Monday, January 9, 2017

The Lamanite Daughters and the Priests of Noah—Where Were They?

Why did a small number of the Lamanite maidens gather together to sing and to dance, which the priests of king Noah laid in secret and watched them? 
   Now there was a place in Shemlon, where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry” (Mosiah 20:1)
    Based on research by Robert Smith, John Welch, and Gordon Thomasson, just as the month of February means Valentine's Day (and sometimes Bachelors' Leap Year Day) to many Americans, the fifteenth of Av had significance to the ancient Israelites. On that day in the fifth month of the Israelite calendar (which fell originally on midsummer's day), the maidens of Israel would gather to dance. This was, among other things, a "matrimonial holiday for youth."
The ancient holiday is described by Abraham P. Bloch who writes that “this unnamed holiday was of very early origin, dating back to Moses according to one rabbi. In those days, the festival was primarily a matrimonial holiday, very much like the Jewish Lag Ba'Omer of springtime—a Jewish holiday celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer, which occurs on the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar—and follows the conclusion of their summer chores in the fields. On this day, which is celebrated with outings in which practice and play with bows and arrows is performed, bonfires, and other joyous events take place among the children, teenagers and young adults. In Israel, many visit the resting place (in Meron, northern Israel) of the great sage and mystic Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the anniversary of whose passing is on this day.
    Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who lived in the second century of the common era, was the first to publicly teach the mystical dimension of the Torah known as the “Kabbalah,” and is the author of the basic work of Kabbalah, the Zohar. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon instructed his disciples to mark the date as “the day of my joy.”

    It was not unusual for youth to turn their attention to “bride-hunting” and the dance of the maidens was “designed to meet that end.” Evidently, the dancing took place outside a temple city—during the period of the Judges, the dances were in the fields outside Shiloh. During later times they were at Jerusalem. 
     After the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, the holiday took on a much different character. It became the festival of wood-gathering and of offerings of wood for the altar of the temple.
Now after making sure the young women were definitely alone and unguarded, and when there were but few of them gathered to dance, the Lamanites “came forth out of their secret places and took them and carried them into the wilderness; yea, twenty and four of the daughters of the Lamanites they carried into the wilderness” (Mosiah 20:5). 
    There the priests found the young women, hid themselves and watched, and sprang out of their hiding places, taking the young women into the wilderness. The Hebrew idiom translated "lying in wait" usually connotes premeditation and planning, implying that the priests may well have known of this place and the custom for young women to be there. Indeed, the young women apparently became the priests' wives willingly enough; at least we find no indication that any of them tried to escape, and all of them later pled with their brothers and fathers not to kill their “Nephite” husbands (see Mosiah 23:33). 
    This suggests that the Lamanite daughters had gathered to dance in celebration of a vestige of the preexilic (prior to the exile of the Jews to Babylon) Israelite festival of the fifteenth of Av. Is that how the priests of Noah knew where to go and when to be there? Is that why the young women accepted the priests as husbands? After all, they would have been dancing to attract husbands. [Robert F. Smith, John W. Welch, and Gordon C. Thomasson, Dancing Maidens and the Fifteenth of Av," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp139-141).
After taking the girls, even with the young women’s consent, the priests would have been worried of discovery and capture. Their first priority would have been to get away where they would not be found. The scripture says they carried the Lamanite maidens "into the wilderness" (Mosiah 20:5). One wilderness close to the line between the Nephites and Lamanites would have been the narrow strip of wilderness, or the south wilderness, no doubt it would have been quite close and probably where the priests had originally fled to when running with king Noah from the city of Nephi when the Lamanites attacked Noah and his people.
    No doubt, knowing they could not escape into the south country, or any occupied area around the city of Nephi for all was under Lamanite control, nor could they risk traveling toward Zarahemla, so the narrow strip of wilderness seems the most likely destination.
    Thus, their hideout could have been located somewhere in the narrow strip of wilderness which divided the two lands (see Alma 22:27), perhaps beyond the land of Helam because the priests of Amulon and the Lamanites were trying to return to Shemlon when they stumbled upon Alma and his followers in the land of Helam (Mosiah 23:35). The priests of Noah might have been located away from the route of both Ammon and Limhi, who traveled the route from Zarahemla to Lehi-Nephi without any mention of encountering the priests of Noahalso known as the brethren of Amulon (Mosiah 24:4).
    If the priests of Noah traveled any significant distance from Lehi-Nephi, we are faced with a chronological and geographical problem. At the time of Ammon's arrival in the year 480, at the very end of Limhi's reign, Mormon makes the following commentary:
    "Now the people of Limhi kept together in a body as much as it was possible, and secured their grain and their flocks; and the king himself did not trust his person without the walls of the city, unless he took his guards with him . . . And he caused that his people should watch the land round about, that by some means they might take those priests that fled into the wilderness, who had stolen the daughters of the Lamanites, and that had caused such a great destruction to come upon them. For they were desirous to take them that they might punish them; for they had come into the land of Nephi by night, and carried off their grain and many of their precious things; therefore they laid wait for them.” (Mosiah 21:18-21)
Because the phrase "they had come into the land of Nephi by night" (Mosiah 21:21) comes at the end of Limhi's 18-year reign and the stealing of the Lamanite daughters apparently happened at the beginning of his reign, some chronological assessment is required. Did the priests of Noah come from some nearby wilderness area to raid the Nephite lands, or were they coming from the land of Amulon? Before we answer, we must consider the fact that when Limhi and Ammon finally escape, the Lamanites follow them and lose their tracks, only to stumble upon the priests of Noah in the land of Amulon (Mosiah 23:31). The priests join the Lamanites and stumble upon Alma's group in the city of Helam while trying to find a way back to the land of Nephi (Mosiah 23:35). Alma then shows them the way back (Mosiah 23:37). If the priests of Noah had been continually raiding the people of Limhi, then they would have very easily been able to show the Lamanites the way back, without Alma's help. Perhaps by this time, the priests of Noah had removed themselves to a much more distant location.
    The priests of Noah could have remained on the move in the wilderness, much like North American Indian tribes, in a hunter-gatherer existence, which they supplemented by occasional raids on the people of Limhi. It should be noted that Limhi's people paid tribute in grain and domesticated animals ("flocks") to the Lamanites (Mosiah 19:26,28; 21:18), who were apparently hunter-gatherers (2 Nephi 5:24). This manner of extracting tribute of those foods which were not supplied through hunting or gathering might have been how the priests of Noah survived, only they personally collected their own "tribute" through raids. After about 10 to 14 years, the priests of Noah might have moved much farther away to the land of Amulon. If they traveled beyond the borders of the general land of Nephi, yet not into the land of Zarahemla, they could have been somewhere in the narrow strip of wilderness which divided the two lands.
Or perhaps a factor besides distance was involved in the Lamanites getting lost and the land of Amulon was actually closer to the local land of Nephi. For example:
1. Alma could have stayed at the waters of Mormon for many years, which chronologically would extend the length of Noah's reign from what has been estimated. Thus, Limhi would have reigned for just a short time.
2. The definition of a "young man" (Mosiah 17:2) by which Alma was referred to just previous to his fleeing into the wilderness away from King Noah, could possibly mean a man up to the age of about 40. 
    In the text, the young stripling warriors of Helaman were referred to as "very young" (Alma 56:46), while at another point in the text, "young men" are associated with those capable of putting on armor and fighting (Mosiah 10:9). Whatever the case, if the age limit for a "young man" is raised, then Alma wouldn't have departed for the waters of Mormon until later in his life, and thus Limhi’s reign would have been shorter.
    Still, the fact remains that the priests of Noah and the land of Amulon would have been in somewhat close poximity to the narrow strip of wilderness.

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