Mosiah 20


MDC Contents


Mosiah 20:1
1 Now there was a place in Shemlon where the daughters of the Lamanites did gather themselves together to sing, and to dance, and to make themselves merry.
Mosiah 20:2
2 And it came to pass that there was one day a small number of them gathered together to sing and to dance.

Textual: Even though Mormon did not make a chapter break between our current chapters 19 and 20, there is very clearly a change of subject. As was noted for a similarly non-break between different subjects that now constitute our chapters 18 and 19, this is probably a literary device Mormon is employing to give the feeling of simultaneous actions. Between our 18 and 19 we have the story of Gideon's men meeting with the men returning from having killed Noah and dispersed the priests which likely took place at the same time as Limhi's enthronement and formal acceptance of tribute status. Here, we have Limhi's story being told to a stopping point ("Mosiah 19:29 And now king Limhi did have continual peace in his kingdom for the space of two years, that the Lamanites did not molest them nor seek to destroy them.") and the story of the dispersed priests of Noah picking up.

Rather than a physical break in the text, Mormon uses the term "Now" as a marker of a new subject happening at approximately the same time as the other events. While Limhi was being instated, the priests who had fled continued their actions. The most important of these was the event at Shemlon, and Mormon turns to this event by directly describing the main focal point of the story, the daughters of the Lamanites singing and dancing at Shemlon.

Geography: To connect the locations in our minds, the priests have fled from Lehi-Nephi. While we do not know precisely which direction they fled, we may presume that it was not directly towards Shemlon, as that is the direction from which the Lamanite armies were coming (Mosiah 19:6 "And Gideon pursued after him and was about to get upon the tower to slay the king, and the king cast his eyes round about towards the land of Shemlon, and behold, the army of the Lamanites were within the borders of the land.").

We may therefore surmise that the original path of flight for Noah, the priests, and those with them, would have been in precisely the opposite direction of travel from the Lamanites, and that would take the priests away from the land of Shemlon. This incident, therefore, takes place some time after the dispersal of the priests. They have had time to assess their situation, and double back towards the land of Shemlon.

Social: We have just a few pieces of information about this location. First, verse one appears to indicate that this location was one of repeated actions by Lamanite women, a supposition that is confirmed in the second verse by noting that; "there was one day a small number of them gathered together to sing and to dance." The implications are:

  • This was a common place for female singing and dancing.
  • This was an occasion on which there were only a few, implying that at other times there would be many.
  • The implication of the story is that there were no men present.

These hints suggest that the women were engaged in a religious ritual that was held regularly. Sometimes there would be more women dancing than at other times. This is also a particularly female ritual, and it is likely that no men were present because they would have been ritually forbidden to be present. This is the easiest explanation for both the lack of male participants as well as the lack of male guards.

The social setting for the story is therefore a repeated religious ritual performed by women which require/mandated the absence of men. It was also repeated at the same location, further suggesting that there was a religious shrine in the area, probably to a female god. While this suggestion must remain highly speculative, the fact that the women were of marriageable age (as opposed to very young girls or very old women that would not be seen by the priests as potential wives) and the repeated nature with varying numbers of women may suggest that this was a location for a rite of passage into womanhood, with young women being formally inducted as "women" by this ritualized singing and dancing. This would explain the uniquely female nature of the gathering as well as the varying numbers of women who participated in the ceremony (that is, not every Lamanite woman participated every time).

It should be noted that this event is very similar to that described in Judges 21:

Judges. 21:16-23
16 Then the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin?
17 And they said, There must be an inheritance for them that be escaped of Benjamin, that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel.
18 Howbeit we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin.
19 Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the LORD in Shiloh yearly in a place which is on the north side of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah.
20 Therefore they commanded the children of Benjamin, saying, Go and lie in wait in the vineyards;
21 And see, and, behold, if the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin.
22 And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain, that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes: because we reserved not to each man his wife in the war: for ye did not give unto them at this time, that ye should be guilty.
23 And the children of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them.

The similarity is so strong that it suggests that the priests of Noah might have conceived this solution to their problem by referring to these passages on the brass plates.

Tvedtnes suggests that the occurrence of the "feast of the Lord" in Judges 21:19 suggests that the Book of Mormon event may have been a feast as well, probably the feast of Tabernacles (Tvedtnes, John A. "The Nephite Purification Ceremony." In: The Most Correct Book. Cornerstone, 1999, pp. 183-6). Research by John W. Welch, Robert F. Smith, and Gordon C. Thomasson suggested that this festival might have occurred on the fifteenth of Av, which was the date for an ancient "matrimonial holiday for youth" during which maidens would dance (see "Dancing Maidens and the Fifteenth of Av." In: Reexploring the Book of Mormon. Ed. John W. Welch. FARMS, 1992, pp. 139-141). Both of these suggestions have merit in that a festival occasion is certainly intended in the Book of Mormon passage. However, presuming any Old World festival in continued practice among the Lamanites (now over four hundred and fifty years later) would appear to require more justification that the simple suggestion. Even among the Nephites, we would need perhaps a stronger case, but among the Lamanites who have apparently given up on their Old World heritage, the supposition becomes quite strained. In the specific case of the matrimonial festival on the fifteenth of Av, the nature of that festival virtually requires the presence of young men to watch the dancing, and thereby be attracted to the dancing maidens. This scenarios is in stark contrast to the contextual information in the Book of Mormon that virtually requires that the maidens be alone without guards that would have been able to resist the priests (or at least to sound the alarm).

Mosiah 20:3
3 And now the priests of king Noah, being ashamed to return to the city of Nephi, yea, and also fearing that the people would slay them, therefore they durst not return to their wives and their children.

The fears of the priests are not without merit. They had no doubt witnessed or been very aware of the death of Noah at the hands of those who had followed him and abandoned their wives. With that known wrath by those who should have been the most favorable to the priests, it is no wonder that they supposed that the rest of the people might be even less inclined to welcome them back with open arms.

Clearly, however, they also had fears of the Lamanites. They did not immediately take themselves to Shemlon to plead for residence among the Lamanites. They saw themselves as without nation, and required to make their way on their own. This would have been a difficult situation for men who had been used to high luxury. They would now be entirely on their own for everything. Understanding their isolation, they would want women to complete their community, as well as satisfy their carnality.

It is also important to note that they did not return to attempt a similar capture of women of their own culture. It is very likely that they understood very well the nature of this crime, and chose to perpetrate it upon an enemy rather than upon their own people. It may have seemed illegal if Zeniffite/Noahite women were taken, but more acceptable to raid Lamanites and take the women under the same justification as one takes spoils of war.

Mosiah 20:4
4 And having tarried in the wilderness, and having discovered the daughters of the Lamanites, they laid and watched them;
Mosiah 20:5
5 And when there were but few of them gathered together to dance, they came forth out of their secret places and took them and carried them into the wilderness; yea, twenty and four of the daughters of the Lamanites they carried into the wilderness.

These two verses tell us a little more of the situation. First, the priests appear not to have been previously aware of this ritual dancing place, as verse 4 indicates that they "discovered" the daughters of the Lamanites there. Once they were "discovered," the priests apparently watch though more than a single ritual occasion. They do not act immediately, but rather only when "there were but few of them gathered together to dance."

In order for the priests to "discover" the women, they had to be in the right area, which means they had already made the decision to raid the Lamanites for women. They were probably looking for a time when women might be washing in rivers or some other activity that isolated them. They happened upon the ritual spot, which fit perfectly into their plans. Nevertheless, with their fear of both the now-Limhites and the Lamanites, there would be no reason to be in the area of Shemlon unless they had previously decided upon this scheme to raid women.

Textual: It is not clear at this point how Mormon has this much information about the priests. It may be that he simply takes Gideon's supposition, and based on later information about these priests understands it to be correct, and therefore enters it in the record. Certainly there would be no contemporary record in Limhi's (or Alma's) possession that might be used as Mormon's source among Nephite records. The general facts of the abduction would have been available, however, from the conversation with the Lamanite king. Mormon appears to be using his position as historian to provide a more firm description of events than would have been available contemporaneously.

Social: While twenty-four women were taken, we cannot be precisely certain that this was a single woman for every man, though that is most likely given the hardship of the land. However, these priests had been used to polygamy if not concubinage, and might have preferred to have more women to do more of "women's work" which in agricultural societies was very important to survival. It is tempting to see twelve priests each taking two wives. This would suggest that they followed the Israelite penchant for honoring the twelve tribes, and had replaced Alma as a member of their group to return the number to twelve after his departure.

Mosiah 20:6
6 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites found that their daughters had been missing, they were angry with the people of Limhi, for they thought it was the people of Limhi.
Mosiah 20:7
7 Therefore they sent their armies forth; yea, even the king himself went before his people; and they went up to the land of Nephi to destroy the people of Limhi.

The first interesting item in these verse is the simple phrase "that when the Lamanites found that their daughters had been missing…." While it is a very simple point, it is nevertheless one that should be made; the Lamanites were expecting that their daughters would be away on their own for some length of time. This reinforces the concept that they were participating in a known ritual at a known time. Their parents were concerned only when a certain time had passed. This also indicates that there was no direct supervision over the dancers, and this fact certainly led to the ability of Noah's priests to abduct them.

The next similarly small but important point is that the Lamanites immediately suspected Limhi's people. There are multiple reasons why this might have been so. The first possibility is that the traditional conception of Lamanites and Nephites is correct and the Limhites were suspect because they were the only other people around. While that idea is acceptable given the premise, it is not the operating premise of this commentary, nor consistent with the information we have from both archaeology and internal data in the Book of Mormon.

If we assume that there were other populations somewhere around (all subsumed under the rubric of "Lamanites") we may legitimately ask the question as to why the Limhites were so immediately suspect. Certainly the answer lies in the conflict just resolved between the two peoples. The Lamanites had attacked Lehi-Nephi, and while there was a tribute treaty in place, it would not be completely out of the question that some of those tributaries might attempt to retaliate by taking the Lamanite women. Thus the accusation is logical against the Limhites, but not because they were absolutely the only choice. They were the most logical choice, with motive and opportunity.

The last item that is of import in these two verses is the direct participation of the Lamanite king. Verse 7 places the king at the head of an army of destruction that gathered before Lehi-Nephi. In contrast, we do not specifically hear of the king in the army of conquest that created the treaty recently discussed. Why is this occasion more deserving of the presence of the Lamanite king than the previous military action against Noah?

There are likely compounding reasons for the king's participation. One would be the necessity to forcefully put down any attempt at rebellion by a tributary. While the army might create the beholding city/state, once a tributary to the king, the king could not allow for such blatant tweaking of the Lamanite king's power. Secondly, the dancers were probably (as has been noted) involved in a religious rite. Thus their abduction is not simply an affront against the Lamanites as a people, but against their god(s). This religious violation would also require retribution.

What would have played a smaller role in the retaliation was the anger over the loss of the daughters themselves. While modern societies would assume that anguish for a child would be a paramount emotion, this may not have been the case in the ancient world. Not only was life cheaper in many ways in the ancient world, but there is no indication that the king was personally related to any of the dancers. Without such kin bonds, there would be nothing in particular to tie his emotions to those who were abducted. Additionally, we must remember that those who were abducted were women, and we should remember that the social status of women in Israelite society was secondary, and that they were also probably marginal in terms of political/emotional importance in most of the Mesoamerican communities. It is very possible that in an ancient culture, the fact that those abducted were "only women" could have diminished the response, not heightened it.

Of course we may only guess at the motivations of the Lamanites when they marched against Limhi, but the best founded speculation would see the retaliation in more ancient terms as an action of political and religious significance more than simple parental love.

Mosiah 20:8
8 And now Limhi had discovered them from the tower, even all their preparations for war did he discover; therefore he gathered his people together, and laid wait for them in the fields and in the forests.
Mosiah 20:9
9 And it came to pass that when the Lamanites had come up, that the people of Limhi began to fall upon them from their waiting places, and began to slay them.

As we saw with the incident with Gideon and Noah atop the tower, this tower was able to oversee Lamanite lands. Therefore, Limhi is warned of the approach of this army. With the Lamanite king at the head of it, we may assume that it was both large and that it made no attempt at hiding its approach. In Mesoamerican warfare the visual intimidation of the numbers and their regalia was a significant aspect of the battle, and we have no reason to assume that this occasion was different.

Unlike Noah, who was on the tower by coincidence, Limhi is on the tower precisely because of the recent hostilities between the two city/states. While under a treaty, he was nevertheless wary of another attack. Indeed, he sees this one developing, and uses the strategem of ambush to overtake the Lamanite army. We may suppose by Limhi's use of this tactic that he had significantly fewer fighting men in his army than does the Lamanite king. Had he a comparable army, honor and the canons of warfare might have dictated that he fight an open battle. Indeed, verse 11 confirms that his army is "not half so numerous as the Lamanites." Limhi sees his people in imminent danger, and uses the ambush to even the odds.

Mosiah 20:10
10 And it came to pass that the battle became exceedingly sore, for they fought like lions for their prey.
Mosiah 20:11
11 And it came to pass that the people of Limhi began to drive the Lamanites before them; yet they were not half so numerous as the Lamanites. But they fought for their lives, and for their wives, and for their children; therefore they exerted themselves and like dragons did they fight.

Literary: The zoological reference in verse 10 is to lions. While the phrase is completely understandable in English, it is not accurate to portray lions in Mesoamerica. In that area of the world the big cat was a jaguar. What we probably have in this case is Joseph substituting a know animal (out of place) for an animal which was also a big cat. In other words, the underlying text should have been "jaguar" but the translation would be "lion." It is easier to see this as a mislabeling on Joseph's part than that the Mesoamericans would fail to correctly identify a jaguar.

In contrast to the more common English idiom in verse 10 we have a much more awkward description of fighting like an animal in verse 11. In that verse those who fought like lions now fight like dragons. The dragon in English literature is usually the fire-breathing foe of St. George and other mythical tales. This would be contrasted to the Chinese dragon that is a very different type of creature, more given to wisdom than fire-breathing.

The dragon in verse 11 is different from both of these easy references. We would not expect the Chinese wisdom-dragon to be a model for fierce fighting. While St.George's fire-breather should be a noble fighter, it is hard to see this animal as a positive reference. The dragon of the Western romances should be the villain, not the hero. Nevertheless, the dragon for Mormon's prose is clearly a positive reference.

The best explanation once again relies upon a Mesoamerican context. Just as the jaguar should be the animal referenced by verse 10's lion, this dragon is best seen as the Mesoamerican fictive animal that combines elements of the serpent and feathers. Particularly during Mormon's time, this feathered war serpent would have been seen as a symbol par excellence of warriors and fighting. It is in this militaristic context that the symbol appears in Teotihuacan at the Temple of the Feathered Serpent (Saburo Sugiyama, "Rulership, Warfare, and Human Sacrifice at the Ciudadela: An Iconographic Study of Feathered Serpent Representations", in Art, Ideology, and the City of Teotihuacan, edited by Janet Catherine Berlo, (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1992), 209-210)..
Reconstructing these verses in their Mesoamerican context, we might be so bold as to retranslate them thus:

And it came to pass:
The battle became violent and noisy
They fought [for their families]
Like god's jaguars for their prey.

And it came to pass:
The Limhites began to drive away the Lamanites
Though they were not half so many.

They fought for lives, wives, and children.
They fought mightily.
They fought like god's feared war serpent.

Of course this "translation" takes great liberties with the English text. The intent is not to suggest that this is a representation of the actual underlying text, but to simulate what that text might have been like. In both Maya and Nahua poetry, the imagery comes in shorter and more powerful phrasings, and the English meaning has been restructured to provide more of the flavor of Mesoamerican poetry.

Mormon is clearly creating a poetic play on the parallel between the lions and the dragons. When we add into the equation the religious/military significance of those images in Mesoamerica, the description of the fighting furor takes on new meanings. In addition to the strength of arms alone, there is the clear implication of the presence of the divine in the Mesoamerican imagery (translated here by the explicit addition of the modifier "god's"). In poetic terms, Mormon not only describes their efforts, but also emphasized the role God played in the victory.

I should note that John Sorenson has also suggested that the dragon is a Mesoamerican theme, but he misses the parallel to the lion, and suggests that the dragon is the caiman or the earth monster (Sorenson, John L. An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. FARMS 1985, p. 187). While the caiman is certainly a respectable candidate for the dragon, as a representation of the earth it misses the significant militaristic characteristics of the war serpent of Mormon's time. Clearly there is not enough evidence to be conclusive, but war serpent appears to be a better fit for the contextual imagery.

Translation: What does this poetic recasting of these verses suggest for the nature of the translation of the Book of Mormon? Perhaps not much. However, because the verses may be recast in such a way as to increase their meaning through the appropriate contextual understanding of the principle images (lions=jaguars/ dragons=war serpents) it is quite possible that it is another indication that the relationship of the current English text to the underlying original language is one of meaning rather than absolute translation. This commentary has suggested as much more than once on the basis of internal evidence. This passage is yet another internal indicator that the connection between text and translation is loose rather than absolute.

Mosiah 20:12
12 And it came to pass that they found the king of the Lamanites among the number of their dead; yet he was not dead, having been wounded and left upon the ground, so speedy was the flight of his people.

Anthropological: This passage may be more fully understood in the light of known aspects of Mesoamerican warfare. There are two immediately important parts of the description, first that the Lamanites have fled with a king wounded on the ground, and secondly, the king is wounded, not dead. While both of these facts are not necessarily foreign to modern warfare, they are more understandable in the context of Mesoamerican warfare.

First, even though the Limhites were not half so numerous as the Lamanites, their ambush is effective. While this is a simple enough explanation, we must remember that the warfare of the time was essentially hand to hand, not long distance. While there were thrown arrows (the atlatl) those might wound from a distance, but not necessarily kill the foe. Once the ambush had been sprung, the two armies now face off in hand to hand combat. In that scenario, even though taken by surprise, the net effect of having two Lamanites for every Limhite should suggest that even the ambush would not have been so completely effective as is described.

The key is the fallen king. With the capture of the king, the battle is essentially over. Under the conceptions of most of the Mesoamericans, the gods had decided the battle when the king fell. This is the same principle of ancient warfare that became ritualized into the game we call chess, where the end is over when the king is captured, regardless of how many of the "king's army" might remain.

The ambush was successful because it allowed the Limhites to break through to the king and "capture" him. This ended the battle, and the remaining Lamanite army might logically retreat from the battle so decided by "the gods." Notice that the Lamanite withdrawal is termed "speedy." While the modern mind might suggest this was a rout with the Lamanites fleeing in fear, it is more appropriate in the ancient context to see the recognition of the end of the battle, and the speedy removal before the manifest godly power of the opponent. There was no more reason to fight, not that there was no more will to fight.

Next, we note that the king was only wounded. While there were certainly casualties in Mesoamerican warfare, the nature of the weaponry as well as the general intent tended to injury rather than extermination. Thus it is not at all surprising that the king would still be alive. In the context of a Mesoamerican battle, it is even to be expected that there would be every attempt to capture the king rather than kill him.

Mosiah 20:13
13 And they took him and bound up his wounds, and brought him before Limhi, and said: Behold, here is the king of the Lamanites; he having received a wound has fallen among their dead, and they have left him; and behold, we have brought him before you; and now let us slay him.

The Lamanite king is treated for his wounds and delivered to the Limhite king. This king-to-king exchange is important, and must be highlighted. At this point we do not have a military conflict, but a political one. Even though the Lamanite king has lost his heavenly mandate (as we will see later in the occasion where he is returned to his people) there is yet a protocol to follow, and Limhi honors that code.

If the capture of the king is a Mesoamerican tradition, we may ask why the army of Limhi wants to immediately kill the king. We must speculate, as we cannot enter their minds to know. The first possibility is that this is a formal aspect of the presentation. The Lamanite king is presented to the Limhite king as a forfeited life. He would be ritually presented as one to be killed, so that the conquering king might pronounce favorably upon his life.

It is also even more simply possible that our modern sensibilities would be correct and that the army was simply full of the blood lust of war, and wanted to kill the man responsible for the deaths of their comrades in arms.

Textual: Mormon shifts his narration here from description to citation. We may presume that he had before some official text providing the text of this exchange. Rather than describe the exchange as he described the war (which may also have been descriptive in Mormon's source) he now inserts quoted material.

Mosiah 20:14
14 But Limhi said unto them: Ye shall not slay him, but bring him hither that I may see him. And they brought him. And Limhi said unto him: What cause have ye to come up to war against my people? Behold, my people have not broken the oath that I made unto you; therefore, why should ye break the oath which ye made unto my people?

Literary: Rather than the verse division we currently have, I prefer to see a direct parallel between the ending of verse 13 ("we have brought him before you; and now let us slay him") and the beginning of 14 ("Ye shall not slay him, but bring him hither"). These two phrases are intentionally parallel and contrasting. Even though in this section Mormon is citing the conversation as he sees it on his source plates, someone had to write that conversation down. It is quite likely that we are seeing only bits and pieces of some of the structure of the original text. As a recording in a book of the deeds of a king, it would not be surprising to find the conversations "enhanced" with certain literary devices.

Mosiah 20:15
15 And now the king said: I have broken the oath because thy people did carry away the daughters of my people; therefore, in my anger I did cause my people to come up to war against thy people.
Mosiah 20:16
16 And now Limhi had heard nothing concerning this matter; therefore he said: I will search among my people and whosoever has done this thing shall perish. Therefore he caused a search to be made among his people.

The invasion by the Lamanites was in direct violation of a solemn treaty. The question between kings is therefore the nature of the violation. The oath had to mean something, and therefore there must have been some breach. Upon finding out that there was indeed a breach of the treaty, Limhi declares that he will search his people to find the perpetrators.

Once again in this incident we see a different world at work than the modern one with which we are familiar. Rather than rejoice over a conquered opponent, the issue is not the killing, but the breaking of an oath. When Limhi finds that his own people might have been the ones to break the oath, the entire situation changes. Rather than the triumphant victors, the Limhites are now possibly humiliated with lack of honor. The honor of his people requires that the situation be resolved. We have moved away from the warfare and into a question of integrity.

Mosiah 20:17
17 Now when Gideon had heard these things, he being the king's captain, he went forth and said unto the king: I pray thee forbear, and do not search this people, and lay not this thing to their charge.
Mosiah 20:18
18 For do ye not remember the priests of thy father, whom this people sought to destroy? And are they not in the wilderness? And are not they the ones who have stolen the daughters of the Lamanites?

As the king's captain, Gideon heard these things because he was probably assigned to make the search. This indication of Gideon's formal position with Limhi reinforces the suggestion that he was similarly powerful under the reign of Noah. At this point Gideon does not know that the priests have stolen the daughters of the Lamanites, but as the captain of a military guard that was probably guarding the city in case of Lamanite attack, he should have been aware of any outgoing group, and particularly any group of people returning with unknown women (who would probably have made known their involuntary participation). When we remember that the entire city was vigilant, as suggested by Limhi's discovery of the Lamanite preparations, it would make sense that while Gideon could not prove that it was the priests, he would have known that it was not the current people of Limhi.

Mosiah 20:19
19 And now, behold, and tell the king of these things, that he may tell his people that they may be pacified towards us; for behold they are already preparing to come against us; and behold also there are but few of us.
Mosiah 20:20
20 And behold, they come with their numerous hosts; and except the king doth pacify them towards us we must perish.
Mosiah 20:21
21 For are not the words of Abinadi fulfilled, which he prophesied against us-and all this because we would not hearken unto the words of the Lord, and turn from our iniquities?

The essential verse here is verse 20 where Gideon delivers the message to Limhi that the armies of the Lamanites are gathering once again to come up against the Limhites. While the Limhites had one a decisive battle, the issue of the breaking of the oath was still current with the Lamanites. The loss of their king would have occasioned the selection of a new leader, and the reason for the original invasion remained. Thus it is not surprising that the Lamanites were preparing for another assault on Lehi-Nephi.

In this situation Gideon sees the fulfillment of prophecy, but not a fatal one. They are being afflicted, but now need to save their land. What Gideon proposes is that the reason for the war be eliminated. The king of the Lamanites will plead for them because of honor - the very thing that led to the war in the first place. The conflict is justified because of the breach of an oath. If Limhi's people did not break their oath, then the reason for the war can be removed, and the conflict aborted.

Mosiah 20:22
22 And now let us pacify the king, and we fulfil the oath which we have made unto him; for it is better that we should be in bondage than that we should lose our lives; therefore, let us put a stop to the shedding of so much blood.

Here Gideon explicitly declares the way the war will end. The Limhites will "fulfil the oath which have made unto him…" Notice how foreign this seems. We have the victors of a battle being concerned with honoring an oath with the man they have captured, and who is completely at their mercy. Notice also that the honorable fulfillment of the oath will place the Limhites again in "bondage." Of course Gideon supposes that it may be the original bondage through the oath, or destruction at the hands of a larger army that surely will not be ambushed a second time. Nevertheless, the issue is the oath, with all of its consequences.

Mosiah 20:23
23 And now Limhi told the king all the things concerning his father, and the priests that had fled into the wilderness, and attributed the carrying away of their daughters to them.
Mosiah 20:24
24 And it came to pass that the king was pacified towards his people; and he said unto them: Let us go forth to meet my people, without arms; and I swear unto you with an oath that my people shall not slay thy people.

The confrontation between the two kings appears to place the Lamanite king in the superior position. Limhi is appeasing the Lamanite king. While there are mitigating circumstances such as a large army amassing against the Limhites, it is still an unusual modern situation for the captive to have the superior bargaining position. This comes because there is a recognition that there was a legitimate presumption on the part of the Lamanites that the oath had been broken. We should also note that the oath that was breached will be healed by yet another oath that the Lamanite king makes to Limhi.

Mosiah 20:25
25 And it came to pass that they followed the king, and went forth without arms to meet the Lamanites. And it came to pass that they did meet the Lamanites; and the king of the Lamanites did bow himself down before them, and did plead in behalf of the people of Limhi.
Mosiah 20:26
26 And when the Lamanites saw the people of Limhi, that they were without arms, they had compassion on them and were pacified towards them, and returned with their king in peace to their own land.
Mosiah 21:1
1 And it came to pass that Limhi and his people returned to the city of Nephi, and began to dwell in the land again in peace.

The verses we have describing the conclusion of this event certainly do not paint the full picture of what happened. Mormon is through with his story when he has demonstrated the rule of honor among both parties. However, the statement that the Lamanites forgave through compassion is still too simple. The actual reconciliation had to have occurred when the original oath/treaty was returned to place. The first verse of Mosiah 21 is included here because it is more logically a conclusion to this section than a beginning to the next story.

Textual: There is no chapter break here in the 1830 edition. The current break between chapters 20 and 21 is arbitrary. From a literary standpoint, however, verse 1 of chapter 21 belongs with the current unit. It is the concluding statement of the story. The end of the event is the return of Limhi and the return of peace. The next literary unit will begin another story of conflict.

      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 2000