Jared on the Steppes

Chapter 3

The Moving Host

Ether’s account of “crossing the plains” is an Asiatic idyll. Nothing essential is missing. First of all, the steppe is darkened by “flocks, both male and female, of every kind,” and if we look more closely fowl, fish, even bees, and “seed of the earth of every kind” are not wanting. Moreover the brother of Jared was instructed to admit to his company anyone whom he felt like taking: “also Jared thy brother and his family; and also thy friends and their families, and the friends of Jared and their families” (Ether 1:41). Here is another striking contrast with the Lehi story: unlike the people of the sands, these ancients do not form their societies on the basis of blood relationship—the friends of Jared and the friends of his brother are two separate groups, as they would not be if they were relatives. Apparently whoever is a friend is a supporter and member of the tribe, and this rule, significantly enough, has been a basic law of Asiatic society from the earliest recorded times, when the formula “I counted them among my people” was applied to whatever people a king could subdue, regardless of race or language.1

All these families with their herds and their baggage moved through the valleys and out over the plains with the intent and expectation of becoming “a great nation” and finding a promised land; in all of which they are typical Asiatic nomads of the old school, as a few examples should make clear.

Ammianus Marcellinus, writing in the fourth century A.D., describes the Alans on the march as resembling “a moving city.” All the people of Asia migrate in the same way, he explains, driving vast herds before them as they go, mounted on the backs of beasts, with their families and household effects following along on great ox-drawn wagons. In spite of their wealth of cattle, says Ammianus, the people hunt and plunder as they go.2 The Huns, who defeated and supplanted the Alans, kept the same customs, as in turn did their successors, and so on,3 until in the thirteen century William of Rubruck, traveling as a spy and observer for Louis IX of France, uses almost the very words of Ammianus: “On the next day we met with the carts of the Scacatai laden with houses, and I thought that a mighty city came to meet me. I wondered also at the huge droves of oxen, and horses, and at the flocks of sheep.”4 In the present century Pumpelly describes how “a thousand Kirghiz families descended from the passes round about, with their long camel trains caparisoned and rich-laden with nomadic wealth, and each caravan with its flocks of sheep and goats, herds of camels and cattle and horses.”5 Note that the herds of all these people consist of every type of animal—to us an almost inconceivable mix-up: “flocks of every kind,” says Ether, who seems to know what he is talking about. If you want to move backward in the time scale, you will find at an age far more remote from Ammianus than he is from our own, the annals of the Assyrian kings swarming with the same huge herds of cattle, sheep, horses, camels, and human beings, all mixed up together and moving across the plains either as prisoners of mighty conquerors or as seekers after escape and security in some promised land.6 It is a touching and tragic picture, that of the wandering tribes ever seeking for new homelands—promised lands where they might settle and become “mighty nations.” Almost without exception these people, however terrible they may appear to us or to the weaker tribes that lay in their way, were actually refugees who had been driven from their native farms and pastures by the pressure of still other tribes who in the end had been forced to move by the common necessity which the weather imposes from time to time on the users of marginal and sub-marginal grasslands.7

If the Jaredites mixed their cattle, they also seem to have mixed their professions, and you might well ask, what were they: hunters, herdsmen, or farmers? You might ask the same of any normal Asiatic society and get the same answer: They are all three. McGovern repeatedly points out that the tribes of the steppes have at all times been hunters, herdsmen, and farmers all at once. 8 And in my recent studies on the state I have shown that they were the original city builders to the bargain. All the tribes we have just mentioned, for example, were expert hunters, though none lacked animals in plenty. Typical is the case of the Manchu-Solons who when murrain destroyed their herds took to farming, yet they “plough no more than hunger compels them to, and in years when game is plentiful they do not plough at all,”9 that is, they are hunters, cattlemen, or cultivators as conditions require or permit. Let us be careful, then, not to oversimplify our picture of what life was like in the first civilizations and dream up Cecil B. DeMille ideas about “primitive” conditions that never existed.

It is a remarkable thing that mention of flocks of any kind is conspicuously absent from the history of Lehi, though that story is told in considerable detail. What an astonishing contrast! The one group hastening away from Jerusalem in secrecy to live a life of hunting and hiding in the desert and almost dying of starvation, and the other accepting volunteers, as it were, from all sides, moving out in a sort of massive front, driving innumerable beasts before them and carrying everything from libraries to hives of bees and tanks of fish! It would be hard to conceive of two more diametrically opposite types of migration, yet each fits perfectly with the customs and usages recorded throughout history for the part of the world to which the Book of Mormon assigns it.

But how could the Jaredites have carried all that stuff with them? The same way other Asiatics have always done—in wagons. And such wagons! “Measuring once the breadth between the wheel ruts of one of their carts,” William of Rubruck reports, “I found it to be twenty feet over. . . . I counted twenty-two oxen in one team, drawing a house upon a cart . . . the axletree of the cart was of huge size, like the mast of a ship.”10 Marco Polo saw the houses of the Tartars mounted “upon a sort of cart with four wheels.”11 Seventeen hundred years before Marco Polo, Xenophon beheld enormous wagons on the plains of Asia, drawn by eight yokes of oxen,12 and yet a thousand years earlier we have reports of how the Philistines rolled into Palestine with their families and their possessions loaded on huge, solid-wheeled affairs drawn by four oxen.13 To this day the archaic type of wagon has survived in the immense ceremonial wagons of India and the huge cars in which such plainsmen as the Buriats carry their gods across the steppes.14 But can we say the wagon is possibly as old as the Jaredites?

In all probability it is. We now have a few samples of such high antiquity as to come within hailing distance of the flood itself, and these vehicles have already acquired the form and perfection which they are to keep without major alteration for thousands of years to come. The teams and wagons from the royal tombs at Ur, the el-Agar chariot found in 1937, the Khafaje car, prehistoric wagon tracks everywhere, all point to the great antiquity and central Asiatic origin of the wagon.15 The last-named vehicle, dating from the fourth millennium B.C., was horse-drawn and justifies Gertrud Hermes in her conclusion that the horse was not only known “but actually used, at least in some places, as a draught animal with war chariots” at a surprisingly early date.16

H. G. Wells once wrote a vivid description of how a primitive man swinging from a branch one day landed to his surprise on the back of a grazing horse that happened to walk under his tree. Such an event, he believes, would account most logically for the discovery of the art of riding. Perhaps it would, but that is not the way it happened according to the present-day consensus, which is that “driving everywhere preceded riding.” Nay, McGovern tells how at a relatively recent date “the Scythians and Sarmatians hit upon the brilliant and original notion of mounting the animal they had long been accustomed to drive.”17 It is generally agreed that ox-drawn vehicles were older than horse-drawn, but both go back to the fourth millennium B.C., and though it would have been possible for the Jaredites to go afoot, as the Mongols themselves did as late as the sixth century B.C., it would not have been possible for them in such circumstances to have carried bird cages, beehives, and tanks of fish with them. There is not the slightest objection to their using wagons, especially since they had no shortage of beasts to pull them.

Concerning Deseret18

My dear Professor F.:

By all odds the most interesting and attractive passenger in Jared’s company is deseret, the honeybee. We cannot pass this creature by without a glance at its name and possible significance, for our text betrays an interest in deseret that goes far beyond respect for the feat of transporting insects, remarkable though that is. The word deseret, we are told (Ether 2:3), “by interpretation is a honeybee,” the word plainly coming from the Jaredite language, since Ether (or Moroni) must interpret it. Now it is a remarkable coincidence that the word deseret, or something very close to it, enjoyed a position of ritual prominence among the founders of the classical Egyptian civilization, who associated it very closely with the symbol of the bee. The people, the authors of the so-called Second Civilization, seem to have entered Egypt from the northeast as part of the same great outward expansion of peoples that sent the makers of the classical Babylonian civilization into Mesopotamia. 19 Thus we have the founders of the two main parent civilizations of antiquity entering their new homelands at approximately the same time from some common center—apparently the same center from which the Jaredites also took their departure, but more of this later. What concerns us here is that the Egyptian pioneers carried with them a fully developed cult and symbolism from their Asiatic home.20 Chief among their cult objects would seem to be the bee, for the land they first settled in Egypt was forever after known as “the land of the bee,” and was designated in hieroglyphic by the picture of a bee, while every king of Egypt “in his capacity of ‘King of Upper and Lower Egypt’ ” bore the title, “he who belongs to the sedge and the bee.”21

From the first, students of hieroglyphic were puzzled as to what sound value should be given to the bee-picture.22 By the New Kingdom, according to Sethe, the Egyptians themselves had forgotten the original word,23 and Grapow designates the bee-title of honor as “unreadable.”24 Is it not strange that such a common and very important word should have been forgotten? What happened? Something not at all unusual in the history of cult and ritual, namely the deliberate avoidance or prohibition of the sacred word. We know that the bee sign was not always written down, but in its place the picture of the Red Crown, the majesty of Lower Egypt was sometimes “substituted . . . for superstitious reasons.”25 If we do not know the original name of the bee, we do know the name of this Red Crown—the name it bore when it was substituted for the bee. The name was dsrt (the vowels are not known, but we can be sure they were all short); the “s” in dsrt had a heavy sound, perhaps best represented by “sh,” but designated by a special character—an “s” with a tiny wedge above it by which the Egyptians designated both their land and crown they served. Now when the crown appears in place of the bee, it is sometimes called bit “bee,”26 yet the bee, though the exact equivalent of the crown, is never by the same principle called dsrt. This certainly suggests deliberate avoidance, especially since dsrt also means “red,” a word peculiarly applicable to bees. If the Egyptians were reluctant to draw the picture of the bee “for superstitious reasons,” they would certainly hesitate to pronounce its true name. As meaning “red” the word could be safely uttered, but never as meaning “bee.” A familiar parallel immediately comes to mind. To this day no one knows how the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, is to be pronounced, because no good Jew would dare to pronounce it even if he knew, but instead when he sees the written word always substitutes another word, Adonai, in its place to avoid uttering the awful sound of the Name. Yet the combination of sounds HWH is a common verb root in Hebrew and as such used all the time. There are other examples of such substitution in Hebrew, and there must have been many in hieroglyphic which, as Kees points out, is really a kind of double talk.

That the Egyptians deliberately avoided calling the bee deseret while applying the name to things symbolized by it and even substituted for it is further indicated by another remarkable fact. The bee symbol spread in other directions from its original home, wherever that was, enjoying a prominent place in the royal mysteries of the Hittites, turning up in that living archive of prehistory, the Kalevala, and even surviving in the Easter rites of certain nations. In all of these the bee is the agent through which the dead king or hero is resurrected from the dead, and it is in this connection that the bee also figures in the Egyptian rites.27 Now the original “deseret” people, the founders of the Second Civilization, “the intellectuals of On,” claimed that their king, and he alone, possessed the secret of resurrection. That, in fact, was the cornerstone of their religion; it was nothing less than “the king’s secret,” the power over death by which he held his authority both among men and in the hereafter.28 If the bee had any part in the profoundly secret royal resurrection rites of the Old Kingdom—and how else can we account for its presence in later and more popular versions of the same rites?—it is plain why its real name and office were carefully concealed from the world. Furthermore, that the dsrt-crown is the “bee-crown” is, I believe, clearly indicated by the most prominent feature of the crown, namely the long antenna that protrudes from the base of it and which in the oldest drawings is not elaborately curled, as later, but exactly resembles the extremely long and prominent antennae on the earliest hieroglyphic bees. Some entomologists have maintained that the bee-sign is not a bee at all, but a hornet, and certain Egyptologists have accordingly read it as such; this makes the business even more mysterious, however, since it leaves the honey-loving Egyptians without a word for bee, indicating a perfect censorship of the name. I am personally persuaded that the archaic and ritual designation of the bee was deseret, a “word of power” too sacred to be entrusted to the vulgar, being one of the keys to “the king’s secret.”

In certain editions of the Book of Mormon, though not the first, the word deseret is capitalized, for the editors have recognized that it is really a title, “which by interpretation is a honeybee,” as distinct from the “swarms of bees” which also went along. In that case one might be justified, though we will not insist on it, in seeing in Deseret the national symbol or as it were the totem of Jared’s people,29 since the author of our record seems to attach unusual importance to it. Through the prehistoric haze we seem dimly to descry the tribes moving outward from a common center somewhere to the north of Mesopotamia to plant a common civilization in various regions of the earth. “All the major migrations without exception,” writes Eduard Meyer, “which repeatedly in the course of world history have changed the face of the European-Asiatic continent . . . have moved into the distant regions of the west from a point in Central Asia.”30 And of all these great waves of expansion the most important moved under the aegis of the life-giving bee.

We need not resort to speculation, however, to make out an interesting case for deseret. Let us list the known facts and let it go at that. (1) The Jaredites in their wanderings took with them “a honeybee” which they called in their language deseret, as well as “hives of bees.” (2) The founders of the Second Civilization of Egypt had the bee as the symbol of their land, their king, and their empire, to all of which they applied the designation deseret, or something very close to it.31 (3) Though they never called the bee itself dsrt, the sign which is often “for superstitious reasons” written in its place is so designated. (4) The bee sign was always regarded by the Egyptians as very sacred: “As a determinative,” says Sethe, “it is significant to note that it is always placed before any of the others.”32 As is well known, such priority is the prerogative of the holiest objects only in the writing of hieroglyphic. Its extreme sacredness and its role in top-secret ritual amply explain, nay, all but demand, that suppression of its true name in the reading of texts.

To come down to modern times, it is to say the least a very picturesque coincidence that when the Lord’s people migrated to a promised land in these latter days, they called the land Deseret and took for the symbol of their society and their government the honeybee. The book of Ether is of course directly responsible for this, but it is hard to see how the book can have produced such a striking repetition of history without itself having a real historical basis. When a historical record of any period names persons and institutions that actually existed, it is always assumed that the record insofar as those things are concerned has authentic ties with the past. Both deseret and the honeybee seem quite at home in the twilight world of prehistory, alternately concealing and explaining each other, but never very far apart. The numerous ties and parallels that in the end must clear up the matter still await investigation. Suffice it for the present to show that such evidence does exist.

As a naturalist you will no doubt protest at this point that the bee was unknown in ancient America, having first been introduced into the New World by the white man in the seventeenth century. There are seven references to bees or honey in the Book of Mormon, and without exception they all belong to the Old World. Lehi’s wanderers, starved for sweets, gloried as Arabs always do in the discovery of honey—but that was in Arabia. The Jaredites carried hives of bees from Babel into the wilderness for a journey of many years, but there is no mention of bees in the cargo of their ships (Ether 5:4)—a significant omission, since our author elsewhere goes out of his way to mention them. The survival of the word bee in the New World after the bees themselves had been left behind is a phenomenon having many parallels in the history of language, but the Book of Mormon nowhere mentions bees or honey as existing in the Western Hemisphere.

Early Asiatic and Jaredite Civilization: a General View

A few lines above I suggested that the Jaredites were but one of “various tribes moving outward in all directions from a common center . . . to plant a common protohistoric civilization in various regions of the earth.” I was thinking in terms of the latest researches, and it did not occur to me at the time that the picture of the great dispersion is exactly that depicted in the Bible and Book of Mormon. If we are to believe these, a single civilization was spread throughout the world in the beginning, and historians have now learned that such was actually the case. Scholars no longer argue as to whether Egypt or Mesopotamia was the true founder of civilization, for we now know that both were derived from a common source, “a world civilization, spread over an immense area and by no means localized in the Orient.” With the finding of the royal cemeteries at Ur scholars began to suspect that both Egypt and Babylonia took their civilization “from an unknown common source,” which “in the beginning at least,” united all the civilizations of the world in a single world civilization, of which all subsequent civilizations are but variations on a theme.33 In my recent studies on the origin of the super-state I have tried to show that the original heart and center of this world civilization is to be located somewhere in central Asia, from which the conquering hordes have periodically spilled over into the provincial or peripheral areas of India, China, Egypt, and Europe, there to establish kingly and priestly dynasties. And now it would seem that the New World must be included in this Asiatic system, for Professor Frankfort reports that “in such striking cases as the early Chinese bronze, or the design of Mexican sculpture or of the Northwest American Indians, one must reckon to a greater extent than most of us were hitherto prepared to admit, with the possibility of diffusion from Eastern Europe and the Middle East.”34 A few years ago this would have been high treason to American archaeologists. Now it serves as another indication of the unity of world civilization which we are beginning to realize was as characteristic of ancient as of modern history.

In the case of the Nephites, it was possible to locate exactly the Old World centers of culture from which their civilization sprang. Can we do the same for the Jaredites? I think so, for they came from that region that served in ancient times as a veritable martialing area for world invasions. That is where their culture belongs and where it fits. It is still too early to attempt a detailed picture of life in the days of the dispersion. “The archaeology of nomad central Asia is still in its infancy, . . .” writes G. N. Roerich; “a new branch of historical science is coming into being, the object of which will be to formulate laws that will build up the nomad state and to study the remains of a great forgotten past.”35 But the general picture begins to take form. Let me quickly sketch for you the rough outline.

The basic fact is space—vast expanses of grassland, woods, and mountains, where hunters and herdsmen have ranged since time immemorial, trespassing on each other’s territory, raiding each other’s settlements, stealing each other’s cattle, grimly escaping and pursuing each other by turns. In good times the tribes multiply and there is crowding; in bad times they are forced to invade each other’s lands in search of grass. The result is chronic chaos, a condition which has been a standing challenge to the genius and ambition of men with a talent for leadership. Periodically the Great Man appears in Asia to unite his own jangling tribesmen in fanatical devotion to himself, subdue his neighbors one after another, and finally by crushing a great coalition bring all resistance to an end, and at last bring “peace and order” to the world. The endless expanse of the steppes and the lack of any natural boundaries call for statesmanship in the grand manner, both the concept and techniques of empire being in fact of Asiatic origin. For a time one mind nearly succeeds in ruling the world, but a quick reckoning comes when the Great Man dies. In a wild scramble for the throne among his ambitious relatives the world-empire promptly collapses: Space, the force that produced the super-state, now destroys it by allowing disgruntled and scheming heirs and pretenders to go off by themselves to distant regions and found new states with the hope in time of absorbing all the others and restoring world dominion. The chaos of the steppes is not the primitive disorder of small savage tribes accidentally colliding from time to time in their wanderings. It is rather, and always has been, a shrewd game of chess, played by men of boundless ambition and formidable intellect with mighty armies at their disposal.36

Now to return to the Jaredites. Their whole history is the tale of a fierce and unrelenting struggle for power. The book of Ether is a typical ancient chronicle, a military and political history relieved by casual references to the wealth and splendor of kings. You will note that the whole structure of Jaredite history hangs on a succession of strong men, most of them rather terrible figures. Few annals of equal terseness and brevity are freighted with an equal burden of wickedness. The pages of Ether are dark with intrigue and violence, strictly of the Asiatic brand. When a rival for the kingdom is bested, he goes off by himself in the wilderness and bides his time while gathering an “army of outcasts.” This is done by “drawing off” men to himself through lavish bestowal of gifts and bribes. The forces thus won are retained by the taking of terrible oaths. When the aspirant to the throne finally becomes strong enough to dispose of his rivals by assassination, revolution, or a pitched battle, the former bandit and outlaw becomes king and has to deal in turn with a new crop of rebels and pretenders. It is exactly as if one were reading Arabshah’s grim and depressing Life of Timur, the biography of a typical Asiatic conqueror, with its dark allusions to the supernatural and especially to the works of the devil. It is a strange, savage picture of nightmare politics that the book of Ether paints, but it is historically a profoundly true picture. Take a few examples from the Old World.

In the oldest records of the race we find the supreme god, founder of the state and cult, “winning his way to the throne by battle, often by violence against family predecessors, which generally involves horrific and obscene incidents.”37 The “abominations of the ancients” about which Ether has a good deal to say are thus seen to have a respectable antiquity. There is now ample reason for believing that the oldest empires known to us were by no means the first, and that the familiar processes go back to prehistoric times: “Empires must have been formed and destroyed then as they were to be later on.”38 Such empires “were not the result of gradual expansion or development but rapidly became enormous empires under the leadership of a single great man,” McGovern observes, “and under the reign of his successors slowly but surely declined,” though in many cases they “disintegrate immediately after the death of their founders.”39

The fugitive who gathers forces in the wilderness40 by “drawing off” people from his rival is a strictly conventional figure on the steppes. That is the way every great conqueror begins. Lu Fang, “the leader of a small military band, half soldiers, half bandits,” nearly won the Hunnish and Chinese empires for himself two thousand years ago, and would have done so had not some of his own ambitious officers deserted him just as he had deserted others.41 It was after cheating his brother of the throne that Attila “sought to subdue the foremost nations of the world,”42 and after his death two of his descendants went out into the wilderness, and there gathered about them “armies of outcasts,” each hoping to win back the world empire for himself.43 You will remember that Jenghiz Khan lived for years as an outcast and a bandit as he gathered around him the forces that were to conquer all his rivals, and that those forces were actually “drawn off” from the armies of the rivals themselves. Under the nomad system, “the leaders, the bagadurs and noyans, strove to become independent, by attracting subjects and followers of their own.”44 The great rulers of Asia have regularly passed from the risky station of bandit chief to the hardly less risky one of world monarch—and back again, in a world where “every man was filled with the desire to become an independent prince,” and every prince to become lord of all.45 “The boldest . . . adventurers flocked eagerly to the banner of the new and successful chieftain of their race,” in the beginning as in our own day, when all the youth of central Asia rallied to the standard of the fifteen-year-old Ma Chung-ying as he “calmly worked out a plan for the conquest of the whole world.”46

Not only is the Jaredite practice of seeking to “draw off” to one’s own side the followers of a rival while building up an army in the wilderness in the best Asiatic tradition, but the method of doing it is likewise in the best accepted tradition.47 Thus Akish bound his followers around the nucleus of his family (the Asiatic conquerors are fanatically family conscious) by lavish gifts, for “the people of Akish were desirous for gain, even as Akish was desirous for power; wherefore, the sons of Akish did offer them money, by which means they drew away the more part of the people after them” (Ether 9:11). It was the sons of Jenghiz Khan, you will remember, who did most of his campaigning for him, and from the very beginning the secret of his power was the huge heap of precious things that always stood near his throne and from which, after the immemorial custom of the steppes, he rewarded all who joined him.48 In the sixth century Menander, a Roman ambassador to the court of the Grand Khan, beheld five hundred wagons full of gold, silver, and silken garments, that accompanied the monarch on his wanderings,49 for “the ancient law of the Khans” was that none enters the presence of the ruler empty-handed nor departs hence unrewarded.50 The pattern of steppe imperialism, according to Vernadsky, begins with “accumulated wealth in the hands of some able chieftain,” which enables him to expand his popularity among neighboring clans.51 All observers of the Asiatic system have commented on the dedicated zeal with which the men of the steppes devote themselves to two objectives—power and gain. They are inseparable, of course, and each begets the other, but nowhere is all government put on such a frankly mercenary basis as in Asia, where the most venal ambassadors of the West have been embarrassed equally by the frankness and the astuteness of their Asiatic hosts to whom all life is simply a business deal. That this quality is peculiar to Jaredite society appears from the fact that the twin motives of power and gain receive far more attention in the book of Ether than anywhere else in the Book of Mormon, as a glance at the concordance will show.

But if the ambitious chieftain gains adherents by bribery, he keeps them by oaths. The oath is the cornerstone of the Asiatic state of the Jaredite. Akish again furnishes an excellent example:

     And it came to pass that Akish gathered in unto the house of Jared all his kinsfolk, and said unto them: Will ye swear unto me that ye will be faithful unto me in the thing which I shall desire of you?

And it came to pass that they all sware unto him, by the God of heaven, and also by the heavens, and also by the earth, and by their heads, that whoso should vary from the assistance which Akish desired should lose his head. . . .

And Akish did administer unto them the oaths which were given by them of old who also sought power, which had been handed down even from Cain (Ether 8:13—15).

Note that these terrible oaths are traced back explicitly to the Old World. The very oldest texts in “the oldest language in the world,” according to Hommel, are incantations “having the stereotyped conclusion: ‘let it be sworn (or conjured) by the name of heaven, let it be sworn by the name of earth!’ “52 From the flood of documents that have come forth of recent years to teach us the ways of men at the dawn of history, it is apparent that oaths, conspiracies, and combinations were the established order of things from the beginning. What better illustration of this could one ask than the great Babylonian New Year’s hymn, the “Enuma Elish,” in which Tiamat, aiming at the rule of the universe, “draws off” the gods to her side, so that “they conspire unceasingly night and day” against the rightful ruler, and “gather themselves together in a host to make battle.” When he heard the news, the true king sat upon his throne “grim and silent, without saying a word,” then “He smote his thigh, he bit his lips, controlled his voice,” and finally gave the order to assemble his army—which by formal acclamation took the oath of allegiance to its leader Marduk.53 This story, which goes back to the beginning of things (the actual text comes from the first Babylonian dynasty),54 is no mere primitive fantasy: it is the authentic and familiar picture of the great khan who learns that a relative and a rival is raising an army against him in the wilderness.

The story of the rise and career of any great conqueror is a long catalog of terrible oaths taken and broken. The most solemn of these oaths are sealed by the drinking of blood, as when “the King of the Commains . . . caused the [Emperor of Constantinople] and their people . . . to be blooded, and each drank alternately of the other’s blood.”55 The study of the oldest annals of Asia conducts us, as does the study of the oldest languages, into a world of oaths and covenants.56 And why should this be so? The explanation is simple, for the purpose of the oath is to bind—the Egyptian word for “oath,” to give one example, is simply ankh, originally a “knot.” In a world of vast open spaces and limited population, where wandering nomads may take independence for themselves by hunting beasts or driving cattle over limitless grasslands, how can men be bound to any spot or leader? They must be tied by oaths, because there is no other way of holding them. Of course every effort was made to render the oath as binding, that is, as terrible, as possible, and of course such oaths were broken whenever convenient. The ease with which men of the steppes can pass from one camp to another has always kept their kings in a state of suspicious alert, so that Asiatic monarchy is at all times enveloped in a stifling—and very Jareditish—atmosphere of suspicion and intrigue.

Mithra rules, says the Avesta, by virtue of his ten thousand spies, which make him alone of all kings undeceivable.57 This is the institution of “the King’s eyes” and “the King’s ears,” perfected by the Persians and inherited by the monarchs of many lands. The success of any conspiracy against such watchful royalty depends therefore on secrecy and surprise before all else, and so we have as the unfailing adjunct and nemesis of Asiatic kingship the secret society, investing all life with a paralyzing sense of insecurity, as Hoernes notes, and overthrowing dynasties and empires in a single night. 58 Asia’s gift to the world has many times saved the world from Asia’s rule, for how many an Assyrian, Persian, or Mongol conqueror has had to turn his back on the West just as he stood on the verge of world conquest, to quench the fires of rebellion set by the secret conspiracies of relatives behind his back! The normal constitution of Asiatic empire, write Huart and Delaporte, is “despotism tempered by dethronement and assassination,” in which the clergy play the leading role.59 For better or for worse, every ruler of the steppes, however great his personal power and prestige, has to reckon on the presence of a class of ambitious and powerful priests—usually shamans. Even Jenghiz Khan, the mightiest of them all, was nearly pushed from his throne by an ambitious high priest, and at the dawn of history more than one such high priest seized the rule for himself.60 The case of the brother of Shared, whose “high priest murdered him as he sat upon his throne” (Ether 14:9), is, then, thoroughly typical, and that by no mere coincidence. For we are not only told that the system was inherited “from them of old” and perpetuated by the same methods of secret societies, family compacts, bribes, oaths, assassinations, etc., as in the Old World, but we are given a clear image of the physical background of the whole thing.

We are told, for example, how a son of King Akish, enraged at his father for the inhuman death of his brother by starvation (how typical!), went out and joined the growing hosts of the deposed King Omer, who since he had been overthrown by a “secret combination of Akish and his friends” had been dwelling in tents and gathering strength for a comeback (Ether 9:3, 9). Note the apparent fluidity of Jaredite society—the possibility of large parties of people wandering here and there over a sparsely settled continent. Note also how closely conditions “upon the face of this north country” duplicate those prevailing in the same latitudes on the other side of the world, where much the same landscape also prevails. This, we shall see later, is very significant, for it plainly points to the possible origin of much of the Indian way of life among the hunters and nomads of Asia at a very early date: the very thesis that has so often been thrown up as the strongest argument against the Book of Mormon is first propounded by the Book of Mormon itself! But more of this later.


1.   Hugh W. Nibley, “The Hierocentric State,” WPQ 4 (1951): 245—46.

2.   Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum XXXI, 2, esp. sections 18—22.

3.   See the vivid description in Priscus Rhetor, De Legationibus Romanorum ad Gentes, in PO 113:7—9. written in 433 A.D.

4.   William of Rubruck, ch. 12, in Manuel Komroff, ed., Contemporaries of Marco Polo (New York: Liveright, 1928), 76.

5.   Raphael Pumpelly, Explorations in Turkestan, 2 vols. (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1908), 2:260.

6.   David D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926—27), vol. 1.

7.   The sense of being lost and on search for a promised land or an ancestral home has always dominated among the nomads of Asia, as is finely illustrated in a recent study of the Kirghiz, Semen I. Lipkin, Manas Vyelikodushnyi (Moscow: Sovietski Posaty, 1947).

8.   William M. McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939), 73—78. Cf. Pumpelly, Explorations in Turkestan 1:39, 41, 67—69.

9.   Henning Haslund, Men and Gods in Mongolia (New York: Dutton, 1935), 264.

10.   William of Rubruck, ch. 2, in Komroff, Contemporaries of Marco Polo, 59.

11.   T. Wright, ed., The Travels of Marco Polo (London: Bohn, 1854), 129 (bk. 1, ch. 47).

12.   Xenophon, Cyropaedeia VI, 1, 52, 29, where he describes huge wood tower-wagons used in war.

13.   For sources, Alexandre Moret, Histoire de l’Orient, 2 vols. (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1929—36), 2:584, n. 150.

14.   M. A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia (Oxford: Clarendon, 1914), pl. 16.

15.   Xenophon, Cyropaedeia VI, 1, 27, notes that “in ancient times Medes, Syrians, Aramaeans and all the inhabitants of Asia used to make use of those wagons which today survive only among the Cyrenaeans.”

16.   Gertrud Hermes, Anthropos 31 (1925): 365—94, cf. 32 (1926): 105—27. For Tel Agrab chariot, discovered after Hermes’ authoritative study appeared, see Henri Frankfort, “Revelations of Early Mesopotamian Culture,” ILN (6 December 1937): 794—95.

17.   McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia, 47; Bruno Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien, 2 vols. (Heidelberg: Winter, 1926), 1:93.

18.   Part 5 of “The World of the Jaredites,” IE 55 (January 1952): 22—24, begins at this point.

19.   See generally Moret, Histoire de l’Orient, vol. 1.

20.   Ibid., 1:173.

21.   Alan H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950), 73—74. The sedge is the sign of Upper Egypt and the bee is the sign of Lower Egypt. This topic is discussed in great detail in Hugh W. Nibley, Abraham in Egypt (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1981), 225—45.

22.   See the speculations of W. Pleyte, “Le Guepe,” ZASA 4 (1866): 14—15; Kurt H. Sethe, “Über einen vermeintlichen Lautwerth des Zeichens der Biene,” ZASA 30 (1892): 113—19; Karl Piehl, “La Lecture du Signe (Abeille),” ZASA 36 (1898): 85.

23.   Sethe, “Über einen vermeintlichen Lautwerth des Zeichens der Biene,” 117.

24.   Adolf Erman and Hermann Grapow, Aegyptisches Handwörterbuch (Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1921), 223.

25.   Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 504. The final “t” in deseret is the regular feminine ending, not part of the root, the root being dsr. Nevertheless it may not be omitted in designating the bee, the crown, or the land of Lower Egypt, all of which are feminine. The original text at this point said, “The substitution was a natural one, for the bee like the red crown was identical with the majesty of Lower Egypt.”

26.   Erman and Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache, 1:435.

27.   Theodor H. Gaster, Thespis (New York: Schuman, 1950), 364—67. In his notes on the Telepinu Myth, Gaster points to ties that connect the bee rites all over the ancient world. On the bee in Christian ritual, see L. Duchesne, Origines du culte chretien, 5th ed. (Paris: Boccard, 1920), 266; for an English translation, see L. Duchesne, Christian Worship: Its Origin and Evolution (London: Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, 1910), 253.

28.   Moret, Histoire de l’Orient, 1:175—180, 189, 207—22, 230—37, especially 257—58.

29.   In Egypt “the kings of the North were incarnated in the totem of Bouto: a bee (bit)”; ibid., 1:178.

30.   Eduard Meyer, Geschichte des Altertums, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Cotta, 1928), vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 36.

31.   Erman and Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache, 1:434.

32.   Sethe, “Über einen vermeintlichen Lautwerth des Zeichens der Biene,” 118; “Als Determinativ steht es aber, was zu beachten ist, stets allen anderen voran.”

33.   Moret, Histoire de l’Orient, 1:12.

34.   Henri Frankfort, Cylinder Seals (London: Macmillan, 1939), 311.

35.   G. N. Roerich, Trails to Inmost Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1931), 123.

36.   For a general treatment of this theme see Ellsworth Huntington, Mainsprings of Civilization (New York: Wiley, 1945), 187—207.

37.   C. J. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 1.

38.   George Vernadsky, Ancient Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1943), 27.

39.   McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia, 116—17, 124.

40.   Part 6 of “The World of the Jaredites,” IE 55 (February 1952): 92—94, 98, 100, 102, 104—05, began at this point. The original magazine article at this point began: “Dear F.: Continuing the theme of my letter: As to the fugitive who gathers forces in the wilderness by ‘drawing off’ people from his rival, in the first century there was Lu Fang.”

41.   McGovern, The Early Empires of Central Asia, 224—26.

42.   C. C. Mierow, The Gothic History of Jordanes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1915), 101—3; ch. 35.

43.   They were Dinzio, ibid., 129—31; ch. 53, and Mundo, ibid., 137—38; ch. 58.

44.   B. Ya. Vladimirtsov, The Life of Chingis-Khan (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1930), 3.

45.   Fikret Isiltan, Die Seltschuken-Geschichte des Akserayi, Sammlung Orientalistischer Arbeiten 12 (Leipzig: Harrassowitz, 1943), 88.

46.   The first quotation from E. S. Creasy, History of the Ottoman Turks, 2 vols. (London: Bentley, 1854—56), 1:5, the second from Sven Hedin, The Flight of Big Horse, trs. F. H. Lyon, (New York: Dutton, 1936), 16. Cf. Mildred Cable, The Gobi Desert (New York: Macmillan, 1945), 222—32.

47.   F. E. A. Krause, Cingis Han (Heidelberg: Winter, 1922), 13. Michael Prawdin, The Mongol Empire (London: Allen & Unwin, 1940), 47—49. A description of the technique of “drawing off” another’s supporters is in Al-Fakhari’s Al-Adab al-Sultaniah wal-Daula-l-Islamiah (Cairo), 5.

48.   Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 86.

49.   Menander Protector, De Legationibus Romanorum ad Gentes 8, in PG 113:888.

50.   According to Odoric of Pordennone, ch. 18, in Komroff, Contemporaries of Marco Polo, 249—50 “the ancient law” of the Khans is, “Thou shalt not appear in my presence with an empty hand,” the corollary being that “No Mongol, this day, entered the tent of his ruler without being richly rewarded,” Prawdin, The Mongol Empire, 86. The strictly mercenary nature of the whole business is well described by Peter Patricius in 230 A.D., in PG 113:665—68, and Priscus, in 449 a.d., in PG 113:748—52. E. A. Wallis Budge, The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), 1:505, tells how when Baidu the Mongol wanted to supplant his brother on the throne of Asia “he made men rich with gifts, and he made men splendid with royal apparel.” And so he bound them to him. Innumerable parallels might be cited.

51.   Vernadsky, Ancient Russia, 80.

52.   Fritz Hommel, Ethnologie und Geographie des alten Orients (Munich: Beck, 1926), 22—23.

53.   I am following the text of René Labat, Le poême babylonien de la création (Paris: Maisonneuve, 1935), 98—101.

54.   Ibid., 24.

55.   Memoirs of Louis IX, King of France, in Lord John de Joinville, Chronicles of the Crusades (London: Bohn, 1848), 482. The whole history of Jenghiz Khan is a long succession of terrible oaths, the most solemn being taken by a bag full of blood, to follow Krause, Cingis Han, 17—18, 23—24, etc. Herodotus, Histories IV, 64, describes the blood-drinking oaths of the Scythians two thousand years earlier.

56.   Moritz Hoernes, Natur- und Urgeschichte des Menschen, 2 vols. (Vienna: Hartleben, 1909), 1:582, discussing conditions in pre-agrarian societies generally.

57.   James Darmesteter, The Zend-Avesta, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1895), 2:135, 140 (Yasts 15:63; 21:82).

58.   Hoernes, Natur- und Urgeschichte des Menschen 2:418. The reader is reminded that fellowships and secret societies have always been the foundation of Asiatic government and religion, whether shamanistic (e.g., the Bn), lamist or Buddhist, from Peking to Cairo.

59.   Clément Huart and Louis Delaporte, L’Iran antique (Paris: Michel, 1952), 399.

60.   I have a long note on this subject in my article, Hugh W. Nibley, “Sparsiones,” CJ 40 (1945): 526, n. 70.