Arp argues that Mormon’s treatment of the story of Gideon—and subsequent use of the name Gideon in his writings—includes a carefully crafted subtext that emphasizes the justice of God, promotes peacemaking, and outlines a path to salvation in Christ.
In this article, Nathan J. Arp explores repeated references to the name Gideon within the Book of Mormon, arguing that Mormon exercised careful authorial intent in these references, using them to emphasize (1) how God’s justice was ultimately brought against both Nehor and those who are later labeled him, and (2) the path toward Christ’s salvation. Though Gideon is a minor character in the overall narrative, Mormon appears to highlight his role as a peacekeeper, allowing the injustice of his violent death to reinforce those themes.
Arp begins by detailing three sets of repetitions that span the first few chapters of Alma, each including four references using the word Gideon and one reference to Nehor, his murderer. They begin with the death of Gideon himself and then include the story of the Amlicites, followed by Alma preaching to the city of Gideon. For Gideon, the latter references are geographical (e.g., the Valley of Gideon), whereas for Nehor they often reference the order that bears his name. This repetition (and sometimes omission helps identify those “on whom the sword of justice will fall”, namely the various groups referred to as Nehors. The name Gideon, Hebrew for “hew, hew down or off” may have been meaningful in that context. Arp also sees links between Gideon and Abinadi, each sharing common introductory phrasing and both being a common threat to king Noah, with Gideon instrumental to the king receiving the justice he deserved. Following Gideon’s death, a similar justice would befall the Amlicites, the Ammonihahites, and the Amulonites and Amalekites, each of which associated with Nehor.
Arp outlines what he believes is a use of the name Gideon as a possible textual path toward salvation. The city of Gideon, possibly nestled in a protective valley, is a base from which the Nephites defend against the forces of the order of Nehor, is successfully preached to by Alma the Younger (and, departing from which, he reunites with the sons of Mosiah), restrains and refuses to listen to Korihor, is a staging ground for the Freemen in their struggle against the king men, and, after being called to repentance by Samuel, is absent from the list of cities destroyed in Christ’s coming. In each case, the city is placed in opposition to the city of Zarahemla, whose wickedness leads to its destruction. These characteristics present a symbolic path that we can emulate in order to be spiritually spared from God’s wrath and connected with the risen Christ.
According to Arp, Mormon’s focus on such a minor character could be potentially explained by his apparent view of Gideon as a peacemaker. Describing Gideon as a “captain” despite not being connected with an actual military event, his first appearance in the Book of Mormon narrative may suggest that he relinquished that title in protest, perhaps to express opposition toward attacking the Lamanites. He is displayed as a non-violent liberator of the people of Limhi and responds peacefully to the contention of Nehor. Mormon also seems to distance Gideon from bloodshed including from the grisly death of King Noah. Mormon himself appears to have a strong preference for peacemakers and peacemaking, a preference that makes sense in the context of his life of war and his abhorrence of his people’s bloodthirsty nature.
As Arp concludes:
“Mormon’s gift for layered story-telling turned towards the minor character Gideon is a reminder of the worth of individuals to God…Ultimately, it is Christ who is the end-all, be-all of Mormon’s message. It is through Christ, the Prince of Peace, that all wrongs will be made right. This is true of Gideon and it is true of us. Mormon’s most important personalized message about Gideon…is that tragedy and death are not the end, and do not prevent us from reaching our final destination, to be ‘clasped in the arms of Jesus’.”
Whether or not one agrees with Arp’s views on Mormon’s specific authorial intent, Gideon is a fascinating figure worth the type of deep analysis on display here. The subtle connections to peacemaking—a concept of clear value to Mormon—are certainly interesting, and if Mormon’s deft editorial hand found ways to emphasize them, so much the better. One thing I find curious is Arp’s emphasis on three specific sets of references to Gideon, when there are further references both before and after those sets that he doesn’t examine. I’m assuming they don’t fall quite so neatly in the numeric pattern he outlines, and I wonder what significance those three sets have within that larger context. Regardless, Arp’s emphasis on the path to salvation helps point us the ultimate value of the Book of Mormon as a witness to the reality of a Savior, both merciful and just, who waits to guide us home.