Source:Nibley:CW06:Ch10:2:Laban at Work

Laban at Work

Laban at Work

One of the main functions of any governor in the East has always been to hear petitions, and the established practice has ever been to rob the petitioners (or anyone else) wherever possible. The Eloquent Peasant story of fifteen centuries before Lehi and the numerable Tales of the Qadis of fifteen centuries after him are all part of the same picture, and Laban fits into that picture as if it were drawn to set off his portrait:
And Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house.
And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father.
And . . . Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee.
But Laman fled out of his presence, and told the things which Laban had done, unto us (1 Nephi 3:11—14).

Later the brothers returned to Laban laden with their family treasure, hoping to buy the plates from him. This was a perfectly natural procedure. In Lesson 8 on ancient merchants we saw that the Syrians who came to trade in Egypt reserved their most precious things, portable treasures of gold and silver, as a "present" for Qenamon the mayor of Thebes, that is, the king's personal representative in that great city, and that the editor of the text regarded that present as "perhaps . . . a commission on the deal." The behavior of Lehi's sons in this instance shows that they had been brought up in a family of importance, and knew how things were done in the world; they were afraid of Laban, knowing the kind of man he was, but they were not embarrassed to go right in and "talk with him as he sat in his house," dealing with the big man on an equal footing. They might have known what would happen:

And it came to pass that when Laban saw our property, and that it was exceedingly great, he did lust after it, insomuch that he thrust us out, and sent his servants to slay us, that he might obtain our property.
And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban (1 Nephi 3:25-26).
Compare this with the now classic story of Wenamon's interview with the rapacious Zakar Baal, governor of Byblos, almost exactly five hundred years before. The Egyptian entered the great man's house and "found him sitting in his upper chamber, leaning his back against a window," even as Laman accosted Laban "as he sat in his house" (1 Nephi 3:11).When his visitor desired of the merchant prince and prince of merchants that he part with some cedar logs, the latter flew into a temper and accused him of being a thief ("Behold thou art a robber!" says Laban in 1 Nephi 3:13), demanding that he produce his credentials. Zakar Baal then "had the journal of his fathers brought in, and he had them read it before [him]," from which it is plain that the important records of the city were actually stored at his house and kept on tablets. From this ancient "journal of his fathers" the prince proved to Wenamon that his ancestors had never taken orders from Egypt, and though the envoy softened his host somewhat by reminding him that Amon, the lord of the universe, rules over all kings, the hard-dealing official "thrust him out" and later even sent his servants after him—not, however, to slay him, but to check up on him and bring him something in the way of refreshment as he sat sorrowing. With cynical politeness the prince offered to show Wenamon the graves of some other Egyptian envoys whose missions had not been too successful, and when the business deal was finally completed, Zakar Baal, on a legal technicality, turned his guest over to the mercies of a pirate fleet lurking outside the harbor.6 And all the time he smiled and bowed, for after all, Wenamon was an Egyptian official, whereas Lehi's sons lost their bargaining power when they lost their fortune. The Laban story is an eloquent commentary on the ripeness of Jerusalem for destruction.[1]


  1. Hugh W. Nibley, An Approach to the Book of Mormon, 3rd edition, (Vol. 6 of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley), edited by John W. Welch, (Salt Lake City, Utah : Deseret Book Company ; Provo, Utah : Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1988), Chapter 10, references silently removed—consult original for citations.