He Gave Him Charge Concerning the Sword of Laban

Alan C. Miner

When King Benjamin gave Mosiah2 “charge concerning the sword of Laban” (Mosiah 1:16), the symbolism might have been more than meets the modern eye. According to Brett Holbrook, in a survey of historical and mythical literature, two patterns of swords appeared: the kingly and the heroic. Both types function as symbols of divine authority. The sword of Laban can be included among them as a combination of the two patterns… . In the heroic traditions the sword was preserved or bestowed by deity, often given to a hero for a specific deed. Consequently the hero who possessed the magical and personalized sword had the grace of the gods. In a way similar to kings, epic heroes were given divine authority and power with their swords, and the fortunes of each hero depended upon his sword.

Sumerian stele from 2500 B.C. showed Eannatum, king of Lagash, armed with the earliest type of sickle sword. Ornamented short swords from the same period were found in royal tombs at Ur and Anatolia, and as early as the eighteenth century B.C. there was a clear connection between kingship and swords from royal burials in the Syro-Palestine area. The sword grew in prominence in Egypt during the New Kingdom, and Yigael Yadin stated it was then that “it became the symbol of Pharaonic authority.” [Brett L. Holbrook, “The Sword of Laban as a Symbol of Divine Authority and Kingship,” in Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Spring 1993, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 41-47]

In view of this symbolic historical nature of the sword of Laban, perhaps the sword of Laban had its origin many years previous to its coming into the hands of Laban. Perhaps it had symbolic meaning not only to Nephi and his descendants, but to the whole tribe of Joseph from the days spent in Egypt. [Alan C. Miner, Personal Notes]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary