strtoupper('“T')he Sword of Laban”

Here the sword of Laban is a model for other weapons. Nephi mentions nothing more about his sword-making than that the swords were "after the manner" of the sword of Laban. It is not clear what this means. Certainly there is a lack of archaeological evidence for swords that would match the "manner" of an Old World sword.

We know that Nephi was early able to work metals. His experience forging tools for the ship would have remained with him, and the plates upon which he writes are another evidence of the continued use of metals. Therefore it is possible that the sword was also metal - although it is not necessarily required by the text. In order to make a sword similar to that of Laban, the particular metals and methods would be required, and they may not have been present.

"In view of the evidence of archaeology, it seems possible that after the Nephites moved inland away from the land of first inheritance, they may have been unable to discover adequate sources of ore. Without access to the ore necessary to train the new generation in extensive metal-making skills, their metallurgical technology in some fields could have been lost after a single generation had passed. The Nephites would have had to adopt or develop lithic technology. From that point on, they would have made most, if not all, of their weapons from stone and wood rather than metal. As a hypothetical scenario, then, it can be posited that the swords Nephi made in the early sixth century B.C. were originally metal weapons based directly on the pattern of Laban's sword, but that eventually the metallurgical technology was somehow lost, and macuahuitl-style swords replaced the original metal ones.

On the other hand, Nephi may also have written in a general sense: he made the Nephites' weapons on the general pattern of Laban's sword--a hand-held weapon with a double-edged long blade--rather than exactly copying its structure and material in every detail. And in a general sense, the macuahuitl has many parallels to a typical sword." (WARFARE IN THE BOOK OF MORMON, Page 345)

The archaeological information on the Mesoamerican "sword" provides a possible meaning for the "sword" of the Book of Mormon (though not absolutely certain for the swords modeled on the sword of Laban.) The weapon that bears the Nahuatl name "macuahuitl" was a wooden shaft with obsidian blades on both sides. While that does not visually match our conception of a sword, it does fit relatively well with the descriptions of the way swords were used in the Book of Mormon.

"The Mesoamerican parallel would be the weapon the Aztecs called the maccuahuitl, a hardwood club edged on both sides with razor-sharp obsidian blades. The Spaniards called this feared weapon a "sword," said it was sharper than their own weapons, and learned with dismay that one blow with it could cut off the head of a horse. Bernal Diaz, among the conquering Spaniards, also reported "broad swords" distinct from the maccuahuitl, but these are not elsewhere described, as far as I know. Now, a sword in normal European terminology would have a pointed blade that would be used with a thrusting motion. The Book of Mormon never makes clear that such a weapon was in use by Nephites or Lamanites. Only in one case is there description of a "sword" with any kind of point: a Nephite soldier "smote" a Lamanite leader, accidentally scalping him; then he carefully picked up the scalp, "laid it" on the "point" of his sword (rather than spearing it, as we might expect), and raised it aloft (Alma 44:12-13). This odd description fails to make clear exactly how the weapon looked. While the Book of Mormon text leaves us unclear about the appearance and functions of the Nephites' sword-like weapons, so do the sources on ancient Mexico and Guatemala remain unclear about some weapons. The agreement between scripture and outside sources seems adequate at the moment; no major problem is apparent in reconciling the materials." (AN ANCIENT AMERICAN SETTING FOR THE BOOK OF MORMON, Page 262)

Because superior military technologies provide a marked advantage in early warfare (as witnessed by the Spanish sword in combat with the Aztec macuahuitl) it would be expected that any accurate copy of the sword of Laban, particularly in quantities, would first give the Nephites a military edge, and secondly be rapidly incorporated into other cultures. For this reason alone, it is therefore suggestive that "after the manner of" does not necessarily translate into the same materials. If an inferior metal were used, the sword might lose the edge, or be too brittle for use.

Whatever the reason, while the original defensive weapons of the Nephites were modeled on the sword of Laban, history suggests that they were replaced with other types of weapons. The only reason that would happen is if they other weapons were actually superior. The suggestion again is that the copies were not of the quality of the original.

Brant Gardner -

Brant Gardner

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon