While reading the Book Of Mormon one can’t help but notice how the Nephites tend to not only have wars with the Lamanites, but that they also tend to war amongst themselves. The most common reason that is presented in the Book Of Mormon is that a faction within the Nephite group wants to have a king and they try to overthrow the current form of government to do so.
At the start of the Book Of Mormon, after arriving in the Promised Land, Nephi and his followers separate from his older brother, Laman, and his followers. This causes the Nephite/Lamanite division that is prevalent throughout the Book Of Mormon. Nephi then hesitantly accepts the role of king of his people, the Nephites. Apparently, Nephi is a good king and from then on every king after him is called Nephi as well. For the next couple of hundred years we don’t hear much about kings and if they are righteous rulers or not, until the mention of King Mosiah.
King Mosiah is introduced into the narrative and he is a righteous king and he is warned by the Lord to leave the Land Of Nephi and flee with those others that are righteous. They eventually come to the land of Zarahemla, which is populated by a group of people that also came from Middle Eastern Jerusalem. Their leader at the time they fled Jerusalem was Mulek, a son of King Zedekiah, who was King of Judah in about 597 BC. Mulek would have been a Prince of Judah about the time that he and his group fled Jerusalem to escape an invading force from Babylon that enslaved the Jews and destroyed their Temple.
King Mosiah and the Nephites who followed him joined up with these Mulekites and somehow was able to become king over both groups. This process is not described in the Book Of Mormon, but the whole group of Nephites and Mulekites were hereafter known as Nephites.
After King Mosiah, his son Benjamin became king. When King Benjamin was about to die of old age, his son Mosiah became the new king. These three kings were Nephites and direct descendants of Nephi. During the reign of King Mosiah II, it was decided by King Mosiah II that once King Mosiah II passes on, that a new form of government will be put in place.
This new form of government consisted of various levels of Judges that would create, enact and enforce the laws of the government and society. The Judges would be held accountable by each other and by the voice of the people. There would be at the top level, a Chief Judge, that would be the head of the government. The first Chief Judge is Alma, who is a Nephite and a descendant of the first Nephi.
Prior to the Reign of the Judges being set up, there is an account of a splinter group of Nephites who leave the land of Zarahemla and attempt to regain the land of Nephi. During this attempt, this smaller group sets up their society that is ruled by a king. The first king, Zeniff, is fair and is a positive leader for their society. His son then becomes the second king, King Noah, and he is selfish and uses his position to oppress his people and he rules in wickedness. He is eventually deposed and his son, Limhi, becomes king in his stead. King Limhi is a ruler who tends to be more like his grandfather than his father.
Eventually, this group of people find their way back to the land of Zarahemla and their tale is told to the larger group of the Nephites. Upon hearing their tale, many of the people are aghast and ashamed of the doings of King Noah and his cohorts in leadership positions.
So far, since the combination of the Nephite nation and the people of Zarahemla, all the rulers of this combined group have been Nephites who have been direct descendants of the original Nephi. The Book Of Mormon points out that when these two groups joined, that the people of Zarahemla were more numerous than the Nephites who joined them.
The Book Of Mormon indicates in Mosiah 25:2 “Now there were not so many of the children of Nephi, or so many of those who were descendants of Nephi, as there were of the people of Zarahemla, who was a descendant of Mulek, and those who came with him into the wilderness.”
I think it important to point out that Prince Mulek most likely would’ve been considered a king of Judah by his followers, since his father was incapacitated and his brother’s having been murdered by the Babylonians.
Once Alma becomes the first Chief Judge in the new system of government, this is when the uprisings start. Throughout the next 90 years or so, until the account of the resurrected Christ appearing unto the people, there are coups to overthrow the Reign of the Judges and establish a king as ruler over the people.
While reading the Book Of Mormon, I’ve always thought it was curious as to why parts of the Nephite nation were so obsessed with the idea of having a king established as opposed to the Judges. I always thought that with the bad example of King Noah and the problems he instigated still fairly fresh in the Nephite history, they would tend to steer away from thoughts of a monarchy.
The following are examples from the Book Of Mormon that present different people in the narrative that attempt to take over the current system of Nephite government of Judges and try to establish a king instead.
In Alma Chapter 1, a man named Nehor, “who was large, and was noted for his much strength” attempted a religous takeover of the Nephites by preaching priestcrafts. It is important to note that at this time, Alma was not only the Chief Judge, but he was the High Priest of the Church. If Nehor would have succeeded in taking the religious power away from Alma, there was a good chance he could’ve also taken political power as well, or perhaps one of his Order would’ve attempted that. Nehor was eventually executed for murdering an innocent man.
In Alma Chapter 2, we read about how four years later a political dissenter Amilici, who is described as “he being a very cunning man, yea, a wise man as to the wisdom of the world“, who was also after the order of Nehor from Chapter 1. Amilici attempts to overthrow the government and set himself up as king. He is eventually defeated and killed in combat as he tried to take over the government with a military force.
In Alma Chapter 46 we read of Amalickiah who “was a large and a strong man“, who also attempted to take over the government of the Nephites and establish himself as a king. He doesn’t succeed and defects to the Lamanites, where through deceit and treachery, establishes himself as king over the Lamanites. He then turns his attention to the Nephites. Amalickiah is eventually slain and his brother, Ammoron, takes over as king. In a letter exchange with the Nephite leader Moroni, Ammoron discloses that he (and consequently his brother, Amalickiah) is a descendant of Zoram “whom your fathers pressed and brought out of Jerusalem”. I find it interesting that approximately 537 years later, the people of the Book Of Mormon still know who they are descended from and that some still hold grudges against each other’s ancestors.
In Alma Chapter 51 we read about the formation of a group of people who again wanted to establish a king in the land, “Now those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people.” I find it interesting the phrase “those of high birth” is used here. What is the criteria that a Nephite would consider himself “of high birth“, if there are currently no kings in the Nephite nation? Eventually, in Chapter 61 of Alma, the kingmen succeed and overthrow the government for a short period of time and establish a king, by the name of Pachus, over the Nephite nation. His reign was short as the military leader Moroni comes back from the frontlines of the war and kills Pachus and any of his followers who don’t renounce their political views of having a king.
In Helaman 1:15, Coriantumr “was a descendant of Zarahemla; and he was a dissenter from among the Nephites; and he was a large and a mighty man.” attacks the Nephites on behalf of the Nephite dissenter, Ammoron, so that Ammoron can become king of the Nephites and Lamanites.
I present these examples to show a pattern as to what type of persons are attempting to establish themselves as rulers over the Nephites once the Reign of the Judges begin. It appears that the majority are “large and mighty” men, and that they are persons who are not direct descendants of the original Nephi, such as Zoram and Mulek. The group of dissenters who called themselves “kingmen” were of high birth and I would like to put it out there that they could possibly be descendants of Mulek who was at the very least a Prince from Jerusalem.
I then started thinking about where these two groups of people, the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla, came from. They both hailed from Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s history has been one of Kings. Up until the idea of Judges that was brought about by Mosiah II, the people and their history has been one of kings and that they are ordained by the Lord through his prophets.
I also thought upon how these two groups left Jerusalem and the circumstances that surrounded their pilgrimage to the Promised Land. Mulek fled Jerusalem right as Jerusalem was being destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar, his father was captured and his brother’s were killed. Before the enslavement of the Jews, Jeremiah was a personal advisor to King Zedekiah (Mulek’s father and the last king of Judah before the Jews were carried off into Babylon), and even he was imprisoned and abused by the King and his followers for calling the King and others to repentance from their wicked ways. Jeremiah the Israelite prophet was subservient to King Zedekiah and his family. King Zedekiah did not like Jeremiah the Israelite prophet telling him what he was doing was evil in the sight of the Lord.
Lehi (original Nephi’s father) and his family left Jerusalem because as an Israelite prophet in the land of Jerusalem, and a contemporary of the Biblical prophet, Jeremiah, he was being persecuted and his life was in danger. Jeremiah had been imprisoned and other prophets in Jerusalem were being threatened as well and some were even killed.
In the old land of Jerusalem, King Zedekiah and his family were rulers, while the prophets served them and were a nuisance. In the new Promised Land, the descendants of the Israelite prophet, Lehi, were now the Kings and rulers; while the descendants of King Zedekiah, were now subservient to the descendants of Lehi the Israelite prophet.
Ultimately, I believe that these dissenters wanted power and riches, but on the edges of these examples I see glimmers of a pattern that contributes to this dilemma of this desire of having a king over the Nephites. I believe that it has something to do with the balance of power that originally existed in the old promised land of Jerusalem, and was reversed in the new promised land. Originally the people of Mulek were in power in Jerusalem, with the prophets being cast out, mistreated, ridiculed and even killed at the time these two groups left Jerusalem. In the new promised land, these descendants of a prophet (Lehi) are now the ones in power, while the descendants of Mulek (who most likely believe themselves to be the rightful rulers of Israel) are not being given their rightful place as rulers.