“Why Do Ye Yoke Yourselves with Such Foolish Things?”

Brant Gardner

Rhetoric: Korihor opens, all guns blazing, by directly assaulting the underpinnings of the Nephite church. He belittles the Nephite gospel as a “foolish and a vain hope” and charges it with keeping the people “bound down” and “yoke[d] with such foolish things.”

Even before declaring his specific target, he has characterized it as bad and foolish. He then brings up the issue of the Atoning Messiah. This was a very intelligent beginning. Had he immediately begun with the question, “Why do ye look for a Christ?” his listeners could have taken it for a serious question and begun to think of positive answers. In the context of his opening statements, he is obviously asking a rhetorical and derisory question. His listeners would be on the defensive, if believers; or if they are already questioning such a belief, they would accept Korihor’s powerful declaration—that “no man can know of anything which is to come”—as logical.

In many ancient cultures, it would have been unthinkable to make such a statement, for much of ancient religion was founded on the premise that man might commune with the gods and therefore have some indication of future events. The development of a more complex society, particularly one in which people rely on their own skills rather than intervention by spirits, can foster a situation where such a question might be entertained. Apparently Nephite society had become sufficiently sophisticated to differentiate between human behavior and that of God. The statistically prevalent number of times that God does not reveal the future could become part of an argument that the lack of evidence became evidence for the impossibility of such knowledge. Korihor certainly makes the argument strongly, expecting that it will be accepted.

Culture: From his approach, I see him preaching in the city, a socially more sophisticated area. In general, rural populations are religiously more conservative. While Mormon does not clarify the setting, Alma apparently does not need to travel to encounter Korihor, another indication that the setting is a city.

Translation: The text has Korihor saying “why do ye yoke yourselves.… ” A yoke is used for draft animals, and Mesoamerica had none. This is another lexical image from Joseph Smith’s culture that is used to translate a concept from the plates.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 4