“Every Living Soul of the Ammonihahites Was Destroyed”

Alan C. Miner

In the record of the Lamanite attack on the city of Ammonihah, we find that “every living soul of the Ammonihahites was destroyed” (Alma 16:9). Is this an overstatement? Why would such a destruction take place? According to John Welch, recent research has uncovered several striking affinities between the destruction of Ammonihah and the ancient Israelite law regarding the annihilation of apostate cities. That law is found in Deuteronomy 13:12-16:

“If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, … Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which we have not known; then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly … And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and the spoil thereof every whit … : and it shall be an heap for ever.”

While Alma lacked both the desire and the power to have the city of Ammonihah destroyed by a Nephite military force, and certainly no legal decree was ever issued calling for the extermination of the city, Alma carefully recorded and documented the fact that the inhabitants of Ammonihah had satisfied every element of the crime of being an apostate city. When the justice of God destroyed that city, Alma effectively showed in the record that this fate befell them in accordance with divine law. The following is a summary of the elements involved in this Deuteronomic law:

1. It applied to “certain men [who] are gone out from among you.” (see Alma 9:23)

2. It applied to men who “serve other gods.” (see Alma 8:17)

3. It applied to men who served “Belial” (Satan). (see Alma 8:9)

4. It required investigation, to “enquire, … search … ask.” (see Alma 8:16)

Two witnesses were required (see Deut. 17:6). (Alma & Amulek)

5. It required execution by the “sword.”

6. It required the city to “burn with fire” and “to be a heap for ever.” (see Alma 16:9-11)

7. It stated that the ruins “shall not be built again.” (see Alma 16:11, 16:1, 49:1)

It is interesting to note in regards to the last element of the law that “the people did not go in to possess the land of Ammonihah for many years… . And their lands remained desolate” (Alma 16:11). These lands were deemed untouchable for just over seven years, a ritual cleansing period (there are eight years, nine month, and five days between Alma 16:1 (the first invasion of Ammonihah by the Lamanites) and Alma 49:1 (a second attempted invasion by the Lamanites at Ammonihah). Apparently, the prohibition against reinhabitation could expire or be revoked. In a similar fashion, an early Christian synod removed a ban that the island of Cyprus remain unoccupied seven years after its inhabitants had been annihilated. [John Welch, “The Destruction of Ammonihah and the Law of Apostate Cities,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, pp. 176-177]

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