War in the Book of Mormon – Part 2

[See previous posts in this series.]

This post will cover 1 Nephi through Jacob, three substantial books of the Book of Mormon, but there’s so little war-related information in those books that one post is sufficient for my purposes. It’s not that there isn’t any war, of course; it’s just that it’s pretty much only mentioned in passing. This is to be expected since, as Nephi informs us, the history part of their existence, including wars, is recorded on other plates (2 Nephi 5:33). The curiosity about what is on those plates is killing me. Alas.

But let’s focus on what we do have in these books. The Nephites and Lamanites separate a many-day distance (2 Nephi 5), but the Nephites expect that the distance will not completely prevent conflicts between the groups and prepare: Nephi uses the sword of Laban as the model to make many swords (2 Nephi 5:14). They build up their new community in other ways too (buildings, metal work, temple), suggesting that war or conflicts are not too large of a part of their existence at this point, but still, they prepare.

However, the last verse of 2 Nephi 5 says that “forty years had passed away, and we had already had wars and contentions with our brethren.” Brant Gardner1 suggests that it is likely these “wars and contentions” were smaller raids, not the large-scale battles we see later in the Book of Mormon. This seems reasonable considering that 40 years would not be sufficient time to create a population big enough for large battles, even assuming they joined existing groups already in the area when they arrived on the continent.

We jump ahead to Jacob for the next mention of war. At this time the Nephites had become more wicked than the Lamanites (Jacob 3:5) and then returned to faithfulness (Jacob 7:23). Having recently been reconverted, the Nephites wanted to convert the Lamanites, but alas, the Lamanites “sought by the power of their arms to destroy [the Nephites] continually” (Jacob 7:24).

By this time we are quite removed from the hatred Laman and Lemuel and their people felt towards Nephi and his people, so the warfare isn’t likely personal, though it can’t be completely written off as a possibility. However, Gardner writes that it is possible “that the Lamanites adopted Mesoamerican social models that focused more strongly on warfare…. It is also possible that the town of Nephi was desirable because of its wealth” 2.

The Nephites’ approach to the war was to fortify themselves with all of their arms and might, and to trust in God. The Nephites were never the aggressors in these early books of the Book of Mormon. They defend themselves only. Religious motivation or rational approach as traders who can expand their influence without dealing with extensive war?3 Or both? In any case, they were successful in defending themselves against the Lamanites.

For now.

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1Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Volume 2, Brant A. Gardner, 2007, p.126.
2Ibid, p. 577.

9 thoughts on “War in the Book of Mormon – Part 2

  1. Thanks for comments Tanya. If you read the recent Journal of Book of Mormon studies, they had an article about Jacob’s speach in 2 Nephi 6-10 talks being about the “divine warrior”. That is fairly obvious but then you add the comment about the “tender feelings” of his audience and he discussed the “weeping” of their wives as a proper motivation for Nephite behavior. Thus I haven’t developed this topic much but I feel that 2 Nephi 6-10 can be discussed in a context of a Nephite ideological foundation for war. We can see evidence of this justification for war in more famous incidents such as The Title of Liberty. And in Mormon’s battles we read where he “somewhat aroused” his troops to vigor with mention of their families. (Mormon 2:23-24) And we can see it in less obvious examples like Alma 56:28 or Mormon 6:7 as well.

    Just some thoughts to add on what as you said, is a sparse section of warfare in the Book of Mormon. Again, thank you for posting. I look forward to the next one!

  2. To add something, I just noticed that the scriptures you mention are in 2 Nephi 5. So again, this is just preliminary discussion but if you had to justify a nations war making activities it would be right after you separate and had to fight wars and it would be within a “divine warrior” speech. Again, just some thoughts.

  3. Sorry, my first comment is in moderation for some reason. It should make more sense if you read that one first. 🙂 (Please ignore my typos though) If it still doesn’t make sense after that let me know.

  4. Nice, Tanya. It’s interesting to consider the transition in the way a typical Nephite would have thought about a random Lamanite, from “cousin Laman Jr. who always kicks over my stick buildings” to “a member of that creepy and mysterious tribe of savages that lives over the mountains.”

  5. Ben, I love the way you word that, from cousin to creepy and mysterious tribe over yonder. You’re right, it is interesting to consider that transition. Early on, the two groups probably knew each other well enough that those who died in battle on either side were someone people actually knew, not just some random enemy.

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