Friday, March 05, 2010

Re-reading Ammon’s Mission to the Lamanites

This is a paper for my approaches to Mormon scripture class. It's a bit different than anything I have ever written for school. What think ye?

(you can read a pdf version of the paper (here)


Re-reading Ammon’s Mission to the Lamanites

The story of Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites is usually read and retold by Mormons as a simple and uncomplicated religious narrative. It is a story of one of the sons of the righteous Nephite king Mosiah, who after his miraculous conversion to Christianity by an angel, sets out to share the Christian gospel with the heathen and barbarous Lamanites. In the process, Ammon amazes the Lamanites with his god-given strength, converts a Lamanite king with his preaching, and with his brothers’ help, eventually assists in the conversion of thousands of the corrupt Lamanites to righteousness.
Upon closer reading, however, there appears to be much more going on in the narrative than only the story of one or more righteous missionaries’ success in converting thousands to the Christian gospel. In Mormon’s narrative, Ammon and his brothers were not just religious missionaries, but were also acting as state emissaries of the Nephites seeking to establish a working relationship with the Lamanite nations—a relationship that most thought was impossible due to a renewed surge of violence and suspicion at their borders, which was the results of the actions of some of their own. Furthermore, while abridging and retelling this story Mormon has carefully crafted the narrative to illustrate what he believes to be the preferred method of Christian conversion and peace-making between warring nations. The story of Ammon and his brothers, as told by Mormon, is ultimately the story of how, through good examples and service, they were able to break through the xenophobic and bigoted stereotypes that both the Nephites and the Lamanites held of the other, unite their kingdoms, and convert thousands of unbelieving Lamanites to Christianity.
The hermeneutical approach in this paper makes a few initial assumptions. First, it is taken for granted that the Book of Mormon is an account of real historical characters—acting as imperfect humans with their own biases, virtues, and faults. Second, most of the narratives within are not firsthand accounts, but are rather carefully constructed retellings of the events by the prophet-historian Mormon. Third, the accounts and sources which Mormon utilized to reconstruct his narratives were most likely not immediate dictations of the events, but were probably first or second hand recollections of those events. Because of this, there is only a very limited perspective remaining on the actual events as they occurred: Mormon’s retelling of one person or group’s own retelling of the story. Like a detective with only minimal witnesses and partial evidence, the reader is forced to look for clues that might point to neglected (or intentionally redacted) information, biases, misplaced assumptions, and reconstructed aspects of the narrative. It is with this methodology that the paper seeks to re-approach and uncover various aspects of Ammon’s mission. This is not intended to be an exhaustive account of Ammon’s story—perhaps no investigation could—but is rather intended to illustrate certain aspects of the narrative that are usually left buried and unseen.

Zeniff’s invasion into Lamanite territory

While the animosity between the Nephites and Lamanites began with their feudal separation into different kingdoms in the middle of the sixth-century B.C., the most recent and detailed of altercations prior to Ammon’s mission occurred four centuries later. This renewal of aggression began with the invasion of the Zeniff’s army into Lamanite territory to reclaim land that the Nephites had once possessed.
The personal account of Zeniff’s invasion (located in Mosiah 9-10) is the only full firsthand record that Mormon included into his otherwise abridged narrative.[1] While personally recounting nearly four decades of his own history, Zeniff painted a story of how after reclaiming land in the Lamanite kingdom, his people were preserved by God and protected from the wicked Lamanites because of their own righteousness—a story that certainly would have appealed to Mormon, whose overall narrative repeated the mantra of how those who “were faithful in keeping the commandments of God . . . would prosper them in the land” (Alma 48:15).[2]
However, Zeniff’s account is fraught with contradictions and suspect recollections. For example, Zeniff began his account by claiming that he was initially “a spy among the Lamanites . . . , that our army might come upon them and destroy them—but when I saw that which was good among them I was desirous that they should not be destroyed” (Mosiah 1:9, emphasis mine). Zeniff’s reservations, however, quickly dissolved. After his invasion, in order to portray his people as the unfortunate victims, Zeniff instead writes that the Lamanites were “a lazy and an idolatrous people; therefore they were desirous to bring us into bondage, that they might glut themselves with the labors of our hands; yea, that they might feast themselves upon the flocks of our fields” (Mosiah 9:12).
Furthermore, according to Zeniff’s own account of the events, after marching in with an army and inquiring of the Lamanite king Laman if they might “possess the land in peace” (vs. 5), Laman displaced the citizens of two lands for Zeniff’s people to settle. Rather than recognizing the seemingly obvious conclusion that Laman displaced his own people under the threat and fear of Zeniff’s army, Zeniff instead claims that Laman did so because of “the cunning and the craftiness of king Laman, to bring my people into bondage, that he yielded up the land that we might possess it”—a plan that Laman apparently took over twelve years to put into effect (vss. 10-12). In trying to portray his people as victims, Zeniff seems to forget that it was he and his army who were “over-zealous” and “slow to remember the Lord our God” (vs. 3) as they set out as an armed force to destroy and take land inhabited by the Lamanites.
Despite a dozen years of peace where Zeniff’s people were able to “multiply and prosper in the land” (vs 9), Zeniff maintains his claim that Laman’s offering of land was simply a trap to ensnare his people. It isn’t until thirteen years into their occupation that this peace comes to an abrupt ends. After “a numerous host of Lamanites” attack some of Zeniff’s people near the Lamanite border[3] and take some of their “flocks, and the corn of their fields” (vs. 14), Zeniff determines that this was Laman finally implementing his thirteen-year plan “to bring them into bondage” (vs. 11). In response, Zeniff sends a heavily armed force to battle against the Lamanites “in the strength of the Lord” (vs. 17), killing over three thousand Lamanites (and losing over two hundred of their own).
After this altercation, Zeniff’s people began amassing armies at their borders, preparing for another battle. And after his father death, King Laman’s son (also named Laman) also began to prepare an army for war.[4] Similarly, Zeniff’s own son Noah continued the animosity and violent threats against the Lamanites. This would continue through Noah’s own son Limhi, until this last descendant of Zeniff, through battles, enslavement, and struggle, managed to help his people escape from the Lamanite kingdom to protection with in the Nephite kingdom.[5]

Nephite and Lamanite inter-national relations.

Ammon’s mission to the Lamanites comes at the heels of the struggles and violence between Zeniff’s people and the Lamanites. It is a recent part of both of their cultural memories. Ammon’s best friend Alma, was the son of the prophet Alma—a former priest of Noah who helped Limhi’s people escape from the Lamanites. Ammon’s father was Mosiah, the Nephite king who gave Limhi’s people protection. Ammon, as a missionary with the elder Alma’s gospel message and prince emissary of his father’s kingdom, would be going to preach to the grandson of the Lamanite king who was at war with Limhi’s people.
It is no wonder then that when Ammon and his brothers decided to go to the Lamanites with hopes to find reconciliation, the Nephites mocked them. As Ammon is said to report,

they laughed us to scorn. For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? . . . And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us. (Alma 26:23-25)

Even Mormon writes that

they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands. Thus they were a very indolent people, many of whom did worship idols, and the curse of God had fallen upon them because of the traditions of their fathers. (Alma 17:14-15)

On one end, the Nephites seemed to express some of the most racist and xenophobic feelings imaginable against the Lamanites. On the other end, the Lamanites were still festering hard feeling towards the Nephites “who are sons of a liar” who “robbed our fathers; and [whose] children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property” (Alma 20:13)—a feeling that had certainly been exacerbated by their probable belief that they had spent the last century threatened by the invasion, occupation, and expansionism by the Nephites because of Zeniff.
It is in the midst of this inter-national unrest that Ammon and his brothers approach their father the king and ask for permission to go preach to the Lamanites, with the specific goal that

perhaps they might bring them to the knowledge of the Lord their God, and convince them of the iniquity of their fathers; and that perhaps they might cure them of their hatred towards the Nephites, that they might also be brought to rejoice in the Lord their God, that they might become friendly to one another, and that there should be no more contentions in all the land. (Mosiah 27:2)

Their mission was not just to share the message of salvation with the Lamanites, but was also to jump right into the heat of violence and animosity that existed at their borders with the hope of building a relationship between the nations.
With their father, King Mosiah’s, permission, Ammon, his brothers, and others “which whom they selected” (Alma 17:8) headed off toward the Lamanite kingdom. Mormon reports that as they traveled they prayed for guidance and direction for their mission, and that part of the Lord’s instructions to them in return was to be “good examples unto them in me” (vs. 11). And while they were apparently heavily armed “that they might provide food for themselves while in the wilderness” (vs. 7), upon reaching the Lamanite border they quickly separated “one from another . . . every man alone” (vs. 17), avoiding the pretense of entering the neighboring state as another invading army. Though there were clearly several who set off in Ammon’s group, Mormon only gives us a detailed glimpse into the missions of two: Ammon and his brother Aaron. In doing so, Mormon contraposes their differences and seems to construct similarities in their narratives to portray “a good example” of how to both preach the gospel message and bring peace between two warring nations.

Ammon’s Mission

Immediately upon entering into the Lamanite land of Ishmael, Ammon was bound and taken to the local king, following the “custom” or law of the Lamanites “to bind all the Nephites” who come into Lamanite territory—something certainly understandable, given their recent history and overall tension between the nations.[6] According to Mormon, he would then be slain, imprisoned, or cast out of the land “according to his [the king’s] will and pleasure” (vs. 20).
This king over the land that Ammon was taken to was Lamoni, the son of the king of all of the Lamanites. From the very beginning, both Lamoni and Ammon exhibited something far from the deathly aggression that supposedly characterized the stereotypes that each nation had of the other. Having surely been informed of both Ammon’s desires and his position as a prince of the Nephites, one could only imagine what was going through Lamoni’s mind. The Nephites and Lamanites were in the midst of violent tension, and here, alone, comes a Nephite prince into his land to see him. Was this a declaration of war? Were the Nephites again planning to invade and occupy their land? Or was this prince coming to his people to extend an olive branch of peace? Lamoni immediately asks Ammon if it was true that he wanted to “dwell among the Lamanites, or among his people” (vs. 22), and Ammon answered that it was, in fact, his desire to dwell with them “perhaps until the day I die” (vs.23).
At this moment, Lamoni must have felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Trusting Ammon’s word, Lamoni was “much pleased” and invited the Nephite prince to marry one of his daughters, a Lamanite princess (vs. 24)—an act denoting Lamoni’s desire to unite and build a relationship between the warring states.[7] In a single meeting, both Ammon and Lamoni managed to crush the stereotypes of hate that each had been taught of the other. Here was a Nephite who was not just coming to the Lamanites to fire aggression or bring on a holier-than-thou condemnation; and likewise, here was a Lamanite who was not delighting in killing Nephites, but was actually attempting to establish peace with them. Ammon, however, turned down the offer of marriage and instead asked to be a servant of Lamoni—perhaps to demonstrate and solidify his loyalty and friendship with the king. Lamoni granted him his wish and set him “among other servants to watch the flocks of Lamoni” (vs. 25). [8]
It is during this service that Ammon (infamously among Mormons) exhibited seemingly divine strength and courage in protecting both the flocks and fellow-servants of Lamoni—one of the select scenes captured in Arnold Friberg’s commissioned paintings of the Book of Mormon. Upon hearing of this, Lamoni asked where Ammon was, and was astonished to learn that Ammon was feeding Lamoni’s horses and preparing his chariots for Lamoni to use to attend a feast appointed by Lamoni’s father.[9] As Ammon goes to see Lamoni, one of Lamoni’s close servants refers to Ammon as “Rabbanah, which is, being interpreted, powerful or great king, considering their kings to be powerful” (vs. 13)—a reference which signifies the respect and honor they were giving Ammon as Nephite royalty, an honor which was ever increasing with the Lamanites. Ammon, however, immediately reverses the honor, asking Lamoni, “What wilt thou that I should do for thee, O king?” (vs. 18). Imagine this scene. Here is a prince of the Nephites, continually refusing to take the royal honor granted to him and instead lowering himself as a loyal and devoted servant of the Lamanite king. Lamoni is left speechless. Who is this Ammon really? Why is this prince constantly serving me? Where did his strength come from? It is not inconceivable that the Lamanite’s had remnant teachings and traditions dating back to Lehi and Nephi’s visions of a god who would become man. Could Ammon be the incarnation of their god, come to bring judgment upon the Lamanites?
For over an hour, Ammon remains waiting as Lamoni stands there in silence before finally speaking. While Mormon attributes Ammon’s words to his being filled with the spirit, it could have just as easily been the common sense question following the events of the day. “Is it because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings?” He assures Lamoni that there was nothing to marvel at and again lowers himself before Lamoni, stating, “Behold, I am a man, and am thy servant; therefore, whatsoever thou desirest which is right, that will I do” (vss. 16-17).
Lamoni’s silence breaks. “Who art thou? Art thou that Great Spirit, who knows all things?” (vs. 18). Ammon’s service and example had won him over. Whatever it was that made Ammon the way he was, Lamoni wanted to understand it. It is important to Mormon’s narrative that Lamoni is always the first to ask questions and that Ammon is never casting judgments nor belittling the beliefs of Lamoni. Rather than discounting Lamoni’s belief in a “Great Spirit,” Ammon confirmed and built off of it, asking Lamoni if he believed that “this Great Spirit, who is God, created all things which are in heaven and in the earth?” (vs. 28). It is from this that Ammon teaches Lamoni of everything from the creation of Adam to their father Lehi, detailing the struggles and rebellions of their shared ancestry, shares with Lamoni the Nephites’ own history, and teaches Lamoni of Christ, the god who would become man to bring them salvation. Upon hearing these things, Lamoni “began to cry unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, have mercy; according to thy abundant mercy which thou hast had upon the people of Nephi, have upon me, and my people” (vs. 41). In a Pentecostal-like expression of overwhelming faith, Lamoni then fell to the ground as if he were dead—an experience soon repeated by the queen and Ammon.[10] After they awake, Lamoni is converted and immediately begins teaching the gospel with Ammon to Lamoni’s people.
After some time of teaching Lamoni’s people and establishing a church among them, Lamoni desired to introduce Ammon to his own father. However, Ammon was instructed by the Lord that if they went, Lamoni’s father would seek to kill them. Instead, Ammon is told that he must go to the Lamanite land of Middoni where Ammon’s brother, and two of his associates were imprisoned. Lamoni, in turn, offered his assistance to go with Ammon with his horses and chariot, that he might talk his friend, the king of Middoni, into releasing Ammon’s brother and friends.
Although the Lord had reportedly told Ammon to not go to Lamoni’s father, as the latter would have sought to take his life, Ammon and Lamoni nevertheless came upon Lamoni’s father on the way to Middoni. While it may appear as an interesting twist of fate, Mormon may have intentionally constructed the narrative in this way to provide another illustration of how the preferred path to conversion is through being a “good example.” Lamoni’s father is initially furious, to say the least. Not only was Lamoni cavorting around with a “Nephite, who is one of the children of a liar” (Alma 20:10), he also missed his father’s feast to be with Ammon, and was going to Middoni to free more Nephites from imprisonment. Lamoni’s father was either the son or grandson (or at least monarchial descendant) of the King Laman who was humiliated by Limhi’s people (Mosiah 20:25), and infuriated by what he surely believed was the Nephite invasion, occupation, and expansionism under Zeniff and Zeniff’s descendents. The hatred for and fear of the Nephites is acutely present in Lamoni’s father’s words to his son: “Lamoni, thou art going to deliver these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property” (Alma 20:13).
When Lamoni refuses to take action against his friend Ammon, Lamoni’s father tries to attack Lamoni, but is thwarted by Ammon who defends both Lamoni and himself from Lamoni’s father’s sword. Ammon easily outmatches the “old king” and pins him to the ground, requesting:

If thou wilt grant that my brethren may be cast out of prison, and also that Lamoni may retain his kingdom, and that ye be not displeased with him, but grant that he may do according to his own desires in whatsoever thing he thinketh, then will I spare thee; otherwise I will smite thee to the earth. (vs. 24)

Ammon could have easily killed the king, but spared him with only the simple requests of being able to free his brothers and give Lamoni complete and free sovereignty over his own kingdom. There were no demands for land, power, or wealth for himself. Mormon then points out, using his own words, that when Lamoni’s father “saw the great love he had for his son Lamoni, he was astonished exceedingly” (vs. 26). In Mormon’s narrative of Ammon’s mission, it is the “good example” that causes conversion and changes hearts. Not only does Lamoni’s father grant Ammon’s wishes but he also asks for Ammon and his brothers to visit him in his kingdom because “he was desirous to learn” what they knew (vs. 27).
With Lamoni’s help and Lamoni’s father’s approval, Ammon traveled to Middoni and freed his brothers and friends.

Aaron’s mission

Mormon begins the narrative of Aaron’s mission by showing how Aaron initially took a different approach to his preaching, which had disastrous results.
Although the sons of Mosiah had left their native lands to visit and teach the Lamanites, Aaron instead went first to preach to the Nephite-born Amalekites. Also, rather than waiting like Ammon did, to build a friendship which naturally resulted in discussion, Aaron “entered into one of their synagogues to preach unto the people” (Alma 21:5). While Mormon does not provide us with the words of Aaron’s preaching, one can infer that which Aaron proclaimed and understand why the Amalekites took offense and rejected his words:

Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people? Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men.

From these, it can be surmised that the Amalekites were offended by the approach used by Aaron. Mormon, here, shows a stark contrast between the approach of Aaron and that of Ammon, and the completely different consequences that resulted. While Ammon’s “good example” resulted in friendships and conversion, the content and directness of Aaron’s preaching resulted in disfavor and contempt. His going into their synagogues and proclaiming his religious experience (as authoritative?) was received as a holier-than-thou stance by the Amalekites; and clearly, the command to repent and condemnation from a complete stranger did not bode well either. After that, his attempts to preach of Christ fell on deaf ears.
Realizing that he was not going to have any success there, Aaron continued on to another village where he met some of his associates and, once again, immediately began to “contend with many about the word” (vs. 11). After failing to win over hearts with his strict preaching, Aaron and his friends make their way into the Lamanite land of Middoni, where they are immediately “taken and cast into prison” (vs. 13).
Mormon carefully constructed the narrative to solidify his point of how being a “good example” was the proper way to teach the gospel and find peace between nations. Not only did he repeatedly show that Aaron’s confrontational preaching failed to garner success, he again illustrated the contrast in methodology by immediately shifting from Aaron’s failing narrative to a recasting of Ammon’s narrative with Aaron as the protagonist.
Perhaps having learned a lesson or two from his brother Ammon, Aaron goes to the palace of Lamoni’s father—who was already prepared by Ammon and Lamoni—with hopes of sharing Ammon’s success. It seems clear that Mormon is intentionally duplicated Ammon’s narrative to indicate that this is his preferred method of teaching. In both cases Ammon and Aaron immediately offer to serve before beginning any sort of preaching (Alma 17:25; 22:3), and only begin religious discussion when it is inquired of them (18:20; 22:5). They then jump into nearly the exact same discussion: “Do you believe in God?” (18:24; 22:7); “I don’t know” (18:25; 22:7); “Do you believe in a Great Spirit/ Is the Great Spirit God?” (18:26-27; 22:9); “Yes, the Great Spirit is God” (18:28; 22:10); “Do you believe that God created all things?” (18:28; 22:10); “Yes, I believe that God created all things” (18:29; 22:11); “Then let me tell you about the creation of Adam and everything else until the coming of Christ” (18:36-39; 22:12-14). Lamoni and Lamoni’s father both pray for forgiveness (18:41; 22:17-18) and pass out with religious excitement (18:42; 22:18). While Ammon’s narrative has more characters passing out with this religious excitement, both feature a prominent role of the Lamanite queens (19:4-10, 29-30; 22: 19-22); both feature Lamanites afraid of what had happened and accusing the Nephites (19:18-28; 22:19-22); and both end with the kings rising and preaching to his people about their conversions (19:31; 22:22-23).

The conversion of the Anti-Nephi-Lehies

Following his conversion, Lamoni’s father sent out a proclamation to the entire kingdom—which Mormon goes to great lengths to show just how large it was (Alma 22:27-33)—commanding  the Lamanites to grant them free passage through their lands. A simplistic reading of the text may make it seem that the earlier capturing of Ammon and Aaron was evidence of the wickedness of the Lamanites. However, that such a proclamation was able to grant them protection is evidence that the Lamanites were not as wicked and blood-thirsty as the Nephites (and even Mormon) had stereotyped them. It seems clear that if the Lamanites had truly been the blood-thirsty barbarians that they had been characterized as, this proclamation would not have given them that protection. As mentioned previously, it seems that their earlier capture was not a consequence of Lamanite wickedness, but was instead a border practice which would have helped the Lamanites protect themselves from spies and attacks—a protection they would have surely established following Zeniff’s occupation. The king of the Lamanite’s proclamation then was most likely an exemption granted to Ammon and his brothers from this border policy.
Through the subsequent preaching of Ammon and his brothers, “thousands were brought to the knowledge of the Lord, yea, thousands were brought to believe in the traditions of the Nephites” (Alma 23:5)—a conversion that all began with Ammon’s desire to serve. Furthermore these Lamanites were converted to peace, “lay[ing] down their weapons of rebellion” (vs. 7), and becoming “friendly with the Nephites; [and] therefore, . . . open[ing] a correspondence with them” (vs. 18).
Finally, to separate themselves from those Lamanites who did not convert (and the Amulonites and Amalekites who had joined with them), Lamoni’s father, the king of all the Lamanites, renamed his converted people the “Anti-Nephi-Lehies” and thus they “were no more called the Lamanites” (vs. 17). Furthermore, at the coronation of his son (Lamoni’s brother) as their new highest king, Lamoni’s father seems to have abandoned the practice of naming the new king “Laman” and instead “called his name Anti-Nephi-Lehi” (24:3). Doing so, seems to show that Lamoni’s father desired to no longer be known by his own Lamanite monarchial name—a request that Mormon seems to have granted leaving Lamoni’s father nameless.[11] Sadly, when the Anti-Nephi-Lehies sought protection among the Nephites, the Nephites refused to recognize the Anti-Nephi-Lehies new reformed-Lamanite leadership, and would instead only refer to them with a Nephite name, calling them “the people of Ammon; therefore they were distinguished by that name ever after” (27:26).


Hidden between the words of the Book of Mormon’s account of Ammon’s mission is a complex narrative that goes far beyond its normal reading of the missionary to the barbarous Lamanites who wielded God’s power and converted thousands to the gospel. Through a careful examination of the text, the narrative of Ammon’s mission shows much more than might be immediately apparent. His mission began during a heightened stage of Nephite and Lamanite animosity, resulting from what was perceived by the Lamanites to be nearly a century of Nephite occupation and expansionism in their lands by Zeniff and his descendants. Far from being just a religious missionary, Ammon was a prince of the Nephites seeking also to create peace with the Lamanites and establish a relationship between them. Mormon constructed the narrative of his mission to show that it is through service and being a good example that true conversion and peace between nations occurs; and in this process hateful stereotypes can be broken down and dissolved.

[1] The Small Plates of Nephi, composing 1 Nephi through Omni were included by Mormon in addition to his abridged work, and not a part of it. Zeniff’s account, on the other hand, is interjected into his narrative in lieu of his own typical work of abridgement.
[2] See also 1 Ne. 2:20; 4:14; 2 Ne. 1:9; 1:20; 4:4; Jarom 1:9; Omni 1:6; Mosiah 1:7; 2:21; 2:31; Alma 9:13; 36:1; 36: 30; 37:13; 38:1; 48:15; 48:25; Alma 50:20; and Hel. 3:20.
[3] Zeniff records that these farmers were “away on the south of the land of Shilom” (Mosiah 1:14). It is not clear if this means that they were on the south-end of the land of Shilom, or if they had pushed and expanded beyond their southern borders. If the latter, then the Lamanites’ attack could have been a response to what they perceived to be an act of Nephite expansionism.
[4] It seems that the Lamanites may have carried the tradition of naming their kings after the first Laman, as did the Nephites for a period of time. Jacob writes that the Nephites “were desirous to retain in remembrance his [Nephi’s] name. And whoso should reign in his stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings” (Jacob 1:11). Likewise, “the name of the king of the Lamanites was Laman, being called after the name of his father; and therefore he was called king Laman” (Mosiah 24:3). If we assume that the Lamanites had generations similar to Zeniff’s people, the king Laman of Mosiah 24 would be the son of Laman the son of Laman that first gave land to Zeniff.
[5] There is not room in this paper to explore the further animosity between Limhi’s people and the Lamanites that resulted from the kidnapping of the Lamanite daughters by Noah’s priests, the resulting battle, and the humiliation of the Lamanite king in Mosiah 20.
[6] This custom seems to be carried over by the converted Lamanites who later bind and try the anti-Christ Korihor who comes to preach to them. While Mormon attributes this to them being “more wise than many of the Nephites” (Alma 30:20), it may have simply been their continued custom of binding and trying any foreigners who trespass into their territory.
[7] I must thank David Golding for pointing this out to me.
[8] Mormon notes that this, apparently dangerous and difficult task, was “according to the custom of the Lamanites” (Alma 17:25). He adds later that it was “the practice of these Lamanites to stand by the waters of Sebus to scatter the flocks of the people, that thereby they might drive away many that were scattered unto their own land, it being a practice of plunder among them” (Alma 18:7). Was this a standard practice to test the loyalty of servants?
[9] Mormon’s descriptions of flocks, horses, feasts, and other aspects of Lamanite life seem to betray his description of the Lamanites as “indolent people” (Alma 17:15)—though these may have reflected a slave- and servant-based economy of an otherwise lazy culture.
[10] There is, unfortunately, not space in this paper to discuss the unique role that Lamanite women are allowed to play in the Book of Mormon. Unlike with the Nephites, whose women are rarely, if ever, mentioned, three Lamanite women play a crucial religious role in the story of Ammon’s mission: Lamoni’s wife, Lamoni’s father’s wife, and Abish, an earlier convert and daughter of a Lamanite visionary. Not only are they given prominent religious roles, but Ammon tells Lamoni’s wife, “Blessed art thou because of thy exceeding faith; I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites” (Alma 19:10; emphasis added).
[11] For evidence of the Lamanites naming their new king Laman at their coronation, see note 4 above.


  1. Awesome! A very interesting approach to that section of the BoM. I like it - makes so much sense to see it that way.

  2. Love it Loyd, your paper is fabulous. It addressed so many thoughts and questions I had about this account in the scriptures and gave excellent insights. Brilliant.

  3. Very cool, and great observations. Sorry I take so long to read everything, but I think you finished it off well.


Please provide a name or consistent pseudonym with your comments and avoid insults or personal attacks against anyone or any group. All anonymous comments will be immediately deleted. Other comments are subject to deletion at my discretion.