Captain Moroni

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An artist's impression of Captain Moroni, commander of the Nephite forces from approximately 74–56 BC. Digital ZSculpt by Josh Cotton.

According to the Book of Mormon, Captain Moroni was an important Nephite military commander and patriot who lived during the 1st century BC. He is perhaps best known for raising a "title of liberty" as a call to arms for his people to defend their country, family, freedom, peace, and religion.[1] He is first mentioned in the Book of Alma as "the chief captain over the Nephites."[2]

Captain Moroni is presented as a righteous and skilled military commander. Among his accomplishments were his extensive preparations for battle and his fierce defense of the right of the Nephites to govern themselves and worship as they saw fit.

Captain Moroni shares a name with the prophet Moroni; the former is indexed[3] in the LDS edition of the Book of Mormon as Moroni1.

Early command[edit]

According to the Book of Mormon, Moroni was "only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain" of the Nephites.[4] The appointment came in response to a looming war with Lamanites and Zoramites, a force which was led by Zerahemnah and included many Nephite dissenters. The Lamanite army attacked the Nephites in the land of Jershon and the battle ended on the banks of the river Sidon. In this war, Moroni set to work readying the Nephite people with body armor for the first time. He sent spies to investigate the Lamanites' weaknesses, following which he led his troops with the plan to surround those of the Lamanites. Moroni's overriding objective was to defend his people and their right to worship their God as they pleased. Ultimately, Moroni met this objective, which resulted in keeping many of the Lamanites from ever coming to combat against the Nephites again.

Moroni introduced to the Nephites revolutionary strategies in military tactics, safety, and precaution. He kept the people physically safe, while praying, guiding and leading his armies by divine intervention. He was also known by his people for his firm ideology and integrity and willingness to support the causes of personal freedom gaining the people's trust and never failed them.

Title of liberty[edit]

Captain Moroni raises the "Title of Liberty", as found in the 1910 book Cities in the Sun.

Moroni is associated with the "title of liberty", a standard which he raised to rally the Nephites to defend their liberties from a group of dissenters who wanted to establish their leader as a king. Moroni was so angry with Amalickiah's dissention and wicked influence that he tore his coat and wrote upon it, "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children".[5] With these words, he rallied his people to defend their families and their freedom and drove out the armies of Amalickiah. Moroni put to death any dissenters who did not flee and who would not support the cause of freedom, and his “title of liberty” was raised over every Nephite tower.[6]

According to the Book of Mormon, Moroni sought to strengthen the Nephites spiritually so as to be better prepared against the Lamanites, leading Mormon to comment on Moroni's righteousness. [7]

King-men[edit]

Years later, Moroni encountered problems with a group of men called "king-men", who were so called because they wanted to destroy the liberty of the people and replace the chief judge with a king. Moroni had written to Pahoran for help in the war, and the Lamanites attacked before the help could arrive. Moroni wrote again, chastising Pahoran in the process for failing to respond, even threatening to "stir up insurrections" against what he perceived to be the non-responsive government authorities. [8] Pahoran wrote back, saying that the king-men had driven him from the judgment seat and he had been unable to respond to Moroni's requests for assistance. Moroni left command of his armies in the hands of his deputies and led an insurrection of the people against the king-men. The leader of the king-men, Pachus, was killed and his followers were taken prisoner. Moroni and Pahoran regained control of the city of Nephihah, which they had lost, restoring the previous form of government by judges.

Retirement[edit]

After fortifying the Nephites' lands, Moroni transferred command of his armies to his son Moronihah and permanently retired to his own home. Four years later, in the 36th year of the reign of the judges (or approximately 56 B.C.), Moroni died. According to the chronology of years, listing the time from when Moroni took command of the armies at age 25, he would have been approximately 45 years old when he died.

Significance in modern Mormon culture[edit]

The narrative of Captain Moroni plays a significant role in how members of the LDS Church understand and justify the political realities of war and violence.[9] In this context, important aspects of Moroni’s narrative include that he “did not delight in the shedding of blood”, that his warfare was strictly defensive, that he sought the guidance of prophets before battle, and that he did not seek for power.[10][11][9] When the U.S.-led War in Afgahnistan commenced during the LDS Church's October 2001 General Conference, Gordon B. Hinckley announced commencement and referenced the story of Captain Moroni saying, “There are times when we must stand up for right and decency, for freedom and civilization, just as Moroni rallied his people in his day to the defense of their wives, their children, and the cause of liberty.”[12]

Some Mormon authors, such as Nicholeen Peck, have drawn comparisons between the lives of Captain Moroni and General George Washington.[13] Peck writes, "Many many years before George Washington, Captain Moroni did the same thing George Washington did. He wrote the Title of Liberty, and put on his military uniform, to show he would fight for his liberties if it was necessary." Mormon writer Heather Hemingway makes similar observations, noting that "Captain Moroni’s humility and valor is similar to that of George Washington during the winter of 1777-1778."[14]

Modern references by anti-government activists[edit]

In the Book of Mormon, Moroni is a military leader who takes command of an oppressed people and battles a corrupt king for their freedom.[15] Moroni was a righteous general who among many notable accomplishments became angry with his government over its “indifference concerning the freedom of [its] country.”[16] Cliven Bundy—an anti-government activist and a Mormon—has frequently made references to the Book of Mormon in his conflicts with the U.S. government.[15] According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, during the the Bundy family’s 2014 illegal occupation of federally owned lands in Nevada, Bundy used banners quoting Moroni: "In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children."[15]

In 2016, Ammon, a son of Cliven Bundy, used much of the same language as his father, "mixing Mormon religious symbolism with a disgust of the federal government," during an illegal occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. One member of Bundy's anti-government extremist group refused to give any other name to the press than "Captain Moroni, from Utah".[17] The man calling himself "Captain Moroni" was later identified in media reports and a criminal complaint as 34-year-old Dylan Anderson.[18]

On January 4, 2016, the LDS Church released a statement distancing itself from the standoff at the wildlife refuge.[19]

Theorized origin of the name[edit]

Commenting on the name of the angel Moroni, another figure in the Book of Mormon who shared the same name, historian D. Michael Quinn suggested several possible origins for the name "Moroni":[citation needed]

If Smith saw a Salamander on a hill, rather than a toad, this was consistent with magic associations concerning the name Moroni and occult traditions concerning the salamander. For early nineteenth-century Americans, the messenger's name Moroni has several echoes. A simple anagram of Moroni, "Imoron" was a widely published word for a being which poisons, while a poisonous salamander was "Moron" in scientific texts. Centuries before salamander had this scientific name "Moron," occult texts used this animal to illustrate the elemental spirit of fire. "Maron" was also a name of magic invocations.

Mormon scholar Hugh Nibley noted the prevalence of names in the Book of Mormon with the root "mor" and suggested that the root may be of Egyptian origin with the meaning of "beloved".[20]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Alma 43:12
  2. ^ Alma 43:16
  3. ^ Index
  4. ^ Alma 43:16-17
  5. ^ Alma 46:10-12
  6. ^ Alma 46:35-36
  7. ^ Alma 48:16-18
  8. ^ Alma 60:27
  9. ^ a b Wood, Robert S. (1992), "War and Peace", in Ludlow, Daniel H, Encyclopedia of Mormonism 
  10. ^ Nibley, Hugh (1983). "Leaders to Managers: The Final Shift" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16 (4): 12–21. 
  11. ^ Firmage, Edwin B. (1985). "Violence and the Gospel: The Teachings of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon". BYU Studies 25 (1): 31–53. 
  12. ^ Jenkins, Ryan. ""Peaceable Followers of Christ" in Days of War and Contention". Religious Educator 10 (3): 87–102. 
  13. ^ Peck, Nicholeen. "“Give Me [Tree Bark], Or Give Me Death”: Liberty Yesterday And Today". Meridian Magazine. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  14. ^ Hemingway, Heather. "America and the Price of Freedom". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  15. ^ a b c Krule, Miriam (January 5, 2016). "The Mormon Warrior the Bundys Revere Actually Wanted the Government to Do More". Slate. Retrieved January 29, 2016. 
  16. ^ http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimdalrympleii/heres-what-you-need-to-understand-about-mormon-history-if-yo#.xvBPKv2pj
  17. ^ Sepulvado, John (January 4, 2016). "Why the Bundy militia mixes Mormon symbolism with anti-government sentiment". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved January 28, 2016. 
  18. ^ Mesh, Aaron. "Captain Moroni Arraigned in Portland". Williamette Week. Retrieved January 30, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Church Responds to Inquiries Regarding Oregon Armed Occupation". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. January 4, 2016. Retrieved January 28, 2016. 
  20. ^ See Hugh W. Nibley, Teachings of The Book of Mormon, Semester 3, Lecture 71

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Zoram
Nephite military leader
From the 18th year of the reign of the judges, or c. 74 BC, to the 31st-35th years, or 60-57 BC
Succeeded by
Moronihah