Ever wonder what it would have been like to contend with such pretzels as Sherem, Nehor, Korihor, Amalickiah, Akish, Amlici, Zeezrom, et al? Consider the skills and tactics that Book of Mormon prophets had to combat.
No hums, hahs, you knows, and I means in this group’s verbal arsenal.
Sherem: “And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore he could use much flattery, and much power of speech…”1
Gadianton: “… who was exceedingly expert in many words…” 2
Alma (pre-conversion): “And he was a man of many words….”3
Korihor: “And he did rise up in great swelling words …” 4
Absent facility with the language, power seekers will never bend people to their will, short of force of arms.
Hugh Nibley observed: “Every great mischief in the Book of Mormon starts out with a person who is a master of many words, who is very clever and has a cunning knowledge of the language, and who is above all expert at flattering speech.” Further: “If you want to organize a movement, you start out and end up with flattering words, and they always work. Flattering words are those the people want to hear….” 5 In short: I’ll give you what you want, you give me power.
Flattery is associated with more Book of Mormon villains than any other trait: Korihor, 6 Amalickiah, 7 Jacob (an anti-Christ king of a secret combination), 8 Morianton, 9 the Zoramites, 10 Sherem, 11 King Noah and his priests, 12 Jared (not the one of “brother of” fame), 13 the well-known Gadianton, 14 and, of course, early Alma who “did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.” 15
Flattery is enhanced by a charming speaker. The two traits work together because people want to believe the promises of the flatterer, and charm (likability, charisma) eases suspicions, decreases defenses, and lulls the listener into feeling he can trust the guy.
Look at the tactics of Korihor, an anti-Christ. He tells people they have been bound down by foolish traditions and then gives them a get-out-of-jail-free card – that man “prospered according to his genius … and whatsoever a man did was no crime.” 16
If flattering words are those that people want to hear (Nibley) – words that are “pleasing unto the carnal mind…” 17 (Korihor’s admission) – it is difficult to think of a more welcome invitation to that carnal mind than “do whatever you want and there’s no punishment.”
The flattery that consequences can be separated from actions was strongly denounced by Nephi, Alma, and Moroni.18
Although pride is woven into all of Nephite history, Nehor is the poster boy: “And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel, yea, and even began to establish a church after the manner of his preaching.” 19
The bad Jared in Ether sought similar adulation “for he had set his heart upon the kingdom and upon the glory of the world.” 20
Pride is the worship of self. King Noah and his priests “were lifted up in the pride of their hearts,” 21 a generous self-assessment that they were better than others, and laid a 20% tax on the people to support their opulent sloth.
The phrase “lifted up” occurs in the context of pride 22 times in the Book of Mormon, and “puffed up” another five times, obviously indicating a “looking down on” others. The Greek myth of Narcissus hadn’t been written when Lehi left Jerusalem, 22 but if the word narcissistic had been available to the record keepers, surely they would have used it.
Such pride leads to inequality and uncaring arrogance toward others, which leads to class distinctions, and then class warfare and persecution.
“…there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride …and they began to be divided into classes…”23
“…and they persecute the meek and the poor in heart, because in their pride they are puffed up.”24
“…and some were lifted up unto pride and boastings because of their exceedingly great riches, yea, even unto great persecutions….”25
No wonder Jacob (the good one) admonished, “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves…”26 and captain Moroni commanded his army to “pull down” the pride of nobility of the king-men and take up arms in the cause of liberty.27
Pride and liberty are rarely compatible.
Lies and flattery work as a team. Korhihor, possessed with a lying spirit, would have brought many souls down to destruction “by thy lying and by thy flattering words….”28 And the Zoramites led away children of Lamanites “by their lyings and their flattering words…”29
Pretzels rarely trot out lies to stand by themselves. It’s more like a sandwich. They first prep the people by mocking religious practices, then lie and attack the truth, and finish up by demonizing the virtuous.
Korihor out-did himself on this one, all parts of the sandwich found in Alma 30:
Shades of Isaiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil…”30
And what student of the Book of Mormon would not list Zeezrom’s twisting of Amulek’s words in their saved-in-their-sins/from-their-sins debate as an example of intention to mislead? 31
Sometimes a lie is only a preposition away.