Monday, February 1, 2016

Information About Laban and the Plates

We receive questions from time to time about the brass plates and Laban’s role in the exchange and how, under ancient Hebrew law, did all of this come about since on the surface, much of it seems far-fetched or at least out of the ordinary.
    Following are some of the questions we have been asked regarding Laban and the Plates and our Responses to them.
1. Why would Laman expect Laban simply to hand over these Records? (1 Ne 3:11-13).
Response: The records were a family custodial obligation. Laban’s family for some reason kept the records—and these records were of the northern kingdom, no doubt in the possession of Lehi/Sariah/Laban’s family while living there. When numerous escaped the rising storms of war there, they fled to southern kingdom, Judah, which was at Jerrusalem. In that turmoil how Laban ended up with the records is not known; however, at the time that Lehi was instructed by the Lord to obtain them, it is likely that he felt they belonged in the hands of the “current prophet” for surely he had been so called.
    What argument Laman or Nephi used to obtain them, what instruction Lehi gave his sons to use in discussing their change of location with Laban, is not known, however, certainly there was something involved that would have shown Laban that Lehi was to be the rightful owner of the plates from that time forth, if not before. And it seems just as certain that whatever the Lord told Lehi to tell Laban was sufficient for both Lehi and Nephi to believe this effort would succeed.
    It is also likely that whatever argument the boys used was known and understood by Laban who, by having current possession of the plates must have thought that he also had right of “ownership” to the plates. This might answer why he had such a violent and argumentive reaction to their request to obtain the plates, for surely the Lord would not have had them use a fictitious or faulty reasoning.
    2. Mormon apologists seem to be aware of the stupidity of this part of the story and have offered as explanation that the plates originally belonged to Lehi, and Laban stole them from him.
    Response: Some well-meaning LDS try to come up with answers to what they see are difficult questions, but would be better served if they did not wander into unknown (to them) understanding of the workings of the Lord and the ancient Jewish and Hebrew customs. On the other hand, when we compare Laban’s station in life, as an elite or prominent elder in Jerusalem to that of Lehi being called as a prophet to fulfill a very important and far-reaching assignment, it might very well be that Lehi’s heritage came through those who rightly fully would have held the records.
    However, there is nothing in the text to hint at that, other than Laban’s questionable character, and obviously Lehi had never seen the plates before since he did not know what was on them until he studied them (1 Ne 5:14-17).
    3. Why would Nephi think Laban could be bribed? (1 Ne 3:21-26) 
 Response. First of all, his very character would suggest such a thing; however, it should be pointed out that no mention of bribing Laban is found in the scriptural record. Instead, Nephi suggests an exchange or purchase. When we learn the extent of Lehi’s wealth, Nephi would have understood that he was suggesting to Laban a more than fair price for the records.
    4. Laban was a wealthy and influential man. Why would Nephi think that the custodian of such important records would risk everything in order to add to his wealth?
    Response: Laban was not being asked to do anything illegal, immoral, or out of character for him. He was being offered a price for something he evidently legally possessed, but likely was of little importance to him. The records were kept out of site, stored away in a vault or some type of treasury facility and obviously not something he held in high regard or studied on any regular basis.
    5. Why would a prominent man like Laban go out at night drinking without escort? (1 Ne 4:7-10, 19)
Response: He wasn’t “out drinking with the boys.” He was attending a meeting of the elders, of which he was a prominent member (1 Nephi 4:22). Whether or not Laban should have had an escort is not known, however, he considered himself a capable individual and must have thought he could handle himself, or call for assistance, if need be. On the other hand, since he had become drunk and passed out, there was no one who could know he needed help.
    6. The fact that he was armed and wearing armor would indicate that it was not entirely safe to be abroad.
Response: Laban was a captain of the guard, a leader among the elders, and held a prominent position—a military position that required he wear his armor and swordno doubt his pride and joyafter all, he held a military rank. Jerusalem in this period was safe as cities go, but there were always men about who feasted on the illegal side of life. At the time Nephi sees Laban on the ground, he had “come near unto the house of Laban” (1 Nephi 4:7). Within that close proximity, Laban might well have felt safe enough.
    7. A prudent man of his wealth and position would have been accompanied by private bodyguards.
    Response: An elder among the Jews, one privy to the matters of leadership among the Jewish elite and church, would not have been walking around with bodyguards. If anything, he would have been accompanied by other elders, however, so close to his home, they might have left him there to proceed to their own homes.
    8. Why would Laban's clothing not be bloody after being beheaded? (1 Nephi 4:19)
    This is a good question and there seems no plausible answer, other than perhaps when Nephi came upon Zoram in Laban’s clothes, he pulled the robe or outer garment around himself to hide any such signs. After all, it was dark—city streets in ancient Jerusalem had little lighting at night and shadows were everywhere. I always thought a better question was how did Nephi command Zoram in the voice of Laban?
    9. Did Nephi have any difficulty putting on Laban's clothes? Nephi was unusually large in stature (1 Nephi 4:31). Unless Laban was the same size, his clothing would not have fit Nephi.
Response: The type of clothing worn, skirt, shirt, harness, military trappings, robe, would have been adjustable far beyond the type of clothing we wear today. While it may not have been overly comfortable, it only had to convince someone who saw him from a distance—he had not counted on Zoram. And since Nephi immediately issued commands to Zoram, the servant immediately obeyed without question--as servants were trained and ingrained to do. 
    10. How could Nephi have impersonated Laban so as to fool Laban's servants? (1 Nephi 4:20-27). This is one of the many "tall tales" in the Book of Mormon.
    Response: Again, Nephi’s gruffness, Laban’s normal demeanor of an unforgiving leader, and his role as one of the chief elders, probably frightened Zoram in the best of times. At night, in near darkness, coming upon his master suddenly, without warning, might well have unnerved him. He surely would not have challenged him under any circumstancesit was not the role of any servant to disobey or challenge his master.
    11. Why would not the discovery of the naked, decapitated body of an important man such as Laban stir up an immediate search for his killer? And for the missing plates and servant?
    Response: First, this would have happened around midnight (coming home from a drinking evening with the elders), at a time when most people would have been asleep (unlike today, people of that time slept from dusk to dawn), the streets would have been empty, and by the time any discovery was made, Nephi and his brothers and Zoram would have been long gone on the trail to the south. No doubt there was quite a hue and cry raised when discovery was eventually noted, and probably the blame was placed on Zoram for he was the only one noticeable that was gone. Very possibly, a search party the next day was roused, out looking for Zoram, but since he lived in the city, probably in Laban’s house or quarters, and nowhere else to look for him or go, it seems the case would have been eventually dropped. Obviously, Nephi and his brothers would have high-tailed it away from the city, probably not stopping this time at Lehi’s home of inheritance, but hurried all the way to Lehi’s tent where they were welcomed with open arms.

12. The commentary concludes with the comment: “For all the importance which was attached to the brass plates, and in light of the prophecies about how they will never be "dimmed by time" but rather "go forth," containing all the prophets and prophecies not included in our present Bible, it seems that the brass plates have utterly failed in their modern mission. It does not even appear that these scriptures were known by any of Lehi's descendants (supposedly the Native Americans) after the Nephites disappeared about 420 AD. They are gone. Not even the modern prophets of the Mormon church can tell you where they are, or give details about what they contain. Apparently they were not so important, after all.
    Response: How little is understood by those who criticize the work of the Lord. The brass plates were, basically, the bible. In the time of Lehi, the books of the bible had  not been arranged and, in fact, were not in “book” form at all. It is not that the “brass plates” were not to be dimmed and go forth, but that the biblical writings of the ancient patriarchs were to do so. And for a thousand years, they were had among the Nephites as well as the Jews. Those same writings were also had among the Lost Ten Tribes, and while we have the writings of Lehi’s descendants in the Book of Mormon, at some point in time we will have the writings of the Lost Ten Tribes in scripture form.

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