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“Zeniff Battle” by James Fullmer. The Gadianton robbers fought many battles in the Book of Mormon.

The Gadianton Robbers: Organized Crime in the Ancient Americas

The Gadianton robbers were a band of robbers in the ancient Americas according to the Book of Mormon. This dangerous group operated as a ‘secret combination’, a term used to describe various malevolent secret societies. The Gadianton robbers were much feared and have been held responsible for the destruction of the Nephites and the Jaredites, two of the four major groups of people believed by the Latter Day Saints to have settled in the ancient Americas.

The Beginning of the Gadianton Robbers

According to The Book of Helaman , one of the books in the Book of Mormon, the ‘secret combination’ known as the Gadianton robbers was founded by Kishkumen and Gadianton. The former had murdered the judge Pahoran, and his co-conspirators entered into a covenant swearing not to reveal to anyone that he had murdered the judge. This marked the beginning of the Gadianton robbers.

Gadianton. (James H Fullmer)

Gadianton. ( James H Fullmer )

The Gadianton robbers were also held responsible for the murder of the judge Cezoram, and his son who succeeded him, in the 66th year of the reign of the judges. The assassins were not found, as their identities were protected by the robbers. The Book of Helaman also states that in the year following Cezoram’s murder “the people began to grow exceedingly wicked again” and began to “commit secret murders, and to rob and to plunder, that they might get gain” - which contributed to the growth of this criminal organization. Eventually, the Nephites repented, and opposed the Gadianton robbers after the land was struck by famine, which was regarded to be a manifestation of God’s wrath.

‘Nephi Subdues his Rebellious Elder Brothers’ (followers of Nephi were the Nephites, followers of his brothers Laman and Lemuel were the Lamanites). (MormonWiki)

Nephi Subdues his Rebellious Elder Brothers’ (followers of Nephi were the Nephites, followers of his brothers Laman and Lemuel were the Lamanites ). ( MormonWiki)

The Secret Combination

This ‘secret combination’ was re-established some years after its destruction and many of the Nephites joined this band of robbers. The Lamanites, on the other hand, “did use every means in their power to destroy them off the face of the earth” when they realized that the robbers were amongst them as well. Incidentally, the Nephites and the Lamanites were enemies.

According to the Book of Mormon, these two groups initially traced their ancestry to a group of Hebrews who migrated from Jerusalem to the Americas under the leadership of the prophet Lehi in about 600 BC. The group multiplied and eventually split into two groups, the Nephites, who maintained their beliefs, and the Lamanites, who had forgotten their heritage and are said to be the ancestors of the Native Americans. The two groups were hostile towards each other, and frequently waged war against each other.

The Nephites and the Lamanites frequently waged war against each other. (Nephicode.com)

The Nephites and the Lamanites frequently waged war against each other. ( Nephicode.com)

Ending the Gadianton Robber’s Reign of Terror

Eventually, however, the Nephites succeeded in eradicating the Gadianton robbers. It was the good judge, Lachoneus, who put an end to the reign of terror. Lachoneus received a letter from the robbers demanding the Nephites hand over their lands and property if they wanted to avoid bloodshed. Instead of complying with their demands, however, Lachoneus ordered the Nephites to prepare for war. After asking the people to pray for strength, he commanded them to gather all of their flocks and food into a central place, and had fortifications built around it. He had the Nephites armed, repent, and pray.

As the Gadianton robbers were used to living off the produce of others, they began to run short of food and were forced to attack the Nephites who were protected by their fortifications. The robbers were unsuccessful and after several years of fighting they were destroyed.

Gadianton robbers. (Meridian Magazine)

Gadianton robbers. ( Meridian Magazine )

The Latter Day Saints believe that Jesus Christ came to the Americas about a decade after the destruction of the Gadianton robbers and there was peace for the following 200 years. After this period however, the Gadianton robbers re-appeared, causing much destruction to the land. This time, they formed an alliance with the Lamanites, and brought about the complete destruction of the Nephites.

Top image: “Zeniff Battle” by James Fullmer. The Gadianton robbers fought many battles in the Book of Mormon. Source: Meridian Magazine

By Wu Mingren

References

Biddulph, G., 2002. Gadianton Robbers and Latin America. Available at: https://ldsmag.com/article-1-4525/

The Book of Mormon , 2019. Available at: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm?lang=eng

Intellectual Reserve, Inc., 2019. Gadianton Robbers. Available at: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/gadianton-robbers?lang=eng

Peterson, D., 2010. Daniel Peterson: Gadianton robbers and historical parallels. Available at: https://www.deseretnews.com/article/705362455/Daniel-Peterson-Gadianton-robbers-and-historical-parallels.html

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2015. Book of Mormon. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Book-of-Mormon

The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, Inc., 2002. The Gadianton Robbers in Mormon’s Theological History: Their Structural Role and Plausible Identification. Available at: https://www.fairmormon.org/conference/august-2002/the-gadianton-robbers-in-mormons-theological-history-their-structural-role-and-plausible-identification

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