War in the Book of Mormon – Part 1

I had intended for another post to be Part 1, but I attended a promotion ceremony this week, and so… you get this post as Part 1 instead.

This was the first promotion ceremony I’ve attended. A guy I work with was promoted to commander, and I’m always game for a good ceremony and a bit of ritual, especially when I haven’t had a chance to see a ceremony such as this before.

There were a few short speeches by the powers that be expressing the importance of the occasion and the awesomeness of the new commander. He then took the oath of office. Though he had, of course, taken the oath long before, promotion ceremonies include a renewal of that oath. The oath, as found online (and which is the same oath all U.S. government personnel take):

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will [continue to] support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Now, the oath this commander took was actually slightly different; the Constitution part came up twice, the second time near the end. I think the captain administering the oath got flustered. But the parts were all there, so close enough. The new commander’s wife and sons joined him to place the new shoulder boards with three full bars on him, each of his two sons taking a shoulder. We clapped. We shook his hand and his family’s hands and offered congratulations. It was actually kind of cool and I’m glad I got to see it.

Though I don’t intend to do a compare/contrast thing throughout this series, this week’s events did leave me curious. So, how do Book of Mormon peoples do rank and recruiting?

The details are limited. There may be more details of this area on other plates we don’t have right now, but the scriptures we have now don’t have much. But there is some! Nothing is stated until Mosiah. Mosiah 9:16 and 10:7,9 suggest that both sides are led by their king or chief judge as the commander, and the army are volunteer, able-bodied men.

It isn’t until Alma that we see there is a nicely organized structure. Alma 2:13 says captains, higher captains, and chief captains were appointed. I’m guessing this is something like commanders, captains, and admirals, to use modern U.S. naval ranks. Prefer army? Then majors, colonels and generals. Leading them all is Alma, the chief judge (see Alma 2:16). The other side has structure as well, but it is listed more generally as “rulers and leaders” (Alma 2:14).

Later in Alma, from chapters 43 through 63, the term “chief captain” is used almost exclusively when referring to the Nephite military leaders, whether Moroni or his underlings. That makes things unclear. The chief captain is Moroni, but he has chief captains under him. Did the Nephites really not have different terms? Is this a translation issue? Was it something that came when Mormon abridged the record?

I consider the possibility of the last one because Mormon does not use the term “chief captain” when referring to himself or the military leaders under him. He uses the term “commander” once (Mormon 3:11), as well as simply “leader of their armies” (Mormon 2:1). Considering that a few hundred years separate the events in Alma and the events in Mormon, the method of organizing the military would likely have changed, and Mormon would only know the earlier way via the text in the plates, not from experience.

The military is still organized into levels in Mormon’s time, though. In Mormon 6:10, 12-14, Mormon lists the leaders of divisions of men, 10,000 people each, with him as the head of them all. He just doesn’t use the term used in Alma of “chief captain”, or even “captain” at all. I find this variation in terms, which one would indeed expect in a historical record covering hundreds of years and thus multiple cultures, fascinating.

William J. Hamblin points out that “Book of Mormon military organization was aristocratic and dominated by a highly trained hereditary elite. Thus, for example, military leaders such as Moroni1, his son Moronihah, and Mormon each became the chief captain at a young age (Alma 43:17; 62:39; Morm. 2:1).”

What about recruiting? That’s less clear. Throughout the Book of Mormon it seems to be a volunteer army of any and all able-bodied men. But not always. In Alma 51:13-20, king-men (those who want a king rather than judges) are happy about the coming Lamanites and refuse to take up arms to fight them off. Moroni is not amused. “Wroth” and “filled with anger” would describe him at this time. These king-men have two options: pick up their weapons and fight on their side, or die. A lot are “hewn down” and a some caved and joined Moroni’s army. Their leaders who weren’t killed were tossed into prison to await trial (for there wasn’t time for trials right then, what with the impending Lamanite attack and all). So… okay, the army isn’t quite so voluntary.

The other instance where recruiting seems more like a draft and less voluntary comes a few chapters later. In Alma 60, with numbers dwindling due to battle losses, Moroni writes an epistle to Pahoran, the chief judge. One might say there’s a bit of trash talking in this epistle, but one would definitely say there is a death threat. This seems a bit like the Secretary of Defense mailing a death threat to the President of the United States. Pahoran seems to take in stride, though, and he had a good excuse for his slackerhood since he was kind of busy fighting of his own rebellion. In any case, in Moroni’s epistle he is upset with Pahoran for, among other things, not gathering and arming men and sending them Moroni’s way (Alma 60:2). It’s unclear whether this means Pahoran was supposed to be on a PR campaign to convince men to join in the fight on their own, or if he was to conscript them.

What about an oath of office? Oaths are common when people are defeated and are given the option of making an oath that they will no longer take up arms against the winning army (with the other alternative being death). These seem to be treaties of nonaggression. Less common, at least within the text, are oaths soldiers take, with one definite exception: the Title of Liberty (Alma 46:12-28). Moroni recruited volunteers to join him in the good fight with the banner (“In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children”) that he took amongst the people and cried out to them, asking them to come forth and enter into a covenant: “We covenant with our God, that we shall be destroyed, even as our brethren in the land northward, if we shall fall into transgression; yea, he may cast us at the feet of our enemies, even as we have cast our garments at thy feet to be trodden under foot, if we shall fall into transgression” (Alma 46:22).

Now and then doesn’t seem all that different. Well, in some ways.

13 thoughts on “War in the Book of Mormon – Part 1

  1. Hey thanks for the post. I feel that warfare studies in the BoM are often neglected so it’s great to have somebody talk about it.

    Over on my blog the posts “Full Time Soldiers”, “Household Soldiers and War Bands in the BoM”, and “Nephite Military Training” discuss the concept of recruitment. I tend to read the verses in the BoM in the context of how other ancient armies were formed; these were composed of small numbers of full time soldiers augmented by conscripts during times of war. You point out the perils of this policy in the King Men rebellions, the difficulty in raising soldiers during long wars, and I might add the need for soldiers (Alma 53:7).

    On the concept of oaths the Sons of Ammon performed one when they decided to fight. So thats one more example of an oath of service from Nephite soldiers. The Gadianton Robbers seem to take an oath of service as well, but I’m sure not we are promoting that kind of service. 🙂

    Thanks again for the post. I am not trying to monopolize the conversation but simply want to point out some of the research I have done because I’m a total warfare geek. I look forward to your next one.

  2. Sorry, the second paragraph should read “need for soldiers TO FARM”. Since most people in ancient society were farmers it was dangerous to their supply to keep large armies in the field for a long time. Thanks again for the post.

  3. I bristle when I read things like :Book of Mormon military organization was aristocratic and dominated by a highly trained hereditary elite. Thus, for example, military leaders such as Moroni1, his son Moronihah, and Mormon each became the chief captain at a young age…

    That first sentence should be what we deduce or infer by reading in the Book of Mormon where it mentions the things in the second sentence. The first sentence is basically an inference, or at best a deduction. I don’t like how he states it as a given fact. We really don’t know that; we deduce or assume it. Mormon never states such, nor can what Mormon wrote be directly interpreted as meaning that. The first sentence is merely his interpretation or analysis of various passages from the Book of Mormon.

    I’d be much happier reading an analysis that said: Because military leaders such as Moroni, his son Moronihah, and Mormon each became the chief captain at a young age, one might infer that Book of Mormon military organization was aristocratic and dominated by a highly trained hereditary elite.

    We also don’t know they were “highly trained”. We read that they were armed with various types of armaments, but we don’t know if individual soldiers were equipped with more than one type of armament, merely that as a whole the army collectively had swords, scimiters, slings, etc. We don’t know the relative training each soldier received. I don’t remember Mormon talking about the degree of military training.

    Mormon frequently reminds the reader that his abridgement leaves out over 99% of the large plates. And for those who are eager to know what each soldier was equiped with, specific types and length of training periods, what was the ratio of full-time to part-time soldiers, it’s obvious much detail is left out.

    Neither Mormon’s purpose, nor the book’s purpose, is to give us such details. Such inferences and deductions seem pretty much academic to me. And Book of Mormon apologetics may even be harmed by stating such inferences in factual tone.

    Stating these historical inferences/deductions as fact has sometimes been a stumbling block when further knowledge of ancient American civilizations comes about, and church apologists have to back-pedal or modify or nuance the previous generation’s statements.

    By putting in qualifiers and making some of these statements “softer”, it will make it easier to incorporate newer discoveries, and future apologists will have it a lot easier.

  4. Wow bookslinger. I understand the primary purpose and source for the truthfullness of the BoM is Christ. But hostility towards an academic pursuit of it seems misplaced. Most Latter Day Saints accept the historicity of the book, but then they don’t care to study what it tells us about history, philosophy, economics, etc. Instead they feel offended when peoople offer their research.

    I could go over the reason’s for Hamblin’s statement, but going through my own detailed research I concluded the same thing he did. I could also point to proof in the BoM for a greater level of training among elites (or you can look at my post titled “Nephite Military Training”). If you disagree with the analysis please say so. But you seem to be upset that its too hard, even as most critics say that they are presented too softly. Perhaps you have some examples of prior “hard” statements that were walked back. I have not seen any, and since warfare studies are pretty much nill I think the basics that Hamblin stated are both correct and appropriate.

    A study of such things as armament and training gives me a greater appreciation for the book and makes me thank God even more that it has been given to us.

    Finally, I don’t appreciate being attacked for study that I do out of a love for the Book. Perhaps you were just referring to Hamblin, but I do the same work that he has. I’m reminded of a political cartoon from the Cold War I found doing research, it showed Dean Acheson showing up to a meeting in Europe with 1 knife in his chest and 20 in his back. When his colleagues looked worried he points to the knife in his chest and says “This one is from the Communists”. Applied to this situation, we have enough knives being thrown by our critics, we don’t need more from our friends.

  5. Morgan, I welcome your comments, particularly since this is a new area of study for me, so no need to worry about monopolizing.

    Bookslinger, I actually agree with you that Hamblin is overconfident in what he infers. I include it, however, as an interesting possibility that seems reasonable based on the text we do have.

  6. Can I please point out that I know Bookslinger and his intentions were good although his language seemed harsh. I’m sure not offense was intended.

  7. Woah, Morgan. I don’t mean to be hostile to an academic study of the Book of Mormon, but as Tanya rightly surmised, I’m responding to Hamblin’s presentation of deductions as unqualified facts.

    I didn’t mean to attack you personally, I’m sorry that I gave that impression. Upon re-reading it, I honestly don’t see where I attacked you. Hamblin may indeed be correct, but there’s no way we can verify that until the Lord sees fit to release the source documents, or we hear from the participants themselves.

    Until then, the best that analysts can rightly claim is a logical deduction based on BoM textual evidence, and what we know so far from Western Hesmisphere archaelogy and the history gathered since the beginning of European colonization.

    Omission of qualifying phrases, and the lack of “couching” conclusions is inappropriate in my view. Granted, he may have made such blanket qualifications in parts that weren’t quoted by Tanya.

    I just now followed the link, and I realized that Tanya left out the introductory words “It appears that…” in the quote that rubbed me the wrong way. Hamblin does provide some “couching phrases” in other parts of the article too.

    I’m not offended by research into the Book of Mormon or by people offering their research and analysis. The more we glean from the Book of Mormon, the more we’ll be able to integrate that with past and future archealogical discoveries. And some of that has already been done, adding more and more plausibility to the Book of Mormon, and knocking down the alleged anachronisms one by one.

    But I do believe that unqualified statements of analytical conclusion, presenting them as facts, is unjustified by the paucity of the record and by the many disclaimers that Mormon gave that he didn’t include the whole record, and by Mormon’s admitted editorial viewpoint. His goal was not to provide us with a detailed technical understanding, and the facts/figures/details that he reported, seem to reflect that coloring. It’s like we’re trying to reconstruct an elephant from just a tail and a trunk, without knowing what an elephant is supposed to look like.

    Other items that cause me to believe so is that we don’t have any pre-Columbian textual material, except some rare Mayan codices, that may or may not correlate to Book of Mormon peoples. And, it was over 1000 years from the close of the Book of Mormon until any non-indigenous people were able to even start to write down the oral histories and traditions of the indigenous people.

    Other than those, we have drawings, carvings, statuary, glyphs, symbols in architecture, archealogical stuff, but all those require speculation and deduction in their interpretation too. Any interpretation of that evidence must also be couched in things like “according to our best understanding to date…”

    I could also point to proof in the BoM for a greater level of training among elites…

    As I think of some of those passages (Ammon’s dexterity with the sword and sling, the stripling warriors’ successes, the apparent readiness of many citizens to go into the armies, the multiplicity of armaments, etc), I agree. But may I suggest the word _evidence_ as opposed to “proof” ? I likely would agree with your conclusions. But stating conclusions without couching or qualification, can make the same mistake that evolutionists do, presenting the most plausible and widely agreed-upon theory/interpretation as a proven “fact.”

    An example of how overconfident presentation of academic conclusions as “fact” is a bad thing was given by the writer/director/narrator of the movie “Ancient America Speaks”, Paul Cheesman. Not only did he come across rather arrogantly in his film, later discoveries nullified some of his conclusions that he presented as undisputed facts.

    The issue isn’t that Cheesman and other amateur apologists are “unprofessional” or not true academics. That’s not my point. It’s the almost arrogant sureness that both the professional and unprofessional, both the academic and non-academic can _sometimes_ illustrate by putting things forth as fact, and not as a best-guess/interpreation/inference/deduction/conclusion that is open to modification by future discoveries.

    The best analogy I can come up with late at night is trying to fill in the picture of a jigsaw puzzle with 99% of the pieces missing. There aren’t any grounds for sureness, just best-guesses or educated-guesses, but guesses nonetheless.

  8. That was a very good response. I apreciate the examples you gave, I will try to look them up as cautionary tales. My best answer is that I bristled to your bristle. After seeing what you mean in greater detail I agree. If you read my blog I make an effort to add those qualifiers as you mention. And I agree that “proof” was too strong of a word, but I was too bristled to notice my imprecise word. 🙂 Now I’m going to get out of the way and let everybody enjoy the good post. I enjoy your blog btw, and I apologize to the readers here if I distracted from an excellent post.

  9. “In Alma 60, with numbers dwindling due to battle losses, Moroni writes an epistle to Pahoran, the chief judge. One might say there’s a bit of trash talking in this epistle, but one would definitely say there is a death threat. This seems a bit like the Secretary of Defense mailing a death threat to the President of the United States. Pahoran seems to take in stride, though, and he had a good excuse for his slackerhood since he was kind of busy fighting of his own rebellion.”

    If Douglas MacArthur had read the Book of Mormon, Moroni’s epistle to Pahoran would have been his favorite part. With leading the Philippine Army, World War II in the Pacific, Japanese occupation, and the Korean War, MacArthur hadn’t set foot in the U.S. in eleven years before he was relieved and then gave his speech to Congress. No overthrow of President Truman, thankfully.

  10. John, I hadn’t read MacArthur’s farewell address before, but having now read it, I must concur. He would have liked Moroni’s epistle.

    That was an interesting address. If MacArthur were still alive, he’d surely be a very, very frustrated man right now.

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