1 And now it came to pass that Ammon and king Limhi began to consult with the people how they should deliver themselves
out of bondage; and even they did cause that all the people should gather themselves together; and this they did
that they might have the voice of the people concerning the matter.
There are some important
facts to be discovered in this verse. The first is that Ammon and Limhi consulted with the people. This tells us
first that it was probably not the normal form of government, else it would not be necessary to mention. In the
size of the city under Noah (as well as Noah's probable proclivities) there would not have been a consultation
with the populace on any matter. The king would decide and declare. This occasion is different in that the entire
population will be effected by the resulting answer. In fact, it is quite likely that the ultimate solution was
known beforehand, and the meeting was held to allow the people the opportunity to participate in making a decision
that would require them to uproot themselves from their homes.
The second important piece of information is that while they were under Lamanite guard, the Lamanites were clearly
not in the city itself. Had there been Lamanites present, a large gathering would not only attract attention, but
it would be impossible to conceal the contents of such a large meeting. This meeting had to be conducted with the
knowledge that no Lamanite would hear the discussion and know of their plans beforehand.
2 And it came to pass that they could find no way to deliver themselves out of bondage, except it were to take
their women and children, and their flocks, and their herds, and their tents, and depart into the wilderness; for
the Lamanites being so numerous, it was impossible for the people of Limhi to contend with them, thinking to deliver
themselves out of bondage by the sword.
There is no way out
of their bondage except to flee. They have tried military might three times, and each has resulted in defeat and
the dreadful loss of men. The city now finds itself with a smaller population, and a much-diminished population
of fighting men. Military might is simply no longer an option. There is nothing to negotiate, and all negotiation
favors the Lamanites. There is only escape.
3 Now it came to pass that Gideon went forth and stood before the king, and said unto him: Now O king, thou hast
hitherto hearkened unto my words many times when we have been contending with our brethren, the Lamanites.
4 And now O king, if thou hast not found me to be an unprofitable servant, or if thou hast hitherto listened to
my words in any degree, and they have been of service to thee, even so I desire that thou wouldst listen to my
words at this time, and I will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage.
is now copying the speech from the Limhite records. While it is possible that Mormon created dialogue, it is less
likely than his creation of the narrative portions. In this particular case, the nature of the discourse suggests
that it is authentic to the period. Rather than a terse introduction of the topic, Gideon gives an elaborate introduction
to the reason why he should be granted the ability to speak. He reminds the king that his advice has been valuable
in the past, and that in recognition of past service he should be heard. Of course Gideon's service would be quite
well known to Limhi, and all of Gideon's introduction entirely useless from an information standpoint. However,
this is a formal situation, and Gideon is seeking formal audience before his king and in front of the population.
This requires the protocol that Gideon exhibits. Mormon's style tends to be more terse, and had Mormon invented
this speech it would be more likely to follow Mormon's desires to keep the text simple and to the point.
5 And the king granted unto him that he might speak. And Gideon said unto him:
is the second half of the formal request for the king's ear. The king formally grants Gideon permission to speak.
6 Behold the back pass, through the back wall, on the back side of the city. The Lamanites, or the guards of the
Lamanites, by night are drunken; therefore let us send a proclamation among all this people that they gather together
their flocks and herds, that they may drive them into the wilderness by night.
of the drunkenness of the Lamanites tells us that Gideon has had spies in the field. He would need to know the
state of the various Lamanite encampments. Mesoamerican cultures appear to have had a long-time difficulty with
the excesses of alcohol. Jacques Soustelle analyzed the later Mexica laws concerning drunkenness:
- "When one studies the literature upon the subject, one has the feeling that the Indians were very clearly
aware of their strong natural inclination to alcoholism, and that they were quite determined to work against this
evil, and to control themselves, by practising an extraordinarily severe policy of repression. 'Nobody drank wine
(oct1i) excepting only those who were already aged, and they drank a little in secret, without becoming drunk.
If a drunk man showed himself in public, or if be were caught drinking, or if he were found speechless in the street,
or if he wandered about singing or in the company of other drunkards, he was punished, if he were a plebeian, by
being beaten to death, or else he was strangled before the young men (of the district) by way of an example and
to make them shun drunkenness. If the drunkard were noble, he was strangled in private'
There were ferocious laws against public drunkenness. The statutes of Nezaualcoyotl punished the priest taken in
drunkenness with death; and death was the punishment for the drunken dignitary, official or ambassador if he were
found in the palace: the dignitary who had got drunk without scandal was still punished, but only by the loss of
his office and his titles. The drunken plebeian got off the first time with no more than having his head shaved
in public, while the crowd jeered at him; but the backslider was punished with death, as the nobles were for their
Here we have an exceedingly violent case of socially defensive reaction against an equally violent tendency, whose
existence has been historically proved, for when the conquest had destroyed the moral and judicial underpinning
of Mexican civilisation, alcoholism spread among the Indians to an extraordinary degree." (Soustelle, Jacques.
Daily Life of the Aztecs on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest. Stanford University Press, 1962, p. 156-7).
While this example comes from much later than the Book of Mormon, and an entirely different culture, there is no
reason to suppose that the potential problem with alcohol was much less in earlier times and different cultures.
As Soustelle noted, when the severe cultural penalties were withdrawn, the problem of alcoholism became widespread.
In the current case we have some Lamanites who are guarding the back gate who are drunk every night. Gideon does
not mention any other group of guards.
A possible picture of the situation would be that the Lamanites also had a fairly rigorous injunction against drunkenness.
This particular guard party, however, appears to be isolated away from other encampments. Those encampments closer
to Shemlon, and with greater contact with that city, would probably have been more circumspect. However, this guard
party by the back gate might not expect any particular problem. Gideon speaks of a secret pass (verse 7). This
would indicate that the area would have been generally considered impassible (except perhaps through the particular
location guarded by the Lamanites). When combined with the Lamanite drunkenness at night, all of this suggests
that the Lamanites thought that there would be little threat, and that the night would be even less of a problem.
This Lamanite sense of complacency would be increased by the lack of probable trouble as well as the lack of recent
troubles. When combined with their relative isolation, it would appear that they literally let their guard down.
7 And I will go according to thy command and pay the last tribute of wine to the Lamanites, and they will be drunken;
and we will pass through the secret pass on the left of their camp when they are drunken and asleep.
The plan has two parts.
The first is to assure an even more drunken Lamanite guard, and the second is to use the "secret pass."
The term "secret" certainly presupposes that it was little known, and certainly unknown to the Lamanites.
The plan therefore was to diminish the Lamanite awareness, and then to escape from an unexpected outlet. We may
be assured that the Lamanite camp was created to guard any obvious path out of the land. To be effective, this
plan relied upon the Lamanite ignorance of the secret pass.
8 Thus we will depart with our women and our children, our flocks, and our herds into the wilderness; and we will
travel around the land of Shilom.
Sorenson notes that the information that Gideon gives is too scanty to trace a certain route out of Lehi-Nephi.
However, he does suggest a plausible route that bends toward Shilom on the south before it arrives at a more passable
valley system leading northward to Zarahemla (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon.
FARMS 1985, p. 175). The evidence of the relative locations of Shemlon, Shilom, and Lehi-Nephi suggests that Shilom
lay in between Shemlon and Lehi-Nephi. At this point in time, all of Limhi's people are located in Lehi-Nephi.
This would indicate that either Shilom is uninhabited, or that it is inhabited by Lamanites. This latter is more
probable, as the Lamanites appear to be in an expansion mode, and Noah had built buildings there that would be
of value to the Lamanites.
With this configuration in mind, the "back gate" most likely would be the one farthest from Shemlon and
Shilom, allowing the people to leave with the city between them and the largest force of the Lamanites. Since they
would not want to volunteer to go too close to Shemlon if they could avoid it. In the geography Sorenson has developed,
their path would proceed down a valley to the south-southwest before they hit the northwest valley. This saved
them from crossing mountains with their people and herds. It might have been safer to cross over the mountains,
but much more difficult on women, children, and flocks. Thus this turn towards Shilom makes geographic sense, even
when it makes no sense from a safety perspective.
9 And it came to pass that the king hearkened unto the words of Gideon.
10 And king Limhi caused that his people should gather their flocks together; and he sent the tribute of wine to
the Lamanites; and he also sent more wine, as a present unto them; and they did drink freely of the wine which
king Limhi did send unto them.
Limhi gives the Lamanites
the regular portion of tribute wine. As has been previously noted, this was probably pulque, the standard Mesoamerican
intoxicant. In addition, Limhi gives them an extra portion. This was wise on Limhi's part, because the Lamanites
might decide just that night that they might be in trouble if they drank up the entire tribute. With the extra
portion, however, they would freely drink that, and then probably drink more from the tribute wine.
Textual: Both the printer's manuscript and the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon begin this sentence
with "And it came to pass that king Limhi…." The phrase was deleted from the 1837 version to the present.
11 And it came to pass that the people of king Limhi did depart by night into the wilderness with their flocks
and their herds, and they went round about the land of Shilom in the wilderness, and bent their course towards
the land of Zarahemla, being led by Ammon and his brethren.
As was mentioned above, Limhi's people exit from the "back" of the city through a secret pass. This pass
is a way between mountains, and it apparently lead down toward Shilom. Since the topography suggests that Shilom
is at a lower elevation than Lehi-Nephi, the group would be traveling down a valley, perhaps a drainage, that led
toward Shilom. Thus they go "round about the land of Shilom." They do not get all of the way to Shilom,
because they remain "in the wilderness." In this case, the "wilderness" would be unpopulated
land, but certainly not desolate. There would have been trees and other types of cover, but probably a reasonable
path along the bottom of the valley/ravine/drainage - whatever accurately describes the location.
At some point prior to Shilom, when they were apparently still at a safe distance, they were able to "bend
their course towards the land of Zarahemla." This suggests that they needed to go around some foothills to
arrive at the travel path that would lead in the direction of Zarahemla. Sorenson's map of this routing shows the
topography of this area, and depicts precisely this arrangement of mountains and valleys (Sorenson, John L. An
Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1985, p. 170).
12 And they had taken all their gold, and silver, and their precious things, which they could carry, and also their
provisions with them, into the wilderness; and they pursued their journey.
with previous mentions of gold and silver, we presume that these are among the "precious things" that
were taken with the Limhites. These are more likely the raw materials for their trade. The Limhites are taking
with them not only their subsistence goods, but their luxury goods. More importantly, however, would be the means
by which they gained those "precious things." This would be the category for the gold and silver. Those
metals would form the basis of trade goods, which led to the "precious things."
13 And after being many days in the wilderness they arrived in the land of Zarahemla, and joined Mosiah's people,
and became his subjects.
We get very little
information about the travel, but we may expect that it was arduous. It is also probable that they are returning
along a similar path to the one Ammon took to find them, since the Limhites had already attempted to find Zarahemla
Upon arrival in Zarahemla, Limhi recognizes Mosiah's superior right to rule, and he and his people become subjects
of Mosiah. This would be logical in that Zarahemla would have the greater population, the greater claim to rule,
and the recognition that Zarahemla was saving the Limhites.
14 And it came to pass that Mosiah received them with joy; and he also received their records, and also the records
which had been found by the people of Limhi.
records found by Limhi's expedition are specifically mentioned (the 24 plates which are the Book of Ether). These
were not the only plates given to Mosiah. The record of Zeniff, which probably included the record of Noah and
Limhi as well, was given to Mosiah, who reads them to his people (Mosiah 25:5).
The naming of this record as the record of Zeniff, even though it encompassed the reign of three different kings,
is analogous to the situation suggested for the Book of Lehi. The official lineage record would be named for the
lineage ancestor, and the name of the "ancestor book" would not be changed until a change in dynasty,
which is the explanation for the Book of Mosiah which begins a new dynasty and also contains the accounts of three
kings (Mosiah 1, Benjamin, Mosiah 2).
Social: While Mosiah received the Limhites "with joy," they were also certain to have been a difficult
task of integration. Since they were an entire community come complete with their own structures and experiences,
they would probably remain together. Thus Mosiah is faced with finding a way to include a new city inside his jurisdiction.
The Limhites would therefore probably be sent to add to a small population, or to begin a new location in the land
of Zarahemla, but not specifically in the city of Zarahemla.
Translation: It is possible that the phrase "received them with joy" was formal phrase for the
integration of one people in to another because we have virtually the identical phrasing when Alma's people come
25 And after they had been in the wilderness twelve days they arrived in the land of Zarahemla; and king Mosiah
did also receive them with joy.
If this is not a formal acceptance phrase, then it is possible that Mormon is making a literary parallel to indicate
that both the Limhites and Almaites were accepted equally.
15 And now it came to pass when the Lamanites had found that the people of Limhi had departed out of the land by
night, that they sent an army into the wilderness to pursue them;
16 And after they had pursued them two days, they could no longer follow their tracks; therefore they were lost
in the wilderness.
There is no indication
of how this information was obtained. It would appear that some scouts were left to guard the rear of the Limhite
retreat party, and that they would be able to know when they were pursued, and when the pursuit was called off.
We are not told why the tracks were untraceable after two days. The area they were passing through would be mountainous
forest, and perhaps the soft undergrowth did not easily mark the signs of their passing. While there may be reasonable
natural explanations for why the party could not be traced, the Lord must have had a hand in covering the tracks,
as a whole city's worth of people, animals, and goods (they had brought their gold, silver, and precious things
- see verse 12) would leave a fairly obvious trail. It is also possible that rather than not being able to follow
the trail, the Lamanites simply decided that they would not find them within a reasonable distance, and turned
back for distance as much as failure to find tracks.
The last possibility is that the failure to continue to give chase to the Limhites was due to the discovery of
the priests of Noah, which is described in Mosiah 23:30-31. These verses specifically note that it was the expedition
that was chasing Limhi that found the priests. Whether they found them and therefore cut off the search for the
Limhites, or were lost, and then found the priests of Noah may not be known with precision, although they do appear
to have lost their way (Mosiah 23:30) and so the most probable conclusion would be that the army both lost the
Limhites, and lost their way. As they were attempting to return they found the encampment of the priests of Noah.
Textual: This is a separate chapter in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon.