Gadianton Robbers

The Book of Mormon records that the Gadianton robbers “did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi” (Helaman 2:13). Who were these Gadianton robbers and why were they given such a prominent role in the Book of Mormon, such that an entire civilization was destroyed?

9/11 and the Gadianton Robbers

World Trade Center Towers on 9-11 Shortly after the events of 9/11, Gordon B. Hinckley referred to “terrorist organizations that must be ferreted out and brought down.” He went on to state:

We of this Church know something of such groups. The Book of Mormon speaks of the Gadianton robbers, a vicious, oath-bound, and secret organization bent on evil and destruction. In their day they did all in their power, by whatever means available, to bring down the Church, to woo the people with sophistry, and to take control of the society. We see the same thing in the present situation. (9/11 and the Gadianton Robbers).

A Pattern of the Second Coming

Since the Book of Mormon is a “pattern for preparing for the Second Coming” of Jesus Christ1, the following is a list of characteristics and quotations about this curious group that resulted in the destruction of an ancient society and which has modern parallels.

Characteristics of the Gadianton Robbers

  • A Little History – The first mention of the word Gadianton in the Book of Mormon is in Helaman 2. This is where Gadianton – “exceedingly expert  . . . in his craft” of secret murder and robbery – flattered Kishkumen and his band “that if they would place him in the judgment-seat he would grant unto those who belonged to his band that they should be placed in power and authority among the people” (Helaman 2:5). Previously, Kishkumen murdered Pahoran, the chief judge. Hugh W. Nibley suggested that this Kishkumen was a member of the king-men who sought “to overthrow the free government and to establish a king over the land” (Alma 51:5). Consequently, he and his band “went underground – standard procedure when they are beaten – and made themselves indistinguishable from the general public as they bided their time and carried the secret plans and programs that such people love (Helaman 1:12).”2
  • Title of Liberty by Arnold Friberg The Target – Free Government – Although the overthrow of “free government” was the object of the king-men – and subsequently the band of Gadianton robbers (see below) – both groups seem to have capitalized on the age old antagonism between the Nephites and Lamanites concerning the right to rule (see 1 Nephi 18:10). Mormon records that Amulek said, “And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges” (Alma 10:27). And just two chapters previous, Alma was told that the people of Ammonihah, “do study at this time that they may destroy the liberty of thy people, (for thus saith the Lord) which is contrary to the statutes, and judgments, and commandments which he has given unto his people” (Alma 8:17).
  • Theft Versus Robbery – Anciently, there were considerable differences between a thief and a robber. Under Near Eastern law, “a thief was usually a local person who stole from his neighbor. He was dealt with judicially. He was tried and punished civilly, most often by a court composed of his fellow townspeople. A robber, on the other hand, was an outsider, a brigand or highwayman. He was dealt with militarily. In most instances, it was the army’s task to free the countryside of robbers, and these outlaws could be executed summarily.”3
  • Sophistry – Just as Gordon B. Hinckley remarked that today’s robbers “woo the people with sophistry” in order to “take control of the society”, Gadianton “was exceedingly expert in many words” (Helaman 2:4).
  • Gadianton a Jaredite Name – Based on etymology, the name Gadianton is most likely a Jaredite name.4
  • Old World Cultural Heritage – As such, it is likely that the Mulekite society acted as a cultural bridge between the “Old World” Jaredites and the Nephites. Hugh W. Nibley wrote, “Since Gadianton’s plans were had by the Jaredites and since Gadianton’s name is pure Jaredite . . . this would seem to be another of the many cultural hold-overs of Jaredite civilization among the Nephites.5 Additionally, “The tradition of a very Jaredite pattern of behavior and dissent against Nephite rule by men of Mulekite background bearing Jaredite names makes the case pretty clear”.6
  • Secret Murders – Following the murder of the chief judge Cezoram “by an unknown hand” and his son whom the people appointed in his stead, Mormon remarks that the people “began to commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain” (Helaman 6:15-17). Apparently, following the example of its leaders, so goes the rest of society.
  • Cain and Abel by Vouet It All Started With Cain – According to Mormon, these “secret murders” first started with Cain who was enticed by the devil “that if he would murder his brother Abel it should not be known unto the world” (Helaman 6:27). In Joseph Smith’s translation of the Bible, Satan tempted Cain, saying, “Make an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:18). This “offering” was later rejected by the Lord. After receiving a stern rebuke, Cain could not bear the Lord’s chastisement and he hearkened to the devil who encouraged him to murder his brother Abel (Moses 5:19-32).
  • Secret Oaths and Covenants – Just as Cain entered into secret oaths and covenants7, so too did the Gadianton robbers –  “And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant” (Helaman 6:22).
  • Everyone Is Doing It – Another aspect of Gadianton’s success was due to the fact that apparently everyone got in on the action. For example, “Satan did stir up the hearts of the more part of the Nephites, insomuch that they did unite with those bands of robbers, and did enter into their covenants and their oaths, that they would protect and preserve one another in whatsoever difficult circumstances they should be placed, that they should not suffer for their murders, and their plunderings, and their stealings.” (Helaman 6:21). Again – the Nephites “had become exceedingly wicked; yea, the more part of them had turned out of the way of righteousness, and did trample under their feet the commandments of God, and did turn unto their own ways” (Helaman 6:31). And lastly, “The Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations” (Helaman 6:38).
  • Lamanite Strategy – Apparently, only the Lamanites were able to get rid of Gadianton’s society – “And it came to pass that the Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites” (Helaman 6:37). Only the preaching of the word prevented their expansion among the Lamanites.
  • Control of Government – Even so, the Gadianton robbers were so successful in spreading their nefarious plan among the Nephites that “they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God” (Helaman 6:39). Once they had obtained control of the government, the Gadiantons began “filling the judgment-seats” with their own judges, “letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills” (Helaman 7:4-5). Presumably, control of the government gave them easy access to wealth and other so-called “perks.”
  • The Inevitable Famine – Since everyone seems to have been in on the action, after receiving the sealing power from the Lord, Nephi’s only recourse seems to have been to seal the heavens in order to cause a famine in the land which caused the extinction of the robbers (see Helaman 11:1-18). At least for a short period of time.
  • Search for Secret Records – “In the space of not many years” the dissenters from the people of Nephi, “became an exceedingly great band of robbers; and they did search out all the secret plans of Gadianton; and thus they became robbers of Gadianton” (Helaman 11:26). In other words, the Gadiantons hid their records in the earth, but when the time was right, they dug them up and reignited a new society of bandits.
  • Samuel the Lamanite on the Wall by Arnold Friberg Hiding Up Treasures – In stark contrast, Samuel the Lamanite prophesied, “I will, saith the Lord, that they shall hide up their treasures unto me; and cursed be they who hide not up their treasures unto me; . . . [I] will hide up their treasure when they shall flee before their enemies; because they will not hide them up unto me, cursed be they and also their treasures” (Helaman 13:19-20). Concerning this scripture, Hugh W. Nibley wrote, “When they flee before their enemies, the faithful are expected to hide up their treasures to the Lord. This is exactly the lesson of the Copper Scroll, which was “intended to tell the Jewish survivors of the war . . . where this sacred material lay buried, so that . . . it would never be desecrated by profane use.”8
  • Secret Society – According to Giddianhi, the Gadianton robbers were a “secret society” whose works were good presumably because they were of “ancient date” (3 Nephi 3:9).
  • Rob and Plunder – Another characteristic of this band of robbers is that “there was no way that they could subsist save it were to plunder and rob and murder” (3 Nephi 4:5). The Gadiantons were completely unable to produce the foodstuffs necessary to sustain life and relied upon their ability to forcibly take from others.
  • Ritual Hanging – Following the appointment of Zemnarihah as the new leader of the society, and after an attempt at siege warfare on the Nephites, Zemnarihah was captured. He was then summarily “hanged upon a tree”; thereafter, the Nephites “did fell the tree to the earth, and did cry with a loud voice, saying: May the Lord preserve his people in righteousness and in holiness of heart, that they may cause to be felled to the earth all who shall seek to slay them because of power and secret combinations, even as this man hath been felled to the earth.” (3 Nephi 4:28-29). Of this account John W. Welch said, “In hanging him up on the tree, you are hanging him between heaven and earth. As Brother Nibley has pointed out, neither will receive this wicked person. Then you chop down the tree, because you don’t even want people ever walking by and saying, that’s the tree that good old so-and-so was hanged on.”9
  • The Anti-Christ – Ultimately, the Gadiantons succeeded in overthrowing the government and installing a king. In 3 Nephi it is recorded, “Now this secret combination, which had brought so great iniquity upon the people, did gather themselves together, and did place at their head a man whom they did call Jacob; And they did call him their king; therefore he became a king over this wicked band” (3 Nephi 7:9-10). His reign over a “league of tribes” however was short lived. Following the great destruction, the voice of Christ declared, “And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness of the whole earth, because of their secret murders and combinations; for it was they that did destroy the peace of my people and the government of the land; therefore I did cause them to be burned, to destroy them from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints should not come up unto me any more against them.” (3 Nephi 9:9).

Quotations About the Gadianton Society

  • Descendants of Gadianton Robbers – In 1851, Brigham Young is recorded to have said concerning the Indians near Cedar City, Utah, “These Indians are the descendants of the Gadianton robbers who infested these mountains for more than a thousand years.”10
  • Occupied Territory – The common retreat of the robbers were to the mountains and canyons of the wilderness. In 1861, Brigham Young spoke in the tabernacle at Salt Lake City and said, “There are scores of evil spirits here–spirits of the old Gadianton robbers, some of whom inhabited these mountains, and used to go into the South and afflict the Nephites.  There are millions of those spirits in the mountains, and they are ready to make us covetous, if they can; they are ready to lead astray every man and woman that wishes to be a Latter-day Saint. This may seem strange to some of you, but you will see them.  As soon as your spirits are unlocked from these tabernacles, you are in the spirit-world, and you will there have to contend against evil spirits as we here have to contend against wicked persons.”11
  • Destruction of the Church – In 1860, Heber C. Kimball said, “. . . it is the wickedness that will rise up in the Church that will cause us trouble.  It is now as it was in the days of Jesus and the Prophets.  We read in the Book of Mormon that the Gadianton robbers came down from the mountains–they robbed, plundered, and in many instances slew the Saints.  I can tell you, brethren and sisters, that we have similar characters in these mountains, who are making pretty rapid progress in preparing to destroy this people.  This I know to my sorrow.”12

Prophetic Warning to the Gentile Nations of the Earth

After recounting the history of the Jaredites who were destroyed by the same secret combinations, Mormon gave this solemn warning to the inhabitants of the latter-day Gentile nations:

Mormon Bids Farewell to a Once Great Nation by Arnold Friberg Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain–and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the Eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be. Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up. For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies; even that same liar who beguiled our first parents, yea, even that same liar who hath caused man to commit murder from the beginning; who hath hardened the hearts of men that they have murdered the prophets, and stoned them, and cast them out from the beginning. Wherefore, I, Moroni, am commanded to write these things that evil may be done away, and that the time may come that Satan may have no power upon the hearts of the children of men, but that they may be persuaded to do good continually, that they may come unto the fountain of all righteousness and be saved. (Ether 8:23-26).

To underscore this message, the Savior gave similar warning to the Nephites and Lamanites at the temple in Bountiful:

And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them. . . But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel. And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down, saith the Father. But if they will not turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, I will suffer them, yea, I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down, and they shall be as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people, O house of Israel. (3 Nephi 16:10, 13-15).

Although more could be written concerning Gadianton’s society of secret robbers, murderers, and plunderers, hopefully the information above is a resource and a reminder that history can and does repeat itself.

Sources:

  1. . . . in the Book of Mormon we find a pattern for preparing for the Second Coming. A major portion of the book centers on the few decades just prior to Christ’s coming to America. By careful study of that time period we can determine why some were destroyed in the terrible judgments that preceded His coming and what brought others to stand at the temple in the land of Bountiful and thrust their hands into the wounds of His hands and feet” Benson, Ezra Taft. Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988. 59.
  2. Nibley, Hugh W. “Freemen and King-men in the Book of Mormon”. The Prophetic Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988. 359.
  3. Welch, John W. “Theft and Robbery in the Book of Mormon and in Ancient Near Eastern Law”. Preliminary Report. Provo, Utah: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985. 1.
  4. Nibley, Hugh W. “A Permanent Heritage”. Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites,  There Were Jaredites. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988. 245.
  5. Nibley, Hugh W. “The Way of the Wicked”. An Approach to the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988. 383-384.
  6. Nibley, Hugh W. “A Permanent Heritage”. Lehi in the Desert, The World of the Jaredites,  There Were Jaredites. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988. 246.
  7. Moses 5:29-31, 47-52.
  8. Nibley, Hugh W. “Some Fairly Foolproof Tests”. Since Cumorah. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988. 245.
  9. Welch, John W. substitute for Hugh W. Nibley. “Lecture 97 – 3 Nephi 11: The Sermon at the Temple and Law and Covenant”. Teachings of the Book of Mormon, Semester 4. Provo, Utah: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988-1990. 123.
  10. Cowley, Mattias F., ed. Wilford Woodruff – His Life and Labors. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1909. 346. Google Book Search. Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  11. Young, Brigham. Journal of Discourses, 8:344.
  12. Kimball, Heber C. Journal of Discourses, 8:258.

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  1. Steven Montgomery’s avatar

    Excellent article. Regarding the “right to rule”: You may be interested in this article I wrote a few weeks ago:

    http://www.ldsfreemen.com/steven-montgomery/secret-combinations-examining-the-dissent.html

    Also, regarding the general strategy of the Gadianton Robbers/Secret Combinations you might also be interested in this article:

    http://www.ldsfreemen.com/steven-montgomery/dissent-continued-the-m.o.html

  2. Greg’s avatar

    Steven – These are excellent articles. Thank you for pointing to them on our blog.

  3. Dave Collingridge’s avatar

    Greg,

    So may we conclude that Islamo terrorists are gadianton robbers in that they want to destroy the constitution of the US of A? If so, then I am all for hanging them from trees until dead rather than giving them posh living conditions at Gitmo. Equally sobering is the idea that the gadiantons terrorized the Nephites when they were in the pride cycle, which is where we seem to be in this country today.

  4. Vitovixa’s avatar

    Read this article days ago and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it…. However, my thoughts were not on the perpetrators of 9/11 but rather our own politicians in the United States.

    Reflecting on the way political parties behave and act, I can’t help but wonder about these Gadianton Robbers being in positions of authority and public office today (see the Sophistry and Control of Government bullets above)….and considering the direction the economy has taken in the past year, are we headed for another famine-type event (see Inevitable Famine bullet).

    Terrific article and one I plan to add to my reference materials. I’ll be referring to it and all of these bullet points in the years ahead as I consider the direction this country is headed.

    Thanks

  5. Greg’s avatar

    Dave – That’s an excellent question, but I don’t think it is easily answered in the affirmative. I find it difficult to ascribe all the responsibility for 9/11 to Al-Qaeda as the only group to which President Hinckley referred to in the October 2001 general conference. For my reasoning on this subject, you may want to review my comments at 9/11 and the Gadianton Robbers in combination with each of the points listed above. And it is important to point out that there appear to be many different factions in the Book of Mormon who are variously described as Gadianton robbers, robbers, etc.

    It is also apparent that the Church has had and will always have its critics. But it is interesting that President Hinckley called attention to the fact that the group to which he was referring was seeking to “bring down the Church.” In that context, there are many references to groups on this blog that have as their stated goal to destroy religion in general and it appears that some of them have even targeted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in particular.

  6. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks Vitovixa. I think the links between the Old World idea of a monarchy and a king – some might call it a modern “imperial presidency” like unto Rome under the Caesars – the conflict between the king-men and the freemen, and the Gadianton robbers are certainly cause for reflection. Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

  7. Morgan Deane’s avatar

    Thanks for the post Greg. I have been studying the book of Helaman quite extensively for awhile now, and I feel that the economic motivations for the Gadianton robbers is under developed. I believe that an increase in the size and severity of war required a greater number of soldiers. These soldiers lost their lands from serving in these longer and more distant wars which caused a rise of rich landowners. When there were times of peace the now jobless and landless soldiers took to the hills to continue what they knew, and to level the economic playing field through force. This dovetails with the increasing tendency of the Prophets to decry profit seeking, since a more charitable ruling class would ease much of the economic strife that permeated Nephite society at this time. Here is a link to some of the preliminary research I have done:
    http://mormonwar.blogspot.com/2009/03/military-cause-for-problems-in-book-of.html

    Thank you for your time, and this great post. -Morgan

  8. Greg’s avatar

    Morgan – Let me return the favor . . . your post contains some wonderful insight and makes plausible the events leading to the rise of the king-men and freemen – as well as the Gadianton robbers – in the Book of Mormon. As I read your commentary, it reminded me of Andrew Bacevich’s book The Limits of Power. Your commentary seemed to reasonate with his view of the U.S. military expansion into the Middle East. Thank you for pointing to your post on this subject.

  9. Morgan Deane’s avatar

    Thanks for the kind words. As I thought about the book you mentioned and its connections to Gadianton Robbers and some of my research I am continually amazed at how the Book of Mormon is truly written for our day. Even in scholarly research you cannot seperate the central (and impressive) religious message from the other things.

    Anyways, I look forward to your future posts, and feel free to stop by mine anytime. -Morgan

  10. Neal’s avatar

    Its your own government. They are the Gadianton Robbers.

  11. Philip Wickner’s avatar

    Excellent material on the Gadianton threat. I just published a book titled The New Gadiantons. I believe it will be a wake-up call for many. I would appreciate reviews.

    P. Wickner

  12. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks Phillip. I updated your comment with the link to the book on Digital Legend Library.

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