Some Peculiarities of Jaredite Kingship
John A. Tvedtnes
In the Mesopotamian region of the ancient Near East, whence the Jaredites came to the New World, kingship was considered (at least by the Sumerians) to have descended from heaven. I.e., it was established by the gods. This gave rise to the concept of divine kingship that later influenced many other countries, including those of Europe. Typically, a king would be succeeded by his eldest son. But this was not so among the Jaredites, whose kings often picked the youngest son as the new monarch.
This pattern seems to have begun with the first generation. As Jared and his brother approached old age, their followers asked that they appoint one of their sons to be king. None of the sons of the brother of Jared would accept the role, and it was also rejected by all of Jared’s sons except the youngest, Orihah (Ether 6:14, 21-27). In Moroni’s abridgment of the Jaredite record, we read of six older sons who rebelled against their predecessors (Ether 7:4, 14-16; 8:2-3; 10:3, 13-14; 11:4) and ten sons born in the king’s “old age” who replaced their fathers (Ether 7:3, 7, 10, 26-8:1; 9:14, 23-25; 10:4, 13-16; 11:4).
In some cases, especially in the later years of the Jaredites, it was the people or another “mighty man” who rose up against the king and replaced him (Ether 10:8; 11:15-18; 13:15). In at least three cases, the uprising took place after the king had reigned for forty-two years (Ether 10:8, 15, 32.), which may have been considered a maximum.[i] However, Com “reigned forty and nine years” according to Ether 9:25. The long reign of the Jaredite kings for whom data is available seems to be due to the fact that they lived long, but also to the fact that the first king, Orihah, was the youngest of the sons of Jared when he became king and his “days were exceedingly many” (Ether 7:1).
Another precedent dating back to the time of Jared lies in the fact that he had twelve children, of whom four were sons, while his brother had twenty-two children (Ether 6:20). Orihah had thirty-one children, of whom twenty-three were sons (Ether 7:2). Of his descendants, several are said to have had “many sons and daughters” (Ether 7:12, 14; 9:21; 10:17). Longevity may have contributed to such large families, but polygyny may also have played a role. King Riplakish is said to have had “many wives and concubines” (Ether 10:5) and one passage, speaking of Jaredite men in general, spoke of them having “wives and children” (Ether 14:2). While the Lord would not allow the descendants of Lehi to have more than one wife and no concubines (Jacob 2:27; 3:5), this restriction apparently did not apply to the earlier Jaredites.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Jaredite kingship is “dwelling in captivity.” The term is not explained in the text, but in at least two cases, the king was kept in a “prison” (Ether 7:18; 9:17). At one point, we read that there were “many prisons” in which those who were unable to pay taxes were forced to work refining gold and producing “all manner of fine workmanship” (Ether 10:6-7). Even King Omer was made to “serve in captivity” (Ether 8:3), as did Levi (Ether 10:15). Still, several of the captive kings were able to father children (Ether 8:4; 10:14, 30-31; 11:18-19, 23).
The concept, if not the practice, can also be traced to the beginning of the Jaredite kingdom, when “the people desired of them [Jared and his brother] that they should anoint one of their sons to be a king over them. And now behold, this was grievous unto them. And the brother of Jared said unto them: Surely this thing leadeth into captivity” (Ether 6:22-23). The trouble began during the reign of Kib, son of Orihah, the second king, when his son Corihor “had gathered together an army he came up unto the land of Moron where the king dwelt, and took him captive, which brought to pass the saying of the brother of Jared that they would be brought into captivity . . . And it came to pass that Kib dwelt in captivity, and his people under Corihor his son, until he became exceedingly old; nevertheless Kib begat Shule in his old age, while he was yet in captivity” (Ether 7:5).
In one case, both a deposed king and his son are said to have dwelt in captivity (Ether 10:13-15). Hearthom and several generations of his offspring spent time in captivity (Ether 10:30-31). Levi, who served in captivity after his father, was able to “make war against the king of the land, by which he did obtain unto himself the kingdom” (Ether 10:15). This suggests that captivity was not always imprisonment.
[i] In some African societies, kings were allowed to reign a specific number of years before being slain and replaced. In ancient Egypt, the rites of the sed festival determined if the king was fit to continue serving.