The true predictive power of the Nephite record becomes apparent as we focus on the period of time recorded near the end of Helaman and move forward into 3 Nephi. As we do so, we find that their history reads like our recent newspaper headlines.
The many stunning similarities between Nephite and American history now include the advent of institutionalized terrorism. Their war with the Gadianton robbers plunged the Nephites into a new kind of battle for freedom, just as has happened in our recent history.
Gone were the old struggles between two historic enemies — the Nephites and the Lamanites in Helaman’s time, the East and the West in our time. The Gadianton robbers, like today’s terrorist counterparts, were an entirely new element — a third column, if you will — that fought an entirely new kind of war against both sides.
The modern terrorists are easily recognizable in the reflection of the robbers.
"And they [the Gadianton robbers] did commit murder and plunder; and then they would retreat back into the mountains, and into the wilderness and secret places, hiding themselves that they could not be discovered, receiving daily an addition to their numbers, inasmuch as there were dissenters that went forth unto them." (Helaman 11:25.)
As with the terrorists in our time, the Gadianton robbers had no formal government with which the Nephites or Lamanites could negotiate, nor were they located in a country with recognizable borders. Instead, they sought refuge in "the mountains," "wilderness" areas and "secret places," just as do today’s terrorists.
In their time, as in ours, things went from bad to worse in short order.
"And thus in time, yea, even in the space of not many years, they became an exceedingly great band of robbers …
"Now behold, these robbers did make great havoc, yea, even great destruction among the people of Nephi, and also among the people of the Lamanites." (Helaman 11:26, 27.)
The destruction of the World Trade Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001 certainly qualifies as "great destruction" by terrorists in our time. Also evident in this verse is the fact that, as in Book of Mormon times, our recent history consists of nations that once divided themselves into two camps — East and West — both on the receiving end of terrorist tactics, which include threats, destruction and warfare.
So, we took the initiative, just as our Nephite cousins did.
"And it came to pass that it was expedient that there should be a stop put to this work of destruction; therefore they [the Nephites] sent an army of strong men into the wilderness and upon the mountains to search out this band of robbers, and to destroy them." (Helaman 11:28.)
Americans, united in their resolve to defeat terrorism in the wake of 9/11, sent armies into "the wilderness" and "upon the mountains" of Afghanistan and Iraq in order to put "a stop" to the terrorists’ "work of destruction."
But just as happened in Nephite times, our war against terror has not gone all that well. These and the following verses could be torn from our recent headlines!
"But behold, it came to pass that in that same year they were driven back even into their own lands …
"[In the next year] they did go forth again against this band of robbers, and did destroy many; and they were also visited with much destruction." (Helaman 11:30.)
As often as we launch initiatives against the terrorists, they strike back with numerous attacks as in Spain, England and Russia, for example.
"And they were again obliged to return out of the wilderness and out of the mountains unto their own lands, because of the exceeding greatness of the numbers of those robbers who infested the mountains and the wilderness." (Helaman 11:31.)
The equivalence of these verses brings us right up to our present, where our struggle against the terrorists has bogged down, necessitating a "surge" of more troops.
"… And the robbers did still increase and wax strong insomuch that they did defy the whole armies of the Nephites and also of the Lamanites; and they did cause great fear to come upon the people upon all the face of the land." (Helaman 11:32.)
That terrorist-instigated death, destruction and kidnapping in our time has had the same effect is beyond dispute.
"Yea, for they did visit many parts of the land, and did do great destruction unto them; yea, did kill many, and did carry away others captive into the wilderness …." (Helaman 11:33.)
The Nephite record gives the name of the Gadianton robbers’ leader as Giddianhi. Terrorism also has a name in our time: Osama bin Laden. The Nephites called their nemesis the Gadianton robbers. In our complex world they are known by several names: the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Hezsbollah and Hamas, to name only a few.
The bad news for us, because we could suffer the same fate, is that no Nephite army could prevail against the robbers.
"For so strong were their holds and their secret places that the people could not overpower them; therefore they did commit many murders, and did do much slaughter among the people.
"… the Nephites were threatened with utter destruction because of this war, which had become exceedingly sore." (3 Nephi 1:27.)
We, in our time, are faced with an equally intractable foe and a prolonged struggle to free ourselves of such intimidation and violence, to defeat an enemy who has sworn our "utter destruction."
It is unlikely that events in our time will play out exactly like those of Nephite times. Still, the similarities are striking and well worth keeping in mind because they give us a cognitive lens that we can use to bring into focus the events of our time.
Eventually the toll taken by Gadianton terrorism became so great that two historical enemies, the Nephites and the Lamanites, combined efforts to eradicate their common foe.
"… the Gadianton robbers had become so numerous, and did slay so many of the people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land, that it became expedient that all the people, both the Nephites and the Lamanites, should take up arms against them." (3 Nephi 2:11)
The implication of the parallel histories thesis is that much the same thing will happen in our time.
The struggle in Nephite times drug on for years and was a painful, prolonged affair that seemed impervious to solution. To make things worse, the Nephites and their leaders apparently argued among themselves about how to defeat this powerful enemy.
"And in the fifteenth year they [the robbers] did come forth against the people of Nephi; and because of the wickedness of the people of Nephi, and their many contentions and dissentions, the Gadianton robbers did gain many advantages over them." (3 Nephi 2:18.)
We see the same political "contentions and dissentions" in our case, giving aid and comfort to our enemies.
Battle after battle, the Nephites could not prevail over the robbers until their leader, governor Lachoneus, hit upon a remarkable if not extreme solution.
"Yea, he sent a proclamation among all the people, that they should gather together their women, and the children, their flocks and their herds, and all their substance, save it were their land, unto one place.
"And he caused that fortifications should be built round about them, and the strength thereof should be exceedingly great. And he caused that armies … should be placed as guards round about to watch them, and to guard them from the robbers day and night." (3 Nephi 3:13,14.)
Then, Lachoneus appointed a "chief captain" of the armies, named Gidgiddoni, who implemented the final steps in the stratagem to draw the Gadianton robbers out of hiding, making them vulnerable.
"… we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us …." (3 Nephi 3:21.)
We may yet be forced to adopt draconian measures, as the Nephites did, to defeat this enemy. Recall that every attempt to bring the robbers to justice met with failure until the Nephites hit upon a seemingly harsh and radical strategy as enunciated by Lachoneus and Gidgiddoni. After two pitched battles, one of which was the greatest known to that point in Nephite history, the Gadianton robbers were finally annihilated.
The Nephites’ success over terrorism is heartening, but their prolonged struggle portends difficult times ahead for us. It suggests that we will overcome terrorism in our time, too, but not without tremendous sacrifice.
Make no mistake. This eventuality, too, will play out in our time much like it did in Nephite times. We are not carbon copies, but we are unmistakable reflections.
This comparison also makes an open-and-shut case for the theory that the Book of Mormon is as much prophecy as history. We and our Nephite cousins are nearly indistinguishable. Therefore, the history of one becomes the prophecy of the other.
No wonder Mormon felt compelled to write his marvelous book. In his place, any of us who love the gospel and the work would want to do the same.
© Anthony E. Larson, 2007