way that opened the door to an exceptional rule of evidence that justified his conviction.
Nephi will first reveal to the people that Seantum was the murderer, that they would find blood on the skirts of his cloak, and that he would say certain things to them when they told him, "We know that thou are guilty" (see verse 34). Indeed, Seantum will immediately confess his guilt (see verses 37-38). Ordinarily Seantum's confession would not be admissible in a Jewish court of law. But there was an earlier biblical precedent by which confessions could be admissible (see the execution of Achan-Joshua 7; the execution of the man who admitted that he had killed Saul-2 Samuel 1:10-16; the two assassins of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul-2 Samuel 4:8-12; and the voluntary confession of Micah, the son who stole from his mother-Judges 17:1-4). The conditions by which these confessions were admissible (which are all fulfilled in the case of Seantum) include: (1) The confession is corroborated by an ordeal-a trying experience in which the divine will is manifest. In Seantum's case, the evidence of God's will was supplied through Nephi's prophecy. (2) The confession occurred spontaneously before a formal trial before a judge. (3) The confession was corroborated by corpus delicti (the physical evidence of the crime). In Seantum's case tangible evidence was present in the blood found on Seantum's cloak. These factors, under biblical law, would override the normal Jewish concerns about the use of self-incriminating confessions to obtain a conviction. Given the complicated and important ancient legal issues uniquely presented by the case of Seantum, it is little wonder that the Book of Mormon makes special note of the fact that Seantum himself was legitimately "brought to prove that he himself was the very murderer" (verse 38) (John W. Welch, "A Steady stream of Significant Recognitions," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, 361-64).
7 And behold the people did gather themselves together unto the place of the judgment-seat-and behold, to their astonishment they saw those five men who had fallen to the earth.
8 And now behold, the people knew nothing concerning the multitude who had gathered together at the garden of Nephi; therefore they said among themselves: These men are they who have murdered the judge, and God has smitten them that they could not flee from us.
9 And it came to pass that they laid hold on them, and bound them and cast them into prison. And there was a proclamation sent abroad that the judge was slain, and that the murderers had been taken and were cast into prison.
10 And it came to pass that on the morrow the people did assemble themselves together to mourn and to fast, at the burial of the great chief judge who had been slain.
verse 10 It is instructive to note that the Nephites, like their Israelite ancestors, fasted in connection with mourning for their dead. In ancient Israel, the day after the death of a political leader was traditionally a day of fasting, mourning, and burial (see 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12). The Book of Mormon gives no reason for these fasts, but they may have been to obtain solace for the living rather than mercy for the dead.
11 And thus also those judges who were at the garden of Nephi, and heard his words, were also gathered together at the burial.
12 And it came to pass that they inquired among the people, saying: Where are the five who were sent to inquire concerning the chief judge whether he was dead? And they answered and said: Concerning this five whom ye say ye have sent, we know not; but there are five who are the murderers, whom we have cast into prison.
13 And it came to pass that the judges desired that they should be brought; and they were brought, and behold they were the five who were sent; and behold the judges inquired of them to know concerning the matter, and they told them all that they had done, saying:
14 We ran and came to the place of the judgment-seat, and when we saw all things even as Nephi had testified, we were astonished insomuch that we fell to the earth; and when we were recovered from our astonishment, behold they cast us into prison.
15 Now, as for the murder of this man, we know not who has done it; and only this much we know, we ran and came according as ye desired, and behold he was dead, according to the words of Nephi.
16 And now it came to pass that the judges did expound the matter unto the people, and did cry out against Nephi, saying: Behold, we know that this Nephi must have agreed with some one to slay the judge, and then he might declare it unto us, that he might convert us unto his faith, that he might raise himself to be a great man, chosen of God, and a prophet.
17 And now behold, we will detect this man, and he shall confess his fault and make known unto us the true murderer of this judge.
verse 17 To "detect" in this context means to catch or discover his misdeed.
18 And it came to pass that the five were liberated on the day of the burial. Nevertheless, they did rebuke the judges in the words which they had spoken against Nephi, and did contend with them one by one, insomuch that they did confound them.
19 Nevertheless, they caused that Nephi should be taken and bound and brought before the multitude, and they began to question him in divers ways that they might cross him, that they might accuse him to death-
verse 19 "they began to question him in divers ways that they might cross him" Their effort was to try to "cross him," that is, get him to contradict himself.
20 Saying unto him: Thou art confederate; who is this man that hath done this murder? Now tell us, and acknowledge thy fault; saying, Behold here is money; and also we will grant unto thee thy life if thou wilt tell us, and acknowledge the agreement which thou hast made with him.
verse 20 "Thou art confederate" Here the judges are accusing him by saying, "We know you have an accomplice with whom you plotted this murder."
21 But Nephi said unto them: O ye fools, ye uncircumcised of heart, ye blind, and ye stiffnecked people, do ye know how long the Lord your God will suffer you that ye shall go on in this your way of sin?
verse 21 The "uncircumcised of heart" are those who have spiritual impurities which need to be cut away. These fail to yield their hearts to God. It was father Lehi's contemporary, Jeremiah, who commanded the Israelites to "circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart" (Jeremiah 4:4).
22 O ye ought to begin to howl and mourn, because of the great destruction which at this time doth await you, except ye shall repent.
23 Behold ye say that I have agreed with a man that he should murder Seezoram, our chief judge. But behold, I say unto you, that this is because I have testified unto you that ye might know concerning this thing; yea, even for a witness unto you, that I did know of the wickedness and abominations which are among you.
verse 23 Nephi says, "The reason you have accused me of conspiring to murder the chief judge is that you resent my exposing "the wickedness and abominations which are among you." You are angry with me and wish to destroy me.
24 And because I have done this, ye say that I have agreed with a man that he should do this thing; yea, because I showed unto you this sign ye are angry with me, and seek to destroy my life.
25 And now behold, I will show unto you another sign, and see if ye will in this thing seek to destroy me.
verse 25 Nephi says, "I will show you another sign, and I will see if you are still convinced that I am guilty."
26 Behold I say unto you: Go to the house of Seantum, who is the brother of Seezoram, and say unto him-
27 Has Nephi, the pretended prophet, who doth prophesy so much evil concerning this people, agreed with thee, in the which ye have murdered Seezoram, who is your brother?
verse 27 Nephi instructs those who go to the house of Seantum to say, "Has Nephi, the pretended prophet, conspired with you in your plot to murder Seezoram your brother?"
28 And behold, he shall say unto you, Nay.
29 And ye shall say unto him: Have ye murdered your brother?
30 And he shall stand with fear, and wist not what to say. And behold, he shall deny unto you; and he shall make as if he were astonished; nevertheless, he shall declare unto you that he is innocent.
verse 30 "wist not what to say" Wist is the preterit or past tense of wis which means to know. Seantum, when asked this question, will not know what to say-he will be stuck for an answer.
31 But behold, ye shall examine him, and ye shall find blood upon the skirts of his cloak.
32 And when ye have seen this, ye shall say: From whence cometh this blood? Do we not know that it is the blood of your brother?
verse 32 "Do we not know that it is the blood of your brother?" An interesting Hebraism in the Book of Mormon that has not received much attention is the Hebrew use of negative rhetorical questions. When an emphatically positive meaning is intended, sometimes a negative question will be asked. In other words, when the questioner is completely certain of the answer and wishes to convey positive or even emphatic force, he may ask a negative question. A couple of biblical examples will serve to illustrate. In Judges 4:14 Deborah wishes to say to Barak, "The Lord is indeed going out before you," but instead she asks him, "Is not the Lord gone out before thee?" In Deuteronomy 11:30, the intended meaning is, "As you know, these mountains are across the Jordan." Instead, the author asks, "Are they not on the other side [of the] Jordan?"
In this particular verse, the reader intends to say, "We know that this blood on the skirts of your cloak is the blood of your brother." Instead, he uses the peculiar Hebraism and asks, "Do we not know that it is the blood of your brother?"
33 And then shall he tremble, and shall look pale, even as if death had come upon him.
34 And then shall ye say: Because of this fear and this paleness which has come upon your face, behold, we know that thou art guilty.
35 And then shall greater fear come upon him; and then shall he confess unto you, and deny no more that he has done this murder.
36 And then shall he say unto you, that I, Nephi, know nothing concerning the matter save it were given unto me by the power of God. And then shall ye know that I am an honest man, and that I am sent unto you from God.
37 And it came to pass that they went and did, even according as Nephi had said unto them. And behold, the words which he had said were true; for according to the words he did deny; and also according to the words he did confess.
38 And he was brought to prove that he himself was the very murderer, insomuch that the five were set at liberty, and also was Nephi.
39 And there were some of the Nephites who believed on the words of Nephi; and there were some also, who believed because of the testimony of the five, for they had been converted while they were in prison.
40 And now there were some among the people, who said that Nephi was a prophet.
41 And there were others who said: Behold, he is a god, for except he was a god he could not know of all things. For behold, he has told us the thoughts of our hearts, and also has told us things; and even he has brought unto our knowledge the true murderer of our chief judge.
verse 41 Excessive and inappropriate religious zeal is just as incorrect as stubbornly failing to believe the truth. Any virtue overdone may become a vice. To make the Lord's servants objects of worship is to pervert the message those servants bring.