Source:Nibley:CW06:Ch19:7:Laman and Lemuel and rank in the family

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Laman and Lemuel and rank in the family

Laman and Lemuel and rank in the family

Is it any wonder that Laman and Lemuel worked off their pent-up frustration by beating their youngest brother with a stick when they were once hiding in a cave? Every free man in the East carries a stick, the immemorial badge of independence and of authority, and every man asserts his authority over his inferiors by his stick, "which shows that the holder is a man of position, superior to the workman or day-labourers. The government officials, superior officers, tax-gatherers, and schoolmasters use this short rod to threaten—or if necessary to beat—their inferiors, whoever they may be."56 The usage is very ancient. "A blow for a slave" is the ancient maxim in Ahikar, and the proper designation of an underling is abida-'asa, "stick-servant." This is exactly the sense in which Laman and Lemuel intended their little lesson to Nephi, for when the angel turned the tables he said to them, "Why do ye smite your younger brother with a rod? Know ye not that the Lord hath chosen him to be a ruler over you?" (1 Nephi 3:29).
Through it all, Laman, as the eldest son, is the most disagreeable actor. "When only one boy is in the family he is the tyrant, and his will dominates over all."57 So we see Laman still thinking to dominate over all and driven mad that a younger brother should show superior talents. The rivalry between the sons of a sheikh "often leads to bloody tragedies in the sheikh's household,"58 and Nephi had some narrow escapes.
In the sheikh's tent the councils of the tribe are held and all decisions concerning the journey are made (1 Nephi 15:1-3), but "no sheikh or council of Arabs can condemn a man to death, or even inflict a punishment; it can only, when appealed to, "impose a fine;59 it cannot even enforce the payment of this fine." Why, then, if there was no power to compel them, did not Laman and Lemuel simply desert the camp and go off on their own, as discontented Arabs sometimes do?60 As a matter of fact, they tried to do just that (1 Nephi 7:7), and in the end were prevented by the two things which, according to Philby, keep any wandering Bedouin party together—fear and greed. For they were greedy. They hoped for a promised land, and when they reached the sea without finding it, their bitter complaint was, "Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions" (1 Nephi 17:21). And their position was precarious. Nephi pointed out to them the danger of returning to Jerusalem (1 Nephi 7:15), and where would they go if they deserted their father? As we have seen, with these people, family was everything, and the Arab or Jew will stick to "his own people" because they are all he has in the world. The family is the basic social organization, civil and religious, with the father at its head. To be without tribe or family is to forfeit one's identity in the earth; nothing is more terrible than to be "cut off from [among the people]," and that is exactly the fate that is promised Laman and Lemuel if they rebel (1 Nephi 2:21; Genesis 17:14). "Within his own country," says an Arab proverb, "the Bedouin is a lion; outside of it he is a dog."61[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 19, references silently removed—consult original for citations.