The first Helaman noted in the Book of Mormon (c. 130 B.C.) was one of the three sons of Benjamin, king of the Nephites and the people of Zarahemla. He is mentioned only once in connection with his father's efforts to educate him and his brothers, Mosiah2 and Helorum. Benjamin taught them both the language of their fathers and the prophecies spoken by their fathers, "that thereby they might become men of understanding" (Mosiah 1:2).
Helaman2 (c. 100-57 B.C.) was a noted Book of Mormon military commander and prophet. The eldest son of Alma2, he was brother to Shiblon and Corianton (Alma 31:7) and father to Helaman3. He became a high priest (Alma 46:38) and was known for teaching repentance to his people.
While a young man, he remained behind during the mission of his father and brothers to the Zoramites (Alma 31:7), apparently to manage domestic and ecclesiastic affairs in Alma's absence. Later, his father gave him a special blessing, which is often quoted among Latter-day Saints, admonishing him to keep the commandments of God and promising that, if he did so, he would prosper in the land (Alma 36:30; 37:13). Helaman's father also instructed him to continue the record of his people and charged him with the sacred custody of the nephite records, the plates of brass, the twenty-four plates of the jaredites, the interpreters, and the liahona, that is, the divine compass that led Lehi's family to the new Promised Land in the western hemisphere (Alma 37:1-47). Before his father's death, Helaman recorded his father's prophecy concerning the final destruction of the Nephite people (45:9-14).
Although Helaman was known simply as one of "the high priests over the church" (Alma 46:6), apparently he was the chief priest because "Helaman and his brethren" (45:22-23; 46:1, 6; 62:45) or "Helaman and the high priests" (46:38) always performed the ecclesiastical functions; no other presiding high priest is named. When Helaman and his brothers attempted "to establish the church again in all the land" (45:22) after a protracted war with the Lamanites (43-44), their action triggered civil unrest led by Amalickiah, which in turn embroiled the Nephites in one of their most devastating wars.
During Helaman's youth, a large number of Lamanite converts, called Ammonites (see Book of Mormon Peoples), moved to the Nephite territory of Jershon (Alma 27). They swore an oath that they would never again take anyone's life (Alma 24:17-18). Later, when other Lamanites attacked their Nephite protectors, the Ammonites offered to break their oath in order to help the Nephite army defend their families and land. It was "Helaman and his brethren" who persuaded them not to break their covenant. They did welcome 2,060 Ammonite young men, who were not under their parents' oath, who volunteered to fight in the Nephite cause and chose Helaman to lead them (53:10-22). Accepting their invitation, he became both military leader and spiritual father, an observation found in Helaman's long letter to his commander Moroni1 (Alma 56- 58). While Helaman led these "stripling soldiers" (53:22) into many battles, none was killed, although all received wounds (56:56; 57:25; 58:39). These young men credited God with their protection and paid solemn tribute to their mothers who had trained them in faith (56:47). During Helaman's military campaign as leader of these young men, he won victory after victory, often capturing enemies without shedding blood. Exhibiting extraordinary ingenuity and character, he always acknowledged God's blessings in his successes (56:19; 57:35; 58:33).
After the war, Helaman returned home and spent his remaining years regulating the affairs of the Church, convincing "many people of their wickedness, which did cause them to repent of their sins and to be baptized unto the Lord their God" (Alma 62:45). An era of peace resulted from his final efforts. He died in 57 B.C.
Helaman3, son of Helaman 2, was the record keeper and chief judge in the land of Zarahemla for the fourteen years prior to his death in 39 B.C. Little is known of his personal affairs. He was given charge of nephite historical records by his uncle, Shiblon, in 53 B.C. (Alma 63:11-13), and the book of Helaman in the Book of Mormon takes its name from him.
After the assassination of the chief judge Pacumeni in 50 B.C., Helaman was elected by the people to this highest national office. A murder plot against him was subsequently uncovered, and the would-be assassin, Kishkumen, was mortally wounded. The murderous band, led by Gadianton, escaped into the wilderness. Of Gadianton, Mormon wrote "In the end of this book [Book of Mormon] ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow of the people of Nephi" (Hel. 2:13; see also Secret Combinations).
During the three-year period 48-46 B.C., a substantial number of people left Zarahemlabecause of unspecified dissensionsand "went forth unto the land northward" (Hel. 3:3). So extensive was the migration that only a fraction of its impact could be discussed in Mormon's record (Hel. 3:14). Despite dissension, emigration, and war, "Helaman did fill the judgment-seat with justice and equity; yea, he did observe to keep the statutes, and the judgments, and the commandments of God; and he did do that which was right in the sight of God continually; and he did walk after the ways of his father, insomuch that he did prosper in the land" (3:20). During his tenure, tens of thousands of people were baptized into the church, even to the astonishment of the high priests and teachers (3:24-25). Through the force of his personality, Helaman maintained peace throughout two-thirds of his political career.
When Helaman died, he left the spiritual responsibilities and the sacred records in the hands of his son, Nephi2 (Hel. 3:37; 5:5-14; 16:25).
Moss, James R. "Six Nephite Judges." Ensign 7 (Sept. 1977): 61-65.