“They Would Destroy Our Records and Us”

Brant Gardner

From a Nephite perspective, the two objects of Lamanite hatred are the “traditions of our fathers” and “our records.” In later restatements of this conflict, only the traditions remain. For all intents and purposes, however, traditions and records are the same issue.

What are the “traditions of our fathers”? It is possible, but not likely, that these traditions are the inherited religious beliefs—their Jewish traditions out of Jerusalem. Laman and Lemuel may not have been very religious, but their rebellion was not against God (in their eyes) as much as it was against the oppression of their younger brother who had usurped the right of leadership for the family.

Rather, it is the tradition that Nephites are morally superior that galled the Lamanites and would continue to be a source of conflict. The very existence of the Nephites was a reminder, according to their traditions, that they had precedence over the Lamanites. The lesson of later Mesoamerica is instructive here. When the young city of Tenochtitlan began to flex its military and political muscle, it made moves to claim a Toltec heritage. This tradition established the city as legitimate.

In the earlier times of the Lamanites, we may also assume that they also made appeals to legitimacy. Whereas the Lamanites probably mixed with other communities (as did the Nephites), their claim to inherent rights of leadership was diminished by the Nephites’ countering claims, handed down through the traditions established by Lehi’s blessings and Nephi’s acts of leadership within the family. In addition, the records of the Nephites established and probably sacralized those claims.

In later Mesoamerican society, written maps, or lienzos, established the land rights of certain groups. Mesoamericans held documents in esteem as legal, moral, and religious proof of claims upon land or leadership, as evidenced by how rapidly the Nahuas (Aztecs) adopted the written documents required by the Spanish courts. Thus, when the Lamanites threatened the records of the Nephites, they were threatening the legitimacy of the Nephite claims to rulership.

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3