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:
- Mock: Foolish ordinances and traditions, foolish and vain hopes, dreams, whims, visions, frenzied mind, derangement, pretended mysteries, and silly traditions of the priests.
- Lie: There will be no Christ, there is no atonement for the sins of man, people are not free but in bondage, and you can’t know if prophecies are true.
- Demonize: Priests usurp power to keep people in ignorance, glut themselves on the labors of others, yoke them according to their desires, and prevent people from enjoying their rights and privileges.
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.
In the book of Ether, the bad Jared rebelled against his father Omer, the king, and “did flatter many people, because of his cunning words, until he had gained the half of the kingdom.”32 He then beat his father in battle, but was subsequently ousted by his brothers who returned the kingdom to Omer.
Onto the scene comes Jared’s daughter, exceedingly expert and cunning, and a looker to boot who proves that not all pretzels are men. She schemes that she will marry one Akish if he will deliver Omer’s head to Jared, thus redeeming the kingdom unto her father.33 Nice chick. Wanted grandpa beheaded. Beautiful face; ugly heart.
The lawyers in Ammonihah were also learned in all the arts and cunning of the people, and Zeezrom, chief accuser of Amulek and Alma,was most expert among them -“expert in the devices of the devil.”34
Then there’s Amlici, “a very cunning man, yea, a wise man as to the wisdom of the world [who] had, by his cunning drawn away much people after him” and became very powerful.35
And finally, Amalickiah, “a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words [who] led away the hearts of many people … to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty….”36
Amalickiah’s story, in my opinion, is the best combination of all seven pretzel traits in the Book of Mormon. The formula is all too familiar:
- Have a plan – he was desirous to be a king.37
- Flatter the people and take advantage of whatever disagreements they may have with each other.38
- Build a coalition by bribery – he promised lower judges they would be rulers over the people if they supported him.39
The church wasn’t immune. “And there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah, therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous…”40
Forced to retreat in the face of superior forces when captain Moroni rallied the people, Amalickiah and a small band fled to the Lamanites. Then came Plan B, a two-step approach repeatedly used, as described in Alma 47-49.
- Appear supportive of the powers in place.
- Betray as needed.
Stirring the Lamanites to anger against the people of Nephi, Amalickiah convinced the king they had to go to war, and wrangled command of the loyal part of the army to compel disobedient Lamanites to arms. All to support the king, of course. But, “he being a very subtle man to do evil,” his true plan was to dethrone the dude.41 Hidden agenda time. Maybe even marry the queen.
No condensing of events does justice to this amazing story, but suffice it to say that cunning, intrigue, ingenious deception, multiple betrayals, and murder are all employed. Amalickiah thus obtained power “by fraud and deceit,”42 and was nearing his goal of becoming king over the Nephites when Teancum delivered a pointed rebuttal.43
It also happened in Jaredite times. Akish, having been aroused by the daughter of Jared, betrayed his friendship with Omer the king and, though not successful in delivering Omer’s head, drove Omer out of the land, won the kingship for Jared, and married his daughter. And wouldn’t you know it, he then betrayed his father-in-law with extreme prejudice, and his wife, a great pretzel in her own right, apparently stayed with the jerk and bore him sons. So much for her fake compassion when her father failed to unseat grandpa from the throne, the deal that got the secret-combinations mess started in the first place.44
And in Ammonihah, Alma was given to know Zeezrom’s thoughts: “And thou seest that we know that thy plan was a very subtle plan, as to the subtlety of the devil, for to lie and to deceive this people …” 45 Save for the Lord’s intervention, how long would the plan have remained undiscovered?
The same traits continued to pop up throughout Nephite and Jaredite history.
As part of the path to power and glory, pretzels often revert to stirring up anger and violence.
It begins with harsh words: Sherem contended with Jacob, calling his teachings blasphemy and a perversion of the law of Moses.46
Then anger: Amlici, intending to deprive the people of their religious rights and privileges, and to destroy the church, stirred up anger and caused “much dispute and wonderful contentions.”47 (Such British understatement.)
Lawyers in Ammonihah, among whom Zeezrom was prominent, “…did stir up the people to riotings, and all manner of disturbances and wickedness, that they might have more employ…”48
Nehor contended sharply with Gideon and “endeavored to enforce [priestcraft] by the sword…”49 And slew him in the attempt.
And in the wake of Amalickiah, Ammoron, and king-men: “And there had been murders, and contentions, and dissensions, and all manner of iniquity among the people of Nephi ….”50
A sweet-talker is always an able stir-up.
– – – – –
The situation among the Nephites immediately prior to the Savior’s appearance was dire: “Satan had great power, unto the stirring up of the people to do all manner of iniquity, and to the puffing them up with pride, tempting them to seek for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world.”51
What if we had lived in those days? What would we have done if an eloquent, arrogant, sly flatterer had come among us telling lies, stirring up contention, and hiding his true goals?
What, indeed, would we have done?
* * *
Gary Lawrence is a public opinion pollster and authorwhose most recent book – “Mormons Believe … What?!” – answers 24 common misperceptions about the Church.
Available at all LDS bookstores, at Amazon.com and at parameterfoundation.org.
 Jacob 7:4
 Helaman 2:4
 Mosiah 27:8
 Alma 30:31
 Alma 30:47
 Alma 46:10
 3 Nephi 7:12
 Alma 50:35
 3 Nephi 1:29
 Jacob 7:2
 Mosiah 11:7
 Ether 8:2
 Helaman 2:5
 Mosiah 27:8
 Alma 30:17
 Alma 30:53
 2 Nephi 28:8, Alma 42:19-25, Moroni 8:31
 Alma 1:6
 Ether 8:7
 Mosiah 11:5
 Written about 50 B.C.
 4 Nephi 24-26
 2 Nephi 28:13
 3 Nephi 6:10
 Jacob 2:17
 Alma 51:17
 Alma 30:47
 3 Nephi 1:29
 Isaiah 5:20
 Alma 11:34-37
 Ether 8:2
 Ether 8:8
 Alma 2:1-2
 Alma 46:10
 Alma 46:4
 Alma 45:23
 Alma 46:5
 Alma 46:7
 Alma 47:4
 Alma 48:7
 Alma 51:34
 Ether 8 & 9
 Alma 12:4
 Jacob 7:7
 Alma 2:5
 Alma 11:20
 Alma 1:7-12
 Alma 62:40
 3 Nephi 6:15