Friday, November 20, 2015

What Did Mormon Mean “Five Thousand and Four Hundred Men”?

Continuing with our series on “What Did Mormon Mean” when he wrote certain phrases or statements or even words, we need to understand the purpose of Mormon’s writings (As well as that of Nephi, Moroni, etc.). If we do not look for the purpose, we often bypass the very thought Mormon is trying to convey.  
First, we need to keep in mind that though Mormon’s words appear to us in short verses in the scriptural record, they were not originally written in that format. Nor did Joseph Smith translate them in that format. The verses and paragraphs were added later.
    Thus, we need to sometimes read an entire thought, usually conveyed in a paragraph or at least several sentences, to reach the conclusion of that thought.
    As an example, verses 4 through 8 of Alma 63 reads: “And it came to pass that in the thirty and seventh year of the reign of the judges, there was a large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children, departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward. And it came to pass that Hagoth, he being an exceedingly curious man, therefore he went forth and built him an exceedingly large ship, on the borders of the land Bountiful, by the land Desolation, and launched it forth into the west sea, by the narrow neck which led into the land northward.
"And behold, there were many of the Nephites who did enter therein and did sail forth with much provisions, and also many women and children; and they took their course northward. And thus ended the thirty and seventh year. And in the thirty and eighth year, this man built other ships. And the first ship did also return, and many more people did enter into it; and they also took much provisions, and set out again to the land northward. And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea. And it came to pass that one other ship also did sail forth; and whither she did go we know not."
    We also have to keep in mind that Mormon is abridging a lengthy record, in fact, he said, “I cannot write the hundredth part of the things of my people” (Words of Mormon 1:5). Sometimes, in that abridgement, chronological order is not always obtained because of additions and deletions in what is chosen to write about. We see this in the 4th verse, which is chronologically out of order with verses 5 through 8. We also need to keep in mind that a stylus, engraving on metal plates has no eraser. Thus, we find two main ideas mentioned here in this sequence: 1) Hagoth built a ship and 2) 5400 people emigrating to another land (a land which was northward). The means by which they emigrated is out of order, as though it was the original thought Mormon was going to make, then came to the number, which was significant and began with that, following with the means by which they emigrated (the ships).
    Nor, when condensing a larger record to a smaller writing, do we find the exact process involved. For instance, “the large company of men, even to the amount of five thousand and four hundred men, with their wives and their children” is clear (Alma 63:4), though the next part “departed out of the land of Zarahemla into the land which was northward” is not as clear, for usually Mormon made the movement from Zarahemla to the destination by skipping Bountiful (Alma 63:4; Mormon 1:6). And certainly these would not have all gone by one ship. So he adds following that Hagoth built other ships to accommodate this vast movement of people.
    Evidently, this first ship set sail late in the year, and while it was gone, Hagoth built other ships (Alma 63:7), and as each was finished, it set sail with some of this large company that went northward, and the first ship returned and also set sail again fully loaded with emigrant passengers.
While some Nephites went by ship to a distant land(s), others chose to go overland through the narrow pass in the narrow neck of land to the Land Northward, which was part of the inherited land of the Land of Promise
    Now we come to the statement that shows there were two movements of people—one by shipping, and one overland through the narrow pass and narrow neck of land. “And it came to pass that this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward” (Alma 63:9).
    So, if we read this abridged section, we find that some 5400 men with their wives and children went into a land which was northward by shipping, and there were many people who went forth into the land northward, during the 37th and 38th year of the reign of the judges in a vast movement of emigration.
    To recap then: Mormon is telling us three things: 1) People emigrated to a far off land, 2) Hagoth built several ships in a vast period of emigration which traveled back and forth into a “land which was northward,” and 3) During this latter year, there were many other people who emigrated into the land northward, presumably overland, through the narrow neck of land.
    This latter movement is also borne out in Helaman following, when he wrote “in the forty and sixth year…there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla, and went forth unto the land northward to inherit the land” (Helaman 3:3). Three things mark this third group different than the first two groups: 1) they went forth to inherit the land; 2) they were an exceedingly great number; and 3) they left the Land Southward because of much contention and many dissensions, and 4) they went a very far distance, to the land of many waters and rivers, evidently looking for a more peaceful life as far away as they could get within the Land of Promise.
    It should also be noted that the first two groups mentioned in Alma 63, were not 1) going to inherit the land, meaning staying within the Land of Promise, nor 2) merely escaping the contentions and dissentions.
In addition, Mormon adds two parenthetical notes in this paragraph within Alma: 1) the second sailing of the first ship was never heard from again (that is, it did not return the second time, so there would be no report by the Captain or crew as happened when it came back from its first voyage); 2) one ship sailed in a direction and to a far off land of which Hagoth or those of his shipyard did not know about, i.e., the emigrants must have purchased this ship for an endeavor that was not any of Hagoth’s business. If this ship went west, into the currents, it would have ended up in Polynesia (much like the Kon Tiki voyage).
    Another interesting wordage occurs in verse 9. This is the first and only mention of Nephites moving “into” the land northward in this story of Hagoth. “There were many people who went forth into the land northward.” These people are singled out after the 5400, after the ships, after some possibly lost at sea, after a ship going in a different direction. In writing, we would call this an afterthought from the main story line, i.e., 5400 Nephites and their families, along with extensive provisions, sailed to far off lands in ships built by a man named Hagoth.
    Verse 9 then follows as an “Oh, yeah.”
    “And it came to pass that in this year there were many people who went forth into the land northward. And thus ended the thirty and eighth year.” Or stated different, “And, oh, yeah, around this time there were other Nephites who went into the land northward.” It is an afterthought because it was not unusual for people to travel into the land northward, but the main idea Mormon included was that a large amount of Nephites left the Land of Promise and sailed north (and elsewhere) and were not heard from again.
    Now, one might ask, why did Mormon include this in his writing? Of what significance was this? Let’s compare this with the story line in Helaman where some Nephnites also went into the Land Northward, where we find there was reason to mention this group in detail.

This was a land where: 1) there was no timber and timber had to be sent by ship (Hagoth’s ships, of course), 2) The previous inhabitants, Jaredites, had denuded this land, 3) the land was denuded by the Jaredites during their wars, 4) the introduction of Nephites knowing how to use cement, 5) these people in the Land Northward spread throughout the land, and 6) Nephites were heavily involved in shipping.
    Note the difference in emphasis from that in Alma and that in Helaman. Alma was about emigrating to far off lands, Helaman about those in the Land of Promise filling up the land from sea to sea. As for the actual number of 5400, there is no reason to include such a number (note in Helaman “there were an exceedingly great many who departed out of the land of Zarahemla,” which suggests a much larger number very 5400—exceedingly is usually used to denote quite large, or larger than) other than they were a significantly large group that left the Land of Promise.
    Sometimes when we slow down and read the scriptural record more closely, we get a different insight into what is being said and why.

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