1 And now I finish my record concerning the destruction of my people, the Nephites. And it came to pass that we did march forth before the Lamanites.
This is literally the ending of Mormon’s record. This is the beginning of his final chapter, even though we have two chapters covering his original structure. Thus when Mormon begins this chapter, he knows that he is ending his record. When this chapter ends at the end of our current chapter 7, we will have the text that Mormon intended to write to future generations. In a very real sense, we should consider our chapters 6 and 7 as the end of Mormon’s work.
It is interesting to note that this final chapter necessarily follows the destruction of his people, because that incident is included in the record. Thus Mormon not only survives the final battle, but survives long enough to finish his record. We cannot tell how long he lived, or how much of the record was written after that date. However, we do know for a fact that this record was written after that time.
The very fact that this is the final chapter, and it was written after the final battle, seems to suggest something that Mormon never tells us. It would appear that the Lord had promised him that he would live through the final battle. Even though there is no record of the promise, it is implied in the fact that Mormon does not write his conclusion to his work until after that battle. Going in to the battle he was preparing for a final destruction, and in his heart (and perhaps through revelation) he understood that this would be the last battle. With such a pessimistic outlook, why doesn’t he finish the work earlier? Why isn’t the last chapter written before the battle with the fatalistic admonition that he might not live to finish the work. Since we find nothing of that, we must assume that Mormon knew that he would survive so that the ending might be written. No one could have given him that confidence save the Lord himself.
2 And I, Mormon, wrote an epistle unto the king of the Lamanites, and desired of him that he would grant unto us that we might gather together our people unto the land of Cumorah, by a hill which was called Cumorah, and there we could give them battle.
3 And it came to pass that the king of the Lamanites did grant unto me the thing which I desired.
Rather than continue to dissipate his forces by continually withdrawing, Mormon decides to make a final stand. He has made successful defensive stands before, and certainly has some level of hope that he might do so again. To gain the opportunity to make this last stand, he writes to the king of the Lamanites to set the place and accept battle at that location. An agreement of a place and time for war, particularly by the one being attacked might seem rather strange in a Western tradition. It was, however, quite a part of the Mesoamerican tradition of warfare. By Aztec times it was an ideal more than a reality, (Ross Hassig. Aztec Warfare. University of Oklahoma Press, 1988, p. 48), but the ideal itself suggests that there must have been some reality attached to the practice at some point. Indeed, Ixtlilxochitl makes a very direct indication that such was the case:
“Topiltzin, seeing himself so oppressed and that there was no way out, asked for time, for it was a law among them that before a battle they would notify each other some years in advance so that on the both sides they would be warned and prepared.” (Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl. “Concerning the Tultec kings and their destruction.” Translated and cited in Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson. Ancient America and the Book of Mormon. Kolob Book Company, Oakland, CA, 1950, p. 383).
Textual: Mormon returns to his more historical narrative. However, it is interesting to note that this chapter will also end with the same kind of forward-looking text as he wrote in the last chapter. The structure of the last two chapters of Mormon wrote was remarkably parallel. They both begin with history, and both end with a personal message to the future readers. In most cases of parallel construction we can assume that the parallelism was intentional, and part of the overall message. This may be an exception to that general rule.
The reason for not seeing the parallel structures in the final two chapters as significant for a constructed theme is that the parallelism has no identifiable purpose. There is nothing in the shift from narrative present to narrative future that is suggestive of any type of development in the two chapters. Indeed, the seam between history and admonition to the future is rather distinct.
What we have in these final chapters is a man nearing the end of his purpose, and that purpose looks to the future. The dramatic contrast between this last hopeful “message in a bottle” that will be sent to future generations sharply contrasts with the finality of the hopeless task he sees before him. Our evidence from Mormon’s text is that he is naturally more of an optimist than a pessimist, but his current world supplies him nothing on which to base his optimism. That optimism, that hope, is all directed to the future, and as Mormon writes, it is increasingly the future in which his only hope lies. Mormon ends his last two chapters by looking forward because that is increasingly where his mind and heart are looking.
There are several evidences that Mormon worked from at least an outline during the construction of his text. His outline certainly included a final chapter, but just as we have seen him insert new texts or mental threads into that outline, he does so now. The outline certainly discussed current history. Mormon’s heart is writing the notes to the future.
4 And it came to pass that we did march forth to the land of Cumorah, and we did pitch our tents around about the hill Cumorah; and it was in a land of many waters, rivers, and fountains; and here we had hope to gain advantage over the Lamanites.
The hill Cumorah is in the land of Cumorah. Book of Mormon lands are typically named or associated with a city in that land, but we have no indication of a city of Cumorah. Even if there is a city, the location for Mormon’s final defensive position is not a city, but rather a hill. The selection of this site tells us something of the nature of the expected battle. If Mormon had expected a siege, he would want to be in a city where there were resources for daily life while the siege was in place. If he were expecting a protracted active battle, the ability to have stored provisions inside a defended city would have been helpful. Mormon is not anticipating that kind of battle. Defended cities have not been an effective deterrent against this now “extremely powerful” enemy, whose numbers are now greater than they have ever been.
Mormon does not select a location because it would provide a good defensive position for a long struggle, but a position which can be defended and give the greatest possible advantage to the defender. On a hill, all attack from the enemy is uphill until the end. There is no point at which a breach in the wall shifts the advantage to equal the odds. Mormon puts his people in a position where they must have any advantage that terrain could possibly give.
Nevertheless, with the length of time allowed for preparation, one would expect some cities nearby. Palmer indicates that the site of El Meson is near to the proposed Cumorah hill, and had an occupation during Nephite as well as Olmec times (David A. Palmer. In Search of Cumorah. Horizon Publishers. 1981, p. 107).
Geographic: The most important fixed aspect of the geographical location of the Hill Cumorah is that it is the same hill as the Hill Ramah from the Jaredite record. In that record we find Moroni noting:
11 And it came to pass that the army of Coriantumr did pitch their tents by the hill Ramah; and it was that same hill where my father Mormon did hide up the records unto the Lord, which were sacred.
Moroni tells us very specifically that the two hills are one and the same. Thus the Hill Cumorah is in ancient Jaredite lands. All of these descriptions fit with the rest of the geographic data from the Book of Mormon text. Palmer studied all of the requirements for the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah and amassed the following list of criteria:
Using these criteria, an acceptable candidate for the Hill Cumorah/Hill Ramah is Cerro Vigia in modern Veracruz (David A. Palmer. In Search of Cumorah. Horizon Publishers. 1981, p. 91 see pp. 96-101 for the specific ways in which Cerro Vigia fits the requirements noted).
One of the enduring controversies in Book of Mormon geography is laid precisely upon the location of the Hill Cumorah. Since there is a hill in New York that is traditionally called by that name and since it was the hill from which the records were retrieved, it has long been assumed to be the very hill where the records were deposited. Thus the hypothesis is that the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon must be the Hill Cumorah of tradition in New York.
Sorenson’s answer to this issue has been:
“A question many readers will have been asking themselves is a sound and necessary one: how did Joseph Smith obtain the gold plates in upstate New York if the final battleground of the Nephites was in Mesoamerica?
Let's review where the final battle took place. The Book of Mormon makes clear that the demise of both Jaredites and Nephites took place near the narrow neck of land. Yet New York is thousands of miles away from any plausible configuration that could be described as this narrow neck. Thus the scripture itself rules out the idea that the Nephites perished near Palmyra.
Then how did the plates get from the battleground to New York? We have no definitive answer, but we can construct a plausible picture. Mormon reports that he buried all the records in his custody at the Hill Cumorah of the final battle except for certain key golden plates (Mormon 6:6). Those from which Joseph Smith translated, he entrusted to his son Moroni. As late as 35 years afterward, Moroni was still adding to those records (Moroni 10:1). He never does tell us where he intended to deposit them, nor where he was when he sealed them up (Moroni 10:34). The most obvious way to get the plates to New York state would have been for somebody to carry them there. Moroni could have done so himself during those final, lonely decades.
Would Moroni have been able to survive a trip of several thousand miles through strange peoples and lands, if he did transport the record? Such a journey would be no more surprising than the trip by Lehi's party over land and by sea halfway around the globe. As a matter of fact, we do have a striking case of a trip much like the one Moroni may have made. In the mid-sixteenth century, David Ingram, a shipwrecked English sailor, walked in 11 months through completely strange Indian territory from Tampico, Mexico, to the St. John River, at the present border between Maine and Canada. His remarkable journey would have been about the same distance as Moroni's and over essentially the same route. So Moroni's getting the plates to New York even under his own power seems feasible.” (John L. Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1985], 44.)
5 And when three hundred and eighty and four years had passed away, we had gathered in all the remainder of our people unto the land of Cumorah.
The time of preparation is four years. In the example for Ixtlilxochitl, ten years was allowed, so this does not seem foreign to Mesoamerican practice (David A. Palmer. In Search of Cumorah. Horizon Publishers. 1981, p. 209).
Chronology: The last date we had was three hundred and eighty years in Mormon 5:6. Now four years have passed, and we are in the three hundred and eighty fifth year (the three hundred and eighty fourth had passed away), which would be 376 A. D. Mormon would be seventy five years old at the time of this final battle.
6 And it came to pass that when we had gathered in all our people in one to the land of Cumorah, behold I, Mormon, began to be old; and knowing it to be the last struggle of my people, and having been commanded of the Lord that I should not suffer the records which had been handed down by our fathers, which were sacred, to fall into the hands of the Lamanites, (for the Lamanites would destroy them) therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi, and hid up in the hill Cumorah all the records which had been entrusted to me by the hand of the Lord, save it were these few plates which I gave unto my son Moroni.
As the final battle prepares, Mormon utters that fatal statement of statement from the Book of Mormon. He “began to be old.” This is the classic statement that the end of life is near, and that one is in the mode of making the preparations for transition (see ??? for more information on this phrase in the Book of Mormon.)
As part of the preparations for the end, Mormon has a separate set of plates that he gives to his son, Moroni. Although the text indicates that he gave the plates to Moroni, it is clear that Mormon writes on the plates again. It would appear that this statement refers to the plates after they are finished, rather than any exchange of the plates at this very time.
[therefore I made this record out of the plates of Nephi]: It is tempting to see this statement as an indication that part of the preparation for the final battle was the creation of what we know as the Book of Mormon. Certainly four years would have been sufficient for its creation, and the reprieve from war assured by the communiqué from the Lamanite king would have allowed Mormon the mental peace to be able to divert some of his attention from preparations for war to preparations for a future purpose.
We know that in the three hundred and forty fifth year, the plates of Nephi began in the hill Shim, and were removed by Mormon (Mormon 2:16-17). Mormon doesn’t tell us the extent of these plates, but it is probable that they were the current set of plates comprising the overall record known as the plates of Nephi, which had been a generic name for the official plate transmission line for a thousand years. It is therefore quite unlikely that Mormon would have retrieved, and carried with him, the full plates covering a thousand years of Nephite history. What Mormon does tell us of these plates suggests that they were precisely the regular records on which other record-keepers had written (see Mormon 2:18). Those plates were with Mormon, but were not the set of plates upon which the record we may read was written.
We next see the full collection of plates in the three hundred and sixty seventh year when Mormon retrieves the plates from the hill Shim because the land is being overrun by the Lamanite/Gadiantons, and he wants the full set of plates to be safe (see Mormon 4:23). After collecting the plates, Mormon relents and becomes once again the general of the people. This would seem to indicate that while the full set of plates were in his possession, he did not have massive amounts of leisure time in which to compose and write his text. It would not be surprising, however, for him to begin to read those plates so that when he did get the time to write his text, he would have the background information ready.
The plausible sequence of events would therefore have Mormon writing as a regular record-keeper for at least twenty two years. He would not have been able to write what we know of the Book of Mormon without access to the records in the hill Shim, and he does not obviously have them in his possession until the year three hundred and sixty seven.
From his year 367 to 380, he had the records in his possession, and had to read them and digest them. It is possible that he at least began to compose his outline during this period of time. Based on the statement in this verse, we would then see the actual redaction of the final text coming in the years between 380 and the beginning of the year 385. During that time, however, he did not finish the work before the final Nephite battle. Some unidentifiable portion, containing at least the very last chapter, of the record was written after the battle.
7 And it came to pass that my people, with their wives and their children, did now behold the armies of the Lamanites marching towards them; and with that awful fear of death which fills the breasts of all the wicked, did they await to receive them.
8 And it came to pass that they came to battle against us, and every soul was filled with terror because of the greatness of their numbers.
The last of the people willing to call themselves Nephite, and to fight for that designation, are collected on a mountain. If we recall the physical surroundings of the Hill Cumorah, we remember that it was a high point on a coastal plain. Indeed, Cerro Vigia translates into “Lookout Hill.” The high point would have a visual vantage point over the surrounding more level areas. The sight lines would be long. Here then, are a people gathered for their final battle, watching their doom march towards them for hours. The see the size of the enemy clearly, and the numbers and probably the reputation of the coming army indicates that this really will be a final and desperate battle. No wonder Mormon describes the people watching with fear and terror.
9 And it came to pass that they did fall upon my people with the sword, and with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the ax, and with all manner of weapons of war.
Mormon does not tell us the type of weaponry used to give us details. He isn’t giving any details at all. His catalog of armaments is simply to indicate the wide range of forces that they faced. Different combatants would have different weaponry, and stating the weaponry was meant to tell us of the large number of different types of attackers they were facing.
10 And it came to pass that my men were hewn down, yea, even my ten thousand who were with me, and I fell wounded in the midst; and they passed by me that they did not put an end to my life.
Even though it is probable that Mormon had a promise that he would survive the battle, it is also likely that he did not know how he would survive. He is wounded, and falls among all the other wounded and dead. In the large numbers of people lying on the hill, he is missed. In order for him to have been missed, however, one of two things had to have happened. First, he might have removed any insignia he wore that signified his position. That would have made him not only less of a target, but also less noticeable among the rest of the men lying on the field of battle. The second possibility is that he appeared to be dead and was therefore passed over in spite of his regalia. In any case, the typical battle dress of the general would have made him stand out and should have made him a target to be killed, or captured.
11 And when they had gone through and hewn down all my people save it were twenty and four of us, (among whom was my son Moroni) and we having survived the dead of our people, did behold on the morrow, when the Lamanites had returned unto their camps, from the top of the hill Cumorah, the ten thousand of my people who were hewn down, being led in the front by me.
Of the entire body of Nephites who made their final stand, only twenty four survived. This is actually a remarkably small number, not because of the rest of the slaughter, but because the more typical case would have been many more wounded than dead. This is a testimony to the particular viciousness of this attack. The function of this attack was not simply to gain dominance, but to assure a destruction. With the large body of Lamanite/Gadianton attackers, it would appear that they not only won, but made certain of a kill. Their intent was killing, not winning in this case.
12 And we also beheld the ten thousand of my people who were led by my son Moroni.
13 And behold, the ten thousand of Gidgiddonah had fallen, and he also in the midst.
14 And Lamah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Gilgal had fallen with his ten thousand; and Limhah had fallen with his ten thousand; and Jeneum had fallen with his ten thousand; and Cumenihah, and Moronihah, and Antionum, and Shiblom, and Shem, and Josh, had fallen with their ten thousand each.
15 And it came to pass that there were ten more who did fall by the sword, with their ten thousand each; yea, even all my people, save it were those twenty and four who were with me, and also a few who had escaped into the south countries, and a few who had deserted over unto the Lamanites, had fallen; and their flesh, and bones, and blood lay upon the face of the earth, being left by the hands of those who slew them to molder upon the land, and to crumble and to return to their mother earth.
If we are to accept Mormon’s numbers at face value, we have 250,000 (including the 10,000 from the previous verse) who were slaughtered on that terrible day. While this might not be out of the question, there is every probability that this is an exaggerated number due to the nature of the “ten thousand” number as a probable marker of military units rather than specific counts (see the essay on counts in the Book of Mormon for more information).
In addition to the possibility that the numbers are generalized and not intended to represent real casualties, we have the interesting way that Mormon presents the information. There are twelve specifically named men who led their “ten thousand”. Since there were ten more, we have the interesting case of Mormon naming most, but not all. It might be that like Moroni, he was closer to those named men. However, the very fact that there are twelve of them seems to beg to be seen symbolically. Mormon is telling us that the remnant of Israel has fallen, represented by twelve men for the twelve tribes.
16 And my soul was rent with anguish, because of the slain of my people, and I cried:
Mormon’s sorrow for this grisly scene is expressed in poetic form in his lament that follows. The lament covers verse 17-22. The end of the lament is certainly the point that was used to make the artificial separation of Mormon’s original chapter into the two that we now have.
17 O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord! O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you!
Quite recently in his text, Mormon had implied that his people were no longer a “delightsome” people (Mormon 5:17). However, when he recalls them, he does not recall them as wicked, but as the righteous people that they once were (also the subject of his lament in Mormon 5:17). Here they are not “dark and loathsome,” in the cultural definition, but rather “fair ones.” Mormon is not referring to skin color, but rather to their former righteous state. More than life has been lost. A formerly righteous people is now gone. The sadness of that fact is underscored by the fact that it could have been changed by accepting the offer of the Savior, “who stood with open arms to receive” them.
18 Behold, if ye had not done this, ye would not have fallen. But behold, ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.
Literary: Mormon’s style has a preference for inverted parallel phrases. We have another one here. Mormon contrasts the “ye would not have fallen,” with “ye are fallen.” For Mormon, the “fallen” takes on a dual attribute. It is both a physical and a moral fall.
19 O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!
20 But behold, ye are gone, and my sorrows cannot bring your return.
This part of the lament is not figurative. It would have been quite literal, and the armies waited on Cumorah with their wives and children (verse 7). These have all literally fallen.
21 And the day soon cometh that your mortal must put on immortality, and these bodies which are now moldering in corruption must soon become incorruptible bodies; and then ye must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, to be judged according to your works; and if it so be that ye are righteous, then are ye blessed with your fathers who have gone before you.
Translation: The phrases are borrowed from Paul (1 Corinthians 15:42) but the context of the phrase is made horribly literal. Mormon is seeing (actually or in memory by the time this is written) the corpses of men and women that he personally knew lying on the fields. Their corruption would soon be very literal. Mormon knows that there will come a resurrection, so this is not a completely final state. However, since these are people who had rejected the gospel they had been given. Nevertheless, Mormon does not believe that every single person lying there would be lost eternally. There were certainly some who continued to follow the Lord in the midst of the greater social apostasy. It is for those faithful that he notes that they may be “blessed with your fathers who have gone before.”
22 O that ye had repented before this great destruction had come upon you. But behold, ye are gone, and the Father, yea, the Eternal Father of heaven, knoweth your state; and he doeth with you according to his justice and mercy.
In spite of the few who had continued to be faithful, Mormon understood this as a people who had left their God, and are now on their way to meet the God they had rejected. Now wonder he wishes that they had repented prior. Nevertheless, Mormon affirms his belief in the justice of God.
Textual: There is no chapter break at this point in the 1830 edition.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2002