011: Book of Mormon Lesson 34: Helaman 6-12

Pretty much everyone is depressed in these chapters. The prophet Nephi and editor Mormon both complain about human nature and the state of wickedness of the people at this time. This is where the Lamanites become more righteous than the Nephites. Highlights will include

  • Lessons from Lamanite and Nephite reactions to the Gadianton Robbers
  • Book of Mormon perspective on prosperity
  • Scriptural portrayals of Satan and God
  • Nephi receiving the sealing power
  • The character of human nature

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Prepare yourself for a thought-provoking discussion with AmandaMatthewJessica and Aaron.

After you listen to the lesson and class discussion, please post your comments and questions here on the blog and continue the conversation!


You can access my Lesson Notes here.


Much thanks to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his hard work in postproduction.

Latest Comments

  1. SteveS says:

    1) Helaman 6:2-3–encouraging binary thinking and judgment? seeing people outside your in group as (almost) all wicked, hardened, etc. Mormon may think he’s simply making a statement of fact, but morality is rather subjective, and his reality might not have been the same as the people he writes off so glibly.

    2) How does a society become wicked/righteous so quickly? within space of two years in chapter 6 these people become righteous, then another two years and they are all wicked again. Are the Nephites and Lamanites inconstant, gullible, both? Besides the years 1830-1836 in the Church (and then, only looking at members of the early Church in NY and OH and not all the other non-mormon people in America at the time), we see a mass apostasy that threatened the stability and longevity of the Mormon movement. But society at large didn’t suddenly shift from righteousness to wickedness or vice-versa in that time. It makes me wonder about the narration of the Book of Mormon, and whether we can trust the narrator if whole populations are written off as “wicked”, or when societal change occurs at such rapid pace as to defy logic and pragmatic lived experience. How many people can point to a specific year or two where suddenly society went to hell in a handbasket?

    3) How and why does the Spirit of the Lord withdraw from a people (see Helaman 6:35)? What are the implications of such a withdrawal? What does that say about God: is this a merciful or judgmental act or both or neither? Does it make it harder for a seeker to find spiritual nourishment if the spirit has withdrawn from her people?

    4) How exactly is Satan the “author of sin”?

    5) I don’t know if you want to touch Nephi’s “calling and election made sure” in Helaman 10 with a ten foot pole, but you can’t avoid what he does with his recently-acquired unlimited power over the elements. First he goes and preaches/curses the people until they are killing each other in disputations presumably related to his words; then he asks the Lord to not destroy the people outright(possibly and including all the righteous people too!?!) but to let them have a famine instead. This famine not only causes lots of death and suffering among the (wicked) Nephites and Gadianton Robbers, but the (righteous) Lamanites as well. THOUSANDS died, according to 11:6. They died by the thousands. (aside: how did Nephi and Lehi survive? were they fed by ravens like Elijah in the wilderness during the famine? did they drop in on widows making their last batches of bread?)

    6) Could ancient inhabitants of the new world have possibly known that the earth moved and not the sun (see Hel. 12:15)? A cursory look at some research on the web claims that the Maya (so famous for their careful observation of heavenly bodies and accurate calendar systems) had a geocentric conception of astronomy. What aspects of knowledge of mathematics, geometry, physics (incl. gravitation, momentum, etc.) would they have had to know about to know that the earth orbits the sun, not the other way around? If there’s no archaeological or anthropological evidence for such, I suppose God could still “reveal” this fact to a prophet, but what profit would that knowledge have on anyone who hears it? It might would have been like explaining electricity to people without wires, batteries, or power-generators. So many discoveries and technologies need to exist as a foundation for other discovery that knowledge that the earth moved around the sun couldn’t have mattered to anyone in a culture that hadn’t laid the scientific foundations to understand the implications of such a “revelation”. And to the average observer, the sun appears to move, not the earth. Thoughts?

    7) Any thoughts on cursings? There seem to be some doozies in these chapters, but Mormon also provides an editorial theodicy that includes cursing as one of God’s divine prerogatives. Mormon also mentions everlasting damnation again in 12:26, iow the ultimate curse. I know mormon doctrine seems to say something like cursings are brought upon ourselves by our own actions. But tell that to the righteous people among the Nephites who had the spirit withdrawn from their people, or the righteous Nephites and most of the Lamanites who had to suffer for three years and die of starvation due to a famine curse! When does God curse, and when is it appropriate for humans to curse? Is it ever appropriate?


    • Steve Smith says:

      SteveS, I love your comments. I also find it curious that there is an assertion in Helaman 12:15 that the earth moves and not the sun, when indeed all evidence of peoples in the early Americas suggests that they thought the exact opposite. This is especially intriguing given the fact that other parts of the Book of Mormon do not agree with modern science, such 2 Nephi 2:22 which basically asserts that there was no death before the fall of Adam (a scripture used by Joseph Fielding Smith to that end).

      My belief is like yours that Joseph Smith is the likely author of the Book of Mormon and included that bit about the earth moving and not the sun to try to lend more credence to the idea that the righteous Nephites/Lamanites were an enlightened people who possessed truthful knowledge that was eventually lost during the “Great Apostasy.” And in early 19th century New England, Galileo’s keen observation of earth’s rotation and revolution around an immobile sun was accepted as fact by the Protestant community who accused the Catholics of trying to suppress such an idea. It was yet another tactic that Joseph Smith used to try to convince people that he was acting as a restorer of lost knowledge.

      Yet the anti-science trend still present in the church is unfortunate (i.e. Russell M. Nelson most recent jab at the Big Bang Theory).


      • Denise Bosse says:

        I have given alot of thought to the no death before the fall of Adam. I am leaning in the thought that it referred to the parameters of the garden of Eden. Dinosaurs must have died outside the garden of Eden. Is there any other way?


  2. Kat says:

    I recently toured the National Archives in Washington DC. I saw the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution. It is from these documents that we see the origins of Democracy, Freedom, Independence, Liberty, Justice and Equity. Listening to the Lessons thus far I cant help but wonder how did these Mesoamericans, Maya, or anyone in the Americas have such concepts so well developed 1300 years before the Magna Carta and 1800 years before Dec of Independence?

    I enjoy the podcast using lessons, stories from the book of Mormon and finding parallels in our lives but Jared I am really trying to understand where you are coming from in your treatment of the book of mormon as a historical text. You often talk about Mormon editing here or there, why this or that author chose to include certain examples or doctrines etc. as if they were real people. And the whole time I keep thinking “is this really possible in light of what we know about the ancient people that inhabited America” how could they have such modern concepts of government, democracy, freedom, liberty, modern concepts of Christianity, astronomy (earth rotating around the sun, Hel 12:15)?
    Do we have to suspend all we know from archeology and anthropology about ancient America to study the book of mormon?

    Jared, how can you separate the historicity of the book from the text? I get the sense that you have made a decision to teach from the stand point that the historicity doest matter, lets just examine its content and text and see what we can learn. Which makes for a better lesson than your average Sunday gospel doctrine class but leaves so much on the table. Are textual criticism techniques used to study the bible not applicable to study of the book or mormon? Where would we be in our understanding of Jesus if not for a quest to discover the historical Jesus? Likewise where is the same quest to discover the historical book of mormon? My understanding of the Bible and Christianity have been tremendously enhanced by your lectures on the New Testament and books by Bart Ehrman that I appreciate it more than I ever did before. As the lessons approach 3 Ne, and beyond I hope you will address these things as well as KJ bible usage in 3 Ne, the long ending of Mark 16 contained in Mormon 9:24 etc.


    • Jared says:

      Important question Kat, and I am glad you asked. Yes, historical questions matter and I personally am very interested in them, of course. As you may have noticed I do bring in historical issues sometimes such as the history of believe in Jesus, or Satan in this particular lesson that will be published today.

      You are correct however that for this particular project, I have bracketed these questions for the most part except to introduce listeners to complexities and nuances they are likely to encounter elsewhere. I have deliberately chosen to live within the world of the text so that I can address issues that I consider far more important than historical details, namely ethical and theological questions. What expectations should we have for God? How do we engage with the scriptures in a responsible way? How can we both challenge the scriptures and allow them to challenge us? How should we treat each other? To me the difference between these two approaches parallels the difference between watching a movie or play and being deeply impacted by it–perhaps it changes our lives, and watching behind the scenes special features.

      When I am done with the four year curriculum I will start a “Podcast scripture commentary” project where I will unflinchingly bring all the historical questions to bear.

      I absolutely plan on bringing up issues such as parallels with the Bible in 3 Nephi, long ending of Mark, etc.

      The degree to which we can penetrate a text and discern its source depends on translation method. I think we can tell enough about the nature of the Book of Mormon to say that even if it has a historical core, we do not have much ability to access it because the wording and ideas as we have them now are so clearly at least filtered through Joseph’s worldview, which fits Mormon theology quite well. 2 Ne. 31:3 is one of my favorite scriptures on this topic.


  3. Adam Taylor says:

    Hi Jared. I find your lessons highly enjoyable and informative. All four years of Gospel Doctrine lessons a is huge project. Are you really going to go through with it all?


  4. Jon says:

    Just on the idea that God causes the suffering or even Nephi. Coming from the perspective that God’s laws are actually natural laws beyond God but that God teaches those laws to us, hence come from God. Likewise, suffering through war or famine is a natural extension from wickedness. Either from the Earth spewing up volcanoes (because the people don’t listen and run) or from people being wicked and wanting to fight and kill or being wicked and causing that the land dries up because they don’t trade one with another and they don’t farm like they should have in years of plenty because of slothfulness or because the governments which they live under cause that the land is unproductive. So, it is more natural consequence rather than God’s punishment. God is just the one who forewarns of the consequences of their actions. That’s how I make sense of it.

    As an example, a country in Africa (can’t remember which one) which was the bread basket of Africa but when the wicked leaders took over we see famine in the land even though before the oppressive dictatorship it was a land of plenty.


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