Mosiah 10


MDC Contents


Mosiah 10:1

1 And it came to pass that we again began to establish the kingdom and we again began to possess the land in peace. And I caused that there should be weapons of war made of every kind, that thereby I might have weapons for my people against the time the Lamanites should come up again to war against my people.

Textual: As noted at the end of chapter 9, there is no chapter break here in the 1830 edition. Mormon’s editing kept this chapter with the previous one.

Historical: The aftermath of the successful driving of the Lamanites from the lands of Nephi and Shilom results in "establish[ing] the kingdom." This phrase further emphasizes that the victory was territorial as much as it was a victory of manpower. Zeniff has firmly established his borders.

The second piece of information is that he begins to stockpile arms. Thus further emphasizes the relative lack of preparation noted in Mosiah 9:16 (remember the import of the word "invent" in that verse as the creation of arms rather than the invention of new armament). Zeniff rightly supposes that he might be the focus of further retaliatory attacks, and is preparing his people against that eventuality.

Mosiah 10:2

2 And I set guards round about the land, that the Lamanites might not come upon us again unawares and destroy us; and thus I did guard my people and my flocks, and keep them from falling into the hands of our enemies.

The process of setting guards indicates both the necessity of wariness against retaliation, and the relative size of Zeniff’s people at the time. Guards are necessarily of fighting age, and therefore also of an age to work the fields. To set a number of guards around indicates an ability to produce sufficient for the community without the labor of the guards. This excess production is probably what will fuel king Noah’s excesses. The productiveness of the people might see a confirmation in verses 4 and 5 below.

The nature of the guards is probably more a small number of spies than large garrisons. It is not likely that at this point in time Zeniff could have manned multiple outposts with sufficient men to be a deterrent. Rather, the guards functioned more as spies, as confirmed by verse 7.

Mosiah 10:3

3 And it came to pass that we did inherit the land of our fathers for many years, yea, for the space of twenty and two years.

Zeniff’s preparations were apparently sufficient to deter Lamanite retaliation, since the Zeniffites were able to maintain the peace for nine more years. It is also possible to read this sentence as 22 years after the thirteen years mentioned in Mosiah 9:14. While this is certainly possible, the general method of marking years in the Book of Mormon is from the beginning of a dynasty, not an event in the dynasty. Reading this as nine years later than the first attack is more consistent with the general practice of marking years in the Book of Mormon.

This ability to deter further aggression highlights the complications inherent in the first attack. There was certainly no highly organized drive to attack behind that first attack because it did not push its way into the city of Shemlon, remaining satisfied with the spoils of the flocks on the south of the land of Shilom. In addition, the Zeniffite retaliation did not set off another aggression by Shemlon, indicating that the attack was somehow not considered to be directed to Shemlon. While there are many unanswered and unanswerable questions concerning the first attack, it would seem that the Lamanite city of Shemlon did not consider itself directly threatened by the Zeniffite retaliation. However, as we shall see, it did use this retaliation (at least according to Zeniffite records) as a justification for the attack that comes in this chapter.

Mosiah 10:4

4 And I did cause that the men should till the ground, and raise all manner of grain and all manner of fruit of every kind.

Mosiah 10:5

5 And I did cause that the women should spin, and toil, and work, and work all manner of fine linen, yea, and cloth of every kind, that we might clothe our nakedness; and thus we did prosper in the land—thus we did have continual peace in the land for the space of twenty and two years.

Textual: These verses (4-6) are a structural parallel to Mosiah 9:9-12. As with the earlier verses, Zeniff sets up the actions of the Lamanites by describing the economic activities of his people. The only explanation for the dual reference to tilling the ground is that it is a code-statement for Zeniffite prosperity, which prosperity would serve to ignite Lamanite greed, both in Mosiah 9:9-12 and in these verses (4-6).

Mosiah 10:6

6 And it came to pass that king Laman died, and his son began to reign in his stead. And he began to stir his people up in rebellion against my people; therefore they began to prepare for war, and to come up to battle against my people.

As was discussed earlier, while it is possible that "king Laman" is a regnal name and is the reason that the son was named the same as the father, it does not appear to explain this particular case. There is no indication of enthroning the new king Laman, but the intimation that one who was already named Laman succeeded his father to the throne. Regnal names are given after accession to the throne, as a father cannot be certain that any given son will live to inherit the throne. If a child were given a regnal name at birth in anticipation of his accession, and then were to die, it would have the appearance of disaster. The solution to this little problem has always been to make the name change upon accession to the throne. That does not appear to occur in this case.

We have the new king Laman stirring up his people. Why does this occur after the death of his father, but not before? As with most social commentary on the Book of Mormon, we must speculate with the available evidence. There are three important points that help explain the timing of this preparation for war:

  1. King Laman the father made a treaty with king Zeniff.
  2. King Zeniff led a retaliatory campaign against Lamanites in his land, killing over three thousand. Even if possibly seen as justified, the hamlets were under the protection of Shemlon, and therefore it was an attack against the rulership of Shemlon, while not against Shemlon directly.
  3. King Laman dies, and his son sits on the throne.

We have no more information than this, so the answer must be speculative. It would appear that king Laman the father intended to honor the treaty he had made, in spite of the provocation of the killing of the Lamanites (see discussion for Mosiah 9 about the probable nature of that attack).

While the attack was justifiable in the eyes of the Zeniffites, it probably was not in Lamanite eyes. The Lamanites would probably make a distinction between the "renegades" who attacked Zeniff’s people and the Lamanites who were killed. While king Laman the father chose to honor the treaty rather than retaliate, it is likely that there was a demand for a continuation of blood justification – a life for a life. With the accession of king Laman the son, the original treaty may have been seen as personal between king Laman the father and Zeniff, and therefore not binding upon the son. Without the person who made the treaty, the son could more easily argue that the blood price was more important than a treaty to which he was not personally a party. Thus the death of the father set in motion the conditions that would allow for the military action that the Lamanites planned.

Mosiah 10:7

7 But I had sent my spies out round about the land of Shemlon, that I might discover their preparations, that I might guard against them, that they might not come upon my people and destroy them.

This verse explains the nature of Zeniff’s guards. He notes that he has "spies out round about the land of Shemlon" and that the purpose is that he "might guard" against the Lamanites. Thus the guarding occurs when the spies notice preparations of war. Only then do the guards return with their information so that the Zeniffites may not be caught by surprise.

The concept that the people would be "destroyed" by the attack of the Lamanites would appear to suggest that this would be a war of extermination. However, that objective is directly opposed to the motive of subjugation that Zeniff ascribed to the Lamanites. It is more likely that it is the political separateness that would be destroyed rather than all of the people. When the subjugation does occur during Limhi’s reign, there is no destruction, only subjugation and exacted tribute. It is also possible that the work "destroy" is hyperbole, and intended to incite the Zeniffites to the defense of their lands.

Geographic: The elevation of Lehi-Nephi and Shilom over Shemlon provided for many excellent spying vantage points.

Mosiah 10:8

8 And it came to pass that they came up upon the north of the land of Shilom, with their numerous hosts, men armed with bows, and with arrows, and with swords, and with cimeters, and with stones, and with slings; and they had their heads shaved that they were naked; and they were girded with a leathern girdle about their loins.

Geographic: In order to "[come] up upon the north of the land of Shilom," the Lamanites had to travel around Shilom and therefore attack on the south of Lehi-Nephi. This manuever would split the Zeniffite armies, but it also presumes that an attack on Lehi-Nephi would also defeat the fighting effectiveness of Shilom, or else any army from Shilom would approach the Lamanite southern flank with the army from Lehi-Nephi on the north. That would create a two-front battle and increase the difficulty for the Lamanites.

It would appear that they intended a rapid advance into Lehi-Nephi that would capture the city. With the capture of the city and the king, Mesoamerican rules of warfare would dictate the war ended. Only a plan that supposed such a rapid capture of Lehi-Nephi could justify the Lamanite army’s action of placing itself between to armies.

Anthropological: In addition to the armaments, we have two pieces of information about the way in which the Shemlon-Lamanites went to war. The second is that they wore a "leathern girdle." In modern connotation, leather would be shoe leather, or perhaps a softer leather, but certainly without the hair of the hide. In Mesoamerican war dress, however, the clothing worn around the waist was the treated skin of an animal, frequently depicted in paintings as a jaguar skin. It is possible that the word "leathern" here is translating this general concept, and that the Shemlon-Lamanites wore typical Mesoamerican battle dress rather than our conception of leather.

The first additional information is unique. The Lamanites "had their heads shaved that they were naked". It is important to note that the "naked" describes their heads, not the rest of their bodies (which had the "leathern girdle"). Mesoamerican war dress does not typically show clean shaven heads on the warriors. In fact, not only do the warriors have hair, they typically have some type of head covering, ranging from a helmet-like hat that mimics (or was) the head of an animal to a large headdress.

The shaved heads do not have a clear analog in Mesoamerican warfare, but there are two possibilities. The first is that this happens long enough before our visual recording of warriors as to be a different style. This is fully possible, as the depictions do come much later in time than this Book of Mormon event. The second possibility comes from the visual depiction of capture of a warrior by grabbing the hair on the top of the head. For instance, a Maya vase shows Lord Kan Xib Ahaw capturing warriors. There are three captors and three captured warriors. Each of the captured warriors is held by the hair in the left hand of the captor (Reents-Budet, Dorie. Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period. Duke University Press, 1994, pp. 258-9). If this posture signals the defeat of the warrior and his capture, the absence of hair would indicate a determination not to be captured. It could be a visual signal of the determination and goal of the attacking force. Rather than a raiding party to gain tribute, this might be a party bent on blood-feud vengeance, a scenario supported by the known facts behind this particular conflict.

Mosiah 10:9

9 And it came to pass that I caused that the women and children of my people should be hid in the wilderness; and I also caused that all my old men that could bear arms, and also all my young men that were able to bear arms, should gather themselves together to go to battle against the Lamanites; and I did place them in their ranks, every man according to his age.

Geography: A wilderness area is close to the city of Lehi-Nephi. Not only does Zeniff command that the women and children take refuge here, but Noah also flees the approaching armies into this wilderness area (Mosiah 19:9). The area is close enough that the women and children were able to make a last minute flight in Mosiah 19:9, and sufficiently "wild" that the area itself provided protection from the invading armies. In Sorenson’s geographic correlation, these would be mountainous areas to the west of Lehi-Nephi.

Social: It was suggested earlier that the shaved heads of the Lamanite armies might declare an intention of destructive war (not being captured, that is, conquer or be killed rather than be captured – see the comments following verse 8). Zeniff’s actions here would appear to indicate that he understood this to be a serious invasion threat as he removes the women and children from harms way, and arms the old men. Zeniff sees this army as much larger than his own, and apparently as one bent upon destruction (requiring the safety of the women and children).

Zeniff describes placing his men "in their ranks, every man according to his age." The "ranks" would be the battle ranks, and would consist of multiple lines of warriors. In ancient hand to hand battle, the force of numbers organized could easily overwhelm numbers unorganized. Similarly, depth of lines provided for reinforcement of the lines as the fighters in the front fell (these tactics were polished by the Romans and adapted to military strategies up through at least the Revolutionary War). Mesoamerican warfare would be less stringent for tactics, but the conception of ranks was similar, with similar purpose.

In these ranks Zeniff placed his men according to age. How did he do this? There are at least two ways it could have been done. The first might be to place all of the old men in their own fighting rank. The other ranks would also be age-segregated. While this fits the description, it makes for a weak battle strategy. The more likely scenario is that there were multiple lines behind each other, and the lines increased in age, with the old men in the last row as the final defense rather than the initial brunt of the fighting. This uses the body of the old man, but preserves their strength.

Mosiah 10:10

10 And it came to pass that we did go up to battle against the Lamanites; and I, even I, in my old age, did go up to battle against the Lamanites. And it came to pass that we did go up in the strength of the Lord to battle.

Social: The final "rank" in the military line was king Zeniff himself. Even though he is old, he is physically present on the battle field. In this he follows a tradition established by Nephi and Benjamin before him (Jacob 1:10; Words of Mormon 1:13).

Mosiah 10:11

11 Now, the Lamanites knew nothing concerning the Lord, nor the strength of the Lord, therefore they depended upon their own strength. Yet they were a strong people, as to the strength of men.

Literary: This verse is a transition from the preparations of the Zeniffites to a description of the perceived wrongs of the Lamanites. Zeniff changes subject on the concept of relying upon the strength of the Lord. In the previous verse the Zeniffites go to battle in the strength of the Lord. Zeniff can now contrast this with the lack of knowledge of the power of the Lord on behalf of the Lamanites. This device allows him to bring the Lamanites into the text, discuss them as military opponents, and now discuss the reasons for the Lamanite hatred of the Zeniffites/Nephites – which is yet another reason Zeniff gives for their attack upon the Zeniffites.

Mosiah 10:12

12 They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers, which is this—Believing that they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem because of the iniquities of their fathers, and that they were wronged in the wilderness by their brethren, and they were also wronged while crossing the sea;

Mosiah 10:13

13 And again, that they were wronged while in the land of their first inheritance, after they had crossed the sea, and all this because that Nephi was more faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord—therefore he was favored of the Lord, for the Lord heard his prayers and answered them, and he took the lead of their journey in the wilderness.

Mosiah 10:14

14 And his brethren were wroth with him because they understood not the dealings of the Lord; they were also wroth with him upon the waters because they hardened their hearts against the Lord.

Mosiah 10:15

15 And again, they were wroth with him when they had arrived in the promised land, because they said that he had taken the ruling of the people out of their hands; and they sought to kill him.

Mosiah 10:16

16 And again, they were wroth with him because he departed into the wilderness as the Lord had commanded him, and took the records which were engraven on the plates of brass, for they said that he robbed them.

Mosiah 10:17

17 And thus they have taught their children that they should hate them, and that they should murder them, and that they should rob and plunder them, and do all they could to destroy them; therefore they have an eternal hatred towards the children of Nephi.

Mosiah 10:18

18 For this very cause has king Laman, by his cunning, and lying craftiness, and his fair promises, deceived me, that I have brought this my people up into this land, that they may destroy them; yea, and we have suffered these many years in the land.

Verses 12-18 are a large set to keep together and understand, but they reduce to smaller units. In verse 12 Zeniff introduces the Lamanites as "a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers…" In the latter part of verse 12 through the end of 17 Zeniff is explaining what those traditions were. Finally in verse 18, Zeniff comes to the point, which is that all of this long-held hatred has fueled not only this war, but all of the dealings with the Lamanites from the beginning.

The description of the "tradition of their fathers" is a recounting of the history of Nephi and his brothers, Laman and Lemuel. We are familiar with that history, and it is quite likely that there was a tradition among the Lamanites that preserved an animosity towards the Nephites. In spite of this, there are some problems with Zeniff’s analysis of the situation. First, we must understand his discussion of Lamanite hatred in the context of an apparent war of destruction. Zeniff is certainly not favorably disposed toward the Lamanites at this point in time. However, we must remember that this is the same man who found "much that was good" among the Lamanites and did not want to destroy them when Zeniff first came to the land (see Mosiah 9:1). Clearly circumstances have changed his mind, but what does this have to do with the "tradition of their fathers?"

We must also remember that the people of Shemlon likely include those who were of the City of Nephi who remained with Mosiah and his people fled. Thus among the "Lamanites" we would have descendents of "Nephites." At this point in the Book of Mormon, Lamanite and Nephite are more political designations than they are genetic/kinship designations. While descendents of Laman and Lemuel might have a hatred towards Nephites because of this "tradition," it is less certain that a mixed population with adopted Nephites-become-Lamanites would have the same feelings towards the Zeniffites, who are arguably a new tradition.

The last clues as to what is going on is the opening statement and the conclusion Zeniff gives. Zeniff begins by calling the Lamanites bloodthirsty and wild. In recent history, the "bloodthirsty" Lamanites did kill some Zeniffites, but they paid heavily for that – and then did not retaliate for 9 years. Indeed, it might be argued that the Zeniffites were also "bloodthirsty" if the supposition is correct that they attacked hamlets rather than a standing army.

Zeniff is doing what all humans do. He is justifying his current position and indicating how he got himself into this fix. He sees all fault with the Lamanites, and blames both their tradition, and a long-standing "cunning" that was designed from the beginning to destroy the Zeniffites. Remember that this destruction is current, but contradicts the parallel statements of Lamanite-desired economic benefits from tribute upon the Zeniffites.

Finally, how is it that Zeniff knows so much about the reasons behind a Lamanite attack? Does he confer with king Laman? No. What we have are Zeniff’s suppositions, not facts. Those suppositions are filtered through the antipathy and distrusting separation between Lamanite and Nephite.

Mosiah 10:19

19 And now I, Zeniff, after having told all these things unto my people concerning the Lamanites, I did stimulate them to go to battle with their might, putting their trust in the Lord; therefore, we did contend with them, face to face.

Mosiah 10:20

20 And it came to pass that we did drive them again out of our land; and we slew them with a great slaughter, even so many that we did not number them.

The battle takes place, "face to face." This is, as noted, hand to hand combat. In this case, the Zeniffites with the power of the Lord with them were able to hold off, and then drive off an apparently numerically superior army.

Mosiah 10:21

21 And it came to pass that we returned again to our own land, and my people again began to tend their flocks, and to till their ground.

The result of this battle is the defeat of the Lamanites, and the removal of the Lamanites from the lands of Shilom and Lehi-Nephi. This does not require that the Lamanites be removed from Shemlon. In fact Shemlon will remain a strong base of Lamanite operations. There is simply a de facto truce between two close neighbors, likely including some trade and travel restrictions.

When the de facto truce is in place, Zeniff’s people return to their normal domestic tasks. Since the flocks and fields are the most vulnerable areas of the land, and particularly those on the south of Shilom, this appears to indicate that in addition to the military action some political agreement has been reached with Shemlon so that the people now feel safe in the fields, even though they would be more exposed there.

Mosiah 10:22

22 And now I, being old, did confer the kingdom upon one of my sons; therefore, I say no more. And may the Lord bless my people. Amen.

It is interesting that Zeniff does not name Noah here, but only indicates that he conferred the kingdom "upon one of my sons." In any event, Zeniff considers the transferral of power to his son to be a final act. With no more official capacity, Zeniff does not write in the "official" plates. His comment is "therefore (emphasis added) I say no more." It would appear that Zeniff links the transferral of power to the termination of this record.

Textual: In keeping with the change in kings, there is a break at this point in the 1830 edition. As we will see in the next chapter, the change is more than a break in king, it is a break between this inserted copy of a text, and an abridged record that Mormon begins in the next chapter.

      by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999