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Destruction of Ammonihah

J Green

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I've always assumed that the account of the destruction of Ammonihah in Alma 16:1-12 and Alma 25:1-4 simply consisted of two accounts of the same event, due to the dual narrative structure that switches between Alma's efforts to reorganize the church and the mission of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites. However, I've re-read this section a number of times during the last month and find a few problems with this assumption. A few thoughts:

1. The account in Alma 16 takes place in year 11 Reign of Judges (RJ), yet the Alma 25 events would seem to take place shortly before the converted Lamanites flee to find safehaven with the Nephites (RJ 14). I don't see the gap between the slaughter of the Lamanites to their fleeing to the Nephites as being three years. The text doesn't specify, but I would think the slaughter takes place closer in time to the date that they flee to the Nephites, not further away.

2. The Alma 16 version does specify that while the City of Ammonihah is destroyed in 11 RJ, the Lamanites come back to war in 14 RJ. However, no other battle for 14 RJ is detailed in Alma. The next one listed ends in 15 RJ, when the Lamanites pursue the fleeing converted Lamanites. The events in Alma 25 fit sequentially with the events leading up to the RJ 15 battle and would probably place these events in RJ 14.

3. Alma 16 specifices the city of Ammonihah is destroyed, whereas the Alma 25 version talks about the land of Ammonihah, leaving the possibility that there are other smaller settlements involved other than the actual city of Ammonihah.

4. Alma 16 tells us that that the Lamanites take hostages and are confronted by Zoram in a single battle south of Manti (near the headwaters of the Sidon in the east-west wilderness). Alma 25, however, does not talk about hostages and stipulates that there are many battles that follow the destruction in the land of Ammonihah. If this is the same version as Alma 16, there should only be one battle and then peace for three years instead of many battles.

5. The attack in Alma 16 seems to target Nehor communities specifically. Ammonihah was a Nehor stronghold that possibly included descendants of Amulon's priests (probably through the Nephite marriage instead of Lamanite daughters). Just south of the Nehorite Ammonihah is a settlement called Noah, which could imply that it is named after the apostate King (whose priests were after the order of Nehor) and not the biblical patriarch. So in Alma 16, the Lamanite armies intentionally destroy everyone in the city of Ammonihah and in the borders of Noah while taking hostages from other settlements. This has an anti-Nehor agenda written all over it, yet Alma 25 tells us that in this account, the Lamanite armies are led by Nehorite priests (remnants of Amulon's group). If Alma 25 documents the same account (Alma 16 does not say a word about Nehorite priests being with the Lamanites), why are the Nehorite priests of Amulon targetting Nehorite settlements for destruction while sparing hostages from other settlements? Is this a Lamanite Nehor vs. Nephite Nehor struggle, or did the Lamanites simply not know that they were targeting Nehor settlements? I find these last two a little implausable. It makes more sense that the first attack (Alma 16) documents specific anti-Nehor agression from Lamanites (not let by Nehorite priests) that are angry with the expanding Nehorite control among the the Lamanites in the Land of Ishmael at the same time. The second account (Alma 25) happens three years later when the Nehorite priests have more control over the government and are taking revenge on non-Nehorite settlements in the Land of Ammonihah for the pacifist tactics of the converted Lamanites under Ammon's influence (Alma 24).

I had a few other points, but I can't seem to recall them at the moment. But this should probably do to at least get some of you smarter geography/chronology guys to show me where my reading is faulty. Am I off base here? Or has anyone else thought that there seemed to be a lack of chronological and ideaological continuity between these two accounts?


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Interesting ideas and it made me go back over the chapters to try to get a better handle on them. The short version is that this really is a confusing chronology and a case could be made one of three ways: 2 raids (your idea), 1 raid from different perspectives, but a confused chronology (my solution), or "authorial error" if you want to use the "it was made up anyway" perspective.

I think the most problematic verse is 28:1 which seems to indicate that the second war followed began because the Lamanites followed the Anti-Nephi-Lehites north. That is where you have a time problem that suggests the two similar raids in different years rather than the same raid followed by a completely different one.

This is the most chronologically complex part of the Book of Mormon because, while Mormon dates everything else, he doesn't date the time the four sons of Mosiah are in Lamanite territory. We have to work that out. I suspect that the reason for this unusual lack of year marking (when Mormon has been otherwise pretty consistent) is that he didn't know how to correlate whatever time measure was in the Ammonite records compared to what Mormon had as the reign of the judges. We can be pretty certain that the Lamanites didn't use the Nephite reign of the judges. Just as very few of us can tell what year something happened if given in the Chinese calendar, I think Mormon didn't know now to correlate the times and therefore didn't.

At the beginning of verse 28 he indicates that the people of Ammon "were established in the land of Jershon, and a church also established in the land of Jershon." I think that tells us that time had passed.

Since I really don't see evidence of an immediate war following the arrival of the people of Ammon, I shee the idea that the Lamanites followed them north to be one of Mormon's rhetorical devices that represents his way of connecting the text (when there is no way he could have known that information anyway - I doubt that the Lamanites wrote a letter expressing their intent).

I can see your reasoning, but I think that there is more evidence pointing to a single destruction of Ammonihah as reported from two different perspectives, two record sets--although the same editor.

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Thanks for the comments, Brant. I'm not sure I'm up to arguing for a two-raid concept yet. Indeed, I did a little searching the past few days and the bibliography is fairly long for those who simply assume your option two (one event, two accounts). The problem for me is that they assume the single event without discussing the textual problems and how they are resolved. I would simply like to understand the text better. (I've been trying to map the larger Anti-Nehor construction of Alma.) But your thoughts on the chronology make sense to me. And there are other possible signs that they both are talking about the same event. (One that comes to mind is that the result of both accounts consists of Lamanites survivors fleeing to the east wilderness.)

But what about the ideology? Does the attack as articulated in Alma 16 indicate an anti-Nehor agenda to you? If it does, what would be the motive of the Nehorite-led Lamanite armies? Do you see a scenario in which they didn't know that they were targeting Nehorites? If they knew, did they just not care? The Nehorites in Ammonihah were planning to overthrow the Nephite government (as per Alma 8; see also essays by S. Kent Brown and John Welch), so what would be the motive for a total destruction of Nehorites that are in an anti-Nephite conspiracy by Nehorite-led Lamanite armies? This part still seems a little murkey. And given Alma's focus in constructing a whole text about the anti-Nehor subversions (in all its variations: Amlicites, Amalekites, Zoramites, etc.), I wonder why he doesn't tell us that there are Nehorites on both sides of the war in either version or explain why they would be fighting each other. I understand that we don't have all the information here. Still, it seems weird that the Nehors would totally destroy other Nehors invovled in a conspiracy to overthrow the Nephite government instead of supporting them.


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I have read that event against Mesoamerican enthronement ceremonies. Those required the sacrifice of captives from a battle, and there are several reasons why I think that explains the various features of that raid. The explanation is no longer on line. Since it requires a Mesoamerican setting, however, you first have to swallow that pill before you can swallow this one :P .

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Brant has written and spoke on this point. Hopefully he will elaborate. In brief it depends on an understanding of the Lamanite culture as reflected in our understanding of precolumbian cultures. The Lamanites needed to seat a new king. In order to do this they needed humans to sacrifice. They tried to get them by invading the converted lamanites. Because of their oath, they would not fight back and the Lamanites needed captives that had been obtained in honorable battle. The Ammonites would not serve so they went looking for someone else. With the Nephite army in the south protecting the border, Ammonihah , in the north, was an obvious target. The Grijalva river valley is isolated from the Pacific coast by a mountain range that protected Zarahemla from invasion from that direction but unfortunately provided a direct path to the northern end of the valley where Ammonihah was in all probility located.

There attack on Ammonihah, although it fulfilled prophecy, was more likely due to the fact that it was an easy target and fullfilled a desperate immediate need for the Lamanites.

See my website for a description of the geography.


Hope this helps.

Larry P

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Brant and Larry,

Thanks again for the comments. A few thoughts and questions in return:

1. Context and Culture

There is certainly room in the text for the human sacrifice angle, as the Alma 16 account tells us that the Lamanites took hostages (Alma 16:3). However, the Lamanites only take hostages after they have totally destroyed those in the city of Ammonihah and those in the borders of Noah (Alma 16:3). If the sole or main purpose of the raid is to take prisoners in honorable war, what is the significance of slaughtering everyone in Ammonihah and Noah before taking the needed captives? Were these skirmishes not honorable either? And why does the destruction seem to target the Nehor groups? Would this imply that the raid at least had other purposes other than to obtain captives for human sacrifice? While the larger raid context may include captives, the attack on Ammonihah and Noah don't seem to be about that.

Further, I understand the geography factors that place Ammonihah at the door to the Grijalva valley through the mountain range. (It's also why we get the Lamanites coming back the same way in Alma 49.) But I still have a hard time understanding the Nehor vs. Nehor context that conflating Alma 16 and Alma 25 assumes. The Ammonhihah Nehorites are about to attempt to overthrow the Nephite government (Alma 8:17). On the eve of rebellion against the government, a war against Lamanites led by Nehorites that are most likely even related to them and have usurped the Lamanite government doesn't make much sense.

2. Chronology

The people of Ammon seek refuge in Nephite territories at the beginning of the year 15 RJ. We know this because Alma 16 ends with "thus ended the fourteenth year of the reign of the judges over the people of Nephi" (Alma 16:29). The very next verse gives us Alma's meeting with these refugees:

Alma 17:1 AND now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.

This chronology meshes with Mosiah turning to a system of judges at the departure of his sons (see Mos 28-29) and the report by Alma that the sons of Mosiah had spent 14 years among the Lamanites by the time they meet Alma (Alma 17:4). So the refugees enter Nephite territory at the beginning of 15 RJ and the horrendous war occurs at the end of 15 RJ (Alma 28:7). This gives Ammon's refugees most of a whole year to settle in Jershon, organize the church, and have the Nephite armies surround them (Alma 28:1) before the Lamanites follow them north and star the war (Alma 28:1). This time frame seems reasonable in terms of the Lamanites actually "following" the refugees, as opposed to a longer time period of almost four years or so in an alternate chronology.

This time line seems fairly clear-cut to me. So how does it relate to the destruction of Ammonihah? Well, we know that the the city and its people are wiped out early in 11 RJ (5th day of the 2nd month; see Alma 16:1), almost exactly four years from the time that Alma meets with the refugees (beginning of 15 RJ). Therefore, the simple consequence of assuming that Alma 16 and Alma 25 narrate the same event is that the Lamanite slaughter occurs almost four years before the refugees flee north to Nephite territory. But this seems like an excessive time line.

3. Terminology.

I still wonder why we have disparate claims in the two accounts about what happens after Ammonihah. In Alma 16, there is one battle, with Zoram cutting the Lamanites off south of Manti (Alma 16:7-8, etc.). Immediately after this one battle there are three years of peace (Alma 16:12). In Alma 25, however, we get the Ammonihah battle, after which "they had many battles with the Nephites, in the which they were driven and slain" (Alma 25:3). If we conflate the accounts, the Alma 25 statement of many battles after Ammonihah doesn't mesh with the three years of peace after the Manti showdown. If, however, we assume that the Alma 16:12 statement that the Lamanites don't come back until the 14th year refers to the events of Alma 25, then the terminology, ideology and chronology all seem to make sense.

It's all very interesting. I can accept a muddled chronology if the other factors seem to fit. But if they all seem a little off, is it time to look at the alternative of separate raids?


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