Thursday, November 10, 2005


The Zeezrom Approach

I. Alma & Amulek Preach
“Friends, lawyers, hypocrites, lend me your ears”

Alma had returned to the City of Ammonihah under angelic command to preach once more. Amulek had received Alma and the two of them then went forth to preach in the city. Alma preached repentance but the people contended with him; he warned that the Lord had decreed that if they would rebel against him, they would be utterly destroyed and he preached redemption through Christ. The people were angry and attempted to lay hands on him but, for reasons unspecified in the text, were unable to get Alma. Amulek next spoke, giving his lineage and history, including the command he received from an angel to receive Alma. Amulek followed by testifying of Alma’s teachings.

II. The People Seek to Destroy Alma & Amulek
Amulek Demonstrates How to Win Friends and Influence People

Some of the people were astonished at preaching of Alma and Amulek; some thought to question them to catch them in their words so that they might be slain or imprisoned. Those who sought to destroy them were the lawyers learned in all the cunning arts of the people. Amulek perceived their designs and rebuked, “[Y]e lawyers and hypocrites, for ye are laying the foundations of the devil; for ye are laying traps and snares to catch the holy ones of God. Ye are laying plans to pervert the ways of righteousness, and to bring down the wrath of God upon your heads, even to the utter destruction of this people.” He called the people to repentance, warning that only the prayers of the righteous prevented destruction from being visited upon them. In their wicked and hardhearted state (see the Senate Judiciary Committee for modern examples), the people became angry and said, “This man does revile against our laws which are just, and our wise lawyers whom we have selected.” Amulek had made no statements against their law but, to the contrary, had spoken in favor of the law to their condemnation. He told them so and emphasized that “the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness” of the lawyers and judges. True to their wicked nature, the people then cried out that Amulek was a child of the devil, having lied to them and spoken against their law and reviling their lawyers and judges. The lawyers put it into their hearts to remember these things. (Note that it also interesting to compare this reaction of the people in Ammonihah with the reaction of the people who had gathered as Nephi prayed upon his tower when Nephi called them to repent -- see Helaman 7 et. seq.)

III. Zeezrom Inquires
Enter The Dragon

Zeezrom, the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma, begins with a simple inquiry addressed to Amulek: “Will ye answer me a few questions which I shall ask you?” So begins the man who is call an “expert in the devices of the devil.” Amulek consents to answer, “if it be according to the Spirit of the Lord which is in me; for I shall say nothing which is contrary to the Spirit of the Lord.” Zeezrom then offers Amulek six onties* of silver, the equivalent of 36 days judicial wages, “if thou wilt deny the existence of a Supreme Being.”

IV. How’s That Again?
“How Would Yous Like to Go Swimmin’ Wi' Duh Fishes?”

What? Did the most expert of the unrighteous lawyers make a blunt offer to buy-off Amulek? Shouldn’t we expect more from Zeezrom? Here is a man trained in the arts of language, questioning, subtlety and deception; he is presented as an expert in the devices of the devil. Doesn’t it seem peculiar that he should resort to a naked bribe, offering a significant, although not enormous, amount of money, for Amulek to deny his testimony? This approach appears neither subtle nor particularly expert. The offer is an open bribe. On it’s face, the approach is clumsy, barely a step above the brute threat of bodily harm. How can we believe that Zeezrom possesses expertise in the cunning arts when he begins his cross-examination with such a tactless stab?

As even novice practitioners of cross-examination know, the opening questions of an effective adversarial examination are simple and often depend upon misdirection. The preliminary questions are frequently intended to lead the victim into the trap, to gradually erect the fence which will ultimately bar escape. In Zeezrom’s approach, we have only the first question and we are deprived of the follow up which would demonstrate Zeezrom’s skill. Amulek’s response and Zeezrom’s subsequent change of heart extinguished the spark before the tinder had taken flame. So we can only evaluate Zeezrom based upon his opening interrogatory.

V. Appraising Zeezrom
“I Come Not to Bury Zeezrom But to Appraise Him”

So where was Zeezrom going with this direct assault? Is it possible that the apparent clumsiness of the attack was part of the “evil genius” at work? Those who are familiar with the rules of evidence in American litigation, either by direct reference or even through the distorted lens of the television will recall that they have never heard any such question presented to a witness. Perry Mason coaxed confessions with cutting questions, not offers of compensation. Although a witness’ bias, motivation or reception of pecuniary gain from their testimony are relevant and permissible avenues of inquiry, any modern trial attorney who blatantly offered money for a change of testimony would certainly find himself under immediate reprimand from the presiding judge; he might also face criminal charges and be subject to disciplinary action by the bar. As for Zeezrom, we must assume that any rules of evidence in effect differed radically from our modern code; we also know that the setting in this instance did not involve any court room; procedural niceties and evidentiary standards would not apply. Therefore, we cannot judge Zeezrom’s approach according to the limitations of our modern courtroom practices.

How is Zeezrom’s approach more or less than the clumsy stroke that it seems? Our inquiry allows us to speculate. Indeed, the paucity of evidence forces us to speculate. We ask, “What might have happened next, had not Amulek given the inspired response that terminated the cunning interrogation?” First, and least likely, it would seem, Amulek might have replied, “Done,” or perhaps, “Let me have the money first.” Either of these responses, a direct submission to the perceived direct assault, would have immediately ruined Amulek’s credibility without the need for further questioning or argument. However, let us speculate that Zeezrom did not expect Amulek to capitulate so easily. What answers might Zeezrom have reasonably expected an uninspired witness to give? Responses like, “I know you would not give me the money,” or “I don’t believe you will give me the money,” would be reasonable. The most likely responses might be rather simple, “No,” or “I won’t deny it for those six onties, or even a hundred onties.” All of these responses would have served Zeezrom’s purpose equally well. These responses all respond to the direct question, “Will you deny the truth for this much money?” All of these responses step away from Zeezrom’s direct attack only to fall into the pit that he has waiting.

VI. Zeezrom’s Pit
The Price Is Right

The pit in waiting may not be obvious. That is, of course, the cunning nature of Zeezrom’s approach. Zeezrom’s victim will sidestep the attack with his simple response, believing that he remains on solid ground. Unfortunately for the victim, Zeezrom is waiting with additional questions and further argument to expose the pit in which he now stands. Zeezrom’s pit is the appearance of evil; in this case, the appearance of haggling. Almost any answer, with the exception of a rebuke similar to that given by Amulek, lands the victim in the pit. Zeezrom might follow with an offer to increase the compensation and thus reward the victim for his steadfastness in resisting the first offer. “Will you deny your testimony for ten onties?” Once more he might expect a response like the previous denial. This additional questioning is not necessary, but it would strengthen his argument. Zeezrom’s argument, depending upon the precise answer given would condemn the witness for not rebuking him. As long as the attempted bribe remains unrebuked, the witness’ credibility is at risk. How has the witness endangered his credibility? The witness’ responses have left open the possibility that he might deny his testimony if only, a) he could be sure that Zeezrom would give him the money, or b) Zeezrom would offer the right amount of money, something more than the six onties. Zeezrom would thus argue one of these two, or perhaps both, possibilities. “The witness cannot be believed because he would deny his statement, if only he could be certain to receive the money.” “The witness is not worthy of our belief and cannot even believe his statements himself because he stands ready to deny them, only waiting for the offered compensation to mount as high as his greed.”

VII. That’s All Folks
Final Licks on The Dead Horse

In conclusion, Zeezrom’s approach, for its apparent clumsiness, can successfully destroy the witness’ credibility in most circumstances. The witness has only a sliver of safe ground upon which to step, and, not being aware of his danger, is very likely to step into the pit by leaving himself open to accusations that he is simply negotiating for the price of his denial.

VIII. Disclaimer
“Objection, That Calls for Speculation”

We cannot really know how Zeezrom intended to pursue his interrogation. I have never seen any discussion of how his approach demonstrated the cunning with which he is credited. What can be the reason for this lacuna in scriptural dissertation? Why this vacuum in the canon and its commentary? (Not to be confuse with a vacuum in a cannon.) To what cause do we attribute this weighty oversight? (How many more ways will I restate this question?) I must speculate that either the answer has always been obvious to all but myself, or that the matter is of such low importance or interest that greater minds have not deigned to probe its shallow depths. Fortunately, the plumbing of mere intellectual wading pools does not discourage me as I cannot swim well and prefer to remain in fordable waters.

* A judge received a senine of gold, or a senum of silver, for a day’s wages. An onti was the largest denomination or measurement of silver, being the equivalent of 6 senum of silver. An onti of silver would then be the equivalent of 6 day’s wages. Also on an interesting note, after writing this, I saw a book called The Zeezrom Syndrome, which I perused in the bookstore to see if this little intellectual dwarf of a topic was addressed in the tome; it was not. However, the author does make an interesting point about Zeezrom’s name and the Nephite currency explanations--which I will not divulge here.

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