Kishkumen Attempts to Assassinate Helaman2

John W. Welch

Persuaded by the flattery of “one Gadianton, who was exceedingly expert in many words, and also in his craft, to carry on the secret work of murder and of robbery” (Helaman 2:4), Kishkumen, who had previously assassinated Pahoran, “went forth towards the judgment-seat to destroy Helaman” (v. 6). Gadianton, who was now the leader of the band of conspirators, had promised that if they assassinated Helaman2, he would take over the judgeship and place members of his band in “power and authority among the people” (v. 5). Just when Kishkumen was about to assassinate Helaman2, one of the chief judge’s servants who had discovered the plot, stabbed “Kishkumen even to the heart, that he fell dead without a groan” (v. 9). This may have been deliberately conducted in this manner, waiting until Kishkumen had gone far enough that he had played his hand and could be legitimately killed. Kishkumen was clearly a member of an organized conspiracy group and, when dealing with a secret society, one rarely knows who is truly part of the conspiracy and who is not.

Though Kishkumen had died, with him out of the way, the crafty Gadianton expanded his influence out in the wilderness, and this group, in legal terms, became a band of robbers with him as the power broker. Mormon, who already knew what the Gadianton robbers would become, interjected: “And behold, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi” (v. 13). We will see more of the progression of this group’s influence in Helaman 6.

Apparently, these oath-swearing conspirators—called robbers, bandits, or outlaws—had placed themselves, as a band, literally outside the law and therefore were not entitled to protections under the law. They were held incontestably guilty upon arrest. Once again, the Nephite law that required more than mere intent before a person could be punished must have been satisfied by the element of the conspirator’s oath. Taking that binding step went legally beyond the protected line of mere belief.

Socially and politically, the trial of Paanchi apparently left in its wake conditions very similar to these that have given rise elsewhere in the world to the phenomenon identified as “social banditry.” Typically included among those preconditions are the disruptions caused by prolonged wars, famines, economic inequality, administrative inefficiencies, sharp social divisions, and political marginalization of minorities. But the main factor listed by social scientists regarding the conditions that have consistently produced social banditry in many pre-technical societies is a sense of indignity and injustice. Things required by the local rulers are felt to be intolerably unjust. Thus, the outcomes and repercussions of the trial of Paanchi surely incubated the rise of the militant Gadianton robbers and the other bands of social brigands that became such a serious threat among the Nephites for the next seventy-five years. (See further discussion of thieves and robbers at the end of the discussion of Helaman 6, below).

Further Reading

Book of Mormon Central, “What is the Difference Between ‘Robbers’ and ‘Thieves’ in the Book of Mormon? (Helaman 6:18),” KnoWhy 432 (May 10, 2018).

Book of Mormon Central, “Why was Helaman’s Servant Justified in Killing Kishkumen? (Helaman 2:9),” KnoWhy 173, (August 25, 2016).

John W. Welch, “Theft and Robbery in the Book of Mormon and Ancient Near Eastern Law,” FARMS Preliminary Report (1985), 1–41.

John W. Welch “The Legal Cases in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Press and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2008), 311, 319, 351–56.

John W. Welch Notes