*follow-up to this.
Three vociferous cheers for Old Joe and his Indian Bible notwithstanding, a lot of what the Book of Mormon says about colonization and colonialization is liable to make current readers squeamish. After all, it has been some time since the president of the United States, for instance, was systematically removing Native Americans to west of the Mississippi. Today there is actually concern about the loss of Native American languages, if not religions.
It doesn’t matter much whether 1 Nephi 13:12 is to be understood as referring to Columbus himself, another explorer or conquistador. God was behind Gentile discovery and colonialization of the Americas, according to the Nephite record. The Gentiles’ crossing of the many waters, Bible in hand, was divinely inspired. Which should come as no surprise in a book of holy writ that features other providential voyages of boats and bibles, ships and scriptures.
Among other things, the story of the Book of Mormon is one of ongoing colonialization, beginning with attempts to Christianize Lamanites through the use of the Brass Plates centuries before the Spanish arrived in the New World and ending with prophecy of widespread Lamanite conversion post-1829 due to the instrumentality of the Book of Mormon itself. Still, some of what the Book of Mormon says about colonialization is fairly critical.
To make the parallelism clear, in Nephi’s vision of Gentile colonialization, the Gentiles are said to be white like the Nephites, and the Bible that the Gentiles will bring with them across the many waters is identified with the record of the Jews that the Spirit had earlier constrained Nephi to kill for. No sooner does his vision of Gentile colonialization end than Nephi is commanded by God to build a ship that will transport his family and the Brass Plates to the New World.
While the cursed Lamanite side of the family slips into indolence and idolatry without the Brass Plates, in time the Nephite side of the family encounters another group sans sacred record. Under Mosiah, the Nephites colonialize the Mulekites. They replace the “corrupted” Mulekite language with their own, which does however allow for Mulekite oral history to be preserved, and they teach them Nephite belief in the biblical Creator, all by way of the Brass Plates (Omni 1:17-19).
Mosiah’s son Benjamin later explains to his own sons that if it weren’t for the Brass Plates, “even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief, and we should have been like unto our brethren the Lamanites, who know nothing concerning these things, or even do not believe them when they are taught them, because of the traditions of their fathers, which are not correct (Mosiah 1:5).” Indeed, this was the justification for killing in order to get the Brass Plates in the first place: “It is better than one man perish that that a nation dwindle and perish in unbelief (1 Nephi 4:13).”
As Benjamin indicates, up to that point Nephite attempts to convert Lamanites had failed. Before they ever left the Old World, Nephi had used the record of the Jews, Isaiah in particular, to try to Christianize Laman and Lemuel, but he was not successful (1 Nephi 19:22-23). Nephi’s descendants would enjoy success. Eventually. Though not until after several more failed attempts.
During the reign of King Mosiah, colonializer of the Mulekites, Zeniff and some other Nephites set out to get their promised land (back) from the Lamanites by force. Admirably, though spying for this Nephite army poised to destroy the Lamanites, when Zeniff sees “that which was good among them,” he does not want them to be destroyed. Instead, he wants his commander to negotiate a treaty. But the Nephite commander is “bloodthirsty,” and the only way to prevent the destruction of the Lamanites is Nephite civil war (Mosaiah 9:1-2).
As critical of violent conquest as Zeniff is, and despite the good that he sees among them, the peaceful treaty with the Lamanites turns into battle anyway. And it would appear to be the treacherous Lamanites’ fault. However, this group of Nephites was on the brink of apostasy …
Once more in the city of the colonialized Mulekites, after a half century, Alma the younger and the grandsons of King Benjamin set out, not to get their promised land (back) from the Lamanites, but to convert them to Christianity using (copies of) the Brass Plates as well as other Nephite records.
Notably, Ammon converts Lamoni by rehearsing and laying before him “the records and the holy scriptures of the people, which had been spoken of by the prophets, even down to the time that their father, Lehi, left Jerusalem ,” and “all the records and scriptures from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem down to the present time (Alma 18:36-38).” Then Aaron converts Lamoni’s obstinate father by “reading the scriptures” to him (Alma 22:12-14).
These Nephite missionaries did not need to teach the Lamanites their language in order to convert them to Christianity, as the apostate priests of Zeniff’s son had already taught them the Nephite language (Mosiah 24:4); without the Brass Plates, the Lamanites’ language had become ‘corrupted’ just as the Mulekites’ had.
Mission accomplished, Alma reflects on the instrumentality of the Brass Plates and other sacred records in converting the Lamanites to Christianity: “were it not for these things that these records do contain, which are upon these plates, Ammon and his brethren could not have convinced so many thousands of the Lamanites of the incorrect traditions of their fathers; yea, these records and their words brought them to repentance; that is, they brought them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and to rejoice in Jesus Christ their Redeemer (Alma 37:9).”
In short, alphabetic Christian culture saves, according to the Book of Mormon. Without it, languages are corrupted and people dwindle in unbelief.
There is indeed the significant prophecy of Samuel the Lamanite. Yet his message is that of white Nephite Christianity, spoken and recorded in their language not his. Speaking of his brethren the Lamanites, Samuel is supposed to say, “But behold, salvation hath come unto them through the preaching of the Nephites (Helaman 15:4).”