1 And now it came to pass that the sons of Alma did go forth among the people, to declare the word unto them. And Alma, also, himself, could not rest, and he also went forth.
We are given only this brief hint of the aftermath of Alma’s blessing/admonition to his sons. What is striking is that “the sons of Alma did go forth among the people, to declare the word unto them.” The striking part is that we have just seen Corianton called to this effort, and we have no indication that he is to be excluded. We must conclude, therefore, that Corianton was truly repentant, and that he did follow his father’s admonitions, and did accept his call to the ministry.
In addition to learning that Alma’s sons begin to preach to the people, we find that Alma himself does. We do not learn the reason that Mormon specifically says that Alma “could not rest.” Of course the result of that inability was that Alma also went forth to preach. However, the fact that he has recently concluded his blessings/admonitions to his sons suggests that he had some cognizance that the end of his time was approaching. If there were physical signs that he was soon to leave the world, then resting would have been particularly appropriate. There is nothing in the character of Alma as we know him that suggests he would have retired to a life of luxury, and that would be the definition of his “rest.” It is much more probable that he was feeling the effects of his age.
Guessing Alma the Younger’s age must remain an approximation since we don’t know when he was born. We know that his father would have been approximately 83 when he died, and we might expect that Alma the Younger had been his first born son, with a logical birth date in his father’s early twenties if not late teens. If we use twenty years as a plausible age for Alma the Elder when Alma the Younger was born, we have Alma the Younger as approximately 77 years old at this point. Certainly a man of that age might well expect that he could use some “rest” from the rigors of one who traveled and preached to the people.
2 Now we shall say no more concerning their preaching, except that they preached the word, and the truth, according to the spirit of prophecy and revelation; and they preached after the holy order of God by which they were called.
3 And now I return to an account of the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites, in the eighteenth year of the reign of the judges.
Textual: Verses two and three provide the pivot on which Mormon shifts from his past topic to his next topic. As we have seen before, Mormon tacks the summary information onto the beginning of the next chapter rather than as part of the end of the chapter to which they are relevant, as we would expect a writer to do. The reason for this is that the chapter break creates a shift in the type of material Mormon is writing. Since the previous material dealt with discourse, it was cited in its entirety. Since the following information will deal with events rather than discourse, Mormon found that transition between types; more important that a break between concepts, which would be more familiar to a modern audience.
Now that Mormon is beginning a new section we need to realize that this is larger than a chapter. This “return” to the wars between the Lamanites and the Nephites will be an all-inclusive theme through the end of the Book of Alma. While we have had various descriptions of these military conflicts before, this particular discussion of war and tactics will comprise the largest stretch of such nearly pure historical material we find in the text that Mormon has edited. It becomes a legitimate question as to why we have this much war, and why it appears at this time in Mormon’s text. John W. Welch reminds us:
“Some of the previous valuable work on war in the Book of Mormon has been doctrinal or exhortative in nature. Other studies have focused on the question, Why is there so much war in the Book of Mormon? Actually, when we closely examine the subject, we may all wonder why there isn't more war in the Book of Mormon. For many readers, encountering so much war in so sublime and sacred a volume is something of a culture shock. But this is our problem, not the book's. On this issue, if we put aside our cultural predilections and attempt to understand the Book of Mormon as a Nephite or a Lamanite might have understood it, then these events play much different, more religious roles in the book, and they become spiritually more meaningful to us.” (John W. Welch. “Why Study Warfare in the Book of Mormon?” Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990], 20.)
Still, the fact of the presence of the material on war does not explain the reason for it. It is true that we may wonder what it is doing in the text, and it is to that question that we turn. R. Douglas Phillips attempted an answer to the question in this way:
“Mormon was also acutely aware that the final Lamanite wars of A.D. 322-85, in which he himself played a leading military role, were the fulfillment of the prophecies of Samuel the Lamanite and a testimony that the principle of divine retribution was in full operation (see Helaman 13:5-11; Mormon 1:19; 2:10-15).
"Behold, the judgments of God will overtake the wicked; and it is by the wicked that the wicked are punished; for it is the wicked that stir up the hearts of the children of men unto bloodshed" (Mormon 4:5). Such an outlook was due in no small part, of course, to Mormon's personal experience as a military leader. Like the Greek historian Thucydides, he was not only a general, but he was also destined to be the historian who had to account for his nation's defeat in a terrible war. War was a major element in his life, which virtually coincided with the long period of the final Nephite-Lamanite conflict. He saw as one of the main purposes of his life the tragic task of writing the "record concerning the destruction of [his] people, the Nephites" (Mormon 6:1).
But we must be careful not to overstate Mormon's preoccupation with war. Although he frequently mentions its occurrence in the various periods of Nephite history, he judiciously limits himself to recounting in detail only a few of the many accounts that were at his disposal. Except for his rehearsal of the sixty-three years of war in his own lifetime—with the full account of the causes of war, preparations, battles, retreats, and further battles, including the final one at Cumorah with its losses—Mormon devotes most of his interest in military accounts and wars to the period 75 B.C.-A.D. 25, and in particular to the fourteen years of Lamanite wars at the time of Moroni. His account of that one period fills some seventy pages in the book of Alma.
Inevitably, Mormon should have been attracted to Moroni—the brilliant, energetic, selfless, patriotic, and God-fearing hero who had been instrumental in preserving the Nephite nation. So great was Mormon's admiration for him that he named his son after him. In Mormon's eyes, the peaceful days under Moroni were a golden age in Nephite history (see Alma 50:23). But the military exploits of Moroni seem to have interested Mormon particularly. With great care, he recounted Moroni's courage and patriotism in the desperate military and political state of affairs arising from Lamanite invasion from without and sedition from within, his efforts in mobilization and defense, his own and his lieutenants' brilliant tactics, their sharply fought battles with frightful losses, and their miraculous victories. But throughout his account, we perceive the hand of God making use of devout and just military leaders and statesmen to preserve the righteous and punish the wicked (see Alma 48:11-13, Mormon's eulogy of Moroni).
If, in his account of Moroni, Mormon saw war as a means of divine deliverance for the Nephites, he shows us that the final war fulfilled prophecies of destruction of the nation. With terrifying clarity, we witness with Mormon the tragedy of a people who had passed the point of no return spiritually, who were bent irreversibly on their own destruction.
The implications of Mormon's accounts of war are clear: the people who occupy those lands today are under the same conditions as the earlier inhabitants; they are subject to the same principles of divine retribution, either deliverance or destruction by war. But his son Moroni is the one who, even before he had placed in his father's record the grim account of the Jaredite destruction (following his father's example of selecting and reinforcing his theme of war as a manifestation of God's governance in the affairs of men), warned the inhabitants of America today against placing themselves in the precarious position of the ancient Nephites (see Ether 2:11-12) and warned them to accept with gratitude the lessons of an earlier destruction: "Give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9:31)”. (R. Douglas Philips, “Why Is So Much of the Book of Mormon Given Over to Military Accounts?” Stephen D. Ricks and William J. Hamblin, eds., Warfare in the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1990], 26.)
This explanation is a good beginning. We have an emphasis on the military actions because they resonate with Mormon and his experience. While much of that must certainly be true, other conflicts surely would have similarly excited his imagination. Dr. Phillips is most perceptive when he notes that the greatest detail we have is focused on the years from 75 BC to 25 AD. It is that narrow focus that requires our attention, not the generalities of how military actions might appeal to a military man. Were that Mormon’s driving focus, we surely would have seen much more of war in the text, precisely as Brother Welch indicates. What we must understand, then, is not why there is so much war, but why there is so much emphasis on only some of the wars, wars that fall into a particular time period four hundred years before Mormon’s time.
The answer to that, of course has to do with the particular years, and the particular event to which they are leading. Mormon’s story is a story of the expectation of, arrival of, and aftermath of, the mission of the Atoning Messiah. All other purposes are secondary to that message. Mormon calls himself a disciple of Christ, but appears to function in more of the role of apostle than typical disciple: “3 Ne. 5:13 Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.”
With this absolute focus, Mormon approaches his historical material to show us the movement toward the most important event in the history of the world. To place that event in its greater human context, however, he must give us to story of the Nephites. This is a story that has great hope in their revelations about the nature of this coming Atoning Messiah, but great sorrow in that a number of the Nephites turn away from the very thing they, of all people, should have fervently awaited. The story Mormon is telling prior to the coming of Christ to the New World is one of the human struggles to preserve this hope in the face of competing destructive influences from the world around them. The closer the event comes, the greater detail we have about this struggle. Not only do we have more detailed war covering a few years in the Book of Alma, we have a more concentrated detail of all aspects of the Nephite religious struggle during this same book. It is not that Alma and his times were more righteous, but that his time more clearly defined the conditions that were present when the Atoning Messiah arrived in their midst. To understand how that birth and visit transformed the Nephite world, Mormon understands that he must show us more of the nature of that world prior to the event. In particular, he must let us know how a people beholding to a line of leaders such as Benjamin, Mosiah, Alma the Elder and then Alma the Younger could arrive at such a contrast in states between Benjamin’s new covenant with his people where they were named for this atoning Messiah, and the condition where the majority of Nephites had come to believe that there was no coming atoning Messiah, and that they would therefore threaten believers with death on the eve of his arrival.
Mormon shows us war because he is showing us the change in Nephite religious culture that is leading up to the events at the birth, and the visit of Christ.
History: The time period we are considering is called the late Preclassic in Mesoamerican archaeology. It is not always possible to determine precisely what is happening in this exact period because the archaeological phase covers 200 BC to 200 AD. From various pieces of information, however, we can piece together a picture of the Maya portion of the Mesoamerican world at this time that appears to point towards an increase in militarism. Our best information for Maya militarism will come later in the Classic, but the seeds of the Classic are firmly sown at the end of the Preclassic, and the wars of the Nephites and Lamanites may fit into general pressures that are visible from that time period.
At the site of Edzna during the late Preclassic we find a surge in population, and a system of canals ans reservoirs that may have had a defensive function (John S. Henderson. The World of the Ancient Maya. Cornell University Press, 1981, p. 107.) In the site of Chiapa de Corzo, which Sorenson places in the sphere of Zarahemla (he suggests that it was the home of the Amlicites. Sorenson 1985, p. 197) also shows signs of militarism during the late Preclassic (Thomas A. Lee, Jr. TheArtifacts of Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas, Mexico. New World Archaeological Foundation, 1969, p. 195.)
Most intriguing is the analysis of linguistic changes in the Guatemalan highlands that suggests that a Ch’olan speaking population was under pressure from a K’iche’ speaking population during the late Preclassic, pressure that resulting in the expulsion of the Ch’olan speakers from Kaminaljuyu around 200 AD (Federico Fahsen. “From Chiefdoms to Statehood in the Highlands of Guatemala.” Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest. Ed. Nikolai Grube. Konemann, 2001, pp. 92-94).
All of this evidence suggests that there were pressures building in the region which were developing into warfare. The fact that we begin to see even larger scale warfare at this particular time in the Book of Mormon fits into the general pattern that may be discerned for this time period in the plausible location of Book of Mormon lands.
4 For behold, it came to pass that the Zoramites became Lamanites; therefore, in the commencement of the eighteenth year the people of the Nephites saw that the Lamanites were coming upon them; therefore they made preparations for war; yea, they gathered together their armies in the land of Jershon.
Social: This verse is deceptive in its simplicity. We have the very casual statement that “the Zoramites became Lamanites; therefore….” What a world of information is communicated in such few words! First, we have the very simple statement that the Zoramites became Lamanites. This should put to rest all presumptions that the term Lamanite has anything to do with genetics at this point in the Book of Mormon. The only way that the Zoramites could become Lamanites was to shift their political alliances. Surely the did not move. Surely the did not alter their genetic makeup. What they did was alter an allegiance. Lamanite is clearly a political term here.
The next point is subtler because it is not stated at all. There are many presumptions about the meaning of the curse on the Lamanites. We have statements contrasting skins of darkness and white skins, terms that related to righteousness. Here we have an entire city who were righteous, and the rather suddenly became Lamanites. As Lamanites, they were subject to the curse, but there is no indication of any consternation on the part of these people when they awoke one morning to find that all of them had changed the skin color. As has been noted before, this contrast is symbolic, not physiological.
The last curious piece contained in that brief phrase is the “therefore.” We have the remarkable statement that once the Zoramites became Lamanites, therefore they were at war with the Nephites. This remarkable situation not only suggests ongoing tensions between the Nephites and the Lamanites, but also the definition that Jacob gave:
14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.
It would appear that one of the fundamental aspects of the conceptual usage of the term Lamanite was that they should “seek to destroy the people of Nephi.” Since “Lamanite” is used generically in the Book of Mormon, it does not specify a particular polity, but any polity that is inimical to the interests of the Nephites.
Military: The Nephites gather their armies in Jershon. In one sense this is ironic because Jershon is the land to which the people of Ammon were sent because they were presumed to be fairly safe from war in that location. What has changed this presumption is the defection of the Zoramites and the loss of control of the land around Antionum. This city had been a buffer between the people and Ammon and the Lamanites. Now it was an operating base for the Lamanites. What was originally a safe location is now at the heart of this new threat.
5 And it came to pass that the Lamanites came with their thousands; and they came into the land of Antionum, which is the land of the Zoramites; and a man by the name of Zerahemnah was their leader.
Here we have four pieces of information. The first is that the Lamanites have moved their own armies. This is not simply a rebellion of Antionum, but the war will encompass part of the military might of the Lamanites. This process of combining forces with those of another city state was a common practice in Mesoamerican warfare. Indeed, part of the continued success of a large hegemony of city states was the ability to muster armies from a much larger land than that of the central city which was politically dominant. This became particularly true of the Aztec empire. The larger they became, the more difficult it was to overthrow them because of their ability to muster and provision large armies at distant locations.
The next information is that the Lamanites “came with their thousands.” It is quite possible that there really were multiple thousands of Lamanite soldiers, but we must also remember that numbers behave suspiciously in the Book of Mormon, particularly when used in a military context (see the comments on counts and estimates in the Book of Mormon following Alma 2:19).
These Lamanite troops entered Antionum. The rebellion of these form Nephites-now-become-Lamanites has led to a situation where they could call upon Lamanite armies. No doubt they will also raise troops of their own, but certainly they were under obligation to support the Lamanites. The presence of the Lamanites in Antionum is precisely the fear which led Alma to begin preaching to the Zoramites in the first place:
Alma (Alma 31:3-6)
3 Now the Zoramites had gathered themselves together in a land which they called Antionum, which was east of the land of Zarahemla, which lay nearly bordering upon the seashore, which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites.
4 Now the Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites, and that it would be the means of great loss on the part of the Nephites.
5 And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.
6 Therefore he took Ammon, and Aaron, and Omner; and Himni he did leave in the church in Zarahemla; but the former three he took with him, and also Amulek and Zeezrom, who were at Melek; and he also took two of his sons.
Antionum held a very strategic position on the eastern flank of the land of Zarahemla, and opening Antionum as a support base for Lamanite military action opened a major breach in the geographic defenses of Zarahemla.
Lastly, we have the name of the military commander of the Lamanite forces, Zerahmenah. Up to this point in the Book of Mormon we have rarely seen the names of the commanders of the opposing forces, but we now see them with much greater frequency. We saw an earlier case when Amlici leads his armies against Alma, and eventually is defeated in hand to hand combat with Alma (Alma 2:29). The leader of an army in Mesoamerica was frequently either the king or a man who was close to the king. For instance, K’inich B’aaknal Chaak of Tonina “inherit[ed] the services of two aj k’uhuun who werved Ruler 2, but soon [were] joined by another called Aj Ch’anaah. This character would later use the yajaw k’ak’ “Lord of Fire’ title, probably denoting a key military position.” (Simon Martin and Nokolai Grube. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. Thames and Hudson, 2000. p. 181).
It is possible that the increasing detail of the campaigns and the presentation of the names of commanders is part of the same issue. Rulers become the de facto representative of not only their polity, but the ideology of the their polity. By presenting us with named people, Mormon can bring into higher focus the issues that are being addressed above and beyond the particular objective of each campaign.
6 And now, as the Amalekites were of a more wicked and murderous disposition than the Lamanites were, in and of themselves, therefore, Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites and Zoramites.
We first meet the Amalekites in Alma 21:1-4. We find them in Lamanite country, but distinguished among the Lamanites by different name. The uniqueness of their name does not owe to a city, because their city (along with the Amulonites) was called Jerusalem. This tells us that they were a distinct body of people that had some uniting factor that wasn’t the city to which they belonged. We also learn that they were of the order of Nehor, which appears to be a religion that specifically derives from Nephite rather than more pure Lamanite religion. We have therefore suggested that the Amalekites were apostate Nephites, and that they have become Lamanites in the same way that the Zoramites have. This is confirmed in verse 13 below. We also saw in chapter 21 that they were very resistant to the teachings of Aaron and his brethren. This is consistent with the description in this verse.
What we have now is a force that is at least led by those who have personal ideological hatred for the Nephites that is more recent that that of the Lamanites at large. There is much more in this battle than simply a desire for territory or tribute. There is a class of ideas, a class of perceived rights, and the unique hatred that seems to come when one actively turns against an old way.
7 Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites, that he might bring them into subjection to the accomplishment of his designs.
8 For behold, his designs were to stir up the Lamanites to anger against the Nephites; this he did that he might usurp great power over them, and also that he might gain power over the Nephites by bringing them into bondage.
Note that while there is hatred here, we still have the Mesoamerican objective of war, to “bring into bondage.” While that phrase is modernized, the subjection of a people to a different polity would redirect the flow of goods away from the old channels and into new ones. As a people further from the recipient of the flow of goods, the people of the land of Zarahemla would have less direct benefit of their production, and the requirement to produce without significant benefit of that production is the meaning of Mesoamerican bondage.
9 And now the design of the Nephites was to support their lands, and their houses, and their wives, and their children, that they might preserve them from the hands of their enemies; and also that they might preserve their rights and their privileges, yea, and also their liberty, that they might worship God according to their desires.
10 For they knew that if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites, that whosoever should worship God in spirit and in truth, the true and the living God, the Lamanites would destroy.
There are two aspects of the social underpinnings of the Nephite cause of defense. The first is very understandable. They were fighting for their lands and way of life. The second is more interesting because it suggests a religious intolerance that is foreign to historical understandings of Mesoamerican warfare. While the role of the gods in warfare was to show the superiority of the god of the people who conquered, there was not known to be a destruction of the belief-ways of the conquered people. Why do the Nephites fear the destruction of their religion?
We must continually remember the unique linkages between religion and society in the ancient world. In particular, the Nephite socio-religious world is holding out for its egalitarian ideal amidst a world that is increasingly hierarchical, and whose hierarchical society is becoming more and more attractive. With the political domination of the Lamanites, the ruling clans of the Nephites would be deposed, and the religious pressures for egalitarianism would be removed and placed in disfavor. The already present desires of the people in Zarahemla to adopt the hierarchical lifestyle would be allowed to grow, and the adoption of kings and classes would rapidly follow. This process would be the one that destroyed the Nephite religion.
11 Yea, and they also knew the extreme hatred of the Lamanites towards their brethren, who were the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, who were called the people of Ammon—and they would not take up arms, yea, they had entered into a covenant and they would not break it—therefore, if they should fall into the hands of the Lamanites they would be destroyed.
To the Lamanites, these people that are heroic to the Nephites would be seen as traitors. The rejection of Lamanite religion, and the rejection of the previous polities would suggest that there would be hatred towards them. When we also remember that it was an Amalikite-led revolution that drove the people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi from their land, we have a political rivalry as well. The people of Anti-Nephi-Lehi contained a previous king of the Lamanites, and therefore a legitimate ruling lineage. This is a dangerous thing in the Mesoamerican world, and indeed among all kingships. The possibility of a legitimate claim upon the throne from someone else was a risk that most peoples of the world found a way to remove, usually through sad violence. It would appear to have been the same in this case. There were numerous reasons why the Amalekites would be particularly interested in the destruction of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, now known as the people of Ammon, and not so coincidentally, residing in Jershon.
12 And the Nephites would not suffer that they should be destroyed; therefore they gave them lands for their inheritance.
13 And the people of Ammon did give unto the Nephites a large portion of their substance to support their armies; and thus the Nephites were compelled, alone, to withstand against the Lamanites, who were a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah.
14 Now those descendants were as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites; and thus the Nephites were obliged to contend with their brethren, even unto bloodshed.
Social: The first important information we have in this set of verses is the relationship between the Nephites and the people of Ammon (formerly Anti-Nephi-Lehies). Since that people could not fight, they are placed in a particular land, a land that was originally thought relatively safe, and now is at the heart of danger. What we learn is that there is a mutual responsibility pact between the two peoples. The protection requires an army, and since that army must be away from their lands to be of any immediate help, economic assistance is required. Thus the people of Ammon exchange some of their production for the express use of another city’s military presence.
The next information we have concerns the makeup of the generic appellation of Lamanite. Those that are called Lamanites are still identifiable as tribes/clans, as noted by the evocation of the descendants of Laman, Lemuel, and Ishmael. In addition to those who are lineally “Lamanites” from early times, we also have other clans or polities that are more recent. These are “all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah.
What we also learn is the extent of the dissention from the Nephites. We have the interesting phrase in verse 14 that “those descendants were as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites…” The issue is the antecedent of “those descendants.” We have a long list of peoples, but only “those decendants” appear to be the ones especially noted to be “as numerous, nearly, as were the Nephites.” While it is possible that “those descendants” refers to all of those descended from Laman, Lemuel, and Ismael, this would be unusual when compared to earlier statements that indicate that the Lamanites alone, prior to the addition of any dissenters, would have been more numerous than the Lamanites. For example, consider Jarom:
6 And they were scattered upon much of the face of the land, and the Lamanites also. And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites; and they loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts.
There is no indication that there was any radical destruction of the Lamanites that should have changed these ancient ratios, so this particular comment does not appear to refer to those early Lamanites. The next two possibilities are the Amalekites, Zoramites, and descendants of the preists of Noah. On the strength of the language alone it would appear that the most immediate reference is the descendants of the priests of Noah. While this is the most logical structural reference, this is a most disturbing one, as those priests were contemporaneous with Alma’s father (he being one of them) and in this short of time they would have to have developed a larger progeny than almost all of the Nephites.
This simply could not have happened. If there is a connection, it must be in some other mode of determining lineage than strictly genetics. Those priests could have risen to places of power, and their location in positions of power could have given them a fictive set of “descendants” in those who would be politically dependent upon them. This phrase is rather problematic, and there is not clean explanation for it.
What is important about the comparative numbers of Lamanites and Nephites is the implication for the size of the problem of dissenters. We have three dissenting groups, and two of them are large enough to warrant distinctive names for their groups. Among the current list we do not have the Amulonites, who were with the Amalikites in Jerusalem. We should also note the Ammonihahites who were also dissenters from Nephite religion even though they adhered to the Nephite hegemony, much as did the Zoramites prior to becoming Lamanites (the Ammonihahites were destroyed by the Lamanites/Amalekites when the Anti-Nephi-Lehies were expelled from the land of Nephi).
The picture that emerges for Zarahemla is a land that has a tenuous hold politically and religiously on its dependent cities. Even in Zarahemla, there are pressures for the adoption of the “Lamanite” ways that show up in the form of king-advocates. What we will see in the development of the Nephite history for the next several years is one of fighting on multiple fronts, with one of the enemies being internal.
15 And it came to pass as the armies of the Lamanites had gathered together in the land of Antionum, behold, the armies of the Nephites were prepared to meet them in the land of Jershon.
What makes this battle line between Antionum and Jershon inevitable? There were more important lands pertaining to Zarahemla, and since Jershon was fairly deep in Nephite territory, why attack it instead of Zarahemla itself? The plausible geography of the area gives us some indication. Of course the immediate reason for an attack anywhere was the newly acquired operating base of Antionum. If we use Sorenson’s reconstruction of the lay of the land, Antionum and Jershon would both lie along a coastal strip of land on the east side of the Nephite lands. There would be mountainous area between Antionum and Zarahemla, and an area designated as a “wilderness.” The easiest line of march would be up the river valley from Jershon to Zarahemla rather than over the intervening mountains. Thus Jershon was not only logical because it was near, but because it was both convenient in terms of topography, and strategic in that it controlled the entrance to the river valley where Zarahemla was located (see Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, p. 43, map 5. See also An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, o, 239-240).
16 Now, the leader of the Nephites, or the man who had been appointed to be the chief captain over the Nephites—now the chief captain took the command of all the armies of the Nephites—and his name was Moroni;
We meet Moroni. He is “appointed to be the chief captain.” We do now know what the actual title of his rank might have been, only that it was the “chief captain.” We may expect that there were other “captains” but that Moroni was chief among them.
17 And Moroni took all the command, and the government of their wars. And he was only twenty and five years old when he was appointed chief captain over the armies of the Nephites.
As commander of the armies of the Nephites, Moroni has full command over the military battles. In this occasion, we do not find any of the leaders of the community, the chief judge, for instance, in charge of the army. Apparently, among the Nephites the days of Alma as chief judge fighting in personal combat are behind them.
18 And it came to pass that he met the Lamanites in the borders of Jershon, and his people were armed with swords, and with cimeters, and all manner of weapons of war.
19 And when the armies of the Lamanites saw that the people of Nephi, or that Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm-shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing—
20 Now the army of Zerahemnah was not prepared with any such thing; they had only their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea, all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites;
Mormon gives us a comparison of the military outfitting of the two armies. It is important to note similarities and differences.
Both armies carry offensive weapons. We are told that the shared catalog of weaponry consists of swords and cimeters. We hear of bows and arrows, stones and slings for the Lamanites, but not for the Nephites. This probably does not mean that they were absent, however, for we also have the indication that the Nephites had “all manner of weapons of war.”
The catalog of weaponry also includes slings, which were an important part of the Mesoamerican offensive weapon set:
“Completing the projectile triad were maguey0fiber slings (tematlatl) used to hurl stones at the enemy. The stones thrown by the slings were not casually collected at the battle site but were hand-shaped rounded stones stockpiled in advance, and these also were sent to Tenochtitlan as tribute.
Comparative data indicate that slings have a range in excess of 200 meters (660 feet) with randomly selected stones, exceeding 400 meters (1320 feet) with lead pellets in ancient Greece; slingers in the imperial Roman army could pierce chain mail at 500 paces. As with arrows, standardizing the pellet shape and size increases velocity, distance, and accuracy, and such pellets could be lethal against even armored targets. Diaz del Castillo admired the Indian’s use of bows, lances, and swords, but he commented that the sling stones were even more damaging, the hail of stones being so furious that even well-armored Spanish soldiers were sounded. Slings were sufficiently effective that the slinger and the archer were essentially equals; when both were used, they were complementary and usually served close together.” (Ross Hassig. Aztec Warfare. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995, p.80).
It would appear that the difference was not in offensive weapons, but in defensive protection. For the Nephites we have specific mention of breastplates, arm-shields, “shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing…” This is contrasted to a Lamanite battle dress that has them “naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea, all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites.” It would appear that the Zoramites and Amalekites, as apostate Nephites, had a different battle dress than the Lamanites, but it is doubtful that it consisted of the “thick clothing” since that is specifically noted for the Nephites.
The “thick clothing” is plausibly a description of a type of body armor best known from Aztec times:
“Quilted cotton armor (ichcahuipilli) was a common element of battle attire in Mesoamerica. It was constructed of unspun cotton tightly stitched between two layers of cloth and sewn to a leather border. The belief that the cotton was soaked in coarse salt to strengthen it derives from de Landa; but this account is unsubstantiated elsewhere, and Gates thinks this is a misinterpretation of taab, “to tie,” for tab, “salt,” and that the cotton was tied or quilted, not salted.
The ichcahuipilli was so think (one and a half to two fingers) that neither an arrow nor an atlatl dart could penetrate it. It was made in several styles: a type of jacket that tied at the back, a sleeveless jacket that tied in the front, a sleeveless pullover that hugged the body and reached to the top of the thigh, and a sleeveless pullover that flared and reached to midthigh.” (Ross Hassig. Aztec Warfare. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995, p.88).
This style of protective armor may also be painted on a Maya pot. Reents-Budet describes the scene on this particular pot:
“Lord Kan Xib Ahaw takes captives in battle. The victorious warrolrs are identified by their short-sleeved shirts, three of which are made from jaguar pelts. Perhaps these jaguar tops are a type of body protection stuffed swith cotton or reinforced in some other manner, similar to the effective armor worn by the later Aztecs and adopted by the invading Spanish in the sixteenth century.” (Dorie Reents-Budet. Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period. Duke University Press, 1994, p. 259).
While it would be too precipitous to suggest that the Nephites invented this type of armor, we are certainly witnessing a time period before it had been widely accepted, and thus could be a distinguishing difference between the Nephite and Lamanite forces.
The defensive catalog of the Aztecs also included helmets and shields (Hassig p. 85). The breastplate is not among the later Aztec catalog, but there are several artistic representations of warriors with a plate affixed over their chests that may fit the description of the breastplate in our text.
21 But they were not armed with breastplates, nor shields—therefore, they were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites.
22 Behold, now it came to pass that they durst not come against the Nephites in the borders of Jershon; therefore they departed out of the land of Antionum into the wilderness, and took their journey round about in the wilderness, away by the head of the river Sidon, that they might come into the land of Manti and take possession of the land; for they did not suppose that the armies of Moroni would know whither they had gone.
The Lamanites come to battle, but see an imposing sight in front of them. They decide not to engage. The extant artistic representations of Mesoamerican warfare suggest that the visual presentation of the army may have been an important aspect of warfare, and specifically designed for intimidation. While the intimidation of the Lamanites was created by a difference in armor, intimidation in later years was attempted by visual displays in addition to the armor.
The most exciting visual display of this visually impressive armor/intimidation is found in the murals of Bonampak where warriors are shown in elaborate headdresses and body clothing/armor made of jaguar skins (Mary Miller. “Understanding the Murals of Bonampak.” Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest. Ed. Nikolai Grube, Konemann, 2001, p. 240-241). The importance of military presentation and intimidation reached a pinnacle among the Aztec warriors. Tributary states were required to supply military “suits” which can be seen in all of their impressive glory in the Codex Medoza folios 19-41 and others (Frances f. Berdan and Patricia Rieff Anawalt. The Essential Codex Mendoza. University of California Press, 1997, pp. 4:43-87).
The flight of the Lamanite armies as a result of this visual intimidation is no more than a desired outcome of Mesoamerican battle. This principle became part and parcel of later battles, and the modes of intimidation increased, including the sounding of trumpets to increase the noise, and probably to invoke the sounds of the divine. The jaguar costumes that we see so often in Maya paintings were certainly used to invoke the divine power of the jaguar in behalf of the warriors. This short scene in the Book of Mormon is quite at home in the Mesoamerican location.
When the Lamanites decline to attack Jershon they pick a different target. That target is Manti, which is located south of Zarahemla, perhaps 75 miles upstream (Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, p. 57). This redirection of tactics is important for several reasons. The first, and most obscure, is that the Lamanites apparently thought that Manti might not be guarded by the men in the armor as was Jershon. This is implied by the their reluctance to fight the armored men in Jershon, but their willingness to continue fighting. If they were to always face armor, they might have decided to press an attack where they had already planned to, particularly with the base of Antionum to work from. The fact that they shied away from Jershon and still determined to fight at Manti not only suggests that they thought that the Nephites might not use armor at that location, it tells us that the expectation of the Nephite hegemony was a lack of uniformity.
This is an important point because modern presumptions of a centralized government tend to include some conception that there are fairly uniform aspects of culture across the units. The United States may have States and a Federal Government, but the clothing is reasonably national. Automobiles are national. The ancient world in Mesoamerica might have had some similar overriding cultural traits, but there would have been large distinctions between the various cities that were part of a political hegemony. Thus it is not surprising that the Lamanites might have assumed that the armor was specific to Jershon, and that they might not see it in Manti.
The next important information to be gleaned from both the initial attempt on Jershon, and the secondary attempt on Manti is that the real objective of the Lamanites was the political heartland of the land of Zarahemla in the Sidon river valley. In Sorenson’s correlation we have Jershon on the northern end of the river valley, where the Lamanites could have begun moving up the valley to arrive at Zarahemla. Manti lies at the opposite end of the river valley. Thus the Lamanites have kept the same objective, but decided to attack from a different direction. What is important in the selection of both sites is that it was preferable to march an army “around” rather than over the physical barrier that separated the Sidon river valley from the location of Antionum. This geographic feature will become important in the next few verses.
23 But it came to pass, as soon as they had departed into the wilderness Moroni sent spies into the wilderness to watch their camp; and Moroni, also, knowing of the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
24 And it came to pass that the word of the Lord came unto Alma, and Alma informed the messengers of Moroni, that the armies of the Lamanites were marching round about in the wilderness, that they might come over into the land of Manti, that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people. And those messengers went and delivered the message unto Moroni.
The role of the prophet in war was to invoke the assistance of the Lord. In this case, Moroni needs to know where the Lamanite army is headed. They might be retreating to attack again at Jershon. They might go to Manti, surely that possibility had occurred to Moroni for the same reasons that it had occurred to Moroni. It was also possible, however, that they would take the more difficult route over the mountains to attack Zarahemla, or do something entirely different. For Moroni as well as any modern general, accurate information on the intentions of one’s enemy makes for an improved ability to combat them. Moroni turns to Alma who inquires of the Lord and learns that the next attack is to come at Manti. Moroni now knows how to deploy his forces.
25 Now Moroni, leaving a part of his army in the land of Jershon, lest by any means a part of the Lamanites should come into that land and take possession of the city, took the remaining part of his army and marched over into the land of Manti.
The fact that the Lord has told Moroni that the main attack will be at Manti does not preclude some smaller attack at Jershon. Moroni therefore leaves some forces behind to protect that very vulnerable land.
Variant: Editions subsequent to the first edition have eliminated a second reference to Moroni in this passage. The original read: “take possession of the city, and Moroni took the remaining…” The “and Moroni” was also present in the original and printer’s manuscripts. This change was made to smooth out the sentence structure when the phrases were seen as a single sentence. The original manuscript was not neatly broken into sentences, and an ancient text would not have had sentence punctuation either. The “and Moroni” is a marker of a new idea, a new sentence. That function has been lost by the removal, but no real information.
26 And he caused that all the people in that quarter of the land should gather themselves together to battle against the Lamanites, to defend their lands and their country, their rights and their liberties; therefore they were prepared against the time of the coming of the Lamanites.
Social: Moroni is captain of an army that has already been assembled. When he arrives in Manti he requests another army. He requests that the people “in that quarter of the land” participate in their own defense. This is a very standard means of raising an army in Mesoamerica. There may be those who are trained military, but the larger part of the army was raised from the people of the land. This description of the recruitment of a local militia is quite appropriate for the Mesoamerican context in which we are placing the Book of Mormon.
27 And it came to pass that Moroni caused that his army should be secreted in the valley which was near the bank of the river Sidon, which was on the west of the river Sidon in the wilderness.
28 And Moroni placed spies round about, that he might know when the camp of the Lamanites should come.
Moroni takes advantage of his advance information to lay a trap for the Lamanite armies. This valley is certainly part of the access lines to Manti. Knowing their intended target, Moroni deploys his forces to intercept them prior to reaching their target. What is interesting here is that while the Lamanites clearly have a head start from Jershon to Manti, Moroni arrives before they do, and has time to set the ambush. He is able to do this even though he had to send messengers to Alma, have Alma inquire of the Lord, and then have those messengers return with the information. This sequencing of events suggests that Moroni’s line of march from Jershon to Manti was much shorter than that of the Lamanites, precisely the situation expected because of the natural barriers to the west of the Lamanite armies. As they retreated and moved around the wilderness area, they took much longer than Moroni’s men took as he had the more direct and topographically easier route up the Sidon river valley.
29 And now, as Moroni knew the intention of the Lamanites, that it was their intention to destroy their brethren, or to subject them and bring them into bondage that they might establish a kingdom unto themselves over all the land;
30 And he also knowing that it was the only desire of the Nephites to preserve their lands, and their liberty, and their church, therefore he thought it no sin that he should defend them by stratagem; therefore, he found by his spies which course the Lamanites were to take.
This chapter is a synopsis of the events given by Mormon from his sources. In these two verses we have an editorial comment from Mormon on what would have been a much fuller, and probably more direct, description of the battle on his source plates. What we have from Mormon is an interesting comment placing Captain Moroni’s actions into a moral sphere. What we seem to have is a hint at Mormon’s understanding of the morality of battle.
Mormon is giving an excuse for Moroni’s actions. He tells us the motivation for Moroni’s tactics, and that this motivation therefore justifies the tactics. What Mormon is saying, though he certainly does not realize it, is that he considers this type of tactic less than honorable in other circumstances. This comment says worlds about Mormon’s conception of “proper” warfare. As with the Mesoamerican armies with which we are familiar though history, the morality of warfare depended heavily on the individual combat. The purpose of the fight was not destruction, but demonstrating prowess and the moral superiority of the polity behind the army. Battles were typically announced, and the arrival of the army had been well noted.
Moroni violates that principle of direct and known conflict by secreting his forces. While that makes perfect sense in a modern military situation, it was apparently foreign to certain principles held by Mormon, and therefore something on which he needed to comment.
The comment that Mormon makes in verse 29 tells us much about the nature of political warfare in the Lamanite/Nephite world. When Mormon first describes the intent of the Lamanites he says that they want to “destroy their brethren.” This makes it sound as though the Lamanites were simply bloodthirsty and desirous of killing and total destruction. That cannot be the image that Mormon has in mind, because his following information contradicts this type of complete destruction. When we get to the more specific information of the desires of the Lamanites we have: “…to subject them and bring them into bondage that they might establish a kingdom unto themselves over all the land.” As we have seen before in the Book of Mormon, battles were not fought for destruction, nor even for acquisition of land, but for the subjugation of the local polity in favor of the rulers of the attacking army. The idea was to establish a tribute relationship between the conquered city and the new overlord.
This is precisely what we see in Mormon’s description. The Nephites were to be brought into bondage. This is a Book of Mormon term that may be retranslated as “become a tributary” in the Mesoamerican context. The bondage is that they are required to offer up some of their production and send it to the new political leader. Notice that the end result of this “bondage/tribute” would be that there is as a new kingdom in the land. The overlordship of the land of Zarahemla would pass to the king of the organizing city of the Lamanite army. All of these specifics fit precisely the conditions we find in Mesoamerican warfare.
31 Therefore, he divided his army and brought a part over into the valley, and concealed them on the east, and on the south of the hill Riplah;
32 And the remainder he concealed in the west valley, on the west of the river Sidon, and so down into the borders of the land Manti.
33 And thus having placed his army according to his desire, he was prepared to meet them.
The Lamanites will be approaching from the south. Moroni divides his army, with one placed on the west side of the Sidon, and another part on the east side. We must assume that there was some easy fording place of the river. We will see that the Lamanites attempt a crossing, so there must have been a logical location for that crossing. There must also be some way of visually concealing the army on the south side of the hill Riplah, as that is the direction of approach of the Lamanite army. The tactic will be to allow the army to pass the hill, and then be caught on two fronts.
34 And it came to pass that the Lamanites came up on the north of the hill, where a part of the army of Moroni was concealed.
35 And as the Lamanites had passed the hill Riplah, and came into the valley, and began to cross the river Sidon, the army which was concealed on the south of the hill, which was led by a man whose name was Lehi, and he led his army forth and encircled the Lamanites about on the east in their rear.
36 And it came to pass that the Lamanites, when they saw the Nephites coming upon them in their rear, turned them about and began to contend with the army of Lehi.
37 And the work of death commenced on both sides, but it was more dreadful on the part of the Lamanites, for their nakedness was exposed to the heavy blows of the Nephites with their swords and their cimeters, which brought death almost at every stroke.
Verse 37 tells us that the “work of death commenced on both sides.” Mormon leaves out some of the detail, but we can fill it in from this comment and the general location of the armies. The Lamanite army has moved into the valley, and must cross the river Sidon to reach their objective of Manti. The Nephite army has been divided so that part of the army is on the far side of the river, and part is on the near side. As the Lamanites move up through the valley, they pass the Nephite force that is hidden on the south side of the hill Riplah. Thus they have unknowingly placed an enemy force at their rear.
Moroni apparently wiats for the Lamanite army to begin the river crossing. The Lamanite army facing Lehi’s forces at their rear will defend their rear, but still intend to move to their target. Thus they will begin to move across the river. A river fording slows down an army while they are in the water, and certainly as they come out of the water and up the banks. They will also not have as firm a battle front as if they had begun on dry land. In this state of confusion, Moroni will fall upon them with the force that was secreted on the west side of the river. This portion of Moroni’s army would not have to face the entire Lamanite force, because many of them would be on the other side of the ford. Thus the army on the west has a tactical advantage in both higher ground (the river banks must be lower than the surrounding lands) and in the ability to create a wider front.
The Lamanite army is now actually fighting on three fronts. The first is on the west, then second on the east with the rear of their forces, and the third is in the center, where the river becomes an enemy in an of itself because it hinders the rapid deployment of troops between the two fronts. The Lamanite army has been divided and surrounded, and Moroni has used the river itself as one of his weapons.
38 While on the other hand, there was now and then a man fell among the Nephites, by their swords and the loss of blood, they being shielded from the more vital parts of the body, or the more vital parts of the body being shielded from the strokes of the Lamanites, by their breastplates, and their armshields, and their head-plates; and thus the Nephites did carry on the work of death among the Lamanites.
Verse 38 is the companion information to the final note in verse 37. We have a comparison between the casualty rates of the Lamanites and the Nephites. The Lamanites do not have body armor, and the Nephite army does. We do not know if all of the Nephites have the armor, or only the forces that Moroni brought with him. This might have been the case as the rest of the army was raised from the local land, and might not have had the armor previously prepared.
The result is a greater number of casualties among the Lamanites. Each force was similarly equipped, but the body armor of the Nephites protected them from more serious injuries. Nevertheless, the hand to hand combat did expose them to cuts on their arms and legs, and the text indicates that there were men lost from loss of blood through the cuts on the unexposed parts of the body.
What we are not told is the relative size of the armies. While it is tempting to see the Nephites as the larger army because they were fighting in their own lands, it is also quite possible that the Lamanite army was much larger. This would explain the need for Moroni’s tactic of division. Had the Lamanite army been smaller, Moroni might have simply met them, or the size of the opposing force would have intimidated a retreat as it had in Jershon. The implications of the text suggest that it was the Lamanites who had the superior numbers, and that the tactics of division and armament made the different in the battle.
39 And it came to pass that the Lamanites became frightened, because of the great destruction among them, even until they began to flee towards the river Sidon.
40 And they were pursued by Lehi and his men; and they were driven by Lehi into the waters of Sidon, and they crossed the waters of Sidon. And Lehi retained his armies upon the bank of the river Sidon that they should not cross.
We have the battle perhaps out of sequence. We get the result of the rear attach by the army led by Lehi before we get the consequence on the other side of the river. In any case, the result of the battle is that the Lamanite army moves across the Sidon. This not only moves them away from the threat to their rear, but moves them closer to their goal in Manti. On the other side of the river, however, they now meet Moroni and his armies.
It would appear that Moroni placed his armies in two locations. One was an ambush side on the west of the river and probably somewhat south of the ford location. In this way, when the fighting continued after the fording the logical direction of flight would be north towards Manti, where apparently there was a large force awaiting them. Lehi holds his army from crossing the river. This move protects the Lamanite retreat zone, and does not place his army at any further risk.
41 And it came to pass that Moroni and his army met the Lamanites in the valley, on the other side of the river Sidon, and began to fall upon them and to slay them.
42 And the Lamanites did flee again before them, towards the land of Manti; and they were met again by the armies of Moroni.
The Lamanites are now less organized than they were at the beginning. They have been attacked at the rear, and the rear has most likely caused some confusion in the center by more rapidly pressing their crossing that would have been in the original plan. As the army has come out of the river, they have again been pressed by fighting. As they continue to their objective, they may still have numbers, but they would not be as well formed into a combat unit. Thus when the meet the probably larger force protecting Manti, they would be at several disadvantages. They would be more tired, confused, and much less organized. This would give the Manti army a great advantage.
This suggests some more of Captain Moroni’s strategy. He has two types of troops with him. He has his own army that has marched up from Jershon. These are the ones that we know have the defensive armor. He also has an army raised from the land of Manti. That army might not have had the armor, and as a militia were probably not as well trained as the military more permanently under Moroni’s generalship. It would seem, then that Moroni used these tactics to fit the battle to the nature of the forces he had to deploy against the Lamanties. The “professional” warriors with the defensive armor would have been the two forces on either side of the river. As the unorganized and tired Lamanite army heads toward Manti, they would meet more opposing armies. This army would have been the militia. As less trained, and perhaps with less armor, they might not have been the equal of the Lamanite army is direct conflict, but they were not meeting the Lamanite army at its best, but one which would have had very disorganized battle lines at this time, and were already weary from both the fighting and the fleeing. Moroni has used his better forces to brunt the initial impact of the Lamanite army and soften them up so that his militia would be more effective.
43 Now in this case the Lamanites did fight exceedingly; yea, never had the Lamanites been known to fight with such exceedingly great strength and courage, no, not even from the beginning.
The Lamanites were not easily defeated, even with these stratagems. These were probably trained Lamanite armies, with experience in hand to hand combat. Thus when they meet the Nephites they put up a great resistance. In addition to their probable fighting prowess, this is an army literally fighting for its life. It is aware that there is an army in front of them, and one at their rear. In such desperate straits, they fought doubly hard. It would have been apparent to them that the force in front of them would have been less formidable than the one at the rear, and that a breakthrough in this new front would still save their military objective. No wonder they fought fiercely.
44 And they were inspired by the Zoramites and the Amalekites, who were their chief captains and leaders, and by Zerahemnah, who was their chief captain, or their chief leader and commander; yea, they did fight like dragons, and many of the Nephites were slain by their hands, yea, for they did smite in two many of their head-plates, and they did pierce many of their breastplates, and they did smite off many of their arms; and thus the Lamanites did smite in their fierce anger.
45 Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.
These two verses are a small sermon inserted by Mormon. Then purpose of telling of these wars is not just the war, but the demonstration of the will of the Lord on the side of right. Mormon makes certain that this is the message by making it explicit here. He gives the Lamanites their due as fighters, but notes the “Nephites were inspired by a better cause.” This will be a fierce battle, but the moral superiority of the Nephites is ultimately what carries the day. Moroni had a brilliant battle plan, and Mormon respectfully describes it, but in the end, Mormon credits not Moroni’s genius but the moral superiority of the cause. That is the real point of these military actions.
46 And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.
Textual: Mormon is providing a context for Moroni’s actions that includes divine sanction. This is a continuation of the idea that he feels a need to justify their actions. He has done so from his perspective, but he needs to justify these actions from God’s perspective as well, particularly since Alma’s answer from the Lord indicates that the Lord is actively participating in these actions that might, in other circumstances, have been morally questionable.
Unfortunately, we do not have the source for this citation. It is not in our current Book of Mormon, no is it in other revealed scriptures. One would suspect that this is information communicated to Lehi, as at that early time the question of how they should relate to potential enemies would have been an extremely important question.
The principle that the Lord gives is that they may defend themselves with violence, but the acceptance of this type of violence does not extend to offensive actions. The Nephites may defend themselves vigorously, but not for the sake of the violence. They are not to immediately assume a violent response, but rather to respond lethally after the second offense. What we do not see in this case is the first offense for which this would be the second. Clearly this admonition is not seen as applying to every circumstance, but the “second” offense could be learned from the prior actions of the first offense. Having been attacked by Lamanites previously, their intent was known, and thus Moroni was justified in this attack on the Lamanite armies because the previous attacks had given notice of their intent. Even though Moroni begins the engagement, Mormon still sees this as a “second” offense, based on prior Lamanite actions.
47 And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.
Textual: This is a second scriptural defense of the Nephite actions. Of course these verses would be well known to Mormon, as he would have need to use them in his own time and situation. Like the first, however, we do not know when the scripture was received.
48 And it came to pass that when the men of Moroni saw the fierceness and the anger of the Lamanites, they were about to shrink and flee from them. And Moroni, perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts with these thoughts—yea, the thoughts of their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage.
This particular passage obliquely confirms the inferences we have made about the nature of this particular battle. First, the Lamanites must have had a superior force in terms of sheer numbers. Even after losing many men at the river ford, they still have an army sufficient to come close to overwhelming the Nephite army. Secondly, we have supposed that the militia formed the largest part of the army and the final defense line against Manti. Further, the supposition is that the militia would not have been as well protected as the regular troops. These suppositions would appear confirmed in this verse where the Lamanites appear on the verge of prevailing in spite of the earlier loses. Also, the first part of the battle emphasized the defensive superiority of the armor. Here, we have little of that, with the exception of noting that the Lamanites were even able to overcome some of the armor (verse 44). Nevertheless, their success against the armor would take even more effort, and the greatest probability is that their ability to be near to victory would have been that this militia did not have the armor of the Moroni’s regular army.
The last thing that we see here is an aspect of the battle that Mormon does not tell us. We see Moroni on the side of the militia, rallying them to victory with the evocation of what they were truly fighting for. Moroni had led the troops the had chased the Lamanites north. We are not told how he moves from the south of the Lamanite lines to the north, but as a resident of the land, there were likely any number of ways that he could have arrived. He might not have brought his army with him because there were advantages to harassing the enemy from the rear. Nevertheless, there was also a great need to have his leadership among the militia that would not have had such a trained leader among them. Moroni turns this battle to victory not only because of his skill in planning, but through his personal leadership and inspiration.
49 And it came to pass that they turned upon the Lamanites, and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage.
50 And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power; and in that selfsame hour that they cried unto the Lord for their freedom, the Lamanites began to flee before them; and they fled even to the waters of Sidon.
The Nephites are able to overcome the surge of the Lamanites. While the Lamanites fought fiercely, they had already been tired and weakened. This gave the Nephite army an advantage over and above the conviction of fighting for their own homes. The Lamanites give up and begin to flee back south.
51 Now, the Lamanites were more numerous, yea, by more than double the number of the Nephites; nevertheless, they were driven insomuch that they were gathered together in one body in the valley, upon the bank by the river Sidon.
Now we have the absolute confirmation of the numerical superiority of the Lamanites. Perhaps Mormon has saved this piece of information for the literary impact of the miracle of the repulsion of such a large number by the smaller force. Since Mormon is interested in showing the hand of the Lord in the battle, the revelation at this point in time increases the miraculous nature, at the time when he has painted the darkest literary picture.
52 Therefore the armies of Moroni encircled them about, yea, even on both sides of the river, for behold, on the east were the men of Lehi.
Of course this was part of Moroni’s original plan, to cut off the escape of the army. Thus the Lamanites must endure another fording of the river, and then meet a rested force on the other side.
53 Therefore when Zerahemnah saw the men of Lehi on the east of the river Sidon, and the armies of Moroni on the west of the river Sidon, that they were encircled about by the Nephites, they were struck with terror.
54 Now Moroni, when he saw their terror, commanded his men that they should stop shedding their blood.
We do not know what kind of signal was given, but there is now a cessation of fighting on both fronts. It would have done no good for the Nephites to stop fighting had the Lamanites continued. The Lamanites see that they are in a precarious position, at upon some signal, fighting halts. We move from a combative phase to a diplomatic phase in this conflict.
Textual: There is no break in the 1830 edition. Indeed, the events of the next chapter are intimately linked to this same story.
by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2001