Laban (Book of Mormon)

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This article is about Laban, a person in The Book of Mormon. For other uses, see Laban.

Laban (/ˈl.bən/[1]) was the name of a person in the first part of The Book of Mormon, a scripture of the Latter Day Saint movement. Although he only makes a brief appearance in the narrative, his brass plates would play an important role amongst the Nephites, who are the book's main protagonists.

Background[edit]

In the book of First Nephi, chapters three and four, Laban is described as a notable citizen of Jerusalem who commanded great wealth and many servants. Among his possessions was a set of brass plates containing the genealogy of Lehi, a major character in the early portion of the Book of Mormon. Lehi, having left the city with his family in response to God's command, enjoined his four sons to return to Jerusalem and retrieve them: "For behold, Laban hath the record of the Jews and also a genealogy of my forefathers, and they are engraven upon plates of brass."[2] Lehi furthermore stated that this injunction did not originate with himself, but with the Lord, who had spoken to him on this matter in a dream.[3]

Retrieving Laban's brass record[edit]

Lehi's two older sons, Laman and Lemuel, were reluctant to obey their father's order at first, fearful of Laban's power and ruthless reputation. However, Lehi's fourth son, Nephi, vowed that he would obey God's command: "For I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."[4] Accordingly, the four sons of Lehi set out for Jerusalem.

First, Laman went to Laban alone to request the records, but Laban cast Laman out of his house and threatened to kill him.[5] Next, Nephi and his brothers offered all of their valuables to Laban in return for the brass plates. Laban took the family's goods but then refused to keep his end of the deal, ordering his men to slay Lehi's sons.[6]

After fleeing Jerusalem, the elder brothers Laman and Lemuel were angry with Lehi and their younger, more faithful, brothers Sam and Nephi, so they beat their siblings with rods. Suddenly, an angel appeared, commanding the elder duo to desist and all of them to return forthwith to the city, where Laban would fall into their hands. Laman and Lemuel demurred: "Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?"[7] Though Nephi encouraged his brothers by reminding them of God's might, it was only with great reluctance that they agreed to press on.[8]

Undaunted, Nephi slipped back into Jerusalem alone that night, where he soon found Laban lying unconscious in a drunken stupor. The Spirit of God told Nephi to kill Laban with his own sword and seize the records, saying "It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief."[9] After complying, Nephi disguised himself as Laban and entered his house. There he found one of Laban's servants, Zoram, whom he commanded to retrieve the brass plates[10] and to follow him out of the city.[11] Zoram obeyed, joining Nephi and his family in their journey to the New World.

The content of the brass plates[edit]

Upon returning to his family in the wilderness, Nephi turned over the "Plates of Laban" to Lehi, who made a complete inspection of them. Lehi determined that the plates contained:

  • The Five Books of Moses (the Jewish Torah);[12]
  • A history of the Jewish people, down to the reign of [then current] King Zedekiah;[13]
  • The prophecies of the Israelite prophets down to Jeremiah, seen in the Book of Mormon as a contemporary of Lehi;[14] and
  • A genealogy of all the tribes of Israel including a genealogy of Lehi's own ancestors, revealing him to be a descendant of Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob.[15]

After reading the contents of the brass plates, Lehi prophesied that they would "never be dimmed any more by time,"[16] and that they would ultimately "go forth unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people who were of his seed."[17]

Sword of Laban[edit]

When Nephi encountered the unconscious Laban, he noticed that Laban was wearing a fine sword made of "precious steel" with a hilt of "pure gold."[18] After slaying Laban, Nephi took this sword for himself. He would later use it as a model for manufacturing similar weapons for his people's defense.[19]

Apparently Laban's sword was passed down through the centuries to future prophets, kings, and warriors, as it is mentioned many centuries later in the Book of Mormon.[20] Mormon orthodoxy maintains that the sword exists to the present-day, and was hidden away with the Gold Plates found by Joseph Smith, Jr..[21]

Book of the Law of the Lord[edit]

James J. Strang, one of many contenders to succeed Joseph Smith during the 1844 succession crisis, asserted that he had been given the "Plates of Laban" in fulfillment of Lehi's prophecy. His purported translation of them was published in 1851 as The Book of the Law of the Lord: Being a Translation from the Egyptian of the Law Given to Moses in Sinai.[22] In its preface, Strang clearly identifies the "Plates of Laban" as the source for most of his book.[23]

Strang's tome contains none of the material Lehi described in I Nephi 5:11-14, except for a somewhat-revised version of the Ten Commandments. Rather, it embodies a constitution for a Mormon monarchy, wherein the Prophet-leader of the Latter Day Saint church equally rules as king over God's kingdom on earth. It also contains other revelations and teachings unique to Strang. It is possible that Book of the Law was seen by Strang as making up only a portion of the Plates of Laban, rather than the whole.

Seven witnesses testified to having seen and handled the plates Strang claimed to possess. They described the plates as being eighteen in number, each measuring approximately seven and three-eighths inches wide, by nine inches long. The plates themselves were "occasionally embellished with beautiful pictures," and all appeared to be of "beautiful antique workmanship, bearing a striking resemblance to the ancient oriental languages."[24]

The subsequent history of Strang's "Plates of Laban," and their current whereabouts, is a mystery.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Community of Christ churches, the two largest factions of the Latter Day Saint movement, both reject James Strang's claims to prophetic leadership and his Book of the Law of the Lord.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

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