Thursday, August 15, 2019

Gideon, another example of internal consistency (and possibly Hebrew wordplay) in the Book of Mormon

If we simply compare all the mentions of the name Gideon in the Book of Mormon, we quickly discover that the name can either refer to a place or a person.  In this post, we'll compare these references to see if they are internally consistent. We'll also explore the meaning of the name, since it seems that Mormon enjoyed inserting Hebrew wordplay into the text of the Book of Mormon, particularly when first mentioning a new figure.

Gideon the Man

We first notice this name in the context of the wicked king Noah in the land of Nephi, in Mosiah 19:

4 And now there was a man among them whose name was Gideon, and he being a strong man and an enemy to the king, therefore he drew his sword, and swore in his wrath that he would slay the king.
It is remarkable to me that the first mention of the name Gideon introduces him in a way that fits the meaning of his name so well--Gideon means "hewer, feller, he that cuts down."

Gideon is instrumental in helping the Nephites who follow King Limhi escape from bondage. That plan is introduced by Gideon in Mosiah 22:3-9. They trick their guards into getting drunk and then sneak away in the night.

We don't encounter the name again for awhile, after that group has escaped bondage and returned to the land of Zarahemla. This time, he is older and is a teacher for the newly established church of God, but still bold and aggressive (from Alma 1):

7 And it came to pass as he was going, to preach to those who believed on his word, he met a man who belonged to the church of God, yea, even one of their teachers; and he began to contend with him sharply, that he might lead away the people of the church; but the man withstood him, admonishing him with the words of God.
8 Now the name of the man was Gideon; and it was he who was an instrument in the hands of God in delivering the people of Limhi out of bondage.
9 Now, because Gideon withstood him with the words of God he was wroth with Gideon, and drew his sword and began to smite him. Now Gideon being stricken with many years, therefore he was not able to withstand his blows, therefore he was slain by the sword.
Live by the sword die by the sword, I guess.  Gideon as hewer and hewee?

Gideon the Place

In Alma 2:20, we first encounter Gideon as a place-name:

20 And it came to pass that when Alma could pursue the Amlicites no longer he caused that his people should pitch their tents in the valley of Gideon, the valley being called after that Gideon who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword; and in this valley the Nephites did pitch their tents for the night.
We learn in verse 17 that these battles are taking place on a hill east of the river Sidon. Keep that in mind.

Alma-2's highly successful mission to Gideon

Four chapters (and four years) later, Alma-2 has given up the judgment seat and devoted his time to the ministry.  He gives a masterful sermon (found in Alma chapter 5) to the people of Zarahemla, and then (in Alma 6) he continues his travels:

7 And now it came to pass that when Alma had made these regulations he departed from them, yea, from the church which was in the city of Zarahemla, and went over upon the east of the river Sidon, into the valley of Gideon, there having been a city built, which was called the city of Gideon, which was in the valley that was called Gideon, being called after the man who was slain by the hand of Nehor with the sword.
So by this time there is a city called Gideon in the valley called Gideon, and it is still east of the river Sidon. Of note, Alma establishes an "order of the church" for the people there (see Alma 8:1) and blesses them for their righteous choices (see Alma 7).

Korihor's highly unsuccessful mission to Gideon

The next significant mention of Gideon comes about 6 years later when we read about the anti-Christ preacher named Korihor (Alma 30).  He gets expelled out of the land of the people of Ammon and decides to try his luck in Gideon (from verse 21):

And he came over into the land of Gideon, and began to preach unto them also; and here he did not have much success, for he was taken and bound and carried before the high priest, and also the chief judge over the land.

He blasphemes in front of Giddonah, who delivers him to Zarahemla to meet with Alma.  It is worth noting that Zarahemla and Gideon are like twin cities, frequently mentioned in close proximity to each other.

Gideon in the war chapters

More than a decade (and 30 chapters) later, in the midst of a brutal war with the Lamanites, the chief judge Pahoran is ousted from Zarahemla by those Nephites who have allied with the Lamanites and re-established a king. (See this post for more details about that.) Where did Pahoran manage to flee?  Gideon. (See Alma 61:5.)

Moroni comes to the rescue in Alma 62. It is interesting to note that he is coming from the battle zones in the east and unites his armies with those of Pahoran in the valley of Gideon. Then the powerful combined army marches to Zarahemla and reclaims it. This fits the geography previously described--Gideon lies to the east of the river Sidon.

So what can we learn from all of this?  I see a few points worth mentioning.

  1. The text of the Book of Mormon is complicated, intricate, and internally consistent. 
  2. The author must have had notes. I do not believe the author of this text could have tracked all of these details across thousands of words and hundreds of unrelated names and details without notes.  There is no claim by witness to the translation process (friend or foe) that Joseph dictated from notes, made revisions to the text, or even had details read back to him.
  3. Mormon was a fan of Hebrew wordplay.
  4. Gideon was a real man and is presented in the text as faithful but aggressive/hot-tempered.
  5. The valley named after him became an important city in the Nephite lands, and the text describes it consistently.